Thursday, February 28, 2019

On a Kenyan Safari with Sony Photo Gear

I just returned from a month safari in Kenya using Sony photographic equipment.  In December 2018 completed my migration after 23 years with Canon to Sony.  I moved to Sony mostly due mirrorless innovation, light weight and high quality lenses.  I carried a Sony a9 with a power grip, a Sony7RIII, a 100-400, 400 f 2.8 and a 1.4X and an Apple 6 for landscapes. Minimizing weight and size is a must when flying in bush planes.
 Both the a9 and the a7RIII cameras worked flawlessly in a very adverse environment.  No issue with dust in the sensors since I never changed lenses in the field.  Used the a9 with the Sony battery pack but battery length of life use not an issue with either camera; usually a battery lasting ¾ of a day.  Surprisingly battery charging took less time than in the USA probably due to the 240 volts outlets at the various lodges in Kenya. Only negative comment I can make about these cameras is that the ergonomics need improving and particularly the exposure compensation dial that is too small, stiff and the serrated edge hard on the thumb.
  If Sony wants to compete in the wildlife photography realm it has to develop a bigger camera with a built-in grip following the designs of the Canon 1DxII or Nikon D5.  The fit of the a9 and the accessory grip is a compromise, leaving a gap between the camera and the grip (probably affecting water resistance) does not allow reaching all the controls in the camera when used in the portrait orientation. Who knows maybe the next a9 will come that way with a global shutter and a higher resolution EVF/rear LCD.  Replacing the SD cards with a larger card will be another improvement for the action photography realm, not to mention having both card slots with the same speed.
 Used the 400 mm with the 1.4X extender 100% of the time alternating its use every 2 weeks between the a9 and the 7RIII; it worked fine and amazingly with almost no dust accumulation in the front element.  With the use of the 1.4X resulted this lens became a 560 mm f4, and with crop factor in the cameras it became an 840 mm.  I used the crop factor only with the a7RIII since it is a 42 megapixels camera that gave me approximately 20 megapixels images; more than adequate that I still could crop with great en results.  The a7RIII camera has amazing image quality.  The a9 has a faster frame per second rate and the viewfinder basically covered 100 % with focusing points. Regardless the a7RIII is a grate performed for shooting action scenes.
 As explained above, when using the 400 mm in one in one camera, I used the other  with the 100-400 mm.  The apertures of f5.6-11 of the latter lens were not an issue since sunlight was abundant throughout the safari.  The 100-400mm optical quality is outstanding and quite honestly, cannot differentiate much of images taken with the lens and those taken with the 400mm + the 1.4X.  Zooming of this lens requires effort since it is not a smooth mechanism; Sony needs to come with a lens whose length remains the same when zooming.  Another issue that I found with this lens is that when I assigned the magnification function to the barrel, the 3 activation buttons were accidentally engaged; I ended up disabling this function and using a button in the camera instead.
  I noticed when shooting at higher frames/second speed in RAW an in the inconsistency of color rendering of the images as recorded in the cards.  Those that I considered of fine color alternated occasionally with one or two continuous frames with a greenish color rendition (no problem correcting this in Photoshop).  I used Sony SDXC 128 GB cards R: 300/W: 299 and never suffered buffering problems; in fact as backup used Sony SDXC 128 GB R: 260/W:100 and did not experience buffering issues either.
 When it comes to Autofocus both cameras were about 70% in focus and both struggled with contrasting backgrounds.  I decided not to further elaborate in this topic since the new software update may improve autofocus performance.

I had taken this Sony Photographic gear during the last nine months from the humid hot tropics of Brazil, to below freezing temperature this winter in Yellowstone and now through the dusty and bumpy roads of Kenya and had no failures.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Yellowstone 2018--The Rut

I had visited Yellowstone in the winter several times because it is at its best, few tourists, snowstorms and as always, the challenge of finding wolves.  But the dedicated wolf watchers are always there searching for the elusive predator. Needless to say, no wolves close to be photographed but there was a better show.

The Bighorn sheep were in rut and was able to witness the whole complex ritual of who gets the ewe.  The males walk around trying to impress the prospective bride but there are others striving for the same price.  Lots of posturing among the gladiators by standing in two feet trying to intimate the competitor…until they ran straight at each others and “clash”; the sound of the impact.  They walk around a bit , pretend to ignore each other, may go and chew some grass but  the battle is repeated several times to my delight.

