Little grebe

Little grebe or dabchick, Tachybaptus ruficollis, single bird on water wing stretch, Worcestershire, April 2017

Olympus Em1 Mk2. 300mm f4 lens. 1600 iso. 1/2500 at F5.6

This is taken using the Pro Capture mode and is the second time I have switched it on. I was experimenting and trying to test the setting when this grebe reared well out of the water. At first I just keep my finger half depressing the release button thinking I was capturing it. Just as it started to lower itself I had doubts and fully depressed the button. Fortunately it caught it on the 14 frames prior to me pressing the button.

What I am confused by is that the EVF does not have blackouts when using Pro Capture. Their is a slight tremor of the image, but not the constant flicker or blackouts that you get in other modes. It makes it much easier to follow a bird in flight without the blackouts and if it can be done in this mode why not the others. There must be a disadvantage to using Pro Capture, but I have not found it yet and why do they not call it Pre Capture.

Then I read that the newly launched Sony A9 does 20 fps without any blackouts or tremor. The constant viewing of the image will make it much easier to follow action. I expect all mirrorless cameras will have this in the next generation.

Mistle thrush

Mistle thrush, Turdus viscivorus, single bird on grass with worms, Warwickshire, April 2017

Taken with the Olympus Em1 MK2 and the 300mm f4 lens. 400 iso, 1/1000th at f6.3.

I am getting used to the many settings on this very complicated camera. Like most things complicated it is working out which settings you can ignore and most of them you can. It is so wonderfully light to carry around that I am much more likely to do so than I am with my Canon gear.

Long-tailed tit

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, single bird collecting feathers, Warwickshire, March 2017

Canon EOS 7d mk2. 800mm lens. 800 iso. 1/320th at f5.6 From a hide.

 

 

Micro Four Thirds comes of age

OLYMPUS Om1 Mk11. 1600 iso 1/250th at f4. 300mm f4 Olympus lens.

I am now on my forth Micro Four Thirds camera. I have owned the Panasonic GH2, GH3 and Gh4. Each was slightly better than the previous, but I have now tried the Olympus EM1 Mk11 and finally feel this is a camera to seriously challenge the DSLR. In fact after I have reviewed today’s pictures I wonder if I will ever want to use my Canon gear again.

Small, lightweight, 100% silent and up to 60 fps with the ability to take a picture before you press the button and a feature to limit the focus to whatever range you want. Only focus between 5 to 6 metres for instance. What is not to like.

The quality at higher iso settings was amazing, but I need to experiment more yet. I can well imagine 3200 iso as my standard setting it seems that good. The viewfinder image has almost no time lag, unlike any other EVF system (electronic viewfinder) I have used and is flicker free compared to a DSLR. Following birds in flight should now be possible and in fact easier than with a DSLR. I need to try more before I am certain.

There is still a downside. The manual (PDF file) will take more reading and digesting than the Bible. There are many settings I do not understand and the manual does not explain. My friend Google is also unable to help. There appears to be a micro adjustment for the focus for instance, but how do you use it?

I started using it with the Panasonic 100-400mm lens, but turns out to be one of the worst lenses I have ever owned. Do I have a faulty one? They can’t all be as bad as mine. The Olympus 300mm f4 however is wonderful and the equivalent of a 600mm f4. I do not normally get excited about camera gear, but today Micro Four Thirds came of age for me. It is the future and I need to invest in more gear for it.

Marsh tit

Marsh tit, Poecile palustris, Single bird in flight, Warwickshire, January 2017

Marsh tit, Poecile palustris, Single bird in flight, Warwickshire, January 2017

In recent years I have been doing small birds in flight using natural light with either a DSLR or the 4K photo mode on the Panasonic GH4. This winter I have taken a step backwards and returned to using flash. I have bought 4 x Canon 580 Mk2 flash guns and a large alloy frame to which I can attached an artificial background. In this picture the background is a large sheet of hessian. The birds are flying towards a feeder and the button pressed as they arrive. I get two or sometimes three flashes per attempt. I really need more than two flashes, but the guns do not recycle fast enough.

This is 800iso at f13 on a Canon 1dx, 100-400mm mk2 lens. The flash is in ETL mode using a wireless transmitter. The flash is probably firing on about 1/4 power so about 1/4000th of a second. The shutter speed is set to the fastest flash sync speed of 1/250th. I can only work on a dull day as the ambient light needs to be at least 3 stops underexposed to avoid any ghosting caused by a double exposure by the flash and daylight.

For this shot two flashguns were on the bird and two on the background.

