28 July 2014

Port Lympne Wild Animal Park - Part 2

We were quite excited by our visit to the park.  It had come recommended (although if I can remember by whom I may have to hunt them down and beat them!).

Our day started with a "safari" ride on one of their huge old army trucks.  They had loads of them, and it was were all of the early birds into the park headed first...  So they must be really good?

A few minutes into the trip and we realised just how bad this part of the zoo experience was going to be.  Our guide / driver (who seemed to be struggling to actually drive the vehicle) didn't explain much on the way around, mostly staying silent which meant some people on the truck didn't even notice some of the animals.  I can deal with that though as we were there to photograph not necessary to learn about the animals.

First up was the cheetah enclosure, with the cheetahs on full display, all huddled together with their newly born cubs.  What a wonderful thing to see...  or not.  The truck didn't stop, or for that matter even slow down.  Within 10 seconds the cheetahs had come and gone without time to even consider raising the camera to my face to attempt to take a photo.

Disappointed.  Very Disappointed.

That set the pattern for the rest of the bumpy (or in their words authentic African experience, which really means "we can't be bothered to fix the pot holes") 30 minute "safari".  We saw elephant, zebra, ostrich, wild hunting dogs, but at no point other than to go through the gates did the truck stop.

At the top we stopped for refreshments.  The tea with its UHT milk was awful.  I threw half of it away.  We even looked for a supervisor or manager to complain to, but couldn't find anyone.

The trip back down the hill was a bit better, with a more experienced guide / driver who actually gave a damn good commentary on what we were seeing.  He still didn't stop though, and being sat on the right side of the truck meant your view of all of the animals on the way down was through the heads of the people on the left.

I had a little chat to our second driver about the first one not stopping.  He explained that he was following the park policy to the letter.

Smacks hand on head in disbelieve.  I didn't want to stop for long at each of the animals, perhaps just 30 seconds or a minute.  We'd paid quite a bit to get into the park with the intention of seeing the animals properly.

I never got to talk to a manager while there, as there seemed little point.

From what I can see the zoo is more intent on up-selling their premium price experiences than they are to providing a decent experience to their regular paying guests.  Perhaps this works quite well for them.  Sadly it didn't work well for any of us.  None of us were quite able to believe just how appallingly wrong they had got the "safari" part of the day.

To close, if you're looking for somewhere to go to photograph the animals.  Avoid Port Lympne!

The following pictures were taken each and every time the truck came to a stop.  I've also included an awesome photo of an ostrich taken while the truck was in motion.   The final image of one of the gorillas sums up perfectly what we all thought of the "safari" part of the day.

Port Lympne Wild Animal Park - Part 1

It was my first visit to Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and I was expecting only great things.  It had come recommended by someone, and with its high £24 (if you gift aid) ticket price, you would expect it to be one of the better zoos in the country.

We were there as part of a Photo Experience Days weekend. 

I'm writing two short blog posts on the park...  this one is the positive one, and the second one not so much.

Once we found the gorilla enclosure it was clear we found where the zoo had been putting all of their money.  They had a large indoor and outdoor space, and it was easy to get up close (just the thickness of a pane of glass separating us) to these amazing creatures.

There was no question the gorillas were the highlight of our day, although the cheetahs, lions and tigers did give them a run for their money.  Their rather tired enclosures were a bit of a let down though.

For general viewing public the walking part of the zoo is probably rather good, but if you're there as we were with the aim of trying to get some good photos, then forget it.  Except for the gorillas its just not going to happen, with thick wire fences and poorly designed viewing areas hindering getting a good shot.

05 July 2014

Monty Python @ The O2

Sometime last year the legends that are Monty Python announced that they were reforming to play a few nights at The O2. Somehow in the rush for tickets that nearly broke the Interwebs I managed to get a single ticket.

At the time I was the most expensive ticket I'd ever purchased (since beaten into second place by Kate Bush) at a tad over £100. So they'd better be bloody good to justify the expense.

With the opening night a few days before, I'd done my best to avoid the spoilers, and hadn't read any of the reviews. I wanted to make up my own opinion and not have it dictated by the mainstream media that seemingly runs our lives.

Friday 4th July came and I was to find out if they were worth it?

In what was basically their greatest hits there were of course some brilliant moments... The lumberjack song, dead parrot, spam spam spam spam spam spam spam and spam, the argument sketch and the grand finale Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life being my favourites.

There was too much reliance on the old video footage, although that said the Professor Brian Cox / Stephen Hawking sketch was comedy gold.

At times I was a bit lost, clearly I hadn't watched enough Monty Python growing up. I didn't know some of the sketches, and perhaps some just weren't that funny in the first place?

The dancers were mostly just a time waster, perhaps to give the old boys a chance to catch their breath and change outfits. Their finest moment was all too brief, when they were silhouetted against a vivid red background doing John Cleese's silly walks. I've never been to a musical before but I imagine them to be a bit like this with the dancers and slightly cheesey show music.

Were they worth the £100? No, they weren't. Was I glad I went, ab-so-bloody-lutely I was!

Oh, one final moan, the merchandise stalls. With £25 for a t-shirt that probably cost a couple of quid to produce perhaps the final laugh was against the audience and anyone stupid enough to pay that much?

Now to the pictures. £100 bought me a seat somewhere towards the arse end of The O2 and I only had a 75mm (150mm full frame equivalent) with me. So sadly no close ups of the stars of the show, but they do the job nicely for me and act as a very good memory jog to a great evening.

The big venues seem to have relaxed their camera policies now.  The security guards didn't even blink and my camera, and I had it deliberately in plain sight.  I used the Olympus E-P5 with the tiny 14mm lens when I was walking in, and swapped it for the 75mm f/1.8 for a bit more reach when inside.

01 July 2014

Big lens on a small camera

I've known for some time that there are adapters to allow Nikon / Canon fit lens to work on the Micro Four Thirds (MTF) system. 

I was able to borrow a MTF to Nikon adapter along with a Sigma 150-500mm lens from a friend (thanks Mr P) so I was able to test out to see just how well it worked.  

Cameras used for this test were Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the Sigma and the E-M5 with the Olympus 75-300mm lens.

With its x2 crop factor the 500mm worked out to 1000mm full frame equivalent.

My first problem was not being able to change the aperture of the Sigma.  The bigger problem being that the aperture seemed to be stuck toward at its maximum aperture of f/28.  With no way of changing this it meant for a far too slow shutter speed, and a the need to use a fairly high 1600 ISO.

With none of the auto functions of the lens working, it was manual focus only.  Not a huge problem for the static subjects I was shooting while testing.

Due to the problems with the aperture the comparison shots here aren't really fair, with one of the images at 200iso and the other at 1600iso.  I'll include them so you can at least see what the difference in reach is.

The only way of perhaps changing the aperture of the lens would be to put it on a Nikon body.  I know that sometimes you can fix the aperture on the lens by selecting it via the camera body, and then removing the lens without turning the camera off.  Would that have worked in this case?  I simply do not know.   Something for someone else to test.

In conclusion, would I buy myself a big lens to use on a small camera, probably not unless it was designed to work fully with said small camera.