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Featured a river, a kayak, a man, a camera, a lens, a birds

Discussion in 'Nature' started by Phocal, Nov 20, 2017.

  1. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014

    I finally got around to buying the Olympus MZ 300mm f4.0 IS Pro and decided a section of the San Jacinto River that I had been visiting for the last month would make the perfect first test location. I have honestly been perfectly happy with my 150/2 and TC's, but really wanted to try focus bracketing my baby gators and bullfrogs...............................and most importantly.......................baby gator photography season is here.

    Since I basically got the lens for it's close focus ability and with my favorite baby gator park (as well as my 2nd favorite) still being closed due to Hurricane Harvey, decided to hit up the same place I had been for the last month. While there I had been easily photographing Green Herons and a pair of Great Blue Herons with the bare 150/2, so I knew I could get really close to them. It would be the perfect test location since I couldn't (at the time) go photograph baby gators.

    I should mention that my gator locations are now open and that I know of 3 locations between the two of them to find baby gators. Which is a lot better than I was hoping for, the hurricane wiped out well over 90% of the gator nest this year, that story is for another post.

    Note - all photographs have little or no crop. At most I cropped off 400px on the long side for any of these photographs. That's other than on some changing the aspect ratio to 3:2 or 16:9.

    So I loaded up the kayak and headed to my launch point and was happy to discover a foggy morning, love shooting in the fog. Not long after launching I spotted this Great Egret sitting on a branch. It was going to be a bit before the sun crested the trees to shine on him, so I tied up to a stump and waited. Unfortunately he flew off before the sun crested, but I was happy with the photograph I captured. I was actually shooting the photograph for a photo contest with the theme of "Quiet", which it took 1st place in. FYI, I knew when I got there and saw the fog that I good chance of doing well in the photo contest. When I saw the Great Egret on that branch, I was confident of a top 3 finish.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 + MC-14 - ISO 320, 1/320 @ f5.6, handheld from kayak
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    This next photograph is the only one I took that day with the 150/2 and figured I would throw it in here. It was taken from the same spot as the above photograph. This photograph was also entered in a photo contest with the theme of "Waterscape" and it took 2nd place. I was honestly surprised by that one, didn't feel it had a chance at even a top 10 finish (especially after seeing the entered photographs).

    EM1 w/ ZD 150mm f2.0 - ISO 200, 1/1250 @ f2.0, handheld from kayak
    Foggy Morning
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    This little section of river that I had been hanging out in had a large number of Green Herons. They also seem perfectly content with me getting close, even tying up to the same fallen tree they were hunting from. Which was a good thing because they tended to hunt from in the cover of the fallen trees or the heavy cover along the bank......................which made photographing them a huge challenge.

    I found this Green Heron hunting in a fallen tree and before I could tie up to it he started working his way along this branch, so I just let the kayak drift and followrd him along (was lucky the current moved about the same speed as him). I captured this shot when he first got on the branch.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 + MC-14 - ISO 200, 1/1000 @ f5.6, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 021
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    After that photo I dropped the MC-14 and switched to shooting bare lens. I captured this image as he continued to move along the branch. The composition on this one is terrible because for some reason I used the center focus point, which always makes for terrible composition. But I like the detail I was able to capture, so included it.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 - ISO 200, 1/2000 @ f4.0, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 022
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    When he stopped and stretched down towards the water I thought he was going to catch a fish................but he caught this spider. I didn't know I had this shot until after I got back home and was looking at the photos. It is terrible composition (if I had know I would have flipped to vertical) but I really love how much detail is captured in his head/neck.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 - ISO 200, 1/2000 @ f4.0, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 023
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Now, in this photograph I knew he caught the spider. Was really hoping he would use it as bait, something I have been wanting to catch on video. But he just ate it and moved on. I really wish his head and turned just a bit more to put the spider in perfect focus also.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 - ISO 200, 1/2000 @ f4.0, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 019
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    After eating the spider he jumped down to the bank of the river. This made for some really tough shooting because it was thick. This next shot I ended up entering in a photo contest with the theme "Grass is always greener" and it ended up in 4th.............it really was a great day photographically. I had to hold the camera over the side of the kayak and use the LCD to frame this.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 - ISO 200, 1/640 @ f4.0, handheld from kayak
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    This was honestly my favorite shot of the day. The 150/2 has gotten me into shooting shots like this and I was worried about the 300/4 being able to pull if off. By that I mean the amazing sharpness of this lens can cause it to not have the most smooth or beautiful bokeh like the 150/2. It also reminded me of a baby gator shot I took with the 150/2 that is still my favorite baby gator capture. Needless to say, this shot is the one that made me decide it was definitely a keeper. My next real test will be how well it shoots directly into the sun.

