150-600: Best foot forward

DSC_2428 as Smart Object-1Today’s post marks the start of my posts using the Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 SP Di VC USD.

We’ll start off with the obligatory shot that I’m sure everyone takes when they get a new telephoto lens. If you click on it, you’ll see the full scale of the image which has been cropped down a little. It’s worth bearing in mind that a tripod probably wouldn’t make this any sharper, since the moon moves relatively to us. However, the details that can be picked out are more than a match for what’s possible with the naked eye. So here’s a demonstration of the other headline feature of the “Bigron”: it’s stabilised.

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The inclusion of Vibration Compensation is an important point in the saleability of a lens with a 600mm focal length and a modest maximum aperture of F/6.3. To use a lens that long places a high demand on the shutter speed requirements for sharp shots. VC enables the photographer to shoot with considerably slower speeds than the expected 1/600s or higher, bringing figures into usable territory for the majority of users. Having said that, I think that you’ll still want a monopod if, like me, you aren’t used to this sort of lens, and you will find yourself working above your normal ISO range on occasion.

DSC_2661-as-Smart-Object-1At the other extreme, iDSC_2654-as-Smart-Object-1t didn’t take me long to find the minimum focus distance when trying to photograph insects with the 150-600. It’s about nine to ten feet (almost twice my body length). This takes some getting used to after years of using lenses dedicated to this sort of thing. More often than not, I had to take a step back to successfully focus, rather than the constant edging forward that I’m used to. You can’t really get a frame-filling shot of even large insects without switching to DX crop mode, but it’s perfectly good for “in-situ” compositions.

Whilst it won’t hold up to the optical performance of a macro lens, it’s a capable performer, and on a mid-range sensor it should yield satisfactory results. I have no doubt that the lens will work very well with a modest extension tube, and intend to test this soon.

For close range work, the maximum aperture isn’t a handicap, since the depth of field becomes so incredibly small above 300mm that it a smaller aperture actually acts as a focus aid. I think this will come into play at the farther reaches though, where background separation has an effect on the overall aesthetics.

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The first of the common darter images shown above is posted at its original size of 7360 × 4912 pixels (full frame, D800) to show you what’s possible. It’s obviously easy to crop down  from this scale. Although the sharpness is not the greatest when racked out, I think you have to look fairly closely before it becomes obvious, and the range makes the trade-off worthwhile, since the large working distance means that your subjects will act very naturally and without being disturbed by your presence.

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When you do pair this lens with a cropped format, or switch to an equivalent mode, the working distance feels a bit more natural, since you’re less likely to step inside the close focus distance. Realistically, you buy yourself about three feet. I was quite pleased with these shots of male and female banded demoiselles. The females in particular are extremely flighty, and you simply struggle to get near them with a macro lens in the middle of  a hot day. The Tamron 150-600 is therefore perfectly suited to subjects such as these.

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Introducing the 150-600!

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It’s been a busy couple of months for us, with not much time for photography (as you’ll no doubt have noticed if you regularly follow the blog). In between my job, and studying for a diploma, my wife and I have been busily preparing for the birth of our first child, who is due to arrive in the next few weeks. It’s a very exciting time for us.

Now that I’ve finished with decorating the bedroom for our pending arrival, I’ve been itching to get out and get some real daylight on my skin. The arrival of the Tamron 150-600mm earlier in the month gave me a great excuse! I’ll be putting it through its paces until September to see how it fares.

This has got to be one of the most eagerly anticipated third -party lenses in a few years. It’s a modest 4x zoom ratio, with a top end of 600mm, and it costs less than £1000.

Now, I’ve never used a lens this long before. 340mm is about my existing limit.  I expect that learning to handle this one is going to come with quite a steep learning curve, and I feel that I should be up front about that from the outset. I will have to master a few techniques, but this means that I’ll be the perfect person to discuss the suitability of the “Bigron”(coined by Sumeet Moghe) as an entry into long-lens work.

So, first impressions:

  • It’s built like a tank. The lens hood is huge (although not quite as large as it appears in the wide-angle above)
  • It balances very well on my full-frame body, resting squarely on the tripod foot.
  • Manual focus is very smooth, and is geared in such a way that you can adjust fine focus with just a fingertip.
  • Because of the zoom range, it’s large, and fairly heavy.

However, there’s a note to be made about the size, and it’s that this is still what I’d consider a compact lens for its class. How did I reach that conclusion? Simple. I have the Think Tank Digital Holster 30 V2.0. That’s a shoulder bag designed for a 70-200mm lens with a hood attached. The bigron fits inside it. Snugly, with the hood reversed, but it fits, and I can close the lid with ease. If you don’t feel the need for the hood, then it fits very easily. I did not expect that.

