DX or FX for birding with just one lens.

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by martin_jones|6, Sep 29, 2014.

  1. Hi everybody.
    So I've been using my D90 for nearly 5 years with few complaints. I have 4 Nikon lenses - 18-105 DX, 35 f/1.8 DX, 70-300mm VR, 105mm Micro. I know the 70-300 isn't the greatest birding lens, but it's all I have and all I'm likely to have for the forseeable future. That's why I'm basing my post around that lens only.
    This year I got a bird feeding station, but I'm finding that in order to keep a high shutter speed (say 1/1000) with the 70-300 at, say f/8, my ISO is creeping up to 1600 and things are getting noisy and I'm seriously considering moving to FX. My concern is that I lose reach.
    So lets consider the following:
    At 300mm, 1/1000s, f/8 and ISO 1600, I take a (properly exposed and focussed) photo of a bird that is, say 15 feet away using firstly a D7100, then a D750 (or a D610 assuming the sensor is the same as the D750). I know about 'crop factor', but that's not relevant as I only have the 70-300, so I accept that I will 'lose reach' on the FX camera. Also, the D7100 lacks the OLPF or AA filter, which may result in more detail.
    The bird doesn't fill the frame in either case, so cropping in post is required (obviously I need to crop more with FX). I crop each image so that the bird fills the frame vertically.
    My question is: will the D750 give me 'better IQ' (eg, detail, noise) than the D7100?

  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If you are into bird photography and your longest lens is the 70-300mm, I wouldn't move to FX, which will only exaggerate the fact that you lack anything (lens) beyond 300mm.
    Instead, I would upgrade to the D7100 and if possible, upgrade your lens to the 80-400mm AF-S VR. That combo is what I use for hand held bird photography in these days.
    Keep in mind that the D7100 is likely be the next DSLR Nikon will update, and the 80-400 isn't exactly inexpensive. There are some Tamron and Sigma alternatives that can go up to 600mm @ f6.3. Those may be possibilities.
  3. "My question is: will the D750 give me 'better IQ' (eg, detail, noise) than the D7100?"

    No, the D750 has 24mp for its full frame, FX sized, while the D7100 is 24mp for its full frame, which is DX sized. So you have more pixels to work with with the DX frame. The DX sized image of the D750 would be just 10.33mp. Even the D800/D810, which is 36mp FX would leave you with less pixels to work with once cropped to DX size than the D7100.
    "my ISO is creeping up to 1600"

