Puffin Stravaganza


Puffin Extravaganza

Although we rarely do any birds anymore, we remain fascinated by the Auk family, especially the Puffins.
Since our son Rodrigo and his wife live in England, we decided to visit the rookery islands while spending time with the kids. There are a lot of cottages available for rent in Seahouses, base for the birding trip boats.

Seahouses is a small coastal town in Northumberland, pretty harbour and fairly busy with birders, photographers and beach lovers. A few decent restaurants, nice bakery, supermarket with great prices and fresh food and charming tea houses here and there. There are local fishing boats, so fish will be fresh and abundant.

Staple Island close up
Staple Island close up

The Farne Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. There are between 15 and 20 islands depending on the state of the tide.[1] They are scattered about 1½–4¾ miles (2.5–7.5 km) from the mainland, divided into two groups, the Inner Group and the Outer Group. The main islands in the Inner Group are Inner Farne, Knoxes Reef and the East and West Wideopens (all joined together on very low tides) and (somewhat separated) the Megstone; the main islands in the Outer Group are Staple Island, the Brownsman, North and South Wamses, Big Harcar and the Longstone. The two groups are separated by Staple Sound. The highest point, on Inner Farne, is 62 feet (19 metres) above mean sea level. (source: Wikipedia)

Staple Island
Staple Island

There are a few boats that offer half-day and full day birding trips. The most popular being Billy Shiel, with a fleet of over half a dozen boats. There is also Serenity and maybe a couple more. They offer pelagic and landing trips, as well as sunset and other short trips. All of these are weather dependant, and even if you sail, you may have to come back in a hurry because of an unexpected storm, as it happened to us on Thursday June 25th, with some friends. We made the morning safely (Staple) and two minutes after landing in inner Farne, we had to re-board and got totally soaked while waiting for the queue to disembark in the small harbour. Sense of humor and friendship saved the day!

DSC07797

I confess my inability to carry a long telephoto lens and tripod any longer. As the years and health issues pile up, carrying so much weight around defeats the purpose of enjoyment, and quite frankly, we have been enjoying the freedom and mobility you get from smaller gear. Unless you are going to a place where the wildlife is very spooky and very far, with today’s ISO capabilities and resolution, you can do a killing anyway. I personally work better with less gear, so I can concentrate in making the best out of the situation without deciding what to use.

In our long experience with brands, right now we ended up with Sony gear, after using Canon, Nikon and Leica. Not knocking anything, but it seems Sony works well for us at this time.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/1600 f/5.6 ISO 800 @210mm (plus 1.4X crop factor
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/1600 f/5.6 ISO 800 @210mm (plus 1.4X crop factor

Since we do mainly travel and macro, the mirrorless bodies are perfect. Since we were coming to do birds, our main (and only) camera was the Sony A77ii, with the battery grip, which was perfect for us, plus the G lens 70-400, f/4-5.6
Sony AF system is very advanced. The Flexible point/lock on creates a box that follows subject, although Puffins are really too fast for this sometimes. Alfred used mostly the Flexible spot center, while I used the wide, equivalentto Canon’s ring of fire.

Staple Island 1/640  f/11 ISO 800 @ 400mm plus biult in 1.4X (mult. 1.4x crop factor)
Staple Island
1/640 f/11 ISO 800 @ 400mm plus biult in 1.4X (mult. 1.4x crop factor)

The camera body has a 1.4X and 2X built in crop factor, that needs to be used in jpg. We had tried the crops in Blue Cypress with very bad light from the pontoon boat and were happy with the 1.4X bur not the 2X. On land, with the support of the knee, the 2X was perfect. The main reason for using the crops is that as you reduce the canvas size, the focus points become active in your entire image, which is convenient for action, if you can handle that focal length. (The smaller the frame, the more difficult it is to find the subject).

