Monthly Archives: October 2016

2017 Tour – Workshop Schedule

2016 turned out to be quite different than it had been planned.The series of medical procedures, including two major surgeries, turned my schedule upside down. All pre booked events were successfully completed though thanks to my colleagues and friends who looked after them. In that respect the photo tours were all great, it was only me who missed the boat. I guided the first tour only in Scotland, it was a ton of fun for all of us.

Well, I got a clean bill of health from my doctors and feel better than ever. I am back exercising daily, power walk three miles in the morning and two miles in the evening. So, it is time to get my 2017 plans out.

  1. I’ll have another early spring photo tour in the back country of Northern England and the Scottish Borders. Timing will be similar like this year, one week at the end of March early April. So we’ll be back home well before Good Friday. The weather usually misty in early spring but very enjoyable and the countryside is ablaze with daffodils. We’ll stay in bed and breakfast places where I had stayed before, it is a unique way to get the best experience of the land and local people.
  2. I plan to have a one week tour in the Grand Tetons again in late May. The base camp will be in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We’ll do a side visit to Yellowstone one or two days, weather conditions permitting. Once I had to cancel one day due to a fluke snow storm that closed the South Entrance road. Excellent scenery and wildlife possibilities. We need to book accommodation soon because the lodges always get fully booked for late May. Small group tour, limited to four participants only.
  3. I’ll have two six day trips to Ontario’s Algonquin park. These are camping trips, the camp sites have electricity and well appointed shower facilities are available. We’ll complete a couple of longer trails and several shorter ones to photograph scenery, wildlife, macro. Contact me for further details soon please. I’ll need to reserve the camp sites early as booking becomes available in the beginning of 2017. The first tour – workshop is in early June the second is in October. Early June is excellent with the renewed freshness of plants, mother moose with their calves and the occasional black bear sow with her cubs. Group size is limited to six people.
  4. I’ll have a Bear Photography Tour in British Columbia in prime bear habitat. It is scheduled for the very end of August and the beginning of September. We’ll have the opportunity to photograph from a boat as we’ll drift downstream and also from ashore as the grizzlies fish in the water. Accommodation is in a well appointed lodge in a scenic setting. This is a very mall group tour, limited to four guests only, so please contact me soon if you wish to confirm a spot.

Send me a note please for exact schedule, particular details, cost, etc. All photo tours are to be reserved with a non refundable deposit and paid full two months prior to the start of the event.

Photo outing in the autumn – birds, butterflies and scenery

Fall is a very special time for most of us. It can be warm, it can be soft, in can be cool and wet but it is still beautiful. The abundance of colours and hues are either soothing or exciting. Their shades of yellow and red mixed with the muted green is something wonderful.

I am very much attracted to being out in the woods in the autumn. I love its smell especially after a rainfall and I never can get over the beauty of its colour palette. Yes, I am not too excited what comes after fall. I have never been too much of a winter person, although it has its own treasury of beauty. Autumn is the time when we can observe south bound bird migration, sometimes hundreds or thousands of birds congregating in a  small area awaiting for helping winds to depart. Then later in the fall we are still grateful for the odd remaining birds or butterflies surprising us with their presence.Then of course the magic of scenery that we encounter in the fall.

As an avid outdoors person and photographer I can never get enough of being out on a trail in the fall. I try to strike a balance between family and nature. However, all my aches and pains disappear as soon as I am heading out. As a photographer I pre-visualize what I possibly shall encounter and choose my gear for the day accordingly. In most cases  I take a long telephoto prime or zoom lens with me. I choose the zoom when lighting conditions allow for using a slower lens without cranking the ISO value too high. When light levels are lover I take a 500mm f4 prime lens out for wildlife, I pack my 1.4x teleconverter as well to reach the smaller birds. Also, if I am after a specific bird only then the prime lens has priority, given its faster AF capability and top shelf optical quality.

