I am a member of a local photography club and the club arranges regular outings and events. These outings are very diverse and are designed to cover a range of different genres so that the all members of the club can get something out of attending one of the events. Naturally the events I like the most are the ones based around nature and wildlife, although I do enjoy some of the other events focused on other genres as it gives me chance to explore other aspects of photography I don't normally cover in my own work.
Over the summer months two dates were fixed to visit Zwin Nature Park on the Belgium coast right on the border with The Netherlands. Two dates were fixed to accommodate the fact that members would be taking their summer vacations in July and/or August. Therefore the first visit was fixed in July and the second visit is fixed for the end of August.
As Panasonic had asked me to work on a project/assignment for them in the coming weeks with the FZ1000 bridge camera, I decided that it would be a great opportunity to take that camera with me to Zwin and get to grips with it before the assignment.
The visitors entrance is very modern, with a restaurant/cafe and a visitors/information centre. Entrance for adults is €12, which in my opinion is good value for the day. The domain is large, around 190 hectares and spans across the border into The Netherlands. It spans a 2.3km section of the coast. This gives the park a significant amount of diversity in a relatively concentrated area, with standing lakes and ponds, dunes, a tidal plain and the dunes and the beach. Scattered at regular intervals around the park are observation cabins, including spotting scopes and a member of staff who will happily assist you with some bird spotting. Visiting in summer obviously excludes some of the migratory bird species you are like to see when the seasons change. The main lake area was fairly impressive with a wide range of bird activity. You are first struck by the noise of the birds. There is a small island set in the lake where most of the activity was concentrated. Unfortunately for me the observation centre was just too far away from the edge of the lake to get any worthwhile images. As well as the FZ1000 which has a 25-400mm integrated lens, I had my GH4 with the 100-400mm lens. This has a 35mm focal equivalent of 200-800mm. Even with this lens I struggled to get images. I did observe a Grebe, one of my favourite birds and I was frustrated I was unable to get a shot. The observation centre is just too far away from the waterside for photography in my opinion. It is a shame the Nature Park didn't put the observation centre closer to the water, this would have facilitated better photography for visitors. So it was time to change tactics. I decided to follow the path further and head down towards a couple of the waterways which allowed access into the grass plains area.
It was here I had some more luck, notably with common gulls, black headed gulls, and common terns. It was interesting to watch the flight of these birds and if you anticipated their behaviour there were some interesting images to be had.
Common gull fishing for a crab.
Black headed gull.
Common tern in flight.
The FZ1000 handled very well. I've very little experience shooting with bridge cameras as I've always shot with DSLRs. I was impressed with the focal length. As a wildlife photographer we often want to have the flexibility of choosing our lenses and focal lengths. I have to say that the 25-400mm for this type of day out worked a treat in 80-90% of situations. I couldn't get images in the observation centre, but I couldn't get an image with my GH4 and 100-400mm lens - it was NOT the fault of the cameras! But once I was down at the waterside and with my experience of bird photography I really didn't think twice about the integrated lens. The burst speed of the camera was also impressive, although the buffer write speed was often the rate determining step, but that is to be expected with this type of consumer camera.
Landscape of the water channels and grasslands area where you can walk and get closer to the birds.
Even using the cameras with filters, the images held up really well. This after all is a 1 inch sensor camera. As a first try out, I was surprisingly impressed with what it was delivering. I actually enjoyed the fact that I didn't have to worry about changing lenses for different focal lengths. With a bridge camera you just have to change your mindset, and use your feet and position yourself well to get your composition. And I think this is a good thing. So often I think as photographers we get lazy, and default to switching lenses rather than actually scouting locations and positions for the best composition. It is a little different for wildlife, as we can't always control our proximity to the subject. But even with the birds, some anticipation and movement I got into the right positions to make the camera do the rest of the work.
Getting into position: by observing the common terns I was ready to anticipate the shot. Many thanks to Valerie Sanguinetti for the photo of me in action!
Unfortunately on this particular day I had to cut my visit short. I therefore didn't get chance to head over to the dunes and the beach which I was keen to do. That gives me a good motivation to return on another occasion. I'm particularly keen to go for a walk on the plains, and especially during migration to see what diversity of bird species is on offer.
As I returned to the visitor entrance and car park, you walk past a series of stork nests and just as I was leaving a couple of storks decided to put on a bit of a flight show for us. That enabled me to get my last images of the day.
Stork in flight.
Stork landing on a nest.
There was something actually quite liberating about going on a shoot with just one camera in hand, a bag full of filters and nothing else. For a start your back back is significantly lighter! But to be able to get great landscape shots and birds in flight was a testimony to what a great all rounder the FZ1000 is. For a day trip, a day hike, or an outing in good daylight, this type of camera definitely has it's place and in my experience turned out to be a super versatile camera. And for those shooters keen on video it shoots a pretty mean 4K image too.
Stay tuned as in the coming weeks I'll be reporting back on my assignment with this camera for Panasonic.
Until next time.