When I lived if Florida virtually 99.99% of my images were handheld using my Nikkor 80-400mm VR or Nikkor 70-300mm VR lenses attached to my Nikon D200. I found the weight of those lenses easy to carry all day long if needed and using them I was able to get closer to some birds without using a tripod.
I walked a lot there, sometimes up to 10 miles a day to get my images so weight was very important to me. Most of the time I was sitting in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico or in tidal lagoons. I was very comfortable handholding all of the time. I very rarely used my Nikkor 200-400mm VR with or without the 1.4x TC in Florida. I sure didn’t want to mess up an expensive lens by getting sand in it or dunking it into salt water.
Then…I moved back out west to Utah. Photographing here is very different than I was used to in Florida. The birds in Florida were used to human presence, that does not happen as often here. In local parks the birds here do seem to tolerate human presence well because they are exposed to them often.
But for the most part the birds here are a bit (or a lot) more skittish so I am often in a vehicle using it as a mobile blind. The birds seem far less nervous about a parked vehicle than they do a person standing outside of it using a tripod, there are always exceptions to that though. Some times the birds or animals are so engrossed in what they are doing that they will ignore a person standing quietly.
I admit to having a very difficult time getting used to not handholding all the time and shooting from the inside of a vehicle. I did not have the freedom or range of movement I was used to. I regrettably do miss shots now that I would not have missed on foot because I can not move my lens 360 degrees when I am inside a “mobile blind”.
I felt as though someone had staple-gunned me inside of a vehicle thus restricting my my ability to move unfettered.
When I first started flying out west again to photograph I was using a hand towel on the window to protect the window and the exterior of the lens. That was awful though, the towel would fall or blow out the window and it only provided a minimum of protection for the lens that rested on it. So I thought of using “pipe wrap”, those long closed-cell foam tubes with a slit down one side that is used to help prevent household plumbing pipes from freezing. Well, those sort of worked but the foam is probably less than a half inch thick and it broke down very rapidly. It also could easily fly up off of the window while driving, even at slow speeds. So while it was a good idea, it wasn’t that great.
I hadn’t moved to Utah yet when I put my thinking cap back on and used my “noodle”.
I went to Wal-mart and purchased a pool noodle, those garishly colored, closed-cell foam “Noodles” with a narrow hole the entire length that kids use in swimming pools and picked one up and tucked it under my arm. Then I purchased some Duct Tape.
I measured the length of the vehicle window and cut the Noodle to that length, used a knife to carefully cut halfway through the Noodle without slicing the other side of the hole in the middle. After completing that I placed more strips of Duct Tape to cover up the hideous orange color of the Noodle. I figured something that bright and hideous might scare away the birds or animals. After taping it and leaving an un-taped narrow area where the cut was I took it over and slid it down on the vehicle window.
(I now add thin strips of tape to the inside of the pool noodle where the window pushes on the interior, that protects where the noodles eventually crack and it prolongs the life of the noodle.)
I can rest my lens on the Noodle and have the ability to slide them from one side of the window frame to the other. I don’t have to worry about damaging the windows either. The windows can be adjusted to the height I desire by rolling it up and down.
The Noodles last a long time, but you shouldn’t squeeze the Noodle too tight often or it begins to split a line open on the inside. When new you can drive down a road with the Noodle slipped over the window edge at speeds in excess of 55 mph and the Noodle will stay put. As they age they do loosen a bit where the split is though so you might need to close the window up some to keep it in place.
A downside: You have to keep you hand on your gear, there isn’t a lens mount to keep the lens attached. I don’t find that to be an issue though as I just lay my gear over my lap or put it on my lens caddy when I am not using it.
The Duct Tape does at times squeak, you can resolve that issue by lightly buffing the Duct Tape with a medium grade sandpaper. When the Noodle wears out (splits) just make a new one. They pack easy too!
Total cost for three Noodles:
The Noodle: Around $1.88
The Duct Tape: $3.54 for a large roll.
That equals $5.42 divided by 3 is $1.80.
Yes, only $1.80 per Noodle.
A heck of a lot less expensive than spending $50 to $70 on a manufactured bean bag!
The Noodles help by stabilizing the lens better than just the edge of a window and the closed cell foam not only protects the glass and the exterior of the lens it also helps by absorbing the movement of the camera caused when the shutter button is depressed.
Using my “Noodle” hasn’t given me back the range of movement I had while photographing on foot handheld that I had in Florida but it sure has made photographing from the window of a mobile blind a much more pleasant experience.
So that is how I use my Noodle when photographing birds and animals. Click one of the images below to see more images of the Noodle