    Here is another shot while he walked along the bank, also held over the side of the kayak for framing.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 - ISO 320, 1/320 @ f4.0, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 020
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    This next shot is the last one before I put the MC-14 back on. This is full frame, just cropped to 3:2 aspect ratio. I really love all the detail you can see in his feathers, especially along his back. They make such great test birds because they have those feathers on the neck that are almost like fur and the wings/back have the typical bird feathers. All the texture in their bodies just makes for excellent test subjects.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 - ISO 400, 1/320 @ f4.0, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 016
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    While putting on the MC-14 he managed to get into some really heavy cover. This shot was not easy to get and I really like how it shows just how thick of cover they like to hunt in.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 + MC-14 - ISO 640, 1/400 @ f5.6, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 018
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    The above image is a testament to the dual IS. It was shot at 1/400 while holding the camera over the side of the kayak and framing with the LCD. Which getting a clear view was almost impossible.........................

    He than popped out of the heavy cover to say hello.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 + MC-14 - ISO 200, 1/400 @ f5.6, handheld from kayak
    Green Heron 017
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    It is amazing when you fill the frame with a Green Heron at 420mm how narrow the DoF is.

    The last image is of a Great Blue Heron that was rather friendly. Him and his brother were always in this area and they would let me drift past them very close. This photograph is the one in my thread about expanding canvas in PS. So I was very close and I love the amazing amount of detail I was able to capture. The image was captured as I drifted past him using CAF and manually keeping a focus point on his eye.

    EM1 w/ MZ 300mm f4.0 + MC-14 - ISO 200, 1/2500 @ f6.3, handheld from kayak
    GBH 012
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I had honestly planned to shoot that wide-open but must have hit the dial and not noticed it during the shooting.

    I was planning on posting this tomorrow but I will hopefully be photographing baby gators, so quickly wrote it up tonight. In the first comment I will give some of my initial thoughts on the lens. I will also throw in some of my thoughts about how it compares to my 150/2, but these are early comparisons...............lots more testing is needed before a full comparison can be made.

    Hope you enjoy the photos and story.............

    As always, any and all comments are welcomed


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  2. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Ok, sorry for the delay. I needed to finish packing up for tomorrow...............


    Lens construction..............

    The lens feels well built overall, I will admit that it doesn't feel as solid as my 150/2. But I don't forsee any problems, it feels as solid as any of my Canon L lenses. So I am happy with the build quality, just don't think it is as well built as the 150/2.

    I like the lens hood, it is a slick design and simplifies things. But it seems to get crooked and jammed up to easily when you tighten/loosen. So I kind of question the durability of it, guess time will tell. It also seems large enough to protect the front element in the rain. Since I love shooting in the rain, that is a concern of mine.

    This gives me two lenses (my two most used lens by a long shot) with a programmable button. I never programmed the one on the 150/2 because I am such a muscle memory freak. I may actually assign something to that switch that I would only use in a telephoto lens situation now that I have two lenses. I do kind of prefer the location of the button on the SHG lenses. For those that don't know, there are 4 of them around the front part of the lens. They all do the same thing, so can't program each of them.

    It is great that they made the tripod foot compatable, but the foot is just way to small to carry the camera/lens by. I am going to have to add a plate so that it is a little longer and makes a better handle. I don't use straps unless shooting two bodies at an event and like to carry my lenses by the tripod foot. I have only used the lens out of my kayak, out of the Jeep and the airshow (where I used my Blackrapid strap because I had two bodies). So tomorrow will be my first trip where I am walking a lot. This will probably prompt me to finally order a plate because I know it will drive me crazy tomorrow. Will probably end up using my Blackrapid backpack strap, it is always in my camera bag for those just in case emergencies. One other little problem is that damn huge knob to tighten/loosen the tripod collar. I have always set the tripod foot in my palm and held the lens that way. I started that when shooting manual focus lenses, so I could just reach up with my fingers and focus the lens. So, I still shoot that way and that big ass knob presses into my lower thumb and starts to hurt after awhile. I am hoping to build up a callus to it, but right now it does bother me.

    My 150/2 (as well as the other SHG lenses) have the first focus limiter switch that has ever made sense to me. The switched pushed away from you is far focus and the switch pulled towards you is close focus. It just makes sense in my mind...................but the 300/4 has gone the way of my old Canon lenses and far focus is towards you and near focus is away from you. I had gotten so use to my 150/2 and now with it different on the lenses I am never going to be use to either. I am hoping that with one being a round switch you twist and the other a switch you slide forward/backward I will be able keep it strait in my head. Right now I am always moving or trying to move it the wrong way............