Inner Farne Island Sony A77ii Sony 70-400G 1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Inner Farne Island
Sony A77ii Sony 70-400G
1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

ISO wise, I kept to ISO 800, easily cleanable is light is flat, and perfect in good light. Alfred ventured to 1600 without any trouble. I would not push the DSLR further than that, although very comfortable suing the mirroless at much higher settings.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/1000 f/10 ISO 800 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor0
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/1000 f/10 ISO 800 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor0

Alfred spent most of his time doing flight. I did a bit of everything, since I like behavior a lot and it was so easy with the funny birds so close to us.
The pictures presented here were done with ISO values from 400 to 1600, on manual mode, center weight metering, close focus most of the time, even flight. Aperture settings from f/5.6 to f/14, depending on the DOF/background needed and shutter speed depending on the light, sometimes under or sometimes over 0, depending on the light conditions. We had one day inner Farne, when the sun came out full blast, and the hours of visiting are middle of the summer day, so the contrast and shadows were too frustrating. I put off my bird gear and started playing with Infrared and Lensbaby images.

Inner Farne Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2500 f/5.6 @400mm, manual focus
Inner Farne Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2500 f/5.6 @400mm, manual focus

On this trip we had made arrangements to meet with Geoffrey Baker, who was so absolutely nice and helpful when we visited Skomer 3 years ago, and to meet John Deakin and Karen MacDonald, long time on-line friends. We also met Paul Masterton, and it was great to spend time with them and Geoff treated us to coffee and scones and one of the tea houses when back soaking wet . Thank you again, pal!!! You rock.

Landing into flowers

The Farne islands are protected by the National Trust, and there is a nominal landing fee every time you visit. The breeding islands have biologist present at all time, and they keep count of every burrow in use and other important facts. Unless you are doing something against wildlife, you will not even know they are there. If you need information, they will give it you gracefully and with enthusiasm. I never saw anyone misbehave in the whole week.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2500 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm plus 1.4X built in (mult 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2500 F/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm plus 1.4X built in (mult 1.4X crop factor)

If you want more information in the area, which has a lot of history, please visit the National Trust website.
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/farne-islands/?p=1356302962366

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

Time to visit are the summer months, with June peaking for amount of birds, end of June/July for feeding behavior. You can land in inner Farne up to October (depending on the birds you are interested in) and no trips in the winter.
Weather is very erratic. You definitely need rain gear for yourself and your gear. Sun screen in necessary on rare days and hat is vital in inner Farne because of the Arctic Terns attacks. (Really!)

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G 1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G
1/2000 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

If you get seasick, take precautions because seas could be rough. There are toilets in the islands but no food or water, so be prepared.
Inner Farne ia larger than Staple, with the second being better for Puffins.
Wind is more important than light if you want landing shots. The first couple of days the wind direction was wrong and they were landing with their backs to us and we could only get them sideways at best. The last three days were fine, the Sunday being the best. It was morning, so East wind, very strong, had them suspended in the air. Especially 10 minutes before we left :(

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/2000 f/5.6 ISO 1600 @ 400mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

If you take the “All day birding trip”, you will visit Stapes in the morning, and Inner Farne in the afternoon. Most people use the boat ride to eat. You will stay around two hours on each island and will be shown around the gray Seals and other rookeries, like the Pinnacles. Noise and scent will be intense at these, especially when you visit the Kittiwakes.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 1/200 f/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
1/200 f/5.6 ISO 800 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

Equipment wise, some people carry a lot, some people use the tablet’s cameras. They are very close to the paths (you HAVE to stay in the paths as not to step in the burrows) but some photographers like to use tripods and long lenses.
Looking at it now, two trips under the belt, the ideal would be a stool with a monopod and a telephoto zoom.
If you take the morning or afternoon (half-day trip), you will stay on land aprox one hour, but will get a lot less tired.
Mornings are to Staple and afternoon to Inner. Staple is more difficult to land on because the steps could get wet and slippery at the minimum of rain or moist, and if you land, you need to be extra cautious not to take a fall or twist your ankle on the rocks before you get to the wooden path. The less you take with you, the less you have to worry about. Must: rain gear.

