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Photography Question 
B. A. Sybal
 

Frustrated Backyard Nature Photographer :)


I'm new to the site, and have delved into the various Q's & A's, so I hope I'm not repeating anything already answered (I couldn't find it).

I've traded in my Nikon FG (1982) for a digital camera (still have my Kodak Brownie!) ... I've had it for a few weeks, but only in the last few days have I really tried to do anything more than out of the box shots ... hence my frustration :)

It could be that I'm trying to accomplish something that's well over my equipment (please feel free to say so!) ... here's the scenario.

- my small suburban backyard is a haven for wildlife, and have had Red-Tailed Hawks in it for a few weeks, among other creatures great and small (ok, so that line is already taken).

- I also bought a 2x Telephoto lens, for a capacity of 304mm so that I could take better shots of what's lurking in my yard.

When I initially brought in my SLR to Nikon, they said all I needed to "frame" the intended subject was a 200mm zoom lens ... at a cost of up to $1500.

I wasn't crazy about that idea, so switched to a digital camera ... but am extremely frustrated at attempting to frame the Hawk.

I did manage to get a picture of the Hawk yesterday, but it is only centered in the shot, rather than taking up the majority of the canvas. It was less than 20ft away from me, so I figured I should be able to accomplish what I want with what I have.

Is it possible to frame wildlife at rather short distances with what I have?
I seem to be able to get fairly good close-ups, but overall, that's not what I plan to use the camera for the majority of the time.

Any help (or bad news) would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Barb


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12/26/2001 7:59:28 PM

 
B. A. Sybal   Never mind ... it appears that my goals and capabilities are far too lofty :) Not that I want to do National Geographic, but that's what I thought I could accomplish!

Dashed dreams,

Barb


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12/30/2001 2:19:37 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Barb,
I'm not going to let you off the hook by answering your own question! :-)

How long a lens you need to fill the frame with your subject depends on subject size and distance. The camera store wasn't that far off. For 35mm film format it would require a 200mm to about a 350mm lens if the hawk is about 20 feet distant. I'm trying to remember how large a red-tail actually is. It's been about 6-7 years since I've seen one. IIRC they're about 2 feet tall when mature. Wing span would be between 3-4 feet outstretched.

At 20 feet, a 200mm lens gives you a "field width" of about 3-1/2 feet. Since 35mm film is rectangular, this is across the long side of the rectangle. To fill the frame with one perched at about 20 feet distant and the camera turned vertically would require a 300mm to 350mm lens at 20 feet (assuming the bird is about 2 feet tall).

How I did the math (so you can plan on what you need in the future):
It's all similar triangles. The ratio of field width (subject size) to subject distance is the same as the ratio of focal length to film width. I can "get away" with feet on one side and millimeters on the other since they are ratios.

For the field width of 2 feet at 20 feet distant:
20/2 = f/36f = 36*(20/2)
f = 360mm

For the first one of 3.5 feet:
f = 36(20/3.5)
f = 206mm (approximately)

-- John


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12/31/2001 1:52:28 AM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Oops . . . let's try the equations one more time . . .

"f" is the lens focal length.

For the field width of 2 feet at 20 feet distant:
20/2 = f/36
f = 36*(20/2)
f = 360mm

For the first one of 3.5 feet field width at 20 feet distant:
f = 36*(20/3.5)
f = 206mm (approximately)

-- John


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12/31/2001 1:56:51 AM

 
doug Nelson   On all but the most expensive digital SLR's, the CCD (charge-coupled device, the thing that converts light and color into electrical impulses)is smaller than the 35-mm frame. Therefore, the focal lengths given for a zoom lens on the digital is correct for the size of that CCD, but maybe not for the 35-mm equivalent. In short, a 300-mm for this CCD, might only be a 100 or so for 35-mm. I think you're exceeding the capability of this digital.

If you really want to do wildlife, get a used SLR and at least a 200-mm telephoto. Manual focus set-ups are surprisingly inexpensive used. No need to get a wide-aperture tele. Canon, for example, had a 100-300 zoom that was only a 5.6, but is really quite reasonably priced used. The "L" version is much more expensive. They also had a 300-mm f5.6. 200's are a dime a dozen. The not-so wide max apertures of reasonably-priced teles will require you to use a tripod, and fast film, a good practice for shooting wildlife, anyway.


