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What settings/technique do you use for wildlife photography?

photography settings Nikon

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#21 Peter Connan

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 05:58 PM

@amybatt, what you have said makes me worried about what else the guy taught you, because keeping the ISO to below 200 is patently wrong for any kind of fast action or most situations where long focal lenghts are used.

 

Also, I am not sure what this new camera of yours is. Knowing will make it a lot easier to understand how bad noise is going to be at higher ISO's.

 

So, here are some general guidelines:

 

When hand-holding a lens, the old rule of thumb was that you need a shutter speed of at least 1/focal length. This is for a 35mm (so-called full-frame) camera. In this regard, a smaller sensor has the effect of increasing the affects of camera shake, and thus you need to multiply this by the "crop factor". Having said that, it is only a guideline, some people need to half that shutter speed, and others can dounle it. It also doesn't take Vibration Reduction or image stibilisation into account.

The above is just to prevent movement blur from your own shaking, and doesn't take subject motion into account.

 

For subject motion, to freeze that cheetah chase we would all love to photograph, you will need at least 1/1000th of a second. The same speed applies to large birds in straight and predictable flight. For smaller birds (say dove-size), you will need at least 1/2000, and for the really fast smaller birds like Kingfishers and sunbirds, 1/3200 to 1/4000. For hummingbirds (which I have never even seen), some say 1/8000 is not enough.

 

So while it is definately true that the lowest ISO will produce the best possible image quality, what has been said above that a sharp photo with some noise is better than an unrecognizeable blur of a once-in-a-lifetime moment is definately true.


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#22 amybatt

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 06:31 PM

@Peter Connan I got the Sony RX10 iii, which is an upgrade for me from my dying Nikon Coolpix P510. It's a bridge camera and not DSLR, but it's letting me shoot manual or Aperture or Shutter priority when I want to. All I really wanted the class for was to learn the mechanics and get some practice shooting with someone who knew what they were talking about. I had taken the same class at the same shop 4 years ago with a different guy and my first camera and felt I learned more.

 

First Teacher's approach was look into the viewfinder on Program mode and get the readings there (Aperture and Shutter speed) and use those as your baseline.  Depending on what you want to do (capture speed or depth of field or light), transfer those settings to either A or S or M and tweak Aperture, Shutter speed or whatever you have to in order to accomplish your goal.  That seemed to serve me well on two safaris (at least to my eye) but I did fall back on Auto or Program when things happened quickly and I didn't have time to think through what I needed to do.  I think but I can't remember for certain that he said to use Auto ISO, but I could be wrong.  He didn't cover white balance and exposure much but the photographer I met on safari helped me with that and it made a difference.

 

Second Teacher said to leave it at ISO 100 or 200, set it on Aperture Priority based on what you want your depth of field to be, and let the shutter speed be automatically set.  We all told the class what we were going to be using our cameras for primarily.  Two of us were safari goers, the rest were shooting their kids at home.  Most of his own photos were kids at home.  So I'm not sure how reliable his method is for us given his usual subject is indoors with his kid.  To my mind, First Teacher's approach seems to make more sense.

 

So I throw back another question.  Of the two approaches above, do any of you do either, or do you just 'know", know what you're trying to accomplish and the settings to start with that will get you there?


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#23 Peter Connan

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 06:47 PM

@amybatt, the first teacher's approach is a very good one for general photography.

 

Keeping in mind that I have a very good DSLR with pretty good response times and my focus is primarily on catching birds and fast action, my approach is to use a base setting optimised for a fairly high shutter speed and a relatively fast aperture. It looks like like this:

Manual mode, 1/2000th shutter speed and f5.6, with auto-ISO enabled. Having said this, I don't even know if your camera can handle this type of setup.

 

Secondly, I have a backup mode pre-programmed and ready for almost instant use which is more conservative: Aperture priority with ISO400 and f5.6 set up.

 

I should also mention that there is a big difference between the autofocus settings of these two setups.

