Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography – Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.


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Today I drilled through a frying pan! (DIY Ground Pod)

The completed ground pod with a wimberley sidekick and 120-300mm 2.8

The completed ground pod with a wimberley sidekick and 120-300mm 2.8

Another little DIY project that I have been thinking about doing for a while now. A DIY ground pod!

I got the idea from “The Handbook of Bird Photography” by Bence Mate, Jari Peltomaki and Markus Varesvuo which is a great book with loads of information about photographing birds. Normally I find these books are more for beginners and only cover the basics but this book has a load of detailed information. One of the ideas this book gives is to use a ground pod to get a very low angle.

The idea of a ground pod is that you can have all the flexibility of having a long lens on a gimbal style head much lower than any tripod with the lens being much more maneuverable than when using a bean bag. Also the smooth bottom allows you to slide your set-up along the ground as you crawl towards your subject, something that is a pain in the ass with a tripod.

When I looked up ground pods on the internet the cheapest of these cost around £80-£100 which isn’t bad for photographic equipment. However whilst looking at ground pods I came across a couple of people who had made their own and decided that Id give it a go.

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Drill a hole in an old frying pan.

Step 2: Attach tripod head!

That’s it! It’ literally took me 5 minutes!

I considered trying to remove the handle but actually it makes it easier to maneuver so I left it on.

I’m expecting some odd looks next time I turn up at a nature reserve with my camera attached to a frying pan but I’m exited to see how it works in the field!

The underside showing the standard tripod plate screw used to hold the tripod head on. I might tape over this to make it slide along the ground more easily.

The underside showing the standard tripod plate screw used to hold the tripod head on. I might tape over this to make it slide along the ground more easily.

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Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 “S” “Sport” Review

 

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Last week I managed to borrow the new version of sigma’s 120-300mm the 120-300mm f/2.8 “S” or “Sport”.

Having owned the previous model (the 120-300mm f/2.8 OS DG HSM) for well over a year now I was interested in exactly how much better this new lens would perform.

There are plenty of other reviews of this lens already (most with high praise) but I thought I’d offer up my thoughts anyway being in a position to see if the upgrade from the previous model was worth the switch or not.

The 120-300mm “S” is the first in sigmas new “Global Vision” line up in which they are trying to update and re-classify their lenses into “Sport”, “Art” and “Contemporary” categories based on what each lens’s intended use might be. All of the Global Vision range have a new sleek design and have been getting some very high praise indeed, notably the 35mm f/1.4 and the 24-105mm f/4.

The Global Vision range also feature a never seen before by another company USB dock and software to give as much customisation of the lens as possible.

I also managed to borrow the 2x teleconverter which I haven’t used before but for birds and wildlife especially, the promise of a 600mm f/5.6 lens is quite attractive.  I only had this copy for 4 days, two of which were horrible weather and the other two were fairly grey and overcast so a lot of the resulting images are not the best to show exactly what the lens is capable of but they should give an idea of how it handles on the average day with UK weather!

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With the lens hood

Without the lens hood.

Without the lens hood.

Next to the older 120-300mm OS.

Next to the older 120-300mm OS.

First impressions

  • new build is very good
  • focus limiter and custom switch
  • new hood and lens foot
  • slightly heavier but not too noticable
  • weatherproofed

Image quality

  • Almost identical to the older version

USB Dock

  • Great to be able to customise focus limiter and OS
  • Software easy and intuitive

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The new switches!

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You can see the small rubber lip that provides weather sealing between the lens and camera body.

Test images

These images were taken with the lens mounted on a tripod, manually focused with a 10 second timer. It was very windy so I upped the ISO and it was about to rain so I did this test pretty quickly therefore these images should be viewed just to get the idea rather than a definitive scientific lens test.

To compare the images from the 120-300mm OS see my review of it here: 120-300mm f/2.8 OS DG HSM Review

These images show the 100% crops taken with a screen shot from Lightroom. No editing was applied these are just how they appear from the RAW files. I used a Canon 7D and the .exif info can be seen on each image.

 

Click the images for larger size.

Bare lens at 300mm, with Sigma 1.4x tc at 420mm and with Sigma 2x at 600mm:

300mm @ f/2.8

300mm @ f/2.8

300mm @ f/3.2

300mm @ f/3.2

420mm @ f/4

420mm @ f/4

420mm @ f/4.5

420mm @ f/4.5

 

 

 

 

 

600mm @ f/5.6

600mm @ f/5.6

600mm @ f/6.3

600mm @ f/6.3

600mm @ f/8

600mm @ f/8

 

 

 

 

 

Some real world samples taken in a variety of conditions, hand held and with a monopod with light adjustments in lightroom (White balance, Contrast, light sharpening etc):

 

 

1/400, f/8, ISO400, 600mm with 2x tc.

1/400, f/8, ISO400, 600mm with 2x tc.

1/1000, f/6.3, ISO800, 600mm with 2x tc.

1/1000, f/6.3, ISO800, 600mm with 2x tc.

