Well it seems that the COVID-19 restrictions have been in place for an age. Here in Western Australia the social distancing requirements aren’t as strict as some places, but we still aren’t able to go where we want and do what we want. It makes me more appreciative of what my parents went through growing up in the Great Depression and then after that the Second World War. But anyway to keep myself from going totally mad I’ve been working on a few projects. This one is to document all the birds that come into our backyard. I’ve not got them all by any means. Some are very elusive and just don’t want their photos taken for some reason. Can’t imagine why. Here is a selection form the last couple of weeks.
Well that’s it for this week. Stay safe, keep positive and try and keep busy.
Not so long ago I looked at the the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400 f4-6.3 ASPH Power OIS lens for micro four thirds, well today I’m looking at an alternative lens for APS and full frame cameras – the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS Contemporary lens. Now confusingly Sigma make two versions of the 150-600 and they are labelled the Sport and Contemporary. The-Digital-Picture.com has put up a good article explaining the difference between the two. The main ones are price and weight with the Contemporary being a 1Kg lighter and $1200 AUD cheaper. This is quite a significant difference and I for one prefer a lighter lens and a heavier wallet. The Contemporary is part of Sigma’s Global Vision line of lenses and is thus compatible with the Sigma TC-1401 1.4x Teleconverter which allows auto focus to work to a maximum of f8 while wide open if your camera supports this feature. This is an interesting option as it allows a reach of 860mm on full frame and a humongous 1376mm on an APSC sensor which is impressive reach for a lens and converter costing less than $2000 AUD. I didn’t happen to look at this option because none of my Canon DSLRs allow f8 auto focusing. shuttermuse.com has an article on f8 focusing with extenders or teleconverters and a list of compatible Canon DSLRs. This does not apply to the mirrorless R and RP which have f11 auto focusing.
Lens mounts available
Angle of view
4.1° – 16.4°
f5/6.3 to f22/27
Minimum focusing distance
Silent HSM with internal focusing and manual override
20 elements in 14 groups with 1 FLD and 3 SLD elements
Yes – 3 stops equivalent
1.93Kg without lens hood and tripod collar.
Physically this is a large lens, it stands head and shoulders above my Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L lens which in itself quite a large lens. The 150-600 is also 500g heavier. At 2.1 Kg with lens hood and tripod collar attached it definitely has heft to it. Interestingly Sigma refer to it as a lightweight lens, I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective as the Panasonic Leica 100-400 is 0.985 Kg so the Sigma feels gargantuan compared to it while the Canon EF 600 mm f4L IS is over 3Kg so the Sigma then seems svelte and compact. The lens body is made out of what Sigma calls a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) which is substantially stronger than conventional polycarbonates while having similar thermal expansion properties to aluminium. The lens mount is made of chromium plated brass which should ensure a long life. All in all it feels a well made and rugged lens, it may feel like plastic but the TSC body feels substantial and gives the impression of being very durable with no creaking or flexing. The Sigma 150-600 is advertised as being dust and splash proof but on closer reading of Sigma’s spec sheet there is only one seal and that is at the lens mount. If you want better then you’ll have to spring for the Sports version.
When looking at the lens from the front there is a large ribbed rubber zoom ring that has a long throw of about 160º. The action is smooth and feels not too tight nor too loose. As you rotate the zoom ring the lens barrel extends by 8cm. The extension feels secure with no slop or wobble. Just behind the zoom ring on the lefthand side is a zoom lock switch which can lock the zoom ring at the 150mm focal length to prevent zoom creep while carrying the lens. The focusing ring is narrow ribbed rubber and allows you to manually adjust focus while the lens is in the autofocus mode. There are no hard stops which might concern you if you were to use the lens for video. Behind the focusing ring is a panel of four switches and they are:
An AF switch allowing to choose between AF, MF and MO (Manual Override)
A focus limiter switch allowing a choice of full range, 10m to ∞, and 2.8 to 10m.
An optical stabilisation switch that gives a choice of off, on and a panning mode.