 

My feeling is that, for long-lens photography with a camera that can be set up with Auto-ISO in manual mode, this is the most useful general setting. However, this is only true for cameras that will allow you to use exposure compensation in that mode (I know some don't). If this is not possible, the aperture priority is the best bet.

 

I would say take some photos at different ISO's and see where you can start seeing major changes in quality, using a setting just lower than that as your base setup. Also see where image quality really becomes unacceptably poor (we all have different standards), and keep that in mind.


Edited by Peter Connan, 16 December 2016 - 06:49 PM.

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#24 surfmom

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Posted 30 December 2016 - 08:15 PM

great conversation.

 

@amy, I know that newer cameras are waaaaaay better at handling higher ISO.  You will cringe when you hear what I've been doing... I shoot indoor sports and with the cr@ppy gym lighting, I have had to push my ISO to 12000.  You can reduce noise, you cannot unblur an image.  I am shooting at 2.8 and will rarely go slower than 1/1000.  My pictures come out great and I have volleyball shots where you can see the ball being compressed as someone is hitting it.

 

For settings, I am a back button girl.  always.  once I switched, I never went back.  I will probably pick a shutter speed maybe in the 1/1000 - 1/2000 range.  as fast as I can.  I will try to keep ISO under 6400.  I tend to shoot at 2.8 and interested in what others do?  I will be shooting with a 7dm2 and my trusty 70-200 2.8 lens with a 1.4 tc.  I know I will automatically lose a stop but it seems like many shoot at f/8 or thereabouts?  Interested in thoughts here....


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#25 amybatt

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 01:18 AM

@Peter Connan, I spent a LOT of time over the holiday weekend both shooting outside with the new camera (not an easy feat in December in Boston!) as well as a lot of time just reading a 300 page manual for the camera. I learned I have custom buttons like you mention, so I can pop a custom setting or two there in case. I notice a serious difference between my day one out of the box "I have no idea how to use this" camera at the zoo photos, those before the class, those after the class and those since I read here and read the manual. So I can see progress. I'm also reading a photography blog I found on Twitter and learning a lot from that. Now if I can just put it all into practice in 6 weeks... So just know that I've digested all you shared and I think I'm benefitting already!

@surfmom one of the blogs I recently read talked about why photographers need to learn how to use the back button, so I was proud to recognize what you're talking about! Not sure I'll get there but it's something to think about, and I know I can do that on my Sony. Curious to hear other responses to your question though.
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#26 douglaswise

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 11:02 AM

I wonder whether it would be appropriate to use this thread as a means of seeking further photographic advice.  (Both @xelas and @Gregor, among others, were very helpful to me when I asked about high ISO photography as a possible solution for my almost pathologically shaking hands.)  I have just returned from the Falkland Islands and am baffled by my photographic results.

 

I took my Nikon D3200 plus 70-300 zoom lens.  In addition, I took a Panasonic DMC-FZ200 (second hand and bought recently on ebay for £170).  To my consternation, I was getting better (less blurred) pix at maximum focal lengths with the superrzoom bridge camera than with the DSLR - as well as greater magnification with optical zoom.

 

My Nikon was absolutely fine up to about 220 focal length.  However, of 30 shots taken at 300 (450 at 35mm equiv), I would class only 5 as sharp, 7 as almost sharp and 18 as disappointing. I used this camera in manual mode, setting shutter speed somewhere between 1/1000th and 3/1000th sec with aperture generally at F5.6, but, rarely, venturing up to F16   Auto ISO generally gave variation between 100 and 1600 with occasional shots at 3200. (I, personally, have no problems with noise with this lens, even up to ISO 6400.)  I used the front button to focus and shoot - my previous move to back button focusing was abandoned as I found it cumbersome, possibly because I didn't persevere and possibly because I'm left handed.  I was set at single point AF-C.

