Wednesday 30 May 2012

Happy Big Birthday to Dave

Well it doesn't seem five minutes ago, that I started writing this blog site with a young 46 year old Dave so my how time has flown

Anyway, here is a big Happy Birthday to Dave from me and Jac - hope your day is a great one mate, although we know you had your big bash and the weekend,

But many happy returns and may you have many more


PS - I will back with a bit more a a longer blog from me on Thursday with some things to share.

Update:  Ugggh - lots of typos now corrected

Monday 28 May 2012

Software and Foxes

Its been a busy week and not just photographically, I have spent most of the week stuck behind the PC going through the Florida images and trying to get the hang of the new Nik software package that i recently purchased, I have to say that its most impressive but does take a while to go through it all, Just the color effects pro 4 takes a couple of days to look through all the filters, Nik has plenty of on line instruction One to watch is their 55 filters in 52 weeks, This gives a good idea of what each filter is capable of, I have also watched a couple of their webinars which are also excellent, I have to say that photoshop has very little use once you have used the Nik software,I have found that a lot of the filters work very well on landscapes but you have to lower the presets which is easy with the use of sliders, The detail enhancer in CEP4 is amazing, As a prest it gives a look of HDR which my wife liked but by dragging the sliders down you get great detail but a more realistic look,

Here is a shot i took and after a couple of clicks in the Nik software
$400 for the complete package is a lot of money but i think that here its well spent, You can each individually and if you do then CEP4 and Viveza are very good and i like the Dfine noise reduction, Even if you are not in the market yet i would take some time out and look at the videos and webinars, Sometimes you look at peoples work and think wow how did they get that look or cleaness/detail-well now you know,
We are having a hard time here with ticks, The other night i took 6 off of my dog and within 5 minutes of him going into the woodland he had more, I know of at least one photographer at the moment who is suffering from lymes disease and its very nasty, Take care when you go out, Here is a huge tick that i removed from my dog last week

The foxes are now coming out in light, Not great light but light where you dont need flashguns, One night the female came out a lone and i sat out on my patio and she was less than 25 feet from me and stayed until i had over shots of her, I used the D3s as the light was low and i had to use ISO 1600, Get the exposure right or shoot to the right and there is basically no grain
Heres one from the D800 ISO 400
 And from the D3s at ISO 1600
Both the above are of the female but they now sometimes come and feed together, Heres the male, Much smaller and thinner than the female
Its my 50th Birthday this coming Wednesday so we had a party yesterday at our house so i am a little delicate today, Just as well as its a holiday here so time for a snooze


Tuesday 22 May 2012

Mirrorless cameras

As Martin has just purchased a mirrorless body and many people with long lens gear are also adding them i  would take some time out and have a read of Thom Hogans (of Nikon Fame) other site that just covers Mirrorless cameras and lenses-see here