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G 1/1600 f/5.6, ISO 800 @150mm (mult. by 1.4x)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400 G
1/1600 f/5.6, ISO 800 @150mm (mult. by 1.4x)

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DSC09031.ARW6-28-15

Staple Island Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G 12500 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)
Staple Island
Sony A77ii, Sony 70-400G
12500 F/5.6 ISO 1000 @300mm (plus 1.4X crop factor)

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DSC09037.ARW6-28-15

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We will be making another post about Guillemots and other Auks.
Photos by Alfred and Fabiola Forns. All rights reserved, do not use without permission, please.

Rainy Day Flowers


Yesterday was a cool rainy day, and we headed to Fairchild again. Butterflies were not in the best of moods. We got some, but spent more time with the flowers, since it was cloudy, we could work longer than we usually would.
 the beauty of decay
In this case, I sussed the Leica 35 Summilux ASPH FLE, with a close up filter. I have found this to work very well for me vs a macro lens. I’m not aware of an f/1.4 macro lens, and if there is, I’m sure it would be really big. So happy camper with my combo, that coupled with the mirror less Sony a7 mkII is now my favorite macro rig.
Slipper slice
Tomorrow it is supposed to be record cold here, low of 37F, praying for cloudy skies to go out again. In the meantime, here are some from yesterday.
 Inner beauty
FC orangeorchids
FC Chastity
FC littleorchid

Butterfly Expedition


For one reason or another, mostly health related, we had not visited the Butterfly Garden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. So Valentine Day seemed like a good time to do it, since the rather was on the cold side for Florida. Sun was out and a little breeze for macro, but were going to be inside an enclosure, so it should be OK.
Black Butterfly

Lots of people since it was a week-end. We were there early and enjoyed lots of spots with shade. Sun will yield tremendous contrast and many times, white glare from the sunlit leaves in the background, so we avoided it. The cool weather was perfect because they get a bit lethargic. Happy butterflies move too much for good pictures.
 Indecent proposal

We took a lot of gear, not knowing which would work better. One camera, the new Sony a7 mkII, and a handful of lenses: Leica 35 Summilux, Leica 75 Summicron, Sony 70-200G with extension tubes, Lensbaby Sweet 35 and Edge 80. No tripods, although they are allowed, I would think kind of difficult when the place is busy. You gear will most likely end up on the ground. No flash is allowed in consideration to a couple of Hummingbirds in there. I was laughing thinking the ones in Costa Rica and Ecuador must be extinct right now with the 8 flash set-ups.
Crystal

Since I wanted a certain look to the pictures, most successful came from the 35mm with close up filter and the 70-200 with extension tubes. All wide open in my case.
Looking forward to our next expedition, on a week day this time, to work a little more comfortably.
White

Monarch

Minimal

 BlueDrop

Seeing Miami Anew


fabsforns:

The WordPress family keeps growing. Here is the first entry from our friend Susan.

Originally posted on Visual Personae:

I have always enjoyed taking pictures in the natural world.  I have been underwater with a camera, in the swamps, up mountains, abroad and in the USA, but I have always needed to venture out of my familiar territory.  The camera has been a way to share what I have seen and appreciated.  I have always believed that what was interesting was what we were unaccustomed to seeing.   To this end I have lugged around the heaviest equipment you can imagine: lenses, cameras, tripods on airplanes and on my shoulder in parks and on trails in the most exotic locations I could manage to get to. The beauty of the world I live in here in Florida has always escaped my capture, either because I just wasn’t ready to see it or because it was just too familiar (if you want to know what water looks like, don’t ask a fish). Truly, it was time…

View original 313 more words

Sony a7II review, by Alfred Forns


Sony just released their new family member in the mirrorless full frame family. First came the a7, followed by the a7r and now the a7II. Each being different and serving a particular need.

Adjusting to this new camera was easy since we had the a7r, purchased initially as a back up to the Leica M, then we started liking its potential, huge files and great quality. We did not keep the r model, switching to the a7s due to its fantastic ISO performance.
Fabs has an image taken at just over 100,00 ISO that needs to be seen to believe and I have one from the Hunted House at Disney, 64,000, that looks normal. Amazing.