 

I have not had much success at my main winter feeding station for birds this winter. It has not been cold enough to attract many birds. I have moved it about 100 metres from the previous year to give a new background and there are three Silver birch trees right in front of the hide. I did expect the woodpeckers to land on the main trunk frequently on their way to the food, but they do not.  This male however does like to land on one of the thinner cross branches.

Great-spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major, single male on tree, Warwickshire, December 2016

Great-spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major, single male on tree, Warwickshire, December 2016

Canon 1dx, 800mm. 1/320th at f11. 800 iso from a hide.

 

Wood pigeon

Wood pigeon, Columba palumbus, Group of birds in flight,  Warwickshire, December 2016

Wood pigeon, Columba palumbus, Group of birds in flight, Warwickshire, December 2016. Canon EOS 1dx. 800mm lens. 800 iso. 1/160 at F29

I have always liked Wood pigeons. They are very attractive birds and know how to pose for a picture. I have put a lot of time into Redwings and Fieldfares on berries recently with limited success, but the pigeons are much easier. They also like the Hawthorn berries, but will sit openly on exposed branches unlike the thrushes who stay inside the bush hiding from the Sparrowhawk that flies up and down. The pigeons react to the Sparrowhawk, but not by staying inside the bush.

Warthog

Warthog, Phacochoerus aethiopicus, single mammal by water, South Africa, August 2016

Warthog, Phacochoerus aethiopicus, single mammal by water, South Africa, August 2016. Canon EOS 7D Mk2. 100-400 mm lens at 214mm. 400 iso. 1/640th at f5.

Taken from the Lagoon Hide at Zimanga Game Reserve. Possibly the best photographic hide in the world. It would get my vote. Shot through one way glass, which was also the best I have experienced. It had no effect on colour or sharpness, unlike many I have been in.

Panasonic 100-400mm lens

This will be my second moan in succession. It must be a sign of old age. I have become a grumpy old man.

I sold my Lumix 100-300mm lens several months ago in anticipation of buying the new 100-400 as soon as they became available on the second hand market. It always amazes me how quickly you can buy used camera gear. The first one used one appeared on Amazon a few weeks ago for £700, but was an obvious scam and I did not proceed, but it made me notice how much they had dropped in price. I could now get a new one from France for £1007. I placed my order and it arrived a few days later.

As well as the extra pulling power of a 100-400mm lens (equal to a 200 to 800mm on a full chipped camera) I was looking forward to it having a foot mounted on the lens so the lens can be attached to the tripod and not the camera. This means the lens can be swivelled from the horizontal to vertical mode, unlike the 100-300 which had no foot mount. I was immediately disappointed to see that the lens will only swivel 90 degrees. So unless you start off with the tripod dead level you can’t get to the vertical mode and if your horizon is not level you can swivel in one direction only. Why would they do that? It must take extra engineering in the design to incorporate the stops, preventing a full turn. Any other lens I have used with a foot mount turns 360 degrees and it is necessary. Every time you pick up and move the tripod you have to stop and make sure it is dead level. Not convenient at all when stalking a bird. It always makes me think people who make camera gear are not photographers.

 

Windows 10 downside

I usually like to keep up to date and had no concerns about accepting the free update to Windows 10 on all four computers in the house. The interface was different, but otherwise it  was  just like Windows has always been. A few minutes playing with the front page and I was familiar with it and hardly noticed it was new.

After a few months I have found a major flaw. It is not possible to switch off Windows updates as you could in previous versions of Windows. When it wants to update it does so, even if you are in front of an audience of 100 people all waiting to see your presentation. Some updates are short, but the last one took 90 minutes. A disaster if you need to use your computer urgently. What were Microsoft thinking when they came up with this idea?

Fortunately when it happened I was not in front of 100 people. I was by myself in a hotel room. I received a Windows prompt on my laptop saying it wanted to install the latest updates. I clicked no as I was busy answering emails. In the morning when I switched the laptop on it began to install the updates automatically without asking. It can’t be stopped. One hour later and it was still updating. I had to leave the hotel and hoped the update would be finished before the battery went dead. It did not.

On the evening I plugged it into the mains, started up and received a message that is was rolling back to a previous version. It went back to Windows 8. This after several months of Windows 10. Amazing. I left it switched on all day and at some point Windows 10 reinstalled itself and I was faced with the same message about installing the latest update. This time I accepted and it took about 90 minutes.

Why would Microsoft come up with such a crazy system. I want to be able to keep my computers up to date, but it has to be when I am free to do so. I am now nervous I will be standing in front of a large group of people trying to show them pictures and my laptop decides it is ready to do the next update.

I can think of only two solutions.

1). Buy a mac, but I do not want the learning curve.

2). Keep one laptop with the wifi always switched off so it can’t update. I think this will have to be the answer.