Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Newish Glass!

The past few years, whenever I would suggest a purchase, Melinda would usually respond with "when I'm dead you can spend my life insurance money", which usually brought any discussions to a halt - you can't argue with a cancer patient! She did agree to a new TV when the old CRT set died, and she eventually came around after flat out stating that the 48" screen was "too big" at the beginning. Watching our Cubs win thru the summer became our favorite pastime...

Anyway, now that she has passed, and now there IS insurance money, I've tried to be responsible and spend it on what she would approve - paid off the AZ mortgage, and still debating on the IL house... Invested most of it so retirement should be more pleasant... But I did buy a little "toy" - one she even might have approved of if we had some disposable income! We were both fans of birding at Whitewater Draw and elsewhere, and also of astronomical imaging, so when I saw a Canon "super-telephoto" lens on Craigslist, I had to check it out. Shown at left, it is a 500mm F/4 - very fast optics allowing short exposures for astronomy and pretty good reach with fast autofocus and image stabilization for birding. It is an older first generation, but was a good deal including the camouflage-cover, the Wimberley tripod head and a Canon 2X converter. Note in the photo that most of the large diameter part is the sun shade!

I got the lens in the closing days of November and have had it out a few times and it is impressive in it's performance... If you do a Whitewater Draw search on this blog, I've hoisted a few telescopes along for birding a few times and while the images for a distant crane is impressive, the very fast autofocus and image stabilization it is a whole 'nother ball game! I can now focus and follow birds in flight and have them come out tack-sharp! I've made 2 trips to their over-winter home and have gotten a few favorites already. At left are some cranes in flight at that "magic time" just before sunset. And at right is a straight shot taken with the lens of cranes at rest.

In my most recent trip this last Sunday, I
caught some distant flocks of cranes coming in from miles away where they were likely feeding on grain fields in the area. Over the same mountains shown at upper left, here at left are 127 cranes (by my count) coming in for the evening. There is "strength in numbers" as they spend the evening together at Whitewater, using the water pools as protection from predators (usually coyotes). Click on the image to enlarge to full scale to see the multitudes of cranes... And at right is the standard shot of LBT glowing in the last rays of sunset from the Observatory near 11,000 feet elevation. At 80+ miles away, it is still eye-catching as it is usually parked at an angle that reflects sunlight to us birdwatchers... This frame is actually a focus-stack of 2 frames, otherwise either the birds or observatory would have been out of focus. But here 2 shots were combined to keep the sharp part of each image.

This last trip out there was a larger variety of smaller water-birds from a month ago when there were mostly just cranes. They also cruised closer to the observation platforms, so were a natural to photograph with the 500mm! At left is a long-billed dowitcher that was difficult to freeze as it was in constant motion marching and picking thru the shallow waters... And at right is an eye-catching killdeer - a common bird, but a beauty nonetheless!

And even though we're suffering through what seems like the cloudiest Fall and Winter in recent memory, I've gotten the lens out on a couple occasions for astronomical imaging. The first time I was fighting thin clouds and wasn't a good test for its capabilities. But the next time I shot a few objects and got some promising results. At left are a couple nebulae that shine by fluorescence of hydrogen resulting in a reddish glow. Commonly called the North American nebula at left and the Pelican Nebula at right, they are analogous to the glow from a fluorescent bulb, but excited not by electricity but from a bright star out of the field. This image is a stack of 17 frames totaling about 35 minutes of total exposure. The lens is extremely sharp from corner-to-corner across the full-frame 6D sensor, and I did stop it down to F/5.6 to reduce vignetting at the corners a little. But overall the results are quite good! At right is another glowing cloud of hydrogen - this one known as the Rosette Nebula, looking almost like a ghostly Christmas wreath! This one is only 10 minutes of total exposure!

So I'm impressed with the overall performance of the lens for both birding and astronomy! It will be one of my standard tools when going out on excursions, and might be just about perfect for the upcoming solar eclipse in August! But it is a sobering reality to know that it is a product of a life insurance payout... Would much rather do without it and have the presence of my bride back... But it will give me a chance to remember her every time I have it out with me!