I made a trip out to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge again this weekend. The first summer-time trip ever, I think. I left the house at 4:30am Saturday and got to the refuge by sunrise ~6:30). I shot during the nice morning light, went and checked into a campground a few miles from the refuge during the harsh mid-day light and took a nap, then went back to the refuge for the evening hours and shot until sunset (roughly 7:30pm). Sunday, I was back at the refuge by about 7am and shot until a bit after 9am, when I headed for home. The shooting was decent; I saw a couple of red-tail fox, a couple of the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrels, three Osprey (which I'd never seen before), and ~5 bald eagles, and a number of decent sized snakes, specific flavor unknown. Additionally, there were countless egrets, herons and small shore-birds about as well. Two of the snakes were in the water, and if I remember correctly, MD only has two species of water snakes: the copperhead and the cottonmouth. And these weren't copper in color.
For the trip, I rented a Canon 100-400mm lens. I've pretty much decided that I will never buy one of these lenses. The 100-400mm is a nice enough if your subject is close. If it's even a little bit distant, the image quality goes to crap. Fast. An example (click the images for the full-sized shots): Here's a shot of a heron, pretty close to me...maybe 15 meters away:
Nice enough, right? Now here's a bald eagle farther off. Probably 50-75 meters or so:
Looks like crap, right? This is the longest lens I've ever mounted to my camera, so I don't have much experience with this kinda thing, but I have to imagine that 500mm and 600mm (and 1,200mm, for god's sake) lenses exist to take photos of things far away. If distant things always looked like, I doubt Canon would have much business in the long-lens department.
So, as an alternative (not that anybody cares), I'll be looking at the 400mm f/5.6 prime, the next time I have $1,300 burning a hole in my pocket. Word on the mailing lists is that this lens significantly out performs the 100-400mm lens at the 400mm end. When I have the 100-400mm on the camera, at least 95% of my shots are at the 400mm end. So I won't miss much giving up that 100-399mm range. And the improvement in color/contrast and sharpness I gain will be well worth the trade.
Here are a few other keeper shots from the weekend. I may also have one or two more to post later. For the record, I'm not sure I'm digging this Flickr thing. I like the way my old Pbase site works in conjunction with my blog better, I think.