Fragile As A Gardenia Boom

 

Generalizations are always iffy but I would venture a guess that most of us who venture out every day with our cameras in hopes of nailing that perfect shot have at least a sliver of  of environmental angst lurking in our souls.  And perhaps what draws us to the photographs we make is the fragility of the scene and how even the seemingly innocuous act of just walking along the top of a barrier dune can start to undo what has taken nature years to accomplish. 

I was out one morning before sunrise on the coast recently when a woman walking her dog struck up a conversation with me.  We talked about the endless beauty of what we were seeing. The conversation quickly circled to the now hot issue of drilling for oil off the Carolina beaches.  She asked  if that concerned me?  I thought a moment, admittedly considering whether I wanted to give up a few precious moments of the soon to be sunrise to wallow into conversational quicksand. I decided to answer her this way.   “I was in Santa Barbara, California  during the big oil spill decades ago and since that experience, every time I go into the voting booth, it is with but two issues on my mind: the environment and  my own economic interest.  If there is a conflict,” I said, “I always try to put the environment first,” which I added, “is all too often the collateral damage of human enterprise.”

“Nicely said,” she grinned and walked into the sunrise which was just coming up over the horizon.

Thanks for the visit and have a great week ahead.  See you next time.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR Lens: First Use.

In my world of photography, the fast professional f/2.8 telephoto lenses  do not exist.  I can’t afford them.  For years, the sharpest telephoto lens in my bag has been Nikon’s 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR Lens.  I’ve been through two of the third party 400 and 500 mm offerings and none measured up at the 300 mm range, let alone 500. Nikon’s relatively new full frame 200-500 mm f/5.6 is the game changer. First the negatives. This lens is a Sherman Tank.   The lens weighs in at almost 5 pounds. Suffice to say there’s a lot of metal and glass here. And it’s big.  Fully extended, with the lens hood fitted,  it’s nearly 18 inches long. And obviously, while the f/5.6 constant aperture gives consistent performance throughout the zoom range, it has its limitations in low light situations. If you must shoot in low light, prepare to shell out some very large money.  The price for this lens, just under 14 hundred dollars, and its sharpness at 500mm is what sold me. These photos of a male Northern Cardinal provide ample evidence.

This is an honestly simple,  jpeg shot with no tweaking, straight out of a Nikon D750.  The shot below  was converted to jpeg from a  NEF image (NEF is Nikon’s version of a RAW File) in Photoshop where I applied haze reduction and a slight tweak in color curves.

 

I used a tripod on both.  The 200-500 comes with a hefty metal tripod collar.  When the lens with collar is fitted to the camera,  it makes for a perfectly balanced package.  Unlike other telephoto lenses with Vibration Reduction,  I found that leaving it on when using a tripod actually added some benefit.  The VR is snappy and provides compensation for the effects of camera shake by up to 4.5  stops. This means, yes, while this lens is a load,  you can shoot it handheld with very good results.

Since I bought this lens primarily for bird shots here on the farm and on the coast, a couple of specs that directly relate to that use.  First, the lens auto focus system is near silent and quite quick. A designated “sports mode” is well-suited to working in fast paced conditions where panning and other lateral camera movements are more common.   Also,  an electromagnetic aperture mechanism that is integrated into the lens design provides greater exposure control stability.  This is especially beneficial when working with high speed shooting rates.  This feature pretty much  limits the lens to to Nikon’s “D”  camera line.  There is also a switch that locks the lens at 200mm. This makes the lens a bit more easy to haul around.  A final note. This lens is way too big for an ordinary camera bag. I picked up a Lowe pro padded lens bag for under 40 bucks that fits this lens perfectly.  Happy shooting everybody.  See you next time.

Buying Used Camera Gear

 

A cold front marches across the fields from the north here on the farm.  Taken with a Nikon D800E camera bought used from B and H  photo video several years ago. In fact, it had been a display item and never used.  The price was way below retail.

The fact is, camera gear is expensive.  The top of the line Nikon DSLR carries a price tag of more than 6 thousand dollars, but one need not spend anywhere near that kind of money to obtain excellent, reliable cameras, lenses and so forth.  A quick visit to B,&H  Photo Video, Adorama, MPB, Keh and many others can often turn up incredible deals on pricey lenses and cameras,  but it pays to do  some homework on what piques your interest.  One statistic I always look for in used cameras is the number of shutter  snaps.  This is  readily available in the exif data that accompanies every jpeg picture.   Most of the used sites do not reveal this statistic in their ads.  MPB does.  Some will tell you if you inquire. Others will not, but do offer free, no questions asked returns if done within a specified length of time, usually a week.  Another thing to check is whether the item you have your eye on has been recalled by the manufacturer to update firmware, etc. Clear, close up photos of the item are another must for me.  No photos from all angles, no deal.

Just this past week, after checking off all of those little boxes, I purchased a used  Nikon 200-500mm f/ 5.6 lens with vibration  reduction from MPB in near mint condition at a considerable savings below current retail.  One my concerns was a  recall of the lens  by Nikon to correct via firmware update a problem with the auto focus.  A check of the serial number on the lens would tell consumers  whether their lens was subject to the recall.  A quick email to MPB netted the serial number on the item I was interested in and after checking with Nikon, I learned it was not affected.  Based on that information and the like new, near mint condition borne out by close      up photos of the lens published online by MPB, I purchased the lens.  After receiving it, I have a week to check it out and return it if I  change my mind.  No worries with that.