    It will do the same with the D7100. and any other body you use, and IQ may only be a bit better. What software are you processing your images with?
  4. I completely agree with Shun. The D7100 is the sweet spot for you. In many ways it is a better camera than the D750, will for all intent and purpose give you the same image quality, and with the money you save allow you to go a long way toward your new lens.
    For birding there is just no advantage to the D750. There are advantages to full frame sensors but they are usually exaggerated. The advantages happen at the outside of the envelope for most photographers anyway. The F7100 is a lovely camera and I know you will really appreciate the upgrade.
  5. Small formats for high magnifications - a simple formula that works whether its macro or telephotography you're talking about. What would be the point of using full-frame only to crop most of it away?
    Having said that, I've used a 70-300mm lens on my D800 set up next to a friends bird feeder. With limited success I must admit. I didn't realise that the little blighters have such fast reactions that they can take flight at the sound of the mirror going up and be nearly out of frame before the shot gets taken. So my one tip would be to use MU and maybe try to muffle the sound of the camera as much as possible. Magnification shouldn't really be an issue with the camera next to a feeder and tripped by remote, but you can really never have too much of it for wildlife.
  6. Many thanks for your replies.
    Shun - I'd love the 80-400. If I go with the D7100 then that's £1000 saved (from the price of a D750) toward a new lens. I'm aware of Tamron and Sigma, but I would imagine that the Nikon is optically better. I've read that the Tamron start to go soft at about 450mm and the Sigma's at about 400mm (of course one might be lucky and get a really tack-sharp copy).
    Elliot - thanks for explaining with some numbers. I didn't realise I'd be losing so many MP. I've just begun using RAW software, so far Lightroom and Capture 1. I try very hard to avoid the smeared, plastic look that some people end up with. Personally, I'd rather have a bit of 'grain'.
    Rick - yes the money saved is important. I'll give the D7100 a 'workout' at my local camera shop.
    Rodeo Joe - My D90 scares the birds off, so I've resorted to to shooting from inside the kitchen. I doubt the double-glazing does anything to improve IQ ;) Hopefully, the D7100 shutter will be less noisy.
  7. Sounds like a blimp of some sort is needed, although I've seen small birds react to the mirror lift until I realised it could see the light coming through the viewfinder 'flash'. An eyepiece cover helped.
    I'd be interested to see how the new Sigma 150-600mm S works on DX. That's a lot of reach and if it's sharp enough wide open or thereabouts, it could become very popular amongst birders!
  8. D7100 plus a used Nikon 300mm f4 might be the way to go. The 300mm f4 is sharper and the 24mp of the D7100 will allow you to crop twice as much as D90. You can shoot very clean at ISO 200 with D7100, and ISO 3200 is certainly acceptiable. The other route would be a used 300mm f2.8 of some kind, such as an older manual focus Tamron. You gain a stop of shutter that way, and could add a 1.4x TC if needed.
    Kent in SD
  9. I think, that without spending a lot of money for new lenses, going to FX instead of DX will make your lens situation even less tolerable.
    The best solutions in a world with plenty of money would involve longer, faster lenses and a newer, higher pixel DX camera.
    The suggestions of "pre-owned" equipment is a good one.
    You might also want to look at Bill C's very successful work with feeders and old manual focus FD Canon lenses on a mirrorless digital camera ( http://www.photo.net/shared/forum-contributions?user_id=7890509 )
  10. If you can afford a D750 then I would guess you can afford a good used 400 from somewhere. KEH ought to have something available at a price such that you can afford a 7100 to go along with it. I would not go to FX, it won't gain you much if anything. I would think that a 7100 and a used 80-400 would come in at about the same price as the 750 but haven't gotten out the calculator to see for sure.
    Rick H.
  11. I bought a used 80-400mm AFS for $2,000 at the start of the year. Now I see them occasionally for $1,800 on ebay. It's very nice, but is f5.6. If you are running into problems getting a high enough shutter speed, I'm still thinking either a 300mm f4 or older f2.8 might work better for you. The D7100 has PLENTY of pixels to crop.
    Kent in SD
  12. There are some Tamron and Sigma alternatives that can go up to 600mm @ f6.3. Those may be possibilities.

    I've read that the Tamron start to go soft at about 450mm and the Sigma's at about 400mm (of course one might be lucky and get a really tack-sharp copy).​
    No-one's tried the new Sigma 150-600mm yet as it's only just been announced. Out in 3 weeks with a UK pre-order of £1600.
    I'm aware of Tamron and Sigma, but I would imagine that the Nikon is optically better.
    That may well have been true in the past, but it's not true now. There are many examples of Sigma making better lenses than either Canon or Nikon. Some have been pitted against Zeiss! They also make more innovative focal-length combos such as 50-150mm 2.8 DX and 120-300mm 2.8 FX.

