Capturing Eagles Images – My Experience

Homes in Moro just behind the main street

I got the chance to test the Sigma 150-500mm telezoom lens at Moro, Karimun, Kepulauan Riau, Indonesia. It was quite an experience. My trip to Moro was for other reason but I would take the chance if there was opportunity and indeed there were plenty of opportunities.

Red-backed Sea Eagle otherwise known as the Brahminy Kite

There are quite a number of eagles in Moro but not as much compare to those that I saw in Daik, Pulau Lingga, another island that is part of the Riau Province. They are the Red-backed Sea Eagle otherwise popularly known by its other name the Brahminy Kite. Occasionally, one or two adult White-bellied Sea Eagles could be seen mingled amongst them which I did not witnessed in Daik. One of the sources of food for the eagles in Moro is the processing and packing site of a fishing company which then export its products to Singapore. Fishes that are accidentally dropped into the sea or did not make the grade.

Since I am new to shooting birds, I did some searching to read up on tips or advice given by those professioanl BIF (Birds In Flight) photographers. Their tips are spot-on and from the experience that I had, I have my own conclusions too.

They are the majority

Make sure the sun is behind, very fast shutter speed and know when to call it a day, these are roughly what were said. I understood them well but to shoot wild and free eagles is not easy. First, you have to go to their playground or hunting ground. Second, you have to wait for them to fly near you. The chances are almost negligible if the eagles are uninterested in you. Third, you cannot get a good and sharp picture of eagle beyond certain distance. OS or no OS, a slight shake in your telelens movement is being magnified by the distance. The more the distance, the greater the shake will be unless your are panning or the eagle is very large.

I have solved the first part. I now know where to find them. It is the second and the third part that I think I need to barter with them eagles. Food in exchange for good pictures. So next time, probably chicken will be offered at a near distance.

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Why My Pictures Are Not Sharp?

Prophet Muhammad Birthday (pbuh).

The Foveon X3® Direct Image Sensor

It’s the sensor. The current sensor technology had it’s three primary colour pixels side-by-side as opposed to the film method of recording colour where it had the red, green and blue recording materials in separate layers. To make one dot or a pixel of colour in the sensor, it is spread a little bit and then manipulated. That is why the image is not as sharp as the image produced by the film. This belief is just my assumption.

Having bought a Sigma lens, I did have a look a its site and came to know of a new sensor technology called the Foveon X3® Direct Image Sensor. It was developed by Foveon, Inc. which was later bought by Sigma Corporation and became its subsidiary. Pictures look sharp and I had just bought a Canon 😦 . No wonder I did saw some serious photographers works quite a while back on the net using Sigma camera plus an adapter (or modified mount) and some very expensive prime lenses. It is only now that I know.

I sincerely hope that in the near future Canon will use such technology or its equivalent else I will be dreaming of a Sigma camera. It is the only dslr camera currently on the market that have this kind of sensor and please Sigma don’t slap a high price for it to let other camera makers to incorporate this sensor.

Bought A Sigma 150-500mm Telezoom Lens

Sigma 150-500mm APO DG OS HSM

The name in full as Sigma put it is APO 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM. That’s a mouthfull of acronyms. It is the most expensive lens I had bought so far, even more than the body that I had. But considered cheap if it were to be compared to the more expensive lenses in roughly the same focal range. So why the plunged?

I have a liking for sharp beautiful pictures of birds especially eagles but I never did once seriously went out primarily just to shoot birds. On my recent trip to Daik in Pulau Lingga, Riau, Indonesia, I saw a lot of eagles flying, circling around and occasionally dive down to the river in an attempt to catch whatever that it saw fit to consume. I had never shoot wild birds and was only equipped with a Canon EF 75-300mm lens plus a Kenko 1.4X Teleplus Pro 300 DG AF teleconverter for distance shooting. No Image Stabiliser but AF was working. None of the images were sharp.

Bird on pole

It’s not easy to shoot wild and free birds unless it is given to you on a palette like the one shown here of a small bird which I found perched on a pole when I looked out over the parapet wall of the hotel in Daik. Birds were very wary of my approach and ultimately took flight before I could raised my camera. A case why many birds photographers use hides and free meals to attract their subjects. I am not going that road at the moment.

I also found that the eagles were also wary at me even though they were flying above. Many of the shots show the eagles looking towards me including shots that were taken from inside the hotel room and the camera was not out of the window. I need a little distance and image stabiliser. Auto focus not so necessary because I think manual focus might just do the trick or pre-focus at a distance plus lots of shots (continuous) and a little bit of luck. It will all be in Jpeg as RAW will be slow in writing the data into the memory because it’s file size is very big compared to Jpeg.

Bird on antenna

The lens weighs about 1.9 kg and it is quite heavy to lug it around for some times. It came with a padded rectangular soft box, a hood, tripod stand and a lens strap that had it strapping point on the tripod stand. Filter size is huge, 86mm. Attaching it to the Kenko 1.4x teleconverter had it working fine. No issue whatsoever. At least for now and hopefully none in the future.

Having had the baby in hand, I set off to test it on some birds. Birds that are easy to approach, chicken that is. Well…it was like waiting for the bus, I could not find any hen or a cock behind the house but did found a bird perched on a TV antenna at the neighbour’s house. Not a good result shooting hand-held anyway still decent.

As for the non-flying birds, I will post the pictures as soon as I had it.

Update 18 February 2011:

Here are the pictures.

All shots captured at 500mm

Verdict:

Pictures are sharp especially at  about 5 metres. At distance more than 10 metres, you need a tripod for stability regardless of the image stabiliser if shooting for an extended period. At 1.9 kg excluding the camera soon your hand will turn soft. The tiredness coupled with unstationary subject are not a good recipe for a sharp image at 500mm focal length. It is okay to shoot hand-held for a short while. Also, this is not the lens to hold on while you are waiting for your subject.

More here:

Sigma 150-500mm – Getting The Hang of It