The winner claims the ewe and go an isolated spot, courtship starts with the male teasing the female with the legs teasing her to stand.  The act is accomplished and then the exhausted suitor goes to sleep.  This routine is repeated several times interrupted by rest intermissions while the looser just observe and dreams.

The moose is busy in winter looking for food and usually seen at a distance but in occasions they get close to the roads given great photo opportunities.

Pronghorn antelopes are abundant and found in herds, it is a beautiful animal with huge black eyes. They are mostly found in the grassy fields at the NW entrance to the park; I have seen them there every winter I had visited.

And then the ubiquitous bison, probably the most abundant animal in the park….while bother to take a photo when everyone else has one; because is there.  The one below is licking salts from the sides of the creek followed by a photo of a young one just jumping of joy.

Can’t leave the park without visiting Cooke City; it appears to be fading away with less business remaining opened and I do not think that is just for the winter.  Several properties are for sale as this white building; is just a shell with the back that collapsed several years ago.  Still is a very busy place for snowmobilers.

Yellowstone is a winter’s paradise for landscape photographer with gorgeous sunrises and sunsets as well as the frozen lakes and creeks.  A thousand opportunity but it is rough, the deep snow and the low temperature are great challenges but the image. About the death tree, I had been photographing is for more than 10 years when it was still alive and the following decay; a slow process.  Everytime I return I expect it to be lying on the ground but still perdure.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Birds of Pantanal 12/2018

Times flies and I did not want to end 2018 not uploading a December blog. One wonders as to the variety of birds in the tropics and no so many in the North American continent, yet there are birds in both places that fit similar niches.  The Black Collared Hawk is common in Pantanal and one hears their screech frequently; it not kin to the Bald Eagle but both feed on fish mostly. It is more closely related to the ospreys that are not present in the summer but arrive when it becomes winter in North America. 

Anhingas are also found in the Pantanal and mainly dive to catch fish; once caught, they surface and throw them in the air to align them head first into the mouth.  They are also known as the snake birds.

The Capped Heron is the most beautiful small heron is abundant as well as the Coi Heron that is bigger and greatly resembles our Great Blue Heron.

Hyacinth Macaws are the most interesting of the birds seen; they are usually in families and are very noisy.  It appears that they like to tease photographers; once you see them and raise the camera they immediately fly away.  Although they have suffered from the illegal bird traffic their numbers are quite numerous here.

The Gray Crested Cacholote appears to derive its name from its chocolate color but don’t think this is accurate.  In its behavior it resembles our Carolina Wren; always busy moving in the underbrush a talking to others and usually move in pairs.  The Grayish Saltator is common and not shy and it is mostly a seedeater.  The Rufous Hornero is quite an architect building its nest out of large mud nests that looks as an oven, hence, the name.

The Scaled Dove is a small and feed mostly on the ground while the Oropendola mostly stays on the trees and weaves a hanging nest.  The Black Fronted Nunbird moves in the forest in groups of 4-5 individuals and tends to perch watching for flying insects to catch.  The Yellow Billed Cardinal is common and tends to forage mostly for seeds in groups. The last image below is the Palm Tanager.

This Green Rufous kingfisher is common in the Pantanal and quite easy to approach. The Guira Cuckoo is quite different from the one in the USA but similar to the ones in Africa.  Not surprisingly since at one time the South American and African continents were together before they drifted apart. But the Squirrel Cuckoo resembles more our Black-Billed Cuckoo sharing a bright red eye.  The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl is common and resembles the Austral Pygmy Owl that I have seen in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego.

The Black-Crowned Heron I have seen mostly all over the American continents; below is an immature one. Next is the largest stork in the world known as the Jabiru is the most interesting bird and not too shy nesting in large trees and walks with a majestic stride.

The Rufescent Tiger Heron is very colorful and hunts wading along the shoreline along with the Limpkin who nests in trees near the water.  During my previous trip, I observed a jaguar shaking a tree and knocking the young birds out of the tree providing for an easy meal.  The Plumbeous Ibis is also common but feeds moving the beak underwater back and forth.

 The Toco Toucan is an emblematic and most unusual looking bird mostly seen in pairs with its large colorful bill and at times easily approachable. And the ultimate scavenger, the caraca who wonders if these papayas are meat too.  Until next year that will bring more interesting trips.