I usually go on a trail with my selected long lens. That way I can cast my sight ahead and spot bird activity before I get too close to it. Birds have excellent eye sight and can get spooked easily, this is especially true for the late migrants. Then I pack either a wide angle prime lens, like the Nikkor 20mm f1.8 lens, or a 24-70mm f2.8 zoom. This range is excellent for fall landscapes in general and they do not require too much space in my bag. My other favourite lens in the fall is the 105mm Micro Nikkor VR. The short telephoto macro range is excellent for many things, from a late fall caterpillar to a small cluster of colourful branches. I sometimes even discipline myself to go out only with the Micro Nikkor and concentrate on a smaller segment of image possibilities. It pays off when you slow down and pay attention to every small detail. On other occasions, instead of the Micro Nikkor, I take the 70-210mm f4 Nikkor zoom with me as my “macro” lens. It has a decent magnification range for small vignettes of nature, leaves or even for the late monarch that is still around. The zoom feature gives more freedom to frame images with different perspective. It is a matter of balance what lenses we take, depending on the prime subject matter that we intend to photograph.

As I mentioned I have my long lens on my camera, the rest is either carried in my ThinkTank belt system or in the ThinkTank Glass Limo backpack. When I opt for some of my shorter lenses I carry my long lens in the GlassLimo. It is an excellent backpack, fast to operate, very-very comfortable and a clever design for the trail. I carry some snacks and an extra bottle of water in the side pockets of the backpack, I can access those without dismounting the bag. If I am after fall landscapes I usually attach my smaller tripod to the side of the backpack, my Benro C2580T tripod with a ball head is so light that I do not feel its presence at all. It balances well on the side of the GlassLimo and easy to access within seconds. I suggest it to all nature photographers to work with a light backpack and belt pouch system. Between the two gear and supplies are carried effortlessly and lens change can be done on short notice.

As of clothes my best advice is to dress in easily removable layers and carry a light waterproof outer layer. The other day I was out photographing in cool and drizzly conditions for about two hours. Then the clouds parted and the temperature suddenly was 2-3º C warmer. I took my light rain jacket off together with the west that I was wearing over my flannel shirt and was back to a good comfort zone again. The extra clothes were folded into the backpack. Occasions like this is the reason I always like to take the GlassLimo on a trail, it is good not only for the long lens but for using it as a mobile storage room for clothes, food and everything else.

There are some rules that one should follow when photographing in the fall. Some are simple safety precautions others are practical photography considerations. From a safety point of view watch out for the surface you walk on. When the trail is wet leaves and the fallen pine needles can be very slippery, especially on sloping ground. The good news in late fall is that the horde of mosquitos are gone. However, use that bug repellent spray if you go into the woods. Ticks can be very aggressive in the fall. I have encountered three ticks trying to get a bite out of me the other day within two hours on a trail in the woods. These creatures can carry lyme disease and it is better to be safe than sorry. Spraying some bug repellent with DEET on the legs of your trousers and shoes along with your arms, neck and ears is a good insurance against these pests. 

From a photographic point of view it is the direction of the light that you need to consider. There is not too much point walking against the low morning sunshine and miss the opportunity to observe the shrubs and branches to find those little birds. Although backlit sceneries may offer good and colourful opportunities for some vignettes like a cluster of blazing red maple leaves. If my entry point to a trail is from the “wrong” direction then I usually walk it quietly but swiftly, looking to the side and listening to birds chirping. Then, when I arrive to a good return point I start walking back slowly. Now the the sun is not in my eyes and it illuminates the undergrowth for better observation. Now I have a much better chance to find my subjects. This technique applies particularly for bird photography, especially for little songbirds that are agile, easy to spook and easy to miss.

As you walk slowly you should stop at places in the shade or beside a tree trunk and blend into the surroundings. Those birds that you heard chirping when you walked the other way will soon start giving themselves away, they’ll relax a bit and resume their feeding activities. I often stay put for ten or fifteen minutes in a spot where I have some cover and jut listen. When I see some activity in the branches I start getting ready, I lift my camera slowly and pre-focus on a spot where the birds are likely to appear.

Wa as nature photographers should have a basic understanding about our intended subject matter. If it is birds in the fall then it is the usual time of migration of various species. What habitat do they prefer, where are the spots that they usually rest at? It pays off to know what direction to approach certain spots, to know the direction of the sun in relation to a particular p[lace. If it is scenery you want to photograph then timing of the day and, again, the direction where the light comes from. What is the state of vegetation, what flowers or plants will be in a location? The more you know in advance the higher your success rate will be. 

