Tag Archives: Telephoto

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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Q&A: Third Party Macro Lenses?

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

Q:  Have you or anyone else used the Tamron 90mm f/2.8?  For $459 I’m wondering if it worth the price or if I should just stick with the known quality of Canon.  Have you compared the 100mm to the 100mm L for sharpness?

A:  I’m generally a snob about sticking with the Nikon (or Canon) lenses.  And even though the cost is sometimes double that of a 3P lens or more, there are two things that make the additional cost easier to swallow.  First, bodies come and go, but your lens investment will span decades.  I have a number of great Nikon lenses that I’ve had for 20+ years that work perfectly with my latest Nikon bodies (e.g., 300/4 AF, 180/2.8 AF, 85/1.8 AF).  Second, OEM lenses depreciate much less than 3P lenses do.  In fact, quite a few of my lenses are worth more now than I paid for them.  So a little depreciation spread over a lot of years makes for a very good overall cost proposal.

WRT 3P lenses, in nearly every case the 3P lenses produce visibly inferior images compared to their OEM counterparts.  And in most cases, the build quality and sealing is much poorer.  Finally, the resale value is much lower.

All that being said, the macro lenses, and specifically the 90-100mm range products are the one sweet spot for the 3P manufacturers.  Most of them are good, and the Tamron 90/2.8 specifically has always been an excellent lens throughout the many versions.  I’ve had two of them and at one point (back when I had time (= before kids)) I tested all of my lenses and the Tamron 90 was significantly sharper than every one of my excellent Nikon lenses.  (The Nikons did beat the Tamron for contrast, though.)

The Tamron build quality is decent, and it actually holds its value better than other 3P lenses.  One note of caution, though, is that the chips in the Tamrons sometimes are not compatible with new bodies (at least on the Nikon side), so you may not get the same life span out of them.  (That’s why I’ve had two of them instead of just one…)

And a final note on the original question, I haven’t used my 90mm Macro in probably two or three years.  First off, I don’t do that much closeup stuff.  And with many subjects you just have to get too close with a 90mm (even worse with a 50 or 60).  So when I noticed how well my 300/2.8 AFS with a 2x converter could do with small subjects from three or four feet away, I’ve been using that combo ever since.  I can take pictures of all sorts of cool bug stuff without disturbing the bugs or modifying their behavior in any way.

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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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