Wildlife Cameraman Blog

Category Archives: Equipment

Filming Robins Under Streetlight

Filming Robins Under Streetlight

In the last couple of weeks I have been filming Robins Under Streetlight.

Filming Robins Under Streetlight
The robin torch

I searched for ‘Filming Robins Under Streetlight’ in Google and didn’t find much.  Why would anyone want to photograph robins under streetlight anyway? For more information about robins follow the robin link to the RSPB’s information. In the information it quite specifically states that robins will sing at night under streetlight. During the winter I found that they are more likely to sing in the first couple of hours before dawn and maybe a little in the evening.

In the Dark

Robins are all over the place. They are more common where there is woodland nearby, at least, this is my recent experience. Part of the job entailed me finding a convenient and workable filming location. Bare in mind that filming had to take place in the early hours of the morning in an urban area.  Inevitably you  look suspicious carrying around binoculars, a huge camera and a torch at 5 o’clock in the morning, but so far I haven’t been arrested. This is the sort of thing I find myself doing as a wildlife cameraman, but not often!

I found a quiet backstreet where the houses were away from my line of filming and robins were singing fairly regualrly in two bushes quite near to streetlights. Unfortunately they tend to shun the brightest areas of illumination.  Even with the ISO of a Sony F55 cranked up to 8000 in Custom Mode the robins were barely visible in the viewfinder.  I also experienced a strobing effect caused by the orange lights. Whatever I did it wouldn’t go away.

The Torch

The answer was to add some light to the situation. High tech lighting came in the form of a Homebase LED torch.  At the princely sum of £16.99 it was a bargain.  Bright white light was incorrect, so I placed a few layers of 85 conversion gel over the front. In my line of work I haven’t had to use that stuff for years. Additional to the focused beam the lamp produces a general wash light and a flashing red one, which I hope I never have to use.

tools of the wildlife cameraman trade
A lot of power for a cheap torch

I positioned the torch on the ground and propped it up with a camera battery. I pointed it at the vague area where the robin usually sang. The distance between torch and tree was at least ten metres so it’s bright. Perhaps that’s why the robin moved a couple of feet from its usual singing spot. With care I crossed the road to where the torch sat on the pavement and teased it around so that the penumbra of the light was illuminating the bird. Happily it stayed there. For  a while it made the ‘tic tic’ sound that they often make, but it didn’t seem bothered by my presence. In fact it sang a few phrases until a cat stalked underneath the tree and it flew off.

Success

The net result of the shenanigans is a few decent shots of a robin singing under a mixture of streetlight and torchlight. From a wildlife cameraman point of view it’s okay and if any hopeful wildlife cameraman phones me up looking for experience I think I’ll suggest filming robins under streetlight as a challenge.  It has  been challenging. Robins are very difficult to spot amongst foliage at night and that’s true even when the streetlight illumination is quite good. Definitely a good challenge. Ideally you need an assistant but it’s done now so I don’t need one, sorry.

 

The humble on-off switch

The humble on-off switch

The humble on-off switch is one of the human interfaces with the camera. For the wildlife cameraman it is a very important one. Most of us prefer to have a switch on the tripod handle.  There is a simple reason for this. The right hand will be glued to the tripod handle.  The left will be on the focus ring of the lens. Even scratching your ear, or other parts of your anatomy, can demand huge inner psychological trauma: dare I risk taking my hands off the rig?  Well, you know what I mean. There is a very limited range of tripod handle switches for cameras, and all of them are expensive for what they are.

The humble on-off switch
The humble on-off switch

The picture above is a simple LanParte on-off switch.  Well, let me revise that.  It is an on-off switch. I bought it here. The information that accompanies the unit states that it works with Blackmagic and Sony cameras using the LANC protocol. It’s a very nice little unit, and comes with a sturdy clamp that slips over a tripod handle.  It might fit some handles well, but the inner diameter is about 3 cm, which is very ‘fat’.

LanParte lanc protocol
LanParte lanc protocol

The switch comes apart with four Phillips head screws. The body construction is a solid aluminium alloy, anodised. So is the red on-off switch.  Those are the two main non electronic parts of the switch.  Why did I take it apart? Because it does not work with a Panasonic AG AF101. It won’t work on any Panasonic because Panasonic has its own protocols. If you connect this unit to the S/S of a Panasonic with a 2.5 mm stereo lead nothing will happen when you press the button. If you adapt the 2.5 mm up to 3.5 mm and plug it into the zoom-focus-iris connector of the Panasonic it will have some effect, but not what you want.  For an on-off switch this starts to sound ridiculously complicated.

