About Rich Laburn
Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.
Latest Posts by Rich Laburn
After such a great festive season, many of you may have opted for a “dry January” of no alcohol consumption to try and cleanse the livers and start the year off fresh. Once you’re finished with all that, consider sparkling wine for a winter celebratory drink.
Every year sees various trends and fashions, with a whole year ahead one can only ponder what it will bring. Will we see a revival of the Tamagotchi? Will the Helix screw cork take off? What will the next fad diet be? One current focus and point of interest for the next year seems to be English Sparkling Wine. The terroir of France’s Champagne region is similar to that of Southern England; they have the same chalky soil and global warming has seen Champagne warm up and England cool down. In early December last year, Taittinger purchased vineyard land in Kent with the intention of producing premium English Sparkling Wines, the first time that a Champagne house has invested in the UK. So this is a very exciting time for the UK, but whilst they are starting up, there are already outstanding examples of Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) in South Africa produced by well-established wine farms.
A view over the beautiful Steenberg Vineyards in Cape Town. South Africa boasts some of the best vineyards in the world.
One such MCC I’d like to focus on is the Steenberg Lady R Méthode Cap Classique 2010, a stunning premium sparkling wine which was recently launched. Steenberg, founded in 1682 by Catharina Ustings Ras in the Constantia Valley, is a farm rich in history with many stories. One of the more popular ones is poor Catharina’s terrible luck at keeping husbands alive (she obviously never practiced with a goldfish as a child). She came to South Africa from Germany in 1662 as a widow, and as South Africa was a rather fierce and wild place back then she wasted no time finding a second husband, Hans Ras. Hans was unfortunately eventually killed by a lion. Legend has it that Catharina courageously fetched a gun, leaped on her horse and gave chase, shooting the lion herself. Her third husband, was tragically murdered and the fourth was trampled by an elephant. After four husbands she finally settled down with a German, named Matthys Michelse, who must have been hardier as I believe he outlived her.
The Steenberg Lady R is made in the traditional French method of second fermentation in the bottle and is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% barrel-fermented Chardonnay. After fermentation the wine was aged on the lees (dead yeast cells) for an impressive 55 months, just short of five years, each year representing one of Catharina’s husbands. The wine is low in alcohol at 11.5% abv as well as low in sugar at 4g/l (for a Brut (which is dry), the sugar needs to be below 12g/l). Hence it is the perfect wine for those “dry January” followers and weight watchers.
The Lady R is still extremely fresh and has beautiful ageing ability; it shows lovely crisp red apple and acacia blossom aromas with a mineral edge. The chalkiness carries on to the palate and the wine shows notes of honeycomb and brioche.
What wine do you think will be fashionable in 2016?
Written by Kim Drake.
The Sigma 35 mm f 1/4 lens is the archetypical telephoto lens that is widely used on Safari, to something a little more, well, little. In the wilderness, it’s not all about the tight close-ups of eyes, or the head-shots of beautiful big cats. Sometimes we need to take the whole landscape into consideration, or focus on the little things that cross our path. Variety is the spice of life, and today we are spicing things up with a review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art prime lens.
Nick Kleer headed out into the bush with this lens to play.
Amanda Ritchie: Being used to using the larger telephoto lenses for shooting wildlife photography, what was your first impression of the Sigma 35mm? Did you do anything differently as a result?
Nick Kleer: I paired the Sigma 35mm for Canon with my Canon 7D Mark II . It has been interesting using a short lens as I have never shot with one before. It has forced me to use my imagination a little more and has resulted in a few shots that I would normally not take.
AR: Being a smaller lens, how did it feel out in the testing conditions of the bush?
NK: I was happy with the feel of the lens as it is light enough to shoot free hand and felt sturdy enough to take a couple of knocks out in the field too.
AR: With an aperture of F/1.4, we would expect great things from this lens in low light. How did it perform?
NK: This lens performed really well in low light, letting in lots of light through the wide aperture. Similarly, it is also very effective at isolating subjects from the background due to shallow depth of field, beautifully rendering background highlights, also known as “Bokeh”.
This shot of a leopard tortoise approaching me as I lie on the ground shows a great soft blur with one of my guests in the background. ISO 400, F1.4, 1/8000
Another great example of the shallow DOF, and a beautiful soft blur as a spotted bush snake caught and ate a gecko on Varty deck one morning at breakfast. ISO 400, F1.4, 1/8000.
This is a good example of how my take on the wild changed using this lens. Again, this shot illustrates the typically shallow depth of field (DOF) one would expect from this lens as I captured a scorpion under UV light, glowing due to a reaction in its exoskeleton. ISO 2000, F1.4, 1/80
Here, you can see how well the lens does in low light. This was taken after sunset at a drinks stop. The amount of light and clarity that it was able to capture is impressive. ISO 320, F6.3, 1/15.
This shot shows the low-light capabilities again, but in a slightly different way. It’s not just at night that we are conscious of low light. Overcast days, where there is little (or flat) natural light is also a challenge for some lenses. The 35mm lens captured this low angle shot of the Munghene youngsters on an overcast day. The shot actually came out slightly overexposed, which I took further in post processing to accentuate the high-key effect ISO 1000, F1.4, 1/8000.