I’ve purchased numerous lenses from MPB in the past and have never had a problem.  Same with B  and H and Adorama. The key here  is to do your homework.  A little due diligence can save you some worry and save you a substantial amount of money.  And, if you take care of your gear, when it comes time to upgrade, you can sell it back to these outfits or trade it for something else. Keep snappin’.    Thanks for the visit and have a good week ahead.  See you next time.

Leaving The Top Off The Celestial Blender

Driving up the path to the top of the field that morning, it looked as though the Almighty was making a Strawberry Smoothie and left the top off the blender.  It was Spectacular!

Easily, the most stunning pre-dawn I have seen in the fields since I came here 16 years ago.  And that’s saying something since I am up for just about every sunrise year round.

Shot with a Nikon D800E and an 18-35mm lens and a Nikon D700 with a 20mm Prime. Spot metering, f/8 ISO 400. Thanks for looking and have a great week ahead. See you next time.

 

Snow Encore

A snowstorm in southeastern North Carolina is pretty rare.  Two within a week is unheard of, but last Wednesday our second storm of the season blew through.

Not quite the disaster the previous storm was but enough to again close the schools down and send out the road crews.  In fact, the schools closed down 12 hours before the first flake floated to the ground.  All told, there was maybe an inch.  A little more in the wooded areas thanks to the wind and drifting and a bit of snow and ice left from the week before.

I know, not a big deal to those who live in more snow prone areas.  My sister in Maine calls me a “Winter Wimp.”  It’s all about what you are used to dealing  with.  I suspect, we’d better get used to the weather extremes because as Bob Dylan said, “The Times they are a’changing.”

A couple of asides.  Fed Ex and UPS had no problem with the weather.  UPS delivered my D750 from Nikon.  I had returned it to have the shutter checked as part of a Nikon Recall.  They gave it a complete once over.  New Shutter, replacement of the rubber grips and seals, sensor cleaning, overall cleaning and updated with factory specs including the latest firmware.  Thank you Nikon.

And Fed Ex delivered my 134 dollar used Nikon 80-210mm f 4-5.6 D lens. ( The “D” indicates the lens sends distance information to the camera for matrix metering.)  Nikon made this in Japan into the early 2000’s.  No one makes lenses like this anymore.  All metal. Lightning fast auto focus and among the sharpest lenses Nikon has ever made. It’s a push pull lens meaning you extend the barrel of the lens to the wanted distance.  If you can find a good one with little use, they’re a steal.  And, they work with just about every SLR and DSLR camera Nikon has made..  I bought this one for my Nikon F-100 film camera.  Thanks for the read and have a good week ahead.  See you next time.

A Rare Snowfall

It doesn’t snow here often, maybe once every two or three years, if that, so, it’s a pretty big deal when it does.  Even a few inches will close schools for a week and empty the bread and milk shelves in the grocery stores.  And, if there’s freezing rain involved, the power usually goes out for several days.  Armed with my “hunker down list”, I made a supply run to stock up on, among things, gasoline, to keep the generators running in the event of a blackout. ( The power stayed on and the gasoline wound up in my truck.) The storm which came overnight, topped out at between 3 and 4 inches.   It was more than enough to cover the ground and pile up on the evergreens.   I packed up my camera and headed out with a sack of black oil sunflower seeds in hopes of catching a few bird shots. Birds must have some sort of Twitter thing that allows them to instantly communicate with other birds.   A few scattered sunflower seeds on the ground below my favorite River Birch Tree brought them out in droves.

   

 

The smaller birds like the Dark Eyed Junkos and House Finches were first on the scene, loading up before the bigger birds muscled in.

The Northern Cardinals, male and female, who mate for life, usually show up together.  It’s interesting how they take turns swooping down to the seeds, pick one up and fly back to almost the same spot in the tree to crack it open and eat.  After about an hour, the tree was overrun by Common Grackles.  These birds appear to be all black at a distance, but are actually highly iridescent with colors ranging from blue to purple depending on how the light strikes them.

My Nikon D750 was back at Nikon in New York getting its shutter repaired in a recall so I used the trusty D700 to capture these, using a 70 to 300 mm lens which I have had for well over a decade.  I had to get close to avoid extreme cropping with the D700 which packs only 12 megapixels.  I was right pleased with the results. Maybe by the next time it snows here, I’ll have one of those big telephotos that are all the rage. Maybe! At 72, I’m not one to look too far ahead.  Thanks for the visit.  Have a good week.

 

Smothered!

Dawn on Wednesday brought ample evidence of what was coming that night. By nightfall it had started as very light sleet with snow mixed.

Living out in the country, our biggest fear is always the loss of power.  I had layed in enough gasoline to power the generators  for several days in the event of a power failure but the weather gods shined upon us this time and the lights stayed on.  I figure we got maybe 3 to 5 inches with drifts in some places up to 7 or 8.  Not much when compared with what the Northeast got, but down here where snow removal is the month of July, it was enough to bring everything to a halt. There was nothing to do but admire a winter scene we had not seen since 2010.

The crews had moved in the day before the storm and harvested all of the soybeans and got them under cover before the snow started leaving a pristine field of white looking west toward the tree line and the tin barn.  It’s been brutally cold here since the storm with overnight lows just a tick above zero. Serious stuff for Southeastern North Carolina.  Thanks for the look.  Stay warm. See you next time.