About ten or so years ago I started viewing images by known American photographers such as Brian E. Small and Bob Steele especially, when the bird bug really grabbed me. I decided that I’d love to be able to capture images like they do. During later years I came across a man by the name of Arthur Morris, who was another major inspiration on my decision to want to capture the beautiful feathered creatures that inhabit our parks, forests and fields. Of course, little did I know about what it took, how some photos were staged by meticulous planning and what efforts these great photographers exerted to capture the inspirational images that still to date give me the motivation to shoot and improve as much as possible. I spent ages drooling over the gear these guys use, such large telephoto lenses and cameras that can take ten frames a second. I thought, yes, that is exactly what I would love to do if I get a chance. That chance came a long way down the track, in fact, it was the first day of winter this year in 2011 (June 1) that I have received my first ever super telephoto lens from a pro photographer in Alice Springs, via E-bay. All this thanks to my wonderful, gorgeous, understanding and most supportive wife Donata, who enjoys viewing the images I often overwhelm her with. Ooops, I promise to ease up! Therefore, I am now the owner of an exceptional piece of glass, the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM Super Telephoto lens. It is arguably the best glass for the generalist wildlife photographer, as it’s light enough to hand hold, yet long enough to get some great images of even smaller birds when used with a matching Canon EF 1.4x MkII teleconverter for a total focal length of 700mm. However, when attached to an APS-C sensor digital SLR camera, it provides a field of view as if I were using a lens of 1,120mm focal length.
One slight hiccup I noticed after shooting during the second day that the drop-in filter was a circular polarizer and not the clear glass filter that should normally be in the lens. This made my job harder to attain good shutter speeds and I was not pleased at all. I contacted the seller, who is a very honest man and asked if he had the part. He did and sent it via Express post to me. I have received it within two days, so I was so relieved that finally, finally I could get the super speeds these lenses are capable of achieving with such focal lengths and large (small f-stop numbers) apertures. The lens is quite heavy at first, but I will have no problems hand holding as well, if I need to. In the majority of shooting situations I can happily be assured that my new Feisol carbon fiber tripod (Model CT-3372) and Wimberley Mark II Gimbal Head will give me the most efficient and professional quality support I would ever need. I bought my Feisol tripods from Kerry Thalmman at Really Big Cameras here: http://reallybigcameras.com Kerry was awesome to deal with. Prompt communication and extremely fast international express post service that reached me in three (3) business days. THANKS KERRY!!!
A couple of extra pieces I have added were a Kirk LP-53 replacement foot for the telephoto lens. This eliminates the need to screw an Arca-Swiss plate onto the bottom of the Camera lens foot by combining a foot with a plate that’s all machined into a one piece part. An excellent idea if you ask me. Here is what the product looks like:
Another tool is the flash bracket, another wonderful Wimberley made product, the F-1 bracket, that I screw onto the very front of the lens foot once it’s secured into the Wimberley mounting plate. This allows me to place the flash above the lens and away from it too, so I reduce the red-eye or flashed eye often seen when using a hot shoe flash directly on the camera. I purchased an extra arm to extend the flash up by around 15cm as well. The flash is connected to the camera with a Canon or Pearstone off camera cord. I have two, in case one breaks.
Here is a photo of the outfit with me proudly holding it at Wollemi National Park.. My mad keen birder friend Sue Thomson took this photo of me. Thanks Sue.
I was very surprised at how well the entire rig is balanced on the Wimberley head and how easy it is to use. Once gaining this extra length allowed me to start capturing images never before thought of, for me at least. 300mm and the 1.4x converter is not that good for reach unfortunately, but it got me by wonderfully for three and a half years. I am sad to say that in bird photography size actually matters as the bigger, longer your lens, the easier it will be to stay out of the danger zone perceived by many birds. Shorter combinations of lenses often work well especially if used with the aid of a hide, be it a car or material, and calls etc, but the big guns make your job much more achievable.
Please enjoy these images I was able to start capturing from the first day of winter 2011. One thing I did note in particular is how well this lens takes teleconverters, even when stacked! Check out the portrait of the Magpie-lark and the image of the Eastern Osprey below. Both have blown me away when viewing at 100% on the original RAW file.