Here is a shot of the same lions put into black and white without being overexposed when shooting. You can clearly see how much light the lens was able to let through, even at an F-stop of 2.5. ISO 1000, F2.5, 1/8000.
AR: It seems that the Sigma 35mm lives up to expectations when it comes to DOF and definitely lets in lots of light. Not everyone wants to post-process their photos, so capturing the colour accurately is important. What was your experience?
NK: I found that the lens captured colour beautifully. It seems to capture colour extremely accurately and for that reason you really wouldn’t have to do much processing at all, if any for that matter.
I also wanted to show off the cameras abiity to pick up colours in this shot of the Munghene pride on a late sunny afternoon while they were out on the hunt. ISO 250, F1.6, 1/8000.
AR: Were there any other interesting things that struck you about this lens, or about the different ways you used it out in the field to capture scenes differently?
NK: I am a huge fan of close up shots and have always enjoyed zoom lenses, so having the opportunity to use a lens that has a much wider angle was both challenging and a lot of fun. It was nice to be able to capture the environment around the animals I was shooting rather than just close ups. The lens I found was fantastic at it and forced me to take shots that I would not normally take.
One of the Matimba males was recently mating with a Tsalala female in the Manyaleti and I found this lens was great at capturing a scene rather than just the animal. ISO 320, F1.4, 1/5000.
We were fortunate enough to have wild dog pups playing around the vehicle before they settled for a while below my feet. From this close distance the wide angle allowed both animals to fit into the shot and I would have never have been able to take this shot otherwise. ISO 800, F3.2, 1/5000.
The Mashaba young female lying up in a Marula tree. Once again the wide angle painted a beautiful scene for this shot. Normally it would have been a close up shot with her face on her paws, which can be a gorgeous photograph but I found that having the whole tree in this photo created something different. I chose to do a high key post process and a colour shot just to show the contrast the lens does provide. ISO 800, F5, 1/1250.
Once again the Mashaba young female lying up in the same Marula, this time showing a beautiful contrast of colour. ISO 640, F6.3, 1/1000.
AR: Final verdict?
NK: Overall I found the lens a pleasure to use and would highly recommend it in any camera kit. It takes clear, sharp and rich pictures and is very fast focusing as well. The shallow depth of field is also fantastic and provides an incredible effect and never allows the background to distract from the focal point of the picture. It was an absolute pleasure working with this lens!
Written by Amanda Ritchie, Photography Studio Manager and Nick Kleer.
Photographed by Nick Kleer
Lens Provided by SIGMA
If one looks at the portfolios of the world’s top wildlife photographers, you’ll see that they have one common thread – variety.
Conditions aren’t always perfect in the field. Difficult light, rain, un-cooperative animals that just don’t seem to face the camera when you want them to, the odd bit of grass covering the leopard’s eye… the list goes on. What is crucial therefore, is an ability to make the conditions work for you.
When the light starts fading, only the best and most expensive equipment can really handle it. Entry-level and even decent amateur cameras will soon start struggling, and increasing the ISO can lead to grainy images. One doesn’t have to have $10,000 worth of equipment to be able to take great shots in low light though. Trying something slightly more artistic can get you a photograph that has way more impact than a simple animal portrait. Although there are a number of creative roads to go down in low light, I’m only going to focus on one here, silhouette photography.
By ticking only a few boxes, you will be be able to take great silhouette shots with even entry-level camera gear.
1. Camera Settings.
Cameras have a certain idea about what type of photograph they want to take. You feed them the information by depressing the exposure/shutter butter button, the camera takes into account the lighting conditions and a few other factors, and makes a decision. The problem is that the camera was probably programmed in a studio a few thousand miles from where you are on safari, and has no idea that you now want to take a silhouette shot of a cheetah against the skyline, so it will be up to you to tell it what you want. The more you shy away from the Auto modes on your camera and start shooting in Aperture or Shutter Speed priority modes, the more control you have over what you want your camera to do, but this is something we’ll go into in another post.
The bottom line is that you want to let in less light than you normally would in order to capture a decent silhouette. This will mean that the the subject you are silhouetting stays dark, and no detail or colour emanates from it in the final shot.
To do this you have to dial down your exposure.
Pictured above is the exposure display on your camera. In order to get a great silhouette, you generally want to be shooting with a negative exposure (to the left of zero on the dial). How many stops (measured in thirds) you want to underexpose by depends on the situation, but the beauty of digital is that you can take a few shots to compare, at no extra cost.
How you change your exposure will depend on the type of camera you have, but your ranger should be able to help you with this.
A silhouette, as I’m sure most people know, is a photograph of an animal, or tree, or anything really, in which the subject appears as a simple black shape against a much lighter/more colourful background. The silhouette occurs because the camera is unable to read enough light off the subject to bring out any detail in it whatsoever.
In order to capture a decent silhouette shot, you therefore need to be facing the light source, which, in most cases in the bush, will be the sun. The rule I always heard when I was young was “always shoot away from the sun”, but rules are made to be broken!
