"Cardinal on Plum Branch"
This photograph is from my "Songbird" Collection. 

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Named after the magnificent clothing of the Roman Catholic cardinals, the northern cardinal is a species that often needs no introduction to even the most novice bird watcher.  

Although both the female and male cardinal are amazing in beauty, the bright red plumage along with the crest and mask, make the male a striking figure indeed. It could be argued that this bird is the most loved bird in America.   In fact, the northern cardinal is the state bird of seven different states in the USA.

It should also be noted that I find the cardinal to be a very mild mannered bird (except during mating season) and so projects a bird that will win hearts across the world and already has done just that.  

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"An Insect in the Bill is Worth Two in the Bush"
This photograph is from my "Bluebird Project" Collection. 

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During the nesting season, the bluebird is a ravenous consumer of insects.  It is interesting to watch them as the perch on a fence or rotten tree top searching for food.  Once they spot the insect they will swoop in for the kill.  I have personally watched them take insects out of the air as well.

I for one am happy that these beautiful hunters are among us.  They help keep at bay the insect population, and in return we get to gaze at their royal coloration.  This year, the nesting pair I have been following, are now on their second brood.  I am rooting for them, but I know the second brood is less likely to make it to maturity (at least in my area).

If you have never experienced watching bluebirds raise their young, you are missing out.  Here is a nest box that will suit your needs well.



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It is June 6, 1944, the rough seas, combined with fear make for a sick stomach.  Your landing craft is approaching a beach where entrenched, battle hardened German troops wait to gun you down.  All of this does not stop you from what you know must be done.  You begin to think, "I must stand with my fellow soldiers, my friends.  I can't let them down or the American people. This tyranny and bloodshed has to end!"

The throttle on the landing craft begins to be eased back and you can hear the driver shouting.  Suddenly, the ramp in front of several rows of soldiers drops into the water with a huge splash.  For a moment you can see a beach, but you don't have time to think before German positions just past the open ground begin to fire on your craft.  You hear shouts to, "go go go!"  

You can see the men in front of you start to move, but they barely move a foot before 7.92 mm German MG bullets rip into them.  You have to step on those fallen in front of you, but you manage to make it into the water and make a dash for a tank trap you see ahead. A stray round rips into your left hand and you take cover behind the tank trap. You yell for a medic, but no one can hear you in all the chaos. Seconds are an eternity in what can only be described as destruction and raw carnage.

Later, in a hastily constructed medical tent, you realize that you survived the encounter, but many of your friends did not.  You have to live with the guilt of surviving something they did not.

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Memorial Day, is a day in America where we remember those who fell in battle.  We remember the soldiers who died during harsh winters at Valley Forge, D-Day, the siege of Khe Sanh, the battle for Fallujah and a thousand other unnamed battlefields.
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To help honor those who have fallen, I created this image of a strong bald eagle.  She is battle weary with signs of dirt on her white feathers, but she still stands.  Behind her a battle worn U.S Flag stands as a symbol of freedom and a symbol of all those who have fallen. 

We must never forget their sacrifice for out freedoms!  I will never forget.





"Red Wolf Drinking"
This photograph is from my "Best Sellers" Collection. 

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The red wolf of North Carolina is a somewhat sad story, but a story that still doesn't have a defined ending.  The red wolf was hunted pretty much to extinction in North Carolina, because it was a danger to farm animals and thus the economy of the farm.

Recently, the red wolf has had mixed results being reintroduced.  In the far eastern part of the state, they do have some stability, but there are still far too few of them to say they are stable or on the rise. Hybridization with coyotes has also become a concern. 


In the image above, the viewer is peeking behind the rock in the foreground at almost water level.  The viewer's eyes are met with the eyes of the wolf.  There is strength and determination in those eyes.  There is a hope in those eyes.  The drinking of the water helps reinforce the idea of a hopeful future in the clear, nourishing water.

Perhaps, one day, the red wolf will once again roam the forests of eastern North Carolina in larger numbers and be a stable force once again.  Through conservation, we can possibly keep the numbers stable.



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In the world of iconic and big wildlife lenses, one needs to look no further than at the far end of the massive Canon EF line.  In my mind, there is no other glass that has received more accolades from wildlife photographers than the Canon EF 600 F4 IS II L.

In a recent trip to Florida to photograph the wildlife there, I had an opportunity to use this lens for several days.  This post is a culmination of my thoughts during that trip.  I will examine everything from build quality to the final images.  I hope find it useful and enjoy reading it.


Canon EF 600mm F4 IS L II (Photo courtesy of Canon USA)


SPECIFICATIONS

  • Focal Length:  Fixed, 600mm
  • Maximum Aperture:  F4
  • Image Stabilized:  Yes, 4 stops
  • Lens Construction: 16 elements in 12 groups (Fluorite)
  • Drop in Rear Filter: Yes, 52mm
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 4.5m/14.77 ft.
  • Weight: 11.45 lbs
  • MSRP:  $11,499

BUILD QUALITY/FIT AND FINISH
As I handled this lens day after day, the one word that kept coming to mind was "Tank."  This lens is a tank of a lens.  Additionally, my brother, who also accompanied me on this trip, used that word probably as much or more than I did to describe the lens.  

