Thursday, November 24, 2016

Views Around Millerton Lake

Dale Matson

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Bald Eagle

I have a previous article about swimming at Millerton Lake that also provides background information about the half million-acre foot capacity reservoir fed by the San Joaquin River. Millerton Lake is about 15 miles northeast of Fresno California.
             Although I have never water skied or “wet a line” at Millerton Lake (as the fishermen say), There is much to explore around the lake. There are also lots of established campsites and an additional boat launch area on the Madera County side of the lake. Lake is about 50% capacity and being drawn down to accommodate spring snow melt in the Sierra Nevada.
            I recently visited the lake for photographs on three separate days and took photographs from the southwest end near the historic Millerton Courthouse, The north shore in Madera County and from the northeast on a portion of the San Joaquin River Trail. I turned around after only a mile or so of steep climbing from the Fine Gold day use area to Pincushion Peak. The Fine Gold day use area is reached after a 6 mile drive to a dead end on Sky Harbor Drive near the Table Mountain Casino.The lake is surrounded by California State land and is a state park.
            The first day had a sunrise start and a surprise visit from a cooperative Bald Eagle who waited for me to change to a bigger lens on my camera, take some photographs and then fly away. There are trails galore around Millerton Lake and this time of year the Rattle Snakes are less in evidence. Although I have seen several Bobcats over the years, I have never seen a Mountain Lion but I’m sure they have seen me.
            My second day was spent on the Madera County side looking for a Bald Eagle’s nest to no avail but provided opportunities for photograph the lake from a different perspective.
            The third day I spent on the San Joaquin River trail climbing above the lake and later I was back by the Courthouse. I watched a man Kite Surfing the cold waters in a wet suit. We had our final swim of the season a week ago and the water temperature was in the low 60’s.
            Here are the photographs taken with my Sony A7R2, Zeiss Loxia 50mm f2, adapted Canon 400mm f5.6, and Sony Fe 70-300mm lenses. My best and brightest day was my 3rd day.

From Pincushion Mountain

Millerton Courthouse
Canada Geese 

Full View Of The Dam 
 Views From The Madera County Side

 Views Along Sky Harbor Road

Looking Across To The Madera Side At A Lovely Home

 Back To The Courthouse Area

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Work II: Expressing Gratitude Before Nightfall

Dale Matson


My first essay written 6 years ago on the topic of work can be found here:

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.” John 9:4 (NLT)

I was recently lamenting the enormous amount of work to be done on our cabin property. We have had a disastrous die-off of pine trees in California these past few years and our property is no exception. Loggers have felled about 40 dead pines near our cabin and water tanks and marked another 50 trees remaining further out to be downed yet this year. With many of these trees we have removed the limbs, collected the limbs and rented a chipper grind up the limbs and broadcast the debris. This is necessary to reduce the chance of fire and reduce clutter. The logs have no market value and are simply left to rot on the forest floor. The work is dangerous, difficult and burdensome for Sharon and me. Because we are old, a workday for us is at most a 5-hour day.
Recent events have served to remind me how precious it is to be able to be able to perform hard work. One of my closest friends of over 50 years died of a heart attack. It was unexpected and sudden. Phil was the best athlete in my high school. He will never again know what it is to sweat or feel the relaxing endorphins brought about by work. For Phil, the night has come.
Sharon’s brother Jim, a marvelous and accomplished athlete was recently diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. His life expectancy and quality has been vastly reduced. Currently, his doctors are trying to get his pain medication adjusted to level where he is merely “comfortable”. His frequent golf outings, travel to foreign lands and even daily bike rides are a thing of the past. I was thinking about how suddenly and how much Jim’s life had changed. I bet Jim would love to be able to do the work we do even now. For Jim, the night has not come but is nearer.
I have another friend who has developed Parkinson’s disease. Dave was an accomplished cyclist. He rode from home to work and back for his entire tenure as a professor at Fresno Pacific University. He had completed the Climb to Kaiser several times in about 10 hours. He was only one of seven individuals to complete the Dinkey Double Century. Dave had to retire early because of his Parkinson’s limiting his energy. Today Dave still cycles but needs a tricycle because of balance problems. He has also installed an electric motor, which adds back the power he lost to his disease. For Dave the night is not here but nearer.   
I thought about these men who once all had much more skill and stamina than me. It changed my attitude about the property work that Sharon and I do from thinking about work as necessary toil to thankfulness. Being able to do work is a blessing. Some day a time will come and I will not be able to work either. Thank You Lord.   

