Nikon has just announced two highly anticipated super telephoto lenses for sports and wildlife photography, the AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4E FL ED VR and the 600mm f/4E FL ED VR. After Nikon released the 800mm f/5.6E VR and the 400mm f/2.8E VR lenses, it was a matter of time before the 500mm and 600mm lenses got updated with the latest and greatest optical designs and technology. As before, Nikon has completely revamped the optical formula of these new lenses, shredding as much as 20% off the total weight on the 500mm and 25% off the total weight on the 600mm! Now the new 600mm f/4E VR weighs as much as the 400mm f/2.8E VR, which is incredible. Considering how hand-holdable the 400mm f/2.8E VR is, both of these new lenses open up a lot of amazing opportunities to get closer to action.
Out of all the previous-generation super telephoto lenses, my personal favorite has always been the 500mm f/4G VR, because it had plenty of reach and it was a lens I could hand-hold for relatively short periods of time when chasing wildlife – and that was when the lens weighed 3.8 kg. At just 3 kilos now and with its weight distributed all across the lens instead of just the front, it will, without a doubt be an ultimate super telephoto lens that has the best balance of performance, weight and price. Speaking of price, the new 500mm f/4E will sell for $2K more than its predecessor – at $10,300. While it is a lot of money to pay for a lens, I expect the 500mm f/4E to sell quite well, especially once current owners of 500mm lenses start selling their old gear. The used lens market will probably get flooded with plenty of great offers once the new 500mm hits the market, so if you have been saving up for a 500mm prime, it might soon be a great time to snatch one off at a good price.
What can we expect from the 500mm f/4E VR performance-wise? All you have to do is look at the below MTF graphs (Left: Nikon 500mm f/4E VR, Right: Nikon 500mm f/4G VR):
See that straight line on the left? That’s an indication of practically a perfect lens (check out my detailed guide on how to read MTF charts). Nikon outdid itself here – I find it hard to imagine how Nikon could further improve on this lens in the future. I think the 500mm f/4E VR is fairly close to being Nikon’s last iteration of the 500mm lens, until some major breakthrough is invented in optics…
And if you are wondering about the new 600mm f/4E VR and see what benefits it brings compared to its predecessor, basically, everything I have said above in terms of optical design applies to the 600mm as well. In fact, if you have already been shooting with a 600mm lens, you get even more weight savings than the 500mm crowd – around 25%, which translates to a whopping 1.2 kg of less weight!
Handling-wise, that’s a pretty significant and serious advantage of the new optical design. Again, since Nikon changed the biggest front elements to fluorite, the 600mm f/4 will no longer be front-heavy, making the lens much more balanced when hand-holding the lens or shooting from a tripod.
Performance-wise, take a look at the below MTF charts (Left: Nikon 600mm f/4E VR, Right: Nikon 600mm f/4G VR):
Once again, that MTF is pretty much impossible to improve on! Expect sharpness, contrast and bokeh to be outstanding – basically “out of this world”. Price-wise, the 600mm beast will retail for $12,299, which is roughly $2,600 more than what the older “G” version is currently selling for.
As before, Nikon packed all kinds of optical technologies into these lenses, including the new fluorine coating, to make it easier to wipe off water, dirt and smudges.
Both 500mm and 600mm lenses have been the bread and butter of many sports and wildlife photographers, due to their long reach, exceptional bokeh and superb sharpness/contrast. I have used the previous generation 500mm and 600mm lenses and aside from their heavy weights and high prices, there is very little one could complain about. These new lenses basically take care of the weight part and the higher price premium is something many of us expected – after-all, we are dealing with incredible lenses that no other lenses for the same mount can truly compete with…
Official Press Release
Below is the official press release from Nikon:
Pack Lighter to Go Further: Nikon Announces Two New Professional Super Telephoto NIKKOR Lenses
The AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR and AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR Lenses Dominate the Sidelines With Superior Optical and AF Tracking Performance, While New Design Reduces Weight
MELVILLE, NY – Today, Nikon Inc. announced two new super telephoto lenses, the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR and AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR. These two NIKKOR lenses use the latest Nikon lens technologies to enhance autofocus (AF) tracking and optical performance, while benefitting photographers with a significant reduction in weight. Ideal for sports, action, wildlife and press events, these lenses offer photographers the ability to capture striking images from afar with brilliant clarity and sharpness.
“The new NIKKOR 500mm and 600mm f/4 lenses were developed to give photographers the advantage on the sidelines or in the field, with a lens that can keep up with the action and get the decisive shot,” said Masahiro Horie, Director of Marketing and Planning, Nikon Inc. “By the fourth quarter or final period, users will sincerely appreciate the weight reduction of these lenses which allow for extended shooting, even into overtime.”
Increased Performance, Reduced Weight
These new super telephoto NIKKOR lenses have been optimized for today’s high-resolution image sensors and fast-shooting Nikon DSLR cameras. The new lens designs significantly improve AF tracking performance, helping photographers to capture images of dynamic wildlife or athletes in precise clarity, even when subjects are moving erratically, at random speeds or at the camera. Both lenses also utilize Nikon’s Electromagnetic Diaphragm, helping to maintain consistent exposure during high-speed burst shooting of fast action.
The addition of fluorite lens elements to the optical formula helps to reduce chromatic aberration, as well as decrease the overall weight of the lenses, saving nearly two pounds (lbs.) for the 500mm f/4E FL ED VR, and nearly three lbs. for the 600mm f/4E FL ED VR. For extended shooting days in the field, the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm and 600mm lenses also employ magnesium alloy construction for enhanced durability and further weight reduction.
Because the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR weighs in at just 6.8 lbs./3090 grams (vs. 8.5 lbs./3880g of its predecessor), super telephoto performance has never been so light. This premium NIKKOR lens is ideal for nature and sports photographers who are always traveling on assignment and are looking for a fast, constant aperture lens to capture photos and HD video from a distance. The combination of nimble agility, low-light capability and superior optical performance makes this lens an obvious choice for tack-sharp images of birds in flight, aircraft or other fast moving subjects when a tripod is not always an option. The optical formula of this lens combines two fluorite elements and three Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements to further reduce chromatic aberration while providing superior sharpness and color accuracy.
For long reach with superior optical performance, professional photographers should consider the AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR, which provides the ultimate in fast-aperture and focal distance for challenging subjects. With a constant aperture of f/4, the new 600mm lens gives the photographer the ability to fill the frame and create dramatic separation between subject and background. With a weight of merely 8.3 lbs. /3810g (vs. 11.5 lbs./5060g of its predecessor), the lens features two fluorite lens elements and four ED elements to provide discerning photographers with unrivaled sharpness.
NIKKOR Lens Technologies
Adding to a long legacy of renowned optical excellence, both lenses feature the most advanced NIKKOR lens technologies, including the addition of Nikon’s exclusive Nano Crystal Coat to further reduce instances of ghosting and flare; an essential feature for capturing outdoor sports or action under the lights. Both lenses also incorporate Nikon Vibration Reduction (VR) technology, affording up to four stops of image stabilization*, with automatic tripod detection to counteract vibrations when mounted on a tripod. For pros shooting fast and erratic moving sports or subjects, using the SPORT VR mode will yield a more stable viewfinder image whether handholding the lens, using a monopod or even when panning.
For enhanced durability, both lenses are sealed and gasketed against the elements and have a fluorine coating on a front protective meniscus element to make it easier to remove dirt, moisture and smudges from the lens surface. For shooting from extreme distances, the new lenses are also compatible with select Nikon teleconverters** that provide photographers with the ability to autofocus up to f/8 with many Nikon professional DSLR bodies.
Price and Availability
The new AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4E FL ED VR will be available in mid-July for a suggested retail price (SRP) of $10,299.95***. The AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR will be available in mid-July for the SRP $12,299.95***. Both lenses also come with a newly redesigned, lightweight, custom-fit hard case for transport. For more information on these new NIKKOR lenses as well as other Nikon products, please visit www.nikonusa.com.
Should not have to add a Swiss Arca plate. It should be machined right into the foot. I wonder it this can be done in a good machine shop.
Great lens and another great review for you. You always a great review…always!
I guess we have maxed out the depth of this forum so there is no way to reply to messages that have reached the max.
I have learned a lot about using super telephotos like the 500 f4 for birds in flight and plan to summarize the thread as best I can so future visitors don’t have to read over 100 posts to get the key points. I’m sure once I have gone through it in detail I’ll have even more things to nail down. That setting format where Betty replied with specifics on each one worked really well – it was very easy to understand.
I’m still sick, we just adopted some kittens and mom is in Denmark for a week so it may not even happen, but it seems like a good thing to do.
Again, thanks to Betty and Peter A for adding so much knowledge to this thread – I have learned a few things that I hope will really improve my keeper rate, especially for BIF against a background. I should have known with all the reading and experimentation I’ve done, but somehow I didn’t quite understand that setting.
I guess there is no way to upload photos here although I swear I’ve seen that option in the past. It would be nice to discuss a few in context.
I have never received an email to notify me of follow up comments, and there is no easy way to filter for new comments which would really be nice. As it is I keep track of the total number of comments at the top, and if it has gone up I search for it starting at the bottom. Not ideal, but I know Nasim has lots on his plate – that is just feedback for the future. I have a feeling he’s working on something big.
The two of us are on the same page regarding VR [and optical image stabilization (OIS) in general]. The only reason for our disagreement over “human muscle movements extend orders of magnitude beyond the fundamental frequencies involved” is because you are thinking in terms of frequencies whereas I was talking in terms of impulses. Muscles are fired by nerve impulses, not by a continuously varying voltage having an upper frequency limit of a few tens of hertz. Each single impulse has an infinite bandwidth in the real-world frequency domain:
Notes: Feedback and control systems, including OIS, are often much better characterised by their unit impulse and/or unit step response than by their amplitude-frequency response, because modern control systems that use sampling cannot have their actual real-world response described in the amplitude-frequency domain in a manner that would make sense to anyone. A single impulse (or pulse) has a frequency [a cyclic repetition rate] of zero, yet it produces a complex response that cannot possibly be conveyed by an amplitude-frequency diagram.
Obvious involuntary movements while attempting to hold a camera steady are the result of just the plethora of timing irregularities (jitter) in each of our currently firing muscles. This jitter seems to cover the range up to 30 Hz when plotted in the frequency domain, however, such a plot masks/hides the much higher frequencies resulting from each and every muscle firing impulse. There are valid scientific reasons why the OIS used in Fuji XF lenses samples the lens movement 8000 times per second and updates its OIS servo motors 16000 times per second.
Milt (AKA Cowabunga Dad) wrote:
“Betty and Pete – thanks for sharing your impressive expertise. The human race progresses when we share knowledge and listen to each other so we can learn from those who have gone before.
Hopefully many can learn from this useful thread!”
Thank you very much for your kind words, Milt. I have learnt many useful things from your insightful comments, and I shall continue to do so.
