D300s and 200-400 VR II

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by miha, Mar 6, 2013.

  1. Hi,
    I'm in the process of replacing my old AI-S 400mm f/3.5 (awesome sharpness, but MF only) with my newly acquired 200-400 f/4. VR II. I am experiencing some problems getting the desired sharpness. Maybe some of you can help me.
    I tried to fine tune the camera-lens combo but it seems I get the best results setting the value of 0 (zero). I tested the combo by pinning a newspaper on the garage door and shooting it from a distance of approximately 15 meters (tripod, cable remote release, mirror up, VR off). Now I will post some real life examples, so you can judge them and help me.
    The tripod I use is the same old Manfrotto with the gimball head I was using for my 400 f/3.5, even with the TC301 attached, so I am sure the tripod is not the problem. In one of my older posts (http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00bIW5) you can see pictures made with this combo, they are sharp.
    My settings were: f/4, 1/250 s, AF-S Single, ISO 400, VR ON, except for one picture where I used 'Dynamic 21 points'.
    I hope someone can help me made my photos better. I know there is a learning curve but I try to make it not too steep ;)
    Regards, Miha.
    First photo is of a static object, focus point in the center.
  2. Next the 100% crop.
  3. Birds on the tree, Dynamic 21 points.
  4. And the 100% crop, the red rectangle is showing the focus point.
  5. Another one, whole frame.
  6. 100% crop, center, with the focus point. The bird is not sharp.
  7. Another 100% crop from the corner, this bird is sharper. But is it sharp enough?
  8. Another try, focus point is on the head of the sparrow. Whole frame first.
  9. And the 100% crop.
  10. As you may see, the bird in the pic 6 is shaken, or has moved, but the bird in the corner is quite sharp. I just can't understand what I am doing wrong, the focus confirmation point is on, so the pics should be OK.
    I also tried the live view, it is giving me much better results, but it is not of much use when the birds are moving.
    I also made some pictures of horses, standing still and they were perfectly sharp, so the lens is OK (I think). I will post one of them later, I just can't find them now.
    Please, help me with your advices. regards, Miha.
  11. I would love to do the same transition, Miha! ;-)
    I actually see not many problems with your images, lens wise.
    Slight motion blur and small focus errors are probably the cause of the noticeable un-sharpness.
  12. Miha, did you try with VR turned OFF as well? While I think the VR in this lens should detect automatically that it's tripod-mounted and switch itself off, it's worth excluding whether the problem is caused by VR. I've had shots go wrong like this because I left VR on while using a tripod - not sure whether this is causing your issue, but it's worth trying.
  13. If live view is giving better results, you probably have some kinds of AF issue. Are you finding any areas in the frame that are in perfect focus. For example, in image #3, it appears the area under the bird on the right side is in better focus than the center area (but it is hard to tell with such a small image). In image #4, which is the same as #3 except focused on the bird to the right, the area below the bird (which is a bit in front of the focus point) seems to be in focus - (again it is hard to tell with such a small image). If I had to guess, it appears you camera is back focusing a bit.
    Since you state that the images shot in MF are good, you may need to do a bit more troubleshooting to determine if your camera is front or back focusing. FWIW, 1/1250 is a bit slow at 400mm, (even with VR), at least for testing purposes - I assume you were shooting at 400mm, is this correct?. For testing purposes, I would up the shutter speed quite a bit, probably to 1/1000.

