DX or FX for Sports and Wildlife Photography

It seems like the debate of DX vs FX for wildlife and sports photography is a never ending one. DX shooters argue that they get more reach, stating that DX is like a “built-in 1.5x teleconverter”, or that DX setups are lighter due to smaller lenses and less expensive, or that DX chops off the corners of lenses, thus reducing vignetting and other optical issues. On the opposite side of the fence, FX shooters argue that they get better image quality at pixel level, better viewfinder, less diffraction issues, better AF performance in low-light, etc. Seems like we have two camps, each defending their own side for various reasons. Having spent a number of years shooting both DX and FX starting from the first generation Nikon FX cameras and every single DX camera manufactured by Nikon to date, and having talked to a number of other photographers that shoot for a living, I came to a conclusion that there are some myths surrounding the DX format that need to be debunked. In this article, I will provide my personal insight to this topic and explain why I believe that FX is always better for photographing sports and wildlife. This article evolved as a result of recent discussions of the subject with some of our readers.

American Pika

1) The Myth of the DX Built-in 1.5x Teleconverter

A lot of people seem to be very confused about the effect of a crop sensor on the focal length of a lens. Stating that a crop sensor increases the focal length of the lens or acts as a teleconverter is completely wrong, since focal length is an optical attribute of a lens and has nothing to do with the camera. I talked about this in detail in my “Equivalent Focal Length” article that I published a while ago. Simply put, a DX sensor can never change the optical parameters of a lens, so if you are shooting with a 300mm lens, it stays as a 300mm lens no matter what camera you mount it on. The confusion of “equivalent focal length” comes from manufacturers that initially wanted to make people understand that the field of view on a cropped sensor camera is tighter than 35mm, because the image corners get chopped off. The word “equivalent” is only relative to 35mm film. So you cannot say that your 300mm lens becomes a 450mm lens on a DX body. It does not and never will. All you are doing, is you are taking an image from a 300mm lens, cropping it in the center area and magnifying that center with increased resolution.

2) DX Pixel Size and Resolution

The only reason why some people thought that DX provided longer reach, was because DX sensors historically had similar resolution as FX. For example, both Nikon D300 (DX) and D700 (FX) have about the same resolution – 12 MP. So despite having sensors of completely different sizes, the two cameras produce images of similar size / resolution. Ultimately, this means that the D300 can resolve more detail from the center of the lens (which is typically the sharpest on any lens) and thus magnifies the subject more, which led people to believe that DX was better than FX to get closer to subjects. One aspect that was rarely talked about, however, was the fact that the D300 has a lot more noise than the D700 due to smaller pixel size. So despite having this magnification advantage, photographers had to constantly deal with cleaning up apparent noise even at relatively low ISO levels. I personally had to constantly down-sample images and clean them up via noise-reduction software to get rid of the artifacts visible at anything above ISO 800 (and noise was visible even at base ISO!). So at the end of the day, taking a DX image and down-sampling it aggressively, versus simply cropping an FX image produced somewhat similar results, with a slight advantage on DX that resulted in more detailed shots, thanks to the down-sampling process.

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Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Announcement

In a rather surprising announcement today, Nikon released a major update to the existing 12 year old Nikkor 80-400mm AF-D lens. The new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR has a completely redesigned internal focus optical formula with Nano Coating, Super Integrated Coating and extra-low dispersion glass elements. On top of that, the lens sports a second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR II) system for up to 4 stops of shutter speed compensation and a silent wave motor (SWM / AF-S), which means that autofocus will function on any modern Nikon DSLRs, including entry-level models like D3200. This is one of the few Nikkor lenses to have “Super ED Glass”, which has a lower refractive index and light dispersion than ED glass, making the new 80-400mm a premium lens for both enthusiasts and professionals. And with a versatile focal length of 80-400mm, the lens is well-suited for sports and nature photography.

Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

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Nikon D600 for Sports Photography – by Mikhail Bezruchko

Today’s guest post is by Mikhail Bezruchko on using the Nikon D600 for Sports Photography. Mikhail was kind enough to send his observations on the autofocus performance of the D600 for low-light and daytime sports photography. He photographed a local football game at night and then a local soccer game, using fast telephoto lenses. Although not a pro, Mikhail has had a long history with photography, starting out with Russian-made “Zenit” film cameras a while ago. But his interest in photography spiked up during the last few years and he has been shooting with Nikon D90, D700 and other high-end DSLRs, mostly freelancing. Enjoy!

When the D600 was finally announced, most of us got very excited about the new camera. Nasim’s review of the D600 and Bird Photography follow-up answered a lot of my questions, but I was still curious about the D600′s autofocus performance with sports. There are some similarities between sports and wildlife photography, but there are also many differences.

Nikon D600 Football Game (7)

While I mainly focus on portraiture and functions, I absolutely love shooting games, especially local, non-professional events. Anyone who has photographed a sports match knows that it’s a very challenging venture. Not only does it take experience, preparation and knowledge of the particular game you want to shoot, but it also requires decent equipment.

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Nikon D800 for Sports and Wildlife Photography

While the Nikon D4 is the proper tool for sports and wildlife photography due to its faster speed and extreme ISO capabilities, many photographers are also looking at the Nikon D800 for action photography. First, the high-resolution sensor could give some “reach” opportunities with plenty of options to crop in-camera (DX mode) or in post (I highly recommend to do it in post instead of in-camera). Second, the AF system on the D800 is identical to the one on the D4 (Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX). And lastly, noise characteristics of the D800 are very similar to the D4 when images are down-sampled to 16 MP (down-sampling can also result in increased sharpness). The biggest disadvantage is the slow 4 FPS speed of the D800.

Since many sports and wildlife photographers have been asking me about the D800 AF performance, I decided to share some information on it that I have collected so far. First of all, the f/8 focusing capability is not a myth – it definitely works. I tried the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR with the TC-20E III and focusing worked, even in low-light conditions (although not as accurate as in daylight conditions). Granted the image quality was pretty bad (the 200-400mm just doesn’t couple well with anything but the TC-14E II), AF worked just fine. This means that the Nikon 500mm f/4 and 600mm f/4 lenses will also autofocus with the TC-20E III teleconverter and you are not just limited to very bright shooting conditions. I will have to do some more in-depth digging with the TC-20E III and other long lenses, but so far I am impressed by the updated AF system.

What about the TC-17E II that I have been avoiding when shooting with f/4 lenses? Surprisingly, the D800 made my TC-17E II usable again. Take a look at this image, shot with the Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S and TC-17E II:

American Kestrel

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Taekwondo Photography Tips

I had an opportunity to photograph a local Taekwondo sparring event last weekend and I decided to share some of the photographs from the event, along with some photography tips and lessons learned. I have been involved in Taekwondo since I was 12 and while I spent many years taking part in this beautiful and highly energetic (and sometimes even brutal) sport, I never had a chance to photograph it. While I have been suffering from pneumonia during the last 2 weeks, I could not skip a Taekwondo sparring with some of the best athletes in Colorado. I got my daily doze of antibiotics, then quickly made a plan and took off.

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