Monday, April 22, 2013

The beautiful killers

They look beautiful, don't they? But there are a few of you that know who they are. And why this post is the only appropriate one to write after the previous one. These are growths of fungus on one of the front elements of my 'long' lens. When I first came to Bristol, I didn't bring that lens with me. Instead I chose to leave it in a bag. A bag that simply sat somewhere in a cupboard in Bangalore while I was away for a few months. Somewhere in that time I think the lens caught fungus. Once it's started, its an inexorable march forward.

If the front element makes you want to weep, have a look at what one of the inner ones looks like. Not pretty eh? This lens is done. Its lived out its life. It made me a book and thats pretty good value, I think for what it was. But now it's done.

But, I had to take a long lens when I went to Africa. There was no way I could go without one. So I had to think about whether to take this lens or buy or rent another one. Somehow between being lazy, stingy and generally uncertain. I packed this lens as was and went. You've seen some of the pictures.

Of those, this lens made this image of a Jackal, this seal image, the rhino images, the drinking bull elephant and then some. (But it also made the ostrich image, which is at a distance and quite soft).

In the end, I think it was a good idea to take it because the image above shows what I did to it. It was attached to my camera in my backpack, which was sitting on the front seat of our vehicle. I had unzipped the bag and forgotten that I had. At one of our rest-stops, I lifted the bag up and hoisted it to my shoulder and swung around to walk away from the vehicle. The flap flapped open, predictably, and the lens and camera went flying out and landed on the ground with a thud. Maybe three-four feet away. My heart skipped a beat.

Suffice to say, in the end, I discovered this 'dent' was the only outcome of my little disaster. The camera survived and so did the lens. They both still work. As imperfectly or perfectly as before. 'How?', you ask. I don't know. They're built like tanks and I am grateful for it. I would've been very disappointed if I'd lost either at that stage in the trip. And as grateful that I hadn't done it to another more expensive lens, whether bought or rented.

That lens is an old Sigma 170-500 mm f/5-6.3. It was never the best or even close to the best lenses on the market. It's AF has always been slow, still is. Its only f5 at its brightest and thats not bright at all. Its bokeh is far from great and it has always been a bit rubbish at far away subjects. But it was cheap, suited my grad student pocket and was light enough for the lightweight that I am to hand-hold. It served me well, my book wouldn't have been possible without it. There were many situations, I'd even say enough situations where it was more than adequate for the job. If you don't believe me, I hope you will be convinced by the photo at the end. It was taken at the flood lit water hole at Okaukuejo waterhole with the other rhino photos at night.

I'm struggling with what now though: whether I want another one, whether I shoot enough to even warrant buying one. And if I do, which one? They are all so expensive and so heavy! Damn, this is a hard decision...Buying the Sigma in the first place was so much of an easier decision!

Feel free to chime in if you have an opinion. Or even just to send me your commiserations. You see I had the best holiday ever and I'm still moaning. There's no hope for me!

Copyright © Natasha Mhatre If you're reading this without attribution to me anywhere other than at my blog Talking Pictures, its probably being plagiarized.


Shashi said...

Looking through your Namibia pics ("Populist pandering") etc. Great pics as always! Had to comment after reading this post about 'the beautiful killers'.. I too have an old lens (canon 100-300 lens from 1998 - for a film EOS 500) that had been using with my digital EOS 1000D. Dropped it a few months back but it still survived and still works. But without IS it was becoming a bit difficult to hand hold - so had to go for a new one (always a difficult time with so many choices..)

Natasha Mhatre said...

Ouch. What did you buy? I don't know the Canon universe of lenses at all.

And thank you!

Shashikiran said...

Well, I went for a canon 70-300 IS USM lens. The earlier one was a 100-300 Sigma lens... I did consider the wider range sigma but thought the image quality of pics on the web was not as good as the canon ones.

BTW, do you know if your book is still in print at SWB? Am not sure if they ship it well packed or it is better to get in person at IISc the next time I am at Bangalore.. you may email me at shashikiran_ganesh at if you prefer not to answer online in the comments..

Natasha Mhatre said...

No worries Shashi, it's probably better if you get it in Bangalore. I have no direct contact with SWB but I imagine it will be a bit of a wait if you get it through them.

Hope you enjoy the nrw lens!