The wonderful thing about silhouette photography is that you don’t need high drama to capture a great scene. An isolated tree against a colourful background can lead to a striking image in itself.
Ideally you want minimal clutter around your subject. The more you can make it stand alone, the more impact your image will have. Branches, grass or anything that cuts the subject’s outline are a no-no. If your subject is above the horizon (cheetah on log, leopard on termite mound etc…) it’ll make your job a whole lot easier.
On that note, the shape of your subject should be something distinct and recognizable. Textures and detail and colour are removed in a silhouette shot so the shape needs to speak for itself.
A pied kingfisher at dusk. The light was too low to shoot away from the sun with the camera gear I was using, but by moving to the other side of the waterhole and shooting back towards the light, the increased shutter speed was able to freeze the action.
This is what you DON’T want in a silhouette shot. Too much clutter around this cheetah’s head detracts massively from the impact of the photograph.
This IS what you want in a cheetah silhouette. Mike Sutherland has absolutely nailed it here. An uncluttered background, the cheetah isolated and pretty much level with the skyline.
Sometimes the stars align and present you with an opportunity that you know you’ll probably never have again in this lifetime. I’m cheating here in that this photo was actually taken at a salt pan in Botswana, but the isolation of the giraffes, the fact that they were on the skyline and the fact that they had the setting sun behind them made for an incredible photographic opportunity.
Next time the conditions don’t lend themselves to easy photography, try think outside the box and imagine what other ways there are to encapsulate a scene. You’ll be surprised by what you can come up with…!
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell
Additional Photographs by Mike Sutherland
I have always been proudly South African, and by choice I would not want to live anywhere else. It was however wonderfully refreshing to hear someone speak positively about our country, to remind us to wear our green and gold shirts with pride.
I could continue this series for a long time to come… but for now, here are 10 reasons why I believe South Africa is so awesome.
The Biggest Races in the World
Sport is an important part of our national identity – we are a country of fine sportsmen and love any opportunity to test our strength and stamina. We have beautiful places that have become well known for their scenery and as the host destinations of big cycle, road running, swimming and canoeing contests. These events also happen to be the biggest races in the world in their sporting categories.
Every year as many as 35 000 cyclists take part in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour, a tough 109 km cycle route that is made up for by the incredible diversity of scenery of the Cape Peninsula and surrounds. The cycle tour qualifies as the world’s largest individually timed cycle race and was the first event outside of Europe to be included in the International Cycling Union’s Golden Bike Series.
A beautiful capture taken during the 2011 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour. Photograph by Greg Beadle, http://www.crank.co.za/
The Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon is the world’s largest and the biggest canoeing event on the African content. Held over three days between Pietermaritzburg and Durban the 118 km canoe marathon attracts between 1600 and 2000 paddlers each year.
The 118 km Dusi Canoe Marathon. Photo credit: http://www.southafrica.net/
Athletes from around the world gather to compete in the Comrades Marathon, a gruelling 90 km ultra marathon. The race began in 1921 when it was run for the first time on 24 May. With the exception of a break during World War Two, the race has been run every year since. The direction of the race alternates each year between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The Comrades is the world’s largest ultra marathon.
Thousands of runners take part in the Comrades Marathon every year. Photo Credit: comrades.runnersworld.co.za
The Midmar Mile
The Midmar Mile is a famous South African open water swim held across the Midmar Dam in Pietermaritzburg. The swim is officially recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest open water swimming event. People of all ages, sizes, able and disabled bodied athletes as well as serious and recreational swimmers meet up in February each year to take on the challenge. The length of the swim is one mile (roughly 1.6km).
A aerial view of the Midmar Dam and start of the swimming event. Photo credit: www.midmarmile.co.za
Record Breaking Waves
The forces of nature have not stopped adrenaline seekers and sportsmen who live for the thrill of the ride. The waves at Dungeons, a surfing spot in the town of Hout Bay in the Western Cape, is recognised as one of 16 big wave spots around the globe. Dungeons is well known for the annual Red Bull Big Wave Africa surfing contest and for swells of up to 47 feet (14.3 m). Waves of up to 70ft (20m) have been recorded, a record breaking height!
A Diamond Nation – Rocks Fit for a Queen
It is well known that the largest rough diamond was found in South Africa. The Cullinan diamond is named after Sir Thomas Cullinan who owned the Premier diamond mine near Pretoria where it was discovered on 26 January 1905. The diamond weighing 3106 carats is about the size of a 330 ml soft drink can. The diamond was later cut into three pieces in Amsterdam. The Cullinan l is the largest of the nine diamonds that were cut and at 530,4 carats, it is the largest white polished diamond in the world. The gem is mounted in the head of the British royal sceptre. The second largest diamond, the Cullinan II weighs 317.4 carats and was set in the front of the circlet of the Imperial State Crown.
Glass copies of the nine diamonds cut from the Cullinan.
