Tag Archives: birdlife

A (Unscientific) Review of the Sigma 50-500mm at the 500mm Focal Length

Blue-Winged Teal

Blue-winged teal (I think) at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

As of late, I’ve been suffering a little cabin fever on the weekends. I want to do something photographically (other than edit archived images), but don’t know what. My part of southeast Texas is not the most photogenic for landscape imagery, but it is definitely a treasure trove for bird photography; Brazos Bend State Park, a number of wildlife refuges including Brazoria and Aransas NWRs, the wetlands parallel to the Gulf Coast and Padre Island National Seashore are all within a 30-minute to 4-hour drive away.

I go out to the nearby state park and Brazoria NWR often, but the birds tend to be skittish and are generally too distant for the reach of my Canon 100-400mm lens, thus requiring some degree of image cropping during the editing stage. After seeing others with their big honkin’ primes out at these places, I always suffer a little angst over the fact that I don’t own a super-telephoto, myself. So for yucks and giggles, I reserved a number of super-telephoto lenses with Lensrentals.com to try out over the next couple of months: The Sigma 50-500mm, Tamron’s new 150-600mm lens, Canon’s 800mm prime and I even decided to try out (for the fun of it) the Nikon D800 camera and Nikkor 600mm lens.

This particular post is about my thoughts (with samples) of the Sigma 50-500mm lens at its longest focal length (because I only want the long length for birds – I’m not interested in any of the shorter focal lengths since I already own that aforementioned Canon 100-400mm which I love…well, except for that damned push-pull zoom mechanism).

This is a TOTALLY unscientific review. Everything written here is my opinion only. I’m going to try not to be much of a “pixel-peeper”, either, but I do have high standards that I expect from my full-frame Canons and a good lens.

The photos in this post are relatively low-res;  if you want to see a higher-res shot, just click on the photo and it will take you to that image that I’ve uploaded to my photography website.

My thoughts:

A Canon 1DX and this lens are a little bit heavier for my small hands than my 1DX and 100-400. But then I had no intention of hand-holding this lens as I planned on attaching it to the Wimberley gimbal tripod head I recently won off of eBay (saved myself $200 and it works like a charm).

Canon and Sigma

The Sigma 50-500 at it’s 500mm length, attached to my Canon 1DX on a Wimberley gimbal head and Induro tripod legs

I like Sigma’s focus ring (unlike that stupid push-pull of the Canon 100-400 – what the hell was this company thinking at the time it did that??).

I also like the easy lock switch (My Canon 100-400 has a ring that you have to turn to get the lens to lock at a certain focal length – to get it to stay locked, you need to make sure that ring is turned clockwise as tight as possible).

I’d read in other reviews of this lens that one needed to set the f-stop to at least 8 for optimal sharpness. So all of my images taken at Brazos Bend State Park and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge were between f8 and f10. Because the weekend has been warm but cloudy and overcast with some rain (and a little bit of sun here and there), and to offset the small amount of light getting in through the aperture because of the f-stop settings, the ISO ranged between 400 to 2000 depending upon the outdoor lighting conditions at any particular moment.

Goldfinch

A goldfinch (I think) at Brazos Bend State Park, Texas

Sigma’s OS (analogous to Canon’s IS and Nikon’s VR – image stabilization) is really odd and I don’t like it at all. It was as if the lens took on a life of its own whenever I switched from non-OS to OS. I’d look through the viewfinder and try to focus on a subject only to have the lens actually jump to a slightly different point in the composition. I had to keep moving the lens back to where I wanted the center focal point to be and then quickly snapping the shutter button. I don’t have that issue with my Canon 100-400 or 70-200. As a result, I only snapped a few shots with the OS turned on.

I captured a few images from my car window (cars make good blinds). I did this because had I gotten out of the car (heck, had I even opened the car door), my subject would have flown away. With my 100-400 lens, I don’t need a bean bag for stabilization and it’s easy to hand-hold. With this Sigma lens, I wished I had a bean bag. I’d anticipated this issue, though, so I used a pillow I’d brought from home on which I rested the camera and Sigma lens for stabilization. The bean bag is going to be a near-future purchase.