Lanparte switch exposed
LanParte switch exposed

Inside the unit has a momentary switch, a circuit board and a female 2.5 mm jack. For my Panasonic the circuit board is redundant: it is designed to communicate with Sony cameras (and Blackmagic). The Panasonic s/s (start stop) terminal works like this: close the circuit momentarily and the camera will start; close it again momentarily and the camera will stop.  That’s all I want it to do. I could pay £160.00 for one of these but there is little point, as the lenses I have for the AG AF101 do not have motorised zooms. I really do only want the humble on-off switch. From a wildlife cameraman point of view, the simpler the better.

Switch rewired
Switch rewired

It seemed a shame to destroy the insides of the LanParte, but it had to be done. I removed the circuit board entirely. A new momentary switch sat very nicely on a pedestal within the body of switch. A 2.5 mm jack also fitted very neatly.  It only remained to solder the correct terminals of the jack to the switch and screw it back together. There are probably easier and cheaper ways of doing this, but the switch is aesthetically very ‘sweet’, and doesn’t look like it’ll fall to bits in use. It should stay on the handle of the tripod for the duration of shoots without too much trouble. That said, watch this space.

Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter

Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter

Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter

I took delivery of a Metabones Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter Mark IV the other day. It was supplied by Epic TV. It was bought as part of a wildlife cameraman rig. I didn’t want to buy a new camera.  The aim is to get a few more miles out of a Panasonic AG AF101.  The Metabones adapter will allow me to fit a Sigma 150-600 mm Sport lens with a Canon EF mount to the camera.

Panasonic AG AF101 with Metabones adapter
Metabones adapter on Panasonic

This is a pretty old camera now.  It does not do 4k or anything higher, and never will.  It is an HD camera pushing out a maximum of 28 Mb per sec. This isn’t about the camera though. I will be using it for my own purposes, and did not want to fork out several thousand pounds on any camera at the moment.  If I had to it would probably be a Sony FS7, but in a month’s time it might be something else. The Panasonic GH4 comes highly recommended too.

Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter
Metabones adapter

The Metabones adapter has eleven electrical contacts as you can see above. The mount of the AG AF101 also has eleven electrical contacts.  The Canon EF mount only has 8 contacts there I assume 3 of the Panasonic contacts are redundant and non-functioning.

Panasonic AG AF101 mount
Panasonic AG AF101 mount
Canon EF mount
Canon EF mount on camera

If you have, say, a Lumix lens on the AG AF101, it will twist very slightly in the mount.  The same applies to the Metabones adapter, and I can only imagine that this is inherent in the design of the camera mount.  It’s far from ideal: when you have a zoom with a stiff action the lens will rotate slightly in the mount when you zoom in and out.  You really don’t want that happening.  Happily, with a good baseplate and lens support this twist is entirely eliminated. Ask any wildlife cameraman about this and you will be told how disconcerting it is to have any amount of play or slack in a long lens set up.

Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter
Metabones adapter between AG AF101 and 1.4x Sigma adapter fitted to Sigma 150-600 mm lens

I had become so used to lenses with manual irises that I had forgotten that Canon EF lenses are controlled electronically. There is no aperture ring.The Metabones Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter Mark IV allows aperture control in two ways with the AG AF101. There is a little toggle lever on the adapter: when you press it downwards the lens stops down and vice versa. On the Panasonic body there is a roller wheel aperture control, and this works also with the adapter in situ.  The strange thing is, that if you have the camera powered up and use the toggle on the adapter it stops the roller wheel on the camera having any effect until you power up again, as if it overrides it permanently until you reboot.  The other odd thing is that neither of the aperture controls work until you power up the camera twice in a row! On first power up there is no indication of aperture control at all and if you usually have aperture displayed in the viewfinder it will not display.  Does the adapter need a small amount of residual power in it on camera boot to enable the aperture controls to work.  I don’t know the answer to that, but for wildlife camera work it is a bit irritating.  That said, this camera will boot up several times more quickly than a Sony F55.

 

Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter aperture toggle
Aperture control toggle lever on adapter

The weird thing is that exactly the same thing applies to the image stabiliser.  The image stabiliser does work with this rig.  Again, for the vast majority of long lens wildlife cameraman work you will have the rig on a hefty tripod (within the bounds of what you can sensibly carry). For that reason a stabiliser can be frowned upon… however, when you’re locked off and it’s blowing a gale it can have its uses.  I can’t wait to try it.  The wind is blowing rather a lot this year.

The Canon EF Micro Four Thirds Smart Adapter Mark IV is a well made little unit.  For what it is I think it is pricey.  You’ll get one for about £300, but there is no glass in them.  It does work, but within this combination it has a couple of interesting quirks that I fail to understand.  I might investigate further, but life’s too short.