You are welcome Pete,
I’m glad we all spent the time to work through these issues, especially Betty who obviously has the right experience to speak with knowledge about the exact subject I’m trying to understand. I’ve also been forced to go back to several sites I’ve read before but understand better now including some articles by Nasim I somehow missed. ByThom had an excellent piece about TCs which makes a lot of sense www.dslrbodies.com/lense…be-so.html which I hadn’t seen before.
One thing that is extremely clear to me now is that getting perfect focus is very difficult but far more important than ‘sharpness’. I just reviewed a bunch of my BIF photos from the 500 f/4 last night and focus at long range (especially with backgrounds other than sky) is really hard to get right. As Betty, Nasim, Ken Rockwell, Thom Hogan and many others have said, sharpness issues are usually focus issues – you have to be really, really good before sharpness is your biggest problem.
That being said, the 500 f4 with VR is obviously incredible. Whenever I had long enough to get the focus really nailed (especially for small things that are close) the images are just gorgeous.
As far as I know, you can get this type of lens used with AF for about $4-5K without VR. I’m not sure about the earlier ones – you might be able to find a manual version for $3K. The images are worth the money, the hassle, the weight and handling difficulty that goes with a 10 pound camera/lens package. Personally I really need VR – I can’t tell if something is in perfect focus or not when they are moving and near max range. It really hurts to see those once in a lifetime shots with focus just barely off.
Milt, there are very few things that seriously irritate me. One of the things that does is the advice we sometimes read about VR being useless, or even the cause of blur, at fast shutter speeds.
Whenever the photographer is relying on autofocus to nail the focus on a moving subject, it is the AF sensor that requires a stabilized image in order for the AF system to perform optimally! The fact that VR also improves the photographer’s ability to track the subject, and to press the shutter button at the right moment, are very useful bonuses of VR, but often have little or nothing to do with obtaining image sharpness.
I agree with you that “sharpness issues are usually focus issues”. Like you, I also need VR, despite my photography style being very different from yours. E.g. my wide-angle VR zoom has enabled me to capture images that would’ve been impossible to capture on any non-OIS lens.
VR is complex — pros with 30 years of manual focus experience have different skills than normal photographers. If Thom Hogan thinks 1/500 is the max for VR he must have a reason. Also I wouldn’t assume too much – it takes forever to write anything with all the caveats and exceptions so few people do it. He has forgotten more than we will ever know.
My initial impressions on most things photography have changed as I learn more about when and why something was said. It’s very tricky. It’s very interesting to know exactly how these greats do BIF for instance.
Thom uses the AE/AF Lock button to re-focus, which I hated but will try again. I have it set on AF Lock which is simple but doesn’t work for anything moving away from the focal plane. I hold AF lock until I have the center focus point solidly on the bird and then let AF take over while shooting because if there is a background my focus goes to that and the bird is so blurred I can’t even find it.
I’m shocked there is no +/- 10 feet from prior focus distance (or whatever) button in 3D mode so the background doesn’t capture your focus if you miss the bird by a tiny bit. It drives me insane – now THATS when you need VR in the viewfinder, as you say.
It seems like the pros do what it takes to fill the frame with the bird – which I don’t have the time to make happen these days. I am cropping a lot – even at 1050mm. The jaw dropping shots are always close though – no way around that. It’s a question of time – stalking a bird is time consuming if you need to get 20 feet away.
“If Thom Hogan thinks 1/500 is the max for VR he must have a reason…” Thom has many good reasons for everything he writes, which he has more than adequately explained to those who’ve spent hundreds of hours reading ALL of his articles plus his superb manuals that he sells; then spent thousands of hours experimenting along the lines that he suggests for specific items of equipment and for specific styles of photography. Thom and many others (including myself) are often quoted out of context: an oversimplification for the purposes of serving an agenda, which I find particularly irritating because it perverts the core principles that underpin science, critical thinking skills, and the accumulation of human knowledge.
My current Nikon cameras have separate (and customizable) AE-L/AF-L and AF-ON buttons and I shall not purchase any camera that overloads these distinct functions onto a single button, but I would never recommend to anyone that they should follow my personal preferences. My five decades of experience in photography has enabled me to learn what is, and what is not, useful to my various styles of photography. Photography isn’t my primary area of expertise: I just happen to know more than a thing or two about servo systems and some other types of adaptive systems, including human perception :-)
There is no such thing as a “professional photographer”, just as there is no such thing as a “professional scientist”. Each profession has thousands of specific branches therefore it is humanly impossible to be a master of more than a very few of the branches. Caveat: if one’s primary source of income is from photography then in the UK (and under some other jurisdictions) it is deemed acceptable to advertise oneself as a “professional photographer”. Likewise, this usually applies to the equally nonsensical term “professional artist”.
You wrote “I’m shocked there is no +/- 10 feet from prior focus distance (or whatever) button in 3D mode so the background doesn’t capture your focus if you miss the bird by a tiny bit. It drives me insane – now THATS when you need VR in the viewfinder, as you say.” With all due respect to you, Milt, are you sure that you have properly learnt to use, and how to customize, the various AF modes for your particular model of camera in combination with your lenses? I’ve customized my cameras to use focus priority in continuous shooting mode rather than leaving them at their default settings — it’s been educational to observe how erratic the continuous frame rate becomes when the photographer demands focus accuracy. I’m so pleased that my cameras stall, rather than delivering endless out-of-focus shots that I have to painstakingly inspect then delete.
I really enjoy your comments because you seem to fully realize that mastering technique is far more important than buying the latest equipment (that promises so much, yet delivers very little!). My sincerest thanks for taking the time to reply to me, and for sharing your insightful thoughts and experiences with other readers,
Not sure I understand your point about focus priority in continuous shooting mode. Did you mean continuous focus mode?
First, for Milt, 51point 3D autofocus is not always the best option for bird photography (even if theoretically it should be) as driving all the autofocus points all the time tends to slow focussing speed and therefore accuracy , down. Often 51 point (or less) is better as focussing is much faster and more accurate.
Second, I disagree that setting focus priority in continuous focus mode works well for the very reason you give – unless focus is positively acquired, the camera stalls. With release priority, true, the camera will continue to fire even if out of focus, but very often it is only a tiny fraction out and will acquire focus in the time it takes for the mirror to go up and down and a shot which would have been lost with focus priority, is captured successfully. And if you are shooting a burst, then release priority may lose and reacquire focus a number of times during the sequence resulting in more useable frames than if it just locked up.
Isn’t it strange how differently different photographers view the same feature?
Finally, with birds in particular, it is helpful to set ‘focus tracking with ‘lock-on’ to longer than the normal default (3) so that if your focus point comes off the subject, it will hold that focus point longer and not refocus on the background – so continuing to pan with the bird is more likely to result in reacquisition of focus on the bird rather than shooting well focussed images of clouds, trees, etc..And VR is very helpful here in keeping the image more stable in the viewfinder.
And finally, finally, it is important to separate the functions of the AF-ON button and the shutter release. AF-ON button should be either autofocus on or autofocus lock and the shutter release should be assigned to either autofocus on plus release or just release. Which combination is a matter of personal preference of course.
As regards Thom Hogan, although I hugely respect his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Nikon system, on the VR question I find his explanation vague and not very satisfying. If he has good reasons, it would be great if he shared them with the proletariat. Nikon are pretty mute on the subject too, which doesn’t help and leads me to conclude that in the absence of warnings to the contrary from Nikon, VR at high shutter speeds is simply not an issue ( unless of course they are keeping schtum in order not to lose lens sales). Who would pay a premium price for a feature which actually messed up images at high shutter speeds?
Otherwise, I find myself agreeing with every word you say.
Thank you both for a reasoned discussion.
Hi Betty and Pete,
Oh great – you are both still here. I’ve been sick for a while and I’m having a hard time finding new comments using the phone or iPad – for some reason I’m not receiving emails when follow-up comments are made. Are you getting those? If not we should tell Nasim since he has just changed things around.
It is great to discuss this with experts like the two of you (expert – pro – same to me) who really understand this (and don’t threaten divorce after 30 seconds of any photographic topic). And man – this BIF focussing process is EXACTLY what I am trying to figure out right now.
I have tried so many settings with both the D750 and D7200 with so many lenses that it’s hard to remember what I’ve done. I’m using U1 and U2 which is great but I sometimes forget to store updated settings and I’ve been surprised a few times. I basically shoot when an interesting bird shows up at the house (which is often) or I get up at dawn for a few hours of freedom. It’s the opposite of a calm laboratory setting – the kids spot the birds and multiple Nikons start cranking – great fun, but slightly crazy. So I am working on the fly when I can. My total obsession (as my wife describes it) with photography has produced some improvement (and used up some cash) however.
I bought my first DSLR eight months ago and have been shooting birds since February so I KNOW that I’m making plenty of mistakes. My learning curve has been vertical and a bit messy. I’ve done a lot of reading and experimenting with good equipment while taking huge amounts of photos to turn this into working knowledge. I have tried many, many settings based on lots of different experts, and I have found that for some situations things don’t work the way they are supposed to. I started out being very careful, but then I decided not to be afraid to make mistakes and just started trying everything out, shooting lots of images and seeing what worked.
So now I’m trying to make sense of it all, write it down and then verify that I haven’t missed anything.
Probably anyone with a good eye, enthusiasm, good equipment and some time can create some great images. The difference between an expert and everyone else is they can do it reliably, and know their craft well enough to create what they want instead of hope they get lucky. So now that I’ve got enough time in the saddle to have some context and can actually make sense of these things (or even find them in the menu) I’m going back to see what’s happened and get optimized. So that’s why I’m writing on this forum in the middle of the night (5am here in Silicon Valley).
It’s possible I did not work with ‘focus tracking with lock-on’ correctly. It seemed to be locking focus for too long and I would lose a lot of shots. U2 on the D750 which is my hummingbird setup is set to long – everything else is short – 1. I’m not sure exactly what the issue was – and I was doing this against the sky mostly as I recall. I think once I customized my AE/AF Lock button to lock focus it really helped and along with 3D (especially for swallows which just drive me crazy) seem to have done the job for anything against a blue sky. Somehow that setup is really working. However I think it’s not perfect – focus doesn’t go way off, but while locked it can stray a bit, which isn’t the same thing as perfect.
So thanks Betty – I will revisit the use of that setting and see if it can solve my background problem. However – you still have the problem of putting that dot exactly on the bird, which is just pretty damned hard. Maybe I just need the bird to be a lot bigger in the frame – I guess that solves most of these problems.
The basic premise behind my ‘ignore the background’ feature is that I should be able to set a focus distance range maximum somehow so the camera will never AF on something farther away than say 60 feet (something stored in memory, or set based on last AF, etc.). I can select 51 point or 21 point AF and it will simply ignore any point farther away than that. So when a bird shows up, I can use all 51 or 21 points and if one of them is on a bird closer than 60 feet away, I get lock on that subject and can use 3D focus tracking to retain lock on it as long as it is within the frame.