    Equally, if you go for the long Sigma now, you have the option of changing mounts if you feel like going to Canon in a few years time. The £120 conversion from Sigma is much less than a 1/10 the price of a new lens and is almost certainly less than the depreciation of the lens on resale.
  13. Firstly, that 70-300mm VR isn't the best lens for birding, as you probably know. But we'll come back to that.
    I'll give you some links to read like this great article on DX vs FX for Sports & Wildlife on photographylife (you'll have to google it as photo.net fasley accuses Nasim of posting fake rumours which is complete rubbish - and prove me wrong if you can). Nasim knows what he's talking about and you should read that article very carefully, but not that now we have the D7100 and D750, both with the same resolution and the same very good AF system. I mention that because Nasim used to recommend the D7100 over the D610 because of the better AF. Now that playing field is level and it turns things around again. So, yes you have to crop more in FX to make you bird fill the frame. But, ISO 1600 on a D7100 isn't really any better than on your D90. Some may take exception to that. That's their choice, but it doesn't change the fact of what I just said. Look at all the side-by-side comparison's you like on dpreview, imaging-resource, camerlabs, photographyblog...wherever you like. All those shots show that high ISO performance on DX sensors hasn't really improved. And don't get worried about the AA filter. You only really notice the difference pixel-peeping when the very best lenses are used.
    I'll give you another link showing a D7100 vs a D800. Now, just putting the lousy D800 shot aside for a moment, look at how noisy the D7100 shot is at ISO 1250. Start applying noise reduction to that and you'll soon get the smeared, plastic look that is like an epidemic on the internet. You surely don't want your birds to look shrink-wrapped, do you? But what do you do? The noise is there. It's undeniable and I reckon, no...I KNOW that your D90 wouldn't be that much worse in the same situation. So just keep your wallet shut tight for now.
    I mentioned the lousy D800 shot. I think he's simply missed the focus. Thats' it! No way should a D800 be looking that mushy at ISO 2000. Or maybe the lens needs a little AF fine tune. Whatever, but there's something so wrong with the shot. The D800 (even the non E version) is simply a far better camera than that.
    So, where's all this leading us? Well, do you want more noisy pixels on the subject? If so, stick with DX. If you want fewer higher quality, less noisy pixels, go with FX. Is the D750 worth that much more than the D7100? For me and many others the answer is 'yes'. Even at low ISO's, FX will give you more. Oh, and don't let people tell you that you 'need the pro glass'. That's just nonsense. Even the super cheap Nikon 50mm f1.8 D AF on an FX body will take tack sharp photo's, but you already know that good glass can be cheap as you have the 35mm DX (which works *very* nicely on FX with acceptable amounts of vignetting).
    But for birds you really want a better lens. A minimum of the Nikon 300mm f/4 + TC14EII (not the new III version!). Better yet, the new Nikon 80-400mm. Sigma's & Tamron's are OK, *if* you get a good copy (they used to be a lottery, not so much these days). The Tamron 150-600mm is very good for what it costs (a friend has the Canon version). Obviously the big primes are better still, but consider this - a one man bird hide. They are super-cheap and you'll be able to get close even with your 70-300. Maybe not so great in winter though ;)
    Well, I hope I've been of help. Please do keep saving for the D750. I'm just trying to avoid you being disappointed with a still noisy D7100.
    (BTW, the 105mm Micro you have will be even more spectacular with a good FX sensor behind it).
  14. <<Well, I hope I've been of help. Please do keep saving for the D750. I'm just trying to avoid you being disappointed with a still noisy D7100.>>
    But then you're back to the issue of having thousands of dollars tied up in expensive camera body that rapidly depreciates, when really the difference isn't all that substantial. Especially if you are earning no income from the camera to offset the big cost. DxO shows the D7100 has about a third of stop advance over D90, and D800 gains you one stop over D7100. Putting the $2,500 towards a used 300mm f2.8 solves all the issues at once. It allows for two stops faster shutter speed, gives a big gain in image quality over current 70-300mm f5.6, and puts money into a good lens which tends to hold value much better than a digital camera does. Cost comparision:
    D750 ($2,300) Nikon 80-400mm VR AFS ($2,000 ebay) total $4,300
    D7100 ($800 ebay,) Nikon 300mm f2.8 AFS ($2,200 ebay) total $3,000
    Both options will accomplish the same thing. Option one does it with an f5.6 lens and ties up more money in a camera body that will depreciate rapidly. Option two does it with an f2.8 pro lens and puts money into lens vs. camera 2:1. Option two achieves the goal for $1,300 less money tied up. By using a longer 400mm lens that's two stops slower (f5.6) you are largely negating the ISO advantage the more expensive camera has vs. the less expensive camera with an f2.8 lens.
    Kent in SD
  15. I agree Kent, if it's all about money. Buying a D7100 for a third of a stop advance is a complete waste of $800 so he might as well use the $800 toward the 300mm f/2.8 on his D90.
    And let's also remember that in most situations, 300mm is just too short for birding. You would have to be *very* close to get something like a wren to fill the frame. Martin might try setting up his D90 with the 105mm Micro a couple of feet away from the feeding station and remote shooting. I have done this in the past with a Tamron 90mm macro and the results surprised me (in a good way).
  16. Something else the OP wants to consider is this.
    Going from a 12 MP DX sensor to a 24MP FX sensor will not result in a loss of reach. So really, you don't lose anything but you gain superior high ISO capability. I found this out when I went from a D300s to a D610. I shoot birds with the 300mm f/4 from a hide about 3 meters from my bird table. Taking the doubling of MP on my 610, the birds fill roughly the same area of the frame as they did on my D300s and they crop, in post, to about the same pixel resolution, so you're not really losing anything. But now I get lovely noise free images at much higher ISO's than my D300s could provide, so I'm as happy as I could be.
    Obviously you would lose reach if you went from 12MP D90 to 12MP D700, or 24MP D7100 to 24MP D610, but not from 12MP D90 to 24MP D610 (or D750).
    Also, don't discount the D610, it's a great camera for the money.
    But I agree with others that a better lens would make more sense.
  17. OK. Now I'm a bit confused, but I do have a few things to say.
    I really don't think 300mm is enough. I often have to crop down to about 3MP for finches and I just can't get any closer to them, so - get more mm. A hide won't work - the D90 shutter is just too noisy and scares birds off from 10m away (believe me, I know from experience).
    It's hard to tell if a D7100 at, say, ISO 1600 will be 'significantly better' than my D90. I've seen examples that suggest it will and examples that suggest it won't :(

