I’ve been interested in wildlife photography, and for a few years have been using a Nikon crop body with 200mm lenses (originally the 55-200mm f4-5.6, and later the 80-200mm f2.8). Recently, I acquired a 300mm 2.8 vr, and the new 2x tc. This has given me a lot more reach, but consistently getting good images out of this combo at 600mm requires long lens, vr, and tc techniques that I haven’t yet developed through experience. Would you be able to offer some tips on how to transition to 900mm equivalent?
Congratulations on getting a 300 2.8 vr lens. It is an amazing lens and you are going to have a lot of fun with it in the field.
One of the great things about digital cameras is that the smaller sensor size on many cameras has the effect of making the lenses act longer then they really are. While a 300 mm lens combined with a 2x teleconverter would normally give you 600mm, the smaller sensor on many Nikon cameras (Canon cameras do this too) give an effective focal length of 900 mm! This is an amazing advantage for wildlife photographers who never feel they have enough reach. The problem is that increased magnification not only magnifies the image, it also magnifies every error in your photographic technique. Long telephoto lenses require extreme care if you want to produce sharp images.
1. Before pressing the shutter, it is important to realize that most lenses are not sharpest when shooting at their maximum aperture (wide open). Instead, most lenses are are sharpest when stopped down about two stops from wide open. While high end supertelephoto lenses are incredibly sharp and can often be used wide open with minimal loss of quality, the addition of a teleconverter makes it a good idea to stop the lens down a stop or two to increase the sharpness.
2. While it might seem obvious, long lenses require the use of a tripod or other camera support. Over the years I have run into photographers who claim that they can hand hold supertelephotos without any loss of image quality. Good for them. I can’t and my guess is that most of them can’t either. These heavy lenses need a study tripod that will bear the weight and provide the stable base from which to shoot. Also make sure to have the tripod head locked down when you shoot or the extra stability is worthless.
3. Utilizing faster shutter speeds also improves image quality by providing less time in which movement can occur. If the light permits, go with the fastest shutters peed possible, however, it is possible to successfully shoot at slow shutter speeds as long as your subject remains still and the camera is locked down on a good tripod.
4. One of the keys for successfully working with long lenses is dampening the vibrations. Your hand position can have a big impact on how vibrations move through the camera. When shooting, your right hand holds the camera and presses the shutter button. Your left hand should be resting on top of the lens directly above where it mounts on the tripod. Lightly press down on the lens, helping to push the entire assembly towards the ground. While it seems counterintuitive, placing your hand on top of the lens will help to reduce the vibrations as they travel down the lens barrel. In addition to your hands, press your face against the back of the camera. I usually have the side of my face and my eyebrow pushing forward against the camera. Much like the hand, pressing the face against the camera has a dampening effect on the vibrations and helps to produce sharper images.
5. Finally, a note about using VR (vibration reduction) or IS (image stabilizing) lenses. The technology is amazing and does a great job of reducing camera shake. That being said, it is important to make sure the VR/IS controls are activated before you start shooting. Once the shutter button is pressed half way, the VR/IS system becomes active, but there is often a delay before it starts up. When waiting to photograph a subject, I often keep the shutter button partly pressed so the VR/IS is active and ready to go when I need it.
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