Monday, October 5, 2015

Birding with the Nikon 200mm-500mm.

Sept 22-Oct 2 2015 Various Locations 16c T-shirt weather.

After picking up my new lens the first thing I did was head home. It was early evening and the garden and bird feeder were already in the shade. I shot handheld using ISO1600. I just had to see how the 200mm-500mm would perform. Right out of the box I shot this frame on the full frame D3s.
Out of the box shot. Nikon 200mm-500mm D3S. F5.6 ISO 1600 1/640 sec

Over the next few days I birded Brydon Lagoon, Blackie Spit and various Boundary Bay locations. I went on an all day walk and on another occasion I joined a birder group at Blackie Spit for their weekly bird count. 
Despite its weight and bulk I hardly noticed the camera and lens on my shoulder, probably because I am used to lugging around a 500mm F4, Wimberly head and Gitzo Tripod.

I shot the loons while on the walk. Unless noted all images are handheld. For expert technical descriptions and reviews you'll have to read the tech heads at DPI Review and other reviewers. My views are from the my experiences as a birdwatcher in training.

Blackie Spit Oct 1/15

Full Frame Handheld 1/1000 F/10
As you can see, a substantial crop of the previous photo but quite acceptable.
 The search for sharpness can sometimes overshadow image content so with the 200mm-500mm I quickly took this handheld shot of a Coyote hunting ducks and sandpipers at Blackie Spit.

Blackie Spit Coyote on the prowl. When the coyote saw our group I had to shoot quickly, the zoom was perfect for composing a pleasing shot. I later cropped off 50% of the image to create more impact.

The 200mm-500mm is the lens many Nikon users have been looking forward to and for many a pleasant surprise when it was announced. Nikon had kept it under wraps so there are presently few if any reviews out there to match it against the Tamron 150mm-600mm and the two Sigma 150mm-600mm zooms. I have used the Tamron (see earlier posts) and was very happy with it but it wasn't a Nikon! I haven't used the Sigma's but I yet to hear any negative reports.
The Sigma comes in two models, an "enthusiasts" model and a "pro" model, all three lens are very popular with bird photographers. Canon already has had the legendary 100mm-400mm for years so Nikon users, especially those on a budget are hoping the lens will be a winner.
The constant aperture of F5.6 is a big selling point and is only one stop slower than the more expensive and heavier 500mm F4. Today's camera with their high ISO capabilities means for most applications F5.6 is fine. Where the 200mm-500mm might not work as well is for birds in flight on cloudy winter days or early and late in the day where the brighter 500mm F4 will more useful. I tried a few flight shots on a sunny day and had about a 60% success rate with small birds and 85% with larger birds like raptors and geese.

All images handheld unless otherwise noted.

I wanted a smaller lens for long walks, hiking and whenever a handhold zoom would be easier to use, or for small plane trips, when on holiday or when crammed into a car full of birdwatchers and space is limited and using a tripod is not an option. 


Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Next morning I went to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary where birds are reasonably easy to approach. I used the 200mm-500mm with a Nikon D7100.

Great Blue Heron
Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk 1/640 F/9 at 500mm handheld.
A good ID shot from about 500 feet.

Size comparison between a Malard and two Least Sandpiper.

Long-Billed Dowitcher (Tripod D7100)

Full Frame no crop. Nikon 200mm-500mm (D7100 Tripod)
This shot was taken from about 200 feet away with the 200mm-500mm and greatly cropped. Basically a dot in the frame but good enough for a decent ID shot but not for printing. It all depends on your final use. Personally I like the background and the ripples reflecting the blue sky in the water.

It was also the target species for the day and a 2015 Canada year bird #284. 

Not Sharp but considering the distance this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (D7100 Tripod) was a nice find.
The above image is purely for ID purposes, the bird never came closer than 200 feet. 

Crane Test shots from a stationary position. Cropped in Lightroom.
Sandhill Crane
D7100 F/9 1/3200sec at 390mm
Same exposure cropped in Lightroom
None of these shots have been over sharpened.

Northern Harrier.

The "rare" European House Sparrow (Full frame)
Handheld cropped shot.
So there you go, you can take it from there. The fact that lenses vary in quality as they leave the factory and much too much time is spent "admiring" them rather than shooting them, the bottom line is that all we can hope for is that when we spend $1500 on a product it should deliver as advertised. 
I tried my 1.4 and 2x converters on the DX 7100 and D300s they are as soft as butter so I am not too sure where Nikon is coming from on that. Apparently I need to use newer camera like the D7200, D610 or D800. I will conduct some more test with the FX body before I pass judgement on the use of converters with the 200mm-500mm.
The images above are just a few examples but best try out the lens for yourself. Personally I sold my Tamron as I prefer the build of the Nikon. It feels more solid and I am willing to give up the extra 20% reach for the sharpness of the Nikon at 500mm. 

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Some Misc Birds

Sept 27/1-Oct 1/15 
 Brydon Lagoon, Langley/Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal/Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC 
Brydon Lagoon is within walking distance of my home. Acting on a tip from fellow birder Cos I went down to see if the Western Grebe he had spotted earlier in the week was still there, it was. Also present were a small flock of Cackling Geese which were roosting with a flock of much larger Canada Geese. This shows the size difference.
Cackling Geese (foreground) and their larger cousin the Canada Goose in the background.
Western Grebe
This the first time I have seen a Western Grebe at Brydon Lagoon. I waited until it swam into an area where colour was being reflected off the autumn tinged foliage. Most of the other shots had too many highlights or nondescript dark backgrounds.

Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal

Lapland Longspur.