Sunday 20 May 2012


I have to say that getting up between 4am and 6.30am is not every bodies idea of a break and i am now at home feeling like i could do with a holiday to get over the last one, Our week basically went like this, Drive to Florida on the Saturday and stay at St Augustine until Wednesday, I would shoot at the Gator Farm early morning and evening, After the Gator Farm closed i would shoot at the beach until dark, During the day we would shoot at the old town for scenics and have day trips around the area as far as Daytona Beach, Move down the coast on Wednesday to Satellite Beach and shoot at Merritt Island and surrounding areas, That was the plan at least and as i had never been to Merriit Island i was exciting to go,
So lets start at the beginning, St Augustine Gator farm that i ended my last blog with, Its a great place to shoot all kinds of  herons and egrets with the bonus of Spoonbills and Storks, Its a busy place bird wise and there are thousands of birds coming and going, It can get too much and you have to stand back and make a plan if you want to come away with great images, I found it best to keep and eye on a couple of nests in the right light and get the birds coming and going to those particular places, The birds stalling as they try to stop giving the best looking images, Whilst waiting i would keep an eye open for any birds flying in my piece of sky and by that i mean i had the sun on my back and had chosen an area of sky that would give good results right in front of me, Either side would not get such good light, I used a flash with a better beamer set at +1 to light the under side of the wings without blowing out the whites, I came to the +1 after some experimental shots and for that place it worked well, You can get incredibly close to the birds at the nests, Look back at the last blog of mine and you will see a head shot of a tri-colored heron, That was shot with a Sigma 150 macro lens!! It has been 2 years since my last visit and at that time Roseate Spoonbills had just started to use the park, Now there are plenty there nesting so and a couple of nests were close to the boardwalk and visible, The chicks were quite active so some nice shots were on the cards, One day i heard a loud pop/splash near me and looked as a young Woodstork landed in the water, It looked around dazed as gators came from every angle, A few seconds later it was taken, To my surprise the gator popped up and headed my way and as it got closer the chick lifted its head took a breath and then the gator dived and that was a very sad end for the chick but thats nature, People ask why the birds would nest in such a dangerous place and the answer is that there is a higher success rate there than in the wild where raccoons and snakes etc take the eggs,
One day we went down to the famous biker hang out-Daytona beach, Like Martin i am a bike lover, After Photography its my biggest passion and i rarely miss a Moto GP or World Superbike race on the TV, I was hoping to get to Laguna Seca this year and cheer on Valentino Rossi but will miss that by a couple of weeks so hopefully next year, Daytona beach is a great place although busy with people, the beaches are flat and very clean, the sand is fine and there are few shells, You can drive on most of it without the need for a 4x4 so thats what we did and found a spot with some birds on it and set up, People come and go and you either get strange looks or questions but over all i came away with some of the nicest cleanest images i have made so far and without the need of much processing, I used a skimmer pod with the Acra Tech long lens head and Acra Tech leveling base, It worked well with the D800 and 600 as long as you found the balance point and kept a small tension on the head to stop it flopping over, I see a lot of people using Gimbal heads and have them very loose, I prefer a small amount of tension in both axis and find i get a sharper image that way,
The weather at the start and middle of the week was not the best and on the Monday and Tuesday the afternoon sessions at the gator farm were rained off, I have to say that after a couple of days there i had had enough, Its very enjoyable but i preferred my beach sessions where it was just me and the birds, I am not one for crowded places but either way its a good place to learn and experiment,
I used the D800 most of the time for 2 reasons, Firstly the AF is better than the D3s and by a fair margin, Shooting them side by side you could easily tell that the D800 is both faster at acquiring focus and keeps focus even when the bird is flying in and out of busy backgrounds, The D3s is no slouch in that department but the new AF in the D800 simply out classes it, The D4 with its speed and same AF must be some machine, The 2nd reason is that i am shoot for stock agencies and the files sizes are all important, I can crop an image in half and still have a bigger file than the D3s uncropped, add to that the extra resolution and detail captured by the D800 and the D3s becomes the back up camera-who would have ever thought that, The D800 really is a big step forward in digital imaging rather than the normal incremental step associated with new bodies,
We went to Satellite beach which is close to Cocoa beach for the last few days so that i could travel to Merritt Island NWR,  MIWLR is a big place but unfortunately there seemed to be little in the way of wildlife, I only went twice as it was an hour or so from where we were staying but apart from some Green herons with chicks there wasnt anything better than i had shot before, I have seen some great images from there so it can be a great place but just not when i was there, One day when we left there we stopped at a State Park to see what was there, It was on the edge of a large river and there was a small bay off of the river, Whilst we were there a Manatee entered the bay and we went into the water and it came over to say hello which was a real bonus, There was some turtles nesting on the beach each night that we were there but we never managed to see them, Just their tracks left in the sand, We even went to the beach at 4am on the last morning in the hope of seeing some turtles and also a rocket going up at Canaveral which was set for 4.55am but was aborted, We also missed the turtles and not by much as the tracks we clearly visible all the way down to the sea, There were 3 turtles nesting that night and about 15 nests in the few days that we were there, Great to see that they are still about. Whilst i was there i did manage to get some sun rises so all was not lost.

