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Thread: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

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    Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    I am thinking of doing wildlife photographs--I am used to humans and landscapes (mountains) and have no real experience with the problems with wildlife, at least for things you cannot put under a microscope. I am thinking of starting with 300mm to 400mm focal lengths--I am using a 44mm x 33mm sensor. Do you build hides? Do you use remote cameras? How useful do you find AF--I am always in two minds, I like how it can focus quickly, but it is also a pain when it searches.

    Any and all comments and insights welcome. I understand wildlife is a little trickier than buying a wildlife app.

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    Senior Member Joe Colson's Avatar
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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Since 2002 I've photographed wildlife with Nikon DSLRs. Last October I moved to medium format digital, but at the same time gave up shooting wildlife. My decision was more due to my desire to save my back, rather than an inability to photograph wildlife using medium format. But given where I've been and where I'm going, I'll offer a few opinions.

    First, effectively photographing wildlife requires you to get close. Real close. My main lens was a 600mm and I often added a teleconverter, giving me an effective focal length of 840mm. You'll be lucky with medium format to get 200-300mm (35mm full-frame equivalent). Unless you're photographing zoo animals, that puts you at an immediate disadvantage.

    Second, getting close with a DSLR often required a blind or some other form of concealment. Especially with birds, I found blinds to be a way of filling the frame with an image that would have otherwise appeared as a speck on the sensor.

    Finally, I can't compare the AF of my 645DF to the AF on my Nikons. The 645DF just doesn't focus fast or accurately enough to duplicate what I was able to do with the Nikons. That's OK with me now, because as I said, I've given up photographing wildlife. But you need fast and reliable autofocus to photograph wildlife, particularly those species that move fast (like birds).

    Having said that, you can photograph some wildlife with medium format. Patience is required to let the animals become comfortable with your presence. And good long lens technique with stable support is absolutely required to use a 300mm lens on a medium format camera.

    That's my 2 cents. Your mileage may vary.
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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Joe, thanks for your input. I really appreciate it.

    Did you use your telephotos on a gimbal head?

    With a blind, would you set that up semi-permantly, say over the course of a week, so the animals would be accustom to that feature in the landscape and allow you to come and go? How important was the blind material--could I use a simple tent?

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    Senior Member Joe Colson's Avatar
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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Yes, with the big lenses I used a gimbal head. That makes it so much easier to track the animal. I just sold my gimbal heads, both made by Wimberley, on another For Sale site.

    I bought a hunter's blind from Dick's Sporting Goods on sale that I would leave in the backyard for photographing birds. If I were at a wildlife preserve, I could pack the blind in the car and take it with me when I left. I'm not trusting enough to leave a blind in a public area overnight. It's important that the blind material mimic the environment as much as possible. Take a look at some hunting catalogs to get an idea of the extent hunters will go to conceal themselves!
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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    In the pre-auto-focus 1970s I used a Novoflex 640mm follow-focus lens on a Nikon... (I think they made versions for MF.) the first thing I photographed with it was a dragonfly in flight, and I took it stalking deer in Scotland, Buffalo in Kenya, birds on Lake Rudolf (Turkana)...., and the two pistol grips and the shoulder grip allowed me to get sharp pictures at 1/125th, using Agfa CT18.

    I was fortunate that on Lake Rudolf (now lake Turkana) there was a disused boat I used as a hide.

    MF is a different ball game, and I think you would be lucky to get much without a shutter-beam. A bird table near a window might help, but the "easy" way is to photograph large brave animals like bears!

    With live video a remote-controlled power head might be useful and let you avoid using a hide... I have a 10m tripod which could be useful for nest photography.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    I have been photographing wildlife with a MFD for three years using a Hasselblad (first a 39megapixel now a 50megapixel) and a 300mm lens plus a 1.7 teleconverter and occasionally two 1.7 teleconverters giving me an effective focal length exceeding 800mm.
    The "true focus" feature with the 300mm lens (only without teleconverters) is immediate and with good light one can shoot without a tripod when using good techniques. Obviously with a teleconverter (300mm plus 1.7 converter=510mm) a tripod is needed.
    The camera is heavy but weighs less than my Nikon D3 and 600mm lens, but the results are so amazing with the resolution and the DR.
    The attached jpeg was **** with two 1.7 teleconverters attached to my 300mm lens.
    Stanley

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Shashin:

    I know you have the 645D so I will strongly recommend the 400mm FA; very sharp and not heavy at all, no need for a gimbel. The 400mm does quite well with its AF. Here are a few shots of mergansers from this spring. In the first one, the lens did track the moving bird; any softness is motion blur, not missed focus. I'm sure a Nikon or Canon would be a better choice for these shots, but the 645D does ok.

    Tom

    takeoff by tsjanik47, on Flickr

    fish2 by tsjanik47, on Flickr

    flight by tsjanik47, on Flickr

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    This is what I mean by "filling the frame". I used a Nikon DSLR and a 600mm lens with a 1.4x TC to get this image. It would have been hard [impossible?] to get this shot with any MFD camera. And this was taken at a wildlife preserve in Florida earlier this year.

