Nikon Nikkor 55-300mm for wildlife

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by kelly_cw, Jan 15, 2013.

  1. Hi all!

    I'm brand new to this forum and am very passionate, very amateur "photorapher" mostly interested in wildlife. I have a Nikon D3000 and
    just got a Nikkor 55-300mm lens. I took it out yesterday to a spot I've been seeing a bobcat hunt for her dinner every day. I'm bad with
    distances but guesstimate I was about 80 feet or so away from my subject. At full, automatic zoom (300mm) I got OK shots but found that
    when I thought I was focused right at the cat's face, the end result would be a blurry cat and perfectly focused grass in the foreground.

    I don't know how to use the manual focus at all and was hoping I could get some good shots with the automatic setting while I learn more.
    I'm surprised with how different/difficult this lens is compared with my 18-55mm.

    If anyone has ANY tips regarding the issue I mentioned above, or any general tips for this camera model/this lens and wildlife
    photography, it would be really appreciated! Thank you thank you thank you!
     
  2. Kelly: Why manual focus? Set the autofucus on the lens and camera to 'on.'.. select a single-point (center?)as your autofocus point ... cat's not moving around much ... set the single point on her face or nose (something with a little contrast), push the shutter half-way to focus (you'll see it), and fire off the shot. Turn on the VR also, even if you use a tripod, as the VR on this lens has what Nikon calls "tripod sensing technology".
     
  3. lwg

    lwg

    If the grass was in front of the cat's face that is what the camera will focus on. If the grass was not obscuring the cat's face then you either focused on the wrong spot, or you need to calibrate the camera to the lens. I don't think the D3000 has an autofocus adjust, but hopefully it does. This would let you get the camera and lens combination focusing more accurately. I would do some tests with the aperture wide open.
    At 300mm any lens is difficult to focus as the depth of field is very shallow so any errors show up readily. It also makes manual focus difficult. The good news is with the shallow depth of field the image may snap into focus. The focus screen in the autofocus cameras also make manual focus harder than on the older cameras, as does the smaller sensor on the DX cameras. However if you want to try it all you need to do is slide the switch on the lens to the M position and turn the focus ring.
     
  4. Kelly,
    It could be as simple as motion blur. What was your shutter speeds? At 300mm you need to be using a shutter speed of 1/500s at least, you may get away with 1/250s with VR if its hand held. If you are using a tripod it is highly recommended that you dont use VR. That will introduce some motion blur. VR shakes the lens to counter act the movements of handheld, its is on a tripod it will have nothing to counter act thus creating shake in the images. The technology has come along way but is still far from perfect.
     
  5. Barry: The instructions THAT COME WITH THAT SPECIFIC LENS, say you can leave the VR on when on a tripod ... I've tried it both ways, and "VR off while on sticks", seems to make no diff, so I think the 'tripod sensing' works. BTW, this lens is quite sharp and can produce excellent results. One of the best bargins in dx lenses Nikon has right now (IMO).
     
  6. Bruce, LG and Barry:

    Thank you all SO much! Your specific responses really help out. There is so much that I still need to learn!

    I thought manual focus would be more successful as the auto focus was seeming to pick up the closer foreground (grass)
    rather than the cat's face. But I think I'll let the auto do its job. I could've sworn I was holding the shutter half down and
    settling the focus on the right subject but the factors you guys noted didn't even enter my mind. Hell, I didn't even know
    about VR til I got home and kicked myself.

    I think motion blur could be a factor too as I got quite excited when she started to move!

    I'm very fortunate that this cat makes an appearance almost daily so I'll head back out this evening and pay close
    attention to my aperture, shutter speed and VR. I don't have a tripod but have a monopod on the way. I'm also just using
    the non-flash setting as it's generally given me the strongest results. Would you recommend any of the other settings
    (action/portrait/etc)?
     
  7. Kelly: As Barry suggested, get your shutter up over 500 ... use aperture priority (on this lens, I go for about f8 or back a little), and set your single-point autofocus on the cat's eye. We are talking about this in our shop ... you know your cats, right? Worker here as had wildlife close on him at 80 yards faster than he could pull a zipper and run. Careful, eh, what?
     
  8. Around/shortly after sunset, you'll need roughly 4X the exposure compared to a bright day.
    To maintain a shutter speed of about 1/500th of a second at F 8, that would need to have the camera's ISO raised to about 2000 (if my brain isn't too wonky now). You may want to check your camera manual and find out how to do that and practice prior to the 'main event'.
    High ISOs might introduce some digital noise but mitigate any motion blur.
    Good luck.
    Jim M.
     
