Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 17/04/2012

The Light Fantastic.


White Lions, originally uploaded by http://andrewskelton.net.

Spring is finally here, it’s official – it has nothing to do with the English weather, the change to British Summer Time, or even the appearance of cowslips and bluebells – I saw my first Swallow on Sunday, as well as hearing Chiffchaff calling last week. For me these are two definitive indicators that we are now heading for Summer though I will admit that whilst sitting in my office at one point last year I did get rather teed-off with a Chiffchaff that had decided to spend the day calling incessantly from the top of a nearby tree; an occasional utterance is fine, but non-stop for what seemed like all day was just a bit much.

With as many as 800,000 breeding pairs migrating to the UK during the spring months it’s difficult not to hear Chiffchaff calling when out walking in the countryside – seeing one can be a little more problematic. They’re a member of the warbler family of birds, the variety from which the term LBJ (Little Brown Jobbie) has been derived, as in “what was that bird… oh it was just an LBJ” ie not very interesting to look at.

Swallows are much more noticeable both in their flight pattern as well as their more colourful plumage – dark, glossy-blue backs, red throats, pale underparts and long tail streamers the dip and dart through the blue skies (before they migrate to the UK that is!). Whilst records show that fewer Swallows migrate than Chiffchaff, there are still around 726,000 pairs flying all the way from South Africa. Covering around 200 miles a day, the journey takes around 50 days to cover the 10,000 miles between the two spots – an amazing feat especially for such small birds.

Camera related news, it looks like one manufacturer has finally come developed what we photographers have been baying out for in preference to the Megapixel race, which most manufacturers put their effort into – a wider dynamic range. The dynamic range, a logarithmic scale, is a measurement of light from least to greatest recordable light; measured in “stops” (as in f-stops), film had a full two stops (remember this is logarithmic so it doubles each time) more than the 7 stops digital is currently capable. The new sensor, which is small by today’s standards, is capable of 13 stops between light and dark parts of the scene which is fantastic though it’s still nothing compared to the human eye which can see around 30 stops worth of light – this is why when indoors on a sunny day, you can see much more than a camera which will have problems rendering either the dark or light of the picture (and even if it does manage to find a happy medium, it won’t compare to what you will see with the naked eye). Mind you, I don’t think this is what Canon (unrelated to the new sensor) had in mind when it allowed more light into their new 5D mark III!

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