Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Long Lenses and Mute Swans

Mute Swan 1

Since I was still trying to get acquainted with my new Olympus telephoto lens this past Monday, I headed down to the lake shore and the adjacent Irondequoit Bay.  At the very least I figured I could get some closeup images of ice formations.  There would, after all, be plenty of ice to look at.  Ontario isn’t frozen over (unlike Lake Erie, which is nearly completely frozen) because of it’s great depth, but near shore the ice is plentiful.  I was also hoping to see some swans, geese, or ducks.  Since there is open water available on the lake, it was very possible that they might be hanging out near the bay.

And they were.  The swans – like this one – were also being very cooperative.  Probably because they were hoping for some handouts (as in free food).  So I had no trouble getting some closeups of them.  For the most part I was very pleased with the results.  Most of the “good” images fell within an effective 200 – 400 mm range.  This image, for example, is very sharp.  If you look closely you can see some well defined ice droplets on the swan’s bill.  And the black area between the eye and the beak is also very sharp.  Not bad for a $550 lens.

The only thing I found annoying was the fact that some images were badly out of focus, although I think that that may have been mostly the camera and not the lens.  I saw this phenomenon before, when I was using the EM-5.  The camera focused OK – it just didn’t focus on what I wanted it to focus on.  In general, I’ve always used the “single spot” focusing technique.  I set the camera so that the designated single focus point is in the center of the viewfinder.  I then focus on what I want in focus, lock it, and then move the camera to get whatever composition I want.  The only time that this can be problematic is when the camera is sitting on a tripod.  In those cases, I’ll usually switch to manual focus.

With my Canon DSLR’s this was never a problem.  Most of the time, the point of maximum focus was where I wanted it.  (The Canon’s did “miss” sometimes.  Auto focus has never been perfect.)  The Olympus cameras allow you to do the same thing, but in my experience the focus “spot” can drift.  You can reset it easily enough, but I’ve never understood why it’s allowed to drift.  If I set it in the center of the viewfinder (using the menu), shouldn’t it stay there? Why would it drift horizontally or vertically?  Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but if that’s the case, I haven’t figured it out yet.  In the case of the swans, some images had a nearby branch (or something else) in perfect focus, but the swans were a bit fuzzy.

As an aside, I just read a story in the newspaper that claims New York State is trying to pass a law that would essentially exterminate the entire Mute Swan population over the next few years because they’re an “invasive species”.  According to the article there are about 2,200 Mute Swans in the state (I think a fair percentage of them must live on or near Lake Ontario).  They’re certainly not native to North America – they were brought here from Europe.  Still, they’re beautiful creatures.  And I haven’t seen any evidence that they’re environmentally harmful.  They can, on the other hand, be physically harmful.  You really don’t want to get too close to a pair of nesting swans.  There have been cases where people have wound up with broken arms or broken legs from an irate swan.  They have extremely strong wings.

Inlet and Lake

In this image, you can see the small areas of open water, occupied by ducks and geese.  You can also see that the ice extends a fairly long distance into the lake.  Just not far enough.  Lake effect snow is still very possible, even though the water temperature is in the mid 30’s.  As I’ve said, Ontario never totally freezes because it’s too deep (around 800 feet at its deepest point).

Again, though, the lens worked very well.  It ain’t a great image, but it is sharp!


4 Responses to “Long Lenses and Mute Swans”

  1. Earl Moore

    Paul, for the price this seems like a pretty good lens — at least judged by these two photos. I don’t know how often you shoot in the 150-600mm range but this might be “good enough” unless it’s just too slow for the type of lighting you’d like to shoot in. My long m4/3 lens is a Panasonic Lumix 45-200mm f/4-5.6 (90-400mm 35 eq.) with acceptable sharpness but still a little slow focus in lower light. At the time of purchased it was reviewed higher then anything Olympus had but the Olympus lens situation has/is getting better.

    It would seem a shame to have a planned extermination of the mute swans. They should just wait a few years and perhaps global warming will take care of a great many exterminations — perhaps even us. 🙂

    • Paul Maxim

      Yes, I considered the Panasonic lens, too. Again, I wish there was a place around here where you could test a lens before buying it. I’m not even sure that anyone sells them around here (the guy who owns the biggest camera store in the area has some kind of personal problem with Olympus). Anyway, I finally picked the Olympus lens because of the extra reach and the relatively low cost. I won’t need it that often, but I’ll know it’s there if I do. And I’ll keep saving my pennies for the new one.

      It’s true (as I’m sure you know) – a lot of species are in danger of extinction. There’s a new book out titled “The Sixth Extermination” (I forget the author’s name) that deals with climate change and subsequent extinctions. I haven’t seen it at Barnes and Noble yet, but I’m going to keep looking. Or maybe I’ll see if it’s in an e-version yet……..But I’m not sure about the swans. They seem very adaptable. The cold doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

    • Paul Maxim

      Actually, it was a balmy 30 degrees (F) when I took these. Cold, but not the deep freeze we’ve been dealing with most of the winter. Heck, yesterday it got up to 50! But the “polar vortex” is returning next week. I’m not looking forward to that……….


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