While I love this blog, I now pretty much only write on my other two blogs: BirdingBlogs.com and 10,000 Birds - I would love to see you there!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

new Panasonic Lumix GH2 for Digiscoping

At the Photokina last week, I got to spend a good 1/2 hour with a pre-production model of the Panasonic Lumix GH2, and so got it on a UCA, behind a telescope to check it out for digiscoping.

The new Panasonic Lumix GH2, ready for digiscoping

The GH2 is Panasonic's latest mirror-less micro 4/3s system camera and features a 16MP 17.3x13.0mm sensor. I was not allowed to put my memory card in to the GH2, but looking at the images on the camera, the performance at 800 ISO was surprisingly good (better than the G2?) and certainly usable for most situations. Given that the sensor is smaller than the average DSLR's APS-C sensor, the camera needs less light to get a usable shutter speed, and it has no mirror flap, so this ISO800 is likely to be more than useful for digiscoping.

Showing off what the GH2 can do. Resolving absolutely incredibly tiny dots on a tin that was a good 10m away (just under the TV on the back wall, by the star. tin is about the size of the star). Swarovski ATM65 HD, 25-50x eyepiece, 45mm Objective, Panasonic GH2.

We tested 3 objectives on a Swarovski ATM65 HD with 25-50x wide-angle eyepiece:
- 20mm f1.7 pancake. no vignetting when eyepiece >28x.
- 45mm f2.8 Leica. no vignetting. exceptional resolution. expensive ($900)
- 3D objective 12.5mm f12.0. no vignetting above about 30x. Very interesting.

Jörg Kretzschmar admiring the new Panasonic GH2. I think he is stroking it. Jörg is one of the most incredible digiscopers I have ever come across. His work is like hot chocolate for the eyes. www.ozellus.de

So, what stood out about the GH2 for digiscoping?

1. 40 frames per second burst photo mode (great for action sequences)

2. Good autofocus.
Published figures claim 0.099secs - the equivalent of many a DSLR. I have found the G2 to be pretty quick (0.2s) and reliable in most situations, the GH2 contrast detect was looking pretty good in the dull, artificial light of the exhibition hall. The focus of the GH2 might, not be as quick as a good DSLR or - for that matter - does not come close to the shockingly quick autofocus of the new Sony a33 and a55 system cameras (which use beam-splitting phase detect autofocus), but these other cameras will not autofocus reliably through a spotting scope (I tried). The GH2 remains the quickest autofocus system for digiscoping I have come across.

3. Touch screen.
The GH2 seems to have exactly the same touch screen as the G2, a feature I have found more than just a gimmick (which is what I had initially passed it off as). Being able to tap your focal point (and having it followed!) can really be rather useful in a digiscoping situation to make sure you are focussing on the Red-breasted Goose and not the White-fronteds.

The first digiscoping photo with the Lumix GH2? on a Swarovski ATM65 HD.

4. Improved Electronic viewfinder.
EVF technology is developing quickly. At 1,533,600 dots, a 100% view and a magnification of 0,71% (Nikon D3 = 0,7x and Canon 1Ds = 0,76x), the GH2s electronic viewfinder looks good. It is still nowhere near an optical viewfinder, but it is likely to be rather useful for digiscoping when the sun is shining from unhelpful angles.

5. Full HD video.
I suppose many would have guessed by now how much I enjoy video digiscoping and how much fund I think it is. The ability to take full HD video (Motion Jpeg, AVCHD, AVCHD Lite Pal) at up to 50 fps is something that really stands out. External jacks allow for HDMI direct output
and input from an external microphone.

This camera is bound to be a lot of fun and if we had not just bought the Panasonic Lumix G2 (which I am coming to love), I would seriously think about this camera. Maybe at the end of the year...

First delivery: November 2010
Suggested Retail Price: €900 (without objective)

Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes

Monday, 13 September 2010

What Shutter Speed for Digiscoping?