1/1000, f/4.5, ISO400, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/1000, f/4.5, ISO400, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/2000, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/2000, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/4000, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/4000, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/200, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/200, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/500, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

1/500, f/4.5, ISO100, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

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1/800, f/4.5, ISO1600, 420mm with 1.4x tc.

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1/320, f/8, ISO800, 600mm with 2x tc.

 

Conclusions

The Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 “S” is a very good lens. It looks great, is extremely well built, is sharp wide open but excellent stopped down just a tiny bit and takes the 1.4x teleconverter very well and the 2x quite well.

It is slightly more expensive than the older version and as an owner of the older version I won’t be upgrading however the little extras sigma have added definitely make this a better lens. I’m quite jealous of the focus limiter in particular as it can be set to any distance using the USB dock and turned on and off using the custom switch which could make autofocus very much quicker in certain situations.

The new build including the new hood are very nice and they have added rubberised rims to both the hood and the front end of the lens itself which stop it slipping and dampen impact of placing it down on a hard surface. The weather sealing including the rubber rim between the lens and camera is another bonus and would be definitely useful for nature/wildlife photographers. The one negative of the new design is that the tripod mount has lost the ergonomic finger grips and is too wide for my hands. This makes it a pain to carry by the handle which is very irritating as when shooting handheld without a monopod I use the handle quite a lot.

One of the issues with the old 120-300mm was quality control as many people reported autofocus issues including me as mine had to be sent back withing a few weeks of purchase as the autofocus would get stuck. Whilst researching this I came a cross an interesting post by lensrentals.com where they took apart both versions to check for differences: Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 Part II: Comparative Anatomy despite their finding almost no difference sigmas new “Global Vision” range apparently undergo more rigorous quality control procedures than before so these issues should not be a problem with the new version.

I would highly recommend either version of this lens. If you can get a secondhand copy of the old version it is probably worth saving yourself some money but if you can’t you will not be disappointed by the new version!

 


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DIY “plamp” for under £5!

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I had a few people ask me about the DIY plamp that I used in my last post (First Macro of the Year!) so I thought I’d explain how I made it.

Firstly I’m not the first person to try this and if you search “DIY plamp for macro” then you will get many results with different ideas.

The idea is based on the Wimberly plamp and is used for attaching various things to a tripod. This is mainly useful in natural light macro to hold a branch with an insect in place on a windy day or to hold a reflector to get a bit of under lighting on the subject. The wimberley plamp is a great bit of kit and is well built however they cost nearly £40! I thought I’d try making one as it seems a lot to ask for a small bit of kit and managed to find all the bits I needed for under £5.

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Firstly search for “foam covered wire” and you get a fair few results also try “twist ties” or something like that. I got a pack of two for £3! You can also find them at garden and DIY centres for holding delicate plants to stakes and generally attaching things to other things. Then I bought a pack of clamps, I got the cheapest at £1.50 for eight! They probably aren’t the best clamps and are a little small to clip to my tripod but actually they are fine for what I need them for. I then attached the clamps to the twist ties with a couple of cable ties that I had lying around and that was it!

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I find that a single tie on its own is a little bit wobbly in the wind but by twisting two together it is strong enough. I also like that this gives the flexibility to use two if necessary. I attach them to the tripod just by twisting them around and it seems to work quite well however I may invest in some larger clamps at some point just for speed in setting up. I also taped some foam to one of the clamps to try to stop it squashing delicate flower stems but I think this needs a little more work.

So there you go, DIY plamps for under £5! Please feel free to leave any comments below.

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A few quick pictures taken with the plamp today:

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First Macro of the Year!

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I found a 7-spot Ladybird inside the house yesterday so I thought it would be a great opportunity to dust off my macro gear!

I’m hoping try out some slightly more “environmental” macros this year rather that full frame close ups so I thought I’d use the wireless flash control on the 7d to experiment with more of a field studio sort of set up. Since I got the 7d (well over a year ago now!) I have been meaning to try it out with wireless flash for macro work but up until now I haven’t had the time. I was wondering if this could be a way to get softer light on larger subjects as these need to be further away from the camera and I can experiment with much larger softboxes and diffusers which would be impractical to attach to the camera and it also might help to illuminate the background more with closer shots as light fall-off and black backgrounds are a constant problem with macro work.

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My Set-up with my coat to lie on as it was a bit damp still!

I used my new tripod which has a “tiltable” centre column to position my flash where I wanted it and my homemade “plamp” (some foam covered wire ties and some small clamps!) to hold the diffuser. This didn’t quite work as well as I’d hoped. The light didn’t seem as soft as I would like as there were still some blown highlights and it was difficult to find an angle where the reflections on the ladybirds shell were minimised. Anyway I got some shots that I was happy with and the benefit of this sort of set-up appears to be much better background lighting which Is what I was going for. I think it needs a bit more experimentation and I’m going to try and see if it also works for the MPE for much closer shots!

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A more detailed shot of the lighting setup where you can see my homemade plamp.

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