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12/31/2001 10:43:11 AM

 
B. A. Sybal   Re: Doug's Response

UGH! ... I just traded in my 35mm Nikon FG for this Coolpix! :)

I think I'll have to stick to close-ups, and not be overly concerned with it's limitations ... unless I consider photography as a serious hobby, and then go back to an SLR.

Since I have no idea what all the numbers mean, I should also consider a book or 2, or take a course ... I love taking pics, but am always frustrated :)

Thanks very much, and have a great New Year!

Barb


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12/31/2001 2:39:53 PM

 
B. A. Sybal   Re: John's Response

Thanks, John! I really appreciate you taking the time to fill me in on what the numbers mean.

If Doug is correct and that a digital 300mm zoom is the equivalent of 100mm on an SLR, then I've definitely not got the right camera for the type of shots I've always loved to do ... no wonder my shots were okay at the zoo with my SLR, but now in the "real world", the digital is bugging me ... so it makes sense I'm not getting good close-ups.

I guess that means that if I buy the 4x converter (450mm or 600mm, I can't remember which), I still won't get the desired wildlife portraits :(

Overambitious Barb :)


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12/31/2001 2:49:30 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Barb,
I think what Doug was trying to explain is the actual focal length of a lens for your digital doesn't need to be as long as for a 35mm format camera to get the same amount of magnification. In other words, an image made using a 300mm lens on my 35mm camera would be about the same as an image made using a 75mm lens on most digital cameras.

Some confusion is created by digital camera makers in an effort to give people a feel for the range the zoom lens on the digital has by equating its actual focal length(s) to those that would be required for a 35mm film camera. The "big print" usually contains the equivalent range and the "fine print" (in the specifications chapter of the manual) usually has the actual.

The reason for this? 35mm film has a standard frame size (24mm x 36mm). If I discuss a 300mm lens for a 35mm camera with someone, we both have a "feel" for the magnification and perspective the lens has. The CCD's found in digital cameras are not all the same size. They vary from about 1/5th to about 1/3rd that of a 35mm film frame. The size varies even among Nikon's various CoolPix models! This makes it difficult for someone to quickly compare zoom lens ranges between digital cameras using the actual focal lengths of the lenses on them. It require knowing the CCD size and then doing geometry/trigonometry math to calculate the angles of view.

From what you mentioned in your initial question I'm guessing you have a CoolPix 995 with a 3X optical zoom that can extend to 4X using "digital" zooming. Then you also bought a 2X tele-converter that screws onto the front of the camera lens. If this is true, I have a couple of suggestions:

(1) Turn off the "digital" zoom and stay in the 3X range of the "optical" zoom. As mentioned previously, the "digital" zoom gains greater magnification electronically at the expense of image resolution (the lens does nothing more than its 3X maximum).

(2) With the 2X teleconverter, the optical zoom fully extended will give you the equivalent of using a 230mm lens on a 35mm film camera. An object of about 2 x 3 feet in size 20 feet away should just about fill the image with a little left around the edges. This is also pushing the limit of what can be held by hand without camera shake blurring the image and requires a very steady stance. When fully zoomed and using the teleconverter, try bracing the camera bottom on the back of a chair (porch railings and flat tops of fences work too) or, turned vertically, against a the side of a porch or fence post. Anything horizontal or vertical that's flat and relatively solid can be used with a little imagination.

(3) Try to use the highest resolution mode possible. This captures the greatest amount of detail. You can downsize this later if you need to for screen viewing. For printing, you need much more resolution than you do for viewing on a computer screen.

-- John


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12/31/2001 4:26:02 PM

 
B. A. Sybal  
 
  Watch Your Back
Watch Your Back
Hawk actually posed for me for about 15 minutes. I had the kitchen window wide open, and then it decided to fly directly towards me. The picture is where it landed after it's U-turn for my face! Approx. 10ft away.
© B. A. Sybal
 
  I'm Watching You
I'm Watching You
I desaturated the red brick and USM slightly. It was about 30ft away.
© B. A. Sybal
 
 
Re: John's Response of 12/31/01

BTW, a belated Happy New Year!

