Using d90 for bird flight photography

Discussion in 'Nature' started by florian_lauffer, Aug 7, 2010.

  1. Hi all,
    Recently I got into bird photography. I have been pretty disappointed with the sharpness of my results in flight photography. I believe my (handheld) technique is good and am aware that the TC17 + 70-200 mm combo makes the focusing slower as well as a slight sharpness decrease. Considering I get very sharp results with static objects though, I'm not going to write off the system as inappropriate just yet.
    I have read books and articles, in particular Arthur Morris' stuff, but its always geared towards Canon (no idea what the equivalent of evaluative metering is as an example... close to matrix metering?). I would really appreciate some help with some questions:
    1. What is the optimal autofocus flight setup for shooting bird flight on a d90? I use single point as dynamic area seems to just jump all over the place and to be honest is quite confusing (or perhaps someone has suggestions). From what i have read it is the AF-C mode that does the predicitive tracking, so I figured that Single Point + AF-C would follow THE point I had selected with my active focus point. Is this correct?
    2. Is Wide or Normal (Centre Focus Point) ideal for flight shots? I had some Cormorants flying by yesterday and it seemed that the normal centre focus point seemed to give better results. It seemed the Wide Zone just seemed to be an "average" focus depth of the entire bird, making nothing in particular all that sharp. Is this correct?
    3. Besides the 51 autofocus points on the d300 and d3s, do they have the same (speed) autofocus system? If so, does anyone have any thoughts on the improvement of performance of the autofocusing on these upgraded models compared to the d90?
    4. Short of spending 11000 on the new 600 f4 VRII (no such thing as too much focal length), is there such a thing as Morris' Canon 400mm f5.6 which is sharp, reasonably priced, reasonably fast and most importantly reasonably light for Nikon systems? It seems on the Nikon end there is the 80-400mm (too slow), but not much else. Is there a "find" like the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens? I am OK with f5.6 as long as sharpness is not comprimised and the autofocusing can do birds in flight.
    Thank you very much for your time, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
    Florian
     
  2. SCL

    SCL

    IMHO you're better off using the old technique of predictive focus, where you forget autofocus, determine focus at a spot you expect the birds to fly into, pan them until they reach that spot and then snap the shot. To improve sharpness, in any case, you might consider using a tripod with a gimbal mount (various ones out there, but the Wimberley Sidekick is a popular example). On the Nikon end, you might also consider using some of the older manual focus long lenses...some of them are relatively inexpensive compared to their AF cousins, and their sharpness is quite good. For years I used an old beat up (cosmetically) 300/2.8 which had been discarded by a Newsweek photographer, coupled it with a 1.4x and/or 2x teleconverter, and it worked great (but because of size/weight) always needed a tripod. These days I typically use a Leica 400/6.3 Telyt lens modified to interchangeably fit and infinity focus on all of my cameras (Nikon, Canon, Leica & Sigma) for nature work. For a fun project and hand-held work, I'm presently converting an old Spiratone 400/6.3 for use on all my cameras as well. Central area focus is fine as is contrast, but the edges start to go unsharp at large apertures.
     
  3. The Nikon 300mm f4 and 1.4x TC is a combo that would be comparable to the Canon 400mm f5.6
     
  4. A friend of mine, a bird/wildlife photographer, has the Canon 400mm f5.6 and I am pretty sure from his exquisite results that the Nikon 300 + 1.4xTC is "comparable" only mathematically. I long for a Nikon equivalent to that lens (and at that price, too). Nikon's lack sorely tempts me, a dedicated Nikon shooter, to switch to Canon.
     