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Sony A7R2 With The Canon 400mm 5.6 Lens

Dale Matson

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Canon 400mm 5.6 With 1.4X Extender

In my never-ending quest to improve super telephoto image quality (IQ), I have gone from the Canon EF 100-400mm to the Sony SAL 70-400mm to the Tamron 150-600mm and now I am using the adapted Canon EF 400mm 5.6. Each prior lens had a honeymoon period before determining that the IQ (which is more than just sharpness) was unacceptable. Additionally, the zoom lenses were heavy for hiking in the mountains with a daypack. Someday (soon I hope) Sony, Zeiss or Sony/Zeiss will provide a native long lens. I have the FE 70-300 lens but it is too short a reach for bighorn sheep in most cases.
I am primarily a mountain landscape photographer but it occurred to me that for wildlife (almost exclusively mountain bighorn sheep) I always used the long end of the zoom anyway, so a single focus, prime lens was not really a limiting factor. The lens has a deserved reputation for being light, relatively inexpensive, and very sharp and would also provide an acceptably sharp image with the 1.4X extender, which then yields a 560mm lens. When the extender is used, there is loss of light, less depth of field and no autofocus.
This lens is not image stabilized but the A7R2 IBIS allows for hand held shots at 400mm. About half of the images I have provided were hand held. The rest were shot with a monopod or a tripod. The main trick with the lens is understanding how best to mate it with the A7R2. One reason for writing this article is that there is not a lot of information out there on the pairing of the A7R2 with the Canon 400mm 5.6.
In the adapter chart for Canon Lenses to E-Mount, Brian Smith developed, he shows “slow but accurate autofocus” with the Viltrox adapter (which is what I have). The Photodiox adapter does not autofocus. I can agree with him because I rented one to see if it would work better than my Viltrox adapter. The Viltrox adapter provides the file information including when you add the extender. It will say “560mm”. I don’t know about the Metabones IV adapter and if someone reads this, who uses one with this lens, please comment.
I would add that Brian Smith recommend selecting the “Phase Detection Auto Focus” (PDAF) in the Sony set up menu. I recommend “Contrast Detection Auto Focus” (CDAF). If I am patient, I can get autofocus most of the time with Contrast Detection. The lens sometimes ‘hunts’ but will eventually find focus. I found PDAF to be too undependable. When it works, great! But much of the time it doesn’t work.
There are two additional things worth discussing. One is the fact that the Sony A7R2 recognizes non-native lenses as cropped lenses. Check your image file sizes to make certain that you are getting full frame file sizes. If you are not getting 20+mb files you can turn off “auto crop” in the set up menu.
Another is dealing with manual focusing. For manual focus, I switch to aperture priority and move the lens switch from AF to MF. A 400mm lens has a small zone of focus and focus peaking IS NOT dependable on its own. This is where focus magnification becomes important. However, focus magnification is not practical without using a tripod when you go from 5X to 12X. If you zoom to 12X and refocus the image, you will have a good hit rate of sharp images. I can hand hold and zoom to 5X and refocus but it is impossible for me to keep the image in view at 12X.
I have found that practice is an important part of shooting with any non-native long lens. It also helps in the field to review photographs when possible using the magnify button to determine if the image is still sharp when magnified. When possible, auto focus is still the best avenue to a sharp photo but no guarantee either.
What have I found? The Canon 400mm 5.6 lens gives me the best IQ and portability of any adapted telephoto lens I have used. All of these photographs were sharp viewed actual size. The files are smaller for upload.   

 400mm 5.6 1/50  ISO 6400
 400mm 5.6 1/1000
 400mm f8 1/1000 
 400mm 5.6 1/500
 400mm 5.6 1/1000

400mm 6.3 1/500  
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
560mm f8 1/500
560mm Crop
Big Moon Of 11-14-16 560mm f8 1/500 ISO 100
400mm 1/400 f5.6 4,000 ISO