    Image Quality............................

    The lens is sharp, you can't deny that. The amount of detail it can capture is pretty amazing. I can notice a slight decrease in IQ with the MC-14, but it is still easily better to use it over cropping. I just hate the ƒ5.6, but I then remember that it's an effective 840mm........so ƒ5.6 is ok.

    I was worried about the bokeh to some extent, but those fears have been put to rest. The one image above settled those fears. Now I just need to see if it can create the magic when shooting into the sun like my 150/2 does.


    Compared to 150/2 w/ EC-20..........................

    I have purposely left the EC-20 at home when going out. I want to resist the urge to compare the two lenses until I have had a chance to really shoot with the 300/4. So, it will be a while until I do an in field side by side comparison.

    I know the 300/4 is sharper than the 150/2 w/ EC-20, the lens test sites have shown that. But there is a point where extra sharpness is not noticeable in real world photos (except if you are cropping, in that case it's a huge advantage in keeping detail). I can tell a slight difference in sharpness between them, so the 300/4 has the advantage there. I still feel the images from the 150/2 w/ EC-20 have smoother transistions and better bokeh. There also seems to be something about the 150/2 w/ EC-20 shots that I just prefer, but that could be a bais. I will be able to settle that when I do shoot them side by side.

    I do know that the 300/4 paired with the 150/2 are going to give me the best portable two lens combo I have ever had. I will admit when I carried my camera bag downstairs this evening I could tell the weight difference. On this trip I will have an extra camera and lens in the bag and it's noticable. But given the gear in the bag and focal ranges covered, nothing can compare and it's why I made the switch. I will always have to have the 150/2 with me because most of my adult gator photos are taken with it, 300mm is just to much reach.

    If for some reason I could only take one lens, it would be the 150/2. It is just way to versatile with the TC's and I honestly don't need more than 300mm of reach. But if the purpose of the trip was macro, it would be the 300/4.

    Is it odd that I have one of the best telephoto lenses made and I am more excited about using it to shoot macro?

    Well that is all for now. I will sometime after the first of the year do a comparison post..

    Any and all comments are welcomed


    Last edited: Nov 20, 2017
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  3. Smalls

    Smalls Mu-43 Regular

    May 15, 2017
    That Foggy Morning shot is gorgeous!
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  4. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thank you...............
  5. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Ok, the second part is done and thanks for waiting............

    @SVQuant@SVQuant here is your answer about the 300/4 comparison to 150/2
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  6. SVQuant

    SVQuant Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Sep 20, 2015
    SF Bay Area, California, USA
    Ronnie, thanks for sharing your view of the 300 vis a vis the 150/2. Truly, two wonderful lenses. Looking forward to the EC-20 comparison.

    And, great images as always. The first two are absolute winners. And I think that the Green Heron closeup (017) is a really amazing capture.
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  7. Bristolero

    Bristolero Mu-43 Veteran

    May 15, 2017
    Alaska/New Zealand
    Thanks for this and all you other posts. I've not only enjoyed the pics but also the commentary included with them. Really love the first shot, and surprisingly the third from the last. I think it's the perspective. I also shoot an EM1 300 f4 combo from a kayak and I think your low down "over the side" shot typifies a hunting bird down in the weeds looking for food. I shoot a lot of BIFs and find the 300, combined with DXO provides some impressive feather detail, as long as I am close enough. Anyhow, great work as usual.
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  8. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks and you are welcome. They are both very great lenses and I was glad I had both of them with me today.

    The closeup is one of my favorites..................
  9. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks and I am glad you enjoy the story as well as the photos. I like looking for new and usual perspectives or types of shots. I have photos of all the birds in pretty light, so always looking for something different.

    I don't do much BiF, I prefer photographing them catching stuff. Still after a bird catching a baby gator photograph.................one day.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
  10. Schwert

    Schwert Mu-43 Regular

    Mar 2, 2016
    Pacific NW
    Thanks for this post, super informative and such grand shots. I will have a 300f4 under the tree this year...cannot wait.

    Fog and Egret is stunning, and the Green Heron study in its niche is like a nature journal.
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  11. Carbonman

    Carbonman Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jul 10, 2014
    Vancouver BC
    I use the 300 for near-macro quite a bit. It's even better with the 1.4TC for this type of shooting, since you usually have to stop down a lot to get enough DoF at minimum focus distance. Glad you like the 300, it's a bit of a tour de force for Olympus.
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  12. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 13, 2015
    Troy, NY
    Jock Elliott
    Those two white egret shots are absolutely breathtaking.

