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