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Pocket Lens
Fall, 2013

2013 has been a year that is coming to an end and is one that I would rather forget. Photo sales have been their lowest for me in 10 years, and the Columbus Symphony's crippling pay cuts several years ago leaves me little money for photography that I don't earn from photo sales. Some expensive dental bills (e.g. roots canals, crowns, gum work) left me with few extra funds for travel or new equipment. With the price of gas these days even going to another part of Ohio for a day gets expensive. My biggest trip this year was to Manitoba last spring, and while not a total failure, it was disappointing. I went way over budget on it. Not only hs the US dollar devalued in relationship to the Canadian dollar since my last visit there, but the prices have skyrocketed in Canada. About a year ago now I sold one of my favorite lenses, the Canon 24 f1.4L II lens. I eventually settled on the Canon 16-35 f2.8L II lens which does give more flexibility. My initial impressions of it are still how I feel about it, which is that it is good above 20mm or so but weak at the wide end. I thought about selling that zoom and getting another 24L, but the zoom is good around 24mm and my next camera will probably be a full frame camera and I really don't need a fast 24mm. Last year Canon updated three of their non-L wide angle prime lenses and added Image Stabilization. When they first came out they were way overpriced, but their cost has come down considerably. In October I picked up one of these lenses used in pristine condition for $400 including the lens hood, the 28mm f2.8 IS. It's tiny and light, no bigger than a teleconverter and easily fits into my small fanny pack that I keep essentials in and even fits comfortably into my jacket's pocket. Because of that I always have it with me. It's very sharp edge to edge and generally a lot of fun to use. On my 1D Mark IV cameras it gives me a 36mm lens, a very useful focal length to work with.  Distortion is well controlled. There is a bit of barrel distortion that I usually have no need to correct. Light fall off is as expected, becoming better as stopped down. That and a little bit of chromatic aberration is easily corrected when processing my RAW files in Photoshop. The lens has little wow factor that you get from the very top line of lenses. You won't be seduced by any 3D effect or fine micro contrast (buzz words from Zeiss owners), but it does deliver the goods. I tried the new 24mm f2.8 IS lens also but didn't like it as much.  The two lenses are too close in focal length to really need both. I found the 24mm to be less sharp especially away from the center with significantly more chromatic aberration than the 28mm.  If and when I do get a full frame camera, I'll probably want to at least try the 35mm f2 IS also. Right now I'm still happy with my two 1D Mark IV's, but if the next 1D model ups the megapixels enough I might want to sell one of my MarkIV's and get one. At this point it's anyone's guess what Canon will come out with next. For this year I was happy to settle on the relatively inexpensive 28mm f2.8 IS lens to quench my curiosity in new equipment. It delivers great results. I recommend that everyone keep it or one of the other new IS wide angles in their pockets at all times.

A very busy schedule in October and November left little time for photography and birding. The lens arrived on a characteristic gloomy overcast here in Columbus, so I took it down to the river here to check it out. The IS worked very well down to 1/25th second and again around 1/10th and 1/8th second.  I had less luck at around 1/15th and 1/20th second I suspect because of mirror slap causing vibrations that the IS doesn't do well with. I do need to do some testing with that to really draw conclusions.


Oct 11, backyard Scioto River Floodplain
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/25th sec., ISO 400


Oct 11, backyard Scioto River Floodplain
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/25th sec., ISO 400


Oct 11, backyard Scioto River Floodplain
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/25th sec., ISO 400

October is the month to look for Ammodramus sparrows in migration at Deer Creek. I got there once a week or so and was successful in finding both Nelson's and LeConte's in the wetlands again this year. On long hikes with my tripod mounted 800mm lens I like to take as little else as possible, and here is especially where the little pocket sized 28mm lens comes in very handy.


Oct 14, Southern Deer Creek Wetlands
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 400


Oct 14, Middle Deer Creek Wetlands
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 16-35L  f2.8 lens at 16mm
f11, 1/125th sec., ISO 400