A custom switch that allows you to select two custom modes that can be programmed using the Sigma FD-11 USB Dock
Above the switches is a window showing the focusing scale and then behind that is the lens collar. The lens collar allows you to turn the camera from horizontal to vertical while mounted on a tripod, but, unfortunately there are no detents to allow you to do this while looking through the viewfinder of the camera, you have to align the marks on the collar with those on the lens body. The tripod collar can be detached and thoughtfully Sigma provide a cosmetic rubber ring to slide over the lugs that hold the collar in place. The lens comes with a large plastic lens hood the size of a flower pot, it seems sturdy enough and bayonets into place and a nice touch is that is ribbed internally to prevent reflections. The 150-600 has a 95mm filter thread which means filters will be expensive and potentially hard to get. In terms of accessories Sigma provide a nice well padded lens case, a shoulder strap for it and a Sigma branded camera strap. Like all Sigma lenses you get a lot for the money you spend. Nice one Sigma!
I tested the lens on a Canon EOS 6d and an EOS 550d to see how it would perform on both crop and full frame cameras. In terms of AF performance as neither of those cameras have what can be considered state of the art AF systems, in fact it is over twelve years old, the lens did very well. The single point AF using the centre point was fast and precise and well capable of fixing on small birds amongst foliage. In terms of continuous AF on the EOS 550d the camera was the limitation being only able to shoot 6 frame bursts in RAW, but out of my six shots when tracking my dog trotting five of the six would be in focus. The 6d is able to shoot 4.5 frames per second for 15 frames and on the trotting bull terrier test it managed 12 frames in focus.
When it came to BIF (birds in flight not fisticuffs) the AF was more than capable of focusing on and tracking medium to large birds. It really struggled with small birds especially swallows. Put it on a better camera and I’m sure you’d get better results.
My primary use for a lens like this is handheld bird photography, and as such I didn’t really give the image stabilisation a workout as I seldom use a shutter speed below 1/500 sec. But messing around at home in the house and garden I figured it was good for three stops. Mind you I do have steady hands so your experience may differ from mine.
The optical construction of the lens is twenty elements in fourteen groups with 1 FLD and 3 SLD elements. The FLD (“F” Low Dispersion) glass element, which offers performance equivalent to fluorite. Canon and other manufacturers have used synthetically grown crystals of calcium fluoride components in lenses to aid apochromatic design, and to reduce light dispersion so lenses made from it exhibit less chromatic aberration. What Sigma has done is use newer glasses and computer-aided design to render the use of fluorite crystals unnecessary. Sigma claim that the FLD element is “highly transparent, its refractive index and dispersion are extremely low as compared to conventional types of glass. It offers characteristics very similar to those of fluorite, which is valued for its anomalous dispersion. These characteristics minimize residual chromatic aberration (secondary spectrum), which cannot be corrected by ordinary optical glass, while helping to produce sharp, high-contrast images.” (https://sigmaphoto.com.au). The three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements also help to minimize chromatic aberration. To help achieve attractive out of focus transitions there are nine rounded aperture blades which should help achieve nice round bokeh balls when shooting specular highlights.
In terms of optical performance well I’ll deal with full frame and crop separately. First up using the lens on the crop framed 550d. At 150mm the centre of the lens wide open was sharp and contrasty and stayed A as such until f22 when it softened due to the effects of diffraction. At the edges the peak performance was attained at f11 and remained until f22 when it softened again. At 600mm the centre wide open was a little soft and lacking in contrast. This improved by f8 and then deteriorated at f22. The edges weren’t so good – wide open they were soft and lacking contrast and remained so until f22 when they got worse. As for vignetting well at the short end wide open it was apparent, about 1/2 to 1 stop and this disappeared by f8. It was the same story at the long end. Throughout the focal range there is slight pin cushion distortion and some chromatic aberration can also be seen. Open the files up in Lightroom and apply the lens profile and things improve nicely. On the full frame 6d the story is the same except for the vignetting which is naturally worse at around 1-1 1/2 stops which is totally understandable as you are using the whole frame rather than just the central part of the lens coverage.
