Monday, 18 February 2008

I read the instructions...!

We had a very enjoyable day at Linton Zoo, just over the Essex / Cambridgeshire border on Sunday. It was bright sunshine, and although cool, was ideal for photography. In particular, it gave me a second chance to try out my new-ish Sigma 135-400mm lens, which I was so disappointed by last weekend (see "Read. The. Instructions.").

This time, I stopped the lens down to f8 and cranked up the ISO slightly to get realistic shutter speeds, as recommended by various users I've seen on DP Review and elsewhere. I was much happier with the results this time, with a couple in particular being quite pleasing.

Linton is quite a small zoo, and from a photographic point of view, the design of the enclosures does, in some cases, leave a bit to be desired. Wire fences are quite obtrusive, and being able to satisfactorily minimise the effects of the wire becomes a complex balance between aperture, proximity of the photographer to the fence, proximity of the animal and the angle of light! Irritatingly, getting the aperture closed down on this lens for maximum sharpness tends to bring the wire into focus! These things are always a balancing act.

Nevertheless, I've been left with a couple of images I'm quite pleased with (see the Crowned Crane above) and few that "will do" for my own satisfaction, although I wouldn't post them anywhere where they might be looked at critically.

Linton has several large cats (Leopard, Snow Leopard, Black Panther, Tigers and Lions), some of which give excellent photo-opportunities. Unfortunately, one pair of lions, currently with three cubs, are in the worst of the enclosures. There are two layers of wire fencing close together (which confuses the hell out of autofocus), and the afternoon sun falls right on it. Yesterday, the whole family were right up against the fence, playing football! Argh! Not a single successful image was possible!!!

One thing that really did please and surprise me, however, was the ease of manual focusing with the lens. The focusing ring is cleverly positioned so it can easily be rotated with the thumb of the left hand while supporting the lens by its tripod collar. It's a very smooth, light action. I gave up on AF quite quickly because of the difficulty of getting a lock fast enough, but in the bright light, for once found MF a viable alternative. This was despite the less-than-brilliant qualities of the E510 viewfinder, even with the ME-1 magnifier fitted.

The dim viewfinders on the E500 and E510 are in my view the only major drawback compared with the old OMs, apart from size and weight (with anything other than the kit lenses, at least). As mentioned before, manual focus has always been something I've struggled with, and the E1 makes me realise how much better a viewfinder could be for four-thirds. One good reason, at least, for wanting an E3.

Work commitments permitting, I'm hoping for more opportunities at Linton this year, as we decided to invest in season tickets giving us unlimited visits over 12 months. We bought some at Colchester Zoo as well on our last-but-one visit, and need to go back a couple more times to get value for money...

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