Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens

Started May 23, 2013 | Discussions
Barry Pearson
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Re: Barry...
In reply to brandrx, May 24, 2013

brandrx wrote:

I can abtain perfect balance with my Pentax DA*300/4 on my Wimberly gimbal. One thng a lot of folks don't realize is not only do you need to move the lens back or forth to obtain balance but you also need to move the lens up or down so that the center of the lens is in line with the vertical rotation point. On my Wimberly I can drop the platform that the lens sits on all the way down for my Pentax DA*250-600mm f5.6 or raise it almost all the way up for my Pentax DA*300mm f4.

I bought a Lensmaster RH2, which doesn't have such vertical adjustment. (I understand the principle of having the axes of rotation through the center of gravity of the lens+camera combination).

In practice this means that the assembly has a tendency to move from extreme pitch towards the horizontal. The small amount of friction keeps it in place at smaller pitch, and that is normally OK for me.

Perhaps I can find a different way of moving the lens towards the axis of rotation.

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miles green
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to Ian Stuart Forsyth, May 24, 2013

Yes, practice on anything moving.

I was practicing on soap bubbles that 3-year-old was blowing off the balcony yesterday! Lol!

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Miles Green
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miles green
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monopod?
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 24, 2013

I'm surprised nobody has mentionned a monopod yet. I don't have one, but might get one soon to try.

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brandrx
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Re: Barry...
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 24, 2013

Barry Pearson wrote:

brandrx wrote:

I can abtain perfect balance with my Pentax DA*300/4 on my Wimberly gimbal. One thng a lot of folks don't realize is not only do you need to move the lens back or forth to obtain balance but you also need to move the lens up or down so that the center of the lens is in line with the vertical rotation point. On my Wimberly I can drop the platform that the lens sits on all the way down for my Pentax DA*250-600mm f5.6 or raise it almost all the way up for my Pentax DA*300mm f4.

I bought a Lensmaster RH2, which doesn't have such vertical adjustment. (I understand the principle of having the axes of rotation through the center of gravity of the lens+camera combination).

Barry,

After looking at the illustrations in the link you have listed, I think I would be tempted to remove that drop-down L plate and make the RH-2 into an RH-1. It appears to me that the axis of rotation would then be through the center for any lens, especially the Sigma 500/4.5 and Pentax DA*300/4. It might be worth a try.

Cheers.

Ron

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SanMat
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Back (AF) button focusing
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 24, 2013

Another suggestion, if not mentioned already - use the focus button on the back of the camera, instead of focusing with the shutter release button.  That way, the shutter release button doesn't have to do double duty - the AF system can keep tracking the subject independently of what the shutter-release button is doing.  For moving subjects this is a nice advantage (just make sure you also disable the focus capability of the shutter release button - off hand I can't remember where that is in the camera menus).

If you look on sites/blogs like Arthur Morris/Robert O'Toole et al., they (i.e. pros) all use back-button focusing (I think the Morris blog (http://www.birdsasart-blog.com/) even has a separate tutorial on back-button focusing).  What's unfortunate in the case of the Pentax cameras is the AF button is a bit small, whereas with Nikon/Canon the dedicated AF is more pronounced.

Takes some getting used to, but I switched to exclusively using back-button focusing a couple of years ago (for all situations, not just birds-in-flight), and I have no intention of switching back.

Pete

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Barry Pearson
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Second field trip with 500mm lens, & lessons
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 24, 2013

This afternoon (UK time) I went back to Redes Mere to test some of the suggestions in this thread. Here are my thoughts, illustrated by a couple of the photos I took.

Hand holding

Several of the responses said " hand hold; don't use a tripod". So I did.

This confirmed what I already knew - I will not be hand holding this three kilogram 500mm lens for long periods!

I've hand held shorter one kilogram lenses (60-250mm f/4 & 300mm f/4) on many shoots over the years, and know that they are pretty well at my personal limit for longish periods. After 66 years I know this isn't about to change for the better!

I can imagine using this lens on a gimbal for much of the time then lifting it off to hand hold for a short time. But the Arca clamp on the gimbal is not rapid release. I wonder if there is such a thing?

(I wish Pentax would bring out a weather resistant 1.4 teleconverter that worked with the above two lenses!)

Image acquisition and retention

I tried the two-eyes approach mentioned a couple of times. Without some sort of sighting aid I couldn't make any connection between what I was seeing with my left and right eyes.

My problem is acquiring the subject, not shooting it. (I've sometimes had similar problems with those other lenses at airshows, so I was not surprised).

It wasn't helped by the fact that I used the waterproof cover, (that arrived this morning), because of spots of rain.That stopped me easily sighting along the lens with my left eye. Perhaps in dry conditions this might work? To be investigated further.

