I said good bye to my old Canon 400mm lens last month on eBay, in order to buy the new Tamron 150-600mm F5.6/6.3 zoom lens. I've used the 400mm for several years primarily to shoot wildlife, but I've run into too many situations where the fixed focal length just didn't allow me the flexibility I needed (primarily when I was too close to the subject). I wanted to give my new lens purchase a test drive a few weeks ago on the Texas coast, but that trip totally bombed out with some of the worst weather I've ever been through in Corpus Christi! The temperature never got over 50 and the wind and rain was blowing hard all three days we were there. I was hoping to get some nice portraits of the migratory and some native water birds, but the only decent shot I got was of the bird statue marking the entrance to Oso Bay Wildlife Sanctuary! The real birds were apparently smarter than I was, and stayed hidden away in their warm shelters.
So....after the Corpus disaster, last week while I was in San Antonio, my wife Sara suggested I make a trip to the San Antonio zoo and see what I could photograph there. As it turns out, that was a great decision! The day I was there, many of the displays I wanted to see in the African wildlife section were temporarily closed to the public, but there were lots of birds to photograph. When you first walk onto the zoo grounds there's a huge wetland area set aside for water birds that are essentially out in the open. Gorgeous Flamingos of all kinds are everywhere along with several species of Egrets and other water birds I could not identify. And that brings me to one goal of this month's blog- I'd like for you "birders" or "wanna-be birders" out there to help me out, and NAME THOSE BIRDS! The water birds will probably be a piece of cake even for you beginners, but later on I spent most of my day photographing dozens of bird species I'd never seen before in a large netted sanctuary. The variety of shapes and colors were just mind-blowing, and I probably took over 700 photos while I was in there.
Here are my best shots from the water bird area. The day was very dark and overcast, but out in the open, late morning sky I could at least get my ISO setting down to a reasonable 320. That ISO allowed me to get a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second, which is just about the minimum you need to hand hold a telephoto lens. Any shutter speed slower than that will make it almost impossible to eliminate camera movement without a tripod. In bright sunlight I try to set a minimum of 1/1500th of a second to get the nice, crisp images that are necessary to make good wall prints, but even then success is not guaranteed. I would normally take a mono-pod or tripod for my telephoto out in the wild to provide some stability for the camera, but these can be a problem when used in crowded situations like the zoo. CLICK ON THE THUMBNAILS TO SEE THE ENTIRE IMAGE IN FULL SCREEN MODE.
All of the images below were captured in the large, netted bird enclosure. There was a variety of habitats located in the enclosure including a small stream, rock walls, and plenty of shrubs and trees. Most of the birds were quite used to the human traffic, so it wasn't hard to get some good angles of each bird in a bunch of different poses. The real difficulty here was that in addition to being a generally dark, overcast day, the enclosure itself was shaded and even darker than the open areas. For most of these shots, I had to push the ISO up to 640 and even 1600 at times. Even then, I was getting some underexposed images which make it even more difficult to eliminate digital noise from the final processed files! My Canon 5DS-R has an amazing 50 megapixel sensor which picks up incredible detail, but the trade-off is that it tends to produce images with more noise at high ISO's. It also does not have the huge dynamic range of my Canon 5D-MKIV, so its ability to pull out shadow detail and to recover highlight detail is not ideal. Having said all that, I think these images came out quite nice for online viewing. I found that I got my better images by not zooming in so close to the birds (200mm or less), and utilizing the camera's high-res sensor to get me sharper up close detail by simply cropping in later. Another note- it's just as important with animals and birds to get sharp focus on the eyes, just as it is for human portraits, so there were a LOT of near misses in my files that had to be culled out. With the lens set on a long focal length, there's very little margin for error. As a result, there are just a handful of these shots that are good enough to produce a decent, high-quality print.
All-in-all, I have to say that I was very impressed with the images the new Tamron lens produced, especially under these adverse conditions. I'm hoping the next test out in West Texas in April will go even better. The subject of my April blog will be a three-day shoot on the famous Kokernot o-6 Ranch near Ft. Davis! The ranch's staff of seasoned cowboys will be branding the year's new calves the old-fashioned way. Can't wait!
DON'T FORGET TO "NAME THAT BIRD!!" BY POSTING IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. I'M COUNTING ON YOU. Use the "Photo" number shown with the capture data as a reference for your comments.