  5. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Florian, birds-in-flight photography is one type of photography that is very demanding on equipment. If you are sure that is what you want, be prepared to invest in equipment.
    The Nikon D300 or D300S will be a huge step up in terms of AF capability compared to the D90. The 51 AF points with 15 cross type is excellent for sports and wildlife action. With their 1.5x DX sensor, I think a straight 300mm/f4 AF-S lens is fine for birds in flight. The main issue with that lens is that even though it is AF-S, AF is still on the slow side. I happend to have both of Nikon's 300mm/f4 AF-S and 300mm/f2.8 AF-S, version 1 (introduced in 1996). The f2.8 version is the one I prefer for birds in flight because of its superior AF, but it is heavy.
    With a DX sensor, I don't think a 400mm/f5.6 is necessary. For still subjects, Nikon's 300mm/f4 AF-S with a TC-14E is fine optically, but the TC will make its AF even slower; IMO that is not what you want for flight shots. I would completely forget about Nikon's 80-400mm VR lens; IMO that lens has totally useless AF for action photography and is way overdue for an upgrade. I am a bit surprised that Nikon still hasn't updated it to an AF-S VR; whenever that happens, the current old model will likely lose a lot of value in the used market.
    The reason I prefer a 300mm over a 400mm is that with fast-moving subjects, it is often difficult to compose precisely. I would rather have a little more room around the subject and then crop afterwards to get a better composition. With modern 12MP or more DSLRs, you can crop 1/2 or even 1/3 from your image and still have enough pixels to play with under most situations (unless you need to make huge prints). If you are photographing a bird that is standing on a tree, you probably want a longer 500mm lens.
     
  6. I have shot a lot of birds in flight, albeit on Canon, and can give you this advice.
    1. Center point af for sure. No zone.
    2. AI servo 95% of the time. If you have big herons gliding right in front of you you might get by with single shot. I would have to disagree with the predictive focus idea. Following the bird in AI servo is definitely more effective IMO.
    3. The Canon 400m f5.6 is the king of birds in flight lenses, and is phenomenal as such. Alternatives for Nikon without going up to 400 and above primes, and other than the 80-400, might include the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D ED-IF and Sigma 100-300 f4. Why do you consider the 80-400 too slow? 80% of the thousands of birds in flight I've shot have been at 100iso at f5.6 with the 400mm. Remember you're shooting up into the sky. The 80-400 is f56 at 400. In any case teleconverters are bad news for birds in flight. Soft when you're already stressed to resolve detail, and they affect the AF.
    If you were going to spend $1,479 on the 80-400 you could get a new t2i and used 400 f5.6 for about the same price, maybe a couple hundred more. They're a very good matchup, fast af (the camera is very good and the lens outstanding in terms of af), 18mp and strong IQ from the camera (very low noise at the low ISOs you'd be using), 640mm effective focal length with no converters, and outstanding optical quality and suitability to task from the 400 prime. Not a Canon vs. Nikon thing but if I were focused on birds in flight and willing to spend $1,500 that's what I'd do. With eh 80-400 you get a lens only, and one not ideally suited to the task. The other way you get a camera too, and the best lens possible, for about the same price.
    The 400 is also a phenomenal all purpose lens, for general nature, landscapes, flowers (with tubes), portraits, architecture, etc. You can use it all day at 5.6 and never have any doubt that you'll get outstanding quality.
     
  7. 400 5.6 output. On the Canon side, this lens 400mm f5.6 at 5.6 blows the Canon 100-400 out of the water, and the same is true if compared to the 80-400 at 400mm at 5.6 - See a side by side comparison here - LINK. They're not in the same ballpark at 5.6 - better by f8 but the corners are still miles apart.

    [​IMG]
     
  8. The Nikon 300 f/4 to me would be the ticket, with a TC14 (but not routinely, see Shun's reply). I've used the combination for fairly fast-moving things, and it delivers. To me, the TC14 has fairly little impact on the IQ; the AF speed, once focus is acquired, also not too much.
    That said, I used it on a D80 (same AF as the D90), and nowadays on a D300. The difference in AF speed is remarkable, especially in tracking. Ive also used a 1.7X TC with the 300 f/4, on the D80 it will hardly AF, on the D300 in good light it works (no tracking, though). Still, with pre-focussing on not too fast moving items, a (relatively) cheap decent quality 500mm setup. But to answer one of your questions: yes, it's not just 40 AF points more, it's a whole different beast, and for what you want, the D300 is a sensible upgrade, IMHO.
    Anyway, I think within the Nikon system, first the AF-S 300 f/4, and next a D300 would make quite a difference.
     
