Preston Richey

HP #8: Hello Telephoto

This is a version of a post I sent out via my email newsletter. If you’d like to follow along, you can sign up here.

Hi all, happy February.

In my 2021 roundup post, I talked a lot about my Fujifilm X100V, a camera I bought for myself as a rugged better-than-iPhone daily driver. And it is very much that! But something it is not (and this is a very specific something) is a birding camera.

Its 35mm equivalent prime lens is great for a wide range of subjects, but not for anything particularly small and far away (both of which birds tend to be - I learned this in my ‘Intro to Birding’ Zoom seminar in April 2020).

Cardinal at Prospect Park, X100V
Cardinal at Prospect Park, X100V

Having given up on using my X100V for birds, I tried the ‘iPhone through the binocs’ approach, to rare and fleeting success. I could produce (maybe, and even then not very reliably) photographic proof of sighting a bird, and even then who was actually challenging me on having seen a northern waterthrush? (Answer: no one.)

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480p Summer Tanager at Green-Wood Cemetery

So, I gave up on the prospect of any serious bird photography and stuck to my binoculars. That was, until I got an email from my grandfather, who was offering up a lightly used (but recently obsoleted) Sony full-frame digital - an A7 Mark III. He, a retired hobbyist photographer who has sold black-and-white prints at regional art shows, still maintains a home studio and travels with serious gear. Needless to say, I jumped at his offer.

The camera didn’t come with a lens, so I bought an inexpensive 50mm prime (a ‘nifty fifty’) and started researching telephotos. After reading dozens of online reviews and a handful of comparison videos on YouTube, I finally settled on the middle-of-the-road but fully capable Sigma 100-400mm. I found a ‘like new’ open box listing on eBay and pulled the trigger.

The weekend after I received the lens, a nor’easter hit NYC and much of New England. I layered up and trudged over to a freshly blanketed Prospect Park to see what I would see. Here are a few of my favorite shots with my new telephoto:

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove

After spending hours at the park, I decided I wanted to see more, so I jumped on the Q heading towards Coney Island. I got off at Brighton Beach and, after picking up Turkish coffee and baklava, walked along the shore to Coney Island.

Ring-billed Gull
Ring-billed Gull

I have lots to learn, between the new Sony camera, its hulking telephoto appendage, and the rest (composition, editing, etc.). Framing photos is a challenge even when your subject is staying put, let alone flitting from branch to branch in the canopy 40 feet above.

Initially, I was on the fence about keeping the lens - its price was a hefty amount to spend on something I have no intention of using in any sense professionally. But after spending just a few hours peeking through the viewfinder, and now looking over these shots (there are more!), I’m incredibly excited about shooting (and sharing) more.