(Hurrah for weather resistant lenses!)

Focal length

Some responses suggested that 500mm is too long.

But look at the uncropped photos below from today - for these, 500mm is about right. And many others needed longer reach. (These are the best - most are rubbish or just blank sky). These were shot over water - I couldn't get closer!

Please note that I take your suggestions seriously enough to rapidly go out and test them!

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Barry Pearson
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Re: Barry...
In reply to brandrx, May 24, 2013

brandrx wrote:

Barry Pearson wrote:

I bought a Lensmaster RH2, which doesn't have such vertical adjustment. (I understand the principle of having the axes of rotation through the center of gravity of the lens+camera combination).

Barry,

After looking at the illustrations in the link you have listed, I think I would be tempted to remove that drop-down L plate and make the RH-2 into an RH-1. It appears to me that the axis of rotation would then be through the center for any lens, especially the Sigma 500/4.5 and Pentax DA*300/4. It might be worth a try.

The axis is OK for the Sigma 500mm. It is only the Pentax lenses where the axis is higher than the center of gravity, and it doesn't cause a problem in practice because only more extreme pitches move back towards the horizontal.

The RH2 can't easily (if at all) be used like the RH1 because the Arca clamp is fixed to the drop-down L plate. But it does raise the question about what advantage the RH2 is supposed to have over the RH1? (The RH1 is obviously lighter).

The RH1 costs GBP118 and the RH2 costs GBP148. A typical price for the Wimberly mark II is GBP520. (Ouch!)

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brandrx
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Re: Second field trip with 500mm lens, & lessons
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 24, 2013

Barry,

I suggest you try turning off SR (if you havn't already), set aperture to f5.6, and increase your speed slightly. Also, for the time being try shooting in AF-S. I would also not shoot in continuous shooting for the time being. That way the camera will not even fire unless you are in focus. Track the bird and try for a single bird in the frame and in focus. After a period of time of practicing tracking birds in the viewfinder then switch back to AF-C and Continuous High and try for a series of shots.

Good luck and have fun.

Ron

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BobORama
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to dane dawg, May 24, 2013

dane dawg wrote:

I have taken a ton of BIF with this combo, and always find handheld is the way to go! Its way easier and natural to track the bird..

Wow...   those are great!   In a way its a statistics game.   Even with .5% keepers, all you need is 200 shots.

I have tried a monopod with gimbal and it seems to only work for launch shots but after that I lose the bird..

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brandrx
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Sunwayfoto DLC-50 Duo-Lever Clamp...
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 24, 2013

Barry Pearson wrote:

I can imagine using this lens on a gimbal for much of the time then lifting it off to hand hold for a short time. But the Arca clamp on the gimbal is not rapid release. I wonder if there is such a thing?

Check this out:

Sunwayfoto DLC-50 Duo-Lever Clamp

Cheers.

Ron

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Ron - 'We don't have time to go take pics this afternoon Carl.'
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'Keep your eyes looking forward. However, glance back now and then to see where you've come from. It will put a smile on your face.' ~ brandrx

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solarider
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While on the subject of Gimbals
In reply to brandrx, May 24, 2013

I found one article about Gimbal heads, perhaps there are others to help round out the subject that someone would like to contribute?

http://www.shutterbug.com/content/gimbal-heads-essential-long-lens-accessory

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NancyP
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It takes time to get the hang of it
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 24, 2013

Is this lens easy for you to hold? If not, start pumping iron in excess of the lens plus camera weight. Go to someplace with lots of seagulls, or starlings if you are short of seagulls, and practice your acquisition and panning. I use the left eye to get within a few degrees of the bird and then track through viewfinder. It took me tons of crappy shots to get to the point where I got keepers more often than not.

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NancyP
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Re: It takes time to get the hang of it
In reply to NancyP, May 24, 2013

I should add that I am a middle-aged non-fit woman, and the total kit weighs 2.3 kilos (Canon 60D, Canon 400mm f/5.6L, the L bracket that lives on the camera body, and often the tripod ring). That is a LOT lighter than your 4 kilo kit.

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Barry Pearson
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Re: While on the subject of Gimbals
In reply to solarider, May 25, 2013

solarider wrote:

I found one article about Gimbal heads, perhaps there are others to help round out the subject that someone would like to contribute?

http://www.shutterbug.com/content/gimbal-heads-essential-long-lens-accessory

While that article is probably right about the need for a strong tripod for the biggest lenses, that is not the case for lighter lenses. My lenses that I use on my Lensmaster RH2 gimbal weigh either one kilogram (Pentax 60-250mm f/4 & 300mm f/4) or three kilograms (Sigma 500mm f/4.5).