So is this totally handled by 3D tracking with 51 points and focus tracking with lock-on set to 4 or 5? Or perhaps set to 21 points? I am really kicking myself on this because I thought I had gone through that item pretty carefully and the long setting drove me nuts. So the few times I had a chance for great Bokeh with a bird in flight it was seriously difficult because any slip meant I lost focus instantly. I compensated by locking focus which I supposed does the same thing but is much harder.
Basically when I use 3D tracking for swallows against the sky it works every well – once they fly in front of our hill or the trees the background steals the focus and the bird melts away making it impossible to see in the viewfinder. Those things are really tough to capture, even when there are four of them flying circles 10 feet away for 30 minutes!
Below you can see what I wrote up earlier about how I’m shooting BIF against a background. Clearly a big problem here is that I’ve set focus tracking with lock to 1 which means I have to lock focus before the single point AF touches the background or the bird blurs into nothing and I have to reset focus and re-aim – which means it’s a miracle I got any shots in the first place for small or far away birds.
Bird in Flight (BIF) with a background (not blue sky or white overcast)
PROBLEM: While tracking the subject, if the focus point lands on the background and the AF system sets focus to that, the subject becomes so blurred it’s impossible to see and you have to take your eye away from the viewfinder and/or reset the focus close enough to the subject to see it again, paint the subject with the center point, then focus and shoot.
FOCUS AREA – SINGLE POINT [ ]
I use the center single point so if I lose focus it re-aquires it as fast as possible, because my kids just don’t need to learn words like the ones I use when I can’t even see the bird to move the lens in the right direction. After so many shots I can find the bird and center the lens fast, but obviously that is losing you some shots even when done quickly.
AFC (Continuous Servo Mode – which keeps refocusing as the distance changes).
I get the point on the bird, depress the shutter release (which also activates AF) and keep it firing while I track, or pause if something good is coming along to keep the buffer clear.
AE/AF Lock Button
If I feel like the single point is going to come off the bird, I keep the AE/AF lock button depressed until I have the point back on the bird and then release it. If I blow it and the point is off the bird when I release lock, I lose focus and generally can’t even see the bird any more.
LENS MEMORY POSITION (on 300 2.8 and 500 f4)
With the 300 2.8 and 500 f4, I reset focus from the one stored in memory so I can see the bird and aim the lens properly if possible (not a swallow).
Sometimes the camera thinks the bird is not in focus when everything is perfect but the point has moved slightly after acquiring perfect focus. This makes me want to throw expensive things, so I’ve stopped using focus priority for BIF. One thing I’ve noticed about Thom Hogan is he really fills the frame – which makes a lot of this stuff FAR easier and more reliable.
Set ‘focus tracking with ‘lock-on’” to 4 or 5.
Issue: Something about that setting was a big problem for me – I’ll retest and see if I can remember what the problem was. Perhaps now that I have separated the AE/AF Lock button from the shutter will make a difference.
I have to sleep but I’ll come back to this soon. I’m not absolutely sure what settings I’ve been using so I have to review what I’ve got.
Frankly I need to go back and reread the entire manual again – now that I’ve actually used these settings they make more sense. I don’t think I really understood what that setting was all about when I was playing with it and probably did not use it with a background in the first place, although the same issue occurs with the blue sky when your lens goes on walkabout trying to focus on the sky and the bird is lost to blur.
Thanks Betty for pointing this out. Whenever I think of some major feature Nikon is missing it’s pretty clear there must be some other way to do exactly what I’m talking about, but sometimes the only way to find out is to ask!
Do you think there is any benefit to having an option like the one I’m talking about? Picking up a bird against a background isn’t easy – it would help with that I think.
Milt, I have to smile when I read your posts. Reminds me of myself when I was where you are now. Very frustrating isn’t it?
With respect, I think you are making things extra hard for yourself by choosing swallows to start on. They are probably the hardest bird of all to shoot. The hit rate for even very experienced bird photographers is (very) low and if anyone tells you they can reliably shoot swallows in flight, they are being ‘economical with the truth’ shall we say.
If I were you, I would start with big slow fliers like herons, vultures and the like and work up from there!
I was in Africa last year trying to shoot carmine bee-eaters. They are just a bit bigger than swallows but very fast erratic fliers like swallows. They descend on moving vehicles because of the insects that the tires kick up so the opportunity to shoot is there but trying to photograph them is an exercise in madness. It’s great fun but can drive you crazy.
You are naturally looking for a perfect formula for success in your camera settings – but there isn’t one.
I think we may be a little at cross purposes with locking focus as the pro cameras have separate buttons for AF-ON and AF-L/AE_-L.
This means I can use AF-ON to switch focussing on and the shutter release to fire the shutter – independently of each other.
Releasing the AF-ON button stops/locks the focus – until I press it again – when it restarts focussing.
This makes focussing quick and easy and can be held until I am ready to fire the shutter.
You may be confusing this feature with actually locking focus with the AE-L/AF-L button.
The AF-L locks the focus and/or the exposure value but it stays locked until pressed again and is in an awkward position to use smoothly.
I believe however that it can be programmed to just activate focussing and that is what I would advise you do if you can – even though its position is not optimal.
It makes sense to use the focus limiter on the lens so the lens will not focus closer than about 8m as it speeds up auto focus- unless they are likely to fly closer than that.
I don’t know of a way you can set it to not focus on a subject further away.
Now your settings:
AutoFocus Area Mode:
I use 21 point, 51 point, or even 3D. There is no right or wrong here – just find what works best for you. With more points or 3D you stand a higher chance of getting and keeping focus on the subject but it is slower than the other two. 3D works well against the sky as there is good contrast between subject and sky. It also uses colour to distinguish which in theory it’s best for backgrounds were the tone may be similar to the subject but the colours are different. (In theory). Single point is too demanding from an aiming point of view – although it is the fastest. Best for more static subjects or maybe moving subjects bigger in the frame.
AFC – always.
AE/AF-L: Forget it.
Too slow and awkward to use for moving subjects. I only use this to lock exposure after I have metered off something of average tone and am then going to shoot a subject of non-average tone or different background tone such as sky. If you can reprogramme this button to AF-ON then that is what I would do. Then you can use it as described above.
Otherwise forget it unless you want to lock an exposure value or static focussed subject.
Memory Recall button on the lens:
Forget it – it’s only good for retuning to a previously focussed position with a static subject. Otherwise too slow and awkward to be of any use.
AF-C Priority: Release or release + focus
AF-S Priority: Single
Focus Tracking with Lock On:
Default or longer in incremental steps. No right or wrong here, just see what works best in a given situation. Focus Tracking with Lock On is a menu item which makes the camera ‘hold on’ to focus once acquired and delay longer before switching to say, the background. However, fast birds against a busy background are close to impossible. Setting Focus Tracking with Lock On to long(er) helps as focus is less likely to shift to the background but don’t hold your breath for instant success.
One last thought – there is a temptation to think that all these settings work perfectly every time because they are provided and you have set them up. They don’t – that’s life.
The camera is just a dumb machine and is influenced by a thousand variables (amount of light, panning speed, etc) and the harder the subject, the more times the dumb machine will fail regardless of how good you are.
The important thing is to choose the most appropriate settings for a given situation and then stick with them and practice, practice, practice until it all becomes almost instinctive. Only change one setting at a time and only then when you have practised enough to be sure that it’s the setting and not you that is the problem! Constantly switching settings just leads to muddle and confusion and you end up not knowing what to do next.
Thom Hogan is right, there is no substitute for filling the frame. Big in frame means easier to acquire and maintain focus and a higher quality image. Trying to focus on a fast moving speck is extremely difficult and even if you succeed, the result image quality is rubbish after having to make a huge enlargement in post process to make it big enough in the frame.
Some subjects are just too fast or too far away or against a crappy background or in horrible light ( too little or too harsh). In those situations I have learned to give in gracefully, go home and live to fight another day!
Betty, that’s the most succinct and deeply profound advice that I’ve ever read from anyone.
Thanks Milt, always a pleasure for someone who is keen – and boy are you keen!
By the way I have just noticed a typo in the settings list.
AF-S Priority should read: Focus (not Single)
And by the way an excellent bird photographer I know uses AF-C with Release Priority and single point AF Area Mode.
That’s what I call accurate.
I can’t do it but she nails ’em every time.
Sorry Pete, I thought your post was from Milt – although I’m sure you are still keen as well!
Must be tired….off to bed for Betty.
I agree with Pete – a beautiful, useful post from you Betty. Makes the entire internet worthwhile. I’m typing continuously and I still can’t keep up.
The nice thing about single point, AF-C and Release Priority is if you can get the point on the bird, you’ve got the shot. No swearing at the camera, no worry about background, foreground etc. You are in total control. I like that. A little hard with 10 pounds handheld, but at least it’s simple to understand. Now if I could have a custom focus range – imagine how fast you would re-acquire. No more blurred bird disappearing in front of your eyes. You just re-aim! I think that would be better than the focus lock setting because I think it adjusts faster to moving targets. But I need to research that and understand it better before Nikon jumps all over my suggestion and comes out with their new pro DX 1000 f/4 lens at 5 pounds! They could totally release a firmware update for a focus limit range couldn’t they?
Thanks again for your timely, positive and comprehensive responses. You make it worthwhile to spend way too much time on this never ending challenge of mastering the Nikon user interface along with unpredictable subjects.
Swallows meet my criteria for shooting (it moved!). They are beautiful and fly past my window for hours. I am a sailplane pilot and we love these birds because when you see one at 10,000 feet you know this is the best thermal in the area. They follow the bugs being swept from the surface high up. You can’t find a thermal using them because they are too small, but they do confirm you picked the right one.
Anyway – yeah the hit rate is so low it’s insane. I actually use manual, focus on a point they turn at and fire when they pass that point. It’s hard enough to keep them in frame at all let alone have AF keep up with them. Actually sometimes if they fly directly at me AF works but it’s something I do when they are doing something unusual and I am feeling lucky. To do it right you would need a colony to stake out. 3D with the 500 f4 actually worked pretty well.
They are just spectacular when their winds are spread out – I’ve gotten a few I like out of thousands. Many shots are just air. But a perfect, crisp shot of a swallow with wings spread out and feathers bowed – wow, it’s magic. You never see that with your own eyes.
Same thing with the hummingbirds – they are fascinating. Since they are basically part of the family I could (and basucally do) shoot them all day long from a range of 3 inches (iPhone) to the 500 f/4 at minimum focus distance. If the kids can stay still long enough the little birds land right on their fingers. It’s spellbinding.
My primary targets are raptors fighting. When the diving attacker (often a red shouldered hawk) reaches their target (often a red tailed hawk) the bird on defense will flip upside down with claws up. The swallows, ravens, Cooper’s hawks and crows join the fight frequently. If the lift is bad they stay low so I get the chance to capture many attacks. They are normally too high but once in a while they are in range (sometimes 15 feet) and that’s what my system REALLY needs to be ready for. I’ve only seen 5 good fights close up, and two of them I didn’t have a camera next to me which I regret to this day. I carry the camera no matter what because you never know when it’s going to happen. Which is a little inconvenient with the 500 but I kind if got used to it.
I try to capture everything for the practice, even if it’s too far away just to figure out what they are doing since a lot of this is faster than the naked eye can perceive. You know something happened, but not what.
A large number of my shots are just for practice – I do not need any more shots of vultures no matter how good the light. But to train my reflexes and experiment with settings there is no substitute for repetition.
So I have custimized my AE/AF Lock button to be AF Lock only. Exposure is all manual including ISO most of the time, although I will turn that on sometimes. I have the movie record button set to be ISO which lets me change it quickly.
I plan to try Nasim’s cool Auto ISO setup which he references in one if his articles but I wanted to get used to all manual at first. I think he probably has the best setup around, and I still haven’t custimized the my menu/fn button to bring up auto iso setup quickly. That is going to help I’m sure. I think that article was recommended settings on the D7100 – a great article! When you read lots of stuff it’s easy to miss things until you understand the context. I go back a lot.
Anyway back to focus – the shutter release button is set to Focus+Release. I tried just release for several days but I never liked it. I am gong to try it again since I know so many pros use it. I think that transition will take a lot of time.
Also my young kids use all of my equipment (except the telephotos over 5 pounds) and that will be hard on them. They have captured some great photos when I’m not there to get the shot. Basically our breakfast table is 40 feet up next to a tree in a glass room so birds just land in the tree 4-10 feet away and if you move slowly you can fill the frame at minimum focus distance with a 70-200 2.8 – it’s awesome. Somehow it works like a blind and they are not afraid if you are careful. Depends on the species of course. I’m setting up a real blind soon – then it will be easier. The hummingbirds land on our fingers (if you can stay still) so even an iPhone gets some great shots.
I will go through and confirm all of my settings for U1 and U2, and maybe set up Nasim’s Auto ISO and do some more testing. I am confused about what changes when I go from U1 to Aperture priority etc. Some things are saved, some not – I think. I need to look that up again and work through them. I check most things on the fly but some of the deeper menu items get missed – like focus tracking with lock. It is so simple but I thought I had made a decision there.
I have started getting my exposure set up and locking it in so I know the bird will be exposed properly. Especially when the background is dark with a sunlit bird (which is frequent) and soaring birds from below against a bright sky. I’ve started using the point exposure area thing to test my setup ahead of time and then leaving it there.
Ideally less post processing would let me get a lot more sleep, so getting it basically right in the camera is my hope.
I’m sorry for having no online photos to review since I can’t decide what to use. I want to protect my potential money makers, but share as much as possible otherwise. Flickr or Google seem good but there are a lot of options out there. It would be nice to be able to post photos to this forum but I guess that gets expensive for Nasim. Maybe that can be part of his new membership option.
Again thanks to both of you – this forum is gold.
You seem to be doing just fine Milt with or without help!
I envy you your house in such proximity to so many wonderful birds.
I have just bought bought a house which I am renovating (it’s an old stone barn and cottage joined together) and the best part is, I have European Barn Swallows nesting in the porch and in a little stone outbuilding. Too late to shoot this year as the young have just fledged but next year I will be ready for them…
Auto ISO is very useful when the light is not steady and of course you can keep absolute control of shutter speed and aperture. And unlike manual mode you can preset a compensation factor if needed.(Somebody tell jack)
Beware of relying on Nikon Custom Setting Banks – poorly designed and (not) thought out.
If you temporarily change a setting it stays changed and does not revert to the original setting next time you use it – pretty useless.
NOTE: I replied to myself since we’ve maxed out forum depth!
Your new place sounds exciting – I love that idea. Sounds like you are out in the country which is always great for photography. Moving to the country changed everything for us – we love it. I hope you have time for actual photography – I’ve been around for projects like that and construction does tend to get in the way of ‘the next great image’ since no one else seems to think it’s okay to stop working just because the ‘magic light’ just showed up!
I use Auto ISO when conditions are changing but not too extreme. Around sunset I use the red record button which I’ve assigned to ISO for quick changes with my right hand – just click the record button, move the back command dial and I’m there. Especially when I need 1/4000 or higher for hummingbirds and swallows, that comes in handy since the ISO is going through the roof to make that speed possible.
Auto ISO settings are still buried in the menu for me so when I have to change it frequently I get frustrated.
I need to set up my Fn button to open the first item on My Menu which as Auto ISO settings on it as Nasim recommends – I just haven’t done it yet. In that case Auto ISO would be better when the lighting is dying out and it’s a race between bad ISO, no depth of field and slow shutter speed as to which one is going to kill the next image.
I do like how it increments in such fine steps, which really nails the exposure so I use it under normal conditions even though it feels like ‘auto’ and hurts my ‘real photographer’ feeling a little. Real photographers just look at the light, declare the ideal settings and dial it in with their right hand while loading the next film plate with their left – isn’t that right?
Anyway – joking aside – I think Nasim has the perfect setup, I just haven’t sat down to figure out what the hell he is talking about. He even showed us on our own cameras in SF how things should be set up but it was too fast for me to keep track. It’s all in his article so one of these days I’ll go through it – and hopefully save it so it doesn’t disappear. I prefer to enter every setting myself instead of copying from someone else so I know where they are and how to change them.
I have begun really searching out great lighting conditions since that makes such a huge difference in the mood of the image. Even tree bark in great light looks good. My life is controlled by the time of day, type of clouds and then what’s available to shoot.
The way Auto ISO works as it hits max ISO, then minimum shutter speed fooled me too many times, so I figured out how to test my settings ahead of time and be ready when the bird showed up. This is very hard if clouds are moving in front of the sun or the few minutes of the sun actually dropping over the horizon as I’m praying for that hummingbird to take the right position in front of the setting sun. It’s amazing how fast the lighting changes and how dark it gets at that time (and that’s after ditching the TC). Since I’m often pushing the limits with hummingbirds near sunset and trying to get the absolute highest possible shutter speed with ISO of 1600 or less (I prefer 400 to 800 or lower) this is always a trade-off. The background is either dark green trees in shadow or the sunset sky which is always tricky. So just to stay sane I’m totally manual on exposure at the moment, although I definitely miss exposure frequently but normally within 3 stops so i can save them.
Under normal conditions exposure is not very challenging these days – it’s hard to really miss. That probably means I don’t know enough about it to realize I’m totally botching it, but for now I’ll worry about getting things composed and in focus…
Who is jack? I have not been using EV compensation so far, but I am planning to start. I think RAW lets you be a little lazy since you can almost always save it later. I usually just pick a point, expose for that and hope everything else is not blown out, etc.
I’ve read about custom banks – I haven’t used them yet, just the U1 and U2 – or is that what you mean? I think I just need a mental list of the settings I need to review when I’m shooting – that is the only way to be sure you’ve got them right. Once you can whip through the menus quickly you can check 30 settings in less then a minute so if you just dive in after a while it’s part of you (unless you switch to Canon).
‘Easy ISO’ is also a very good way of switching ISO quickly – using a command dial.
Assigning the Fn button to the first My Menu item to get to ISO control is excellent and not one I had thought of – so thanks to Nasim. I will be using that from now on.
Yes, Auto ISO is great when the light is changing frequently and at dawn and dusk when it can be hard to keep pace with the sun.
Yes, there is no substitute for great light – pity there’s no button for that.
jack is PL’s resident genius.
He could learn a lot from you.
I am not joking.
No, RAW is not an excuse for being lazy – there are no excuses for being lazy (stern voice).
Try for 100% and you may get 90%, settle for 90% and you will 80% and so on. It’s a slippery slope.
IMHO, RAW is a ticket to potential perfection – why not go for it?
Yes, I believe UI and U2 are Custom Setting Banks – they are A,B,C,D, on my cameras (D800E).
Same thing, different label.
They only work if you don’t change a setting while using the bank.
May have improved on your (newer model) cameras(?)
Betty, sorry for my vague wording. I have custom setting “AF-C priority selection” changed from its default “Release” to “Focus”. So when using continuous shooting mode (CS or CH) and continuous-servo AF (AF-C) mode, the shutter will stop firing when the focus is lost and resume firing when the focus has been reacquired. I’ve found this especially useful in poor light, when I’m shivering in a cold wind, and using one of my non-VR telephoto lenses. I’ve also found this setting useful in good light with VR lenses so I’ve never needed to change it back to the default “release priority”. That’s just my personal preference for my styles of photography based on my experiments with the cameras that I own.
You mentioned that 51 points 3-D tracking autofocus is slower. I’d forgotten about that because after I discovered how much slower it was, I stopped using it. Some of my AF lenses are old non-D versions (just AF, not the later AF-D) so 3-D tracking doesn’t work with them anyway. To be fair, the camera I tested it on used an early Nikon Expeed processor and I’ve read that the latest processors are very much faster at performing 3-D tracking.
I totally agree that setting “Focus tracking with lock-on” to longer than the default value is a worthwhile experiment to perform. There are very sound reasons why Nikon provides so many customizable settings — especially the plethora of primary and secondary autofocus settings.
Regarding VR at high shutter speeds… I can’t recall exactly what Thom Hogan and some other very knowledgable people have written over the years, but I understood the essence of their writings simply because I have a solid background in the relevant subject areas: servo systems; statistics; and photography. I also fully understand that things Thom, others, and myself have written on this subject are very likely to be misunderstood and/or taken out of context because it is impossible to accurately convey a highly technical subject in unambiguous plain English that everyone can both understand and easily remember.
I shall try once again to clearly explain this frequently debated VR issue to the readers of Nasim’s website:
1. At fast shutter speeds, VR will occasionally cause image blur. Yes, occasionally, but not often enough to worry about for most practical photography: unless the particular combination of lens(es) and camera has a system design fault, which has actually occurred!
2. If it was generally true that VR causes blur at fast shutter speeds then it would also cause blur when using flash, which is a short pulse of light that is equivalent to using a very fast shutter speed.
3. Other than when using flash, the time it takes to capture a whole frame at fast shutter speeds is NOT fast, it is limited to the native mechanical focal plane shutter speed, i.e., the camera’s top flash sync speed (traditionally marked “X” on the shutter speed dial), which is usually in the region of 1/60 to 1/250 second, depending on camera model. At selected shutter speeds faster than the native speed, the pair of shutter curtains form a slit that traverses the sensor *at the native shutter speed*.
4. If VR usually assists you at the native shutter speed, then obviously from the above, it will also assist you at all faster speeds when using a focal plane shutter, duh!
5. VR has an on/off switch (and some lenses have more extensive VR control). Always RTFM for initial guidance, then perform your own experiments; rather than being lazy by just learning to parrot Thom Hogan, others, and anything that I’ve written about the complex subject of modern photographic tools.
PS to Milt: Just as I was about to post the above, I’ve seen your recent comment 22.214.171.124.1.1.1 dated JULY 18, 2015 AT 6:50 AM. I hope you won’t mind me posting this “as is” rather than spending ages addressing your subsequent points. Please don’t think that the above was aimed at you as a personal criticism, it definitely wasn’t. Betty has, and will, give you much better guidance for your style of photography than I’m able to provide. I sincerely hope that you soon feel better,
Thanks for the very clear practical explanation of VR.
