Best of the Tetons

Eastern Idaho Birds and Critters:

Different Terrain and Additional Species

Menan Buttes

Eastern Idaho consists mostly of rural farm land and sagebrush covered flats. Rivers like the Henry’s Fork, South Fork, Teton River, flow through the region. Menan Buttes, seen here, are just north of Idaho Falls. Mixed in, Idaho set aside numerous refuges and wildlife preserves including Camas – National Wildlife Refuge,  Market Lake Wildlife Management Area, and numerous other Wildlife Management Areas. Click the link for a complete list. While the Jackson Hole area and Eastern Idaho areas share many of the same animal species, a few additional species are more common there than here. If you are driving through the area—either coming or leaving JH—or if you just want a different look at the region, check out some of the other possibilities! Nikon D4 and Nikon 70-200mm lens.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese: Young goslings can swim soon after birth, but cannot fly for a while. At any danger, they move from the banks to the channels of water. Idaho typically warms sooner than the Teton area and some species nest earlier. Canada Geese are commonly seen along Flat Creek here in the Tetons. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are Common to both areas. I haven’s seen many this year in our area, but I’ve heard of a few random sightings. A pair raised some owlets in the Gros Ventre Campground a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t find them this year. They can occasionally be seen in the trees near the Gros Ventre and along the Moose-Wilson Road. I’ve also seen them as Schwabacher Landing. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds

Yellow-headed Blackbirds can be found in numerous areas of Jackson Hole, including the ponds just north of the Visitor’s Center and in the South Park Elk Feed Ground. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.


Porcupines live in both areas, but are not easy to spot in the dense trees they prefer. They feed mostly at night and hunker down most of the day. I’ve seen a few along the road to the Shane Cabin this year. Farmers and ranchers typically kill them outside the parks. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Night Heron

Night Heron: I don’t recall ever hearing anyone saying they’ve seen a Night Heron here in the JH area. When I was on Sanibel Island, I photographed similar looking Yellow-crested Night Herons. Interestingly, I saw quite a few in both places feeding in bright sunlight. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck: Last fall, I saw a male Ruddy Duck along Flat Creek, but his baby blue bill was turning brown at the time. I’ve seen a few of them at Christian Pond across from the Jackson Lake Lodge. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Jack Rabbit

Jackrabbit: Cottontails and Shoe Shoe Hairs are more common in the JH area than Jackrabbits. With that said, I spent a lot of last winter looking for Snow Shoe Hairs and never found one. I am not sure if that’s because they are scarce or if it’s because they blend in with the snow. Jackrabbits are also common east and south of our region. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl: I’ve never seen a Long-eared Owl in the Tetons, but I’ve heard reports of people seeing them in Yellowstone. They are very elusive and live in thick cover. It’s easy to walk right under one without ever seeing it, only to have it spook and fly to a different tree. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl: This shot illustrates again why they are so difficult to spot. While this one is fluffed out slightly, they tighten their feathers to make themselves much slimmer when they feel any sort of threat or pressure. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl: I’ve never photographed a Short-eared Owl until this recent trip. In fact, I’d never even seen one! They hunt very early and very late in the day and tend to stay either on the ground or on low perches and mounds. I captured this one within the first 10 or 15 minutes of morning light. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron: I’ve seen these magnificent birds at Schwabacher Landing, along Flat Creek, along the Moose-Wilson Road and a few other random areas of the Park. They were also common on our trip to Sanibel Island.  Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Northern Saw Whet Owl

Northern Saw Whet Owl: This is a young fledgling. Cindy Johnson, an Eastern Idaho photographer, showed me it’s location or I would have definitely never seen it. It was in dense cover, but wasn’t at all concerned about our presence. I’ve heard of people spotting them in the Tetons and Yellowstone. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Parting Shot of a Flock of Geese

Parting Shot of a Flock of Geese: I have to wonder how well each of these goslings know to find their specific parents once they get jumbled up like this. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Other Birds: I was only in Eastern Idaho for a few hours one Friday afternoon and again the next morning before heading to the Fort Henry Mountain Man Rendezvous 2015: While I was in “wildlife mode” I was mostly interested in photographing owls, so I didn’t have much of a chance to focus on any of the other birds in the area. I saw both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, at least one Norther Shrike, lots of White-faced Ibis, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, White Pelicans, and numerous other species of waterfowl—many of which I couldn’t have identified at the time. Maybe another day! I also spent some time trying to find some Burrowing Owls. With the sandy soil, they are more common there than here, but I was told many of the babies in the area didn’t survive the heavy rains that flooded their dens this year.


