Tag Archives: 300mm

Q&A: Thoughts about Bodies and Lenses

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Since I have not been shooting anything for months,  a buddy of mine who still shoots sports has offered to trade D800 (used to be mine) and Nikon 105 2.8 and $3,000 for my D3, 24-70, and 70-200 VR II.  Value seems close but these lenses of mine are like new.  I probably would use D800 more, but wanted to get your thoughts if you have time.

A:  Not sure about the dollars – that’s your deal – but I think the D800 is a more flexible camera for someone not needing scary FPS.  You’ve had / used a D800, so you’ll know how it fits your shooting style.  Honestly most of what I shoot these days is with my D700, which is the same sensor as the D3.  I have gotten along very well, though, with the “enthusiast” bodies versus the pro bodies because I’ve never needed more than the 6 or 7 FPS they can give me (D700 / D300) and I can pull the battery pack off and have a more reasonable size / weight.

I do love the fact that I can I can easily switch the D800 to DX mode and have a 15+MP 1.5x crop factor body for birding, and still be able to see the view around the cropped frame in the viewfinder.  Sometimes I wish it were more than 4FPS, though, when shooting birds.

The video capabilities are good on the D800, though I have only shot maybe two clips since I’ve had it, and only then so I wouldn’t feel bad about never using a major feature.

I only have two issues with the D800.  One is the 4FPS I mentioned earlier.  The other is that for 95% of what I shoot these days, 36MP is way too much.  I’ve tried shooting it at the lowest JPG setting, but at that point I might as well use the D700, since it’s faster and a little better in low light noise-wise.  That’s why I usually end up shooting the D700 for most family stuff.  I constantly fight with the amount of space all of my pictures take, and also how slow Aperture is when messing with 36MP RAW = 42MB files, especially when I might do a 3 or 5 frame exposure bracket for HDR and then may use a plug-in or Photoshop, which will end up taking up around 220MB per frame as a TIFF file.  A single shot can end up 1.5GB.  That’s completely out of hand.

If I had time to actually shoot fun stuff like landscapes / travel / etc., then I would use the D800 every time regardless of the file size. It’s just too awesome to have that kind of file size / quality / flexibility.  But most of what I shoot these days is perfectly fine in a 12MP JPG.  You may be in the same situation.

My bigger thought about your decision would be about the lenses.  Since lenses are much more enduring than bodies, and more important for the overall image, I’d pay much more attention there.  If I were to list the most important really good lenses someone should have for Nikon full frame, the 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 II would definitely be on the list.  If I already had those, then I wouldn’t get rid of them.  And unless you’re a macro shooter or shoot stills or portraits of people with very good skin, the 105/2.8 isn’t that useful a lens, regardless of how good a lens it is.

If I were me, I would hang onto the 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 II, regardless of what I did with other lenses and the bodies.

Currently my list of best mainstream lenses for the ultimate kit is:  14-24/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8 II.  I add the 16-35/4 since you can use filters with it.  If you’re into primes, then you add the 24/1.4, 35/1.4, 50/1.4, and 85/1.4 AFS lenses.  And I add the 300/2.8VR with the TC-14EII and TC-20EIII for birding.  The only question is for the 35/1.4, since the Sigma lens (amazingly) is purported to be even better.

So, I have worked toward getting all of those lenses, and once I’ve added them to the kit, I’ll keep them.  Regardless of the body I have at the time.

I know this is far more than you were looking for, but it was a chance to jot down my thoughts about body and lens choices.

Let me know what you decide to do!

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D800 First Impressions – Part 1

I finally had a chance to shoot with my new D800 on Tuesday. (I decided to delay travel into the night so I could have some daylight.)  I was just glancing at some of the pics while on a call and found one that illustrates some characteristics of the D800.  I’ll post more next time about my general impressions of the camera, but this pic will answer a couple of important questions – at least for me.