I am relieved as it confirms my understanding of this technology from my own reading and also explains why Nikon say nothing about it in their guidance on the use of VR. It seems there is nothing to say!
In spite of having come to that conclusion for myself, there always remained a nagging doubt that maybe I had missed something and that VR was to some degree, which for the life of me I couldn’t see in my own images, degrading IQ.
Now I know for sure that any unsharpness in images shot with VR is my own fault!
With regard to custom settings you are right again.
They are there to cater for differing needs and preferences.
My advice to Milt is based on what I do most of the time when shooting BIF and it should make a sound starting point.
Beyond there he will have to go on making his own mistakes (like we all do) and learning from them and eventually alight on his own optimum ‘formula’ for setting up his camera to suit his own circumstances and way of working.
You are direct and I’ve been taken aback once or twice by your tone, but I always feel better after re-reading your post and realizing that you are spending time and sharing your obvious expertise because you are trying to help.
I do prefer Betty’s approach just because she seems like the nicest person on earth and says negative things so gently you don’t even realize it was negative. Plus she can talk about this in her sleep! But that gentle touch does take time and seems to be a rare gift.
The written word does not convey tone so I always take a breath if I feel insulted and read again. It’s always better the second time. As a software designer I’ve seen the results of over-reacting to email/text many times so I assume the best and make the best of it. Thin-skinned (supposed) genius 12 year olds are easy to spot based on their aggressive behavior so I do try to avoid them. Otherwise any helpful person is okay with me.
What I value above all else is intellectual honesty, experience and the willingness to do the work. Sometimes that comes with a little brutal honesty – I can deal with that. Clearly, you’ve got all of that in spades and I am eternally thankful that you are clarifying so much of this for me and others who choose to dive deeply into this thread. It really helps to put all these arcane things into context – I’ve read thousands of pages while not quite getting some critical details.
Truly understanding this domain is a huge challenge – I’m finding that few people, including many working pros, understand most of it. They find something that works well enough for them and stick with it, never knowing something far better is one menu option away. Although I don’t want to spend my life “learning about my camera” as KR says, I don’t want to miss any more of those beautiful shots than I have to, and having the right setup for BIF is crucial – you just don’t have time to make mistakes when you see a once in a lifetime shot unfold before you.
Frankly I hold great artists – who may know very little technically – in very high regard. They create things that never existed before. I have a few in my family. If I had years to really experiment that would be my goal. But one must understand your tools and that’s why I’m here.
As it is, I’m just trying to document the beauty of nature without screwing up the shot, spending every dollar to my name or getting divorced (that’s kind of a joke – obviously anyone searching for Nikon super telephotos from most expensive to least is getting a lot if support from home).
I also do plenty of other photography, but choosing a bird lens means I’m stuck with either Nikon or Canon (or both if I can’t bear to part with the 70-200 VR II). I have not found a safe way to buy expensive lenses and resell them for a similar amount, so I use the B&H baseline of 70% of used retail as my floor for reselling one of these monsters. So whatever I choose I will be stuck with, and I do not like making mistakes on this kind of thing.
I have to say I’m very interested in the older 500 f/4 lenses without VR. They are far cheaper – $4,000 to $5,000 and maybe even cheaper when the new 500 and 600 come out. I would LOVE to save thousands of dollars by getting the AF-S non VR version one or two of that lens. But after using the VR version and experimenting with turning it off and on, there is no question that low light work and maybe anything you do with a very long lens is really going to benefit from having VR, unless you are on a serious tripod.
When I read the Thom Hogan thing about 1/500 max for VR I thought no VR for good light with the 500 f4 would work since I’m avoiding motion blur fir birds in flight anyway, and I could use my 70-200 VR II for sunrise/sunset. After using the 500 with VR I’m convinced VR is mandatory when handheld in all light and at all speeds – even 1/1600.
Phew! What a great discussion. Thanks again to you both – and to Nasim for creating a forum like this where reasonable people can discuss tricky things in a reasonable manner!
Kindly refrain from stating your psychoanalysis of people — especially 12-year-olds — because psychoanalysis, and ethics in general, are very clearly not within your area of expertise.
Pete – that was supposed to be a thank you. I appreciate your expert help in this complex area.
Milt, I apologize for misinterpreting your comment. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and learning from others. Although web searches can be very useful, there’s so much information that is incorrect or only partially correct. I think the problem is caused by search engines returning their results based on popularity rather than on factual accuracy.
I use Lens Align – mostly because I found it first about 7 years ago.
Reikan is more automated but seems better suited to Canon cameras than Nikon (had something to do with not being able to hook up so effectively with Nikon’s electronics) – but that may have changed more recently.
Read up and see which you might prefer – I think they are equally effective.
I can’t wait for your review. I’m looking for another telephoto lens next to my 300 f/2.8G ED VRII. Even with the TC-20E III attached to my 300, I still need more reach. I’m hoping the 5 or 600 with 2x teleconverter will still provide fairly good results.
After trying the 300 f/2.8 and 500 f/4 with the latest TC14 and TC20 I’ve come to the conclusion that using the D7200 for the 1.5 crop factor with the TC14 is the only reasonable way to get those ultra-sharp images we all strive for. I’m actually starting to wonder why anyone even uses the TC20. At first I thought AF performance at f/8 was important but now I feel like the most important factor is the sharpness you get with the TC14, not to mention more light.
This was my subjective reaction after trying both lenses for a month – not the kind of test Nasim does.
So now my question for the experienced pros out there is would you even use a TC17 or TC20 with a 300 2.8 or 500 4?
I haven’t seen an A/B test of these TC”s with either the 300 or 500 – only of the 70-200 by Nasim. Since that was done he has mentioned that TC performance varies depending on the lens (and probably the copy) so it’s less than clear to me.
Personally I would prefer a 300 2.8 for use in low light or close in, then use the TC20 for reach, but the TC14 did seem better so I went for the 500 to reach 1050mm equivalent field of view.
Technique is obviously critical, but I can really see the difference between these lenses.
Now I’m working on getting really close in perfect light – that appears to be the secret – if possible.
You seem to have worked things out pretty well for yourself – you perhaps are just seeking confirmation that your findings hold up?
Well, IMHO they do.
In my experience the 1.4x converter gives excellent results with almost any long lens – excellent with both the 300mm and the 500mm and incidentally with the 70-200mm.
The 1.7x is an aberration (I suspect Nikon hired Coca Cola to work on the optical formula and make the glass) and although it’s OK with fast primes such as the 300mm f2.8, in general it is poor. I got rid of mine a long time ago and don’t miss it one bit.
The new MK III aspheric 2x is a whole lot better than the old 2x (which is not saying much) and again, is good with fast primes but is rotten with long zooms like the 200-400mm.
However, it is hard work with a long telephoto like the 500mm. To get what I would consider properly sharp images with it you need to stop down to at least f11. This obviously impacts on shutter speed and/or ISO and of course, your ability to keep it still. Focussing hunts a lot (usually at a critical moment!), so I focus manually with this set up. Bolted down on solid tripod and gimbal or laid out on a big fat bean bag, it will work for static subjects – it’s not a combination for BiF! and I only use ‘in extremis’.
Since getting the 500mm f4 and the D800E, I use it hardly at all since this combination is so sharp I can get much better results by cropping in post process than by using the 2x converter full frame.
Although my personal bias would be towards the 500mm + 1.4x, both of your options will work very well, but you may get stuck with the 300mm if your subject moves in closer to you. I hate having to lop body parts off!
Personally, I use D800E with the 500mm with 1.4x for reach.
Close in, I favour the 70-200mm with 1.4x. I use this combination a lot – almost as standard as it covers a huge range with only a small speed/quality penalty. Great for safari where you are confined to a vehicle.
I have two D800E bodies and two 1.4x converters to save having to fumble about changing lenses in mid-shoot.
I keep the 2x for those few occasions when my target is in the next county, is irresistibly wonderful and I cannot get closer.
Lastly, yes, getting to be in perfect position, in perfect range, in perfect light IS the secret.
The first two can be worked on, the third is always going to be tricky – you can only increase the odds by going out before dawn and staying out until dusk. Sleep in the middle of the day.
Betty! You are awesome. Thank you.
You have given me exactly what I was hoping for which is validation from an experienced pro that I am on the right track.
6 months ago I couldn’t spell Bokeh – now I’m basically obsessed with photography and can’t get enough information.
So a little guidance from someone who has already gone through the pain goes a long way
Even after reading extensively, talking to Nasim and the impressive group of photographers who spent the afternoon and evening with him on the exciting San Francisco photo walk, guidance from the pros who are friends (and willing to talk about work with yet another newbie), buying lots of equipment and taking tens of thousands of images – it is not easy to really pin down what matters when capturing specific types of images.
There are two things that happened recently which changed my thinking on use of super telephotos:
One was an hour session of photographing a white-tailed kite with a D7200, 500 f4 and TC14 near sunset. This bird hovered right over me in our yard – it was amazing. It then got better until sunset. I followed the bird up the hill and captured it hovering, hunting, landing in trees, catching prey, eating prey (yuck) etc. Basically the angels were singing and it was as good as it could ever get until my 64GB card was full.
So after looking at the resulting several thousand images I noticed a few things… 1/1600 without VR does NOT eliminate camera shake when handheld, especially after running up hills, shooting with 10 pounds of camera/lens and generally being ready to drop. Thom Hogan had written that you should not use VR above 1/500 and I was trying that out (hoping that I could buy a $4500 used non-VR 500 instead of $6500 for VR). Now I’m not sure. I think there is no speed high enough to eliminate camera shake at 1050mm equivalent field of view with a D7200 or D810 sensor since the pixels are so close together. My definition of camera shake is if the image shifts more than half a pixel in any direction during the exposure (I assume that’s how it works – I have no idea in real life it just seems logical). I just could not keep that 500 really super steady – so I guess it’s time for a tripod/monopod. Not easy with mating/fighting raptors above which is my focus.
The second happened when I was out early one morning and randomly met a Canon photographer next to a lake with my exact same setup – except he was using the Canon D7MKII, 500 and 1.4 extender. He said all of the photographers he knew starting now were going with Canon – those invested in Nikon already were stuck. The key was 10fps vs 5. That is hard to argue with.
The only thing I can find that seems to be really different between Canon and Nikon is dynamic range – Nikon is clearly better.
So here are my actual questions if you don’t mind diving in even deeper:
What minimum shutter speed do you use handheld with a 500 and TC14? And what maximum ISO? I was using 1/1600 and ISO 400 if possible, but Nasim said 1600 was acceptable so I would basically take off the TC when I hit ISO 800, then keep shooting till I got to 1600 (and then keep shooting just in case until dark, or switch to the 70/200 2.8 and go to ISO 6400 or so).
I am still working through the details of that all played out, but it would be great to hear what you are doing since you have the 70-200 and 500 just as I do. I’m using the latest versions of the TC14 and TC20 (unless I get an old 500 in which case I have to buy old TCs).