    I'm not saying that you can't photograph wildlife with MFD. What I'm saying is that it isn't the optimal tool for the task.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Joe is 100% correct, MF is not the proper tool for wildlife, although it is possible:

    H3DII39 + 300mm + 1.7x + Prayer


    Kind regards,
    Derek Jecxz
    http://www.jecxz.com
    http://www.facebook.com/derek.jecxz.photographer

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Love the fox Derek; I like the prayer comment too. Quebec?

    Tom

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Thanks Tom, yes, prayer was very important in this shot. When I switched to MF in 2005 I gave up wildlife photography and never looked back; but when a fox is right in front of me, well, I have to do the deed. It wasn't in Quebec, it was in New Jersey.

    Kind regards,
    Derek

    Quote Originally Posted by tsjanik View Post
    Love the fox Derek; I like the prayer comment too. Quebec?

    Tom

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Thank everyone again for your input and also images.

    Joe, a marvelous Painted Bunting. There is a 600mm lens for my camera (no AF, though), but I think I am going to have to learn to walk before I can fly. You did give me an idea. Perhaps I can coat the branches of my trees with contact cement?

    Tom, you have me pegged. Have you tried the 400mm with a Pentax teleconverter? I understand the 1.4x is better than the 2x, at least more then the difference in magnification would suggest.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    I think Joe is right on; you can do wildlife with MF, and I do if I have to - but it is not the optimal tool. If I have only my MF and 300 mm, I'll take the shot - but if I can, I'll grab my Sony and a real telephoto.

    Still, MF at the IQ180 level does mean you can crop extensively. That 300 mm becomes an effective 600 mm if you just take the center half of the frame; you still have loads of pixels!

    Bill

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Caulfeild-Browne View Post
    Still, MF at the IQ180 level does mean you can crop extensively. That 300 mm becomes an effective 600 mm if you just take the center half of the frame; you still have loads of pixels!

    Bill
    Excellent point, Bill.
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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Quote Originally Posted by Shashin View Post
    ........Tom, you have me pegged. Have you tried the 400mm with a Pentax teleconverter? I understand the 1.4x is better than the 2x, at least more then the difference in magnification would suggest.
    I have no experience with the 1.4x. I had a 2x years ago, but was never happy with the results. I suspect the 1.4x is better; however, it would render the 400mm f/5.6 an f/8 equivalent.

    Tom

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    typically the 1.4x TX are better. At least on the Canon and the Rollei systems that has been my experience. A friend did a test on the Rollei/Schneider gear, and found that stacking two 1.4 TX was better than a 2X. I find no degradation at all in the image with the 1.4 TX.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Caulfeild-Browne View Post
    Still, MF at the IQ180 level does mean you can crop extensively. That 300 mm becomes an effective 600 mm if you just take the center half of the frame; you still have loads of pixels!

    Bill
    If you crop to the equivalent of double the focal length you end up with about the same image size and pixel count as a ff 35mm DSLR... but you would still get better quality...

    When I changed from Nikon 35mm to Hasselblad in the 1970s I concluded that the best way to get a good 35mm slide was to take a pair of scissors to a Hasselblad transparency.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    I've considered switching to medium format for a number of years (haven't jumped down that slippery slope yet ) but here are a few of my thoughts.

    The orthodox technique of a high-end DSLR, often with a cropped sensor, a 600mm stabilized AF lens and a gimbal tripod head, has served many people well for a number of years but it's not the only way to play the game. Good field technique can be an important part of your equipment choice and with the goal of not breaking my back I decided to see how much I could downsize my lens and still get frame-filling photos. I try not to crop unless I have to, and I'd certainly not get into medium format thinking that I'd depend on cropping.

    Good field technique means getting close to the critters without causing extra stress or causing them to flee. Sometimes it means using a blind, sometimes it means learning how to communicate with them to tell them you mean no harm.

    The short answer: a 280mm lens on the DMR (1.37x crop factor) is about the shortest I can regularly use. I'll use the 1.4x extender too, and occasionally I can use shorter lenses.

    Here are a few examples. I'll show the actual focal length; for the same angle of view on the 33mm x 44mm sensor you'd use a lens 1.74x longer, i.e., where I used a 280mm lens a 500mm lens on the bigger camera would give you a similar angle of view.

    60mm:


    100mm:


    180mm:


    280mm:




    But there's more to the bigger camera than an equivalent angle of view. For the smaller birds you'll need more magnification for the same field of view, which means more extension and less DOF. The larger lens can also be more intimidating to the animals making it more difficult to get close enough.

    Nick Brandt's african wildlife photos (http://www.nickbrandt.com/) show that wildlife certainly can be photographed well with a medium-format camera, but it's not as flexible and versatile as the orthodox tools and you have to be sure your field technique is up to the task.