This is a (female or juvenile) Black-Throated Green Warbler:


The technical details are:

JPG – Fine – L, FX crop (36.2MP).  300mm/2.8 AF-S VR, TC-20E III (600mm), F11, 1/200, ISO 3200, Distance 7.25’
LE NR – Norm, Picture Control – Standard, Active D-Lighting – Auto, JPG Comp. – Optimal Quality
Processing in Aperture:  Mild sharpening, added Definition and Vibrancy, slight White Balance, Exposure +0.5

There are two important things to notice here.  First is the incredible detail possible with this body.  The Warbler was quite gregarious and often came closer to me than I could focus!  I had to keep moving away from her, and had to switch from DX (my default birding configuration) to FX to fit her in the frame.  (What a great option to have available vs. the D300!)  BTW, the DOF at that distance is about 0.2”, or less than a quarter of an inch.  Check out the area around the eye.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.01 PM

Screen grab of 100% view in Aperture.

Another note:  The 300/2.8 VR I w/TC-20E III would not be considered a super sharp combination.  After realizing how poor it is wide open (F/5.6), I’ve started shooting at F/11 to at least get acceptable sharpness.  Still it’s nothing close to the 500/4 (on my wish list) or the 600/4.  Bottom line, this is not the best you can get out of the D800!

Second, notice the noise.  This is an ISO 3200 shot, with exposure pushed another 1/2 stop in post!  There was no noise reduction except for what may have been done in camera.  (Not sure if there was any…)

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.28 PM

This is much cleaner than my D300 at 1600, and as good or better than my D700 at 3200!  Wow!  I may have found a replacement for both.  Unfortunately, that means I’ll likely end up buying another one so I can continue to have two bodies.

As I said, I’ll try to do another post ASAP to present other thoughts about the D800, including overall feel, battery life, frame rate, focusing speed, controls, and accessory costs.

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Q&A: Long Lens Recommendation

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  What’s your favorite long lens, the 300mm f/2.8?

A:  Long lens.  Hmmm.  That is SO dependent on application.  I trust Thom Hogan’s reviews a lot.  There’s also a good discussion here.

The 300/2.8 is top notch.  (I have two of them.  The AFS mk 1, and the AFS VR I.)  It’s the easiest to travel with on airplanes.  But I’ve finally had to admit that it doesn’t give the level of sharpness I want when I add a TC, especially the 2x.  And for what I need a tele for (birding), 600mm or more is often necessary.  Bottom line for me is that the 300 is too short.  Another good thing about it, though, is that it is very hand-holdable (if you have strong arms), especially the VR versions.  Available for $3-5K depending on the model.

Some like the 200-400/4.  It’s sharp until you get past 100 yds. or so.  When you’re shooting very dynamic subjects (like whales) it’s handy to be able to have a wider view to find your subject and then zoom in for the shot.  It’s often hard to initially frame your subject with a longer fixed lens.  And the 200-400 is very hand-holdable if you have the arms for it.  Can be found for $5K in great shape.

The 400/2.8 is probably the sharpest of them all, but is very hard to travel with on airplanes.  It’s too big to be hand-held.  Ever.  That means you can buy an older AFS mk I or mk II since you’ll likely never use VR.  They’re all incredibly sharp.  Decent with TCs, too, so it can be a decent 800/5.6.  Great for sports and wildlife.  Can be had for $5-7K for the older non-VR models.

The 500/4 is less difficult for travel, very sharp, and barely hand-holdable for short bursts.  Many view it as the practical sweet spot for wildlife.  I’m looking for a 500/4.  But that’ll run 6-8K for a current VRII, which is the model I want so I’ll have the best shot at hand-holdability.  I missed a mint VRII with all of the optional feet and camo covers a few months ago.  Just took me too long to decide to part with that much cash.

The 600/4 is the ultimate for wildlife.  Will always be on a pod, so the VR isn’t necessary.  With your new D4, the AF will work even with the 2x TC.  You can find decent AFS mk I or II for $5-8K.

Don’t overlook the 200/2.  You’d love that one with video, and folk say it makes a very decent 280/2.8 or 400/4 with the 1.4x or 2x.  And it’s cheap!  😉

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Shoot RAW, Reduce Noise?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Shoot RAW and you’ll have less noise.  OK, you and I both know that among RAW’s many benefits over JPEG, lower noise isn’t one of them.  Or is it?  Well, yes and no.