Walking in the footsteps of Dinosaurs
In 1977 an important discovery was made by the late professor James Kitching after he found a cluster of dinosaur eggs and embryos in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park situated in the Free State province. The Greater Karoo region of South Africa is another famous place for fossil findings and remains one of the richest fossil repositories in the world.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Photo Credit:http://www.southafrica.net/
The Oldest Mountains on Earth
The mountains around the town of Barberton are the oldest in the world and date back to 3.5 billion years. Some of the oldest gold and fossils have been found in these rocky mountain ranges and it is a wonderland for geologists who have claimed that these mountains contain the ‘greatest cross section of the Earth’s geology available on the planet’. Some of South Africa’s mountain ranges such as the Waterberg, Magaliesberg and Pilanesberg rank among the top 10 oldest mountains in the world.
Barberton is cradled by the Makhonjwa Mountains. Photo Credit: http://www.southafrica.net/
What do you love about South Africa?
CONTRIBUTED BY KATE COLLINS
Here are some incredible bird shots taken by Tony Goldman on a trip to the African bush. Enjoy!
One of the more colourful residents of the Lowveld, the crested barbet is able to call almost indefinitely by using one of its bronchial tubes to breathe in and out while using the other tube to vocalise.
Bright colours in flowers serve mainly to attract pollinators such as sunbirds. Pictured here is a collared sunbird, whose iridescent green head and yellow underbelly are unmistakeable.
Portrayed as harbingers of doom in many cultures, vultures still perform a vital function in the bush as waste removal technicians. Here a white-backed vulture hunches over as it anticipates the first thermals of the day.
Spring is here and the European bee-eaters should be arriving any day now, with the southern carmine bee-eaters following a month or two in their wake. Little bee-eaters, like the one pictured here, are resident at Londolozi all year and are a favourite subject for bird photographers.
Another collared sunbird, from a different angle this time. The blooming of many flowers around the camp has been providing a bonanza for these birds of late.
The lilac-breasted roller subsists largely on small invertebrates such as beetles, and vertebrates as well, as this unfortunate frog discovered.
A female paradise flycatcher. These beautiful inhabitants of riparian vegetation are estimated to occur at a density of one pair every 150m in suitable habitat. the male of the species looks almost identical but has a much longer tail.
The beak and eye colour of this red-billed oxpecker provides a wonderful contrast with the black and white tones of a Burchell’s Zebra’s coat.
Photographed by Tony Goldman
Let’s face it — as an enthusiastic wildlife photographer I am always interested in learning more techniques and styles of the art; I view every photo taken as part of a greater learning curve. Using a range of equipment is even more educational, however, opportunities are hard to come by. As an avid Nikon user I had very limited experience with Sigma products but was interested to hear about the newer range of lenses containing a Nikon mount. The huge range of this particular lens, from 150 mm all the way to 600 mm, caught my eye immediately and I couldn’t wait to put it to the test.
Sean: The presence of this powerful lens is immediately felt when first handled. As the SPORT edition of this large range lens has been outfitted with a weather-sealed protection and a solid hold to guard against knocks and rattles, it makes its weight known from the outset. This creates an impression of quality and sturdiness which is well received in the testing scenarios often faced in wildlife photography.
In warm morning light, this distant but slow moving subject could be captured at a decent shutter speed without needing to push up the ISO at all. 1/800 at f/6.3; ISO 250 (at 600mm).
The reversible lens hood also carries lots of weight, which pleased me as this front area of the lens would face potentially more contact and would hold up strongly if an improvised dead rest on something other than a beanbag were necessary. This hood can also be quickly secured or removed which is hugely advantageous during shooting. Additionally, the revolving mount with click-in-place junctions at 90 degrees is a clever feature, making the process of mounting a camera straight very simple.
A brilliantly included zoom coil lock has been included, which at first I incorrectly assumed would not be helpful. It proved to be a very beneficial mechanism and certainly made all the difference on some occasions.
In even stronger morning light, a slight increase in ISO allowed me to get this sharp moment as this young male lion briefly glanced up. 1/1600 at f/6.3; ISO 500 (at 600mm).
Again at full zoom, and even against harshly reflecting sunlight, a low ISO allowed for a high shutter speed, perfectly freezing this hunting hamerkop. 1/1250 at f/6.3; ISO 320 (at 600mm).
TMP: Having to handhold a camera is a common occurrence during wildlife photography especially in those ”in the moment” shots. How did you manage with the weight and handling of the rather large 150 – 600mm Sports lens?
SC: Any lens anywhere near the 600mm range is going to be a heavy one, and all forms of suggested use would recommend shooting from some form of a dead rest for sharp images. This lens is no exception. Initially, the weight feels manageable for handheld shooting. However, like any large prime lens this action gets strenuous very quickly and camera shake becomes an issue. Although this was no surprise, I found that a short burst of handheld shooting was perfectly adequate in the moment, particularly with fast moving subjects like a running animal or a bird in flight.