  9. Not to be contentious but optical quality on the 300+1.4x is very poor compared to the 400mm f5.6 - LINK - I only mention it since the OPs concern seemed to be about optical quality.
    The-digital-picture has rigorous testing methodology - LINK
     
  10. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    I should point out that back in 1999, I attended a 3-day short trip to Bosque del Apache (in New Mexico) with Arthur Morris. Back then he was already using the 400mm/f5.6 Canon lens for hand held birds in flight; however, we were all shooting 35mm film at the time.
    Today, with Nikon 1.5x (DX) or Canon 1.6x type DSLRs, your 300mm lens is already like a 450mm lens or longer for 35mm film (FX). In other words, a 300mm/f4 on the D90 or D300 is already longer than what Arthur Morris was using back then, and you gain an important stop at f4.
    For hand held birds in flight, actually you can have too much focal length. Even though you can see the subject easily with your nakes eyes, when your lens is too long, it will be difficult to locate your subject in the air through the viewfinder. It is very much possible that you will be pointing your long lens towards the sky fishing for your subject without any success; that has happened to me many times. Again, if your bird is standing on a tree, you have time to locate it. When it is birds in flight, that means missing shots.
    Finally, AF speed and accuracy is important. The Nikon D300/D300S uses exactly the same AF system as the top-of-the-line D3 family that is widely used by sports photographers. Since Nikon introduced the D300 in 2007, for 2 years Canon had no equivalent until last year when they finally introduced the excellent 7D, which has 19 cross-type AF points. If you want similar AF capability from Canon, I would at least get a 7D; it is still not the same AF system as those on the 1D/1DS series, but it is excellent as far as I know. For this type of fast-pace animal action, a tiny bit of focusing error will completely negate the capability of good optics.

    Below is a humming bird image I captured with the Nikon D300 and 300mm/f2.8 AF-S earlier this year.

    [​IMG]
    And this is how sharp it is at the pixel level @ f8, 1/640 second. I stopped down the lens to gain depth of field.
    00X1bu-267023584.jpg
     
  11. The 300 without the TC is much better than with - link. As far as how much reach is enough, it's hard to say without knowing how close or far the shooters subjects generally are, and what kind of birds you're shooting (i.e. how big are they). Shooting avocets or stilts is much harder than herons or eagles.

    As far as finding birds in the viewfinder, this is important, and it definitely comes down to operator experience and focal length. With a 400mm on a 1.6x body, an experienced operator should still have no trouble finding the subject almost immediately. Add a 1.4x TC to this configuration and my experience is you quickly cross the threshold where the focal length (900mm effective) makes it very difficult to quickly find the subject, and will result in a lot of lost shots. I rarely if ever lose a shot that way with the 400 on a 1.6 body.

    Beautiful photo Chun.
     
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    To answer Noreen's question, just a week ago I used my Nikon 300mm/f4 AF-S with the TC-14E quite a bit, but I was shooting sports, not nature. See one of my images below. That was captured with the lens wide open @ f4 w/ the TC. I have certainly seen better optics @ 420mm, but to me, that combo is good enough. I'll let others worry about any tiny differences between lenses. If your friend gets better results with his Canon 400mm/f5.6, my guess the difference is the photographer rather than the lens.
    The issue with Nikon's 300mm/f4 AF-S is its mediocre AF speed; it can only get worse with the TC added. However, if you application is hand holding a 400mm lens mounted on a DX body to capture something flying in the sky, IMO your main concers should be:
    • Your ability to locate your subject from your viewfinder.
    • Related to that, the strong magnification (equivalent to 600mm on full 35mm frame) will make it difficult to compose with a moving subject/target. Every time you clip a wing or a bill off the frame, whatever image you capture is useless.
    • AF will be slow when your lens' aperture if f5.6, be it a straight 400mm/f5.6 or a 300mm/f4 + 1.4x TC.
    That is why I think as long as you are using an APS-C type sensor, a 300mm lens is fine for birds in flight. Again, my favorite is Nikon's 300mm/2.8 AF-S due to its faster AF speed. A 400mm lens is better if you use a full-frame (Nikon FX) DSLR such as Canon's 1Ds or 5D series.
    I also have Nikon's 200-400mm/f4 AF-S. If anything, I prefer to use a zoom for flight shots due to its flexability. You can gradually zoom from the long end to the short end as the bird approaches. It is also easier to zoom to the short end to locate your subject in the sky and then zoom in. The problem with the 200-400mm/f4 is that it is hard to hand hold; it is also expensive. Something like a 100-400mm/f5.6 is easier to hold but with the trade off of a smaller aperture. If Nikon is missing any lens, I would say they need to upgrade their 80-400mm zoom into an AF-S VR with good AF speed.
    00X1lC-267127584.jpg
     
