Posted by: digibirder | May 24, 2008

Trial and Error

I’ve been a little critical of my bird photos in the past and, like a bad workman, I’ve been blaming my tools. In my Lesvos post, I mentioned that I had borrowed a friend’s Canon lens while we were there, to see if it gave better results than my Sigma, as it had image stabilisation. I don’t really know if they were a lot better, but there was a slight discernible difference, but not enough to make me buy that lens. Having said that, I did later think that perhaps I hadn’t given it a long enough trial in order to draw a positive conclusion. And then I began to wonder whether a prime lens would be better than a zoom. In the meantime, I concentrated on non-bird photos. I was so disappointed about my bird photography, I never even bothered to get my camera out of the car on a recent trip to Minsmere, although I did take it with me the following week when Keith and I went back down on our camping weekend. As you can see, though, I didn’t take many bird photos, concentrating mainly on landscapes, which had become my new passion following the purchase of the wonderful Sigma 10-20mm zoom lens.

Anyway, not wanting to splash out almost £1000 on a new lens only to find that the photos are no better than at present, I discovered that you can actually hire lenses. I researched various companies and read lots of reviews, and the best one appeared to be Lenses For Hire of Maidenhead. You can hire lenses for any period you choose, from 3 days to 10 weeks. The good thing about this company is that the delivery and return days are not counted in your hire period. So, for my three-day hire, Saturday to Monday, the lens arrived on Friday, direct to my work address, and I have to post it back on Tuesday. For up to 7 days hire, insurance is included, and is optional over 7 days. The lens arrived very well packed and in spotless condition – looks brand new.

So, I decided on the Canon 300mm f/4L IS and I also opted for the 1.4x converter. In total I paid about £48. I had originally intended to hire the lens for our upcoming holiday, but I thought I would get a better idea by giving it an intensive testing over a weekend, rather than sporadic use over two weeks, which would be a waste of money. When I arrived home from work yesterday, I couldn’t wait to give it a bit of a test, despite the light not being very good. As is normally the case when I get the camera out, there isn’t a bird to be seen, but then a lone Greenfinch appeared in the top of a tree at the bottom of the garden. Not the most auspicious start, but it was hand-held in fading light, after all. It is, in fact, a heavier lens than my Sigma 135-400 zoom, so I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t be so good after all.

Before setting out this morning, I had another quick practice in the garden, trying out the converter as well so that I got used to attaching and detaching it, and trying to get the correct shutter speed for the IS to work (it apparently only works up to a particular shutter speed, and this depends on whether the converter is attached or not). This time I opened the French doors and stood just inside the kitchen. The following two photos (Woodpigeon and female House Sparrow) were taken using an Ergo Rest support that I purchased some time ago and have never used. I wanted to take it to Lesvos in order to support the camera on the car window, but we already had quite a weight of equipment, and had to pay an excess baggage fee anyway, so it was reluctantly left behind. I remembered reading in the instructions that it could also be used as a chest support, so I decided to give it a go. Having struggled at Minsmere with a tripod the other week, and knowing that a monopod is sometimes not that convenient depending on the circumstances, I have to say that it was very successful, and it didn’t make the camera uncomfortable to carry either.

We didn’t want to spend hours driving, especially on a Bank Holiday weekend, and it wasn’t necessary to travel too far anyway, in order to maximise the snapping time, so we decided to go to Old Moor RSPB reserve for a couple of hours and then probably on to somewhere different in the afternoon. I attached the Ergo Rest, slung the camera over my neckand off we went round the reserve. First stop was the hide overlooking the feeder garden. I rattled off a few shots and managed to get a few keepers.

Female Chaffinch

Orange Tip


We carried on round the reserve, but there wasn’t much else in the way of birds to be seen, let alone photographed. There were, however, lots of butterflies around. The problem was catching them! It was also very windy. Occasionally one stayed put long enough to get a photo, but I was glad of the image stabilising and the Ergo Rest. I really must test this support with my Sigma lens, though. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before.

Common Blue (male)

Common Blue (female) Pity about the leaves in the way

After a cup of tea and piece of cake in the cafe, we decided to head off to Wentworth Castle Gardens to see the rhododendrons in full bloom. I went here a few years ago with a work trip connected with a conference we were organising, but Keith has never been. The Victorian greenhouse was featured in the BBC Restoration programme, but despite not winning, the whole estate is now undergoing an intensive programme of restoration due to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Again, there weren’t many birds to be seen, but I tested the macro capabilities of the hire lens on the blooms. Because of the focal length, you have to stand about 5 feet away from the subject! I’m not sure what the magnification ratio is, but it’s not true macro, that’s for sure. The following are actually azaleas, taken, would you believe, in the Azalea Garden. Sorry I don’t know the names of these.

After our trip round the garden, including a climb to the top of the tower of Stainborough Castle (which is actually a folly in the Wentworth Castle grounds), we again took advantage of the tearoom before returning home. Just as we were finishing dinner, I noticed a young Blackbird pecking in one of the plant pots near the patio and wondered if it would stay long enough for me to get the camera out. It was so close I couldn’t risk opening the door, so I fired off a few shots, but the plant in the pot was in the way. Then it sensed I was watching so it scurried off down the path, turning to glance back once before flying off. This was through the glass door without the Ergo Rest.

So, I think the first day was fairly successful. The forecast for the remainder of the weekend wasn’t too good when I checked the other day, but it appears to have improved somewhat, so we have yet to decide where to go for tomorrow’s and Monday’s tests.



  1. look ok, can you send me a few originals?

  2. Which ones do you want? Up to the Orange Tip, I was using RAW mode, so they are huge files – in the region of 5-7MB. From there onwards I switched to high quality jpg – average 2MB.

    Most have been cropped and sharpened to some degree (some more than others), but then I have to sharpen photos taken with my Sigma lens anyway, and I think it’s usual to have to do this with any digital camera.

  3. not the raw!!

    just one or two birds. that don’t blow up very large.

  4. or even they don’t blow up very large

  5. Pedestrianly says : I absolutely agree with this !

  6. Hi Pedestrianly. Agree with what? The post or the above comment? On the following posts I have made the image larger when clicked.

  7. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Swop.

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