    I think I might be best served with something like the Tamron 150-600 and a D7100 (I've seen great shots with this combo), or get the lens now (if I can find one) and wait and see if Nikon come up with a new DX body early next year. If they don't, I'll just get the D7100 in time for spring.
  18. The Tamron 150-600mm and D7100 makes a great sunny day shooting combination (just like a good bridge camera does ;). But at 600mm (900mm EFL) your shutter speed will need to be at least 1/1000 for handheld. In less than perfect lighting, the D7100 will want to jump up to ISO 3200 and that will kill feather detail completely - DX simply cannot cope with that high an ISO.
    Put that Tamron on an FX body, even the old D700 and you're good to go up to ISO 3200 and beyond if you nail the exposure.
  19. The new Sigma has effective OS of >3 EVs so although it won't freeze subject motion it will stabilize the hand-held shooter.
    -3EVs on ISO 3200 is a wonderful ISO 400!
  20. Martin, it would be good to know what you consider acceptable in terms of noise, as that would help to constrain the search space. My standards may be lower than yours, but here's a sideways solution to the reach and bird-scaring mirror noise problems: Nikon One camera and FT-1 adapter. I've found the V1 surprisingly adequate in many situations. I sometimes bring mine on business trips where I might be able to have half-day to go pester the local wildlife, but couldn't justify bringing the "real" camera, big lens and tripod.
    Some high ISO examples follow. The rabbit photo was with a 70-200 VR (I) at ISO 1600, 150mm (405 mm-equiv due to the 2.7x CX format crop), 1/250 handheld. The Mamiya TLR detail is heavily cropped. I was playing around with handholdability: Nikkor 55-200 VR @ 116mm f/6.3 (~313 mm-e), ISO 3200, 1/25.
    For better images, you might want to check out Brad Hill's excellent review, and Malcolm Farrow's comments are interesting as well.
  21. The electronic shutter is silent. No rabbits were disturbed in the making of this photograph; taken in the evening at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Northern Virginia after business-related travel to Washington DC, as it happens. Sure, it's not FX quality, but not bad either, IMO. This was a straight OOC JPEG, and could doubtless be improved if I weren't too lazy to play with the raw file.
  22. This is about as noisy as I can tolerate:

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