Monday 31 August 2009

On a trip to Miami this week, I was tempted by a new camera and succumbed. I had been looking for a little while at the Nikon Coolpix P90, hoping that it would save me a lot of carrying and lens changing. It has a 24x optical zoom. By some jiggery pokery, the tech specs claim this equates to 26-624mm on a 35mm format SLR camera. My DSLR has a sensor which is smaller than 35mm and thereby produces a cropping effect. This is how my 400mm appears to be 640mm.
Most of my photos are taken at the high end of my 100-400mm Canon. If I need a landscape picture though, I have to change to an 18-55mm. The macro lens is a 50mm Sigma. It is a lot to carry around and a common problem is dust which enters the camera during lens changing. So, a camera with a high top-end zoom, a wide angle capability and a macro function too, might just be the solution. It even has a video capability.
Could it perform well enough to replace the SLR and all it’s lenses? To save you skipping to the bottom of the page in anticipation to find out if in fact it is the answer to all my problems, I am sad to say, it is not.
There is no arguing with the macro function. The result from a quick practice was stupendous. The photo below has been reduced in quality for the blog, but believe me, it is breathtaking on my 17”monitor in the study. I bought the camera from a shop beside a small river near Dadeland Mall. In a stretch of less than 50m of riverbank, I saw 9 different types of dragonflies. Most of them have yet to be identified, but there is enough detail here to confirm that it is a Halloween Pennant.
One issue with the macro function is that the optical zoom is restricted so it is not much bigger than the 50mm Sigma. The "live view" function though allows the picture to be composed at arms length which is a big advantage over my current SLR without "live view". The screen folds out to give good sight even at odd angles. The screen is nice and bright too which allows one to view pictures even in the bright Florida sun.
The wide angle and mid range zoom are fine. I have no problems there.
The top-end zoom works well when the subject is clearly differentiated from the background. Otherwise the auto focus struggles. A dragonfly perched on a stalk with water vegetation behind it took a couple of attempts to get into a decent focus. In this circumstance, I was quite close to the subject. There is a manual focus facility which is operated with the multi function control. It works OK in controlled conditions, but would be a little slow in the event that the subject was moving. To my mind, I think it is an oversight not to provide a remote release facility. With 624mm of throbbing focal length, I would have to use a tripod and with a tripod, I like to use a remote release. It is true that no other compact digital cameras provide the feature either, but why not? Digiscopers have had to develop grips and frames and pushers and pressers in order to achieve what is really a very simple function if built in at the design stage.
I was unaware of a time lag between pressing the button and the shutter releasing. This used to be a dreadful problem, but the Nikon Coolpix P90 appears to have bettered it.
There is sill an issue with the power saving mode. (The battery supplied with the camera is a l-ion and much better than AAAs. Thank you very much to Wendy from Best Buy, Dadeland, for charging the battery for me. It took more than 200 pictures today without showing a power alert.) An SLR will reboot instantaneously when required to take a picture. The P90 took a few moments, but it was reasonably quick compared with other compacts.
I haven’t tried the video facility yet. Maybe I will open an account at Utube when I do.
On the whole, I like it and I think it is good value for money. Will it replace my SLR and lenses? No I don’t think so, unless I become too old and tired to carry that much stuff about. It lacks the immediacy of the SLR and the “hands on” feel of the slide zoom and manual focus ring. Will some of my lenses be consigned to the shelf or the lots at E-bay? Probably not. It will probably just end up as even more weight carried in my rucksack.

Friday 28 August 2009


This week I have been in Portugal with my family. Stolen moments during siesta have produced some results for my burgeoning dragonfly list with 6 lifers.
We were staying at Meia Praia in Lagos in the western Algarve. Betweeen our hotel and the beach is an area of dunes. A boardwalk ensures as much as possible that the dunes receive a small level of protection from the eager feet making for the beach. Grass and plants growing from the dunes provided perches for a good number of Red-veined Darters. They even came up to our pool area and I was able to watch them from my sunbed.
Close to Lagos is a small town called Alvor. It has a sanctuary which I hoped would have a freshwater section for the odes, but I had to make do with a tiny hole about 4m by 3m. It was a dribble that was used to water a tied-up horse, but it was permanent and just big enough to hold odonata. In fact, I was surprised by the number of species in such a small microcosm.
First and most obvious was a Broad Scarlet. It caused me much confusion as I did not think the abdomen was broad enough at first. Also, there were some black markings on the abdomen which my field guide told me there should not be. I found a tiny Iberian Bluetail quietly resting among the bank-side vegetation while I waited for a good picture of the scarlet. The Epaulet Skimmer caused me some ID issues as well. He is supposed to only rarely settle on the ground, yet this one seemed to prefer the ground to perching on any of the numerous available raised vantage points. The pinched abdomen was very obvious and I ended up wondering why I doubted myself.
The Lesser Emperor put in a fleeting performance, not settling at all, but the striking yellow band at the top of the abdomen was clear to see even with the naked eye.

A short drive from Lagos is the Baragem da Bravura, a large dam. Below the dam at the base of the wall a tiny dribble provides enough water for life to exist in the deeper holes of the outflow stream. Again, the profusion of odonata in such a small area surprised me. All of the anisoptera were repeated here and the new one was the Violet Dropwing. I was especially pleased to see this one as I recalled one catching my attention on a previous trip to Portugal. Not wanting to tick it retrospectively without any supporting evidence, it was worth the long climb up and down the wall of the dam.
The Lesser Emperor was again restless and did not seem inclined to stop for a picture until I saw one across the puddle, settle on a stalk.

Thursday 20 August 2009

USA Odonata

This is my collection of North American Odonata so far.

The selection is limited at the moment, but the blogs can be edited so they will be added to as time passes.

The first gallery is from Long Beach, California. August 17th 2009. Dominguez Gap is a wide, rush-filled ditch beside the LA River, just South of Del Amo Avenue.
Spot-winged Glider Pantala hymenaea

Spot-winged Glider Pantala hymenaea

Spot-winged Glider Pantala hymenaea

Blue Dasher Pachydiplax longipennis male

Common Green Darner Anax junius female

Red Saddlebags Tramea onusta

Red Saddlebags Tramea onusta

Red Saddlebags Tramea onusta

Red Saddlebags Trames onusta

Red Saddlebags Tramea onusta

First blog

my name is Redgannet and I have started this blog in response to my bird blog subscribers who are turning testy about all the hot odonata action that keeps sneaking in there.
Keeled Skimmer Orthetrum coerulescens (Surrey, UK)
I don't yet know what form it will take. It will probably change over time. I wonder if anyone would like to make contributions?
Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata (Surrey, UK)
I travel a lot and try to get out into the woods and fields whenever I get the chance. So who knows, between us, we may even be able to build up a respectable database of odonata pictures and information.