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Tamron 150-600mm F/5.6-F6/3 Lens: Completely Rewritten June 3

Lightweight, Relatively Small, Sharp, and Inexpensive!


NOTE: This is essentially a rewrite of a post I made in early February of 2015, updated with additional photos and comments. I had owned the lens a week or two when I wrote it, so most of my comments then were essentially “initial impressions”. It wasn’t intended to be a thorough review, but simply a list of hands-on comments, observations, and a few actual photos taken with both of my Nikon bodies. I figured there were already plenty of sites evaluating it with DXO scores and bench tests using calibrated charts and targets. This new page is being written roughly four months after receiving the lens, and as before, are simply observations and comments from an end user. And, if it matters, I paid full retail for my lens.


Evening Light: Taken with a Tamron 150-600mm at 350mm with a Nikon D800.
Evening Light
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 150 mm, 1/100 at f/9, Aperture priority Mode, -1 2/3 EV, ISO 100

The Short of It!

If you’d like to save a lot of reading, I’d suggest: “Buy One”!  I was initially surprised and impressed. Now, I use it regularly.

Red Fox Approaching: 220mm
Red Fox Approaching
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 220 mm, 1/500 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV, ISO 200,

Initial Comments:

I’ve been a dedicated Nikon Lens user all along. My Nikon dealer suggested I check into the Tamron lens, so I started reading reviews. Talk about a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde bag of results! Most were good. Some said it was great. Some said it was soft past 400mm. Some said it wasn’t good for low light shooting. Some user reviews included images the reviewer considered were tack sharp, but wouldn’t have made it past my first cut.  Other quotes were along the lines, “A great lens for the money” and “Super telephoto lenses compromise sharpness”. Then, occasionally, there would be a group of incredibly sharp images. If you’re reading this page, you’ve probably seen many similar comments.

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrel
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 420 mm, 1/640 at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -2 EV with Strobe, ISO 1000

My Needs:

I have a well used Nikon D4 and a Nikon D800 pair of bodies. I have Nikon’s pro list of zoom lenses including a 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and a 200-400mm lens. I like zooms. What’s missing? Aside from tilt-shift and macro lenses, the obvious gap is from 400-600mm. In Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, the 200-400mm lens on either of my full frame bodies always worked fine, but I kept watching for opportunities to fill in with a 500mm or 600mm lens. Neither of them ever fit my budget. I suspect my situation in this regard mirrors many others. If a Tamron 150-600mm lens worked better than my 200-400mm lens with a 1.4 TC on it, I’d be happy. I never had much success with the TC, so it wouldn’t take that much to impress me in that range.

Slepping Indian 150mm
Sleeping Indian
: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 150 mm, 1/2500 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV, ISO 200

Sleeping Indian 600mm
Sleeping Indian:
NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/3200 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV, ISO 200

My Client’s Needs:

Late last summer, I started offering One-on-One Photography Excursions into Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge. Many clients lack a lens much over 200mm. Part of my decision to purchase the lens originally was to let my Nikon clients use it while on the trip. They’d be thrilled.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/800 at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV with Remote Strobe, ISO 1000

My Final Decision:

While still on the fence, I ran across this Flicker page by Kristofer Rowe. The page is LOADED with birds in flight.  His page, along with the many positive comments put me over the top:  To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have pulled the trigger without seeing Kristofer’s pages. Possibly my photos on this page will help you.

