Saturday, March 30, 2013

Early Spring In Pennsylvania Elk Country

I spent most of the past week in Pennsylvania Elk Country recording and photographing elk and conditions in the elk range. The week started with a modest snow storm, but it was mostly gone in the lower elevations by the time I arrived in Benezette on Tuesday afternoon.  Unfortunately skies were mostly overcast with thick, gray, clouds and a bitter, biting, wind.

Early Spring In Pennsylvania Elk Country: Canon 5D MK III-24-105 f4 L -ISO 400, 1/400 Sec. F 8.0
I did have several good photographic encounters with elk in spite of the less than ideal conditions.  As usual, the animals were most easily seen from early to mid-morning and again from mid-afternoon until dark. On the first evening I ran into two bulls that had already shed their antlers and had significant new growth.  I will only post the one that had no collar today as it gave me better poses.  As usual, I concentrated on filming video, pausing at times to take still photos.  I was using the Panasonic GH3 with 100-300mm and 14/140mm Lumix lenses, and at times I paused from filming and switched the camera to still mode and took several captures.

New Antler Growth: Panasonic GH3-100-300mm Lumix, ISO 400-1/100 sec. f 6.3
These bulls were especially confiding so after being sure I had sufficient video and stills, I set-up the 5D MK III with the 500mm f4 and took several shots. 

New Antler Growth: Canon 5D MK III-500mm f4 L -ISO 400, 1/320 Sec. F 4.5

Photos posted on the internet are too small to definitively compare the lenses, but working with the images in Photoshop reveals that the GH3 and the 100-300mm lens performs beyond all expectations. While not as sharp as the 500mm F4 on the MK III, it is very usable indeed.  Photographing wildlife in the field is not a good way to objectively compare lens sharpness, as so many variables enter into the equation, but it does give a good grasp of how the equipment performs in actual shooting conditions. Overall I am quite pleased with the GH3 and plan to carry it to handle both still and video duties when a long hike is required to reach the area where I wish to photograph, although I would likely take only the Canon equipment if I were going to focus on taking stills.

Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer, Tom Murphy and I spent a large part of the mid-day on Wednesday discussing elk, elk management issues, and wildlife photography and video.  Buckwheat and I looked for elk from mid-afternoon on and he found two bulls which were still carrying antlers.  These elk were a bit shy and I only had the opportunity to use the Panasonic equipment.  I did get video of both animals, but they left before I could get a still photo of the second animal.  These  bulls were quite a bit further away than the bulls in the Tuesday evening encounter, so I cropped a 8x10 vertical from the original capture. A drawback in taking a still image from a camera mounted on a fluid (video) head is that one cannot rotate the camera to take a vertical image unless they are using a lens with a tripod ring and both of the Panasonic lenses I have are so short and light that they do not have tripod rings.

New Antler Growth: Panasonic GH3-100-300mm Lumix @223mm, ISO 200-1/50 sec. f 5.3
Buckwheat was shooting a 60D with the new version of the Canon 300mm f2.8 L, which is officially  called the EF300mm f2.8 L IS II.  This is an impressive lens indeed.  Buckwheat formerly used the original 300mm f2.8 as his prime lens, and I use the 300mm f 2.8 IS.  Both of these versions take extremely sharp images and it is hard if not next to impossible to tell the difference in sharpness between the different versions, but according to published tests there is no doubt the new version is the sharpest.  The original 300mm f2.8 has a tripod ring, which is very smooth--the same as the one on my 500mm f4, but the 300mm f2.8 IS, has the same tripod ring design as the 70-200mm or the 100-400mm L and it is not nearly so smooth.  This problem is rectified in the new 300 2.8 II  and it is smooth indeed.  It proved to rotate noticeably smoother than my 500mm f4 does, and I have always been very pleased with this aspect of that lens  The 300mm f2.8 IS II lens is a real winner, with the high cost being the only downside.

More news from Pennsylvania Elk Country coming soon.  Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Nancy J said...

These are superb, was he aware you were there, and how far was he away ? Great to get the settings and details about the lens, pity it is so expensive, but so worth every cent/dollar/and more. He looks like the winter coat is starting to moult, does that happen there? Cheers from Jean.p.s. This is something my Hugh would really only dream about, and to be there in real life, maybe closer to " Heaven" would describe it better.

Lindsjö taxar said...

Great Pictures. Interesting to read about how you worked with the camera and lenses.

Willard said...

Thanks for the comments. The bulls were very aware that I was there, but the ones that are growing the new antlers were completely unconcerned and ignored me. I didn't measure the distance, but it would estimate it to be 90-100', while the bull with antlers was probably 200-300' away.

The elk will gradually shed the winter coats until it is completely replaced with a reddish colored summer coat. This is usually complete by early June.

Linda Gross said...

Great close up pictures of the elk. I especially like the last picture.

We saw some wildlife during our 300-mile jaunt on Saturday. I don't have any photographs, except those recorded in my head. We saw 4 white-tailed deer, a couple groundhogs, and a turkey as well as several birds.

Angel Blue said...

i love coming here and visiting your photos.

T. Michael Smith said...

Great Photos and thanks for the details. I'll be camping in Black Moshannon St. Park this weekend, and will be heading to Benezette on Saturday and maybe on Monday. I was there once before but did not take one photograph nor see one Elk. Could you tell me where to go in the area to get an image of an Elk?

Willard said...

Winslow Hill is the best bet and they are often at the Porcupine Run-Winslow Hill Viewing Area , which is located along Winslow Hill Road and Dewey Road, but keep sharp watch as they can be seen just about anywhere along the road.

Another good area is along the roadsides from Weedville to Driftwood on Rt 555. One should go at least as far as Hicks Run if they don't want to drive as far as Driftwood and check out the DCNR viewing area at Hicks Run.

The elk are often attracted to the freshly greening grass in lawns during early spring and it is common to see them in the low lying areas and in town. I saw a big herd in Benezett on several occasions during my last trip. The key is to look for them early and late. Elk may remain in the open throughout the day in winter, but the warmer the weather the sooner they go in the woods in the morning and they later they come out to feed in the meadows in the evening.