You always have to know your camera settings for the upcoming shot. Like it happens that you took a few images with some exposure compensation earlier, or used a particularly low or high ISO setting for a specific shot ten minutes ago. Well, set your camera back to your usual mode required for the surrounding. Do not waste that opportunity to photograph a hard to get kinglet by under or over exposing it by several stops. Make sure you set your camera’s meter back to the desired mode if you used something different before. Also, you may want to set the AF mode to single or continuous mode in advance, depending on which is preferable. If you follow a fast leaving hawk while your camera was set to Single AF you blew the opportunity. On the other hand it is often better to use Single AF for small birds that settle for a second or two in a spot. So, be conscious about your present camera setting. Change it to the best configuration that you anticipate for the expected scenario.

Well, there is a lot more to discuss but the above thoughts are some pointers for fall outings in general. I’ll have a couple of workshops planned about practical photography considerations for the various seasons. Would you like to reserve a place please send me a note and I’ll let you know about schedule and details.

Best regards to all nature enthusiasts, Antal

Note: migration captions refer to SW Ontario – Lake Erie lakeshore

Changing subject matter when photographing in nature

It happens from time to time that we go out to photograph with a subject matter in our mind, then despite of our preparation and intentions we need to change course. I am as much of an outdoorsman as a photographer. During my decades in the business I often found refuge in the outdoors where I was shooting for relaxation as opposed to meeting a deadline. However, it happened many times that my intended aim to photograph a subject didn’t yield any results. Like this fall when I was hoping to get some late migratory birds photographed. Warblers, phoebes, kinglets and many other took an early flight south. The few remaining ones were hiding deep in the bush awaiting for another good day to take off.

I have learnt it many years ago that there is no need to get upset or to lose my enthusiasm when I fail to find my intended subject. What I came to realize was that regardless what, there is always something to photograph. At the end of the day you still may come home with some images that otherwise would have been passed upon. Several of my best selling images were shot unplanned on outings when I didn’t find my intended target. So the day didn’t get waisted. I had a good day in nature and I still managed to find something to photograph. Like this latest couple of days when I visited some of my favourite nature reserves around my neck of the woods. I was hoping to take photographs of some little migratory species, well,  there was none. However, there were a couple of other birds around, not too many though. I managed to spot a little elusive Brown Creeper that I had never been able to photograph before, then some Northern Flickers and Blue Jays posed for a few seconds.

When birds are not around I change my attention to plants and if the season still allows it then to butterflies. On a warm late autumn day some butterflies that haven’t yet left or haven’t gone into hibernation may surprise the photographer. Then there are some plants that took on their fall colours or dried up to form an interesting subject. I conducted workshops on fall days when we ended up photographing quite different subject matters than our original plan called for. Regardless, we still had an enjoyable day and harvested many images that ended up as large displays on our walls.

So, in closing I strongly suggest to all nature lovers and photographers to enjoy the day as it presents itself. No matter if it is a light rain or the lack of birds that derails your day, you can turn it around and find something else that will fill the void and give you memorable images to cherish. It can be a dried thistle or a leaf floating on the pond, some late butterflies surprising you on a warm autumn day, a dried cluster of leaves or a colourful shrub backlit by the sun. It is the creative view that you have, mixed with your love of the outdoors, that will give you those images that you’ll be proud of.

Below are a collection of images that I collected when “nothing else” was there to photograph. I hope that some may inspire you just as much as they inspired me.

  • The seeds of next year's flower
  • Backlit shrub
  • A well figured orb spider
  • Lily pad turned its colours
  • Painted Lady in autumn sun
  • Eastern Marbled Orange spider
  • Bronze leaves
  • Yesterday's bird......
  • Northern Flicker high in a dead tree
  • Monarch on fall Aster
  • Common Buckeye on Aster in mid October
  • Monarchs and Cabbage Butterfly on fall Aster
  • Autumn coloured Comma butterfly
  • Mushroom on tree stump
  • Northern Paper Wasp on Golden Rod
  • Blue Jay against golden backdrop
  • Northern Crescent on fall Aster

My opinion about the new Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens

Having shot with the Tamron G2 lens for two weeks now I feel that I can draw a conclusion about its performance for nature and wildlife photography. Unfortunately eye catching subject matters such as nice little birds were not available around my corner of the woods this time of the year, most of them migrated south by now. However, I managed to test the lens on some seagulls and cormorants and some wasps that were extremely agile collecting their food on golden rods. Static subject matter was restricted to flowers, plants and some signs, however, they were just as useful as any prettier photographic target would have been. I posted a number of various images at Digital Photo Review, dpreview.com as known on the web. I received a good number of positive comments alongside with the usual negative ones. You cannot please everyone even though you volunteer a lifetime of experience.