To summarise, I’ll be reviewing a 600mm lens, which costs under £1000 (I’m going to keep saying that, because it’s significant), which is small enough to fit in hand luggage without filling it.

Basically, if you’re going on safari any time soon, you’re going to want to look very closely at this lens.

 

24-70: Woodland exploration

One of the things which really appeals to me about woodland is how quickly the mood within them can change with the weather. My favourite of the local woodlands is Woolley Wood, which I visit frequently during two key periods in the year (the other being mushroom season).
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Woolley Wood has the designation of being a Local Nature Reserve, and lies astonishingly close to Meadowhall shopping centre. In spite of this, its existence comes as a bit of a surprise to many of the people living in the area (but not all)
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We’re currently nearing the end of the peak season for bluebells, and over the last three weeks I’ve collected a number of images. I love the contrast of colour at this time of year, and even the greenery seems to come in a huge range of tones.
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There is a real charm to English bluebells. Their drooping appearance seems to echo their status as the underdog of the bluebell family, in stark contrast to the bold and brassy posture of their Spanish counterparts. For roughly a month every year, they can transform even the smallest of woods into a dream-like landscape with the most magical appearance.
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The following shot taught me a little about how the Tamron 24-70 works. To get this effect, pioneered by Michael Orton in the eighties, I took two frames with the lens focused at different distances. One was in focus, and the other was intentionally over exposed and focused at the shortest possible distance. The blending was done in camera to produce a single RAW image. However, to get the two images to register perfectly, I also had to use two slightly different focal lengths.
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This is because when you use close focus distances, the angle of view gets wider. This is a typical trick of zoom lenses. As such, the  focused frame was shot at 55mm, and the out of focus frame was shot at 62mm. I used live view to make sure I had lined the images up correctly. This gave a very subtle glow which enhanced the colour of the bluebells.

Since the 24-70 is not a one-trick pony, it was possible to take photos with very different characteristics to them without changing lenses. This week I had a chat with a fellow Tamron user, and reassured her by pointing out that she already has quite a capable close-up lens, even though she has yet to buy a macro lens.
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Even six months on, I’m still surprised by the difference in how it feels to use a full frame camera rather than a cropped sensor. The closer working distances really give a more intimate feel to photographs, and the narrower depth field that results from working closer can used to isolate subjects very clearly, even with wide angles (and with a full frame field of view, 35mm feels pretty wide)
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The last couple of shots were taken at a different local wood, with straighter stands of trees. I wasn’t impressed with the current management practices in there, but at least I managed a couple of shots.
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24-70: in search of Elves

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Not too long ago, my father and I went to visit a friend in Pitlochry, and on the way home, stopped at the Hermitage for a few photos. It’s a lovely spot, which always makes me think of the hobbits’ fascination at entering Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings (although the illusion was marred somewhat by the balloons bobbing in the water!)
It’s probably no surprise by now that woodland is my favorite environment…

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70-200: The very best of blooms…

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I’ve had a concept in my head for a while, and yesterday it was put into action when I took some photos of my wife at the halfway stage of her pregnancy. We set off for my favourite of the local bluebell woods and had a fun hour or so (it was much colder than it looks here – she’s a great sport) for some shots for the family album.

I decided not to use anything shorter than 50mm for the shoot. I wanted a very natural appearance to the shots, and the coverage of bluebells is not so thick that they allow for many wide angle shots to retain the effect. So I shot low, long and shallow to use the bluebells as a colour wash. It was a lot of fun, and we’ve got a great selection of photos from the afternoon. Some of the shots I wanted needed a really shallow depth of field and a wider angle of view, so I used a different lens for those and they aren’t shown here (give us some ultra fast lenses please Tamron!), but I loved the look of some of these telephoto shots.

24-70: local architecture

In my pursuit of ways to make Rotherham look attractive, I’ve been out and about this month looking at some of the local landmarks.

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Rotherham Minster at night. This was taken in the midst of the recent Saharan Death Smog, which seemed to completely miss the town centre. Also, I don’t think it was that deadly. There is a possibility that this image may appear on the cover of next year’s Rotherham Hospice calendar, so watch out for that. I turned off the VC for this one and used a remote release to get the sharpest possible result.

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Monkwood cemetery church. I love this building. I walked past it many times without realising it was there. It’s no longer in use, but it has a very distinctive structure. I chose the long end of the lens to give a three-dimensional effect and to accentuate trees.

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Conisborough Castle. Due to some modern fencing and the surrounding housing estates, this isn’t the easiest place get a good shot. For the first photo I used the close working distance of the lens with a tight aperture to get a shot that was recognisable but uncluttered.