I couldn’t believe how sharp this Hooded Vulture came out as he soared past us. The sunlight lit its front and a higher ISO and open aperture allowed for a very sharp capture. 1/2000 at f/6.3; ISO 500 (at 600mm)
Three mode switches of autofocus on the side of the lens provide a quick focal range selection, to keep the lens working within chosen distances. They offer focal ranges of 2.5-10m, 10m-infinity, and full range. This is often very helpful, either in situations with very close subjects and a distant background or when subjects are partially covered by unfavourable obstructions such as leaves or branches. A great tool for the task of capturing a moment.
From the driver’s seat of my safari vehicle I was more than capable of quickly resting the lens up on a loose beanbag atop either my steering wheel or front dash. This gave me sharp results as well as a comfortable shooting position in a stable sighting. A quick handheld series of shots for an overhead eagle or a displaying roller was manageable as well. However, for optimum results I would recommend a movable mount such as a Wimberley Arm, providing both a dead still rest and a wide range of smooth movement for tracking fast motion.
During this dark and gloomy morning there was hardly any light on offer. A large beanbag held my setup dead still while I was able to capture this dark subject in tough conditions. The result was better than I had expected at such a high zoom for the situation we were in. 1/640 at f/5.6; ISO 2000 (at 300mm).
Another example where low light was an issue. However, a stationary dead rest along my dash board allowed this slow shutter at full zoom to capture this Dwarf Mongoose. 1/60 at f/6.3; ISO 1000 (at 600mm).
I have always enjoyed showing more surroundings in my photographs but this lens allowed me to explore the close and tight perspectives. Without revealing height or scenario, this moment creates questioning. This descending Leopard photograph came out very sharp for another quickly improvised handheld shot. 1/2000 at f/6.0; ISO 1250 (at 350mm).
TMP: I can imagine the wide range of this lens must make it exciting to use as there are a variety of different shots you could take. Did you find the range and zoom effective?
SC: Although the large 600mm zoom was a huge attraction for me, the range was what I found most impressive. There could be times during low light when possibly a wider aperture at 150mm would be desired, but f/5.0 can still produce great results.. While at full zoom, the lens produces amazing results with a very manageable f/6.3 to challenge many prime lenses. Again, low light may affect shutter speed at this high zoom but to have the range as an option is something special. For somebody shooting with only one body, as I have been doing, the ability to photograph an unfolding scene at 150mm and then to immediately hone in on a specific feature and frame a detail at 600mm, this lens offers wonderful versatility.
A low angle of these mating Lions not too far away was still manageable at minimum zoom, with the female’s paws in blur but the slower sand grains on the left frozen in the air. 1/320 at f/5.0; ISO 500 (at 150mm).
Although full zoom here would’ve nicely detailed this Cheetah, a middle range zoom included most of his surroundings as well as the beautiful band of sunset orange. 1/250 at f/6.3; ISO 2500 (at 230mm).
An opportunity I had wished for for a long time. This leopard cub in (almost) clear view painted with golden light is comfortably framed. The mid-range zoom did not let me down and even as a handheld shot the result was pleasingly sharp. 1/500 at f/6.3; ISO 1250 (at 360mm).
TMP: There is always discussions about aperture when it comes to lenses and the impact they have on one’s images. How did you find the aperture with this lens and what was the depth of field like?
SC: As dealt with throughout this review, the aperture plays an important role in the final result and is under a lot of scrutiny with any long zoom lens, particularly one with a large range like this one.
I found that this handled the pressure sufficiently and only began raising questions in really low light conditions when most other lenses would battle too. The tradeoff one would consider would be whether a smaller zoom lens managing f/2.8 would produce equal results, be it with a smaller subject in the frame, than this lens would while getting much closer; this may come down to personal preference.
I did find, though, that in normal lighting conditions at full zoom the f/6.3 aperture produced a very tight depth of field and beautiful sharp-to-blur results were possible. In most instances, a much smaller aperture was used to include only a few centimetres extra in depth. At 600mm the control of focal depth is precise, and one can really begin experimenting.
As this Hippo bull filled the frame, it was only from the smaller aperture that both the eyes and the ears could be in focus, while still retaining the faded back covered in scars. 1/500 at f/9.0; ISO 1000 (at 600mm).
While this subject was not very distant, a smaller aperture increased the depth of field, keeping his whiskers, wrinkled nose and teeth sharp while blurring his mane. 1/500 at f/8.0; ISO 800 (at 600mm).
SC: There are always going to be trade-offs when selecting different products, each with their own draw card. The new SPORTS 150-600mm is undeniably a heavy piece of equipment with an arguably narrow aperture. However, not only is its clarity superb, its image stabilisation system fine-tuned and effective, and its auto-focus surprisingly quick, but it will also withstand the inherently rough and testing conditions faced in wildlife photography. Rattles during the journey, bumps and knocks which may occur in the heat of the rush to get ‘that one shot’ or even dusty or wet conditions are not likely to phase this armoured lens.
The price to pay for its invulnerability will have to be in its shooting platform. Any form of a dead rest will prove more than adequate and an mount secured by the lens mounting arm would be a best bet. Handheld shooting is possible, but limited.