Hawk

A hawk on a fencepost at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas – taken from my car window

I had pretty much figured this lens just wasn’t going to cut it for me. I’d read too many reviews about Sigma’s inconsistent QC issues, but I figured Lensrentals would have tested the lenses before putting them out for rent (and this lens was inexpensive to rent for a few days).  Nonetheless, I would magnify the view of an image on my camera LCD and what I saw caused me some consternation. So imagine my total (and very pleasant) surprise when I got home and saw the day’s photos after they’d been downloaded to my computer. Ok, some of the shots were a little grainy because of the high ISO, but at an f-stop of at least 8, and on a tripod, my images turned out quite nice! Moral of this story: don’t base your judgment solely by what you see on your camera’s magnified LCD screen.

Conclusion:

I know I only had this Sigma 50-500mm for a couple of days.  So, this review is not in-depth.  That being said, I totally agree with the comment of  one of my Facebook Fans:

This lens will never take the place of a Canon or Nikon prime, but it’s definitely an affordable substitute.

Migrating Geese

Migrating geese making a stopover at Cross Trails Pond, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Next weekend (hopefully), I’ll see how the newly-released Tamron 150-600mm measures up.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Brazoria NWR, Brazos Bend State Park, Canon, Equipment, Parks, Photography, Sigma lens, Texas, Wildlife Refuge

Hummingbird Goodness

Sharing Closeup

On my Facebook page, I have attempted to convey the sheer numbers of hummingbirds that visit the three feeders my mother set out (and that I refill) with words.  While that is nice for the imagination, words just don’t convey what I see every weekend morning at 7AM, right on the dot (hummingbirds are – apparently – very punctual little creatures).  So below are images I took this morning (9/29/2013)  of each of the feeders at a little after 7AM.

The Diners At Feeder 1

This is the most popular feeder (for whatever reason).  I counted 16 hummingbirds in this one image.  There were so many fighting for a place at the feeding holes that they gently rocked the feeder back and forth with the force of their landing, perching, getting knocked off  of, and/or colliding with, the feeder in a frenetic attempt to get in a sip or two before being chased away.

The Diners At Feeder 2

I counted 10 birds at this 2nd-most popular feeder .  You must look carefully in order to find that bit of tail, wing, or head indicating the presence of a hummingbird to add your count.

The Diners At Feeder 3

I counted 8 hummingbirds in this image.  And while I won’t call this the least-popular feeder, it is the less-visited of the three feeders.  There are an inordinate number of bugs at this spot, which can be a bother, or – if the bug is small enough – an extra bit of protein for the little hummer, since hummingbirds feed on small insects and spiders in addition to nectar.

The air was thick with the sound of humming – because there were so many birdies zipping back and forth, the decibel level of the humming noise had increased, I kid you not.  Hummingbirds would zip past me, sometimes less than a foot away from me.  A few hovered near me to check me out, but upon deciding I was not nectar-worthy, they would fly away.

Pulling The Head Feathers

Of course, I witnessed more of what I jokingly call “corporate behavior”.  These little “pecks” and “feather pulling” to the head were so quick, and yet to a 3.5-inch hummingbird (yes, that is how tall a ruby-throated hummingbird measures), those little pecks and pulls might have hurt just a little.  I dunno.  I *did* think it was funny to see so many hummers visiting the feeders that showed off spots of ruffled-up feathers on their heads and backs.

Becky And The Hummingbird

Most of the hummingbird photos you have seen on these  blog posts are for sale as prints on my website (just click on one of the photos to get to the hummingbird gallery).  I’ve also created a couple of hummingbird calendars for sale on my zazzle storefront (just click on one of the calendar images on the left column of the screen) as well as a number of neat book options (writing journals, address books, and 2014 weekly planners) – just click on the icons for those books on the left column of the screen.

Leave a comment

Filed under birds, hummingbirds, nature, Photography, Texas, wildlife

Hummingbird Funkiness

For the past three weeks, I’ve been photographing the hummingbirds flocking to the three feeders in my mother’s backyard. During that period of time, I’ve gotten some really neat shots and have watched some funky behavior exhibited by these amazing little creatures.

Ruffling Feathers

Ever have one of those days??  Or maybe the caption should be “Quit Ruffling My Feathers!”

Sharing

Sharing

Pandemonium

Pandemonium!

This Seats Taken CROP

This seat is taken!

Back Off Dude

I Said, Back Off, Dude!

