[missbirdphotos] Re: Birding on Saturday

  • From: "Judy Howle" <howle@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2012 17:09:34 -0600

I keep an old beat-up heavy Styrofoam cooler in my van and my whole bag will
fit into into it so it?s out of sight and protected from heat and cold.


Judy Howle


Southern Exposures



Digital Photography Class; Resources for Photographers




From: missbirdphotos-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:missbirdphotos-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Dance, Gayla
Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2012 12:53 PM
To: 'missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx'
Subject: [missbirdphotos] Re: Birding on Saturday


That is just awful.  I have always been worried about having my equipment
taken from me when I am out alone taking pictures in a relatively
unpopulated area (being a woman.)  I sometimes drag my husband or son with
me, but it is a forced march on their part.  




From: missbirdphotos-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:missbirdphotos-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Robert Smith
Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2012 12:35 PM
To: missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [missbirdphotos] Re: Birding on Saturday


Thanks, Gayla.
I was on my way to photo workshop in southern Alabama last spring.  I knew
that I'd only be in the hotel from 11:00 on night until 7:00 or so the next
morning, so we only took in one small bag of clothes.  When I came out, I
saw a teleconverter laying on the driver's seat, which prompted me to look
at the rest of my camera gear since it was supposed to be in a big bag.  The
theives had not only taken most of my gear, but taken the time to go through
bags & take some gear out & put the bags back in hopes that I wouldn't
notice!  The took 2 bodies, a laptop, multiple lenses, etc.  My wife and I
both are pretty sure we locked the car that night, but we may not have since
there was no other sign of entry.  It really put me in the dumps about
taking pictures for a while, because it took MONTHS to settle with the
insurance company and then track down gear at reasonable prices.  Almost a
year later, my gear isn't completely replaced the way I want it, and I still
don't have a bag/packing system that I like as much as the bags that were

Robert Smith



From: dancegf@xxxxxxxxxxxx
To: missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2012 12:14:54 -0600
Subject: [missbirdphotos] Re: Birding on Saturday

Robert, I enjoyed your lengthy review of the Bigma.  I do have a question
though:  How was your camera gear stolen?  What a nightmare!




From: missbirdphotos-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:missbirdphotos-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Robert Smith
Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2012 10:41 AM
To: missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [missbirdphotos] Re: Birding on Saturday


Hello Larry -


I'm attaching an overview of my thoughts & experiences with the Bigma that I
wrote almost 2 years ago.  If someone had not stolen all of my camera gear
last year, I'd own a Bigma now, but I ended putting all my "discretionary"
money with the insurance money to replace/upgrade what was stolen instead of
adding to my pile of gear.  


I find autofocus with the Bigma to be a bit "slow" compared to my "fast"
glass, and especially slow when married to a teleconverter.  I don't see the
Bigma plus a teleconverter working well for a quickly moving subject - not
saying it can't be done, but bird-in-flight shots would be tough with it
when the background isn't clear sky.


Anyway, here's what I wrote 2 years ago...



I had the chance to use a Bigma for a little over a week this past summer,
and I'd promised to share what I thought, so here it is...


I thought I?d share my recent experience with the Sigma 50-500
(affectionately known to many as the ?Bigma?). I went on a week-long
wildlife photography trip to Minnesota with our friends Cathy & Gordon Illg.
There was a LOT of on-line imagery available from this location, and I was
able to look at a lot of EXIF data from those shots. Apertures used for
shots that I liked ranged from f/6.3 to f/18, and lens lengths ranged from
85 to 500 mm. I certainly had this covered with a combination of my existing
lenses. However, not very many shots needed the length of 400 or 500 mm. And
changing lenses in a fast-paced wildlife shooting environment has caused
many missed shot opportunities in the past.

After careful thought (and consideration given to the thought of flying
WITHOUT having to carry a big lens) (and consideration given to several
friends? recommendations who had shot with this lens in the past), I rented
a Sigma 50-500 (without VR) from Lens Rentals dot com for two weeks.

Of course I was out of town when the lens arrived, so it sat at Fed Ex for 5
days while I itched to try it out. Once I got it, I looked it over
carefully, packed it in a bag, and took it with me while I went to work on a
property in northern North Carolina. As I was leaving the property that day,
I got my first chance to test the lens ? a young woodchuck was standing on
his hind legs sniffing some purple asters right in front of my truck. I
quickly took off my short lens, dug the Bigma out of my bag and attempted to
put it on my body. It wouldn?t go on!!!! Yikes!!! I?ve put a Bigma on that
same body before when we?ve had clients shooting in the bird blind, so I
knew it should go. I looked at the mount, yes it looked like a Nikon mount,
but it wouldn?t go on! What a pain!

By this time, the young woodchuck was LONG gone! I continued to wrestle for
a moment, and decided to try it on my D70. It went on like a champ! I tried
the D3 again ? no go. It took me a moment to figure out what was different,
and it was the Arca Swiss plate that I had put on the lens foot that was
causing the problem. It stuck back far enough that it wouldn?t let the D3
turn to lock onto the lens, but with the smaller D70, it was no problem. I
dug out my Allen wrenches, remounted the Arca Swiss plate a little further
out, and no problem from then on! I took a few shots of indigo buntings &
mourning doves on power lines, and saw that the lens was functioning like it

I then packed everything for the plane trip north. We carried a pair of
28-80 mm and 70-300 mm, an 80-200 mm, and the Bigma (50-500 mm) along with a
1.4x and a 2x teleconverter for our ?long? lenses on this trip (plus 37
pounds of shorter lenses, tripods, & other gear in a checked bag). It sure
was nice not having to ?push? the carry on baggage limits to carry a 400 mm
and a 600 mm (I carry one and my wife carries the other) when we boarded the
plane. It was also nice not having to carry the full-sized Wimberley gimbal
head for the tripod in checked baggage as well. (Of course we carried enough
other ?odd? photo and outdoor gear that the Department of Homeland Security
checked our bags going and coming anyway? ). 

Once in the north woods of Minnesota, I started out using the 80-200. But
when I needed a longer lens, I went to the 50-500 and kept it on for most of
the rest of the trip. Yes, there were times I went to the 80-200 (or even a
shorter lens), but I kept coming back to the 50-500. At times, I switched
between trying to shoot a song sparrow feeding young or a red-winged
blackbird on a perch over a nest right back to shooting deer, foxes, or
other wildlife within 5 seconds ? no lens change needed! 

I used the 50-500 on a Really Right Stuff ballhead on a tripod, on a
Wimberley Sidekick gimbal mount atop the RRS ballhead, handheld, and on a
beanbag. Handheld was the most flexible (and tiring), but in the late
afternoon & early morning, a tripod or other support was needed badly at
longer focal lengths. The Sidekick/ballhead combination worked well, except
when I changed lens lengths significantly after balancing it for a given
lens length. The ballhead alone didn?t work that well for me. Using a big
beanbag out the truck window worked just fine.

Just for grins & giggles, I looked up the technical specifications on the
Bigma and the 3 lenses of mine so that I could compare their ?reach out &
get ?em? capability and their length/weight.

Magnification on a full frame camera body
Bigma 50-500 ? 1x to 10x
400 f/2.8 ? 8x
80-200 f/2.8 ? 1.6x to 4x
600 f/4 ? 12x

Maximum Aperture
Bigma 50-500 ? 22
400 f/2.8 ? 22
80-200 f/2.8 ? 22
600 f/4 ? 22

Minimum Aperture
Bigma 50-500 ? 4.5 to 6.3
400 f/2.8 ? 2.8
80-200 f/2.8 ? 2.8
600 f/4 ? 4

Minimum Length
Bigma 50-500 ? 8.6 inches (at 50 mm, it is ALMOST twice that long at 500 mm)
400 f/2.8 ? 14.5 inches
80-200 f/2.8 ? 7.4 inches
600 f/4 ? 17 inches

Bigma 50-500 ? 4.3 pounds
400 f/2.8 ? 10.2 pounds
80-200 f/2.8 ? 2.9 pounds
600 f/4 ? 10.7 pounds

Minimum Focusing Distance
Bigma 50-500 ? 19.7 to 70.9 inches
400 f/2.8 ? 110.4 inches
80-200 f/2.8 ? 58.8 inches
600 f/4 ? 220.8 inches

The technical specs were pulled off the Sigma & Nikon web sites; the exact
specs on my gear are a little different because I?ve changed the lens
mounting foot on my 400 f/2.8 and put camouflage material on both of my
lenses, but they?re pretty close.

Even though many people complain about how big & heavy the Bigma is, I found
it to be a small & convenient lens compared to the ?big glass? in my bag.
The Bigma is about the size of my 80-200 in length and weight, but has more
versatility in some respects. What the Bigma lacked was a wider open
aperture that would reduce the importance of things in the background at
times and (perhaps most importantly) allow for more rapid autofocus.
Autofocus speed is related to the amount of light that passes through to the
sensor, so the wider the aperture, the more rapid the focusing potential. 


Slow focus ? The autofocus WAS slower than on my 400 f/2.8 or my 80-200
f/2.8, but with preplanning/prefocusing, I was still able to capture a shot
of a quickly running mink and cougar using autofocus. I would NOT want to
use it for ?snap? shots or for flight/running shots where there were gaps in
the vegetation where I had to focus and get the shot.

Lack of ?wide open? aperture ? There were times that I would have liked to
use a wider open aperture to isolate my subject more. This lack of a wider
aperture also caused to some degree the slower autofocus issue. 
The lack of a wide open aperture would REALLY bother me if I had an older
camera body, but as long as I have a newer camera body with great high ISO
capability, I'm fine using it. I would have hated to have had to use the
Bigma on my D70 where ISO 200 is as high as I'd go; however shooting it on
the D3 at ISO 500 to ISO 1250 was fine. Without a newer body, I don't think
I'd have been pleased with the Bigma.