  13. You need to figure out the exposure of the flying bird before you work on the in-focus details.
    Please check
    A flying osprey -- AF-S 70-300mm VR Nikkor lens



    http://www.photo.net/photo/11239271




    A more high-speed subject - AF-S 70-300mm VR Nikkor lens



    http://www.photo.net/photo/11275593




    In-flight (with a Nikon D80 body) - AF-S 70-300mm VR Nikkor lens



    http://www.photo.net/photo/9685127

    for some flying bird examples.
    It also depends on your reflexes as the bird (or birds) make their flight. Exposing against a bright sky will generally *fake-out* the camera's metering system. You will have to practice on taking birds until you get the images you want.
     
  14. Shun, the differences in quality are not tiny, they are extreme - link - and resolving power and optical quality for flying birds is very important.
     
  15. Something like a 100-400mm/f5.6 is easier to hold but with the trade off of a smaller aperture.
    For birds in flight you want at least 5.6 if not more for depth of field. There is usually no background to worry about, and you usually want as much of the bird sharp as possible. Almost all shots can be accomplished at 5.6 with shutter speeds of 1/640th to 1/1500. I have a very large number of flying birds shot at 100iso at shutter speeds of at least 1/1000 or more, all at f/5.6. You are shooting into the sky.
     
  16. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Brett, any serious comparison between two lenses should be a dedicated A/B test between them using exactly the same camera and same settings carried out in one session. There should be a thorough description on the results and the pros and cons under verious situations. The test you cited uses different DSLRs for the different lenses; that is a major no no.
    For birds in flight you want at least 5.6 if not more for depth of field.​
    There is a difference between AF aperture and shooting aperture. Even though you shoot @ f5.6, you want an f2.8, f4 lens or even faster because its gives you faster and more accurate AF. That is why I currently do not own any lens which is slower than f4 in any part of its zoom range.
     
  17. Shun, one is Canon and one is Nikon. What do you expect the tester to do? It's a very serious, accurate, and perfectly valid test. Simple fact is for flying birds the 300+tele pales in comparison to the 400 5.6 - Sorry, but they're miles apart. Same goes for the Canon 100-400, the Canon 70-200 with tele, and the Nikon 80-400.
    Even though you shoot @ f5.6, you want an f2.8, f4 lens or even faster because its gives you faster and more accurate AF​
    Not necessary for flying birds. The 400 5.6 has long been the king of flying birds lenses for good reason. It's light and handholdable due to the 5.6 aperture, razor sharp wide open, and has instant AF. You're shooting into the sky. Light and edge contrast are almost never an issue. I'm uniformed on many types of photography, but I've spent an awful lot of time shooting flying birds. It's a discipline I'm very intimately familiar with.
     
  18. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Shun, one is Canon and one is Nikon. What do you expect the tester to do?​
    I have seen comparisons between Canon and Nikon lenses. There are various adapters to mount Nikon lenses onto EOS SLRs and DSLRs. In those tests, they use the same Canon body and mount Canon and Nikon lenses onto it to compare. That is the only way to compare apples to apples.
    Brett, regardless of what you already know, there is always more to learn. Both Canon and Nikon's AF systems are designed to work better with faster lenses that let more light onto the AF module. That is precisely why I prefer my 300mm/f2.8 over the 300mm/f4 for birds in flight. In particular, some of Canon's AF points only work with f2.8 or faster.
     
  19. A 300 2.8 at f5.6 is not a 300f4 with TC at 5.6, again they're miles apart, and a 300 2.8 is not ideal for birds in flight due to size, weight, and focal length. The 400 5.6 leaves nothing to be desired in terms of autofocus, and remains the ideal lens for birds in flight.
     
