frontiers of geobiology


Sampling of photos on this page are from my Portfolio (downgraded jpg files)
My interests focus on wildlife and landscapes, and I have been remarkably fortunate to explore a richness of places and subjects. Many have only rarely, if ever, been visited or seen let alone photographed. In the latter category, the experience of being the first to handle animal species new to science is understandably unique. My portfolio also includes species never previously photographed, many being bats and snakes only known previously by the museum specimens collected in the 19th century. Unfortunately, too often the saddening catastrophe of human impacts on biodiversity obviates photographic opportunities. The population collapse of the recently described antelope – the Upemba lechwe is one sobering example. Fortunately, series of historica
l specimens of this species in the Royal Museum of Central Africa and Field Museum, Chicago enabled me to compare this population, which is restricted entirely to Katanga, and my research included DNA sequences.
I use Nikon. Most of my images have been taken with a Nikon FM2 and Nikon F3. In 1999 a Nikon F90x added its superb AF capabilities and ease of use with TTL flash, notably the SB-21B unit. After starting with Kodachrome 25 and 64, I always have used Fujichrome’s infamous Velvia 50 wherever possible, with recourse to Sensia 100 for its higher ISO. Then digital became inescapable for convenience and cost. I now use a Nikon D60 (more affordable) as it works (sort of) with most F mount lenses, but the gelded DX lenses work fine most of the time.
I used the F3 for macro work, largely using a 55mm Micro Nikkor f2.8 AIS and Nikon’s macro attachments, including the SB-21A and SB-21B ring flashes. Latterly, admittedly seduced by the idea of auto-focus, I bought the60mm Micro Nikkor f2.8 AIS, with its useful 1:1 magnification (albeit I soon found auto focus is mostly superfluous to macro). To my lasting regret, I did not buy instead the impressive 70-180mm Micro-Nikkor f/4.5-5.6 AF-D (inexplicably discontinued by Nikon). My new acquisition is the 105mm Micro Nikkor f2.8 ED VR-II. It is good to see a pedigree Micro Nikkor in the stable, although, sadly, it’s a [G]elded lens, I find this revamped 105mm to be the even better macro lens all around, with its reach. And it’s also superb for portraits and short telephoto work.
I have worked my principal telephotos and old film SLRs hard in the bush since 1984, especially a Nikkor 200mm f4 AI and a 400mm Nikkor IF-ED f5.6 AIS. True to Nikon’s classical reputation, they continue to deliver over three decades on. They have been bounced around in LandRovers, and I have carried them back and forth, close to hand, to and fro across the Zambezi valley, and throughout the Matobo Hills; so I have no idea how far this outfit has covered in backpacks, but the protective foam inserts collapsed in at least three ensembles. Somehow, almost all my equipment has survived: precipitous descents and ascents up inselbergs and trees; wading flooded rivers; up-turned canoes in the odd Zambezi dunking; the humid heat of the Congo basin; crawling among the crawlies through caves, ranging from stinking infernos to flooded near the roof; and a few escapades where buffalo and elephant had a go at pulverising me. Back in 1985, the 200mm took a plunge in a river in the Matobo Hills, but it underwent a full recovery after a new diaphragm and pro-clean!
My original inventory included the legendary 105mm Nikkor f2.5 AIS, which did much to establish Nikon’s lead with professionals using this lens on their F2s and F3s. This short telephoto – superb for portraits – is also uniquely suited to single out and crop salient details of those fleeting events in landscapes, when, from time to time, the photographer is handed a special opportunity; these events are encapsulated in the words and images of Jay MaiselLight, Gesture and Colour blend uniquely [see two among many of the must look reviews of this book – here and here]! I sold this 105mm lens when a postgrad student. Although its loss got me beyond a lean month, it was big, sad mistake. Ideally, one hankers to replace such a lens in the calibre of this classic, portable 105mm, but it’s harder than ever to justify as the years slip past. This prime lens is superseded (nearly) by my Zoom Nikkors, and latterly a 105mm Micro Nikkor f2.8 ED VR-II turns out superb portraits but it’s one hefty lens to lug around on the off chance.
A battered and bashed 28mm Nikkor f2.8 AI wide angle has served me admirably well for landscape work, including aerial shots. I bought this veteran in 1983 from the junk pile in the dingy corner of a darkroom of a professional photographer and friend (sadly he’s no longer with us). It cost a paltry SAR25 (US$3 back then) for what was condemned as junk, because the filter rim was buckled, with a slight scratch on the front element. One can only imagine the victim of a dropped camera…. Some careful work with a fine-tooth hacksaw and gunsmithing files salvaged the rim;gap-toothed but grasping a 52mm filter, it’s worked superbly ever since. It is optically one excellent lens for landscapes, especially to position close-up subjects against the horizon.
For many years zooms were a taboo item, even the Nikkor zooms. Opinions mutate. I found the 35-105mm Nikkor f3.5-4.5 AF-D and 28-70mm Nikkor f/3.5-4.5 AF-D work really well on the F90x, especially for bursts of aerial shots. Today I use them on a D60 (manual focus only). I find zooms ideal to frame fieldwork shots, with the many photos needed of our sampling sites, especially to record geomorphological data. The plastic-bodied Nikkor 18-55mm DX II ED is a great lens for this job, but I found the Nikkor 55-200mm VR ED less impressive. Anyway, I have now replaced both with the Nikkor 18-200mm DX VR II ED, the more versatile lens by far. All these DX lenses do an admirable job under rough conditions, especially during fieldwork where disaster hovers over one’s shoulder…. But I don’t seem them surviving as long as my metal-bodied classics. The DX lenses are likely a poor investment over the longer term, as advances in electronics and IT (allied with competition) will bring down costs of FX sensors (hopefully packaged in sensible cameras).
Compared against the optical quality and plastic bodies of so many of today’s “modern” lenses, the Nikkor lenses of 1980s vintage (i.e. the AIS lenses from the late 1970s that persisted into this century) remain wise investments. With auto-focus, the AF-D models with superior optics are all the more desirable. In my experience, the endurance of my equipment – in its very survivorship – speaks volumes. It more than vindicates thearguments of Ken Rockwell. And weight the further proof that these classic old Nikkor lenses are conspicuously scarce in second hand camera dealers! Since 2013, their compatibility with the Nikon Df with its FX sensor (among many other advantages of this camera) gives the classical Nikkor stable a whole new lease of life. Some people may prefer the plastic D600 and similiar, which can also bring an AI or AIS lens back to life. As things stand, the Nikon Df and its projected Nikon “Df2” successor are the way forward for the outdoor photographer who seeks a proper camera body of the calibre of the F2, F3, FA and FE2 – and last but not least – the FM2, with all the advantages of digital. And in the same vein, for practicable cameras outside of the studio, suburbia and tourist vehicle, the D3 and their ilk are too heavy, too obtrusive, and too expensive for serious outdoor work.
A final word, it is handy to reach for one’s 55mm Micro Nikkor, or a Nikkor in the same optical league, to test how a modern lens handles the light.
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