Nature Reserves and the Long Lens

I live a few minutes from a nature reserve. I can walk there from my house, and buy a chocolate muffin from the café in under 15 mins! Brilliant!

The trouble comes with the photography. The reserve is designed with bird watching in mind, and is a wetlands reserve with several large lakes, and paths all around. The problem is that the wildlife is always so far away – one of the best hides for spotting bittern is a good 20 – 30 m away from the water, and even further from the reed beds where the birds hide. This is completely understandable of course, but to the budding amateur photographer, desperate for a show-stopping image of the elusive beastie, it is a source of huge frustration!

I have sat for so many hours through the freezing winter, waiting for it to appear, only to find that when it does it’s so far away that when I get home I have to crop in digitally to get anything like a good photo, even with a 300 mm lens. Naturally, this then reduces the quality quite a lot, and I have often got home and felt disappointed. So, a solution was in order. I felt I had two options: Either I could sneak, with the stealth of some sort of ninja-sniper-photographer much closer, but given that this is much against the rules, I must make sure I am never seen… Or I need a longer focal length lens. On reflection, I felt the lens was the better option! Also, the wildlife is used to people being in certain places, who knows what kind of un-measurable damage could be caused by someone selfishly crawling into the reserve just to get a better photo.

So, I began investigating – how could I get a longer focal length? For quite some time I was hooked on the idea of a teleconverter, but I was really worried about getting more image degradation through aberrations and distortions and all sorts of other horrible sounding things! Then, one day, I was sat in a hide with someone who was quite new to photography, who was showing me how he had managed to get quite an impressive suite of equipment, comparatively cheaply. “Got it all second hand see” he told me “and because it’s not a Canon lens (his camera was a Canon 7D mk1, the lens was a Tamron 150 – 500 mm) I didn’t have to pay through the nose for it”.

This got me thinking – should I give a lens by another manufacturer a go? I’ve never really thought about it before, always quite snobbishly assumed if it wasn’t made by Canon, it wouldn’t be any good (ideal customer opinion, or what!). I got online and did some searching, and found that the Sigma 150 – 500 mm came with a 4.5/5 star review, and was just about in my price range if I was content to live on just air for a few weeks. Now I had to try and justify to myself how I could possibly afford this. I’m an amateur photographer, and although I have done a bit of work for some friends, weddings and model portfolios and the like, I’ve never actually made any money from photography – this kind of expense would be quite a severe sign of obsession, especially as a teacher’s salary is not huge, and a trainee teacher’s is even less. I had convinced myself that it couldn’t happen, that I really needed to wait, maybe save up over the next few months, perhaps next year I could buy it. When salvation came, it came from a very unlikely source.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

A tax rebate from my last job! I had no idea it was coming, so it hasn’t played any part in my budgeting, it is essentially free money (by which I mean money without any pre-designated use, unlike my salary which goes on essentially staying alive. And ketchup. Got to have ketchup). By a very remarkable and happy coincidence it was of the amount that would just cover the cost of the lens, a 3 year warranty for the lens and a new camera backpack in which to carry the lens and camera (and is something I have also been after for a while).

So how about that?! The lens is ordered, and in fact as I sit and write this I am waiting desperately for the post van to arrive. Tracking tells me it is out on delivery, so every time I hear a car door I jump and rush to the window.

Turns out my neighbours go out a lot!

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