Those who follow my work, know that I am a run and gun wildlife photographer.  Although I do use a tripod, I do not like it slowing me down, making me miss valuable shots.  You must accept that bias when reading this and understand your style may be different than mine.  Personally, I found the weight of 11.45 lbs to be un-handholdable (is that a word?) for more than 20 seconds at a time.  Most of the time, I would lean against a tree/car or shoot entirely from the car when using it.  I had to be tethered to something the entire time I was shooting.  There was simply no way to run and gun.  I did find it to be great as a "car blind" lens.  I was able to rest it on my Grizzly Bean Bag and the weight really helped with the stability.  

Having said all that, the build was astoundingly rugged.  The lightweight aluminum shell was very strong, manual focusing was buttery smooth and all of the buttons easy to access.  All in all, it is what I have come to expect from a high end "L" lens.  Understand, that the weight does not come from the metal used in its construction, but from the massive front element and other glass elements. 

This lens is also a fully weather proofed, sealed lens, so the photographer can shoot in adverse conditions all he wants, as long as his camera is just as weather proof.  It is a nice feature, but in today's world, even many of the lower priced options also are equally weather proofed.  

I found the build of the 600 to be identical in quality to that of the Canon EF 400mm L.  Click here to read that review.

SHARPNESS AND OPTICAL QUALITY
As one would expect from a lens in this category and expense, the sharpness and contrast was excellent.  This allows the beauty of the subject to pop in the images you will take with it.  I don't know of any way to describe optical quality as it is something that needs to be seen.  The images below speak for themselves.  What do you think? Is the quality worth 11K? I will share my thoughts on that in the conclusion section.


Little Blue Egret - Canon 7D Mark II, ISO 200, F4, 1/400th (Image Stabilized, resting on bean bag)


100% Crop (Roughly) of the above image.


Florida Alligator (Cropped Vertical 50%) Canon EOS 7D, F 7.1, 1/500th of a second, hand held

In the photo of the alligator, pay particular attention to the eyes and around the eyes.  The level of detail is astounding!

AUTO-FOCUS
The AF on this lens is second only to that of the 400 f2.8 in the same line.  It is fast, so fast in fact that you can barely even see it focus. The focusing of the lens is almost silent as one would expect.  In cloudy conditions, the Canon powerhouse outperformed my Sigma 150-600 time and time again.  

If this lens was such a great focusing lens, then where are the flight shots?  Well, there are none with this lens, because it does not fit my style for flight shooting.  I want a lens I can hand hold.  It can be the fastest lens in the world, but if I can't hold it in my hands, pivot with each bird flying, then I am not interested in it.  With this lens, it all comes down to your own style and how this lens fits that style.  The quality is a given with any high end luxury lens.  In the shot below, I was stunned at how fast and how sharp the image was. Even heavily cropped, this image maintained its quality!




FINAL VERDICT
Stunning in optical and build quality, the Canon EF 600 mm F4 IS II is everything I would ever need in those respects.  However, the massive weight at 11.5 pounds, combined with the $11,000 price tag, keeps it from being a run and gun contender for my wildlife photography.  

In my opinion, this lens could act as a primary wildlife lens if you only shoot from vehicles or shoot only from a tripod.  For those folks who have the money, I would take a hard look at purchasing this lens.  It was a true pleasure to shoot with it and be able to provide you with a fact based, field test report. The next section contains a quick list of the pros and cons of this lens.

PROS

  • Build to astounding quality
  • Great image stabilization up to 4 extra stops of hand holding (too bad it is so heavy)
  • F4 aperture provides extra low light performance
  • Super sharp with great resolving power
  • Blazing auto-focus
  • Smooth manual focus ring


CONS

  • Extremely heavy (Imagine holding two newborn babies on one arm out in front of you for long periods of time)
  • Extremely high priced ($11,000 MSRP (US Dollars))
  • Manual focus ring can cause your shots to shift focus when resting on a bean bag
  • 14.7 ft minimum focusing distance

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"Bull Elk"
This photograph is from the "Smoky Mountain Elk" Collection. 

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During the late summer and autumn months, the Rocky Mountain bull elk is a strong and healthy looking animal.  During this time, they begin fighting for territory and gathering their harem for mating.  It is a time of action packed, spectator sport action.  It is the time of the rut.

The bull, in the image above, was the alpha male for a harem of cows numbering about 15 at the time of the time the photograph was taken.  It is possible it grew beyond that as the mating time drew near.  

The Smoky Mountain elk population is very healthy and continues to grow every year.  It is a true joy to see these majestic animals once again roam the eastern states.



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"Dainty"
This photograph is from the "Hummingbird Project" Collection. 

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It is that time again.  Time for the flowers to bloom and the hummingbirds to arrive to once again fill our lives with their magic.  There is simply no bird on earth that can do what the hummingbird can.  It can hover, back up and turn 360 degrees in one spot.  They are something like the helicopter of the bird world, except much more stunning.

I entitled my image "Dainty", because that is certainly the perception we get from viewing these creatures, but if you know anything about the hummingbird, you know they are aggressive toward any other hummer who wanders  into their territory. I have actually witnessed them knock themselves out by flying into a tree while dive bombing another.

However, with the male ruby-throated gorget shinning in the sun like rubies, and the small flowers it is often associated with, they demonstrate that beauty and strength are indeed possible.  When I think of this wonderful bird, I think of beauty first, because there is simply nothing to compare!




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