February is a pretty grim month – the weather is always grey and mostly cold (although today it happens to be freakishly warm), it’s right in the middle of the toughest few months at work, and it’s still dark when I get up and dark when I get home. So for the last few years we’ve been in the habit of disappearing off somewhere for a couple of days in the middle of February. It actually works very well: everywhere is comparatively cheap because it’s off-season, you see places in all sorts of weather conditions and with fewer people around.
This year we went to Suffolk, somewhere that we return to on a nearly annual basis. It’s not too far from us, is relatively untouched, and has wonderful big skies. I know many perceive ’flat’ to be ‘boring’, but it’s one of my favourite landscapes. As such, you’d think that I’d have taken a few more photos of it, but I didn’t. Well, we weren’t in that sort of location for much of our time, instead staying in Framlingham and travelling out to the coast at Southwold (nice) and Lowestoft (not so nice). I am sure we’ll be back though, if for no other reason than I have certain photos planned to show off the scenery. In the meantime though, this trip also offered me the opportunity to really test the new lens in anger.
I re-learnt the important, and very first, lesson of photography at the beginning of our visit: always take your camera with you. When we stopped on the way in at Bury St. Edmunds with the notion of finding a park to eat our lunch in, I stupidly decided to leave the camera in the car on the basis that we probably wouldn’t be long, it was cold, and Bury looked to be mostly housing estates and a bus station. WRONG. Wrong wrong wrong. Step up, iPhone camera.
That lesson learnt, we moved on to Framlingham in time for the magic hour of low light before dusk. As you can see from the photo above, we’d been lucky enough to get a clear day compared to the many overcast, flat ones of late. Where we were staying was a very short walk from Framlingham Castle, a 12th Century fortress in remarkable condition. We were too late to actually get inside, but the moat and area outside the walls is open to roam at will.
ISO 125 / 18mm / f7.1 / 1/125 sec
ISO 125 / 200mm / f5.0 / 1/60 sec
The second photo here was using the 70-300mm lens, and I battled a little with it over the course of time we were out in the evening. That makes it sound like a negative experience, which it wasn’t. It was a very productive session when it came to learning how it can be best used and where the weaknesses lie.
ISO 125 / 300mm / f5.6 / 1/20 sec
My biggest struggle was with autofocus in the low light conditions, which was to be expected I suppose. You can see an example above, which wasn’t helped when the bird wouldn’t keep still (no consideration, wildlife). It really didn’t want to play ball – the lens, not the bird – and I have a selection of photos which didn’t look too bad on the camera LCD but viewed in Lightroom demonstrate this fairly obviously. I switched to manual focus a bit too late to really capitalise on the light on this occasion, but better late than never.
ISO 125 / 200mm / f5.0 / 1/30 sec
ISO 125 / 70mm / f6.3 / 1/320 sec
The few images that came out well did encourage me though, as the clarity and the colours are good, and it’s nice to have the focal range back again. I particularly like the closer image of the grasses above, something about the colour against the dark background along with the sharpness is very satisfying.
More to follow in Part 2, as this is long enough for the time being…
(You might have noticed we now have technical info! Lightroom is now up and running, and I am also now linking images from Flickr. It’s not ideal as yet, and I’ve not linked to the bigger versions which is my plan for the future, but it’s all a step in the right direction I think.)