It’s been a while since we had a tip for beginners, so here is a quick post for the wildlife photographer. It’s not uncommon for friends of mine to see a photo like the one below and for them to ask where I took it. Quite frequently my response to them is, “From the window of my car.” They usually laugh thinking that I am joking and then I tell them that I’m serious. If you take many wildlife shots, you will quickly realize that oftentimes, animals are acclimated to cars and if we stay inside them, we don’t stress them as much and they don’t flee as fast.
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.
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 at low ISO levels 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 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.
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.
In continuing the excellent guest posts that we have previously posted, we are introducing a local landscape and wildlife photographer, Russ Burden. Russ is an excellent photographer and loves to teach as you can tell from his article. We would like to thank Russ for taking the time to share with us ideas to consider as we strive to improve our photography. Enjoy.
Guest Post by Russ Burden
As I sit back and relax, I can still hear mama’s words, “Watch out what you do today because someday your background may come back to haunt you.” Was mama psychic? Did she peer into a crystal ball knowing of my passion for photography? Was she a closet photographer versed with knowledge about how important a background check is?
You see, learning how to eliminate background distractions in a photograph is imperative. As meticulous as one can be in composing a perfect subject, if the background isn’t treated with equal care, the end result will not be successful.
To what lengths will you go to get “The Shot”?
A few weekends ago, I accompanied a good friend of mine (we’ll call him “Dave” mostly because that is… uh…well that what his mother called him!) to a large sporting goods store to shop for hunting equipment. I thought that buying some camo gear might help me with my wildlife photography. Hunters and photographers are alike in many ways; we just carry different “weapons.” Upon walking into the store, I noticed a full camo ghillie suit, complete with fake leaves from head to toe and a hood/face mask.
As I have pointed out in my D600 Review, I am quite pleased with the autofocus performance of the D600. It acquires focus quickly and accurately in most situations and in my opinion works more reliably than the AF system on the Nikon D7000. This past weekend I had a chance to do a much more demanding test on the D600, photographing Colorado wildlife. I wanted to see if the Nikon D600 would be suitable for photographing sports and wildlife, since many of our readers have asked me to do that in my review.
I started out photographing birds first. Small birds can be tough to photograph, since they move constantly and they fly fast. My primary subjects were Clark’s Nutracker and Steller’s Jay – both were very active, so they were perfect for testing the speed, responsiveness and the reliability of the AF system of the D600. I started out in AF-C mode, Ch release, Dynamic 39 points and Focus Tracking with Lock-On set to 3 (Normal). Focusing on perched birds was very reliable and I got a lot of keepers. I even used other focus points in the extreme corners while composing my shots and the images came out in perfect focus. However, the moment a bird would take off, I had a hard time tracking it in flight with my Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR (hand-held), since they were too fast. Very often they were too close and too fast, which made it harder to get anything in the frame and in focus. Gladly, I was not the only person having this problem – Tom was standing right next to me with his Nikon D4 and Nikon 500mm f/4 VR and he was having similar issues. So I knew it was not the camera at fault.
One of the most exciting things about running a photography site is getting to know people from all over the world. Holger Wagner, a nature photographer from Germany, contact me about two years ago on photographing birds in Florida. After reading my articles on how to photograph birds and my post on Florida birding near Orlando, he contacted me for suggestions and my favorite spots.
After he came back from his trip, he sent me some stunning pictures that he captured in Florida. While browsing through his website, I checked out some of his other work and within minutes, I realized that I am looking at the work of a very talented photographer. I immediately emailed him again and asked to write a guest post, because I felt that his photography had to be shared with the photography community. Unfortunately, he got extremely busy with traveling and photography, so he did not have a chance to do it then. During the last two years, he kept on sending me his beautiful pictures. So a couple of weeks ago I sent another request and I was finally able to persuade him to write a guest post, along with some of his beautiful pictures. Enjoy!
Dear photography friends and readers of the Photography Life blog,
This is my first guest post ever and it’s an honor for me to write here. English isn’t my first language, so I apologize for any grammar mistakes in advance.
My name is Holger Wagner and I live in Aachen, Germany. I am a professional photographer that enjoys nature and loves photographing landscapes and wildlife. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful photography places in the world throughout my career. The US Southwest, with its breathtaking landscapes, Florida – a birders paradise, Iceland and Norway in Northern Europe are some of my most favorite places to shoot.
My online research on how to capture birds led me to this informative site. Nasim not only shared some very useful tips in his birding articles, but when I contacted him, he was even kind enough to share his special and favorite destinations in Florida. This helped me so much in preparing my trips carefully and to come home with more “keepers” than I ever expected.
What photography means to me is always to capture the beauty that surrounds me. It is the light, the colors, the composition and the mood in every particular situation. With my Nikon DSLR, I always shoot in RAW in 14-bit to get the best out of every single image. With that said, I post process all my images carefully. Subtle, yet significant, is my goal with each image. I always follow my own quote “Releasing the shutter button is just the beginning of a great photograph”. As photographers, we are all artists as well, whether we create stunning portraits, commercial, wildlife or landscape images. We live in this beautiful digital age that gives us all the tools we can try and find out what works and what doesn’t. It is all bound to our own taste and style, our own appreciation and interpretation of beauty.