Here comes the new family member, a7II, we got intrigued with the 5-axis stabilization plus 24 MP sensor and decided to give it a try. On the first time out we were not surprised. Well, there was one big surprise which was unexpected: ISO performance was much better than we thought. I have lots of 4000 and more that show little noise and good quality. Will be shooting many more images and posting results but with the two initial session, we could see it is a winner.

The exciting part is being able to use the Leica lenses. It does have some native lenses producing high quality images, all by Zeiss. The 55 f/ 1.8 is one of the sharpest around and the test reviews rank it among the best in the class. The 35 f/2.8 is also a great performer and worth adding to the collection. The 16-35 f/ 4.0 is also very sharp and has a close up focus capability, allowing interesting images with close up perspective, unique. Have not used myself, but have seen reports from the 24-70 f/2.8 and they do not match the quality of the just mentioned. I will probably rent one for a week and try it myself, it is a practical focal length.

Having the stabilization in camera, means all lenses will be stabilized and the system works well. My preliminary images taken at one second with the 16-35 have produced some critically sharp images. Shooting at ¼ second is routine with decent hand holding technique. As mentioned before it’s a perfect back up for the Leica M if you can’t have a spare M!!

The new camera is slightly different than the previous, being heavier, larger grip, top bottoms more ergonomically placed and a very nice dark finish. For using Sony as a system, I would go for this new one paired with the a7s, lethal combination.
By the way, one warning regarding this new offering, it will cause some problems with third party extreme wide angle lenses. The a7s sensor solved that problem and was usable with all including the Voigtlander 12mm full frame. You will find some light fall off on the corners which is no problem and also some purple fringing around the periphery but not as noticeable as the a7r model. This is easily corrected with an Adobe plug-in called Flat field converter. Easy to use, but one more step during processing.

Highly recommend this new camera, mirrorless is the way to go, they are small, good performers and will be taking over the camera sales yearly until being the dominant factor. Presently, they are not as good in the autofocus performance but this new offering is narrowing the gap considerably. It has 117-point phase-detection AF system with 25 point contrast-detection system being capable of capturing action. I have noticed the increase AF speed over the others but not tested the performance with tough/fast moving subjects.

Will be posting lots of image samples after our next shoot which should give you a visual representation of what this jewel is capable of doing.
All images are out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1, no noise reduction, adjustments, and if you click on them, you will get the full resolution version, with our permission to download and edit them as trial.

Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar f/4, 1/50, ISO 6400 Out of camera.
Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar
f/4, 1/50, ISO 6400
Out of camera.

Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar f/4, 1/60, ISO 4000 Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Sony a7II, 16-35 Vario Tessar
f/4, 1/60, ISO 4000
Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35 Vario Tessar (by Zeiss) f/4, 1/60, ISO 200
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35 Vario Tessar (by Zeiss)
f/4, 1/60, ISO 200

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar f/4, 1/40, ISO 6400 Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar
f/4, 1/40, ISO 6400
Out of camera, opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar f/4, f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000 opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1 Out of camera, no noise reduction, adjustments.
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4 Vario-Tessar f/4, f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000
opened with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Out of camera, no noise reduction, adjustments.

Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4, Vario-Tessar f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000. Metadata included in picture. Full size, out of camera, converted with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1
Sony a7II, Sony 16-35/4, Vario-Tessar f/4, 1/60, ISO 5000.
Metadata included in picture. Full size, out of camera, converted with Adobe dng converter 8.7.1

Miami Mystery


So Art Basel Wynnwood was here again, and we took Maggie Steber’s workshop again, Miami Mystery, to Miami Noir as I like to call it. It was great, very good at motivating Maggie is. Although Wynnwood is certainly changing, less wall writers and more galleries, it is still a spectacular place to view art, interesting people and enjoy yourself, if a little warm for December.
Here is a short slide show of my story line. You may interpret yo your imagination: