Details, details

February 22, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

I'm always envious of wildlife photographers whose images are so sharp it feels like you're right on top of the subject, able to see every feather or hair or scale.  I've come to realize there are three aspects to achieving this level of image quality:  proximity, focus, and equipment. 

A TV commentator, talking about the images of the outside world portrayed on their show each time, said they had lots of film showing wildlife walking away from them.  That's how I feel a lot trying to get close enough to make the subject more than just a dot in the image.  I've learned you can't zoom into sharpness - you have to be where you can see the sharpness before making the image.  Learning to be where the wildlife will come by eventually is a skill and patience to wait for them to show up and close is a virtue.  Practice, practice.

The focus part is making sure the details that are really important are the ones the camera is paying attention to when autofocusing.  I've many images where I put the autofocus spot right on the body of an animal or bird only to discover later that the head or eye is out of focus.  There's not enough depth of field to recover from making the mistake of literally focusing on the wrong thing.

What's been the best lesson is that not all lenses are equal when it comes to sharpness.  You just have to try them out, read about them, get recommendations from people who are more experienced with them, and then settle on the one that delivers what you're looking for.  I have half a dozen telephoto lenses and each one has a different ability to reach out and touch to the degree of sharpness I want.  I'm gradually learning the quirks of each one and determining when the conditions are such that chosing this one over that one is the best way to get the image I want.

The latest member of this collection is the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF (there are lots of other letters in the designation but PF is how I describe it).  From what I'd read, and the recommendation from a photographer who is much better than me, this lens provides me the focal length I want (don't have to get that close) and the sharpness I expect.  I've matched it to a Nikon D800 and am just wrapping up the fine-tuning of lens to camera.  After some shaky starts I believe I've got it where I want it.   Here are some of the latest images.

Each of these was made from 30-40 feet away.  I've cropped out a significant portion of the image, probably close to 75%. The aperture was f/5.6 or f/6.3, which is not as open as I would use to get the best sharpness.  My testing has shown f/8 or f/11 to deliver the maximum sharpness.  I didn't close the lens down that far because I needed to maintain a higher shutter speed without increasing the ISO.  Shutter speeds ranged from 1/400th to 1/1600th sec.

I'm pleased with the degree of sharpness the lens is delivering in these images.  The feathers are distinct, the eyes are clear and there is a realism to the images that I like to have.  The D800 has lots of pixels to use so cropping doesn't degrade the sharpness much.  Unless wildlife just walks right up to me the proximity thing will always be a compromise but this lens definitely gives me options on where to set up.

Now that we can almost see spring coming here in the upper Midwest I'm looking forward to more birds and animals to be subjects for this system.  Hopefully more pleasing images to come.


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