The Skimmer pod available on the Naturescapes web site is awesome for ground photography, If you make sure that the sea is distant you loose any horizon giving a magical feel to the image, Nothing has been removed from these images, The beaches were fine sand and very very clear of stones or shells,
I placed myself where the receding sea left the sand wet for this shot and waited for the birds to arrive, This Sanderling was very relaxed with my presence and slept
Semi-Palmated Plover on Daytona Beach, These pretty little birds were at every beach we visited in good numbers
The birds were attracted to the sea weed bought in on the tide and gave a nice addition of color to the image as well as give a size dimension to the bird
The D800 and 200-400 made a great team for hand holding, This is full frame and i could zoom in or our as the bird got closer
The joys of the D800, A large crop but still over 40mp file, Roseate Spoonbill chicks, Not something you see everyday
The D3s did pretty well in the hand holding game again with the 200-400, Lots of detail in this full frame image
 Gator with Chick, I doubt i will forget the look on its face or the sound of it fall in for some time
 Storms over Cocoa beach, My favorite image of the week, We watched the huge storm building as we were sitting on the beach, I went and got the 14-24 and put it on the D800, When the lightening started i watched through the view finder, The bolts tended to come in 2's or 3's so i would miss the first bolt but could sometimes manage to get the 2nd or 3rd, The first image was as the storm started to gather strength and the 2nd image was at its darkest and time to run for cover, I held the camera up to my eye for nearly an hour and my arm felt like it wanted to fall off, I did have a tripod with me but not a bracket to attach the D800 to it, That was on the D3s and i didnt have a key to get it off, A 'L' bracket is at the top of the list to buy,

Sunrise at the same beach as above, We missed the turtles and NASA aborted the rocket take off so this was all i got
 Turtle tracks

All in all a very nice week, Now comes the downloading and processing, All the images above were processed on the laptop so may be a tad off as it needs recalibrating.
When i got home i checked the bluebirds nest box only to find that all but one of the eggs had gone and the egg that was left was broken, I guess another case of being predated by something like a raccoon , The hummingbirds are now very active with 2 males fighting over the territory, Hopefully i will find time to get some images of them this week when i am not stuck behind the PC


First New Camera system since 1995 and Preparations

So this week I have bought into a new camera system.  This is the first time I have bought into any system that isn't Canon since 1995, when I bought my first EOS 35mm film body.

So what is it and why?

Well it isn't Nikon.....yet, although that is more likely now than at any time previously - more of which later

Well, some aspects of my photography have changed and I have needed to think differently.  You will have seen that I recently have returned to two wheels after a lay off, coincidentally since 1995.   With that comes the need for a new compromise.  Big heavy SLR bodies plus lenses and all the gear do not mix with the challenges of motorcycle touring.  With limited space and load carrying capability on the bike, a new set of challenges posed for me to consider..

What do I hope to achieve and what should I consider.  Well I suppose this dilemma has been tougher to think about than the do I/don't I get the next DSLR body on my chosen system when they came along.

With every new Canon body that came along for me, it was very simple - do I want/need it.  Yes/No?

As usual with Canon it was wait quite a while til they sort the bugs and the price gets closer to something more sensible.  Sadly, the same cannot be said for their thinking on new lenses, but enough of that.

So I started looking at Point & Shoot options from a couple of hundred pounds upwards.  I liked the Canon S100, G12, Fuji X10, and a couple of Panasonic Lumixs - but the problem was always going to be (and still is) that tiny little sensors, light gathering, noise, plus ridiculously short lenses meant that getting half decent out of focus backgrounds was really never going to happen.

I then started to look at the emerging mirrorless, interchangeable lens system cameras which have much larger sensors. I toyed with the Nikon 1 system, and liked the look, I came back to the Fuji X10 for a bit, as the build quality looks cracking, and as it had good write ups but again, small sensor excluded it..  I looked briefly at the Sony Mirrorless concept but the lenses are stupidly big and didn't think that was going to help my space/size/weight issues too much.

I briefly got excited about the Canon G1X - but the reports were quite indifferent, it was a lot a of money and fixed lens, although the out of focus sample images looked good.  But as with all Canon stuff these days, they just seem to make non cutting edge minor changes and the competition leave them standing.

So I then started looking at the Panasonic G series - mirroless, interchangeable lenses on the micro four thirds system, with the ability to use Pana and Olympus lenses, plus with adaptors other lenses.  So imagine for a minute.  Canon 300f4 lens -   a cracking lens, on the four thirds system, which has a two times crop factor.  You have a good quality 600 f4 for less than a grand!!

So I took delivery on Friday of the Panasonic GX1, with the 14-42 Powerzoom lens.  Not the fastest zoom in the world but with IS and also a tiny profile when stowed, it fits into a tiny space to go in my bikes tank bag.  With the 100-300 lens due soon as well, I will have an up to 600f5.6 again with a tiny size, and tiny weight.

Picking up Dave's point about carrying large and heavy gear around on his last blog, the concept is appealing.