Anyhow, the enclosed images were all taken this morning around my house. I shot them at those distances that I encounter most often when I work in nature. Most of my butterfly images are taken around 4-5 metres or less. When I photograph small birds I am often shooting in the 18-25m range. Then my distance shots from herons, egrets and waterfowl are usually taken from 30-50m distance. The enclosed “garden variety” images were taken at these respective distances. I’ll promise to post “real wildlife” images as I’ll manage to encounter them in the future.

So, how would I rate this new lens? How would I rate its against its A011 predecessor? How would I rate it against the optically excellent Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 lens?

When Tamron introduced their 150-600mm A011 lens I got two copies to test. I was reasonably satisfied with the A011 model, especially since it was the only offering of this type of zoom at the time. However, I was disappointed by the poor performance of the lenses at 600mm. Images were soft with some slight hazy feeling. Both of the copies I had exhibited the same issue at 600mm. I have seen very nice images from others taken at 600mm later. The consensus about the A011 version was that there was a strong sample variation of this model. It was a good luck bad luck situation, you either got a good or a bad copy.

I didn’t adapt the A011 version since the two lenses I tested were flawed at 600mm. I opted for the soon introduced Nikkor 200-500mm lens that exhibited very good optical qualities. I was not impressed with its AF performance but as of image quality and VR performance the lens was outstanding.

Now, the new G2 version was introduced by Tamron as an improved lens in every aspect. Optical formula was changed by adding another element to the rear group, the lens also got new fluorite coating, VC and AF was said to be improved too. Furthermore Tamron implemented weather and dust sealing and Arca Swiss compatibility on the lens foot. Weather sealing was a major thing since the A011 version had serious issues in sucking in dust if it was used in a dusty environment. Tamron also stated that they introduced a strong SP worthy quality control

My findings are that all the claims of Tamron seem to be valid. First of all, this time I had one copy to test and it was sharp out of the box at 600mm without the haze tat I found in the A011 version. Then I was pleasantly impressed with the AF speed of the lens. It was faster and more positive than my Nikkor’s. Without lab tests I could not say whether the lens’s optical performance is better than the Nikkor 200-500mm zoom’s. However, I can say that every image I took was well detailed and rendered with pleasing bokeh.

I do not judge a lens by looking at the images at 100% as many so called “pixel peepers” do. Although I do zoom in to 100% from time to time. What I look for is the final print quality that I can achieve with a lens. I work on a regularly calibrated 4k monitor. When I want to pre visualize how a printed image would look I zoom in to print size in PS6 then hit the + button twice. The extra 2x + gives an “overkill” size to judge the image on screen. It does not bring out artifacts it just shows the image a bit larger than its printed size. I can get a very good judgement formed of the quality of the image this way. By zooming into 100% one can see some artifacts or noise that will never will show up in the printed image. So why bother finding flaw if in real life it will not be present in a well printed large image? My conclusion is that The Tamron G2 will deliver excellent image quality if the photographer does his/her job well. Proper exposure, subject matter, direction of light, good atmospheric conditions and so forth have to be in place to get a well detailed and pleasing image. The lens will not be the bottleneck in order to get the image right.

Of course I cannot confirm Tamron’s claim about more stringent quality control in manufacture. Time will tell us based on people reporting their findings. However, it seems like that Tamron has stepped up their game in the super telephoto arena. The G2 lens performs very well in every aspect and it is much easier to handle than Sigma’s 150-600mm Sport lens. Therefore I expect that many new adopters of super zooms will lean towards this new Tamron lens when they’ll make their purchasing decision.

I was so much pleased with the performance of the test copy I received that I purchased a Tamron G2 for myself. It seems like that my Nikkor 200-500mm lens will be replaced with this Tamron. Yes, I would prefer a constant f5.6 aperture lens, however, AF speed and the extra 100mm reach votes strongly for the Tamron G2. It will be a good light birding lens on my D500 when I do not want to carry my 500mm f4E FL prime.

Hands on with Tamron’s 150-600mm G2 lens

Well, I finally managed to do some casual shooting with the new Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens. My curiosity was about how it would compare to the previous version and to the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 lens. To cut to the chase, my first impressions are reasonably positive. I’ll test the lens in various outdoor uses more in the coming weeks and will add further info to this article as I progress.