The range that this lens offers is not easily found elsewhere and it gives the user a great variety of photographic options by allowing experimentation and precision control; all while never needed to put down or change to an alternative or additional setup. The minimum aperture of f/5.0 is not very limiting at 150mm and expectations can still be achieved. Only in very low light scenarios may a wider aperture be desired.
In my opinion, the absence of such a wide aperture is outweighed by the freedom the user receives in the zoom range and the variety of shots available between 150-600mm. The sharp images obtained out in the field exceeded expectations and the lens is a product to be taken seriously in the circles of wildlife photography, whatever one’s skill level.
From less that 3 meters away I was able to focus on this minute Bark Spider at full zoom. I enjoyed the spectrum of colours scattered across her small web. 1/500 at f/9.0; ISO 800 (at 600mm).
The iridescence of Starlings makes for difficult photography. Luckily, this gentle light limited the shimmer and allowed me to expose correctly during a preening session. 1/500 at f/6.3; ISO 250 (at 600mm).
Another experimental shot, where opportunity is available at 600mm. A male lion’s front paws sweep over the detailed terrain. 1/1600 at f/6.3; ISO 500 (at 600mm).
One of my favourites produced with the lens; one can still capture great detail while keeping a bit of distance. 1/320 at f/6.3; ISO 1600 (at 600mm).
Written by Trevor McCall-Peat and Sean Cresswell.
Photographed by Sean Cresswell
If you haven’t been to South Africa and are eager to learn what kind of magic you’d encounter if you go, there are simply so many things to do and see and the country is so beautiful, that it would take a massive book to recount all the fabulous things the country has to offer. To start, here are fabulously fun and impressive facts about South Africa. Be sure to check out the rest of our South Africa coverage for more insights and photos.
The Greatest Shoal on Earth
The Sardine run occurs every year during May through July when millions of sardines spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas bank. A cold northerly current causes the sardines to move north from the Agulhas bank up to Mozambique. While not much is known about this phenomenon, it is believed that the water temperature has to drop below 21 degrees Celsius in order for the migration to take place. The sheer numbers of sardines invites a feeding frenzy to take place and superpods of dolphins, thousands of sharks, whales and gannets find their place in the waters and chase after, gorging mouthfuls of fish.
The Cape Floral Kingdom – The Richest of the World’s Six Floral Kingdoms
With the beginning of spring it seems appropriate to mention that South Africa, namely the Cape Floral Kingdom, has the richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. The Table Mountain National Park in the Western Cape has more plant species in its 22 000 hectares than New Zealand or the British Isles. It contains nearly 20% of the continent’s flora of which 68% of its species are endemic (plant species that only occur in this region and are not found anywhere else in the world).
From August through to the beginning of October, the Cape regions of South Africa have some of the best wildflower sightings. Popular places for flower spotting are along the West Coast of South Africa in the West Coast National Park and in the Northern Cape in the Namaqualand National Park.
The World’s Second Highest Waterfall
Image Credit: Copyright of Dom Wills / 500px
South Africa holds another world record with the second highest waterfall situated within the Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg. The Tugela Falls consist of five drops with the highest sheer drop at 441 meters. The highest waterfall in the world is the Angel Falls in Venezuela – there have however been many disputes as to which one is actually the tallest. The Angel Falls is universally regarded as having the tallest single uninterrupted drop of any waterfall in the world.
World Beating Wines
South Africa’s reputation for producing excellent wines is well known and this has been recognised with many wine awards, most notably in both the red and white single varietal categories that have regularly won top prizes in the prestigious World Wine Awards. South Africa also has the longest wine route (and we could also argue the most beautiful) in the world along Route 62 (850 km), stretching from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
There’s the Graham Beck Brut N/V, which is the same sparkling wine that First Lady Michelle Obama elected for her husband President Barrack Obama’s celebrations on his election night, and the same wine that Nelson Mandela used to toast to his inauguration in 1994.
World’s Best Land-Based Whale-Watching Spot
The seaside town of Hermanus on the southern coast of the Western Cape is a prime spot for whale watching and the best land-based spot to see the giants of the sea as they come to the waters of the Cape to mate, calve and nurse their young.
The whales can be seen from as early as June but usually depart by December each year – the most common whale to spot is the Southern right but you’ll also be able to see humpback and Bryde’s whales. The coastal town also has its very own Whale Crier – the world’s only one – who blows a horn when whales are sighted. The first whale crier Pieter Classen began at his post in 1992 and continued until 1998. His role has since been taken over but the job of the Whale Crier remains…
Written by Kate Collins.
No truer statement could epitomize wildlife photography than the one by Ralph Waldo Emerson below. The review of the Sigma lens below features Trevor McCall-Peat who has spent the past two weeks testing it out and here are his thoughts.
“Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Trevor: I am working with the Sigma Team to bring two aspects of gear testing together: A range of new lenses and the most testing conditions in the wild. Our challenge was to put them to work. I took some time to read up on these Sigma products and the reviews available on various sites. My excitement to try them out for myself grew with each review. Over the coming months I will be heading out into the field, armed with a variety of Sigma lenses and sharing some of my thoughts.
