Some more Birds - A Quick Trip to Reifel

A couple of months ago I came across some reviews of a new telephone zoom lens from Tamrom that was getting a lot of hype. As a photographer that focuses on wildlife and birds a lot, you cannot have too much lens, but the cost of these beasts is prohibitive, to say the least. The lens I really want is $11,000 - needless to say, that is not going to be happening.

So Tamron released this new 150mm-600mm zoom lens that has the whole photography community all worked up, as it was priced at about 10% of that number I mentioned above. I was sceptical, as I have always only bought the higher end Canon glass, as have been a little leery of the "second tier" lens manufacturers. 

One of my first decent shots with the new lens, a wood duck portrait. The initial results seem promising.

That said, there has been a lot of hype, and so I started doing some research as the new lens at 600mm max zoom is quite a bit longer than my current 400mm, and the lens is cheaper than what I paid for my original Canon telephoto. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with many of the high end reviewers referring to the lens as a "game changer". I'm not sure about that, but it did give me the confidence to pre-order a copy.

The little male wood duck was nice and calm, and was happy to pose for me in some decent light.

That was a couple of months ago, and so when I got notification that the lens had shipped, I was pretty excited. It arrived last week, but it took me until this past Friday to have a chance to get out and shoot with it. After I picked it up, I unboxed it and had a look. I was very pleased with what I saw - the lens seems to have very good build quality (metal, not plastic), as a good feel to it, and in my early tests around the house, seems to focus just as fast as my Canon lens. The initial results seem pretty good.

A male and female wood duck, hanging out on a tree branch.

With Friday being a holiday, and a nice turn in the weather, Justine and I decided to head down to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta to give the new lens a proper workout.

This was a new duck species that I have not seen before, and could not identify.

Friday was a beautiful day, sunny and warm and a perfect one for walking around the sanctuary. It was actually very quite - there were not nearly the usual number of birds around, even the common ones like the ducks. It didn't seem very promising.

Probably my favourite duck, the Northern Pintail.

I think this is a Purple Finch, but I'm not sure. This was shot handheld at 600mm, which turned out pretty good results, if I do say so myself. Of course, the light was pretty good, which helped.

There were a few of the usual suspects around, including the red-wing blackbirds.

Again, I'm not sure what this little guy is. I was more interested in seeing how the lens behalves, and I am pleased with the bokeh, or how the background softens, even at f8.

We ended up spending a good 2-3 hours at the sanctuary, and did manage to find a few things that were worth shooting. The lens is definitely bigger than what I have been used to, and will take some getting used to. The extra reach getting out to 600mm is amazing, and I don't think I notice any real difference in the quality of the imagery. It will take a while, and a few more sessions to really be able to tell.

The highlight of the day was a couple of male tree swallows, fighting for turf. I think these turned out really well.

The two little birds were really going at each other.

The swallow on the right seems to be missing a lot of feathers.

The other highlight of the day was the huge flock of snow geese that was in the marsh, just outside the sanctuary. a couple of time we got huge "blast offs" of birds, as they launched themselves into the air. The noise they make is unreal!

Snow geese blast off

Speaking of noise, this little marsh wren is probably the loudest bird in the place. So much noise out of such a little bird!

Snow geese in flight

The initial reaction to the lens is very positive. Being out in the field I did notice that the autofocus wasn't quite as fast on this lens, but the autofocus on my 5D Mark II isn't that great to begin with. I think the extra reach will be worth the little bit of loss on that front. 

I think I'm pretty happy with my purchase - at least until I win the lottery and can buy the 600mm prime lens I've been lusting after.