What’s all this mean in real life. Well if we look at the image for the New Holland Honeyeater which I took at a distance of around 3.5 to 4 metres and then enlarge the section around the head you can see that there is nice feather detail and that the eye is sharper than a very sharp thing. To get much better you’d have to spend an awful lot of money and if we look at the Canon 600mm f4 lens I mentioned earlier that has an eye watering price of $18,500 AUD which is over 11 times the cost of the Sigma. Personally I know that if I plonked $18 K down on a lens I’d be heading for the divorce court which would make the Canon a doubly expensive lens. So for what it costs the Sigma is amazing value.
Below are some examples of bird photography shot with the lens on both a Canon EOS 6d and 550d.
So would I recommend the lens? Yes without hesitation. It performs very well and is sold at a very good price and you can’t argue with that.
The other day I’d been up on Mount Brown (which is a grand name for a moderately sized hill) looking for interesting birds to photograph. The conditions were great, but the birds uncooperative so I gave up and started driving home. At the bottom of the hill I caught out of the corner of my eye a nankeen kestrel hunting on an empty block. It swooped down into the long grass and quickly took off again obviously holding something. So I did something I’d never thought that I’d do. I’ve just been really getting into this bird photography malarkey and have been watching YouTube videos for tips. Mostly British videos, but the occasional American one. I’d noticed that quite a few of the American ones had the photographers driving around looking for birds and photographing then from the car. Well I started to follow this bird in the car. It didn’t go far. It landed on the power lines outside of Marwick’s Barn obviously to catch its breath. It obviously decided that the power lines was no place to deal with the kicking and struggling mouse so it moved to the top of a nearby power pole. So I pulled up on to the dirt shoulder and hanging out of the driver’s side window I photographed madly.
There were no niceties, the kestrel didn’t even both to dispatch its prey before eating – it just pulled the mouse apart. I continued snapping frantically. When everything was finished the kestrel noticed the sound of the camera and gave me a hard stare. Rumbled! With a look of disdain it flew off.
Eighteen Kilometres off the Western Australian coast near Fremantle is an island. It’s name is Rottnest Island. In terms of size it’s not very significant – just 11 Km long and 4.5 Km wide. It has just one settlement and that has a permanent population of around 300 people. But for all its insignificance it receives about 500,000 visitors a year. On a busy day 15,000 can be on the island at one time. It’s most famous residents aren’t even people, they are Quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) a small marsupial animal in the same family as Kangaroos and Wallabies. They are so important to Western Australia that they are the face of the current tourism campaign in the media with the hope that possibility of taking a selfie with one of cute critters will bring legions of overseas tourists who will enrich the coffers of the state government now the mining boom is over. For young people finishing school Rottnest is a right of passage where the teenagers go for a booze fuelled week-long party to mark the transformation from school kid to adult. For other Perth residents a trip to the island is what summer is all about.
You get to the island via a ferry. Rottnest Express has ferry services leaving Barrack Street Jetty in Perth, the B-Shed Fremantle Harbour and Northport Rouse Head. As well as the ferry service they run a variety of package tours to the island and you can rent snorkeling equipment from them. Rottnest Fast Ferries sails out of Hillary’s Boat Harbour and they also run a variety of day tours and cruises.
The best thing about Rottnest is that there are no cars!!!! I’ll say that again. No cars!!!! Cycling is the main form of transport. Brilliant. You can either bring your own bike on the ferry at an extra charge or rent one from either Rottnest Express (if you travelled with them) or get one from Rottnest Island Bike Hire located behind the Hotel Rottnest on Bedford Avenue. The last time I visited the island I took my own bike and did an abbreviated circuit of the island.
Distances are not vast, but before you set off make sure you take plenty of food and water with you as there is none out- side Thomson Bay Settlement.
1. Starting at the Visitor Centre head south following the signs for Hotel Rottnest. After 200 metres take the left fork that runs along the beachfront in front of the hotel. Turn left into Forrest Avenue and this swings round into McCullum Avenue. At the end of McCullum turn left into Parker Point Road.
2. Follow the signs for Kingston Barracks and after 870 metres go past the turn off for Kingston Road and go over the railway crossing heading for Parker Point. After a little while you pass Henrietta Rocks where the wreck of the vessel Shark can be seen from the look out point. The wrecks of the Lady Elizabeth and the Raven also lie off this point. If you are lucky you may see a sea-lion or two.