I have read nothing but exceptional reviews and comments about the new range of Sigma lenses, and it certainly seems as though they have done an outstanding job in accommodating a photographer’s every need when investing in a lens. Having said this, I look forward to putting all of what I’ve read about these lenses to the test. I have a Canon 1D Mark IV and will be using the Sigma lenses with this body – the first of which was the 120-300mm F/2.8 DG OS HSM | SPORTS
Amanda: What was your first impression of the lens?
TMP: Taking this lens out of its case for the first time and attaching it to my camera, I was immediately struck by the sleek look of the new set-up. It is an impressively sized lens but has a very smooth and slick look to it. I have to say it is definitely a lens that is pleasing to the eye.
The Sigma for Canon 120-300mm F/2.8 is a sleek looking lens
This was the first picture I took using the new set-up. I was so excited to use the lens I simply could not wait to get out into the field. I have been trying to get this image for quite some time, which has now become a reality when I attached a 1.4x converter to the lens. From a dead rest, I was able to capture the moon rising. ISO 100, F/4, 1/200 at 420mm
AR: The 120-300 lens can be quite a hefty piece of equipment to carry around. How did you find the weight and handling?
TMP: Being a rather large lens, I expected that it would be a heavy one too, weighing in at about 3.9 kilograms. Even so, I found it manageable, even when hand-held, and over time (using it on a daily basis) the weight soon becomes less noticeable.
Working in the conditions that I do – whether it’s the bumpy roads or the potential of knocking it against the vehicle in the excitement of getting the shot – I always worry about protecting my equipment, but this lens has a solid, hardy feel which erased any concerns about its ability to withstand tougher conditions.
Beautiful light and a great photographic opportunity allowed me to hand hold my camera for a good ten minutes waiting to get this shot of the Mashaba female’s cub as he locked eyes with us after repositioning and feeding. Running on sheer adrenaline from an incredible sighting of this cub I didn’t even notice the weight of the lens. ISO 640, F/4, 1/800 at 300mm
Sitting with a herd of waterbuck, this young female stood rigidly right beside us. Normally, before I can even take my camera out of my bag, waterbuck change position or move off but on this occasion she stayed still. ISO 640, F/4, 1/1000 at 300mm
AR: With a longer telephoto lens, stability can often be a problem. How did this lens perform?
TMP: Being a larger lens, stabilisation is crucial and the two OS (optical stabiliser) modes come in very handy. OS 1 being vertical and horizontal stabilisation and OS 2 being better suited for panning(vertical). One really notices these modes on cooler cloudy days when light is limited and when shooting difficult angles where handheld is the only option.
Photographing in very poor light can be tricky at times in terms of quality of your image. On this afternoon there was thick cloud cover, but by using a bean bag to rest my camera and lens on I was afforded the stability to capture this image. ISO 1000, F/4, 1/200 at 300mm
Using OS1 mode gave me an advantage in capturing this beautiful backlit male lion. This male was marching towards his brother who was lying down behind us. In the heat of the moment (and with no dead rest) I turned my body and took the shot hand-held. In dark conditions I found myself extremely impressed with the lens’ capability. ISO 1000 F/2.8 1/200 at 250mm
AR: We often get so close to the wildlife here, what did you think of the range of the lens?
TMP: I have had issues in the past (while not major, but certainly noticeable) where other lenses on the market to date have been limiting at times. I have had to either change lenses depending on subject, distance and light or have two camera bodies and constantly switch between the two in sightings which can, and has, resulted in a good photographic opportunity being missed. Having the range of the 120 – 300mm I have had no such issues and I feel that in the moment of action, I have the ability to get the composition I am looking for and do so without battling to switch my lenses or equipment.
With a hyena moving around in the area and the remains of a kill hanging in a tree close by, the Piva male was very aware of his surroundings and was constantly changing position. The distance would have been just too far for a 200mm lens, but instead of having to crop an image or change lenses, the 300mm was the perfect fit for this shot. ISO 800 F/2.8 1/500 at 300mm
AR: Sharpness is always a huge consideration when using a telephoto lens. How did you find the sharpness and focus?
TMP: The focusing mechanism is smooth and fast, I was surprised at how quickly the focus locks onto its target. Not once have I struggled in terms of focusing. The focusing mechanism is also internal which, for someone who works out in the field every day, is a bonus as there is minimal space for dust to gather and potentially affect the working parts.
It is always entertaining to spend time at a hyena den and this time it was no different. This little hyena had us in stitches as it was still very young and shy but very inquisitive. With the help of the sharp, fast zoom I was able to snap this shot of the youngster as it popped its head out of the burrow to have a brief look at us. ISO 800, F/4, 1/500 at 300mm
AR: Here’s the big question: we have spoken about range, but how is the zoom on this lens?
TMP: The versatility and speed of this lens is incredible, focusing at 120mm from just 1.5 meters (5 feet) and at 2.5 meters (close to nine feet) for 300mm which is essential when photographing in a dynamic environment where your subject can be moving and shooting conditions are constantly changing. The ease at which you can go from 120mm to 300mm is great and when combined with the extremely fast focus, shooting moving targets becomes a breeze.
