Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Equipment Reviews

As well as recording our trips and photos we'll also be writing short reviews of our equipment. One thing that was very useful when starting out was reading what equipment people were using, how they used it and what their experiences were.

Something that was apparent when we started was the dominance of two manufacturers in DSLR wildlife photography; Canon and Nikon. As we had no legacy lenses to limit us we checked out both systems and the Canon won out for us purely on the handling but either is perfectly adequate and a good base for the future. Now that we have a lot of Canon glass we will likely stick with them for a long time but people often switch particularly when upgrading to professional level kit depending on what's the best at the time.

We won't be going into any great technical detail, lots of other sites already provide this. We regularly check out The Digital Picture for their extensive technical reviews and lens comparisons and FredMiranda for community reviews. Another regular site when deciding where to buy something is Camera Price Buster which lists all the main Canon, Nikon and other manufacturers, the current best prices and price trends over time. There may well be better prices somewhere but this takes a lot of the effort out of deciding on a store and what you can afford. They also have store reviews so you can avoid the really bad places.

Personally we've purchased kit online from Amazon, Dabs, RGB Photo and UK Highland and had no real problems with any of them. When buying from Amazon be absolutely sure who you're actually buying from (we nearly always buy direct from Amazon.co.uk), many stores sell through Amazon and not all of them are reliable. We occasionally buy small accessories like camera bags, lens hoods and cleaning kit from Jessops in Liverpool simply due to convenience.

Some sites offer kit at much lower prices and there are always concerns about sites either selling second hand, refurbished or grey import items as genuine items. Some stores based off-shore can also sell at very low prices but there again concerns about receiving dud or grey import items and many such sites are also quite vague about whether import duty and VAT have been paid. Personally we prefer to support good UK stores and avoid the issues and hassle of receiving something different to what you ordered. I'm sure many people have perfectly good experiences but there are enough horror stories to put us off effectively gambling on whether we get what we paid for or not.

Now that we have the equipment and have used it for quite a while we can give you our experiences. We will update any reviews over time if we encounter any problems or discover any useful tips.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Third Bird

Back in 2003 while we were living in Milton Keynes Gill decided she wanted to try bird photography. At that time we had a basic 80mm spotting scope and had been reading about a new technique called digiscoping (taking photos through a scope with a digital compact camera). We bought a Nikon Coolpix 4500, a very good camera for digiscoping and tried it out.

The results weren't brilliant but showed good potential. We were limited by the quality of the scope and so had a hard choice. Get a (quite new at the time) DSLR and small lens or invest in a decent scope. We couldn't afford a DSLR and long enough lens to make it useful so we settled on a much better scope (Zeiss Diascope 85 T*) and camera mount and started learning our craft.

I had had very little exposure to photography before this, not having had access to any real cameras at home but quickly got hooked, helped by the improving shots we were getting. A digiscope setup was very good for a beginner, allowing us to get enough magnification to fill the frame with small birds and the scope is always useful for plain bird watching.

As we were both taking pictures, often at the same time, it was going to be very difficult keeping track of who had taken what so we simply called ourselves The Third Bird (after the film The Third Man). We've kept the name ever since, hence the title of this blog.

Over time we perfected our digiscoping technique and our post processing on the computer and spent a lot of time using it. After a few years, however, we became disillusioned with it. We were just as interested in taking wildlife photographs as seeing the wildlife itself and the quality of shots just weren't good enough on our kit. It was disheartening to be basically limited to static portraits and having to spend ages post processing JPEGs to get anywhere near as good as basic output from a DSLR.

Eventually we saved up enough to start investing in DSLR equipment, initially with a Canon 50D and 17-85mm and 70-300mm lenses. The quality was orders of magnitude better, the speed of shooting was much, much faster and the ability to track action meant we could finally get flight shots and active behaviour. The downside was, of course, the much shorter focal lengths, particularly with only a 300mm maximum. We later upgraded to a 150-500mm lens but still find it tricky to get frame-filling shots with small subjects. Maybe digiscoping wasn't so bad! But there's no denying the difference in quality or variety of shot

Digiscoped swan
Swan taken with 50D+500mm lens
It may be tricky to see the difference in image quality on small thumbnails but it would have taken us many frustrating hours to get a flight shot like that on the digiscope. Using the DSLR we got many such shots in less than an hour. The digiscope picture also required far more (boring) processing.

The DSLRs are also proving a very useful base for other types of photography, particularly landscapes and macro (if there are no birds around there are nearly always an interesting insect or flower instead).

Anyway, we've certainly had to learn a lot about photography, cameras, lenses, digital workflows and field craft and we're starting to put it all in to practice. We will be using this blog to keep track of our trips (big and small), what we see and the photos we've taken. Keeping a formal website going was too much work, particularly with full time jobs, so hopefully an informal blog will be easier to keep up to date.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Second Post

This is just a tester to see if I can get a picture and words on.

The First Post

Testing the blog post system.

Here's a swan taken at Martin Mere WWT.

Much more to come...