 

Of the 15 shots taken with the Panasonic at 600 at 35mm equiv, 12 were sharp and 3 nearly sharp. I was using the camera in iA mode.  When looking at "properties" with  Picasa software, I was informed that the programme was never designated as 

Auto, but, instead, stated either "programme" or "aperture priority" and sometimes "landscape" at low focal lengths. The camera selected most pix to be taken at F4 with shutter speeds generally faster than 1/500th sec.  In the 20% of cases where shutter speeds were slower (1/200th to 1/400th), focal lengths were generally low.  About 24% of shots taken at so-called aperture priority, the F number showed 8.  ISO ranged from 100 to 400.

 

I have two questions

:

1)  I don't understand how the Panasonic is making its decisions.  Anyway, as  total amateur, I'm currently impressed with them.  My fear is that I may have tweaked the menu in some arbitrary way such that I have somehow constrained the iA mode to work in my favour.  My previous test attempts with the camera were not as satisfactory when I was setting it at Aperture Priority mode.  I am currently very reluctant to change anything and worry that I may do so accidentally.  My past limited camera experience suggests that Auto modes are useless for my shaky hands because they select slow shutter speeds and low ISO settings.  Any ideas from anyone?

 

2)  If most of my pix are blurred at long focal lengths with the D3200, why aren't they all?  My very fast shutter speeds should sort this out if my shaky hands are to blame.  I'm beginning to think that acquisition of focus is the problem.  Is it possible that the camera has somehow deteriorated in its focusing ability (accuracy or speed)?  If so,  would a service help and would it be financially worthwhile?  The sharpness of my pix seems to have been suboptimal for a couple of years.  In the past, I have blamed deteriorating shakes. (I hand hold and am rarely in a position to use a bean bag.)  As a supplementary, why are the photos taken with this camera at 35mm equivalent focal lengths of <330 generally satisfactory?



#27 douglaswise

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 11:08 AM

Sorry, I wrongly stated that my shutter speeds with the DSLR were between 1/1000th and 3/1000th sec.  I should have written that they were between 1/1000th and 1/3000th.



#28 offshorebirder

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 02:01 PM

@surfmom - I am primarily a bird/wildlife photographer specializing in action shots. In this pursuit, I try and avoid shooting with a wide-open aperture whenever possible. This is because at f/4 f/2.8 etc only a small part of the subject is in focus and the more so the closer you are to the subject. But at f/8 most or all of the subject will be in focus if you have the subject's face or eyes in focus. This often means cranking up the ISO but so be it...

I think this is especially important with moving targets - with a wider "in focus" area, you have a little more wiggle room in terms of needing to be dead on-target.

Edited by offshorebirder, 31 December 2016 - 02:05 PM.

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#29 xelas

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Posted 31 December 2016 - 03:05 PM

@douglaswise

Pix can be unsharp either to motion blurr or they are out of focus or the lens is just not sharp.
At 1/3000 sec motion blurr is pretty much out of the discussion. If the photo was out of focus, you should post some examples. Also 70-300 is known to be soft at 300 mm; I have kept the focal length below 250 mm.

However if you are happy with Panny just use it! If afraid you have changed some setting and don't know which ones, there s surely a way to get back to factory settings.
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#30 Peter Connan

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Posted 01 January 2017 - 04:43 AM

@amybatt, back button is the way to go.

@surfmom, you may find that a lens that is pin-sharp wide open is no longer so with converter attached. Do some testing with your own.

Also, as @offshorebirder has mentioned, more DOF gives you more room for error and ensures more of the subject is in focus. But you may lose out on a creamy background.

I think each photo deserves it's own decision based on your objective for the photo and the prevailing conditions. Your own preferences also come into play here.

@douglaswise, i find it interesting that cameras are not available in left and right configurations. But back-button focusing is worth the effort as far as i am concerned.

As Alex has mentioned, many consumer zoom lenses are known to be soft at maximum focal length, and even more so if wide open.

