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04.10.2015

Japanese Red-crowned Cranes: Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens

© 2015 Robert O'Toole | Japanese red-crowned crane pair in a snow storm. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/30sec | Aperture: f/11 | Focal length:  150mm | ISO 64, EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

© 2015 Robert O’Toole | Japanese red-crowned crane pair in a snow storm. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/30sec | Aperture: f/11 | Focal length:  150mm | ISO 64, EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

The highlight of any winter time trip to Japan has to be the Japanese red-crowned crane which has the distinction of being not only the rarest crane in the world but also the largest and heaviest on average.

Japanese red-crowned cranes in Hokkaido. © 2015 Robert O'Toole |  All Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 handheld.

Japanese red-crowned cranes in Hokkaido. © 2015 Robert O’Toole |  All Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 handheld.

The red-crowned cranes display to help reinforce the pair bond as well as territorial advertisement and agonistic signaling. It always seems to be infectious, once one pair in a group starts, it usually encourages another group to start up than another and another.

© 2015 Robert O'Toole | Japanese red-crowned cranes displaying in the snow. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/1250sec | Aperture: f/7.1 | Focal length: 550mm | ISO 64, EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

© 2015 Robert O’Toole | Japanese red-crowned cranes displaying in the snow. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/1250sec | Aperture: f/7.1 | Focal length: 550mm | ISO 64, EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

It really seems like the dancing behavior shows pure excitement in the species especially at the start of a snow flurry. For a nature photographer it doesn’t get much better than a family group of cranes jumping, leaping and going into dancing behavior all at the same time triggering other family groups of cranes around them to start up eventually reaching the point where you can have dozens and dozens of cranes dancing and displaying at the same time.

© 2015 Robert O'Toole | Japanese red-crowned crane display jump. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, | Shutter speed: 1/1600sec | Aperture: f/8 | Focal length: 550mm | ISO 1000 | EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

© 2015 Robert O’Toole | Japanese red-crowned crane display jump. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810, | Shutter speed: 1/1600sec | Aperture: f/8 | Focal length: 550mm | ISO 1000 | EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

The cranes have a more developed, louder and complicated mating ritual than other crane species. The pair will run and circle each other, jump, twirl, than move rhythmically close to one another and throw their heads back and let out a call at the same time with their heads pointed straight up often triggering other pairs to start displaying and calling as well. The cranes are my favorite species to photograph in Japan and always a highlight of any photo tour.

© 2015 Robert O'Toole | Red-footed red-crowned crane bank top view at the Akan crane park. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/1600sec | Aperture: f/6.3 | Focal length: 600mm | ISO 640, EV + 1.3, Manual mode, Handheld.

© 2015 Robert O’Toole | Red-footed red-crowned crane bank top view at the Akan crane park. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/1600sec | Aperture: f/6.3 | Focal length: 600mm | ISO 640, EV + 1.3, Manual mode, Handheld.

The easiest and most popular sites to photograph the cranes in winter are at two parks where they are fed daily. At these locations where you are kept a set distance a telephoto zoom is the best way to cover all of the action. This increases your chances of getting the type of image or behavior that you are looking for.  A long telephoto prime like a 500 or 600 is too restrictive unless the photographer is okay with missing lots of the action or they plan using a few cameras and lenses at the same time.

© 2015 Robert O'Toole | Japanese red-crowned crane dropping in during a snow storm. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/1600sec | Aperture: f/8 | Focal length: 600mm | ISO 1100, EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

© 2015 Robert O’Toole | Japanese red-crowned crane dropping in during a snow storm. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Nikon D810 | Shutter speed: 1/1600sec | Aperture: f/8 | Focal length: 600mm | ISO 1100, EV + 1.3, Manual mode with Auto-ISO, UniqBall UBH 45 head and Jobu Algonquin Carbon Tripod.

This year I relied on the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens for most of my work and it worked like a dream. The image quality, speed, reach and flexibility was just about perfect. This was my first year that I relied solely on zoom lenses and it worked so well that I will not be bringing a long prime lens to Japan on next years tour.

© 2015 Robert O'Toole | Crane portrait handheld at 600mm. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Canon 7D MK II, Shutter speed: 1/1200sec | Aperture: f/8 | Focal length: 600mm | ISO 200, no EC , Manual mode, handheld.

© 2015 Robert O’Toole | Crane portrait handheld at 600mm. Sigma 150-600 Sports lens and Canon 7D MK II, Shutter speed: 1/1200sec | Aperture: f/8 | Focal length: 600mm | ISO 200, no EC , Manual mode, handheld.

© 2015 Robert O'Toole | 100% crop actual pixel view of the image above.

© 2015 Robert O’Toole | 100% crop actual pixel view of the image above.

I hope my images have inspired you to consider visiting Japan yourself on a tour like mine or on your own. If you have any questions or comments be sure to share ’em in the comments section below.

Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com

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