Swan Squabble
Swan Squabble
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/1250 at f/9, Manual Mode, -1 EV, ISO 180


 Random Musings & Comparisons

  • Lightweight vs Heavy Build: This Tamaron lens weight 4.3 lb and is lighter than my 4.7 lb Nikon 200-400. The Nikon 600mm weight 11.2 lbs! My Nikon 70-200mm lens weighs 3.39 lbs. The Nikon pro lenses are heavier and have a more rugged, long-life feel. Still, light weight is good on some level.
  • Included: The Tamron doesn’t come with a clear glass front filter nor a case.
  • Collar Foot: The Tamron lens has one mounting hole in the bottom of the foot. I would have preferred to see two, as I have on my 70-200mm and 200-400mm.
  • Minimum Focus: On my Nikon 200-400mm, I can focus as close as 6.6′ (or roughly 19 feet with the limiter turned on). The Tamron’s minimum focus is 8.86 feet (or 49 feet with the limiter turned on). Interestingly, a Nikon 600mm f/4 has a minimum focusing distance of 15.7 feet. (5.0 m).
  • Balance in the Tripod: As the Tamaron lens is zoomed out from 150mm to 600mm, the barrel telescopes out an extra three inches. When mounted on a Gimball head or a “sidekick” style setup, the balance changes as the Tamron lens is zoomed in or out. The lens is light enough this isn’t a huge issue, but worth noting. It is also easy enough to slide the camera forward or back in the clamp to balance it again.
  • Wide Open Aperture: At 150mm, the Tamron is wide open at F/5.6 or at 600mm, wide open at F/6.3. The difference is only 1/3 of a stop. A Nikon 600mm and my Nikon 200-400mm are F/4 lenses. That’s a full stop better than the Tamron at 150mm or 1.33 of a stop better than the Tamron at 600mm. An F/2.8 lens, like my 70-200mm is two full stops better than the Tamron at 150mm. You might hear someone suggest this lens in not great in low light conditions. That’s a tricky comment because there’s not enough information to qualify the statement. I’ve shot this lens in very low light conditions for landscapes, sunrises, and sunsets. It (and not many of the F/4 telephotos lenses) is not going to stop the action of a running animal at sunrise either. My original post from last February suggested this lens probably works best when stopped down, however over the past month, I’ve been shooting it wide open regularly on migrating songbirds and other subjects. If low light, action shots are important, I typically start my morning with my F/2.8 70-200 on my D4.  I can switch it to the 200-400 f/4 as I get better light. If none of this makes sense, check out the F-Stop Chart at Digital Camera World.
  • EV Compensation:I don’t know if every copy of this lens works like mine, but my lens overexposes my shots. I add a considerable negative EV value in almost all cases. In other words, when I know I should be shooting at -.3 EV, I set this lens to -1 EV. That could sound like a knock on the lens, right? I certainly don’t look at it that way. The negative EV compensation gives me back some of the “lost” aperture value of this F/5.6-F/6.3 lens over an F/4 Nikon lens.
  • Image Stabilization: Nikon calls theirs “VR” (vibration reduction) and Tamron calls theirs VC Image Stabilization. Over the four months of shooting, I can say Tamron did a great job with their image stabilization in this lens. I leave it ON all the time, including while on my sturdiest tripod, over a bean bag, and hand held. I’ve been able to get some amazingly sharp shots hand held at 600mm, though I prefer a tripod.
  • Removable Collar: The collar on the Tamron lens is removable. Some people might take it off when not using a tripod. I shoot using a tripod almost all the time, so this is not an issue. The knob of the collar loosens easily…or should I say too easily. I’m ready to put a drop of “Lock-Tight” on mine. If the know loosens too much, the entire collar assembly can wobble. I believe this is an easy fix.
  • Focus Issues / Brain Dead: Occasionally, my Tamron 150-600mm simply stops focusing. The only solution I can find is to turn the camera off, take the battery out, put it back in, then turn the camera back on. I’ve read of others with similar problems. The permanent fix is to send the lens back to Tamron for repairs. Reports I’ve read said the problem goes away afterwards. (Note, my rep suggested Tamron may have a firmware fix in the works for this issue) I’ve had the lens on one of my bodies almost constantly since I purchased it. It has been difficult to find a time slot to send it in! I’ve also noticed the lens occasionally refuses to begin searching for a focus zone when I am zoomed all the way to 600mm and change to another nondescript subject. My solution is to pull the zoom back to around 200mm and aim at a highly detailed subject to initiate the focusing. Lastly, the lens typically searches from front to back, then back to front. Lately, I have been taking photos of birds at fairly close range. If a bird stops on a branch at about 15′ and I take a few shots, then moves to 10′, the lens has to search to infinity before returning to locate the closer subject. This can take what seems like a long time if the close bird is doing something “important”. To be fair, I believe my Nikon 200-400mm works in a similar fashion, but it only has a range of 200mm to search while the Tamron is searching a 450mm range.  I’m sure the techno-babble wizards out there understand this issue. I am just reporting what I see when I am focusing.
  • Self Inflicted Striping Problem: I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons I bought the Tamron 150-600mm lens was as a “loaner” to clients going on a photo tour with me. I made a mistake of purchasing a cheap clear filter to add to the front of the lens. The cheap filter caused some occasional stripes or bands in some of the busy backgrounds. I asked if anyone else had seen the issue on a couple of forums and got a response suggesting the filter being the culprit. Bingo! They were correct. I removed it and have not seen the problem since.