The beauty of having a long zoom lens with the luxury of shooting with an F-stop of 2.8 is that it creates a shallow depth of field which I used in this image. I wanted to emphasis the eye and by focusing only on the eye it creates blur in the surrounding areas. You can almost feel the intensity in his gaze. ISO 1000, F/2.8, 1/1600 at 300mm
A close up of the Mashaba female shows great detail but also adds emotion to the image, especially converted into black and white. ISO 800 F/2.8 1/640 at 300mm
AR: With an aperture of F/2.8, you would expect great things from the performance of this lens. What was your experience?
TMP: Even before my first shot with this lens the one thing that stood out to me was the aperture. Whether you are at minimal or maximum zoom, the aperture (ranging from F/2.8 to F/22) can remain the same. I found this incredibly beneficial when out in the bush and, with conditions being as unpredictable as they are, it meant that I had the freedom to change it accordingly and be one hundred percent confident that I would get the shot.
I was very interested to see how this lens would perform in low light – whether it be on a gloomy, cloudy day or using a spotlight in the cover of night. The results I achieved were phenomenal. Previously when lighting was tricky I would never be confident of capturing the photograph perfectly, and often on my return to the lodge, when downloading my images my concerns would be confirmed. I often found images soft or even slightly grainy even when using a low ISO. Using this lens I was confident that my image would be the standard I expect it to be without an element of doubt in my mind.
In tough light the lens still performs at a high tempo. The eye contact from this Matshiphiri male is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/160 at 300mm
With overcast conditions photography can be tough, but I love the challenge. Wildlife photography is always unpredictable and so many outside factors control your image. A male cheetah stands tall, scanning the area for any potential prey. ISO 1000, F4, 1/320 at 180mm
AR: Your final verdict?
TMP: Having used this lens over the past couple of weeks, and really paying attention to its capabilities and handling in certain situations, I have been amazed time and time again. Sigma have done a phenomenal job in creating a truly remarkable lens and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed using. I realise this is a big statement to make but based on my recent experience, if I had one choice of lens when out in the field, it would be the Sigma 120 – 300mm F2.8.
Take a look at the rest of the images that Trevor has captured during his lens test:
The Piva male gave us great photographic opportunities to capture different angles. Once again the light was tough but the result is one that I’m very happy with. ISO 800, F/4, 1/400 at 300mm
Using the rule of thirds and a very tight angle I tried to capture a tight intimate feel with this beautiful Styx male. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/160 at 300mm
Playing around in my garden one afternoon I had fun photographing this nyala as she groomed herself. It is a very unusual image with the focus being off centre, with rich contrasting colours. ISO 640, F/2.8, 1/1250 at 300mm
This was my first time seeing the Matimba males. They have been seen on our property over the past two weeks and I am in awe of their size. This male had just fed and his discomfort was noticeable as he constantly rolled around trying to keep weight off his full stomach. ISO 800, F/4, 1/400 at 300mm
Being able to shoot 300mm at F/2.8 allows for the same feeling and effect you would have with a fixed lens. I was able to take a close up image of this male cheetah smelling the tree for any past scents that may have been left by other cheetahs or animals. Iso 1000, F/2.8, 1/320 at 300mm
The second brother of the Matimba coalition. This male was passed out sleeping for a lengthy period of time and was awakened by a nearby vulture repositioning in the tree. The presence this male created with a single stare was instantly felt by all. ISO 800, F/4, 1/320 at 250mm
Positioning ourselves in the Sand River, we had a great low angle view while we watched a breeding herd of elephants move through the waterway. This young elephant separated itself from the herd temporarily to feed on the luscious vegetation growing in the riverbed. ISO 400, F/5, 1/3200 at 200mm
A lioness listens to distant nyala alarm call, possibly indicating the position of the rest of her pride. At 300mm this lens creates a fair amount of blur behind the subject which adds emphasis to the lioness’s face. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/1000 at 300mm
With dark surroundings contrasting with the lighter golden colour of the Piva male’s coat, a black and white conversion really makes the leopard stand out. ISO 800, F/4, 1/320 at 235mm
This old buffalo bull stood dead still and gazed at us for a long time, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through his mind, what he thought of us and what he must have seen in his life. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/2500 at 300mm
Leaving camp one morning we found the Styx males resting almost on our doorstep. They had been calling throughout the evening and the dry conditions remaining from winter aided in creating a clear image. ISO, 1000 F/2.8, 1/320 at 300mm
This young hyena was just looking for affection from its mother, who was just interested in catching a late morning sleep. Iso 800, F/2.8, 1/400 at 260mm
It is always a privilege to be able to spend time with these animals and to share intimate moments like this with them. ISO 800, F/2.8, 1/500 at 300mm
This is probably one of my favourite images that I have ever taken. What looks like a growl is the tail-end of a yawn by the Piva male – the backlighting of his teeth makes this image for me. ISO 1000, F/2.8, 1/500 at 300mm
Written by Trevor McCall-Peat and Amanda Ritchie and Photographed by Trevor McCall-Peat,
Disclosure: Lens provided by SIGMA.