  20. This thread has gotten a bit off track.
    Brett, I really admire your work, but you're way off base with the 400/5.6 vs the 100-400/5.6 comparisons. If you set the focus limiter on the 100-400 properly it is only a tad slower to focus than the the 400/5.6. That, and corner sharpness is irrelevant with these sorts of lenses in their typical applications, especially on APS-C bodies. Center sharpness/contrast is equivalent and pretty much the only reason the 400/5.6 is quicker to focus is that it has a ridiculously long close focus distance. Good lens for birds in flight, but terrible for butterflies and such. So yes, the 400/5.6 is a better choice for BIF, but I wouldn't say that it is miles away better, especially for the non-specialist user.
    As to the OP... sorry, but there is nothing like the Canon 400/5.6 or the 100-400/5.6 for Nikon. But equipment is sort of irrelevant given that you have only recently gotten into bird photography. You could splash out all sorts of money on big teles and expensive bodies, but nothing really trumps experience. Trust me, I've splashed out the big money, and have been working day in a day out on my skills and I'm still not where I want to be after two years of spending every weekend possible in the field. So, yes, the Canon 400/5.6 (or the 100-400/5.6) are probably a better choice than the comparably priced nikon optics... but until you get really good at things, it's really not going to make much of a difference in real world shooting.
     
  21. Florian,
    I was using the D90 and 70-200vr with the TC-17E yesterday. On the D90 I use single point, normal, afc. I'm not afraid to use this combo or the 300/4 with TC's as I get good results.
    Rick
    http://slopoki1.smugmug.com/Nature
    Shot at 5.6@1/2500 sec, iso 500, EC 0
    [​IMG]
     
  22. Florian, I have been in the exact same boat as you. Shooting with a D90, and recently getting into bird photography, and have tried in-flight shots too.
    I ended up with the Nikon 300 f4 AF-S + TC14, and would echo Shun's comments. I love the lens, and am really glad I took the plunge in going for it, for me it is very sharp for static objects - probably the best glass I own (well certainly the most expensive).
    What I have found out, is that by far the most limiting factor in shooting birds in flight - is me. The combination of D90 and 300 f4 is capable of far better shots than I have squeezed out of it. I have occasionally stumbled on what I consider to be excellent pin sharp shots so I can't blame the equipment, only my technique.
    The combo is slow focusing - relative to other camera / lens combos, but it depends what you are shooting, and how fast you need the focusing to track (ie panning a bird flying across the frame - the focus distance changes far less rapidly than something flying straight on). I have found that knowing the limitations of a combo is important, because you can work around it (and I think you learn more - it makes you think).
    The biggest problem I have shooting BIF with the 300+TC14 is as Shun has mentioned - keeping your subject in frame. I recently found a similar issue shooting aircraft - which are far more predictable in flight pattern, but equally as hard to maintain in frame whilst panning.
    Brett - my experience of the 300 AFS - even with the TC14 - shows no such sharpness problems, at least statically. I wonder if those test results are as much due to the poor support collar, and known vibration issues when shooting when tripod mounted.
    This was shot with the 300 f4 (no TC14 fitted): Cropped
    [​IMG]
    ISO 800 / f5 / 1/4000 sec
    Martin
     
  23. Thanks for all your input people. Great shots everyone.
    The 300/4 or 2.8 sounds promising with a d300s for in flight. And maybe when I eventually get there, a 500 or 600 mm used lense for perched birds. An expensive hobby to say the least. Before I do spend more money on this hooby I will definitely be practising over the coming years. Thanks in particular to Mart and Rick that addressed the setup of the d90. Any other thoughts on the wide vs. normal zone and optimal flight setup for d90 or is normal, single point, afc the ticket? If it isn't what should I be expecting with another setup? Thanks in advance.
     
  24. Probably only partly relevant, but I've been facing similar questions trying to get some practice at BIF photography with my Sony a700 and Minolta 300 f4 apo. So maybe it helps to hear from another newbie going through similar predicaments. Like Nikon's 300 f4, Minolta's offering is not quite up to snuff with other long Minolta/Sony lenses, and it suffers more noticeable image deterioration from the minolta 1.4x tc than the Min 300 f2.8 apo or 600 f4 apo. As with the Nikon equivalent, it also focuses a lot slower with the 1.4x tc.
    Before having settled on any af tele for my a700 I spent quite some time trying out various manual focus lenses for size, weight and framing (Tamron adaptall 300 f2.8 and 200-500 f5.6, Canon FD 300 f2.8, 300 f4 and 400 f4.5; Nikon AI 300 f4.5 ED) to see which ones felt best suited to my particular eyes, hands and rudimentary skill levels. That taught me I can usually only manage about 3 lbs of lens weight for steady handholding during long hikes. Plus, as noted above by Shun and others, with longer lenses it gets way more difficult to keep flapping and acrobatically maneuvering subjects properly framed in the viewfinder.
    I also realized pretty quickly that nothing is more frustrating than having a beautiful bird zoom past so close over your head that you can't actually focus that close. And the same is true for trying to get good shots of tiny hyperactive birds hopping from branch to branch in shrubby landscapes. They move so fast, are so rarely willing to perch for even a few seconds, and are so often partly obscured by trunks and leaves and twigs, that it really makes you feel very silly standing there when a bird does assume that perfect pose right in front of you - and the big heavy lens in your hands fails to focus close enough.
    So for my BIF explorations I went with the 300 f4 and have been getting my money's worth from it. Most Sony/Minolta BIF specialists sooner or later move up to the Minolta 400 f4.5 apo, but at twice the price and over 4lbs weight I'm sure it will still take me quite a while before (if ever) I am ready to take on that lens. And there now is a superbly sharp Sony 70-400 f5.6 though it's a tad heavier than the 300 and focuses a little slower. The a700 is neither an AF speed demon nor any miracle of accuracy, but forum reading plus trial and error helped me identify settings that produce a reasonable percentage of properly focused and centered shots. Presumably doesn't apply at all to the d90, but on the a700 + 300 f4 it seems to be: wide focus & focus limiter set to approx 6m minimum for BIF overhead against clear skies OR center focus with or without focus limiting for birds that are flying lower than AF-misleading horizons & backdrop objects.
    Last but not least, I would definitely agree that getting better results is not just an issue of having wonderful equipment - it's definitely also a matter of sustained practice at hearing or seeing approaching birds at the earliest possible instance, anticipating interesting behavior, building up field experience in approaching birds & positioning yourself in the best spots for flybys/flyovers, finding out which hours of the day are best to get close to what birds in which season & location, etc etc.
    Sorry for rambling on but I wasn't a birder before so much of this is new to me - and great fun learning :)
    00X2YQ-267581584.jpg
     
  25. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    As I pointed out earlier, bird photography, along with indoor sports photography, is demanding on equipment. If you would like to pursue those areas, be prepared to spend some money on big and fast lenses as well as DSLR bodies with excellent AF capability. You don't have to buy the most expensive camera and lenses immediately, but as you gradually notice the limitation of your equipment, you'll want the better ones. In contrast, if you shoot landscape, some old and inexpensive camera can get the job done; you neither need fast AF nor those fast long lenses.
    A decade ago, we had a lot of discussion about Arthur Morris in this very forum; in fact, he participated for a little while back then. While he is a fine bird photographer, he has been sponsored by Canon for a long time; essentially Canon pays him to promote their products. Likewise, quite a few nature photographers are in the Canon or Nikon camps. Back in late 1999 when I attended Morris' tour, Canon had just introduced the 100-400mm zoom and various long lenses with image stabilization, and Morris was promoting those lenses during the seminar. In fact, Morris and a couple of Canon users had that 100-400 for flight shots. Again, everybody was using 35mm film back then.
    Over the years, I have seen photographers using all sorts of different lenses for birds-in-flight photography. A few years ago in the Florida Everglades, I saw two photographers hand holding 500mm/f4 lenses side by side on flying birds, one using Canon and one Nikon. I thought they were crazy holding such big lenses, but apparently it worked for them. I have hand held my Nikon 200-400mm/f4 AF-S VR in some occasions, but that is not something I want to do on a regular basis.
    Birds come in all sorts of different sizes. I have printed the humming bird image I showed above to 8.5 x 11, and even that modest print is already bigger than live size for this tiny bird. I captured the following image of a black browed Albatross flying over its colony with a Nikon D700 (FX full-frame format) and a 70-200mm/f2.8 lens at 200mm. This is the uncropped, entire frame. The black browed is a fairly large bird where adults can have an 8-foot (240cm) wing span, and that was why I captured it with a relatively short lens on a body with no "crop factor."
    I think the flexibility was why Morris et. al favored the 100-400 zoom for birds in flight. (I haven't followed his blog in the last few years, but I know he has switched back and forth to the fixed 400mm/f5.6 a few times.)
    Back to Florian the OP's situation, on a Nikon DX body such as the D90, I think the 300mm/f4 AF-S would be a good place to start, as the cost for that lens is not crazy. Optically it is excellent. Its main weakness is a terrible tripod collar, but 3rd-party replacements are available at a cost (around $150 or so). Its AF is on the slower side and there is no VR. This is another lens Nikon will likely upgrade with the latest VR technology, but I have said that for a few years and have no idea when the upgrade will happen.
    If a telephoto lens is a little short, you always have the option to add a 1.4x TC, which will make the lens slower and the AF slower; you'll lost a bit of optical quality also. However, if a lens is too long, you are essentially stuck; there is no converter to make it shorter. That is why I suggest people think through it carefully before commiting to a fixed long lens. If you are using a big lens on a tripod, you probably want more focal length for birds; the main limits are cost and weight. For hand held birds in flight, you can have too much focal lenght for reasons a few of us have pointed out.
    I think Florian can try out using the current D90 for now. In the longer run, something like a Nikon D300/D300S or Canon 7D with superior AF capability will be a plus. And yes, experience helps. It also helps to learn some biology and get familiar with various birds' behavior so that you have some ideas about their flight pattern.
    00X2aQ-267605584.jpg
     
