Birding On The Avon

 

Like many people at this time I’ve had my movements curtailed. Where I live we are allowed out locally for exercise so I’ve been going out for walks along the river to photograph and video the birds that can be found there. This is the third time I’ve tried to video wildlife and it is very hard.I don’t work from a hide so I have to set up quickly and quietly and often the birds will move on before I can get filming. Shooting mainly just after dawn or just before sunset has meant using high ISOs and made focusing difficult. But, the more you do it the better you get. The purpose of the video was to make something, learn something new and help keep me thinking positive thoughts during this time.

Just out of interest I’ll put the stills up below. They were shot on either a Canon EOS6d with the Sigma 150-600mm f4.5-6.3 Contemporary lens or the Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. I wonder if you can tell the difference at web size without enlarging to 100% or checking the EXIF data?

Rufous Whistler by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris). York, Western Australia.

 

Laughing by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Laughing kookaburra, dacelo novaeguineae. York, Western Australia

 

Yellow Rumped Thornbill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Yellow Rumped Thornbill, Acanthiza chrysorrhoa, York, Western Australia.

 

Yellow-billed Spoonbill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes), Avon River, York, Western Australia.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Great egret, Ardea alba, feeding on the Avon River. York Western Australia

 

Tatty Robin by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Tatty robin. Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii), York, Western Australia.

 

Brown Honeyeater by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta, York, Western Australia.

 

Yellow-billed Spoonbills by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A pair of Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) feeding on the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Dawn Hunt by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) and a white faced heron (Egretta novaeholladiae) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Red-cap Dawn by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii), York, Western Australia.

 

 

Backyard Birds

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.

 

Backyard Birds by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Willie Wagtail on the back fence. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Contemporary lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f7.1 at ISO 1600.

 

Backyard Birds by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Contemporary lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 400.

 

White-cheeked Honeyeater by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
White-cheeked Honeyeater, W, in my back garden. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS550d with Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f7.1 at ISO 500.

 

Backyard Birds by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
White browed babblers (White) breaking the social distancing rules by communal dust bathing. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 5000.

 

Brown Honeyeater by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Brown Honeyeater, Brown, in my back garden. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 550d with Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 320.

 

Backyard Birds by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Australian Ringneck aka twenty-eight parrot,Aus. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3, at ISO 6400.

Well that’s it for this week. Stay safe, keep positive and try and keep busy.

COVID 19 Easter Chick

 

COVID 19 Easter chick.

 

Sorry for the absence of blog posts. On 30th March Optus cut off our phone and internet connection and we have been without ever since. We have been unable to contact them, they don’t answer emails, texts or anything. So over the next few weeks I’ll try and post but at the moment I can’t promise anything.

Keep Calm


This last few months have been particularly difficult in the light of climate change induced bushfires here in Australia and now the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). It would in the light of compulsory lockdowns, quarantines and restrictions on social gatherings and travel easy to be filled with dread and let feelings of hopelessness pervade our lives. I myself have had further restrictions imposed as I’m in the process of recovering from spinal surgery and am fighting off the temptation of feeling sorry for myself and collapsing in a heap.

There is an antidote to this. Firstly instead of just being passive and feeding our psyches with all the negative news we can find in the media endeavour to do something creative. Creativity is important, it feeds the soul, gives a sense of achievement and allows you to express yourself. All of this has a positive effect on your psychological well being. It doesn’t matter what it is – paint, draw, knit, cook, write, photograph, sing. Although singing could be problematic depending upon your living arrangements and how well you can sing. My partner has issued me with an ultimatum; if I sing Bohemian Rhapsody at full volume in my usual tone deaf manner then lockdown or not I will be looking for alternative accommodation which I think is a little harsh. Secondly reconnect with nature. This one could be a bit hard depending on what the local authorities are imposing, but it can be done. If confined to the house take time out in the garden, encourage wildlife to come into the garden and watch them. Plant things and watch them grow. If possible go a walk in the park or woods (maintaining correct social distancing of course), go bird watching, fungi spotting it doesn’t really matter. Bonus points if you can combine this with doing some creative as this will allow you to enter a flow state. Sounds poncey but “it is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time” (Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, 1975). The benefits of this are that intense and focused concentration on the present moment that you become so totally engrossed in the experience to the extent that other needs or concerns become negligible and this makes you feel in control over a situation. Do this a few times a week and your mood will lift.

I’ve taken my own advice this week. As I said I’ve been laid up at home and not doing much so I hauled my carcass down to the Avon River a couple of times to photograph some birds in the dawn light. It was well worth it. Stalking birds and photographing them required too much concentration and I was able to forget about my own circumstances and the worries of the world and just enjoy being in the moment. It was so enjoyable that I’m going to get out and do some more over the next week.

