Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Great Blue Heron Nesting - Nikon 500mm f4, Nikon D300, and Lumix DMC-G3

I got the rare opportunity to get reasonably close to a rookery of nesting great blue herons yesterday. A local real estate developer opened their undeveloped property to nature enthusiasts, at an event they called HeronFest. It was a very nice event for birdwatchers and nature photographers, getting us close enough to shoot (with long lenses) without disturbing the nesting birds.
 
I took out my Nikon Ais-P 500mm f4 manual focus lens, Nikkor 1.4x tele-converter, and two bodies - the Nikon D300 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3. With the D300, I think my equivalent focal length was about 1000mm, with f5.6 (due to the one stop loss of the tele-converter). With the G3, I got an amazing equivalent field of view of 1400mm, with the same f5.6!
 
I took the G3 along almost as an afterthought. I wasn't sure how it would perform with a tele-extender, a lens adapter, and manual focus. It turns out that the manual focus aid in the G3 (where it magnifies a portion of the image to allow more accurate focusing) works wonderfully with this big lens setup. I'm pretty pleased with the results.
 
Nesting Great Blue Herons, by Reed A. George
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3, Nikkor Ais-P 500mm f4 + 1.4X tele-extender
iso 400, f5.6, 1/640 sec.
 
It was an overcast day, which is a mixed blessing and curse. It allowed for nice even lighting, but very little dramatic contrast. The colors of the birds rendered nicely, but the sky (the only background available) was milky white and ugly. I guess it worked out okay.
 
Herons Building Their Nest, by Reed A. George
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3, Nikkor Ais-P 500mm f4 + 1.4X tele-extender
iso 400, f5.6, 1/640 sec.
I love the composition of the shot above. Unfortunately, it's a pretty major crop from the original, and would not print well above about 8"x12" or so. Most of the others are closer to full frame, and would print well.
 
Here are a couple of shots from the Nikon D300.
 
Herons Building Nests, by Reed A. George
Nikon D300, Nikkor Ais-P 500mm f4 + 1.4X tele-extender
iso 800, f5.6, 1/750 sec.

 
The shot above reminds me of an Audubon painting. He always caught interesting bird poses. I heard some time back that Audubon was a "shotgun naturalist," sometimes killing the birds he wanted to paint, and posing them as he saw fit. Rest assured, none of the birds in my pictures were injured.
 
The D300 handles high iso better than the G3. But, the gap is narrowing. In fact, I wonder if the new DMC-GH3 doesn't perform better than the D300, which is a few versions old for Nikon. The D300 is a very nice camera, which is really meant as a backup to my D700 (one of my very favorite cameras). However, the D300 has a smaller sensor, which has the benefit of extending the telephoto effect based on the crop factor. I knew I would need all the reach I could get, so chose the D300 over the D700 for this shoot.
 
Nesting Pair, by Reed A. George
Nikon D300, Nikkor Ais-P 500mm f4 + 1.4X tele-extender
iso 800, f8, 1/1000 sec.

I like how the flying bird's head is contrasted against the shadow under his wing in the shot above. It was the best I could do with a pure white sky. I used f8 to attempt to get a little more depth of field, which is hard to accomplish at 1000mm!
 
Delivering Nesting Material, by Reed A. George
Nikon D300, Nikkor Ais-P 500mm f4 + 1.4X tele-extender
iso 800, f8, 1/1000 sec.
 
We got a few glimpses of sunlight toward the end of the event. This shot was taking during one of those brief shining moments. I like the tension of the two birds placed diagonally in the shot, looking at each other.
 
These shots, and a couple of additonal ones, can be seen on my other website, creativeobjective.com.
 
(Click Here) to go to the HeronFest photo set on creativeobjective.com
 
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