Although I grudgingly accept that wildlife photography isn't considered "exercise" under the current lockdown rules (even though, as I can attest from personal experience, it involves a great deal more physical effort than does angling, which is - ostensibly - "exercise"); and noting that in any event, travelling is severely restricted (there's precisely nothing worth waving a camera at in my immediate locale); I must admit that I've recently found myself becoming increasingly keen to get out and find some birds to photograph.
To that end, I've been giving my kit a once-over.
I'm gutted to find that two of my lenses - my Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 and (much more importantly to me) my Canon 100-400mm Mk II - have developed fungus on their inner lens elements.
The Canon isn't too bad - I'll be sending it off shortly for an overhaul/clean/fungus removal - but the Siggy is a mess.
I've more or less written it off, really: partly because it's not a lens I use a great deal (mainly for airshows and visits to Croft Circuit, where the shorter focal length means I can just about get a car into the frame); and partly because - to be honest - I haven't treated myself a new lens for a while, and used Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 Mk IIs are becoming very affordable...
(Not that I think the Canon is a better lens than the Siggy, mind - I shoot shoulder-to-shoulder with a Canon 70-200mm Mk II user, and he is yet to pop out an image that was better than anything my Siggy was capable of.)
Happily, my Canon 500mm f/4 Mk II and Siggy 120-300mm f/2.8 (and my converters) are all clean.
As to the Canon 500mm: last year I honestly thought I was going to have to let it go, because a protracted problem with my left shoulder left me completely unable to use it properly - I could barely raise my arm to anything like a useful height for handheld shooting (I never use a tripod); and the arm was so weakened as to make it a uselessly wobbly exercise anyway.
And - oh yeah - it hurt like Hell to try.
I'd previously flirted with using a monopod, and it helped, but I didn't really warm to it. Then the Covid craziness began, which rendered the whole matter pretty moot anyway.
Then - as these things sometimes do - my shoulder slowly started to improve; and as I suggest up the page, I've started to get a hankering again.
I want to avoid a recurrence of the shoulder problem, though (which I suspect was caused by waving a heavy camera/lens combo around for hours unsupported) so I've revisited the idea of monopods.
I already own a good pod (a Sirui P-326, more than strong enough to support the combined (<13lb) weight of the lens, 1Dx body and converter); and the monopod head I'd been using - the Sirui L-10 - was hard to fault, too.
But having the lens on top of the pod and head made it unwieldy and just not as slick to use as I'd hoped for.
What I needed, I decided, was the Wimberley MonoGimbal head:
This - as the name implies - works in much the same way as a tripod gimbal, in that it places the camera and lens to the side, and - critically - allows for the load to be perfectly balanced front-to-back, so that no user input is required to keep the set-up at the required angle.
The good news? It works precisely as advertised. Even in the small amount of time I've been able it test in the house, I've satisfied myself that it's a solid, stable, easily-handled solution to the problem of getting the strain off my shoulder.
Very happy with that, then - although I won't be doing this with it!
The bad news?
It doesn't fit!
That's not strictly true: it fits onto my Arca Swiss-compatible aftermarket lens foot perfectly well, but I can't get the head far enough back on the foot to get the rig to balance - it's just too heavy at the camera end.
So my tests necessarily involved clamping a perilously small section of the foot into the head, and setting the balance mere inches above a very soft armchair; then, when I used it properly, making sure that I had a strong strap attached to the lens and round my neck, in case the head and foot parted company.
No good at all in the Real World.
Not to worry, I can either add an extension plate to the foot; or buy a new foot that would be better suited to the job at hand...
I chose the latter option.
Namely, the Flexshooter Bigfoot FLC-15:
Well made, very low profile (which will bring the lens in, in relation to the head) - just the job.
A reasonable price too - £80 all in, from Andy Rouse, of all people.
But... (You knew there would be one, right?)
I found out after I'd ordered that it would be sent from Zsámbék, a town just outside of Budapest. I don't have a problem with that per se although I might have looked elsewhere anyway because of the Brexit shitshow: but initial impressions seems positive enough, with it being on the move within a day of me ordering.
But it's the Winter, innit?
And in inland Europe, they generally have far worse Winters than we do in the UK...
The upshot of which is that the delivery has been suspended twice so far because of the weather conditions: first at Budapest, and again at Leipzig.
Added, 13/2: And again - this time at East Midlands airport..!
Still, at least it's in the country...
I can't really complain about the weather - it is what it is - but I expect even more problems (and additional expense, even though I was assured by Andy Rouse that VAT and novel customs bureaucracy wouldn't be an issue) once it finally reaches the UK.
Luckily I'm in no mad rush for it, but it's a disappointing fly in the ointment.