• Charlie Moores

Out with the old, in with the pre-owned

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker

I spent a large part of my working life going birdwatching with an airline. When I applied to become long-haul Cabin Crew back in the late 1980s I talked a lot in the interview about how much I wanted to serve people and not so much about what I really wanted to do: travel the world birding (I think ‘icing on the cake’ was mentioned once or twice…). I figured I’d be so ecstatic seeing birds in life that I’d only seen up until then in books, that I could probably get around the nagging doubts that I wasn’t so much a ‘people person’ as a ‘people-tolerant person’.

As it turned out I actually really enjoyed meeting different people from countries as far apart as Japan and Brazil, Canada and South Africa. I enjoyed seeing their birds even more, but they didn’t need to know that and I used to go to work with a soppy grin after seeing, for example, Red Warbler in Mexico, Sharpe's Longclaw in Kenya, or Orange-bellied Parakeet in Australia. Win-win all round!

Now, the point of this post is that for more than a decade I took either a camera or a video camera everywhere I went. I handed over huge amounts of money to be at the front of the queue for new digital kit (genuinely huge amounts, racking up a scandalously large credit card bill that taught me a severe lesson about the precarious balance between ‘security/ employment/ borrowing’).

Anyway, I was used to being a peripatetic birder taking pretty good photos and while the income isn’t there anymore (long story, but it also turned out that trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole for a very long time isn’t so good for your mental health) the muscle memory is, and I'm still trying to get the sort of images I used to get when I had a top-tier Canon and a top-tier Canon lens with a much lower-tier bridge camera that I inherited in a swap for some old binoculars about five years ago.

As I mentioned a few days ago it is ‘any colour you want as long as it’s grey’ here on the common ground right now (I’ve been taking a photo of a majestic oak tree every morning to compile a video of images showing the changes throughout the year – this morning I couldn’t see it for the fog). Yesterday I spent time trying to take photos of some of the birds visiting our feeder. It was a frustrating hour of the autofocus (the camera has no manual focus) desperately trying to find something – anything – with enough contrast to grab onto. Colours were either washed out or blown out. The poor old battery gave up its unequal struggles with the cold and the low light and began dying after forty minutes. I have to admit I could empathise.

There were plenty of birds, mind you. Great, Coal, and Blue Tits flicked in and out. Goldfinches and Greenfinches looked suspiciously on from a nearby bush. Chaffinches hopped about under the bushes trying not to be noticed at all. A Nuthatch flashed through in a blur of orangey-blue. Our trio of Robins eyed each other up, restless and poised to fight. The one bird that did hang about for a decent length of time was the male Great Spotted Woodpecker in the image we’ve used here. While it’s a pretty good photo, it’s soft and lacks the detail I wanted. All in all, the bridge camera and I failed.

Now I fully appreciate that I’m lucky to have any camera at all. Not everyone can afford one. But (and you can probably guess what’s coming next), while I don’t have the disposable income to Google ‘The best camera 2021 and damn the cost’ these days, Jo and I have been pretty careful over the last twelve months and there was just enough to Google ‘Look, we’re not after the very best or the very latest, but is there anything you could recommend for a bit of wildlife photography that wouldn’t break the bank?’ (it’s amazing the algorithms built into search engines these days).

After a bit of humming and hawing, we landed on a page of a well-reviewed supplier of pre-owned cameras. They had just one left of the superzoom camera (apparently ‘bridge’ is a terribly old-fashioned term only used by old folk who haven’t bought a new camera since 2015) we were already leaning towards: a Panasonic Lumix FZ2000.

Now to be honest I don’t normally buy ‘pre-owned’ (which somehow sounds so much better than ‘second-hand) but – and it’s a big but – even for a model first launched in 2016, brand new these things are north of £1000 pounds. While I wouldn’t have blinked at that twenty years ago, as I said ‘splashing the cash’ these days brings on palpitations. This particular Lumix was less than half price, would come with a 12-month warranty, and a B+ on a scoring system of A (‘Immaculate’) to E (‘Bit banged about but works well’). My finger hovered over the ‘buy’ button for a minute or so, but in the end – with a quick jab – we joined the majority of the UK in overspending at Christmas...

Jo just says I like to spend money and to have new things – which I must reluctantly concede is true – but on the other hand we both really do want the photos on this blog to be good. For general landscape shots a modern mobile phone has a remarkably good camera (Jo takes amazing photos with her iPhone), but for wildlife (at both the macro and zoom ends of the scale) we need something better. Not Craig Jones Wildlife Photography better, but good enough to satisfy us – and (hopefully) our growing audience (as in hopefully satisfy and hopefully growing).

So, in three to five working days – and if the sun ever re-appears – it will be out with the old and in with the pre-owned...and I’m just a little bit excited.

Common Ground

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© 2021  Jo Hanlon-Moores & Charlie Moores