I’m starting to think for sunset the 400 2.8 is really the lens to have, but for daylight the 500 with TC14 is better. Ouch.
I am holding off on buying my monster bird lens as long as possible to give Nikon the chance to come up with a fast DX camera. Hopefully they finally come through as Nasim expects/hopes. In retrospect I would probably have bought a D810 and D7200 (or the new D400!), although I’m pretty happy with the D750. I’m still a little fuzzy on how much of a difference having ‘big pixel sensors’ ala D750 makes.
Anyway – thanks Betty. I really appreciate your help – I’m sure there are many who benefit from your expertise.
For me, it’s always a pleasure to talk photography.
As for being a newbie – every ‘expert’ (are we ever expert?) starts as a newbie and I do admire the systematic way you have gone about researching and testing your gear before committing.
The VR ‘thing’ is complicated and I am not sure Thom Hogan is correct. It all revolves around the Nyquist theorem and sampling frequency and the possibility that at high shutter speeds the moving VR element can be ‘caught’ in a decentred position and so affect image quality. At low shutter speeds this movement is ‘averaged out’ and so is not noticeable, but it still has a small effect. This is why at low shutter speeds an image taken handheld with VR will never be as sharp as the same shot taken on a tripod with VR off.
Also, the 1/500 sec limit seems pretty arbitrary as it bears no relation to camera shake. We definitely do not shake at 500Hz – that is an acoustic frequency – and just consider, mains line frequency is 60Hz – so who thinks we shake at 500Hz!?
In my view (and others more brainy than me), VR and shutter speed are independent of, and have no effect on, each other. VR helps at slow shutter speeds, but it won’t make things worse at high shutter speeds. I have yet to see a convincing example of VR spoiling image quality.
In practice, I can see no difference whether VR is on or off at high shutter speeds and for me the risk of an occasional slightly less sharp shot (probably caused by my shake rather than misbehaving VR) is outweighed by the benefit of not having to remember to switch every time the shutter speed drops below or rises above 1/500 sec.
If you have been running up and down hills chasing raptors lugging a super telephoto, your heart will be beating fast, your breathing will be heavy and you will be shaking like a leaf in a tornado. Nothing on God’s earth, not even 1/1600 sec, (with or without VR), will control that at 1000mm effective focal length! Really fast birds need 1/3200 sec with even a 500 or 600 mm hand held or otherwise.
If you are going to concentrate exclusively on bird photography, I can see the attraction of high frame rates. I shoot all wildlife from elephants to finches so frame rate is less of an issue than image quality for me – which is where the Nikon especially the D800/600E/810 scores over Canon. I can live with 5 FPS. Also if birds are your thing, then the 300m f2.8 might be a better choice than the 70-200mm f2.8. This latter lens gives great flexibility when an animal comes close but if you are shooting birds exclusively this is not likely to be an issue.
A humming bird is unlikely to ever be too close, an elephant certainly can be!
“What minimum shutter speed do you use handheld with a 500 and TC14?” “And what maximum ISO?”
First, I would try to avoid using that combination hand held (I try to stay on a gimbal mount as much as possible), but 1/1600 sec would be a reasonable lower limit for a good hit rate. (There is no upper limit!) It is however demanding and dependent on your technique in general and your panning skill in particular. Some are natural ‘good shots’, others can’t hit a barn door at three paces.
I don’t have experience of the D7200 (my last Dx camera was a D300), but the D800E holds up well up to about ISO 1600 and cleans up even better in post process. I will push to ISO 3200 if I have to, but stay away from ISO 6400 altogether.
One last thought. One can grow old and grey agonising over choice of equipment but in the end whatever you settle on will be less good in some respects than others (frame rate, dynamic range, focussing speed/accuracy, low light performance, etc.). I would choose the camera that you feel most comfortable with and a long lens that you can get consistently good results with. Nothing you buy will satisfy you in every single respect and constantly ‘jumping ship’ in the hope of hitting the jackpot only leads to an empty wallet, buyer remorse and never really becoming fluent in the use of your chosen camera equipment – because they all have different modus operandi. I strongly believe that being truly proficient with even ‘outmoded’ equipment will always yield better results than fumbling about with the latest and greatest.
If I were in your shoes I would go with the 500mm f4 (best balance of quality, reach and hand holdability – the 600m is a beast) and either the 300mm f2.8 (if you are dedicated birder) or the 70-200mm (if you are more of a generalist). Combine those with the 1.4x (incidentally there is little or no performance difference between the old and the new version with long lenses) and 2x MKIII converters and you are good to go. And yes, you should really get a tripod and a gimbal head – long lenses become ‘weightless’ and perfectly balanced – which translates into sharp images.
One last thought. Whatever lenses you get, please get them fine focus tuned. Focussing long lenses especially at wide apertures is very critical and you will be amazed how far ‘off’ many lenses are. Camera shake, VR ‘malfunction’ and ‘poor autofocus performance’ are often blamed for unsharp images when in fact the lens is simply back or front focussing to a greater or lesser extent.
Hope this has helped and good shooting.
Betty and Cowabunga Dad,
The Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem is simply a very convenient bridge between the continuous-time domain of the real world, and the discrete-time domain of the sampled then digitized [quantized] version of real-world phenomena, which can be processed by digital hardware; especially by small and relatively low-cost hardware.
Although we cannot shake, or otherwise move, at a fundamental frequency beyond several Hertz, the firing of our muscles is erratic [chaotic] therefore our overall body movement is highly complex, which by definition means that it contains frequency components that extend orders of magnitude beyond the fundamental frequencies involved. Careful inspection of an ECG will reveal the extraordinary complexity of just this one type of body movement.
Optical image stabilisation is a process that shifts the probability distribution of out-of-focus shots in a direction that, on average, highly favours the use of slower shutter speeds.
The most important thing to understand is that statistics become increasingly meaningless/useless as the sample size reduces towards one. While optical image stabilisation works very effectively *on average*, it will occasionally ruin your image — irrespective of the shutter speed you’ve chosen.
On a purely technical level, VR is probably best switched off for shutter speeds of 1/500 and faster. On a purely practical level, if VR improves your ability to concentrate on your subject, and to press the shutter button at the right moment, then use it regardless of your chosen shutter speed.
If VR doesn’t help over 1/500 it should just turn itself off automatically – that could be done with software and make it a menu option. Maybe it does that anyway. I’ve seen the viewfinder image move radically for a brief moment but I assume it’s just waking up or responding to major movements and then everything is fine when you keep it steady for over 1/2 second.
What I’m trying to learn is what experienced photographers have found to work for them after lots of practical experience with 800mm or greater. The theory is complex and will generate endless discussion – only Nikon/Canon scientists really know and have evidence either way. That theory seems to be talking about the relationship between frequency of digital samples required to reproduce an analog event – I can’t say what that means for VR and I can’t spend two days researching it. I’m just wondering – what works? Are any of these perfectly sharp images handheld with VR?
In my case 500mmx1.4(TC)x1.5(DX) for 1050mm equivalent field of view seems like the perfect setup. Tripod if possible is best, handheld okay but less keepers and never *perfect* clarity. 1/1600 for raptors, 2500-4000 (or 8000) for hummingbirds/swallows, small flapping birds.
My guess is the VR question is seriously complex. Distance to subject, vibration, magnification (TC), distance between sensors, size of sensors, sensitivity of sensors (D750 vs D7200 both at 24MP – Nasim and I had a long discussion about that and I’m still not clear). It seems like perfect sharpness is one pixel per color with zero movement during the exposure. That’s a tough ask handheld – but is 1/8000 fast enough? I don’t know.
We are deep into the dreaded KR “talk” zone here. The bottom line is – what actually works? That is much simpler than why does it work. We can all go out there and spend days trying to test this, or learn from someone who has already done it.
Betty and Pete – thanks for sharing your impressive expertise. The human race progresses when we share knowledge and listen to each other so we can learn from those who have gone before.
Hopefully many can learn from this useful thread!
Milt (AKA Cowabunga Dad)
I bought the B&H lens testing software/target but never used it because I ran out of time. Is that what you mean – or sending it in to Nikon for “camera matching” which people with money and time do ($400 and 4-6 weeks I think). I think the used copy of prior generation 300 2.8 VR I had from B&H was back focusing at longer ranges but it’s hard to know. I panicked and sent it back rather than be stuck with a bad lens. Many of those shots were just too far away – once I used the 500 I knew it was the one for hawks in flight if there was enough light.
I’ve already got the 70-200 VR II and I use it for lots of people photography. Now that I’m without a real bird lens I use it with the 1.4 and pray for birds to get close.
The 300 f/4 AFS at $800 used was clearly an improvement – but for sunset hummingbird shots the 2.8 is the way to go.
Our hummingbirds land on our fingers so I can use an iPhone at 3 inches!
We have an all-glass solarium with birds everywhere in the trees next to us about 40 feet up so I usually sit at the table with the window open and just shoot out the window. I get much better shots sitting at breakfast than actually driving somewhere!
I’m currently down to a D750 with a 50mm 1.4, 70-200/2.8 VRII and a D7200 with no bird lens, waiting for Nikon to wake up before I switch to Canon (after I spend months doing more research). I plan to get a 20mm wide and a 200mm micro if I stay with Nikon.
Basically I love all photography but my research is currently directed towards a bird lens since they are so insanely expensive, and our fighting raptors are the most interesting and unique thing happening around here. Hopefully I can sell some images so I can keep this kind of equipment around instead of selling it when we buy a bigger place in the country in a few years and I can’t justify ridiculous toys anymore. $4500 to $12500 is pretty hard to justify if it’s not generating income.
If you want to accurately calibrate your lenses, I can recommend Michael Tapes Design, Lens Align MKII Target and Focus Tune Calibration software OR Reikan Focal.
Both work very well. However, the process is somewhat tedious especially as you need to calibrate not only each lens to each camera body but also each lens + converter pair to each camera body (as a lens + converter becomes, in effect, a different lens). And if you use say, two 1.4x converters, you also need to make a note of which one to use with which lens as the two converters will not be interchangeable. In other words you will have to dedicate each converter to a particular lens or all bets are off!
Forget going to Nikon. Besides being slow and expensive, they will adjust the camera sensor/autofocus mechanism for the lens you supply them with. That will be great for that one lens but not for any other lens. Or they will tell you that the camera body and lens are within manufacturing tolerance (which is probably true) and will do nothing.
If you are chasing the Holy Grail of perfect single pixel sharpness, I would say lens calibration is mandatory. I have not yet come across a long lens that is 100% accurate in this respect.
Going back to VR, I think Pete and I are on the same page (pretty much).
I agree with him that overall body movements are highly complex, but do not agree that that human muscle movements extend orders of magnitude beyond the fundamental frequencies involved. Remember, the camera is being consciously held as still as possible and the hands and body itself act as a damping mechanism. To relate muscular movement to the frequency of motor neurons firing or to ECGs is simply erroneous. I have some knowledge on this. Besides, as shutter speed has absolutely no relation to VR anyway, analogies like that just do not apply. I also agree that technically you should perhaps turn off VR at high shutter speeds but this has nothing to do with sampling rate and everything to do with the VR element sometimes being “caught’ in an entirely decentred state for the whole duration of the exposure at high shutter speeds.