I really wish that Canon would come out with a small ultra wide prime lens to join the rest of the wide angles that they have introduced recently. When I use the 16-35L f2.8 II I always want to use the widest end. It may look sharp in the above photo, but when viewed at 100% it really isn't very good at the edges, and that's with the crop factor of the 1D4. I'm sure it looks worse on full frame. That 16mm lens translates into a 21mm lens on the 1D4, and I'm already thinking of selling it and getting the Zeiss 21mm Distagon in Canon mount. Then again that Canon 24mm f1.4 L II sure is a nice lens, and I still regret selling the one I had. I like the 18mm perspective even more and my 14mmL f2.8 II  lens becomes that on the 1D4. That 14mm lens has been great for me on the 1D4.  It supposedly isn't sharp in the full frame corners, but I don't see it.  It's a world apart from the 16-35 at it widest end. I've never had a lens that wide on a full frame camera, so I don't know if I'd like it at this point or not. Besides zoom lenses which aren't especially great at the wide end, the only other ultra wide lenses Canon makes are the outdated and poorly rated 20mm f2.8 and the large, expensive, and bulky 17mm tilt shift lens. That Canon 17mm I'm sure is great and having the tilt/shift could be very useful, but it's more than I'd probably want to deal with. Zeiss also makes an 18mm f3.5 which isn't as sharp supposedly as the 21mm, but it's small and compact. Back in my film days I had both the Zeiss 18mm and 21mm lenses for my Contax cameras, when they were much less expensive I should add. That 18mm sure could blow me away with it's contrast and saturation on Velvia film, but viewing a large file at 100% on a computer screen really exposes the weaknesses of a lens more than a loupe on a lightbox ever did.  I'm not a serious landscape photographer and never will be. For me wide angles are just for fun and to illustrate bird habitats. I do get really picky about sharpness in the corners when viewing the files at 100%. I can't help it. And if I sell the zoom, of course I'd want a good 35mm lens also. Trying to figure out what wide angles to get for the day I get a full frame camera can cause a lot of angst. There are a lot of options, especially expensive ones for a bird photographer who doesn't really need any of them. (2014 update : In 2014 I did get a full frame camera , first a 6D in the spring, and later a 1D X in the fall. Canon also came out with a fantastic new wide angle zoom, the 16-35 f4L IS lens that is excellent to the corners at all focal lengths. I sold off most of my other wide angles when getting that zoom, but I kept and still regularly use this little 28mm lens because of its small size, high quality and versatility. It looks just as good out to the corners on the 1D X as is does on the 1D Mark IV.)
 



Oct 28, Middle Deer Creek Wetlands
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/800th sec., ISO 400

As can be seen in the above photo, the middle pond at the Deer Creek wetlands had some good shorebird habitat this fall, although late September was the best time. The mud got too soft to get close enough to the birds for photography. Sparrows get top billing at Deer Creek in the fall. Sparrows are pretty much my very favorite photographic subjects. Unlike warblers, sparrows can be photographed at all times of year here in central Ohio. They favor more open areas where early morning and late afternoon light is at its nicest and forests are in shadow. Sparrows are found or can be found at eye level. Their songs and variety are fascinating to me. Some are rare and secretive with a small range while others are common and widespread. Even those common species can show an interesting variety of songs and plumages across their range.  Traveling around North America looking for sparrows is never boring anywhere you go. More than any other birds, photographing sparrows in a natural setting requires the longest lenses possible and the 1.3x crop of the 1D Mark IV is valuable to have and getting closer is seldom possible. I can't see replacing it anytime soon until Canon comes out with a full frame 1 series camera that offers more than 27 megapixels. Unfortunately they stopped making these APS-H cameras while continuing on with the APS-C cameras such as the 7D and their extreme 1.6x crops. I had a 7D for a while and always hated it. Not only were the files extremely noisy but the colors always looked off to me, and it was difficult to extract details in low contrast areas, especially yellows. I'm not interested in trying out any more. Some people seem to like the 5 series cameras. I've never even tried one, but may do so in the future. Right now I'm just waiting to see what Canon comes up with in the next year or so before making any decisions, but I'll almost certainly keep at least one 1D MarkIV for a long time to come.


Nelson's Sparrow, Deer Creek Wetlands, Oct. 9
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/1250th sec., ISO 400


Swamp Sparrow, Deer Creek Wetlands, Oct. 25
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/800th sec., ISO 400

The stretch of time from late October and early November was very busy for me and offered essentially zero time for either birding or photography. The fall colors in Ohio were especially good this year, but I just didn't have time to head to any forests during their peak times. It was already the end of November before I had a chance to get to the Zaleski State Forest and it looked more like winter than fall at the time. All the typical Ohio wintering birds are present there, but nothing especially noteworthy was seen. This is clearly not a finch year in Ohio. There didn't seem to be a good acorn crop either. Red-headed Woodpeckers which were so common at Zaleski last winter were virtually absent this year. I only saw one during my two day visit. Most of the time I spent there was trying to photograph Golden-crowned Kinglets, which I feel I needed to improve my files on. I had little luck. Even though they're abundant in Ohio forests in the winter, they are tiny and just don't like to pose. Hopefully I'll have better luck some time in the future on their breeding grounds. Zaleski was a great place to pull out the 28mm IS lens again. Even if I wasn't having much luck with the kinglets, that lens kept the fun in my photography.


Nov 28, Zaleski State Forest
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f10, 1/125th sec., ISO 200


Nov 28, Zaleski State Forest
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/40th sec., ISO 200


Nov 29, Zaleski State Forest
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f13, 1/125th sec., ISO 200


Nov 29, Zaleski State Forest
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f13, 1/200th sec., ISO 200


Hermit Thrush, Zaleski State Forest, Nov. 29
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/640th sec., ISO 400

Hermit Thrushes are surprisingly common in the unglaciated counties of Ohio in the winter. Wherever there are clumps of sumac, there are sure to be Hermit Thrushes around. Their low clucking chip note is often the only clue to their presence.


Nov 29, Zaleski State Forest
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/400th sec., ISO 200


Nov 29, Zaleski State Forest
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/400th sec., ISO 200


"Slate-colored" Junco, Deer Creek Wildlife Area, Nov. 24
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/500th sec., ISO 400


Nov 30, Deer Creek Wildlife Area - Northern Area
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/40th sec., ISO 250


Nov 30, Deer Creek Wildlife Area - Northern Area
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f19, 1/40th sec., ISO 250

The weedy fields in the northern part of the Deer Creek Wildlife Area hold the the biggest concentrations of sparrows that I've ever seen anywhere in the fall and winter. Getting interesting photos of open fields with few stand out large features can be difficult. Getting close in with the 28mm lens offers more options. In the early part of the fall in October I usually spend more time in the southern wetlands where the Nelson's and LeConte's Sparrows are most likely to turn up, but in November these weedy fields in the north are worth spending more time. By the end of November this year those fields were loaded with sparrows, but the variety was low with hundreds of both American Tree and Song Sparrows and little else. A few Swamp Sparrows were in the mix and White-crowned Sparrows could be heard singing in hedgerows and brush in the distance, never venturing too deep into the fields. Some years, such as last year, Field Sparrows can remain at least sort of common through the winter, but all seem to have departed and I didn't see even one on November 30th. Although I assume that the Ammodramus sparrows have left the wetlands, there are still reports of both Nelson's and LeConte's coming in from around the state and I hope to get a chance to visit the area again soon. Finding time will be tough. My next day off is on December 26th, but a few of those days I only have evening performances. I'll definitely have the 28mm f2.8 IS lens in my pocket when I do get out next.


American Tree Sparrow, Deer Creek Wildlife Area, Nov. 30
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/640th sec., ISO 400


On December 6th I was able to get to the Deer Creek Wildlife Area again with only a performance that evening. It was a Saturday in deer gun hunting season, so the wildlife area was packed with hunters in the morning. I started out the morning scoping out the reservoir in the state park until the sun came out. The reservoir was completely open and held thousands of ducks (mostly Mallards and American Black Ducks) and a modest assortment of other ducks, grebes, and common gulls, but nothing too unusual.


Dec. 6, Deer Creek State Park
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/160th sec., ISO 250

At mid-day which quickly turns into evening during the short December days I headed into the wetlands. The middle wetland pond was quickly icing over and three Tundra Swans among the few waterfowl in the area. The brushy areas were again loaded with sparrows, but only the common species for the date, namely American Tree Sparrows and Song Sparrows. There were still quite a few Swamp Sparrows present, but certainly far less than a month earlier. Half-hardy sparrows that often remain numerous into at least the early winter were noticeably absent. There again wasn't a Field, Savannah, or Fox Sparrow anywhere.


Dec. 6, Middle Deer Creek Wetlands
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f11, 1/640th sec., ISO 250

The detail in the ice when viewed at 100% resolution in the corners is really amazing with this little 28mm lens. Canon hit a home run with this lens. It's a terrific value for the money.


Dec. 6, Middle Deer Creek Wetlands
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f13, 1/320th sec., ISO 200

A flock of 25 or so American Pipits was working its way through the area wherever wet grass wasn't completely frozen yet such as this spot on the other side of the middle pond from the previous photo. Sparrows occur in this type of mixed habitat with brush and large trees nearby in far greater density than in the pure cattail stands in the southern wetlands.


Song Sparrow, Deer Creek Wetlands, Dec. 6
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens + 1.4x
f11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 400

Only Song Sparrows with a small number of widely scattered Swamp Sparrows were found in the cattails. Even if any Nelson's or LeConte's Sparrows remained through the end of November, I'd be surprised if any stayed around through this latest blast of air from the north. It is a huge area and I hardly made an exhaustive search, so I can't say for certain that none are around, but I do seriously doubt it. One nice surprise when I was standing there photographing this particular Song Sparrow was some Short-eared Owls making an unexpected fly by. I was completely unprepared to photograph them. I had the 1.4x teleconverter on my 800mm lens and was in one-shot AF mode stopped down to f11 with a single AF point selected using IS mode number 1. I needed to change about a half dozen things to really properly photograph the owls that were flying right at me. I did manage to take off the teleconverter and switch to AF servo, but that's all I had time to do. I wish I could have at least opened up to f 5.6 and used a faster shutter speed and switched to IS mode 2 for panning. Setting up for additional AF points in the custom functions would have been nice too. Walking around the area I flushed another 4 Short-eared Owls, so maybe I'll have another chance with them before the winter is over. Next time I hope to be ready for them.


Short-eared Owl, Deer Creek Wetlands, Dec. 6
Canon EOS 1D MarkIV, Canon 800mm f5.6 L IS lens
f11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 400


Dec. 6, Southern Deer Creek Wetlands
Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 28mm f2.8 IS lens
f13, 1/125th sec., ISO 200