Early Photos

Shots above this section were all taken within the first week or two after receiving my lens. The shots below were taken on the first day.

Tram Tower with Insert
Tram Tower
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 280 mm, 1/500 at f/7.1, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV, ISO 100


Partial Pano Surprise: The first afternoon after receiving the lens, I headed to Boyle’s Hill to get a few shots of Swans and test the lens. While standing around waiting for Swans to fly in or out, I took a few panoramic images of the Teton ridge line, shown above.

Tram Tower Detail
Tram Tower (tight crop)
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 280 mm, 1/500 at f/7.1, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV, ISO 100

This is the crop (red box) of the image above the pano strip. I can easily see the tram tower and dock at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at Teton Village and the mogul fields. That mountain top is roughly 8 miles off!


April Photos

The images below will probably appear fairly small on your computer. Click each one to see it at it’s native size.


The inset image above shows the full capture at 250 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. This image tells me a lot about the capabilities of the lens. It would be very easy to drive down the highway and never see this climber. When standing on the road, I could see him, but there is no way I would ever see his belt and pouch, much less the small “d” on his chalk pouch. (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)


The inset image above shows the full capture at an estimated distance of 40 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)


The inset image above shows the full capture at an estimated distance of 30 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. (The smaller white box is part of a final crop I made for this image) (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)


The inset image above shows the full capture at an estimated distance of 20 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)

The images above can be made to appear even sharper in post production working off the original raw files. Other than a camera like a Nikon D800e, cameras apply an optical low pass filter (OLPF) which slightly blurs raw captures. I always sharpen my images to my tastes in Lightroom.


AF Fine Tuning

Most newer DSLR cameras have a feature called Auto Focus Fine Tuning.  This function allow users to make minor tweaks to improve focusing between each camera and each body, including the addition of various teleconverters. The first body I owned with the feature was a Nikon D300. It definitely improved the sharpness of my images. You can probably still find a person or two that will tell you lenses don’t need to be tuned to a camera body, but most people I’ve met in the past 5 or six years think they do need it. I use a Lens-Align tool to check and adjust all of my body and lens combinations. If you are buying a Tamron 150-600mm lens, I’d suggest buying the relatively inexpensive tool to use on this and all lenses.

AF Fine Tune settings can vary at different focal lengths on any zoom lens. A fixed prime lens does not have this issue, of course. A super zoom lens like the Tamron increases the chances some. For example, at 600mm the optimum setting might be +4. At 150mm, the optimum setting might be +2, and at 300mm, the optimum setting might be +3. Some people might suggest to set the AF Fine Tune amount to the middle one. Knowing the main reason I wanted this lens was for the 400-600mm reach, I gave more importance to the longer range settings. You might hear a few “user comments” suggesting the lens gets softer over 400mm. I suspect they haven’t taken the time to find their optimum settings in that range. They might also have poor technique, with small movements amplified at the longer ranges. In reality, my copy of the Tamron 150-600mm lens does not have much of a variation in AF Fine Tuning settings from the short to the long ends.


For The Money?

Quite often, a reviewer starts out their comments with, “for the money, this is….”. That’s often a red flag, at least for my perspective, but maybe it doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. A Nikon 600mm prime lens is just under $10,000. ($9,799.00) This Tamron lens sells for $1069. Using really rounded numbers, the prime lens is roughly ten times the cost of the Tamron zoom lens. (To be exact, it is 9.116 times.) Of course, they are two completely different products. I read one review in which the person said the Nikon prime is not “ten times better”. I might add…”to that person”. You could also argue that if the images from a Nikon prime are 10% better to some professionals, it probably IS worth ten times the cost. Right? It is simply a matter of perspective and size of the wallet. If you don’t have the extra nine grand, decisions become a little easier. If, or when, I win a big Powerball lottery, I am sure I’d own a 600mm prime!