Technically, the level of noise you see in a JPEG can (should) be exactly the same as RAW, depending on the RAW conversion, not on JPEG’s inherent noise.  But look at the following pictures, noticing specifically the decreasing noise levels between them:  (These are screen shots pulled out of Aperture, thus the red highlighting in a few places.)

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Correct exposure

Indicated exposure, adjusted in post

(Technical note:  All three shots are identical in camera except for exposure.  All three RAW files were adjusted identically except for exposure and recovery.  D300 @ ISO 400.  1/2500@f/5.6, 1/1250@f/5.6, 1/640@f/5.6)

Due to the Heron’s bright white feathers, the first shot is the greatest exposure I could get by with without blowing them out.  It’s actually a 2 stop underexposure compared to what the meter suggested.  Then in Aperture I gave it one stop boost and brought back the highlights with recovery.  In effect, this is the best I could have done with a JPEG.  (In fact the shadows are better due to the greater dynamic range maintained in the RAW file.  JPEG would not have had the same amount of data available.)  Note the very noticeable noise in the background.  Also, note in the pupils (and in many of the other background areas not visible in the crop) you can see a lot of dark areas that are pure black.

The second shot was given an additional stop in the camera.  This is the correct exposure for most of the scene, with the white feathers being the major exception.  So, in Aperture I left the exposure flat and just dialed in the same amount of recovery as the first one to regain detail in the white feathers.  That couldn’t have been done with a JPEG, as there would have been no data available to help out the feathers.  Note the much lower noise levels.  Also, all of the dark areas have detail in them.

Finally, the third shot was exposed as the camera meter suggested, giving a one stop overexposure to the scene.  In Aperture I pulled back the exposure by one full stop and matched the same recovery setting of the other two pictures.  As expected this gives a near exact exposure match for the other two.  The 14-bit RAW file from the D300 sensor has plenty of headroom to handle the highlights which are blown out by 1.75 stops, so I am able to bring them back to be basically the same as in the other two exposures.  The real benefit here, though, is the further reduction in noise.  It looks pretty good!

So does RAW have less noise than JPEG?  No.  But it does give you the headroom to overexpose by one, one and a half, maybe even 2 stops and then pull the exposure back in post, effectively reducing the noise levels and increasing the amount and quality of the detail in your shadow areas.

Had I thought of it at the time I would have also shot this at ISO 200 to determine if the overexposed shot (final shot above) had lower noise than I would have gotten simply by reducing the ISO.  The difference seems more dramatic than the nearly invisible difference between ISO 200 and 400, so I think this is better, but I’ll have to try it out to be sure.

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Q&A: Fast Primes vs. Flash

(This post is from an email conversation with two friends. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  How can I cause flash pictures to not look so much like they were taken with a flash?

A:  Up until I got the D70 I never used a zoom lens. I tried to get a series of lenses that roughly doubled the focal length from lens to lens.  My normal kit was a 20/2.8, 35/2, and 85/1.8 (like a 14, 24, and 55 on DX). When I needed telephoto, I carried the 180/2.8 and 300/4. With that kit, I generally had a lens that was close to right and moved around or cropped. But I was carrying a lot of lenses and had to change lenses all the time. (That doesn’t even include carrying multiple bodies so I could shoot color and b&w.)

Back then zooms had visibly inferior image quality. And they were slow. I really got used to having sharp, fast glass.

But I’ve gotten lazy. These days, I hardly ever shoot with primes except the 300/2.8. It’s great to just carry one lens, the 18-200, and have the right focal length for nearly anything. In my mind, the one big negative about the 18-200 is that it is f/4.8 or slower for most of its range. And it’s not because that makes me use slower shutter speeds, but just because it affects the look of the shots. When I’m shooting with a fast lens, like the 50/1.8 or 85/1.8, I’ll usually be shooting at f/2 or f/2.8 and very seldom smaller than f/5.6. The 18-200 starts at f/4.8 at 50mm and to be honest I shoot it at f/8 when I can to maximize the sharpness. If it were just about brightness, I would just get a new D300 or D3 and jack up the ISO a couple of stops to make up for the slower lens.

