Tag Archives: Teleconverter

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:

2012-04-03-14-44-12

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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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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