    Is your tripod absolutely rock solid? Nothing to do with your tests shots but even the slight vibration generated by wind can affect images with a typical tripod. The lens/camera combo can be a little too much for a regular tripod to shoot at 1/125.
    What were the shooting conditions? It appears these might have been shot on a cloudy/overcast day. Where they? Getting some good light on your subject will help you troubleshoot.
  14. Hi,
    @Wouter: I have done some tests with VR off but it did not seem to me to make a significant change in sharpness.
    @ Elliot: I also presume there might be a backfocus problem. But the tests with the newspaper does not show any significant change between the 0 (zero) setting and -10 setting, the -20 setting being the worst of all. And yes, the conditions were overcast and cloudy, but so they often are when I take my pictures. I don't presume there are any difficulties with the tripod, since I am using it for the old 400/3.5 plus TC301 (2x). I was shooting at 380mm just to be sure there is no problem at 400mm.
    Regards, Miha.
  15. Correcting a typo above in the 2nd paragraph, the shutter speeds should have been "FWIW, 1/250 is a bit slow at 400mm"
  16. Did you do your newspaper test comparing live view MF to AF?
  17. Hi, Elliot,
    I did both tests (live view and AF-S) using AF. So I will have to make the test again using MF and AF alternatively.
    Regards, Miha.
  18. VR can cause some problems on tripod. At least for the sake of testing it is best to have it off.
    When you have small subjects in between branches it's difficult to know what the AF will focus on; the sensitive area of each AF point is greater than suggested by the marker in the viewfinder (the positions may not be exactly correct either). The AF can be attracted to something else in the neighbourhood that has suitable high contrast detail.
    I would therefore recommend that you get closer to the subjects so that you can start to fill more of the frame; the size of the AF sensor in the viewfinder should be small compared to the bird (i.e. so that you can pin it on the eye) and there should be nothing in the immediate neighbourhood of the bird, i.e. no branches or any high contrast details. Set the camera to focus on AF-ON only and select release+focus priority from the custom settings. Select AF-C and activate a single focus point. For the sake of this exercise use the center point only - once you get good results consistently with that you can move on to the outer points as they can have problems of their own; it's best to first get the center point right. Press and hold the AF-ON button until you see in the viewfinder that the subject is as crisp as it can be and while still holding the AF-ON button, press the shutter release button several times. Look at the results on the computer and see if you are getting better results. I find it often that with autofocus and shallow depth of field (which you will be getting when you fill the frame with a small bird) there is some shot-to-shot variability and this needs to be considered separately from systematic focus errors that can be corrected using fine tune. With this lens I find that the random errors in focus tend to be reduced as the subject is closer and fills the frame; when the subject is small there can be trouble.
    I would also recommend using a fast shutter speed to eliminate camera shake and subject movement from the equation when testing and adjusting autofocus, but in that light I guess you did the best you could. On the other hand if soft light is what you want to shoot using, then testing may be best to carry out in that light as well.
    Now, with the above procedure to focus, are you getting any shots that are truly sharp? If they're still soft you probably need to adjust focus fine tune. To do that, take several shots at each focus fine tune setting at (say) 5 point or 3 point intervals, and plot the focus errors (measured on some sort of a ruler) on a scatter graph to determine at which point the focus error crosses zero (approximately). I would avoid doing this at a very close focus distance as lenses tend to behave differently near minimum focus distance than they do at intermediate distances. When doing focus fine tune measurements, use focus priority on the camera. Eliminate obvious outliers from the graph before fitting an imaginary curve / line to determine the zero crossing. Finally after you come up with a value you also need to test it in real world to see if it really does work optimally or if you need to adjust it by -+2 points or so.
    I believe your lens + camera might be exhibiting some backfocus judging from your first image. But given any individual focus result, there is a random and a systematic component to the error. So one image is not sufficient to determine what is happening. Your image of Mar 07, 2013; 04:40 a.m. suggests front focus. So there is definitely a significant random component in the error and you need to pin down what is happening.
    Good luck with the testing! I think the lens is fantastic when the subject is close enough to fill the frame or at least close to doing that. It is less fantastic when the subject is too far away. I think the 300/2.8 handles better situations where the subject is smaller in the frame, from the point of view of autofocus. Bright light can help reduce the random component of focus error but the issue here is that if you want to photograph in soft, dim light then results obtained in bright light do not help you at all! Except to validate that the lens is working correctly.
  19. Thanks, Ilkka.
    Your answer is really extensive and I found a lot of useful informations in it. I will use your procedure for testing the lens again (and again).
    The photos I am showing in this post are not that much a test but much more trying to represent the behaviour of this particular lens/camera combo in real life conditions. I am mainly shooting in a zoo, animal park or at a raptor show so I intend to test the lens at similar conditions and distances. Some samples and explanations can be seen here:http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00ZoZ4.
    I expect better IQ than the 70-200 VR I with TC20 II can give me and on the other side easier work than with my old AI-S 400mm lens (it is hard to nail perfect focus in the DX viewfinder of the D300s, especially as my eyesight is not the best and I permanently wear glasses). I just hoped the learning curve would not be so steep - I needed a long time to learn how to handle my 400mm/3.5 lens, especially with the TC 301. But I think it was easier with my F90x and F100 - I just had to wait for the film to be developped and returned from the lab. Now with digital everything and computer help many things look easier but in reality they are not.
    I will just try to do my best. Hope to post some better results soon.
    Regards, Miha.
  20. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    The tripod I use is the same old Manfrotto with the gimball head I was using for my 400 f/3.5, even with the TC301 attached, so I am sure the tripod is not the problem. In one of my older posts (http://www.photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00bIW5) you can see pictures made with this combo, they are sharp.​
    The big difference is that your test subjects on the other thread with the 400mm/f3.5 occupy large areas inside the frame. Here, with the 200-400mm lens, you are using small birds that occupy tiny areas inside the frame. If you want to compare, I would at least test both lenses side by side with the same subjects.
    Among the samples on this thread, there are some focusing issues. And I think there is motion blur in this smaple: http://static.photo.net/attachments/bboard/00b/00bQG0-523883784.jpg
    Here is my sample using the 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR version 1 (identical optics as version 2, but without nano coating) on the D300. I captured this image in December, 2007 when the D300 was brand new, and the 200-400mm/f4 version 2 had not been introduced back then.
    That pelican was about 100 feet/30 meters from the camera, so it was not that close.
  21. Hi!
    Yes, Shun, you're right, in the photo you mentioned there is motion blur from the subject, but not from the camera, as I said in my post "As you may see, the bird in the pic 6 is shaken, or has moved," .

    It looks as I will have to learn to fill the frame with the object. ;)
    I know the lens is OK and the camera seems to be OK, as I promised earlier, I also got some sharp pictures, like the one of the series of horse photos.
    Regards, Miha.
  22. And the first of the 100% crops.
  23. The other one...
    So you see, I can get a properly sharp picture :)
  24. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Miha, if you want to test your lens, I would suggest using some subjects that don't move, e,g, buildings. It is also easier to
    compare different lenses.
  25. Hi,
    @ Shun: Yes, it is clear to me that moving objects are not the best to test a lens. I usualy take a newspaper and pin it to my garage door. But from the discussion I learned to change some settings on the camera and to rethink the way I am using this lens - it is different from using my old MF 400mm/3.5.
    Regards, Miha.
  27. (George, please note that when you type in all uppercase on the internet or in email, it means you're angry and are yelling.)

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