No, I don't have 2 additional lenses for the Coolpix 995 -- just one: the 2x converter, which I understand gives me a range of up to 304mm in SLR terminology :)

I think I'm getting the hang of using the camera now ... albeit with numerous horrible shots that are easily deleted!

I have read that I need to keep my elbows in and to brace myself against something when using the converter: not always an easy feat with nature ... I'm at it's beck and call, and try to what I can in this dreary environment (brown bird, brown fence and brown shrubbery makes for very little contrast).

I also definitely stay away from digital zoom, as I know it can blow out the pixels. I work in prepress so understand most of what I can do digitally.

I'm attaching a pic that shows the back of the hawk, which turned out okay ... it's the front of it, and during flight that I'm having the most difficulty capturing well.


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1/5/2002 6:33:14 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Barb,
Thanks and Happy New Year to you also.

Sorry if I was a bit confusing about numbers of lenses. I used the clues in your first posting to deduce it was a Nikon Coolpix 995 with a 2X TC.

What I found in the Coolpix 995 specifications on-line:
Using only the optical zoom range and the 2X TC you can get the 35mm SLR equivalent of 230mm zoomed out. To get the 35mm SLR equivalent of 305mm requires using the full extent of the "digital" zoom range (zoomed out) and the 2X TC.

You might try using a small tripod, possibly a table top, but leave the tripod head's traverse and elevation loosened so you can still aim the camera. I've done this before to provide a more stable platform for 35m SLR's when the situation needed ability to pan with moving subjects. If you try this, do it carefully: the risk is forgetting the head is loosened and letting go of the camera! Remember to lock the tripod head before letting go of the camera (removing the camera from the tripod head also works).

If you still have blurring while they birds are in motion, it may also be a "slow shutter speed." I'm not that familiar with the Coolpix. Read the manual and see if there's a method to increase the digital equivalent of your shutter speed.

-- John


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1/5/2002 10:34:50 PM

 
John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Forgot to mention . . .
I like the contrast between bird and brick wall in the second one.

Nature has provided most of its creatures with protective coloring that blends in with its natural habitat. Finding a composition that provides some color contrast can be difficult!

-- John


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1/5/2002 10:43:39 PM

 
B. A. Sybal   Hi John,

I feel like we're friends now :)

Re: contrast in nature. Usually at this time of year in the Great White North, we actually have white stuff which can make for some nice backdrops. But alas, in this neck of the woods, we aren't living up to our name :)

I checked the manual re: shutter speed, and I can change it (Aperture, Shutter Priority, et al) ... the manual isn't very helpful as to giving examples of optimum use of any settings, so I've decided that I need a few lessons. First thing tomorrow, I'm going to be calling around and see where I can take some classes -- the terminology is just way over my head -- some 'splaining I need :)

I looked at Jim's online course description, which also looks good ... but I'm fairly tactile and a nuisance student . Also, the present exchange rate is a killer :(

Thanks very much ... and once I've got this cam nailed down, I'll be back :)

Barb


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1/6/2002 4:18:40 PM

 
doug Nelson   Sorry if I mislead you, Barb. Seeing is believing; it looks as if you did pull off what you wanted to do.

I get confused with the 21-mm lens we must use with the digital SLR at work to get coverage we formerly got with a conventional 35-mm lens. Maybe I had the relationship backwards, or got confused by the real vs the equivalent focal length of the lens. Someday soon we won't have to deal with this, as the newer digital SLR's will have a CCD the same size as the 35-mm frame for geezers like me who get confused.
You certainly live in a beautiful, unique place to be able to photograph these magnificent creatures from your window!


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1/7/2002 9:05:59 AM

 
B. A. Sybal   Boo Hoo ... actually I didn't accomplish what I want :(

I have a lot of shots of the hawk, but not only are they all slightly out of focus, but the full size image contains more "environment" than bird. The bird is only gnat-sized.

The whole point of this exercise was to see if I could get the hawk as big as possible in the final image, so that if I wanted to print (offset at 300dpi) a really good pic on a 4x6 postcard, it wouldn't be a postcard of red brick with a dot in the middle :)

How many times in my life am I going to be able to say that a hawk posed for me for 15 or so minutes, and I've got 35 scrappy shots :(

I signed up for lessons today, so wish me luck!

Thank you so much for all your help, I really appreciate it!

Barb


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1/7/2002 7:36:00 PM

 
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