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How to get nice photos with just 300mm... (1 Viewer)

Hello

I am coming back to SLR photography in general, and bird photography in particular, after a 20-year break. I just bought a second-hand 5dii and 300mm f4. I have a good tripod but can't afford a 1.4x teleconverter (or indeed the 20mm f2.8 I hanker after) this month. I know a crop-frame body would give better reach, but I wanted full-frame for other reasons. I like the close focus of the 300mm. Of course I know a 500mm f5.6 (for example) would be nice, but I can't afford that now.

That said, I'm sure it's possible to get great images with just 300mm. For example, using hides and similar; going for approachable birds like robins and gulls, and/or large birds; using tripod and remote control; looking for images that don't need a single bird to fill the frame...

Any tips? Any nice images that you or others have taken with just 300mm or less? Without TC!

Thanks!
 

tdodd

Just call me Tim
I'm not an avid bird photography and it's been a few years since I photographed any, but I've had a quick squiz through Lightroom and found 115 images shot at focal lengths between 50-300mm out of around 500 bird images in total. Some were captive or part of a display, but plenty of wild ones in there. Many were with my 100-400, which some say is only 380mm at best at the long end, and probably not as sharp and certainly not as fast (aperture) as a nice 300L prime so you would have cropability on your side if need be. I think there is certainly hope for you. Hopefully 300mm isn't too long. :)

Oh, and I certainly wouldn't be worried about pairing it with a full frame body. I'd choose my 5D3 over my 7D any day of the week, whether I was expecting to be focal length limited or not. I can crop in software just as easily as a hardware crop and retain greater flexibility for framing in post or simply record a larger, higher quality image when not focal length limited.
 
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johnf3f

johnf3f
Well you have one of my favorite lenses and a decent camera so go for it!
I wouldn't get hung up on the loss of "Reach", crop cameras do have an advantage here but it's not much and certainly nothing like what the 1.6 crop factor would suggest. The vast majority of my photography is Birds/Wildlife and I am often focal length limited and have no desire for a crop sensor camera - full frame just has too many advantages.
Whilst the 300 F4 is a bit short for birds it will reward you with simply excellent images - if you can get close! Try for larger species (Herons etc) where the 300mm will allow good framing. That lens is also one of the best going for reptiles and larger insects so give them a try as well, you might be pleasantly surprised!
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
Every picture tells a story or so they say. I have long thought we avian photographers are too hung up on filling the frame with the subject, and I'm as guilty as the next person, but some of the most dramatic images are the ones that include a much wider scene for which a shorter lens is needed. Make those photos your niche, there is a demand for something different to look at as well as fine detailed close ups.
That said there are many places where you can fill the frame with a 300mm lens too. You just need to do some research, pick your subject and figure out how to get a bit closer. Enjoy!
All that said, I would have considered a zoom lens if I could only have one.
 
Thank you! Good to see I'm not the only one who opted for full frame. And yes, I like photographing plants and insects too. So I'll work on it. My first afternoon out photographing tame coots was littered with beginner's mistakes like focus on body not eyes, but I hope to progress rapidly to intermediate-level mistakes :) Thanks!
 
Hello again

I did some photos, I've attached two that came out okay.

My question is whether I should be happy with my lens, i.e. is this acceptable sharpness from a Canon 300mm f4 IS? [It's a secondhand lens, I want to be sure it's up to scratch.] It's on a 5dii body.

The herring gull photo should in theory be sharp... good light hitting the bird's face, low ISO (200), fast shutter speed (1/1250), not widest aperture (f6.3), IS on I think, and focus okay I think. Is it sharp enough?

The teasel is obviously an "easy" photo, perfect focus easy, so I guess good for assessing sharpness.

In both cases I've attached a JPEG with post-processing including crop (to about 70% of original size in the case of the gull) and sharpening; also with resizing to make the file small enough to post here. I would attach the unprocessed RAW, but I don't see any way of doing that here.

Thanks!
 

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Geoff Pain

Rural Member
Two taken with the 300 f4 on a Canon 70d, not been cropped.
 

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Jonno52

John (a bad birdwatcher)
Supporter
United Kingdom
is this acceptable sharpness from a Canon 300mm f4 IS?

Absolutely, I'd say. I'd be very happy with results like that.

Incidentally, it's not as easy as some might think to judge the merits of a particular lens. This makes interesting reading, though it goes on a bit:

http://www.canonrumors.com/tech-articles/this-lens-is-soft-and-other-myths/

I found reading that very helpful after getting my Canon 100-400mm IS (Mark 1). I had initially convinced myself it was soft and would have to go back to Canon. But working on technique, getting to grips with post-processing, and being realistic about what to expect changed my mind. (You can't blow up a very small image of a distant bird and expect a brilliant result). Now I'm perfectly happy with the lens.

I hope you enjoy your lens, and am sure you'll get plenty more good pics.
 

Frank Anderson

Well-known member
The 300mm f4 is often my lens of choice for photographing woodland deer due to the small size and f4 aperture, though I realise it's birds you are mostly interested. The latter, I've had some success but usually at winter when birds can be more approachable.

Most photographers who photograph birds will say you never have enough reach so have to be more inventive and make the most of what you have. Some of the best wildlife photos I have seen shows the animal in its environment so not filling the frame. As it's already been said, it makes a good lens for photographing insects too.
 

johnf3f

johnf3f
Just a thought for the OP. I found that this lens (and all the other IS/VR/OS lenses I have ever tried) perform better with the IS turned off. AF is a bit quicker to lock on and tracking is better/more accurate. The 300 F4 L IS has a very early IS system so it does get in the way a bit especially for especially moving subjects.
If your shutter speeds are getting low then IS is just the job to get you sharp pictures that would otherwise be obtainable - but then that's exactly what it is designed to do! For the rest of the time turn it off - try it for yourself and see what you think, I haven't used IS for 20 months and I am not missing it.
 

tdodd

Just call me Tim
Just a thought for the OP. I found that this lens (and all the other IS/VR/OS lenses I have ever tried) perform better with the IS turned off. AF is a bit quicker to lock on and tracking is better/more accurate. The 300 F4 L IS has a very early IS system so it does get in the way a bit especially for especially moving subjects.
If your shutter speeds are getting low then IS is just the job to get you sharp pictures that would otherwise be obtainable - but then that's exactly what it is designed to do! For the rest of the time turn it off - try it for yourself and see what you think, I haven't used IS for 20 months and I am not missing it.

Agreed. People manage BIF quite well with the 400/5.6L without IS. Its intended purpose is to allow slower shutter speeds. It is not required or recommended for faster ones. Even worse if you are trying to track a randomly moving subject - the IS will fight your attempts to pan around with the subject.
 
Many thanks for good advice. 1) I will try turning IS off except when necessary for slow shutter speeds, very sensible advice; actually I can't remember if it was on or off for the gull, it's a pity that it's not picked up into the EXIF; though in fact I suspect any detail-sharpness issues in this particular shot are more about small-size-in-frame and strong-but-uninteresting-lighting than about focus??? 2) From your responses and looking at these and other images, I guess my lens and body are fine, I shouldn't be worrying about them; when I find time I may try focus microadjustment, but I suspect that's not really an issue. 3) So I think this photo is okay technically, and a more or less pleasing image... the difference between this shot and a great shot is probably more about aesthetic/biological interest of the subject than about technical quality per se, right? Frank, your portfolio is fabulous, thanks! I note not only high technical quality and beautiful image construction, but also frequent use of rich contrasty low-sun light, and simply very interesting things happening in your photos, e.g. the remarkable tern photo. Wow! Thanks again to all, will keep at it.
 
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