I did some straight comparison shots of the same subject with both the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 and the Tamron G2. Although the images with the Nikkor were shot in mid morning while the Tamron images are from mid afternoon. This was due to my schedule for the day. However, I shot these images in open shade so that apart from colour balance the illumination was similar and diffused.

I took all but one images at the longest focal length of both lenses, 500mm and 600mm respectively. All in all most people buy these long zooms primarily for their long reach. The previous version of Tamron’s long zoom was the weakest at 600mm, although many of the faithful Tamron owners deny this. I am not arguing with them but my own tests were not in favour of the first version lens at 600mm. I always felt that there was some kind of haze over the images taken with the A011 model at 600mm, some softness that was not due to missed focus but to some optical weakness. Anyhow, it seems like that the G2 version is markedly improved in its optical performance at 600mm. Images from my Nikkor 200-500mm and the Tamron G2 were very comparable. That is a compliment to the performance of the new Tamron lens since my 200-500mm Nikkor is a very solid performer. So, I have been very pleased with the optical qualities of the G2 lens.  I do not conduct scientific tests, I am not an optical engineer. I am a photographer who judges its lenses on the quality of printed images that were taken with them.

I was also pleased with the VC performance of the lens. I took a few shots inside my camera shop at 600mm and 1/80 second shutter speed, the resulting images were all very usable. I compared VC1 and VC3 to see what tangible result can be obtained with the new VC3 setting. Well, I feel that there is probably 1/2 stop compensation advantage when the lens is set to VC3. However, VC1 is very decent to start out with and I prefer seeing a stabilized image in the viewfinder. VC3 mode does not stabilize the image in the viewfinder, it puts all its “efforts” into stabilizing the image on the sensor. For general shooting I would always use VC1 and resort to VC3 only in extreme circumstances. Having a stable image in the viewfinder helps a lot with precise framing. Whereas shooting in VC3 mode showed me how hard it is to frame a shot well when handholding a 600mm lens. I still give the Nikon VR a slight edge over the Tamron VC. However, the Tamron performs close to the Nikon VR on the 200-500mm Nikkor. It is widely accepted that the VR performance of the Nikkor is extremely efficient. So, being close behind it is not a small feat and shows that Tamron did a very good job on their implementation of VC on this lens.

As of AF performance? I am glad to report that the Tamron did very well. My only gripe with my Nikkor 200-500mm has been its somewhat underwhelming AF performance. It seems to me that the Tamron G2 lens is more agile, snappier than that of the Nikkor’s. I changed subjects from close to far frequently then tested the AF at close focusing when small adjustments had to be obtained. The lens was responding well for both larger and smaller changes in focus distances. I shot a number of images of wasps feeding on a golden rod at the closest focusing distance of the lens. The wasps were very active, changing positions and taking off suddenly frequently. The lens was performing very well obtaining well focused images in almost all instances. This was a very reassuring finding for me since I use my Nikkor 200-500mm zoom for butterfly and bug images a lot. The Nikkor has a 0.22x magnification ratio, approximately 1:4.5 and helped me to obtain great butterfly images. The Tamron has an even higher ratio, it delivers 1:3.9 magnification ratio and does it at 600mm. This makes the Tamron G2 a very desirable close-up lens for photographing skittish butterflies.

The lens balanced well on my D500 with attached MB-D17. The buttons felt positive, easy to operate and of good quality. I very much like that focal length can be locked at any setting, clever feature. So is the ARCA SWISS compatible feet. Finally, Tamron implemented this common sense feature that many photographers were asking for. Also, the foot rotates smoothly and locks firmly in 90º intervals. I cannot comment on weather sealing but very much believe that Tamron’s claim has to be taken with face value. I do not intend to shower the lens but it is an added piece of mind to hear that Tamron sealed the lens at every point that would be vulnerable to the elements. The lens hood feels well attached to the lens, it snaps into place very positively.

Well, the first impressions are very good. I’ll test the Tamron in the outdoors further in the coming weeks. If my final conclusion will be as good as my first ones then I’ll use this lens on my D500 for light outings when I do not want to carry a long prime lens. The light weight of this lens is a bonus. It never will outperform a fast f4 long prime lens in AF speed and optical qualities, hoverer, if it brings in images that result in detailed large prints then its place will be secured in many photo bags.

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  • The only image taken at a shorter than 600mm focal length