Now before you think I am getting carried away with this super new marvo product, I am fully aware that it will never be the same as a Canon or Nikon 600f4.  But I am not so sure that I actually want that any more.

So I have taken a couple of quick test shots with it today.  Nothing special, but it does show the ability to get relatively out of focus backgrounds.

In each case I used the touch screen AF area selection and picked the upper middle teasel on the top image and top left on the second images. These are OK with the rest being just off.  Lens at 42mm (84mm equiv at 35mm), and at ISO 400.  Slowish shutter speeds and the IS doing a bit of work.

Early days, but encouraging signs and not too unhappy with backgrounds at these focal lengths.

I will do some more testing over the coming days and share my experiences.

There is a decent test report here that goes into it in depth if you are interested.

Dave is getting great results from his Nikon D800 and given that I now have little invested in Canon, I will almost certainly look to make the final switch over for my wides and macro stuff later in the year, when finances and camera stock availability and its prices are more attractive.

So on to the 'Preparations' part of the headline of the blog with another couple of GX1 test shots to share.

With motorcycle touring about to start in some order for Jacqui and me, I did a test load and run out today.  Our plans are to go self supported camping, so with all camping gear, stuff for the bike and all the clothing needed, we loaded her up and had a run out to make sure all is well and stable.  4 stroke big bore twin power made very light work of the massively increased load and it will be a pleasure touring in the UK and Europe this year and next.

The Panasonic GX1 takes up a tiny space in the tank bag along with its charger and spare lens (to get yet)


Monday 14 May 2012

Software and Florida

Its been a strange week, The cameras have stayed packed for most of it, Monday saw the release of Photoshop CS6 and as i had pre-ordered it i had a mail saying that i could down load it, I didnt manage to download it until the afternoon as i was busy planting in the garden all morning as the weather was much cooler and as we have had some rain it made the heavy soil easier to dig so i took full advantage and got everything in, It needed to be done as we are now in Florida, Arriving on Saturday afternoon for the week, Adobes new policy is that you must now upgrade every time there is an upgrade, If you miss 1 upgrade you will be forced to buy the complete package again, I think its a bad deal on the customer, Before you could miss 1 or 2 and face no penalty, I think adobe are getting all to powerful and some competition is much needed, Their cloud package looks good at $49 a month and gives you ALL adobes packages and upgrades free and i think at some point this may be the way to go, CS6 is a big download at 1.2gb but did not take too long as i have 30mb wide band at home, After installing CS6 i tried to install all the Nik software packages only to find that the box said up to CS5 and wouldn't install, I dropped them a line and by the end of the day had a reply saying to download from the website and that worked fine-a pain but fine, Tuesday i did the to my laptop and then spent the rest of the day as well as Wednesday playing with the new software and watching You Tube videos on all the Nik products and how to use them, Thursday after a trip to the vet with my dog i got every bit of camera gear out for a clean and a basic packing ready for Saturday, I kept the D800 and 600 out in case the fox showed and the macro lens as there were some new blooms in the garden,
The hummingbirds are getting more and more regular and the bluebirds are mating like made so i hope that by the time i am back from Florida there will be some chirping from the nest box.
Thed normally tedious trip down the i-95 to Florida went well and we arrived in St Augustine mid afternoon, A quick check in and then off to the Gator Farm for a look around, It wasnt worth doing any shooting as they would close within the hour but i paid for my photographers pass so i can be in early and out late for around $80, We then went to the beach where i shot turnstone and Sanderling in nice light and then few beers and bed, Up early and back to the gator farm, Lots and lots of birds on nests with large chicks, I set up the D3s and 600 on the tripod for the dark areas and then the D800 with the 200-400 with flash for birds in flight handheld,I have to say that i wish Nikon had the 400 F5.6 that Canon has as after a few hours my back and arms really were painful, I shot until 10.30am and then downloaded and refilled the belly, Back in the afternoon and shot until 6pm then cross the road and shot on the beach until nearly 8pm, A couple of things came to the front on the first day, The D800 is awesome and the AF is the best that i have ever used on any camera,I am getting too old to lug heavy lenses around and handhold all day, I shot a couple of hundred images on the D3s and about 900 on the D800, The AF locked on fast and stayed with the bird even when the background was very busy, Not prefect but pretty damn good, I found a Snowy Egret fishing along the beach in the surf so ended the day with that and the incredibly fast sanderlings and dunlin, I am here for another 2 days then off further down the coast near Cape Canaveral, Weathers not bad but clouding up in the afternoons

On a non photography note my buddy Dave Newton of Canon fame will be doing a charity bike ride from London to Brussels, Please read the link and give as much as you can to this worthy cause-see here


Saturday 12 May 2012

They are back

One of my most important wildlife highlights of the year happened at home today  - the Swifts are back with us here in Stratford upon Avon.  I have been looking out for them since the start of May, but with the first decent day of the month weather wise finally, they have made it today.