I just like the look of a sharp lens shot around f/2 or f/2.8 with great out of focus blurs in the background. You can’t get that from a slow zoom. But you can get it from lenses like the 14-24/2.8, 17-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8, and 200-400/4.

What I’ve seen from my 70-200 so far makes me think I will never use my 180/2.8 lens again, even though that’s one of the great Nikon lenses of all time (http://www.naturfotograf.com/index2.html).

So I think my opinion has changed now that there are some truly excellent quality, reasonably fast (f/2.8) lenses available. I don’t see any special virtue in primes, so if a zoom is as sharp, fast enough (and sharp wide open), attainable, and luggable, then I think it’s an easy decision to go with the zoom.

Well, maybe there is some virtue in primes:  they are less expensive; they are smaller and lighter; they force you to think more about composition and shooting distance.

My perfect kit would definitely include the 14-24/2.8 and 70-200/2.8. Possibly the 24-70/2.8, but I’m not real thrilled about the limited range on that one. And then a very fast prime or two in there, like maybe the 50/1.4 or the 85/1.4. But I would also keep the 18-200 for the times I don’t want to lug all that other stuff around.

And relating this all back to the original question, a fast lens gives you all sorts of flexibility when it comes to flash photography. As Jim mentioned, there are two things you can do to extend the range of your flash:  open up to a wider aperture and / or increase the ISO. But in normal settings like you are shooting at church, both of those options can also reduce the need for flash or at least how apparent the flash is.

Whenever I use flash, my goal is to make it look like I didn’t use a flash. There are two main ways to get there:  diffusion / bounce, and balancing with available light. Both techniques will reduce or eliminate the tell–tale shadows. Sometimes due to distance or, more often high or colored ceilings, I can’t bounce or diffuse the flash effectively (I haven’t figured out Jim’s 45 degree method yet), so then I will do what I can to raise my ISO and shoot wider apertures so that I can get my exposure to within one or at most two stops of what I would use w/o flash. Then the flash will help stop the action and keep the color balance, but the shadows won’t be horrible and there won’t be the possibility of the people in front being blown out while those in the back are too dark. The shot at the top is an example.

BTW, your camera meter tells you how close the ambient light is to your flash exposure. With the flash turned on and exposure set, look at the “analog” exposure indicator and see how much to the right (-) the exposure shows. I try to keep that to between one and two stops.

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The Down Side of Using a Car as a Blind

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I’ve read a number of authors suggest the idea of using your automobile as a simple and effective blind for wildlife photography and I’ve gotten some shots I would have otherwise missed by doing it. The other day I learned that the idea is not without its own problems.

I was in Florida with only a little extra time before a flight and I was trying to grab a few shots of the incredibly numerous and varied birds there. It was therefore not only a handy form of camouflage, but also a practical necessity for me to stay in my car for some of the shots.


Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 6.09.02 PM

Here’s a 100% view of the full-frame Snowy Egret shot on top. It was my first shot after I pulled up to this spot so I was just grabbing something in case it spooked. The framing was poor and the highlights blown out, but it also wasn’t sharp. I was shooting RAW so I wasn’t too concerned about the highlights, and I was going to shoot some more to get the framing better, but I just couldn’t get the thing sharp. In fact it got worse and worse!!!

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 6.11.49 PM


Eight shots later, here’s what I got (no adjustments of any kind on any photo on this page). I was rubbing my eyes trying to figure out why stuff was coming in and out of focus without me even touching my camera!

A great feature of shooting from within a car is the ease of finding sturdy stuff to rest your arms on, so I didn’t think I was having a camera shake problem. Seeing that my shutter speed was 1/3000 of a second, I knew that wasn’t the case, even at 500mm. And this wasn’t the look of camera motion.

I finally pulled back from the camera and looked at the scene. The whole thing was shimmering! The heat from the car was rising up right by the window I was shooting out of and ruining the view. That was then magnified by the lens. Because of the direction of the mild breeze I could have been shooting out of the passenger side and never had a problem. But on my side of the car, boy was it a problem!

So from then on I have kept in mind another consideration when shooting from the car. If the wind is blowing from the front or opposite side of the car, I need to get out to shoot or else the sharpness will be suboptimal.

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