Being a creature of habit, when preparing for a day of bird photography, I tend to load up my bag with the same lens staying well within my comfort zone. Today I changed it up adding a brand new lens to my kit – a birthday present from an indulgent husband. The reviews on the lens were very good and often showed that it had a great depth of field even at f/2.8. So I was challenged to work with the lens shooting ONLY at f2.8. If you have been following my blog posts for some time you will know this is well out of my comfort zone and into that scary place of blur. I l like detail in my bird images, definition in their feathers and nice sharp catch-light in their eyes. To achieve this I am usually shooting anywhere from f8 to f11 and to do anything less had me expecting to go home with a bunch of images ready for the trash bin. I am pleased to say that was not the case!
What is the lens I am hearing you ask… well it is a Lumix G X Vario 35-100 / F 2.8 II and together with my Lumix G9 it was given a good workout yesterday at Zealandia where there is no shortage of birds. I knew I needed to get fairly close to the birds to be able to use this lens even taking into account the crop sensor factor, giving me the equivalent to 200mm at full extension. First up was a family of Californian Quails that we came across alongside the walkway. I haven’t posted the images here because to my eye, they were too far away and hard to see in the image. I came across another pair of quail further down the track. The male bird appeared to be on guard duty for the female who was sitting on a nest. Neither were moving for anyone so I had plenty of opportunity to photograph them from a very short distance.
Further down the track towards the dam I stopped at the kaka feeders. There are almost always birds hanging around the feeders and the trick is to photograph them without the feeder in the shot. Again because these birds are so used to people being in the sanctuary, it was very easy to get close to them around the feeders. I was limited to the types of shots I got though because if they moved too far away I could not zoom in on them to get the level of detail I wanted. Still with the lens at f/2.8 I continued down to the bellbird feeder where I have been having trouble focusing on the birds over the last month or so. Unfortunately there was absolutely no activity at this feeder so I could not test the lens against the results from the longer zoom I had used previously, so I continued down to the bottom of the dam.
It was at the kakariki feeder where I had the most fun and frustration at the same time. Frustrated because I knew what images I could have shot with the longer zoom but fun because I was able to get up close to the bird and had no idea what I was going to achieve. Now that I have had the chance to look at the images and process a few I am still unsure if I can call this experiment a success or not. Yes I have some lovely sharp images with beautiful bokeh in the soft dreamy backgrounds, but are they better than the results I could have achieved with the bigger lens – I am not so sure. One thing I am sure of though, is that when I succumbed to the temptation to go to f/8 the results were not as good as they were at f/2.8, so clearly this is the sweet spot for this particular lens making it extremely good in low light situations. I might not use it for birds very often but I forsee it getting a lot of use for other images.