More to come.  In the meantime, visit this link to see more hummingbird photos taken over the years.  Visit my website and select from the menu items to see my hummingbird calendar (another is in the making) and the hummingbird-themed (and very useful) book products I’ve created (more to come here, too).

2 Comments

Filed under birds, Flash Photography, hummingbirds, Humor, nature, Photography, Texas

Fun With A Big Honkin’ Lens

Becky And The Lens

I’m going to be traveling to the Katmai Peninsula in Alaska later this year to photograph the brown bears (aka grizzly bears) during the salmon spawning season. You’ve seen those photos of the bears standing in the waterfalls while the fish literally jump into their open mouths, right? Well, that’s where I’m going. Needless to say, I am totally stoked (and near broke after paying for the entire trip). Which is why I will be renting (not buying) a 500mm lens to take with me.

Oh, I’ll be taking other lenses too, but that 500mm is going to be special for me. It’s 100mm longer than my 100-400mm lens, and it’s a prime. Prime lenses (aka fixed-focus lenses) on the whole, tend to be sharper than zoom lenses (not always true, but for the most part, yes). This lens that I am renting is going to be a little on the weighty size and –well – it’s gonna be a big honkin’ lens that requires a special tripod head called a gimbal head.

I figured I should perhaps get used to working with such a lens, so I went to my favorite online lens rental outfit and plunked down the money for a 3-day rental of the Canon 500mm f4L lens. Now, this is not the lens I will be taking with me on my Alaska trip. That lens will be the Mk II version of this lens. However, even the rental price for the Mk II version for a 3-day jaunt was more than I wanted to spend at this particular point in time – I’d just paid for my Alaska trip, including airfare – which is why I also did not opt for renting the 600mm lens. Instead, I stuck with the original version of the 500 (which has since been discontinued but you can still rent it).

I wish now I would have measured the lens (with its lens hood) so I could add this to the description, but I was so excited when I received the rental package that I never once thought about anything other than attaching it to the gimbal head and taking it out for a spin.

What’s a gimbal head? Well, it’s a tripod head (just like a ballhead or a panhead) that screws onto your tripod legs. A gimbal head not only accepts the weight of a large and heavy camera/lens combo, but it allows one to move such a combo up and down and around with the lightest of movements. The thing about a gimbal head, though, is that – unlike a ballhead, which allows you to move your camera over all angles in order to get a level position even if the tripod legs are not level – you must get that tripod level to begin with, because the gimbal head itself is not moveable like a ballhead. Oh, I can pan the camera up and down and left and right, but I can’t make the minute sideways or oblique adjustments to get it level on a gimbal if the tripod legs are not already level. You’ll see what I mean from the following photos.

Yeah, so did I mention that the lens is heavy? It weighs 8.5 lbs. I attached it to my Canon 1-DX which weighs about 3.5 lbs. This combination is far too heavy to carry around my neck while walking along a path, so I did what I have seen other photographers do. I carried this combo on the tripod, which I hefted over my shoulder.

Becky Hefting The Lens

Carrying The Tripod

Yeah, I’m smiling for the camera in these photos.  In reality, the only time I was smiling while carrying this behemoth setup was inwardly at all the neat photos I planned on capturing.

After my three days were up, I noticed that my left shoulder and arm had quite a number of bruises on them, which were from traipsing around with this setup. I was also pretty sore from the shoulders down to the waist (I am 5’2” and not a bodybuilder). The weight issue was so worth it, though. So how am I going to be packing this for my Alaska trip? That will be a blog post for the future.

I probably would have never rented this lens for the three days except that I live so close to Brazos Bend State Park and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. So, guess what kind of images I captured?

Bird On A Wire CROP

Bird on a wire.  Looks like a red-tailed hawk.  Maybe  juvenile.  Not sure.

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks and American Coots

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks and American Coots

Killdeer On The Road

Killdeer

Little Yellow Mystery Bird

A Meadowlark, I think…

Turtle

Turtle

Sunning

Sunning.  The day before, there were several alligators near each other and their mouths were open and they were emitting this deep, reverberating rumbling noise to warn each other off. They also rumbled whenever a big bird got too close, and they always rumble whenever a human gets too close.  In this image, though, this guy’s mouth was open to help regulate its temperature (yes, alligators do that).  Apparently, those three reptiles were in accord for the moment.