Remember that with that lens at 200mmm, f5.6 is not wide open, but at 270 it will be. Thus your softer photos under these conditions are to be expected.
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#31 douglaswise

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Posted 02 January 2017 - 11:05 AM

064-DSC_0122.JPG 069-DSC_1215.JPG 146-DSC_1254.JPG 174-DSC_1853.JPG 029-DSC_0378.JPG 106-DSC_0202.JPG @xelas and @Peter Connan:

 

Thank you for your replies.  You both suggest that my 70-300 Nikon lens is likely to give poor results if I extend it to its maximum - a bit disappointing in that it suggests that my pix won't improve much unless I spend a lot more money.  However, I remain curious that, maybe, 20% of my pix taken at 300mm are sharp.  I have now looked back at the properties of these in the hope of finding that these were the ones where I was shooting with a smaller aperture. Unfortunately, such was not the case. Finally, can lenses deteriorate with age or abuse?  I will attempt to post examples, as suggested by @xelas, of what I'm talking about below: 


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#32 douglaswise

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Posted 02 January 2017 - 11:34 AM

Sorry.  Made a bit of a hash of the previous post, but hope it'll be self-explanatory.

 

The first 5 pix are, even by my standards, disappointing or worse.  The last is, for me, good to satisfactory.  All were taken at 300mm(max) focal length.  All were JPEG (fine/large).

 

The properties are as follows:

 

1) meadowlark: 1/2500, F 5.6, ISO 250.

2) thrush: 1/800, F10.0, ISO 6400.

3) oystercatcher: 1/2000,F10.0, ISO 2200.

4) grebe: 1/4000. F5.6, ISO 1800.

5) house: 1/1000, F5.6, ISO 1600.

6) cormorant: 1/3200, F5.6, ISO 1250.

 

All critical comments would be much appreciated, however scathing!



#33 Peter Connan

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Posted 02 January 2017 - 03:50 PM

@douglaswise, I never realized that you were shooting in JPEG format. From this new knowledge, I assume these are all un-cropped, processed only by the camera's own processes? Going on that assumption:

 

What setting is your in-camera noise-reduction set to?

 

Nos. 1, 2 and 4 are indeed very un-sharp.

 

But I am pretty sure that in no.2 what we are seeing is lack of detail caused by noise reduction due to high ISO and/or the noise reduction used to suppress that. The D3200 with the noise un-altered would be very noisy at ISO6400. In this picture the eyelid detail is visible, thus the problem is not "normal" un-sharpness.

 

I believe the same argument holds true for no. 3, coupled with a small focus error (the focus point was not on the eye, but on the closest part of the bird).

 

Number five is about what I would expect of what appears to be a long-distance shot in mid-day light. I believe this is mostly atmospheric disturbance.

 

One and 4 I honestly can't explain in the light of no. 6, which is beautiful.

 

Lenses can deteriorate with age and abuse. Lens elements can become loose and slip, producing weird focus effects if allowed to go to extremes. Fungal growth can be real killer for sharpness.

 

However, a lens that has been damaged in this way, would not recover on it's own.

 

If I were in your shoes, I would set the camera and lens up on two sand-bags, aimed at some object with lots of contrast. Brick walls, although boring, work well for this. Shoot it at a variety of settings apertures, and also possibly ISO values if you want to go that far, but get an understanding of what the combination is capable of, so that, when you get less satisfactory results, you will at least be able to remove those variables from your trouble-finding. Use mirror-up mode and a cable release if possible, or if not, at least self-timer mode.


Edited by Peter Connan, 02 January 2017 - 04:03 PM.

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#34 xelas

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Posted 02 January 2017 - 10:57 PM

Nothing much to add to above detailed explanation by Peter. I have had my fair share of soft photos when using D90 in JPEG mode. Moving up the quality ladder to 300f/4 and recently to 200-500f/5.6 the situation reversed. So yes, good lens come with a price (1000 / 1500 USD) but it also brings results.
In- camera noise reduction is very unselective. Shooting RAW I can see that in-camera noise reduction was actually correct to apply in only about 15% o all shots (based on last photos from Kruger). For 85% of photos noise reduction was not needed.