3. After 4 Km you arrive at a junction, take the left turn and follow the Parker Point Loop. If you have brought a mask, snorkel and flippers with you a stop here is a must as there is a snorkel trail that takes you out on the coral. After 2 Km you are back at the junction, take the left turn and ride along the edge of Salmon Bay.
4. At the 9 Km point you reach the intersection of Parker Point Road and Digby Drive. If you have had enough turn right onto Digby Drive and follow it back to Thomson Bay Settlement, otherwise turn left and then 1 Km later take the right fork following the Geordie Bay sign.
5. Turn right into Bovell Way and follow the road back to the settlement on the northern side of the island. After 5 1⁄2 Km you reach Geordie Bay which is another good spot for swimming and snorkeling. Keep going along Bovell Way until it ends at the intersection with Geordie Bay Road where you turn right onto it and cycle along the edge of Herschell Lake. After 600 metres you reach a cross-road, turn right onto Digby Drive and cycle back through the settlement.
When you’ve returned to Thompson Bay you will in serious need of some refreshment. The Hotel Rottnest is in the old governor’s summer residence. The hotel used to be called the Quokka Arms and most of the locals still use that name. A great location for a quiet coldie on a hot summers day or for a gourmet meal. Another popular eatery is the Rottnest Bakery – a visit to the bakery is considered mandatory for every visitor to the island and it is famous for its fresh bread, pies, slices, and cakes. It is the perfect place to refuel after surfing, snorkeling, swimming or cycling. It is also the most likely place you will meet a quokka.
Got up at “stupid o’clock” the other morning to try out a new bit of time lapsing equipment. Streuth it was cold, and as I drove down to Monger’s Crossing I mused that the brass monkey would be tucked up at home in bed if he was sensible. A Swedish friend of mine once told me that there’s no such thing as cold weather just poor clothing choices. Well I took Matts’ advice to heart and I had more layers than an onion. On reaching the river it was dark and foggy, not the most photogenic conditions, but I thought for the purpose of this test it would be OK. So I set up the camera and sat down to wait for it to shoot one frame every twenty seconds for one hour.
I tried watching a video on my iPod but it was so cold that the battery ran flat real quick so I thought I’d take a few pictures of my companions on the river bank.
As to the time-lapse, well bearing in mind it was just a test to see how it worked, well it was a reasonable first attempt. The only downside was that the camera sensor was filthy and that meant a lot of cloning in Photoshop.
* English is pretty confusing at the best of times for non native speakers. “Taters in mould” is Cockney rhyming slang for cold.
Most days post canine perambulation I call in on at my favourite cafe for a drink. The last few weeks I have been enthralled with the activities of the Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena) which have nested under the eaves. The parents have for the last for the last three weeks been frantically working to feed the chicks. The chicks fledged this week – tentatively making their first flights anxiously watched by mum and dad on Monday – and when I went for my morning drink the nest was quiet and empty. Job done!
Situated 166 Km (or 103 miles for the imperially minded) east of Perth is the small Wheatbelt town of Quairading. If you can’t pronounce it you’re not a local! Really it is just a blip on the map, one of countless small Australian country towns. Gazetted in 1907 the town was built around the rail terminus. Typical of many Wheatbelt towns is the CBH grain handling facility built near the station to ship the crop out at harvest time. The railway line has since closed and the grain moved by road. For many towns this would possibly be the last straw, but Quairading carries on. As you drive into town you are met
by members of the grain family – cartoon characters based on grains of wheat created by local artist Lyn Whyte. Some of the businesses in the town centre shut down long ago but their buildings have been repurposed. The old bank is now someone’s home and has been called the Brass Razoo Bank, which is Australian slang for having no money and is kind of appropriate.
One of the old shops has a huge street frontage and this now houses a collection of cars straight out of the 1970’s. Just a few doors down is the antique/collectables shop whose contents spill out onto the pavement. The items displayed are often arranged in odd juxtapositions which often cause passers-by to do a double take to see what is going on.
The real highlight is the people – friendly, upbeat and generous. My partner walked into the local tourist office cum art centre cum civic museum and walked out with a free pumpkin. What more could you want?