  26. Shun: As I pointed out earlier, bird photography, along with indoor sports photography, is demanding on equipment. If you would like to pursue those areas, be prepared to spend some money on big and fast lenses as well as DSLR bodies with excellent AF capability. You don't have to buy the most expensive camera and lenses immediately, but as you gradually notice the limitation of your equipment, you'll want the better ones. In contrast, if you shoot landscape, some old and inexpensive camera can get the job done; you neither need fast AF nor those fast long lenses.​
    Too true.
    But, having said that, I think starting with the D90 and a tele lens of some sort needn't prevent you from getting some success at bird / BIF photography. I found the D90+300f4 to be very usable for me, and I am learning and developing with this combo. I am sure it has it's limitations, but for the most part I haven't hit that wall consistently yet (only occassionally) - and I am convinced that having equipment limitations is actually a good way of learning, so long as those limitations don't get too disheartening.
    My limited experience of shooting birds has demonstrated that the single most important thing to learn, is about the birds themselves, their habits, habitats etc. as well as stalking techniques - and above all else, to develop a healthy dose of patience :)
    Good luck,
    Martin
     
  27. I also have a D90 and the biggest difference I noticed between it and the D300 bodies that some of my fellow Birds in Flight workshop (http://www.raymondbarlow.com/) participants used was the difference in frames per second. I could only manage 5 fps while I believe the D300 series shoots up to 8 fps. My buffer filled quickly and caused some slowing at the end of the series of shots as well.
    Because I cannot afford a big Nikon prime telephoto, I'm working with a 150 - 500 f5 - 6.3 APO DG OS HSM Sigma that, while lacking in the finest quality glass, I am able to use handheld with birds in flight. See examples here and here.
     
  28. I haven't read every word in this thread, but don't see mention of what the shutter speed is for the unsatisfactory flight shot results. You will need a fast shutter to 'stop' the subject, no matter what lens you use. That is the first item I would check... crank up the shutter speed using the equipment at hand, especially since static subjects seem to be ok for you with that lens + TC combo. Just a thought.
     
  29. I agree with both of Shun's posts. As a Nikon nature shooter, I want to stress/recommend the following investments for you:
    1. Upgrade your D 90 to a D 300s or add a D 300s. It will make a big difference.
    2. Buy a Nikon 300mm f 2.8 AFS lens or a 300mm f 4.0 AFS lens, not the older AF versions.
    If you are strong and can hand hold the 300mm f 2.8 get it.
    3. Forget completely about the Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens. AF is so slow.
    4. Set exposure manually per Art Morris reasoning and recommendations.
    Backround changes; bird doesn't. Shutter speed needs to be fast, usually 1/1000.
    5. Set C not S. Shoot in High frames per second. Use fast CF cards. Shoot RAW.
    Joe Smith
     
  30. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Nancy, those two are very nice images, but I cannot evaluate sharpness from small JPEGs. Moreover, I wonder what percentage of sharp birds-in-flight images you typically get with a slow zoom on the D90. Nikon auto focus is designed to work with lenses that are at least f5.6. When your lens is max f6.3, AF may hunt a bit even under broad daylight.
    For a couple of years, my best DSLR body was the D2X, which also maxes out a 5 frames/second. You should be able to get by with 5 although 8 to 10 fps is better for capturing action. At the present time, from Nikon, the D300 or D300S with a DX sensor is the ideal camera for bird photography. Canon's 7D should play that same role.
     

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