A Few Photos

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker: Shooting Data: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 550 mm, 1/160 at f/6.3, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 800,

Great Gray Over Prey

Great Gray Owl: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 300 mm, 1/1000 at f/9, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 800

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 500 mm, 1/160 at f/6.3, Manual Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 500

GGO with Vole

Great Gray Owl: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 220 mm, 1/1250 at f/11, Manual Mode, -2 EV,  ISO 320

Stallions Fighting

Mustangs: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 450 mm, 1/800 at f/7.1, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 280

Fort Meyers Beach

Fort Meyers Beach: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/200 at f/9, Aperture priority Mode, -2/3 EV,   ISO 100

Reddish Heron Fishing

Reddish Egret Fishing: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Tamron 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 500 mm, 1/640 at f/6.3, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV, (Auto) ISO 1250

Birds in Flight

In April, my wife and I made a trip to Sanibel Island. I took the Tamron 150-600 lens and my Nikon D4. I took a lot of photos of the plentiful birds in flight and came home with lots of good shots of birds in flight, along with stalking and chasing shots. You can view a lot of them on this page:  Tamron 150-600mm Lens at Sanibel Island, FL . I think it performed wonderfully, however, I don’t have a prime 500mm or 600mm to compare.

White Ibis

White Ibis at First Light: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Tamron 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 400 mm, 1/1000 at f/9, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV, (Auto) ISO 720

Low Light

I mentioned this issue earlier. There are a few issues. First, don’t expect this lens to freeze action at daybreak. But, you also have to be realistic and understand that no telephoto lens is great at daybreak either. There are lots of low light shots on the Sanibel page and I don’t hesitate to use it.

Wet Flicker

Wet Northern Flicker: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 500 mm, 1/500 at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 5600

I should mention I own two of Nikon’s best high ISO performers (Nikon D4 and D800 -the newer models are D4s and D810). I shoot at ISO 1250 without even thinking about noise and often take shots at ISO 4500 or even above. The Northern Flicker image above was taken yesterday at ISO 5600. The two bodies allow me to set my camera to Manual where I control the shutter speed and aperture, then let the camera set the ISO via Auto-ISO. When some people complain the lens is not a good “low light performer”, the odds are they don’t have a good low light performing body. In that case, the best shots will be taken in the brighter hours of the day. I also speculate some of the blurry images taken at low light are a combination of poor technique, a wobbly tripod, and failure to adjust shutter speeds to an adequate level to stop motion blur.

Zodiac Sculptures

Zodiac Sculptures: These sculptures are currently on exhibit at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, just north of town.  Click this image to see it MUCH LARGER!

Quick Wrap-Up

Whether you want include the qualifier “for the money” or not, I’ve found my Tamron 150-600mm lens to be a welcome surprise and a solid performer. I like it…well because I could afford it…and because of its size and light weight. Once I got rid of the cheap filter I purchased for it, and after I ran it through the normal AF Fine Tuning adjustments, I’ve found it to be plenty sharp. I personally don’t see a drop off in image quality over my $6200 Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens, which is heavier and has less range. The Tamron had a cheaper, more plastic feel than the Nikon 200-400mm and doesn’t appear to be as weather sealed. The Tamron’s VC (VR) works very well. I have been surprised of the image quality when hand held. I have realistic expectations for my early and late day photography, and as long as I work within practical boundaries, I get good low light results. For my back yard photography, the 93″ focusing range allows me to capture birds and critters at close range at 600mm.

Sigma has recently released their version of a 150-600mm lens. My dealer suggested the lens is just as sharp, but costs just over $2000 and is quite a bit heavier. He also thought it focused a little faster and had a better weather seal. I would image there are reviews and comparisons for the two lenses beginning to show up. Worth noting here.

I have been shooting regularly with the Tamron 150-600mm throughout March, April, May, and June. I create a Daily Updates and Photos page for each month for Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole. I’ve only included a sampling of the images on this page, but if you still need to see more, click any or all of these links:

Daily Updates & Photos for Grand Teton National Park & JH: 2015: June: | May: | Apr: | Mar:


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