    What was your emotional reaction to capturing those shots? I know that I would not have been dispassionate, but jumping up and down in a kayak and yelling "Holy BLEEP, I can't believe I got that!" would probably be inappropriate. Nevertheless, I think you just justified the cost of that lens.

    Cheers, Jock
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  13. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks............................that is what I was going for with the Green Heron shots, glad you enjoyed it.
  14. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I will mostly use it without the TC and focus bracket, since my preferred subjects tend to just sit in one spot and not really move.

    So far I believe using the TC is better than cropping, but losing that stop of light is pretty crucial for me. It is not always that bright under the canopy of trees in the swamp where I mostly shoot the baby gators, bullfrogs and snakes.
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  15. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I was really happy with the first one from the 300/4 but I honestly don't think the 150/2 shot is that spectacular. I will say that the Great Egret does seem to just pop out of the photo in the 150/2 shot.

    I will jump up and down in the kayak when I photograph of a bird catching a baby gator..................that is the shot that will most excite me.

    FYI.....................jumping up and down in a kayak can have pretty disastrous results.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2017
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  16. Lcrunyon

    Lcrunyon Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jun 4, 2014
    Great shots, as always.

    I am sure you are very quiet, but is it easier to get close to birds in a kayak? Do you use camo, or do anything, to reduce the chance of spooking them at the sight of a human?
  17. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014

    That is actually a good question. In some aspects it is easier, mostly because getting close on foot usually involves crawling................which often means crawling over fire ants.

    I use all kinds of tricks to get close to them. I have found that the long double ended kayak paddles can spook things from them waving around in the air. For that that reason I now carry a small wood paddle like you would use in a canoe, it produces less movement for the birds to notice and really it is movement that they key in on. Sometimes I will build up speed and stow the paddle and just glide towards my subject, will use the wood paddle for course corrections if I need to. I will drift with the current if there is one. I also will use stumps or trees or branches to push off of or to correct course while drifting/gliding. It really is the same as on land...............move slowly with as little movement as possible, try to use cover to hide behind and move when not looking at you.

    Up until just a few months ago I never wore camo in my kayak and my PFD was a bright yellow. Mostly because there was little selection of camo clothing that was made out of something that would dry quickly when wet (which I am almost always wet in the kayak) and the stuff that was out there was expensive. I live in Texas and we have a chain of stores called Academy, not sure how big they are but know they are not national. They have a line of their own clothing out and just this year came out with camo in a nylon type material and the legs zip off to turn them into shorts. So I have picked up a few sets of those and they work great in the kayak. The company that makes my PFD now has a really nice camo PFD that I also just got. I am really particular about my PFD's and until recently the only camo ones were cheap pieces of shit that were not comfortable to wear in a kayak. So now I have full camo when in the kayak and it does help, or it seems to. Well, almost full camo............................my good paddle has yellow blades but it is to small for my new kayak. My backup paddle has red blades and it is almost the right length for my new kayak. Now that I have paddled the new kayak some I know I want a paddle a bit longer than my current backup paddle. So I am about to order a new paddle and it comes in a greenish color, so not as bright as my red one. Seems like most stuff that comes in camo tends to be on the cheap side, as in cheaply made and not something I want. But as duck hunting from kayaks gets more popular I am starting to finally see some quality camo kayak products coming to market..............which is nice.

    This is a shitty video from my early days of shooting video (which I haven't gotten that much better). I spotted this Osprey in a tree over the river and floated under him while taking photos and shooting some video. I was able to float under him 3 times by paddling to the far side of the river to get back upstream to float under him again. I laid out in the kayak and floated under him, on the 3rd trip something fell in the kayak and made a noise as I was going under and he finally realized what I was and flew off.

    Osprey 03
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Here is a shot that kind of shows the current layout of my new kayak with both paddles visible.

    Kayak Bipod
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    any more questions just ask and I will try to answer them......................

    oh, one thing that sucks in the kayak is when you are trying to shoot around some branches. You can't just scoot over 6 inches to see around something like on land. So it does bring some challenges..............but it also allows perspectives that you can't get from land like some of the Green Heron shots in this post.

    Last edited: Dec 3, 2017
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  18. RamblinR

    RamblinR Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 16, 2012
    Qld Australia
    Lovely images as always.
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  19. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
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  20. masayoshi

    masayoshi Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 5, 2016
    Salt Lake City
    One of the joys attending this forum is to find your posts, see stunning images, read your stories, and learn from there.
    The images of the alligator trying to eat poor turtle are still etched in my mind.
    Thanks for sharing your experience, skills, and insights!!
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