There is incidentally, also one other reason for keeping VR on at high shutter speeds/shooting rapidly moving subjects and that is that VR continuously stabilises the image through the viewfinder and so makes tracking or panning a target very much easier – and that translates into a higher hit rate.
The take home message as far as I am concerned is that VR is most useful at slow shutter speeds and makes little or no difference at high shutter speeds. I just leave it on unless the camera is locked down on a tripod. If it’s ‘loose’ on a gimbal or ball head, I also keep VR on.
This is what I bought. It includes the LensAlign MkII Focus Calibration System and FocusTune Calibration Software. B&H gave me an extra day to test the lens and they sent this out overnight. I never used it and got the 500 f/4 instead. That was obviously fantastic and I never tested it either, but still returned it when I decided I was probably going to switch to Canon.
I will definitely test whatever lens I keep however – Canon or Nikon. B&H will definitely get my business whatever happens because they are just awesome. I’ve been using them for 30 years and other than a few issues here and there I’ve ordered hundreds of things from them and I’m still happy (read the fine print though). Adorama too although less automated and more frustrating at times. I would buy from either one.
Betty do you think this is the best one, or is Michael Tapes Design OR Reikan Focal better? (my other post has a link in it so it’s waiting for moderation).
THE PERFECT BIRD CAMERA
So I’m just wondering how heavy a 1000mm f4 (or 2.8) DX lens would be? Combined with a 15fps DX camera with an insanely large buffer it seems like every bird photographer on Earth would order one. Combine that with some new version of JPG to allow super high frame rate and still getting near RAW IQ.
I would also like to see a focus mode where anything in the background is ignored – 3D tracking which only gets the bird, not the background (actual 3D tracking – not 2D) so you can get those amazing bokeh shots without getting the damn dot on the damn bird while tracking a bird in flight with a 10 pound 1000mm lens when your arms are falling off!
Why not allow the AE/AF Lock button to restrict the AF to a 10 foot (or a pre-set) range so you can get it close and the AF takes care of the rest? That would make something that is very hard now very easy. Seems like that could be a firmware change. It can’t be hard to do.
Any other thoughts on the perfect bird camera?
Doesn’t Nikon realize that many photographers get a full frame camera for people/bokeh and a DX for birds? Who wants to change lenses when you need to be ready at all times for both kids and birds to do something interesting?
Is there anyone else out there thinking Apple could wipe the floor with these guys if they decided it was worth it? Perfect lenses are only the start – there is some really low hanging fruit here!
Okay – so basically Ken Rockwell is talking about “good enough” full frame normal shots for people who want to avoid processing steps as the reason to use JPG. If you are doing maximum cropping for birds, RAW 12 or 14 bit is the only way to go?
OK I take your point, sometimes there is no simple language for very technical subjects! Thanks for the references – I will read them.
Thanks too for your kind comments.
Although my background is very much science and evidence based, I have to admit that when it comes to photography my approach is more pragmatic in that I am more interested in those technical aspects that impact my results directly. I glaze over a bit when it cames to arguments about the technical minutiae. My science is grounded in zoology and medicine – I was always a bit of a numb nut when it came to math and physics!
I have no objection whatsoever to my comments being deleted, but kindly also delete the replies to them, because as it stands, Betty’s thoughtful reply to me (JULY 7, 2015 AT 6:07 AM) no longer makes sense to your readers as a stand-alone comment.
It looks like Nasim just modified the comments section – perhaps something weird happened.
Being neither religious nor superstitious, I do not believe that “perhaps something weird happened”.
No insult intended to you or Nasim, but I invoke Hanlon’s razor, rather than ‘weirdness’, in this instance of two of my comments being deleted.
If you’ve ever met Nasim you would know that he is super positive, always helpful, full of integrity and doing his best to create something special. He is also doing mountains of work, and swapping out Disqus on a live site sounds tricky. Maybe he ran out of time to fix some comments or it just slipped through the cracks. Moderating these comments must be like quicksand.
I never saw your comments – Nasim can do what he feels is best. Personally I would recommend diplomacy when possible.
The reason the PL forums are so great is Nasim weeds it at all hours like a garden – it must be a royal pain.
Milt, thanks for your comment. You wrote: “I never saw your comments – Nasim can do what he feels is best. Personally I would recommend diplomacy when possible.”
If you had read the two of my comments that were deleted then you would know that they were written with tact and diplomacy, so kindly refrain from passing judgement on them in the absence of evidence.
In my opinion, Photography Life is a truly wonderful resource because Nasim uses by far the most important principle of the scientific method: self-correction. Unlike most websites, he appends updates to articles when necessary in the light of new evidence.
Hopefully, Milt, you will in future rely more on evidence than on conjecture.
The “I recommend diplomacy” was a general statement since I never saw your comments, which I’m sure were worthwhile. Betty was quite complimentary so perhaps “something weird” actually did happen. Hopefully Nasim can fix it if he ever sees this and has the time to deal with it.
I’m not getting email notifications on these so I’ve missed a few of these posts. I’ll have to check my spam folder, etc.
“So I’m just wondering how heavy a 1000mm f4 (or 2.8) DX lens would be? Combined with a 15fps DX camera with an insanely large buffer it seems like every bird photographer on Earth would order one. Combine that with some new version of JPG to allow super high frame rate and still getting near RAW IQ.’
You will need a fork lift for the lens, a buffer from the NSA or NASA and access to Fort Knox to pay for it.
Oh Betty – I’m so disappointed you aren’t jumping onto my FX Dream Bird Lens wagon!
I’m totally serious – wouldn’t a DX 1000mm F/4 bird lens totally hit the sweet spot and yet not kill Nikon sales of its FX range? Only crazy bird people would buy it, it would still be expensive but useful only for serious long distance (or very small birds). Add some sort of two-axis stabilizing gyro and you have a special-purpose bird lens that would change the game. Basically I think they should make two long DX lenses – one 5 pounds and one about 8 pounds for easy hand holding and max hand holding. Both f/4. Make them as long as possible – I am talking LONG.
Price it high – fine. At least it would be possible to handhold something truly long. Maybe those gyros would make it actually stay steady.
As for the camera, just twin the circuits or whatever it takes – double or quadruple the buffer – it can’t be that expensive. If they can make a D7200 for $1,000 the can make one with twice the buffer for $2,000 – or less.
Is my wife right? (I’m not allowed to discuss photography anymore so I’m not asking her).
Am I really crazy?
Why wouldn’t this work? Technically – I know the camera manufacturers are just biding their time ignoring customer needs until Apple kills them all with a thimble sized super tele with Apple Watch controller.
Nice idea BUT
1. Nikon won’t make it because there is not enough money in the ‘amateur’ DX market.
2. You would need a wheelbarrow to cart it around, a forklift to get it on your tripod and a private jet for trips abroad.
As for the monster buffer, they no doubt could do that but that would kill their FX pro cameras.
It’s all about the money and marketing – as ever.
So f/4 is the problem? How about a DX 800 f/5.6? The FX 800mm is about 10 pounds – so the DX would be – 6? Make it DO (assuming they figure out how to do that) and then what? 5? The combination of DX and fresnel seems like a gigantic advantage compared even to the new 600E.
It must be technically possible to make a much lighter handhold-able super telephoto DX lens in the 800 to 1000mm range that the pros would line up to buy. I would prefer something without a TC – this is a maximum possible reach lens.
There are endless comments from seemingly respected pros (or dogs – who can tell?) requesting lighter super tele’s for travel. How many do they need to sell to make a profit? Sell it with a new super bird camera only with 15fps – it would sell! People would be happy!
Isn’t it – obvious?
Sorry – I’m having trouble letting go of this little dream. I can barely hack a 10 pound bird rig, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
I think it all boils down to numbers and money – and there are probably not enough DX shooters out there to make it worth Nikon’s while to design a new sophisticated lens and tool up a production line to satisfy a few birders. Most pro’s shoot FX and they are pretty well catered for.
Why don’t you just go FX?
Or set up a pressure group?
The D750/D7200 I have now are a nice combination since they are almost identical. I’ve got the D750 ready to go for people etc. and the D7200 ready for birds, which means I’m not missing shots while changing lenses. Hawks fly by 10-20 feet away several times a week but if that camera isn’t set perfectly there is no chance of a shot. Usually they fly by super close and then climb out above me for a minute or two. I would like to add a D810 at some point, but it’s not urgent and won’t matter if I go Canon anyway.
So you are saying you don’t use DX mode for birds? My problem is hawks fighting 150-300 feet up. They have done it closer but normally they are up there, and the stuff they do is amazing. The D810 in DX mode is 15MP, the D7200 is 24MP – both leave the D750 in the dust regarding pixel density. When I got the D7200 I was SUPER happy – free lunch.
So – DX handheld I think. D7200 with 24MP DX sensor (vs 15MP for D810 in DX mode), 500 f/4, TC14 – that’s the best handholdable rig possible using Nikon at the moment (and 600E soon). Or same basic setup on Canon. Doesn’t this seem like the best extreme bird rig possible? Nasim disagrees – he likes FX better. I think for my needs – extreme distance – the 1.5x DX factor tips the scales.
I’ve never heard of anyone asking about a lens like this DX 1000 I’m talking about, which is weird to me. These monsters are HEAVY – no matter how much money you’ve got you just can’t handhold anything over 8.5 pounds long enough to get the shots you need.
As the F1 racing genius Colin Chapman famously said “simplify – then add lightness”.
Or “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”
(Antoine de Saint Exupery in Wind Sand and Stars. Translated by Lewis Galantiere 1967)
One would think photographers who live in the world of subtractive art (less is more) would understand this intuitively.
I don’t use DX mode for birds because with the D800/D810 there is, in my view, no point.
Using DX crop in camera just increases the chances of misframing the shot – it’s better to shoot FX and crop your DX frame in post process. The increase in frame rate with DX set in the D800/D810 is negligible and is outweighed by shooting a ‘larger’ frame.
With the D7200 with higher pixel density, it’s a different story.
Yep, most conspiracies just turn out to have been cock-ups.
Can’t think why your comments should have been deleted.
I am frequently pretty blunt in my comments and usually get away with it!
I think all comments should stay unless they are overtly and deliberately abusive, racist.
Maybe it was as a result of the confusion in Nasim ditching Disqus.
Ditching Disqus is, I think, a very wise move.
Thanks Elvin – that is helpful information.
A few months ago Nasim mentioned that he turns off or sets to neutral all of the settings that do not affect RAW, both to reduce processor load and so the histogram (which is based on the JPG) will be closer to matching what an actual RAW based histogram would look like. I learned more in 6 hours of listening to Nasim than months of reading – what a great learning experience!
I’m a little confused about auto distortion control and RAW – apparently it does nothing? The primes don’t seem to need it but the 70-200 probably needs correction, so I guess shooting in RAW means correcting distortion in post for any zoom.