It has felt like they have been really late this, and so it is when I checked back to previous years.

On another first of the year, we also had our first of the Large Red Damselflies show today - once again the warm weather bringing out new life.  Time to start watching the pond more closely now.

Think I have cracked my challenge for a new camera and it should be with me sometime next week. I have been looking for a new small form compact camera that is light, small and has a larger than the usual tiny P & S sensor.  So I have been trawling the specs of the Mirrorless compacts with interchangeable lens.  With motorcycle touring planned, the option of taking big, heavy bulky DSLR's is not an option.

Watch this space.


Monday 7 May 2012

A better week

I started the week back in the woodland behind my house to see if the Red Bellied Woodpeckers young were big enough to be looking out of the nest hole, I could clearly hear them and the parents came and went with food constantly but still not quite there yet so i left them, The weather last week can only be described as bloody hot, High 80'2 and low 90's and humid, We now have new residence in the blue birds nest box and i watched them for 2 days as they would go and get grass and pine straw and take it back to the box as nest building materials, Its good to have them around and hope that they are more successful than the last lot, The chickadee nest box is still empty, Squirrels continue to be a problem and even chase the birds off of the feeders, One of my old neighbors told me that if you put pepper or paprika around the feeders the squirrels will not go near so i will try that this week, I only managed 1 session in the hide this week but although the birds were coming in small amounts i did get a few shots, Nothing special but as the temperatures increase so should the wildlife looking for water,
I hoped that the fox would continue to come out in daylight but she went back to the usual 8pm+ and it was only on Friday that she came out at 7pm and i managed to get some nice shots, I used the D800 and 600 and as the light was low i set it to ISO 800 and shot wide open at F4,

I had spent the day calibrating my lenses with the LensAlign system and shooting wide open will soon tell you if you have done it correctly, Luckily for me i had and every image was pin sharp on her face, A great looking fox indeed, I had planted a couple of ferns but as she hadn't been out in daylight for a week i hadn't placed the bait carefully and the images with the ferns in were not as i had planned so i need to be careful in the future to get the shots that i want, After i had calibrated the lenses i took the macro lens out for a spin and found so wild flowers and then a paper wasp that was building a nest under my screened porch, The paper wasp was in near dark conditions but the AF had no problems in locking on to the wasps head, I light the scene with a single flashgun placed off camera to my left, You have to be careful; as it will be the queen that's building the nest and she will give a very nasty sting and not just once, However she remained calm so i git some shots and left her to it, The Sigma 150mm macro is a superb lens and one of the best macros on the market,

I had some retail therapy as well, Sales last month were up so i pre-oredered Photoshop CS6 which is available today (Monday 7th) and to add to it i also bought the complete Nik software collection, I have looked at Nik software for a few years and every time i go to pull the plug something comes up and i have had to spend the $400 elsewhere, well i now have it and will load it Monday when i have downloaded CS6, Whilst i was spending i decided to add to my Think Tank roller case with a Think Tank laptop bag called an Urban Disguise 60 V2.0, Now this is not just a laptop case, it has dividers that can be arranged to take camera bodies and lenses etc, its superbly made as are all Think Tank products and has lots of pockets and comes with a memory card wallet, At $200 its not cheap but its a real quality product, Looks very very smart as well so you can use it on business and it doesn't scream camera gear.
One thing to note when shooting birds is that the head angle is all important, Also if you subject has a crest then make sure that you shoot it when the crest is up, It gives that little extra to the image, Take this female Cardinal for example, When a bird lands it tends to have the crest up but it soon goes down, My first shot i missed the crest but the 2nd image i manage to get it

 And here i took a shot as she looked slightly away and see the difference in the image when the head is at a better angle to the camera

 I ordered the above gear on Thursday from Amazon as Naturescapes did not have the software in stock and it arrived Friday morning-great service, The replacement battery from Nikon also arrived at the same time-Again a good service and a problem well dealt with