    PS: I don't use AF.
    Last edited by doug; 18th October 2011 at 07:38. Reason: spelling

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Doug, thanks for taking the time to post pictures and give scale/focal length references. I appreciate all the comments. I figured it was not going to be a matter of buying equipment, but I, being the photographer, would have to put in the work--although you would think the manufacturers could come out with a firmware update for that.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Since this thread includes discussion of longer lenses with the MF cameras, the following question seems (roughly) appropriate to put here.

    I thought I saw somewhere in the GetDPI forum that it is difficult (impossible??) to get crisp photos when using the higher resolution cameras (I have an IQ 180) on a body like the 645DF since the shutter movement will blur the image. I purchased the 300mm lens and have done some test shots at a variety of shutter speeds using a sturdy tripod and head, timer on 8 seconds, and mirror lock-up engaged and the aforementioned blur is there... not sure that even the fastest shutter speeds eliminated it. By comparison, there was no blur when using the lower effective resolution when the camera was set to at 20 mp instead of the regular 80 mp. Can anyone comment on this? Are there any tricks I can use to get sharp images at 80 mp with a 300mm lens?

    Thanks in advance.
    Will

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Just took a fresh look at my test photos and I think perhaps part of my problem was un unfair comparison of sensor + images (i.e. 20 mp) at 100% with "regular images (80 mp) also at 100%, which are quite different in magnification of the same scene from a given vantage point with my 300mm lens. When I compare them at approximately similar magnification, the difference in crispness is less pronounced. I am, in fact, seeing pretty good crispness at 80 mp with shutter speed in the 1/100th of a second range, although it starts to degrade below that. Note that I am doing some pixel peeking by viewing zoomed in at 50% or more.
    Will

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Will, there is this nasty zone that often falls somewhere between perhaps 1s to 1/125s. The tests you're doing have clearly shown that 1/100th is the higher speed limit of the zone. There will be a slower end where the vibration no longer affects the image.

    This depends entirely on the stability of your rig and that is so broad a subject, there's no magic bullet. The problem is not specific to MF or the DF so you can find lots (perhaps too much) information about camera vibration, tripod and head stability, L brackets, use/removal of centre posts, etc etc. on many different forums.

    I believe specifically the DF shutter vibration has also been discussed before here or on LL.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Quote Originally Posted by doug View Post
    Nick Brandt's african wildlife photos (http://www.nickbrandt.com/) show that wildlife certainly can be photographed well with a medium-format camera, but it's not as flexible and versatile as the orthodox tools and you have to be sure your field technique is up to the task.

    PS: I don't use AF.
    Doug, very nice images! Love the tonal structure of all those tans/browns/reds.

    +1 there, Brandt's animal portraits are some of the most amazing photography I've ever seen. Everyone should get his book, it's gorgeous!

    +1 AF, is a crutch that helps you forget other techniques.

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Quote Originally Posted by WWLEE View Post

    I thought I saw somewhere in the GetDPI forum that it is difficult (impossible??) to get crisp photos when using the higher resolution cameras (I have an IQ 180) on a body like the 645DF since the shutter movement will blur the image. I purchased the 300mm lens and have done some test shots at a variety of shutter speeds using a sturdy tripod and head, timer on 8 seconds, and mirror lock-up engaged and the aforementioned blur is there... not sure that even the fastest shutter speeds eliminated it. By comparison, there was no blur when using the lower effective resolution when the camera was set to at 20 mp instead of the regular 80 mp. Can anyone comment on this? Are there any tricks I can use to get sharp images at 80 mp with a 300mm lens?

    Thanks in advance.
    I found that I can get sharp images with the 300 APO by doing the following:

    1) remove the tripod mount and toss it ...
    2) mount the body on the tripod head with a secure mount (Arca/RRS etc)
    3) shoot mirror lock up via cable release
    4) wait 4+ seconds between mirror up and releasing the shutter

    This has worked for me even in the death zone for shutter vibration & resonance which seems to be 1/60th and longer.

    I tried all types of support solutions with the 300 with it's tripod mount including the RRS long lens support & bracing between the mount & lens but to no avail. The tripod mount on that lens is pretty mushy and impossible to hold the lens securely nor prevent vibration. One possible other solution would be to place a beanbag over the lens - that trick used to work well with my Nikon 200-400 VR which also exhibited a similar resonance or vibration from the shutter on my D3x. (long lens technique wasnt quite as effective as this damping). I didn't bother trying this with the 300 APO as I found the approach above worked with my IQ160. The extra resolution of the 80mp sensor might still show some movement though vs the 6u sensor.

    Hopefully the DF body mount is strong enough that the occasional use of the 300 in this manner won't distort it. It seems pretty robust, particularly given that it's all metal.
    Remember: adventure before dementia!

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    Re: Question for those doing wildlife with MFD

    Thanks to both of you. I'd previously read about, but then forgot, the range of shutter speeds between which vibration is an issue, so thanks for the reminder. Graham, I'll definitely try your suggestion on using the camera body mount instead of the lens mount. I'm so used to good results using lens mounts on my Canon system that it would never have occurred to me to attempt this!
    Will

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