I’d like to show you a couple of my images here with some information and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me. I would love to get some feedback.
When I got started with landscape photography, I went to the beautiful Southwest region of the United States. The amazing sandstone formations in Utah and Arizona are so unique, that I immediately fell in love with them. Until today, it is one of my favorite places for shooting landscapes.
Here is a tip I would like to share with you that can help when you feel overwhelmed with beautiful landscapes. As photography enthusiasts, we are so passionate, that we see all this great scenery and just want to capture it all at once in its grand beauty. Sometimes it works great, but I mostly try to simplify and narrow the focus. This is a composition rule that always works as I found out. Here I photographed the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona as a single scene with a wide-angle lens:
My wife, Tanya, and I recently vacationed in the Canmore/Banff area of Alberta, Canada. We settled on this location after reading a variety of reviews and looking over some stunning photos of the many attractions and wildlife. We planned a series of activities that would take us to some of the most scenic, historical, and cultural locations, provide some challenging hiking expeditions, and enable us to take a “few” photographs along the way. After receiving a new Nikon D800 (review), which I tested thoroughly, I was eager to put it to work in the field. Most of the photos in this article were taken with the D800, although some were shot with my infrared D90 (converted by Lifepixel.com). For those of you reading this on an RSS feed, you may want to consider linking to the main Mansurovs site, as there are quite a few photos associated with this post.
From Calgary To Canmore
We flew into the Calgary airport, and after renting a car, began the 74 mile drive from the Calgary Airport to the town of Canmore. This trip is an interesting study in transitions. Near Calgary, everything seems to be under construction. Bulldozers, heavy earth movers, building cranes, and construction signs dot the landscape in every direction. The terrain is pretty flat apart from a gentle mountainside slope on the western side of the city. Off in the distance, we could see some purplish mountains but didn’t have a good sense of their scale. 25 miles or so outside of Calgary, the scenery changes quite a bit. Green rolling hillsides of farm land become the dominant theme, with the familiar golden yellow hay bales lining the bright green fields. The purplish mountains have risen in stature quite a bit and we quickly realize that they are far different than those we left behind in western Pennsylvania. We also unfortunately discover that there are few exits for gas or food!
At the 50 mile mark, the landscape is changing quite a bit. Those little purple mountains seem to grow larger by the minute. Green fir trees that seem to have been cloned, now begin to populate the landscape like huge blades of grass. At the 60 mile mark, we are at the base of the mountains. The term “majestic” doesn’t quite rise to the occasion in describing what we now see. The mountain peaks require you to edge closer to the car window and strain your neck in order to see them. Even in August, we can identify snow patches that never completely melt.
The road begins to roll gently as we wind toward the valley between the mountain peaks. The number of signs warning you about the local wildlife population increase, and based on the fences that line the woods along the road, we suspect that the signs are not to be taken lightly. We had taken 3 exits hoping to find a restaurant or gas station only to conclude that the notion of modern facilities next within 25 miles of the exit is a mirage. We begin to imagine that grizzly bears and wolves have posted these exit signs to lure gullible travelers, low on gas and food, off the main highway where the animals can leisurely dine on them.
Within 5 miles of Canmore, we are deep into the mountains that seem be growing larger before our eyes. I am constantly trying to keep my eyes on the road as the rocky towers on both sides of the road continue to command my attention. By now, we are seriously wondering if we have been transported to another planet, since it couldn’t possibly be part of the one which we came from. Soon we arrived at the Falcon Crest Lodge, which proved to be the excellent “base camp” for our adventures.
Today, Nikon announced a new 800mm super telephoto lens designed for professional photographers is in development. The 800mm reach will appeal to wildlife and sports photographers alike and while there is no release date or pricing as of yet, you can assume that the cost of this lens will exceed the Nikkor 600mm f/4 whose price tag is $9799.00. There is no mention of specific features in the official press release of this lens, but the photos do depict Nikon’s VR technology and show a switch for “Off”, “Normal” or “Active” VR modes. So if you are looking for that special something for that special someone in your life, you may want to start saving now. You may also wish to start working out because you may need a little extra muscle just to heft this new baby.
With the ever increasing rate of technological innovation in the photography arena, it is not too difficult to get caught up in the latest camera model, lens, or other gizmo, all designed to take our photography to the “next level.” The recent hype and debates surrounding noise levels and resolution differences between the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III alone could likely fill a few petabytes of disk space. In the midst of our obsession with the “latest and greatest,” we need to remember that photography is, at least on some level, supposed to be… well… fun! One of the best ways I know to inject a bit of fun into my photography exploits, is to attach a fisheye lens to my DSLR. These marvels provide a unique curved distortion (in some cases a full 360 degrees) that add a bit of character and spice to otherwise rather common photos and provide a unique perspective.