Sunday 9 May 2021

Photography Post: The Biggest Lens I've Ever Owned & Some Photographs Of Birds & More.

Bynack More, May 7, 2021. Sony a6000, Sony E 70-350mm @ 350mm, 1/1000 & f8, ISO 200

Until last year the longest zoom lens Sony made for its APS-C range of cameras was the 55-210 f4.5-6.3, a lightweight lens at 379 grams and one that produces reasonable quality images, especially given its low cost. I've had this lens for over ten years and have been generally happy with the results, even when cropped (quite a few have been published). However I have at times wished for a longer reach and several years ago I purchased a Sony 1.7x tele conversion lens that increases the long end of the 55-210 lens to 357mm, which is equivalent to 535.5mm in full frame/35mm terms. The combination works reasonably well in good light but is a bit clumsy and awkward to use and I haven't actually used it much.

Sony E 70-350 with lens hood reversed, Sony a6000

Then last year Sony issued one of it's rare new APS-C lenses, the 70-350 f4.5-f6.3. This received excellent reviews, as it should given the cost. As well as expensive I noted it was heavy and dismissed it from my thoughts. However during the lockdown periods of the last year I took many photos at home and on local walks and started using the 55-210 more often, both for wildlife and for a different perspective on familiar scenes. I got out the 1.7x tele conversion lens as well but found that the image quality really wasn't good enough for big crops. My thoughts returned to the 70-350. Maybe there would be secondhand versions around now. There were and I bought one described as in good condition for much less than the cost of a new one. It looks as good as new anyway.

From the top, Sony 18-135, 55-210, & 70-350

At 697 grams the lens is heavy. It's big too, by far the biggest lens I've ever owned. I doubt I'll be taking it on long backpacking trips. However it doesn't feel too clumsy on my little Sony a6000 and NEX 7 cameras even when fully extended.

It's a slow lens, which means combinations of low ISOs and very fast shutter speeds need bright light, as in the photo at the top of this post. However the lens has Sony's Optical Steady Shot stabilisation and with care I can get sharp shots at shutter speeds down to 1/100 second and lower if I lean on something. Of course with a tripod this isn't a problem, though the lightweight one I take on walks won't support the weight. I do have a much heavier tripod which I might end up taking out at times.

Sand Martin. Sony a 6000, Sony E 70-350mm lens at 70 mm, 1/400 @ f8, ISO 200. Cropped.      

After some initial trials I took the lens on a short walk beside the River Spey hoping to see some birds  photograph with the intention of cropping the images. The walk on a dull day beside the swollen river was a joy and I took photographs of pied wagtails, common sandpipers, goldeneye ducks, and, sand martins. The last were very difficult to photograph as they never stay still, except for fractions of a second as they hover above the water to seize an insect. Watching them was a delight - there were at least twenty - and I was quite happy to get one passable image, especially as it's a huge crop, as you can from the full image below.

Other photos that were much easier to take also cropped well. Here's a selection with the full originals, all taken the a6000 camera and all handheld, sometimes leaning on a bridge.

Common Sandpiper. 350mm, 1/40 @ f8, ISO 200

Willow. 93mm, 1/60 @ f8, ISO 200

Pied Wagtail. 350mm, 1/250 @ f8, ISO 200

Goldeneye. 350mm, 1/320 @ f8, ISO 200

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