Changing lens length changed center of gravity ? This one really bugged me.
I think all of my other variable length telephoto lenses that have a collar
are internal focus. As I changed lens lengths with the Bigma, it changed in
physical length (much like the 70-300). The difference in size and weight
between those two lenses & the total length the Bigma extends results in a
BIG change in the center of gravity. So, if I had my camera body/lens
combination balanced on the tripod head for a 500 mm shot, but then changed
to a 150 mm length, my lens wanted to point up. Similarly, if I went from
short to long, my lens wanted to point down. A seemingly minor thing, but
after having been able to balance ?big glass? on a Wimberley gimbal head or
even a ball head, it was very aggravating to me.

Lens attachment ? The foot that was on the tripod collar for the Bigma only
had one hole to attach to a tripod/tripod mounting plate. Since the tripod
heads that I was carrying (ball head and Wimberley Sidekick) both had
Arca/Swiss mounts, I put an Arca/Swiss plate on it. Since I knew: 1) that
I?d have to adjust the lens back & forth a good bit to balance it and 2)
that there were times that I?d want to attach an external flash bracket to
the Arca/Swiss plate as well, I used an 8? Arca/Swiss plate (which caused my
initial mounting problem with the groundhog). If the tripod foot on a lens
is over 3? long, and the lens is ?heavy?, it should have two ¼? 20 tpi
female holes to mount the plate with ? especially if another 2 ½ pounds of
flash accessories will be on that same plate. The plate only slipped twice
during the week, but that is two times too many as far as I am concerned.

Camouflage ? I didn?t really need camouflage on the camera gear on this
trip, but I didn?t feel comfortable camouflaging a rental lens (other than
putting it in a shirt sleeve?). If I was going to use this lens for
waterfowl or turkeys, I?d sure want to break up that black cylinder as much
as I could. This isn?t a con of the lens, but more a con of RENTING the


Small size ? While people talk about how big and heavy this lens is, the
small size (to me) was GREAT for carrying on an airplane & for

Finger grips on foot for ?handle? ? While I didn?t like only one mounting
hole in the lens foot, really did like the finger grips in the foot for a
more comfortable ?handle?.

Extremely wide range of lens lengths (magnification) in one lens ? I really
liked the wide range of magnification in the one lens. While I didn?t shoot
it side-by-side with my other lenses at given lengths to compare it?s
sharpness, it was sharp enough to produce images pleasing to me.


I wouldn?t want this to be my only ?long lens?, but I?d like to have one for
a ?carry? lens. That is, a lens that I could carry on a body in my truck, a
long lens that is easier to carry onto a plane, or a lens that I can carry
on walk-abouts. When I?m working out of my truck, I usually either have the
80-200, the 400, or the 600 mm lens pre-attached to a body & ready to shoot.
Unfortunately, I often have the wrong lens attached. Sometimes you need a
200 mm lens and sometimes even the 600 mm lens isn?t quite enough; having
this lens would provide an opportunity to get shots that would otherwise be
missed. It would also be a good lens to carry to an event with my family.
Rather than having to change lenses when alternatively wanting to take a
picture of my daughter or a flying plane, I could just use the one lens.

Overall, I was happy enough that if I see a Bigma for a real deal, I'll end
up owning one, just for those times when I need to travel lighter. It'll be
interesting to see how that compares to some of the Bigma owners' thoughts
in this forum. 

Robert Smith



Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2012 06:49:29 -0800
From: larrypace64@xxxxxxxxx
Subject: [missbirdphotos] Re: Birding on Saturday
To: missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Several of you have mentioned the Bigma.  What  are your thoughts on pros
and cons for this lens.  I think part of my problems have to do with lack of
reach with the 100-400. particularly on the smallest subjects.  I have to
crop way too much.  


I am aware that most problems related to quality photos are related to poor
technique but equipment does matter especially in NATURE photography.


Does the Bigma allow autofocus when using tele-converters?





From: Frank Hensley <dr_frank_hensley@xxxxxxxxx>
To: "missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> 
Sent: Thursday, March 8, 2012 6:49 AM
Subject: [missbirdphotos] Re: Birding on Saturday


I plan to go! First day of Spring Break so I asked for time off at home.
Look for a tall guy with a gray goatee and a BIGMA.




From: "Dance, Gayla" <dancegf@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: "missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <missbirdphotos@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> 
Sent: Thursday, March 8, 2012 6:22 AM
Subject: [missbirdphotos] Birding on Saturday

I believe there is a birding event on Sat. near Turcotte Labs and Highway
43.  Weather permitting, I wondered if any of the MissBird Photographers
were planning on attending.



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