Sunday, October 20, 2019

White-throated Sparrows - 20 Oct 2019

A gorgeous day today with clear skies and temps near 70F. Little to no breeze made it worth digiscoping the White-throated Sparrows (4) that were still visiting the feeders.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Wilson's Warbler, and Rolling Shutter - 20 Sep 2019

I pulled the scope out and was planning to digiscope some more hummingbirds coming to the feeder. No sooner did I set it up on the deck that I saw a small yellowish warbler bouncing through the hedges. Not having the Sony camera setup I grabbed the scope from the tripod and planned to chase the bird while hand-holding the digiscoping rig. The little bugger was fast, and shy. For the brief moments that it did pop out all I could do was focus and shoot, and hope to ID later.

That bold yellow eyebrow and olive cap made it a tossup between Wilson's Warbler and Hooded Warbler, but the olive cheeks clinched the ID for Wilson's Warbler!

Between the moments when the warbler was in view, I did manage to also get some pics of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird coming to the feeder. 

This following image is an excellent example of "rolling shutter" that is common among cameras when trying to shoot in electronic or silent mode. Only the Sony a9 can shoot 20 fps silently without this effect.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Are My Digiscoping Days Numbered? - 05 Sep 2019

This past June Sony announced the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens along with its big brother the 600mm f/4. At $2000 the 200-600mm is aimed at sports and wildlife photographers who can't afford the much more expensive ($14,000) prime. At f/5.6 - 6.3 (let's just call it f/6.3) the lens is not considered a bokeh buster. However, it did get rave reviews for autofocus speed and sharpness. So, knowing that it would go quick (when released early August) I put one on pre-order with B&H Photo.

Naturally, August came around and I got the first of many "sorry, its still on backorder" emails. The most recent came on Thursday before Labor Day. Then, minutes later, I got notice that the lens had shipped! It will be here Tuesday.

The first thing I did was to see how its 840mm focal length (w/ the 1.4TC) compared to the digiscoping rig at 875mm (Swarovski STX85+Sony a7III+Zeiss 35/2.8 @ 25X).

Sony a9+200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 @ 840mm
Digiscoped @ 875mm
Sony a9+200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 @ 1260mm
With the 1.4TC on the 200-600mm lens I have an effective focal length of 840mm. This is just lower than the 875mm I get with the digiscoping rig. Edge-to-edge sharpness is clearly superior in this case, and, if I hit the 1.5X crop mode (APS-C button) on the Sony a9 I can bump my image size to 1260mm! I wasn't only impressed by the new lens, but actually how good my digiscoping rig is compared to it.

Next, a House Finch on the thistle feeder. Despite the pink-eye, for which the bird appears to be recovering from, the image quality from both systems is very impressive. Advantage to the Sony, of course, for having extremely fast AF capabilities while I need to focus-peak manually using the scope in order to get the equally-sharp image from the digiscoping rig.

Digiscoped House Finch
Sony 200-600mm House Finch
At f/9.0 the Sony 200-600mm will not give the background separation that its larger brother the 600/4 will give but its a sacrifice I'm willing offer for being able to autofocus while hand-holding a much lighter system.

I had no problem acquiring focus-tracking with the lens on this Chimney Swift that flew over the deck. Despite its erratic flight path I was able to keep it in my viewfinder for dozens of sharp images.

Even the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird gave me a chance to test the AF capabilities of the lens. Very sharp! I did quickly have to learn the three focus-distance modes on the new lens: Full, 10m - 2.4m, and Infinity - 10m. Leaving the camera on Full with give the widest range, but the AF is not snappy and the camera will hunt. So, I make sure to pre-focus at an object / distance in the same range as my intended subject to the AF will snap-in much faster.

All in all, this new Sony 200-600mm f/5-6.3 is making me seriously contemplate the need for the 100-400mm f/5.6 lens that is now tucked back into the cabinet.

Will it be the death of my digiscoping days? Not hardly. Yes, it allows me much more versatility in the field for capturing those avian moments, but I won't stop carrying my scope in the field, and digiscoping is just too much of a challenge to give up. After all, I feel much more comfortable photographing the moon and Jupiter using the scope than I do trying to do so with a telephoto lens.

Bring on the hawks!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Digiscoping with Flash - 27 Aug 2019

I had a bit of play with off-camera flash this afternoon. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were coming to the deck feeder so I was hoping to try to catch the adult male's brilliant red gorget. Using a Godox V860IIs flash unit mounted on a tripod near the feeder I triggered it using the X1T-S trigger mounted to the Sony a7iii at the end of the scope. I shot in HSS using a 1/2000 sec. shutter speed.

The system worked great. Unfortunately, the adult male Ruby-throat never showed. The only visitor today was a juvenile male that tended to be spooked by the system. I think the noise of the camera shutter was the culprit.

Its not something I'll use often but its nice to know that it works.

Whimbrel - 25 Aug 2019

With thanks to Andrew Sturgess I was able to re-find the Whimbrel that was reported a day earlier by Bruce Arnold and Tim Thompson.

I parked at Mouillee Creek and rode the bike along the Middle Causeway of Pt. Mouillee SGA this morning. Skies were clear and the Sun was on the horizon. By the time I had reached the North Causeway it was directly in my eyes and causing tears to run down my cheeks. I caught up with Andy, who was heading south along the dike separating Vermet Unit and Cell 5. He mentioned that the Whimbrel was just flushed and had flown around the back of Cell 5, so I continued east.

About 100 yds up the dike I flushed the Whimbrel into the Sun, but it quickly circled back behind me and landed on the rocks along the Lake Erie shoreline. With the Sun now behind me I had gorgeous views of a gorgeous bird. As it preened I digiscoped it from about 60' away.

It would make its way back onto the dike, where it foraged along the trail ahead of me before flying off to the west. It would later be found by others in this same area.  Beautiful bird!

Weekend of Hummingbirds - 24 Aug 2019

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were coming to the feeder next to the deck the past few evenings. There may be as many 4 different birds, and possibly more. I digiscoped these birds from the minimum distance of ~18'.