Whilst in Thailand, we stayed on the edge of Khao Sok National Park (an absolute gem) where we had a banana flower visited by a number of different spiderhunter species. I had been meaning to make a video on shutter speed and digiscoping for a while, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

"All of my digiscoping photos are out of focus" is pretty much the most common thing that digiscopers say to me. This normally has very little to do with focus, and everything to do with camera shake. Camera shake is a killer, and shutter speed its blade.

Now in normal daylight conditions, pretty much anyone can take a half decent (sharp) photo with a digital camera. Just keep it on that little green square (full automatic mode), and away you go. As easy as that.

Digiscoping is something completely different. Focal lengths in digiscoping typically range from long (say 800mm) to the ludicrous (5000+ mm) and this brings with it a whole pile of issues. Professional telephoto photographers deal with these issues all the time and digiscoping is no different. It requires the digiscoper to commit time and energy to start to think more like a serious photographer. To understand what shutter speed, aperture, ISO and all those other fantastic things are all about.

So, what shutter speed do I need to get a good, sharp digiscoping photo?

This is, unfortunately, not a simple question to answer and depends on many factors including:
- type of camera (DSLR with a flapping mirror, or little compact camera?),
- how steady your setup and hand are (just had a Red Bull and espresso?)
- how much your subject is moving (tortoise or hare?), and
- luck (had to add that ;-)

DSLRs have a flapping mirror = need more shutter speed
As the name suggests, DSLRs have a mirror that flaps about all over the place. If you want to take a sharp photo with a flappy DSLR and a focal length of 1000mm, then you will need a shutter speed of a good 1/1000s. Which, unless it is a bright day, will mean that you will have to have a high ISO.
Here is a video on ISO in digiscoping:

DSLR on LiveView cuts out mirror flap.
A trick to use with modern DSLRs is that you can switch to LiveView and take a photo there without the mirror flapping, i.e. the only extra movement comes from the aperture blinking while taking the photo. At the moment, it only seems to be the Canon cameras that do this, which is one of the many reasons why I much prefer Canon DSLRs to the Nikons I have used recently (for digiscoping, that is. For general photography and telephoto photography, I find the Nikons just as nice).

Compact cameras shake less.
The much smaller blinking eye in compact cameras seems to produce much less vibration when taking a photo with a DSLR even on LiveView. This is why you can push the shutter speed even slower with a little compact and still have a chance of getting a half-way sharp photo.

More stability = need less shutter speed.
By making sure that there is as little shake in the entire system as possible, you effectively reduce the minimum shutter speed you need in order to get a sharp photo. This includes using things like a cable release, a countdown timer, a good tripod or bean bag, and avoiding wind:

A good dose of luck never hurt anyone.
Or, as Gary Player used to say, "the more I practice, the luckier I get". Practice, practice, practice. And take lots of photos, some will be keepers!

Happy digiscoping,
Dale Forbes

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Off to the Vogelfestival RUhr

It is very early in the morning and it still feels like yesterday, but I need to catch a transfer to the airport 'cos I am flying to Dortmund or Düsseldorf (can't remember which but I suppose my aeroplane will kick me off at the right place), and then up and off to the Vogelfestival Ruhr!

Vogelfestival Ruhr (Ruhr Bird festival) is on the Kemnader Dam, between Bochum and Witten in northern Germany and last year it attracted 5500 birdwatchers and ornithologists. I am really looking forward to it.


If you happen to be there, I will be the guy with the drowsy look on his face ;-)

Here is a video that Thomas made last year:

Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Rock Climbing Raileh / Prananga Beach

These have got to be some of the most spectacular cliffs I have ever experienced in my life. We stayed in Raileh East at the beginning of our trip, visiting Prananga Beach (the most stunning beach in the whole wide world) but never got around to climbing because we were too eager to get across to the Phi Phi Islands to go diving. Anyway, due to a somewhat embarrassing miscalculation of dates, we ended up with an extra day at our disposal right at the end of our trip. So we quickly dashed back to Raileh to get in some climbing.

nice big walls with ridiculously beautiful views from up high.

A little bit of overhang at Prananga Beach.

Me on the left. The great big island-dotted ocean on the right...

May today be a wonderful day,
Dale Forbes