Saturday, May 1, 2010

May 1 2010 - What do I shoot with?

So this is my photography journey so far....

I started shooting with a digital camera in 2004, with a 4 MP, 3x optical zoom Canon Elph.  Wow, at that time this was about $425!! I had played around with non digital photography in the past, but never went very far with it.  It was mainly something that I did on vacation, and I enjoyed it but found it cumbersome to send out film etc.  I never would have been a darkroom type person, because I would not be able to cope with the smell of that.

As soon as I went digital I was hooked.  I loved the ability to instantly see the results on my laptop, edit/crop/arrange and I fell in love with the new hobby.  I am clearly the outdoorsy type so this was more about nature photography than anything else, although grandchildren are a fine subject when they don't mind me taking their picture.

It wasn't long before I wanted to work with a better camera.  However, I just did not think I would be able to cope with a camera of any kind of weight at all.  I had injured my neck long ago, and had 2 disks removed in 2003 and replaced with cadaver bone, all laced together with titanium plates and screws.  My arms were not very strong, and I feared that they never would regain much of their strength.  I bought a better camera for Tom, an 8MP Canon with 12x zoom, and I was envious of the better results that he was getting for birds up in the trees.  But I kept with the Elph for quite a long time.  My next purchase was not until 2007.

So the next experiment was still a very small point and shoot, but by this time these were now much cheaper and had much more power.  I tried a Panasonic with 8 MP and 10x zoom.  I almost immediately missed the Canon color and image quality, but loved the 10x reach and got a few very nice and interesting shots with this camera.  It was very small and I still did not think I could work with anything larger.

When my quarter century of IBM rolled around, in early 2008, I picked out a camera as my gift.  It was a Sony 10 MP with 15x zoom.  Compared to my previous cameras this point and shoot was a big camera.  But I found that I really could handle it and was very excited by the reach.  I found an owl's nest at the lab and took some fairly outstanding pictures of the baby owls.  I went to Portland to visit a friend and loved what I captured at the zoo.  I would say that my hobby at this point became an obsession.  I added an extender lens to the Sony unit and started shooting with that.  Quite heavy now, I could still manage to hold it steady, but a monopod was a nice addition to my kit.

But despite the results that I was getting with the Sony and the Panasonic, I still yearned for the Canon color and image quality.  The next foray was with the Canon G9.  This is a very sweet little point and shoot camera.  12 MP and 6x zoom, and there are quite a few great attachments for this camera.  Extender lens, wide angle lens, etc.  I still have this camera and it is worth more today than it was when I bought it.  Canon has created a G10 and a G11 since, and I feel that the G9 was better than the subsequent editions.  I enjoyed using this camera so much that I sold back the Panasonic and the Sony.  The elph had long ago gone to live with my friend Doo.

I worked with the G9 for quite some time, and was still certain that I would never have the strength to get to a DSLR with a lens that had decent reach.  I believed that this would always be beyond MY reach.  But with a cool European trip on th horizon in 2009, I started getting very excited by the new "superzoom" point and shoots on the market, and ended up buying a Nikon P90 to take on the trip.  This camera had 12 MP and a zoom to 24x.  All in quite a lightweight camera.  I must say that this was an outstanding camera.  And all along the way something had been happening to me while using successively larger and larger cameras, and shooting more and more.  I was getting stronger.  This was, as it turns out, the best physical therapy that anyone could have ever suggested for my condition.

In 2009 I started doing a lot more studying.  I was reading more about photography, about birds, and about bird photography.  One thing that I realized was that a point and shoot camera was never going to get me what I most wanted to achieve.  Because of the nature of a point and shoot camera, it is nearly impossible to freeze birds in flight.  But having tried the impossible for so long, I was getting better at using a camera!  In the fall of 2009, I finally broke down and bought a lightweight DSLR, the Canon Rebel T1i, with a 70-300 lens.  I had test driven the lens briefly at the B and H mega store in NYC in August, and it is a great lens for the weight.  At first I had to use a monopod with this combination of camera and lens, which together weigh about 2 pounds.  I also grabbed a 400mm prime lens, and a 2x extender.  With the 2x extender on the prime there is only manual focus, the 400mm has no IS, and it is touchy as the devil at that length.  This requires a very heavy steady tripod to manage at that sensitive 800mm focal length, and with a remote shutter so the camera will not have any shake.

Within a few months though, I was shooting with the 70-300 handheld with very little shake problems.  This lens has pretty decent optic image stabilization and that helps a great deal at longer shutter times, but I can manage handheld up to about 1/80.  To wear the lens without destroying my neck, I wear a pack around my waist, such that the end of the lens barrel is sitting and propped by the pouch  which completely takes the weight off my neck.  OK, it puts the weight onto my lower back which is not always so great, but...

Now the latest.  We are planning a raptor expedition trip to Belize and Guatemala in December of this year.  In anticipation of the lower light jungle environment which will be filled with some of the most wonderful birds in the world, I want to be able to wear and shoot with a 400mm.  I have just recently purchased, and am now mainly shooting with, a 100-400mm Canon with image stabilization.  I am thrilled with the results.  I am amazed that I can shoot with this much weight, handheld.  (about 4.5 pounds now)  This would only be possible through this multi-year physical therapy program of increasingly larger and larger cameras.  Get a healthier neck and arms, the B and H way!!!

April 22 2010 - Earth Day Walk

Incredibly lovely late afternoon walk.  The previous day was so wet and windy that we cut our walk short and called it a day, but this afternoon was delicious.  Started with a nice distant view of a kingfisher, flying fairly high following the path of the creek.

We checked in on the many nests, and all were occupied.  Even the red shouldered hawk nest that we thought was abandoned, is again occupied.  The red tailed hawk that we call Yoko was sitting on the side of the nest - we are certain that her chicks have hatched. At that same nest it appears that some smaller birds, finches perhaps, have nested in the lower part of the nest.  No idea if that is really the case, but they are always there, and show nesting behaviors flying in and out.  Previously we thought that they might be stealing nesting materials, but now suspect that they are actually nesting there.  The white tailed kite was also sitting on the side of the nest and gave us a great show of gently climbing back down to sit.

There are loads of western kingbirds now, especially in the sycamores by the airfield.  They sound like a roomful of squeaky toys being stepped on repeatedly.

On our return, at the footbridge, we stopped to watch the tree sparrows flying about in the meadow with their nest boxes.  We then were treated to a troupe of cedar waxwings.  They were a bit far to get good photos, but they were great to observe.  The interesting thing about the waxwings is their troupe behavior.  They stick together as a unit and move almost in synchrony.  I caught some nice shots of them preening in unison.  There was also a beautiful yellow rumped warbler there, whose spring gray plumage was so brilliant that it read a shade of blue.  He matched the tree that he was hopping around on so perfectly that the lens consistently failed to read him properly with AF and he moves too fast for MF.  a shame to not get a good shot of such a nice bird.

Photo set is here: