Smile for the birdie

I’m getting ready for what has become my annual quest to photograph sandhill cranes over in central Nebraska and felt I needed some practice on long lens usage.  This year I’m not renting the 300mm, f/2.8 digital Olympus lens; rather, I’m opting for my 300mm, f/4.5 manual Zuiko lens purchased about a year ago.  I found the center-lens resolution in good light is about the same between the two so it’s my go-to tool this year along with the 1.4x teleconverter.  On my 4:3rds sensor it’s like having a 600mm and 840mm lens.

You don’t just pick up such a long lens and hit the field.  Sharp images require not only learning the slowest shutter speed limit to use but also how to dial in the focus (this is a MANUAL lens) and set the aperture.  So, today we wandered over to the zoo to practice making good images from a distance.  The sun was good in a clear sky and there was little wind so it promised to be a great practice day.

Once more I had to remind myself how to use a manual lens on a digital camera.  Set to Shutter priority and dial in a fast speed to counter shake (even on a monopod it’s very hard to hold the camera rock steady).  I usually aim for a minimum of 1/800 sec. but will go higher in good light.  Then open the aperture to focus, which on a plain focus screen takes some time to get used to the “look” of properly focused subjects.  Then stop down the aperture to get the exposure you want.  Here’s where the screen on the back is invaluable to make sure you’ve preserved the highlight and shadow detail.  Just keep adjusting and shooting until you find the right exposure for the light on the subject.

I feel like I’m ready now for the cranes.  One advantage is I will have my tripod instead of a monopod so that will help alleviate shake.  I just hope I won’t have to run the ISO up high to get fast shutter speeds – noise gets to be a problem above ISO1600.  We’ll see what the weather brings.

Oh, the joy of a long lens at the zoo?  You can make portraits you probably wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of in the forest…..



Bengal Tiger


10 thoughts on “Smile for the birdie

  1. Good information Mel. I’m interested in your shutterspeed of 1/800, I normally work to 1/250 if I’m trying to stop shake and be fast enough for most actions, pets and people – but the longest lens I use is 135mm handheld and I guess birds/wildlife are an awful lot quicker not to mention the weight of the longer lens. By the way I spent the last 2days travelling to the south of France on my own (no dog this time) and it was comforting to know that out there I felt connected to normality by receiving your blog posts 🙂


    • Kate,
      I’m jealous of your travel and can’t wait to see images. The rule of thumb on hand-held shutter speed is 1/focal length, so in your case at least 1/250 sec (rounding up). In my experience with moving wildlife double that is a good safeguard so when I’m out with the cranes I’ll be up around 1/1200 sec. with a 600mm lens even on a tripod to make sure I “freeze” the action regardless of what they are doing.

      Glad to be of comfort.


    • Images always trump the tech talk for me too but seems like some people are interested in the details. I’m just glad to be able to use the gear properly to create these kind of images. Thanks for the compliment.


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