 

Red-cap Dawn by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) in the dawn light. York, Western Australia. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Panasonic Leica DG 100-400/F4.0-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 1600.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f7.1 at ISO 800.

 

Rufous Whistler by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris). York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 2000.

 

Right that’s me done I’m off to try and bake a lumberjack cake.

Optical Antithesis


A review of the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN lens for m4/3

 

 

 

The Sigma 16mm f1.4 shown mounted to an Oympus OMD EM1 mk 1 which is one of the larger m4/3 cameras.

 

I’ve said many times on this blog that my favourite focal length is 35mm (35mm equivalent) which give a diagonal angle of view of 63.4º To me it is a relaxing normal view, I find 50mm a bit too tight and 28mm a bit too “loose”. So when I migrated from so-called full frame to micro four thirds in 2010 one of the first lenses I bought was the Olympus m.Zuiko 17mm f2.8 pancake lens. Actually at the time there were only three lenses in the system the 17mm, a 14-42mm kit lens and the 40-150 telephoto kit zoom and I ended up getting them all.

 

Olympus m.Zuiko 17mm f2.8 shown on an EP5. The lens was the first prime introduced for the Olympus’ m4/3 system.

 

The 17mm was equivalent to 34mm in in full frame terms and has a diagonal angle of view of 65º, so close enough as not to make any real difference. It wasn’t a well received lens despite being what initial advocates of the micro four thirds said they wanted – pancake lenses. It’s slow maximum aperture of f2.8, slow and noisey auto focus combined with less than stellar optical performance put many people off and they went for the much more expensive Panasonic 20mm f1.7 which had the virtues of being optically better, and having a faster maximum aperture. It still wasn’t great in the AF department though. But hey these were the early days of mirrorless technology and AF systems were not very quick and accurate then. But anyways I got the Olympus in a kit with my Olympus EP2 and I actually loved it. I could slip it mounted to the EP2 in my pocket which made it a great stealth camera combination and I used it to shoot my TransPerth-Transhumance project. I still use the lens today, mainly on my EP5. The area where I felt it was absolutely hopeless was video. The AF was too slow, too noisy (think angry wasp stuck in a jar) and I wanted a bit more subject isolation than the f2.8 aperture could give.

 

The Sigma 16mm f1.4 compared to the Olympus 17mm f2.8, 25mm f.1.8 and the 45mm f1.9.

 

The Sigma 16mm f1.4 is a physically large lens. Here it is shown with the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 and 75-300 f4-6.3 zoom lenses.

 

So fast forward a few years and I’m shooting more and more video and I decide to get myself a better 17mm lens. In the intervening years Olympus had produced the very favourably received 17mm f1.8 and the eye-wateringly expensive f1.2 version. Panasonic had also come to the party with their Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm f/1.7 lens. In fact I went to my local (if you can call 110Km away local) camera dealer to buy this lens and it was always out of stock which made me want it even more. But in the end I went for an outlier in the form of the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN lens. The reasons being that f1.4 is faster than f1.9, it was cheaper than the f1.2 and the difference between f1.2 and f1.4 is slight, and my dealer had it in stock. So what makes it and outlier? Well to put it bluntly it’s bloody huge. It has a 67mm ⌀ filter thread which compares to 37mm for the Olympus 17mm f2.8. It is bigger than the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 and the Panasonic Leica 8-18mm f2.8-4 while being only a little shorter than the Olympus 75-300mm f4.8-6.7. The 16mm focal length equates to 32mm on full frame with a diagonal angle of view 68.1º so is a bit wider, but when used with the Panasonic G85 for 4K video this isn’t much of a problem as the camera crops in slightly. So how come this lens is so lardy I hear you all ask. Well this lens wasn’t designed for micro four thirds, it was initially designed for the Sony 6000 series cameras with an APS sized sensor where it equates to being a 24mm in full frame terms. To get a wide angle lens that’s fast and a good optical performance means lots of glass and glass is heavy, and this lens is large and heavy for APS format cameras. To get some additional return on their investment Sigma decided to offer the lens in micro four thirds mount hence it seeming a funny focal length and being bigger than necessary.