#35 douglaswise

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Posted 03 January 2017 - 10:57 AM

@PeterConnan and @xelas:

 

Many thanks for your helpful advice.  I have checked my camera and discovered that the noise reduction was switched on in the menu.  I have now turned it off.  However, when I constantly relied on high ISOs in the past to overcome the shakes, I didn't see much evidence of unacceptable noise, even at 6400.  Perhaps, I'm becoming more discriminating!  (In my high ISO days, I cannot recall whether the noise reduction was on or off.)

 

I'm afraid that I may have misled you.  The pix I posted had mainly been cropped  - I used Picasa to crop and to sharpen.  I have now got rid of the un-processed originals from the memory card.  It occurred to me that, if I gave pixel numbers and file sizes for each, it ought to be possible to get some idea of extent of cropping.  In gathering this extra information (posted below), I was curious to discover that, though file size seems to be correlated with pixels used, the actual file size was invariably less than the multiple of the horizontal and vertical pixels.  Is the size of the difference, perhaps, a measure of degree of noise reduction?

 

Photo 1:  lark, 2123x2209 pixels, 2.7MB file size

Photo 2: thrush, 3799x3592 pixels, 10.6MB file size

Photo 3: oystercatcher, 6016x4000 pixels, 15.7MB file size

Photo 4: grebe, 2801x2485 pixels, 4.4MB file size.

#

Photo 6: cormorant, 3682x3523 pixels, 8.4MB file size

 

I'm assuming that the oystercatcher had little or no cropping while the lark had most.

 

If possible, I would like to ask @Peter Connan for some clarification.  You suggested that lenses can deteriorate with age or abuse with lens elements becoming loose and slipping.  You went on to state that a lens that has been damaged in this way would not recover on its own.  Was I correct in the implication that I could draw from this.  Namely, that, if I can get a satisfactory photo (eg Photo 6) from the lens/camera combo, the other poor pix can't be blamed on the lens.  Given the much better results achieved at shorter focal lengths, I'm inclined to think this interpretation correct.  However, it could be that the loose lens elements haven't slipped that much (still OK at shorter focal lengths) and that, sometimes, because of looseness, they occasionally and fortuitously slip back into correct alignment. 

 

I'm sorry to labour these points, but your replies have made me genuinely curious.  I have a lot to learn and I will certainly test the camera/lens in the manner suggested in the reasonably near future. @xelas' suggestion to spend more money on a new lens is certainly tempting, but I'm too much of a miser to do so quite yet and, if I leave things much longer, I will have probably crashed from the perch! 



#36 Tdgraves

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Posted 03 January 2017 - 11:35 AM

@douglaswise your "worst" photos are the ones with the most cropping, which implies that the subjects were far away in the first place and therefore required cropping. I find the best results with my 100-400 lens are when I use them to bring out details on subjects which are close, such as your beautiful cormorant, rather than zooming in on subjects that are in the distance. By cropping, you are enlarging each pixel and therefore also enhancing problems (e.g. high ISO grain, environmental factors (like heat haze) and focus issues due to tremor) as well as making the subject larger.

 

I also notice that mostly you are using f5.6, largely I assume to try and maximise the light and minimise the ISO needed, but this will exacerbate any focus issues, especially in the distance, as it is such a narrow depth of field. I don't know about your lens - one of the NIkon experts could tell you, but for my Canon 100-400, the sweet spot is between f7.1-8. Try and find out what yours is and use it.


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#37 Peter Connan

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Posted 03 January 2017 - 05:48 PM

@douglaswise, I agree with what Tracy has said above.

 

If the lens has deteriorated due to physical issues as mentioned above, I would not expect it to deliver sharp photos one day and poor ones the next. What we don't know at this stage is whether your sharp photos are older or newer than the other ones.

 

It is possible that a physical deterioiration may only occur at longer focal lengths (or at shorter focal lengths). A zoom lens consists of a number of "lens groups", typically between 8 and 16 elements, arranged in a number of groups. When you zoom, these groups move seperately, driven by cams and other mechanisms. Again, I would not expect such a lens to improve with time.

 

As for file sizes, JPEG compression works by grouping pixels together that the program used thinks are of the same colour. Thus, as far as I know there is no simple way to determine noise reduction from file size and pixel dimensions.

