It’s a strange home from home: an orange coloured, curved apartment block on stilts, between two busy roads at the messy edge of the old city centre of Lancaster. Below the stilts are three floors of garage parking, guarded by metal gates unlocked by a code. There’s a pedestrian gate with a different code. We find the parking space for apartment 512, find the fifth floor, tap in another code to a key box, unlock the door and enter a bland modern living space set at a tropical temperature. With all codes recorded on paper and electronic digits, and all the heaters turned off or down, it will do nicely. Thelma is here for meetings at the Money for Madagascar office. She is now a trustee of the charity. They pay for the diesel, and I get to visit one of the best bird reserves in Britain.
At 6am I am up and eating breakfast. At 7 I have loaded all my kit into the car and am on my way to Carnforth, then through Wharton to RSPB Leighton Moss near Silverdale at the north end of Morcambe Bay. There is a place you can park at the bottom end of the reserve (the inland end) and a half mile path to the “Lower Hide”. I’m there by 8 and have it to myself for the next hour. Bird heaven: three Marsh Harriers, a good cross section of ducks: Shoveller, Gadwall, Pintail, Teal, Widgeon, Cormorants, Mute Swans, Snipe – everything I hoped to see except otter and water rail. It’s cold – one or two degrees – and gets colder, with a ferocious biting wind, but very little snow, and lots of sunlight. My torso is just about warm enough but hands are a real problem. Without the electric hand warmers I would not be able to function in these temperatures.
To see more pictures go to:http://phototwynog.co.uk/leighton-moss-in-late-winter-3
If tech talk bores you rigid you might want to skip the remainder of this post!
It was an important 2 days for me because I was giving my new lens – the Canon 400 f4 DO mk2 – it’s first sustained trial. On day one I took my relatively new full frame 5DS, and on day 2, the crop-sensor model I’ve had for several years – 70D. The great advantage of the new lens is that it works with both x1.4 and x2 extender lenses. When I say ‘works’ I mean that both autofocus and image stabilization work on both extenders. At least they do, I soon discovered, on the full frame. With the older 70D model I lost autofocus when using the x2 extender. This is a serious problem for taking birds in flight, so it looks as if I will need to upgrade to the latest in this series, the 80D.
It has been a fascinating and rewarding experience using the 50 megapixel 5DS. It’s wonderful for landscapes, but there are a few problems for wildlife. I soon found that using the full file size produced worse results with birds than the 30px medium size. This is partly, I think, to do with processor speed and partly because with such high definition, any fault in the picture is magnified. I knew that the 5 frames per second burst speed was on the low side for fast moving creatures, but one thing I hadn’t realised is that for medium to large birds – such as the Marsh Harrier – each shot coincides with a full up-and-down movement of the wings, so that instead of getting a series of varied images, they all look the same – wings either up or down! One of the factors that decided me to buy it was the in-camera crop tool which places a crop mask over the image in the viewfinder to show the size of the same picture in a crop-sensor camera such as the 70D. According to one of the reviews I read, this makes the 70D redundant. I now realise that there is one big difference. In the full frame camera, the crop mask simply shows a portion of the full image. The masked area is still in the viewfinder. In a crop-sensor camera the cropped images fills the viewfinder – in other words it’s magnified. This makes it much easier to focus on an elusive subject.
This updating of the gear process is fascinating, but I’m now at the stage when I want some stability. I want to know tht when I am out there getting cold and wet or sweaty and hot, I have the best compromise for me physically and technically. The lens is fabulous, but I’m still carrying around too much stuff most of the time. Do I really need to carry a tripod for example? I tried a monopod, but it doesn’t feel safe. I can’t take my hands of the camera to do other things – put my glasses on to see what I’ve taken, for example. Many big lens users carry the camera and tripod resting on a shoulder, but I prefer to use a harness, with the camera and lens on one side and binoculars on the other. I can quickly change from one to the other, and because the camera body is held by one strap and the lens by another, I can change lenses without having to undo everything. That’s all very well, but where do I keep the second lens? If it’s in a backpack I have to take the pack off to get to it.