 


Vital Statistics

Olympus 17mm f2.8

Sigma 16mm f1.4

Diagonal angle of view 65º 68.1º
Optical construction 6 elements in 4 groups 16 elements in 13 groups
Diaphragm 5 rounded blades 9 rounded blades
Minimum aperture f2.8 F1.4
Maximum aperture F22 F16
Minimum focusing distance 20cm 25cm
maximum magnification ratio 0.11x 0.07X
Filter diameter 37mm 67mm
Dimensions 57mm x 22mm (H) 72.2mm x 92.3mm (H)
Weight 71g 405g
Internal focusing No Yes

 

 

In the hand the Sigma 16mm feels very dense and substantial. 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. The Sigma 16mm 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. The lens comes with a bayonet mount petal lens hood which has a ribbed grip to make attaching and detaching easier. While it is good that the lens comes with a hood it’s not the best implementation and feels quite insubstantial and can be fiddly to attach as it can foul and not lock home. There is a ribbed rubber focus ring of the fly by wire type – it feels smooth and easy to use. There are no other controls or switches which means if you want to switch between AF and manual focus you will have to use the camera controls for that.

 

 

The Sigma 16mm has an optical construction of 16 elements in 13 groups with 3 FLD (“F” Low Dispersion) glass elements, which offers performance equivalent to fluorite which exhibits less chromatic aberration than those utilising a traditional flint glass. There are 2 SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements which also help to minimise chromatic aberration and 2 ASPH moulded glass aspherical elements which work to reduce optical aberrations. According to Sigma’s website the ASPH elements are polished with a tolerance of under 10 nanometers or 0.000001 millimetres which according to Sigma reduces onion ring bokeh.


Performance

100 % crops showing lens performance wide open and then at the best performing aperture.

 

In terms of autofocus the stepping motor is fast and accurate and very smooth when shooting video. I tested the lens on the OMD EM1 mk ii which has on sensor phase detect AF and on the Panasonic G85 which uses DFD technology – a variant of contrast detect auto focus that requires the lens to provide a profile to the camera to ensure fast and accurate AF. The Sigma does not have such a profile as these are limited at present to only Panasonic’s own lenses. Despite that there were no problems and I could detect no discernible difference between the Olympus and the Panasonic. The only downside in the AF department is that I can’t use the Pro Capture Low setting which gives up to 18 fps with auto exposure and AF tracking. This is no fault of Sigma’s as the option is only available with Olympus lenses.

 

 

Optically – well straight from the get go the Sigma is impressively sharp wide open corner to corner. The performance improves slightly (and it is only visible on my 4K screen at 300%) as you stop down. Diffraction sets in at f16 and this does soften the image. In terms of chromatic aberration, well wide open in high contrast situations it is apparent albeit slight and it is easy to correct in post. The lens is reasonably resistant to flare – but if you have a specular light source in the frame you will experience some veiled flare and ghosting. If you turn off the built in lens profile you can observe a slight barrel distortion, but switch on the profile and it is not visible. The bokeh balls this lens produces are more or less round when shooting wide open even at the edges of the frame and the transitions are nice and smooth. There is some onion ring bokeh which is the result of using moulded aspherical lens.Vignetting is not a problem and is very slight in the region of 1/2 stop.

 

Chromatic aberration is quite apparent on this lens. It is also quite prone to flare even when using the included lens hood.

 


Verdict

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Being designed to have an image circle much larger than micro four thirds requires means that you are using the best performing part of the lens and this really shows. Just for giggles I compared the Sigma with my old Olympus. The Olympus is noticeably soft in the corners at all apertures and just average in the centre. It suffers badly from chromatic aberration. Vignetting is very apparent, in excess of 1 stop in the corners with the lens profile switched on and getting on for 2 stops when switched off. Physically, optically and figuratively the Sigma stands head and shoulders above the little Olympus. The only area where the Olympus wins out is its small size and that is why I’ll continue to use it when I want something small and compact. For every other occasion I’m reaching for the Sigma. The knock on effect is that I’m seriously wondering about replacing my Olympus 45mm f1.8 with the Sigma 56mm f1.4.

New Book

The cover of “Australia’s Best 100 Walks” to which I was a contributor.

 

As a fledgling photographer many years ago I used to look at copies of National Geographic and daydream about one day being a one of their photographers. Many years later that still hasn’t happened, but I have managed Australian Geographic. I happy to announce the launch of Australia’s Best 100 Walks published by Australian Geographic for which I was a contributing photographer, writer and researcher. It is available fro good bookshops such as Boffins Books for a smidge under $40 AUD.

 

Bathurst Lighthouse on Rottnest Island, Western Australia. One of my photos from the book Australia’s Best 100 Walks.