 

Cropping is one of the quickest ways of losing image quality. While it is unavoidable in bird photography, it should be avoided where possible.

The second most harmful effect to image sharpness with telephoto lenses is probably atmospheric effects, such as haze and mirage. These are somehow very difficult to see through the viewfinder.

 

The attached photo is an example. It was taken with a Nikon D7000 and a Nikkor 500mm f4 lens (thus top quality lens). The same lens with which I take virtually all my photos. I know it is pin-sharp. It is also relatively un-cropped.

Dance1ODP.jpg

 

A long lens is not a telescope.


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#38 Dave Williams

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Posted 03 January 2017 - 08:27 PM

@douglaswise other consideration and perhaps the solution  is if your Nikon 70-300 lens is the latest model or an older one that doesn't have VR ( inbuilt stabilisation ). The VR can make a huge difference to steadying your shaking hands. I have a feeling that possibly you have the older one but your more recent Panasonic certainly does have it inbuilt in the body, hence the better results.

Look closely at your photos and look for the sharpest part of the image and it may well not be where you intended it to be. Too late to tell with the Lark and the Grebe shot although perhaps your expectations are too high from a cropped shot.

I'm surprised that you deleted the originals as they might have looked pretty good as record shots.

Incidentally if you really want to work on your photography, shoot in RAW ( NEF for Nikon) and get in to post processing, it's amazing what can be recovered although a shot  not in focus is never going to get any better.

Hope you solve your problems... and I'm very envious of your Falkland's trip !

 

PS I recently tried a pair of Canon binoculars that have electronic stabilisation and I was amazed at the effect. You just press a button and everything stays incredibly still ! A bit pricey but extremely effective.


Edited by Dave Williams, 03 January 2017 - 10:12 PM.


#39 Geoff

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Posted 03 January 2017 - 10:28 PM

@surfmom  Using a 7D ii with 70-200mm f.2.8 + 1.4 TC I would shoot mostly wide open (that will be f/4) for any initial images I capture of any subject. Then once I have insurance shots I might experiment by stopping down.

 

By shooting wide open;

 

1 for any given ISO and ambient lighting scenario you will attain the fast possible shutter speed for correct exposure. With fast subjects, never sit still birds, birds inflight etc it greatly increases your chances of obtaining sharp images. 

 

2. With your setup for birds in flight (say the subject is 15 metres away) shooting at f/4 and max zoom (448mm) the depth of field would still be over half as metre, that is ample to get satisfactory depth of field for all but the bigger birds. And for bigger birds you could zoom out.

 

3. For larger creatures you might want to consider stopping down to obtain more DOF to get all the animal sharp but for your setup this would only be elephants or lions when they are very close to the vehicle.    

 

When you hear of wildlife photographers shooting at apertures in the range of f/8 it is because they are using large telephoto lens and often with a converter attached. So for me with my home setup of 600mm + 1.4 TC shooting wide open is f/5.6 and the depth of field is miniscule. So by stopping down you get a tiny bit more DOF. It is also considered that some sharpness is lost wide open so you stop down one stop or so. Many consider f/8 the sweet spot for sharpness though I have rarely noticed any loss of sharpness when I have shot wide open.

I often shoot in the range of f/8 - f/9 depending on distance to subject and size of the subject.


Geoff.

#40 Geoff

Geoff

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Posted 04 January 2017 - 02:45 AM

 

I also notice that mostly you are using f5.6, largely I assume to try and maximise the light and minimise the ISO needed, but this will exacerbate any focus issues, especially in the distance, as it is such a narrow depth of field.

 

@Tdgraves  Actually it is the other way around ~ focus issues will be exacerbated with subjects that are closer to you. The further your subject distance the greater your DOF for any given aperture.

 

Also @Peter Connan @xelas when assessing Douglas's images you might want to consider the size of those files. They seem tiny, most of them are between 50-80 kb when I hover my mouse over them. Maybe the ST site compresses images further when downloading to the site. Any ideas there? 


Geoff.





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