Lets Rumble

Now this alligator was definitely rumbling at the other alligators.  And it’s the kind of rumble that you can hear quite a distance away, yet it sounds like it’s right next to you.   A bit unnerving unless one is standing high above the gator that is doing the rumbling.

Tree Shrooms

Tree ‘shrooms

Yawn

A yellow-crowned night heron yawning (well, that’s what it appeared to be doing since it wasn’t making any noise when it opened its beak).

Crawfish Lunch

An egret and a crawfish lunch.

Light Snack For A Little Blue Heron

A little blue heron with a crawfish almost as large as the bird!

The local “lunch stop” that is catty-corner to the observation tower on 40-Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park is a plethora of different birds.  Egrets and herons are quiet and stealthy and then suddenly, they lunge into the water and bring out some morsel of food.

Three Ibis And A Frog

Three ibis and a frog.  Ibis are not stealthy like egrets and herons.  They constantly move about the water as they poke their long beaks around in the water until they find something – like this frog (Nature:  eat or be eaten).  I was tickled with this image not only because of the frog catch, but also because I have a white ibis in three stages of feather pattern.  The ibis on the far left is a juvenile.  The ibis with the frog is in its summer moult, and the ibis on the right is an adult.

Quite A Mouthful

Quite a mouthful.  This crawfish was ready to do battle with the ibis.

Grebe

Grebe

Grebes

Harbinger

Redbird

Cardinals – harbingers of spring.  My mother calls them “redbirds”.

Walking Away From Me

The only great blue heron I saw that day…..walking away from me….

Blowing In The Breeze

Jeweled Webbery

Natures Jewelry

Web In The Wind

Natures Jewelry

Natures jewelry:  raindrop bedecked orb weaver’s webs gently blowing in the wind.  I saw lots of these on the road leaving Brazos Bend State Park.

After processing the images from this lens, I must say I am impressed with the resolution quality. No, I don’t think the 500mm f4L original version is quite as sharp as, say, my 70-200mm f2.8L Mk II, but it’s pretty sweet nonetheless. And, if I am this impressed with the original version of this lens, I can only imagine how it will be with the Mk II version that I’ll be taking with me to Alaska.

Becky And The Lens_U9A9764-2

8 Comments

Filed under Brazoria NWR, Brazos Bend State Park, Equipment, Photography, telephoto lens, Wildlife Refuge

An 80-Degree Winter at Brazos Bend State Park

You wouldn’t think it’s winter down here in southeast Texas.   It’s been in the upper 70’s (Fahrenheit) for the past few days.  Foggy in the morning, sunny and bright by mid-morning lasting into the evening.  Yesterday, it was 80 degrees.

I get every other Friday off.  During those Fridays, I generally don’t like to go anywhere (except on vacation, that is).  However, I’d scheduled a bone density test for this particular Friday off, so I decided I’d take along my cameras and spend time after the appointment at a state park to which I’d never been.

Well, I’ve still never been to that state park, and probably won’t ever get there.  You see, Google Map’s directions are not always spot-on.  I managed to get lost and spent the remainder of the morning never finding the park. But, I did see a lot of new area around the outskirts of Houston which I’d never seen before.  I’ve read that seeing new places helps your brain’s neurons (or whatever) create new pathways, which in turn keeps you from getting age-related dementia too soon.  So I guess the morning wasn’t a total waste.

By the time I finally found a highway that would take me home, I decided I might as well drive out to familiar ground instead of going back to my apartment.  So I found myself showing the park ranger my annual Texas State Park pass and I spent a few hours at 40-Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park.

H5T1290_Ibis

H5T1377_Turtles Reflection

H5T1418_Great Egret - Vertical

H5T1467_Leading Lines

H5T1549_Friday Afternoon Fishing

The weather was unbelievable.  For  a winter’s day, people were out in shorts and t-shirts.  There still wasn’t much bird life, but the American alligators were sunning themselves in numbers.

H5T1385_Sunning

H5T1403_Alligator Face

Becky was out sunning herself too.  Oh, and I was also testing my new Giga Pro T II wireless remote by Hahnel.

U9A7631_Becky at Brazos Bend

1 Comment

Filed under Brazos Bend State Park, nature, Parks, Photography, Texas, wildlife