After reading the article you mentioned including the comments I’m still not sure 12 bit is always the same as 14. I would expect graduated colors like evening sky or eyes might show more banding but I’ve never tested it myself. I assume the Canon would also be faster using 12 bit so it seems like switching is still going to help.
I still don’t understand the real difference between JPG and RAW in terms of processing options assuming correct exposure and white balance. If shooting JPG is a real option that would really help with buffer performance. I have had a few times where the camera somehow reset itself to JPG and the buffer seemed endless with a Sandisk Extreme Pro card . I know people make fun of Ken Rockwell for not shooting in RAW but even though he isn’t a birder a lot of his information is very useful (assuming you understand “Ken Speak”). The “getting sharp photos” is really good.
Anyway – my hope in posting all of this was to convey some of what I’ve learned in trying many of the bird lenses Nasim has reviewed, from the 70-200 to the amazing 500 f4. They are all superb, but that 500 is special – it really works for birds. I can see why the pros use it. I hope the Canon 500 iS iI is just as good – or Nikon comes out with a DX for birders before I have to jump ship!
Thanks for the positive input – Nasim has built a great community here. The Photography Life readers I’ve met in person have all been great people and impressive photographers.
“I still don’t understand the real difference between JPG and RAW in terms of processing options assuming correct exposure and white balance.”
An 8 bit JPEG falls apart very quickly, a 12 or 14 bit RAW doesn’t.
I really need maximum possible frame rate for long sequences of wild raptor fights – some of the best ones go on for 15 seconds or more, with multiple birds going crazy. I can’t even see what they are doing with the naked eye – it’s just too fast. Exposure and white balance stays the same for the entire sequence.
My question is: If you set exposure, white balance, sharpening, etc. perfectly using JPG fine will it be as good as RAW after doing all possible processing? Is the quality difference so big that there is no point shooting JPG?
It sounds like the difference in color gamut alone is enough to kill JPG – is that correct?
Nasim covered JPG vs RAW 6 years ago. I understand the huge advantages of RAW for fixing problems and basically everything except buffer performance.
I am spending huge amounts of time, effort and money to capture the best images I possibly can, so RAW is the obvious choice. But – perhaps – JPG has a use in this specific case.
Sorry to beat a dead horse – I just haven’t found an authoritative, precise answer to that question so far.
I am really trying to understand this point – before I sell all of my much loved Nikon gear (unless Nikon vs Canon dynamic range kills this whole plan).
For bird photography, I have used the 70-200 f2.8 VRII, 300 f4 (not PF which never arrived), 300 f2.8 VR and 500 f4 VR pretty extensively over the last four months using a D750 and D7200, along with the latest versions of TC14, TC17 and TC20.
I have no claim to expertise other than lots of enthusiasm, lots of reading and 80,000 handheld images during that time. My house is surrounded by birds so lots of subjects to shoot.
My general conclusions after this test period are:
I will do whatever it takes on this Earth to get my hands on a 500 f4 – it is simply incredible. The images from this lens are jaw dropping. I hear either the Nikon or Canon are both incredible.
DX (or full frame in DX mode) is the best way to get cheap reach. I prefer to have two cameras – one for people, one for birds, both ready to go at all times.
The 24 megapixel Nikon D7200 max frame rate is 5 or 6, Canon D7 MkII is 10. For birds this is a killer – if Nikon doesn’t announce a 10fps DX camera in the next three months I’m switching to Canon for my bird rig. I will not wait forever for Nikon and Canon is releasing better, cheaper equipment earlier than Nikon with the same image quality. I am fully invested in Nikon but I’m not waiting forever.
You get what you pay for – but used is fine if you don’t need a warranty. Photographers are like frogs being boiled slowly. They stay within their budget by slowly increasing it until they are broke.
Your arms get stronger and technique gets better in a few weeks. The 70-200 now feels light as a feather when compared to 8.5 pounds of 500 f4, which now seems manageable after a month of use. Every time I opened a new bigger lens I thought it was too big, but after a few weeks they were okay. My 9 year old can handle the 70-200 2.8 no problem all day.
If you are trying to match the perfection of the best wildlife photographers out there you have your work cut out for you. They are know all the little things you haven’t even heard of yet, use the very best equipment, under the best conditions, and are showing you the very best of tens or hundreds of thousands of images. But if you pay attention and get creative (and sometimes lucky) you can capture (and process) images that will make you smile with joy.
If the lens moves laterally one pixel while the shutter is open you have camera shake blur. So VR is important (although may not work over 1/500??? according to Thom Hogan). That is not very much. So I’m starting to wonder if a tripod is required to get PERFECT sharpness. Focus is usually the problem anyway.
For birds, which means frequent maximum cropping, you need perfect sharpness. Because the TC17 and TC20 both seem to degrade sharpness too much I see no point in even using them. However a lot of this is based on the original test by Nasim which he has since backed away from to some degree. That test was not super comprehensive, and it was done with a 70-200 at 200mm. I tried them with birds on the 70-200, 300 f4 and 300 2.8 and it really did seem sharper with the TC14 although that was a general feeling from many images. Since then I’ve read comments by Nasim that for some lenses those numbers don’t apply, and he would be happy to use a 300 2.8 with a TC20. I tried it and it really seemed sharper with the TC14. I guess I don’t know! Anyway – the new 600 f4 at 8.5 pounds sounds fantastic.
The main point here is there are three things that really count for a TC – can your camera autofocus, is the image sharp enough, and how many f stops do you lose for low light (sunrise/sunset) photography. I ended up taking the TC off of the 500 f4 about 30 minutes before sunset. Seems like the 400 2.8 might be better for that condition. But autofocus doesn’t matter if the image isn’t sharp enough, so for now TC14 is the only way to go for me, and I don’t care about AF with 2.0. Which kills the 300 2.8.
The (old) 300 f4 is light and clearly sharper/better than the 70-200 2.8 VRII at about $800 used – a real winner.
There is something about big heavy glass that just looks different – better color, contrast – I don’t know, but my feeling after trying these things is that they are better. I only had one bird lens at a time so I didn’t do A/B comparisons, but I don’t think there is any question about it.
I was in love with the 300 f2.8 until I got the 500 f4. Once I got used to wrestling my lens and actually saw the images on a computer that was it for me – wow!
But then I ran into a Canon birder with my exact same setup – 500f4, TC14, DX camera. Except he was getting 10fps, and I was getting 5fps (at 14 bit color depth – I think I’ve got that right).
Pretty close to the same cost, double the frame rate. Which REALLY MATTERS when you get 3 seconds of prime shooting after waiting hours.
So I sent back the most amazing lens I’ve ever used in my life, and I’m waiting. For a while.
Meanwhile I will try to process the 80,000 images I’ve got from these very interesting several months and see what I missed.
Anyway – if you have the cash and are stuck with Nikon the 600 f4 sounds fantastic.
I’ll post some images when I get the chance. My workflow is overwhelmed.
“There are two kinds of photographers: those who make pictures, and those just talk about it.” – Ken Rockwell
This is an equipment forum and we all need experience about latest equipments…
…And there are those who drag out this tired old saying (to use as an insult) from time to time.
That could be taken as insult or compliment given the volume of photos I’ve taken this year. I’ll give Guest the benefit of the doubt. I need to find some good examples photos from each lens that are worth posting and little time to find them. What I’ve really learned from Mr. Rockwell (and Nasim) is you need a thick skin if you post anything on the internet (especially controversial opinions) where it’s fair game for anyone with a keyboard and some time to kill.
Betty your helpful responses along with that of Elvir more than outweigh a mild shot across the bow. Hopefully someone out there will benefit from my experience, even though I’m a rank beginner compared to many who post here. Going through the hassle (and joy) of evaluating a bunch of lenses has been quite the learning experience for me at least.
Using 1050mm equivalent (DX+500mm+TC14) lets you get so much closer compared 420mm (DX+200mm+TC14) – you just get lots of shots all day, instead of waiting for that lucky break.
So now I wait for Nikon to come through with a DX 10fps, so I don’t have to sell the rest of my Nikon gear and go to Canon. They are both amazing, but for me it’s not too late to switch. I hear a lot of grumbling from the longtime Nikon pros with big investments in great Nikon glass. I really hope Nikon comes through, but I am not going to wait forever. Certainly by the fall/winter raptor season I want to have a serious bird rig ready to go.
Nasim thinks a D400 will be announced within the next 6 months. Fingers crossed – I don’t want to switch if I can avoid it.
I completely agree with you about the Nikkor 500mm F4 G VR. The best lens I have ever used.
Don’t quite agree about 300mm f4 vs 70-210mm f2.8. The 300mm is maybe a little sharper, but the zoom comes into its own when the action is closer and the 300mm is suddenly too long. You can crop from a 500mm frame when the image is a bit too small in frame but when the image is a bit too big to get into the frame, you are basically reduced to being a spectator.
I would count the 70-200 f/2.8 as a must-have lens for outdoor people, but for birds the 300 f/4 AFS with TC14 would be my pick for ‘smallest reasonable bird lens’ as many have said.
I”m still trying to decide if the 70-200 VRII with TC20 is worth using compared to the TC14 – I’ve been happy with the TC14 and haven’t pushed it, but I had a 500 f/4 and didn’t really try it. I will now…
The TC20 III also works well with the 70-200mm – if you can accept the speed penalty. Best at F11.
oops, best at F8!
Thanks Betty – I really appreciate your information. I really wasn’t sure about the TC20 – that’s the one Nasim tested at 27% degradation at 200mm using the 70-200/2.8VRII (which is hard to quantify – 27% of what?).
When I asked Nasim about the sweet spot on my 70-200 2.8 VRII with the TC20 he said the same – f/8 (with some more details on how that works). He then rattled off a giant list of sweet spots for all the photographers hounding him with questions – it was really impressive. I wish I had that recorded. You would think every lens would show the ‘sweet spot’ in green or something so you knew for sure. He also talked a lot about how ISO (which isn’t really ISO) works with digital camera sensors. Wow. It’s fun to dig into the details – you can always know more.
What I seem to be seeing is that up close everything is fine – you have all the sharpness you need. At the limits, when you get some amazing shot of birds doing something never before seen by mankind, but they are barely larger than the single-point focusing dot – that’s when a shot is usable or not based on the TC/lens combo.
Basically I’ve decided these far-off shots are just not going to come out. So now it’s TC14 all the way – sometimes they are just too far away and such is life – climb the hill or whatever it takes. Actually the TC20 is great for butterflies and birds that are at the close focus limit – is that just my imagination? Should I use the TC14 for the little close up things too? Time for a macro.
Yes, I would agree, sometimes a subject is just too far away/too small in the frame and we just have to accept it.
Lenses do not have infinite resolving power, sensors are not infinitely sensitive and we cannot always keep our cameras still enough.
Using converters with very long lenses successfully is toough and requires ideal shooting conditions – and that does not happen often (enough).
Yes, TC20 is good for small subjects at close focus limit – I have some nice dragon fly shots taken that way.