  9. Kelly, autofocus can be more succesfull, but it depends a lot on the viewfinder (which on the D3000 is a bit small), and a lens with a nice focus ring (which, sorry, the 55-300VR does not have).
    The tips received so far will sure help you, I'd only like to add one thing to it. The reason for the high shutterspeed is mainly camera movements - that's not just your hands being possibly shaking just a little (and at 300mm, such movements become very visible), but you also need to consider yourself - if you move forward/backward just a little, things move out of focus easily. So, another thing to think about is your posture - stand firm and steady (feet a bit apart), hold the camera steady and rest your arm holding the camera on your chest, control your breathing well while shooting, squeeze the shutter button gently and make sure your arm operating the camera is relaxed.
    This will still be something to consider with a monopod too. A tripod is more cumbersome, but also more effective in curing all these movements.
    __
    As for the settings - those automatic modes on the camera (sports, landscape, auto without flash, portrait, etc.) are relatively easy ways to get good results. But it is ultimately more rewarding to learn about exposure, and take control yourself (ending up in the P, A, S and M modes). If you're OK with studying from books, I'd recommend Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure. It's really worth investing the time into that, so you understand which settings matter in which circumstances, and be able to adjust what you need, when needed. The automatic modes won't let you, and sooner or later, that's going to annoy :)
     
  10. First sentence should read "manual focus can be more...". Sorry about that typo!
     
  11. Hello Kelly!
    One thing I would do is to learn how to use "back button focusing" by switching the focusing function from the shutter release button on the front of the camera to the AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera. This way once you have achieved focusing, you can release your finger from the AE-L button and recompose and then trigger the shutter with the shutter release button. If the subject is in continuous motion, keep your finger on the back button and release the shutter at the moment of action that suits you. This is explained in detail by an article by John Gerlach that can be found at his website: http://www.gerlachnaturephoto.com/Articles/Article6.html
    You will also need to read your camera manual to see what Custom settings are needed to implement this.
    The second thing I would do is set AF-C (Continuous focusing) for my wildlife shots. Your camera can get three frames per second. I would use this feature and take a burst of three or more. This way you are increasing your chances of getting one with perfect focus. Make sure that AF-A is not set; or if it is, you know exactly what it does and does not do. I do not think it is a useful setting for wildlife shooting. AF-C is better and so is AF-S. I set my shutter release Custom settings to Release, not Focus.
    Use a tripod whenever you can. Higher shutter speeds are to be used even on a tripod to stop action. If you have a remote shutter release device, like a cable release, use it. It improves your long lens shooting technique. Do not be afraid to use high ISOs when needed. A blurry shot at a lower ISO is not useable.
    Joe Smith
     
  12. Kelly,
    Your two lens are of the same quality and function. I own both lenses myself as well. One of the things that I re-read in your original post is that you are using the automatic camera settings, these too can all frustration to your shooting. The modern cameras are pretty good at guessing what to make the settings but if you want quality shots every time I do recommend switching to Manual or at least Aperture Priority on your camera and leave the auto focus to the camera. As Wouter said pick up Understanding Exposure by Brian Peterson. He doesn't complicate photography. I have taken several of his online courses as well. I learned a lot from him.
     
  13. Kelly -- one piece of advice early in this thread that might get lost to you -- when focus is critical, reduce the AF to one central spot in your viewfinder -- not 11 or 16 or 153, as the mfr brags about. Use that spot to get your focus, and then plant your finger on the AF/AE lock, which you should program to be just AF. If this camera has no such button, you can program your function button to be AF lock. I use it constantly. Once you've locked the focus you can move the frame a bit if you wish, and the camera won't continue to search for focus every time you touch and then inevitably let go of the shutter release button (holding it halfway down is an AF lock in theory but much more touchy to maintain). I was shooting at places like the Bronx Zoo when I first got my 70-300mm and could not figure out when I got home and reviewd teh pics on the big screen why the thing seemed to be focused on just about anything but the animal's face that I thought I was aiming at.
     
  14. And PS yes, some photographers, even pros, still believe that manual focus is on the whole more reliable. (See Bjorn Rorslett, eg). But not on that lens.
     
  15. MM if you want anyone to try and explain what went "different from desired", maybe it makes sence to show us a picture ?
     
  16. Kelly, I've owned that lens. Manual focus is very difficult in the situation you described. The thread pitch on the focus control is too steep for accuracy at high magnifications. I would concur with opinions to select the central focus point only, and go AF.
     

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