Thanks to fellow birders Pauline and Jean who alerted me to this Lapland Longspur on the north side of the ferry terminal. The longspur was feeding with a flock of nervous Savannah Sparrows and was difficult to approach. I shot this from a distance of about sixty feet or about three cricket pitches length.

Sandhill Cranes
Transient flocks of Sandhill Cranes arriving on Westham Island.

There have been a number of rails seen at Reifel over the last few weeks. Both Virginia Rail and Sora have been seen on a regular basis at numerous locations. This Sora was taken by the lookout at the outer ponds.

Oct 2 2015 Burnaby Mountain Burnaby BC Foggy
I hadn't been able to get up to Burnaby Mountain to chase down the Red-naped Sapsucker but finally an opportunity presented itself. When I arrived the mountain was fogged in and raining. Visibility was about twenty feet and the dull light meant I had to shoot at ISO 800. I fired off a few shots before it got too miserable. I used a flash to punch up the contrast. 
Red-naped Sapsucker
Finally I would like to thank all who came out for my recent talks at the Langley Camera Club (Kenya Safari) and Nature Vancouver (Birding Across Canadian in 60 Days)
The feedback is most important as enables me to go back into my presentations and tweak (nor to be mistaken for twerking) the images to make the show more fluent for the viewer.

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nature Vancouver Talk

Sorry about the short notice. Thanks also to everyone who came out Wednesday night for the Kenya talk in Fort Langley. Much appreciated.
2015/10/01 7:30 pm 
 2490 West 37th Avenue (at Larch Street), Vancouver 
 John Gordon 
Join award winning photographer John Gordon as he shares highlights from his recent trip across Canada.  His coast-to-coast journey included visits to Saskatchewan’s Chaplin Salt Lake, Manitoba’s southern grasslands, Ontario’s Agawa Rock Pictographs, New Brunswick’s Grant Manan Island, and Newfoundland’s Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve.

Link here:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Great Egret: Finally!

Sept 22 2015 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary Sunny 14c

Finally, after five attempts I now have some decent shots the Great Egret. The elusive wader had been hanging around the Lower Mainland for the last month or so. The bird had lots of us birders running around and there are still many hoping for a first sighting. Egrets are not often seen here, I believe the last sighting in the Lower Mainland was 2013 at Grant Narrows.
Great Egret

Apart from one distant view through a scope I had been chasing the egret for two weeks without much luck. Finally I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I had just photographed the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Sora in the outer ponds at Reifel. The sharpie was a 2015 year bird for me and so after a long day I had decided to go home. On my way out to the car a cluster of photographers were all pointing their lenses in the same direction which usually means only one thing, the egret was back in Fuller's Slough. It was at first a distant speck some 400 metres away. I decided to stay to see if the bird would move. There were a few birders who I knew so the time passed quickly. We whittled away the time comparing lenses, a peculiarly male trait when after about an hour of waiting the egret suddenly flew closer, it was still a speck but a much larger speck. None of us had a Hubble telescope so we waited and waited until for whatever reason the egret decided to fly directly at us. I'm glad I stayed.
Great Egret Nikon D300s Nikon 500 F4 1/2000 F8
I shot this with a tripod mounted Nikon 500mm F4 on a D300s. I had just packed away the new Nikon 200mm-500mm F5.6 which I had been test driving earlier in the day. I would have loved to have had the zoom close at hand as the bird came closer and I couldn't get  all of the bird in as it flew over and around us. The lady next to me with a 80mm-200mm zoom probably has even better shots, hell, even someone with a point and shoot would have worked. Don't get me wrong I am not disappointed with these results after all the effort and time I had put in the bird.
When I got home and checked the files in Lightroom I am glad I had underexposed the shot by a stop and half as it reveals good detail in the feathers. The F8 F stop gave me good depth of field and 1/2000 sec shutter speed froze the action.

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Coast to Coast Presentation

If you have the time come along an enjoy this free presentation. The library is in the Langley Township Hall behind the London Drugs/Walmart Complex. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Some More Shorebirds

Sept 10 2015 Boundary Bay, Delta BC. Sunny

Sanderlings and Western Sandpipers roost on the rising tide.



Western Sandpiper
Before I made my way out to photograph the flood tide I made sure my camera and lens was calibrated. I used the Nikon D300s and the 500mm F4 with a 1x4 converter. As you can see these shots are sharper than the previous blog with just a moderate amount of sharpening.
I found out later that I had missed the Hudsonian Godwit and the White-fronted Geese which tells me I should have waited for the ebb tide when the Black-bellied Plovers returned.

Beside the birds, it was good to meet up with a number of birders I hadn't seen for months so that was good and as is the case with birding there is always another day.

"It's never late to start birding"
John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale
BC Canada

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sandpipers and Godwits

Sept 9 2015 Boundary Bay Delta BC Sunny 23c

Baird's Sandpiper and Semi-palmated Sandpiper.
Hudsonian Godwit (L) and Bar-tailed Godwit (R) shelter with a flock of Black-bellied Plovers.

Hudsonian Godwit and Black-bellied Plovers.

Both Godwits in flight.
The Hudsonian ( bottom L) can be identified by the black under the wings and smaller size. The Bar-tailed has a more rufous colour.A low flying plane spooked the flock and the photo session was over.

Bar-tailed Godwit in flight.

The apparent lack sharpness in the was due to the calibration or fine tuning that had been altered after I had the D7100 in for repairs. I had to use more sharpening than I would have liked to save these images. Anyway it was great to see both godwits together which make for easier identification. Thanks to Mike Tabak who birding experience helped me find these birds. 

"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
Langley Cloverdale
BC Canada