Equipment

I’ve learnt what I know about cameras, lenses and accessories by a “suck it and see” method. Since it’s relatively easy to sell photographic equipment either on part exchange or via ebay, I have bought a fair few items before finding the combinations that suit my way of working. I started with a little Sony compact with a x60 zoom. It produced some remarkable results, but only in good light. I then began to look at so-called Bridge cameras. These are full sized DSLR type camera bodies with built in lenses. I actually got ahead of what I then knew by choosing the Panasonic FZ1000. Compared to many other “super-zoom” cameras, this had quite a modest 16x range. I didn’t realise the significance of this lens (a 25-400mm f2.8- f4.) and not surprisingly got some excellent results. In the end I got frustrated with the 400 end of the lens, and felt I needed more magnification. This was when the Nikon P900 with its 80x zoom came on the market. This was the point where I felt I had to decide between the cumbersome DSLR route or the highly mobile bridge camera route. I tested a Nikon DSLR with Tamron’s 160-600 lens against the P900, and the results appeared to favour the P900, so I bought one, just before setting off to Arnside in Lancashire where we had booked a cottage for 5 days. Thelma was attending meetings of the charity she supports and I spent several days at RSPB Leighton Moss. I got some good pictures, but none of the distance shots were sharp. I had been reading a bird photography blog by Mike Atkinson, and was impressed by this bit of advice: “Make no mistake, if you’re spending around £1000 on a bird photography lens and you don’t buy the Canon 400mm f/5.6, you will regret it!” (Thank you Mike: http://mikeatkinson.net/Tutorial-3-Equipment.htm) 

So I did, together with a 70D body. I sold the P900 for very little less than I had paid new, and committed myself to DSLR with all the expense that entailed! It was October and the first of the winter migrants was turning up at the reserves along the south coast of Wales. I was sitting in a hide at Goldcliff on the Gwent Levels as the sun went down. Just as the light was beginning to go, a large flock of Black Tailed Godwits flew up in front of me. They were not very close, but I got some pictures, packed up and returned to the camper. I got out the laptop, put the card in a card reader and opened up the pictures. Eureka! I had my first near-pro standard image of birds in flight!

Six months later I discovered Canon’s new 100-400 lens. The reviews were so good I decided to upgrade. The 400 prime lens with its ‘slow’ maximum aperture of f5.6 went on Ebay and I bought a brand new zoom lens. I never regretted the decision, and this lens has opened up not only the field of wildlife photography to me, but also the joy of capturing insects and other tiny things, using the 100 end of the lens as a macro lens. 

Here is an example of a fulmar poised in a strong wind at a cliff-top site in the Faroes. The camera is the  Canon 70 D with the Canon 100-400 mk2 f 4.5-5.6 lens. It’s a crop sensor camera which means at 400mm you have a small field of view and it takes a lot of practise to home in on a moving target.

I’m greatly enjoying improving this skill, though it does mean deleting hundreds of dud pictures.

I also have a Tamron 16-300 lens which I love for landscapes, and as a general purpose lens which is much easier to carry than the Canon.

I don’t carry them both at once though. When I’m out with the big lens I take my tiny Sony HX90 v. I have it set on auto and can rely on it to get excellent wide angle images in good light. With its 30x zoom it is also useful for identifying distant birds.

The 70D camera has once broken down on me, and the thought of this happening while on this trip led me to buy a second camera as spare. It seemed sensible to buy an older full frame Canon and I settled on a 5D mk 2. I then found that the Tamron wouldn’t work properly with it so had to get another lens, a Canon 16-35 f 2.8. It’s a strange combination after the 70D but really comes into its own with, for example, interiors, or anywhere you want a wide view and high detail, especially in poor light. This is the wonderful old church at Holar in Northern Iceland:

 

To catch up on how my kit has changed since the trip to Iceland click here:  Equipment Update