Temporal Concepts

Holy Trinity York in Western Australia

 

Time – it is a difficult concept to get to grips with. When I was a kid time used to go so slowly. When I grew up and started working time at work went so slowly and my days off went so quickly. Now as a I edge towards sixty time just seems to keep on accelerating. Time isn’t a constant. Then we have the phenomena of how people interpret time within societal and cultural associations. This was brought home to me the other day when talking with someone about what they considered an old building and they were stating that Holy Trinity York was a very old, historical building that needs preserving.

 

Holy Trinity Bosham, West Sussex, England.

 

Here in Western Australia Holy Trinity Church in York is considered an old historic building. The Anglican Church was was established in York in 1831, and the building work on the current building began in the 1850’s. So I guess if were being generous then that’s 189 years.  In terms of white colonial Australia that is old but in the big scheme of things it’s just a drop in a bucket. I spent my formative years in Chichester, West Sussex. Down the road is the little town of Bosham and it has a Holy Trinity Church as well. The differentiation is the first church in Bosham was mentioned in an account written by the Venerable Bede about Bishop Wilfrid’s visit in 681 AD – that’s 1339 years ago. The earliest parts of the current building were built in the 11th Century under the patronage of Godwin, Earl of Wessex who was one of England’s richest and most powerful of men. You may have heard of his son Harold Godwinson, better known as the King Harold who was poked in the eye by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (apparently his last words were “Oi William! Be careful with that thing or you’ll have somebody’s eye out.”). Indeed there is an illustration of the church in the opening scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry with the accompanying text ‘Ubi Harold dux Anglorum et sui milites equitant ad Bosham. Ecclesia.’ Translated, this reads ‘Where Harold, Earl of the English, and his retinue ride to Bosham. The church.’ The church has historical associations with another king – King Cnut. Yep he’s the one that tried to turn back the sea as a demonstration to his courtiers of how insignificant his power was. Well it is believed that one of his daughters is buried in the church – local tradition has it she drowned in the nearby millstream aged 8. That’s a lot of history and it was all recorded. The big thing was that when I first saw these buildings they new and fresh to me. It was only as I became more familiar with them did I start to have any inkling of their historical significance.

 

A marker for the gravesite of one of King Canute’s daughters.

 

Does something that has been around longer become more valuable than something newer? Does the cultural and societal significance of something increase as it ages? Well I suppose the fact that the church in Bosham has parts of it that have physically been there for a thousand years makes it kind of special. Then add the fact that it is associated with key figures and events in history that makes it somewhat unique. Then stir into the mix the fact that it is still a central part of the community and then you have something really important. It is not just a dead building, a mausoleum to a bygone age, it is something that has come to help define a community over a long period of time and will continue to do so well into the future.

Photography and film/video are art forms that deal in part in capturing and expressing time in a way that other art forms have trouble articulating. You can speed it up, slow it down. You can show the effect of change. You can preserve things and memories. Over the last 150-200 years humans have come to see photos as an adjunct to their memories. I have photos and videos of some of my dogs playing, they’ve been dead a long time yet I find them very comforting and my memories of them somehow seem more real, more valid. Photos can, of course, also evoke sad/negative emotions and memories. A photograph can also be just proof of existence – either the subject or the photographer actually existed. For instance without these photos many of you wouldn’t be aware of these two churches having being built.

 

My great great grandmother with her dog

 

This is all getting a bit too metaphysical so lets change tack. If we stop and consider the two photos of the churches they were taken 29 years apart. Things have changed enormously photographically speaking between those photos. The photo of the church in Bosham was taken at the height of the film era using what was then already rather dated equipment – an Olympus OM4 with an Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm lens shooting Kodak Kodachrome 200 ASA reversal film. The photo of the church in York was taken well into the digital era on a Canon 6d with Canon 24-70mm lens. So not only are the photos snap shots in time of two churches, but they are all snapshots in terms of photographic equipment and trends. But I know that all said and done how they were captured will matter to very few people in the future. What will matter is that they were captured at all. I have a photo of a relative taken back in the 1880’s. I have no way of knowing what was used to make the photo nor whether it was considered cutting edge at the time. I just know that this woman and her dog existed at some point in time and she is one of my family and that is what makes it so important. I don’t know who she is other than my great great grand mother as there is no one left in my family who remembers who she was. But the important thing is that she existed and we can see that she liked dogs – a trait that still runs in our family. The important thing is that someone decided that wanted a photo of her and her dog as a keepsake and consecutive generations have kept it.

Time. It is a difficult concept to consider or explain but maybe we shouldn’t try. Maybe we should just mark its passing with photos and videos and leave them as gifts for those in the future to make sense of.