Although I also have a heavy duty Manfrotto, I want a tripod that I can carry around in my back-pack along with the gimbal head and my lunch. I use the Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 which (gasp, horror!) has 4-section legs and a center column. It worked for me with the Sigma lens on.

Here is a 2002 article at Luminous Landscape:
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/wimberley.shtml

The principles it talked about are right, but there is more competition now.

Here is the maker I and a friend use, primarily for price, GDP118 and GBP148:
http://www.lensmaster.co.uk/index.htm

The Lensmaster website has a couple of useful videos showing the freedom of movement with a light touch. I love being able to leave the camera & tripod & gimbal to stand by themselves while I have lunch or a chat, then when bikes or cars start to approach be able to position the camera with an easy touch.

Manfrotto supply the 393 gimbal head, which appears not to be well known. I don't know a lot about it.

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Barry Pearson
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Re: It takes time to get the hang of it
In reply to NancyP, May 25, 2013

NancyP wrote:

Is this lens easy for you to hold? If not, start pumping iron in excess of the lens plus camera weight.

At 66 I know my limitations! And a nerve problem in my neck has left my right arm a bit weak. (I'm trying to get it back to normal - for me - with posture adjustment and exercise).

What works for one person doesn't work for another. Another example is hunting experience - I've never handled a gun, but I'm certain there are transferable skills for those who have.

This thread illustrates something great about photography - we can come at it from many different directions and end up with methods and results unique to each of us.

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LDBOK
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Re: It takes time to get the hang of it
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 25, 2013

I sometimes use a home-made shoulder stock, it adds some weight, but seems to give me smoother pans when following birds. I tried shooting BIF with a gimbal, but was surprised how difficult it was to aquire and stay on the subject.

http://larrydbrown.com

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miles green
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to BobORama, May 25, 2013

BobORama wrote:

Wow...   those are great!   In a way its a statistics game.   Even with .5% keepers, all you need is 200 shots.

Yes but when a rare bird comes and goes and all you get is blue skies and blurry trees, it's very frustrating.... Then if you want to get close, capture landings and feedings, etc, it's less statistics and more preparation...

I am still ill-prepared....

But i'm working on it!

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Miles Green
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Barry Pearson
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Re: It takes time to get the hang of it
In reply to LDBOK, May 25, 2013

LDBOK wrote:

I sometimes use a home-made shoulder stock, it adds some weight, but seems to give me smoother pans when following birds. I tried shooting BIF with a gimbal, but was surprised how difficult it was to aquire and stay on the subject.

http://larrydbrown.com

Interesting method!

Would it be possible to support some of the weight on my right shoulder? (This isn't something I'm familiar with). I can imagine that it could extend forward of the lens tripod bracket, to give greater leverage and a better grip with my left hand, then extend to on top of my right shoulder, rather than just up to it. Let's try .....

My woodworking skills are rubbish, but I just did a lash-up as proof of concept. (And used my Q to take the photos. I knew it would be useful sometime!)

When the wood behind the camera is on my right shoulder, I can just about see through the eyepiece with my right eye. And I can hold the wood in front of the tripod bracket on the lens with my left hand, and keep my left elbow against my chest for extra support. I still couldn't do this for long periods, but it does appear to offer smoother panning.

This shows promise (if done properly)! Thanks!

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LDBOK
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Re: It takes time to get the hang of it
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 25, 2013

Barry,

My shoulder stock is made from from two pieces of wood cut from a piece of what is called 2x6 lunber in the US,    and two steel right-angle brackets usually used to support shelves. I don't have a photo available now and probably won't have time to take one for a few days. There is a company in the US called BushHawk which makes a line of shoulder-stocks which can be customized to the photographer's individual needs:  www.bushhawk.com  You can google BushHawk and find a number of reviews on their products.

Cheers,  Larry

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Barry Pearson
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Re: It takes time to get the hang of it
In reply to LDBOK, May 25, 2013

LDBOK wrote:

Barry,

My shoulder stock is made from from two pieces of wood cut from a piece of what is called 2x6 lunber in the US,    and two steel right-angle brackets usually used to support shelves. I don't have a photo available now and probably won't have time to take one for a few days. There is a company in the US called BushHawk which makes a line of shoulder-stocks which can be customized to the photographer's individual needs:  www.bushhawk.com  You can google BushHawk and find a number of reviews on their products.

It's amazing that whatever you can vaguely think of, someone somewhere makes it, and someone on DPReview knows about it and can tell you about it!

I've just found these:

Thanks!

(Don't bother to take photos. Now that I know the principles, I can go make progress).

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