Thursday, 20 April 2017

Back behind a lens and enjoying it

I cannot remember if I whinged on here about 2017 being the worst year I can ever remember for taking photos. Possibly I wrote it and then discarded the post in disgust – nobody will feel sorry for me because I haven’t absolutely nailed various birds, particularly with the anti-photographer rhetoric so common at the moment. The post was about peaking in roughly 2014, and then gradually diminishing in both quantity and quality ever since. It got to the point a few weeks ago when I wondered about jacking it in as I wasn't enjoying it anymore. Why bother, there are plenty of bird photographers out there, who needs another? 

So most of this year on the patch (and indeed general birding elsewhere) has seen me with just binoculars, whoever thought that would happen? And even in the absence of many birds to speak of it has been refreshing to be so lightweight and free. Every now and again I have hauled the camera round the patch for no good reason and wondered why I bother – truly London is the pits. When trips to HK and even Hawaii failed to produce anything decent, I began to wonder if travel was in fact holding me back in some way. Or the camera. Was it mis-focussing or was that just my imagination? I couldn’t seem to get anything on target, nothing was tack sharp. My lack of practice or the tools letting me down? It is fair to say the camera is a wreck, a shadow of its former self, at least physically. There are cracks, dents, more scuffs than I can keep track of, and only about 60% of the rubber eyecup remaining. Whilst half of me was wondering about throwing the towel in, the other half of me was thinking dark, expensive thoughts about a new camera.

Once again it took the 800mm lens to sort things out. I have lost count of the number of times I have nearly sold it. It sits in the cupboard unused for months at a time, nagging at me - I do not deserve it, somebody else should have it. Somebody who will use it to its full potential, every day of the week. It is too heavy, too cumbersome, too large for everyday use. And I am too old, too feeble, and too busy to schlep it round the place. I’ll take the smaller lighter option instead, if anything, and get rid of it. Yes, cash it in. With my mind made up, and just before I get the box out of the loft, I decide to take it out one last time.

Christ, what a fantastic lens. Heavy, awkward, slow. And magnificent. I took it to Cyprus this weekend – Cyprus Pied Wheatears are small and it was an absolute joy. It makes bird photography a genuine pleasure, the range is incredible. How can 800mm be so much more than 700mm? 49 vs 64 I suppose, an increase in pixels on the bird of 30%. And that’s before any converter – a 1.4x converter almost doubles the number of pixels you have to play with on any lens, but this isn’t any lens. In near perfect light at 6am on Sunday morning I stalked a Cyprus Pied Wheatear at Cape Greco at the eastern end of the island. Crouching then standing, some crawling and some slithering. Constantly adjusting the monopod for the clarity of background. And then just for larks I added the converter as I still had plenty of speed in the clear morning of the eastern Mediterranean. Ooof! I can barely tell I’m using it, the bird zips into focus so easily, and it is huge!

There is nothing wrong with the camera, it didin't skip a beat that morning. Any previous concerns are all to do with the useless operator I’m afraid. The lessons here are many. Time spent with one aim in mind will always produce better shots than an on-spec wander. A lens on a monopod will deliver better results than one not on a monopod. And when it comes to focal length, longer is nearly always better.

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