Saturday, February 7, 2015

My Camera Equipment

Well after a full 5 years of blogging about nature, I suppose it is time to admit it. I am a photo-hound. A shutter-bug, a photography junkie or whatever you'd like to call it. I just plain love taking photos of nature. But for me the subject HAS to be nature, otherwise I lose interest pretty quick. The two passions are very intertwined for me and I suppose you could say the only thing I love more than nature is photographing it. The thing that I always loved about photographing nature is that you can "shoot first and ask questions later!" In doing so, I was able to learn to identify things by studying them later, comparing to other images and asking others for assistance. Which is not something you can really do in the field. And when it comes to birds, well, birds don't just sit still and wait for you to get a good look at them! So photography for me was the best tool I could think of to help me understand what I was looking at. Though I can now identify most Minnesota birds without much difficulty, I still study my own photos when it comes to particular birds that are harder to identify. I am slowly learning my plant species in the exact same fashion, photographing them first and looking them up later. Back in 2009 when I officially launched this blog, I was using a Canon SX110is "point-and-shoot" camera which I bought for somewhere around $200 at the time.
It was 9.0 Megapixels and had a fixed lens with 10x optical zoom and 40x digital (fake) zoom. I found that if I held perfectly still and didn't breath that I could sometimes get a photograph of a bird or deer a long ways away. I remember maxing out the 40x digital zoom quite often. Looking back now, it almost makes me laugh having used it for as long as I did. But it worked! After looking at other's amazingly detailed nature photos, I decided to make the leap to a DSLR camera in March of 2012. I ordered a Nikon D5100 with an optional 55-300mm lens as a package for around $1,000. I was in heaven! Finally I was capturing images that not only helped me identify things, but also looked beautiful and did justice to my subject. Truly not knowing anything about photography, I shot the majority of my photos in "auto" mode, which is another thing that now makes me laugh later. I used this setup exclusively for the next few years until making yet another leap, this time to a longer zoom lens. Though a 300mm can work dandy when you're able to approach birds closely, it just wasn't cutting it for other situations. I started looking around and different options, namely a Sigma 150-500mm which was a standard, affordable lens for wildlife photography. But upon hearing of a brand new lens being introduced by Tamron, I decided to hold out just a while longer and purchase a whopper of a zoom –the Tamron model A011 150-600mm lens! The lens alone cost roughly the same as my existing camera body and 300mm lens combined. But that being said, it was still a more affordable option than others out there. At the time I placed my order in January of 2014, this new Tamron lens was on backorder and hadn't been produced in quantity yet for a Nikon camera. I figured "no problem, it will be here before spring and Warbler season." Ha! Little did I know that this lens wouldn't be in my hands until July of 2014. And when I finally did receive it, I was a bit overwhelmed by it. For starters it dwarfed by previous lens and was very heavy! And no longer did "auto" mode on my camera capture the same sharpness of images I was expecting. I was then and therein after thrown abruptly into the world of "aperture, shutter speed, ISO and other photography technology. I struggled enough at first with my new lens to force myself to figure out at least some manual settings that would give me better images. In a way I'm quite thankful for that experience and it has been enjoyable to experiment to the point where I'm more confident in my abilities. Looking back and comparing my photos now really tells a better story of how far I've come. Here are two images side-by-side of a Green Heron, both taken at Palmer Lake Park. The one on the left is from 2009 with my old Canon point-and-shoot, and the one on the right is from 2014 with my Nikon D5100 and Tamron 600mm lens.

While not the same bird in the same pose, the difference in quality is pretty obvious. As of just a few weeks ago in early Feb of 2015, I've made my latest (and likely not my last) leap into a newer camera body –this time a Nikon D7100. I'm still going through a learning curve with it but so far I think I've replicated most of the settings I like from my previous camera. So far it seems this model will be one I can grow even further with and I look forward to capturing some great shots this spring! And in case you're wondering, I have yet to use a tripod or monopod for any of my nature photographs. I "hand-hold" my camera and lens for every shot as I enjoy covering a fair amount of ground when I go out for a nature hike. I've learned to tuck the heavy lens under one of my arms and carry it until I need it. So as of now my current setup is a Nikon D7100 with the Tamron 150-600mm lens. Who knows what I'll be using 5 or 10 years from now. I never expected to go quite this deep into photography in the first place!

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