My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

I have made peace with my Nikon

I have made peace with my Nikon. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I killed another Canon Powershot this summer while kayaking, and was forced to begin using my Nikon D50 until I could afford to replace the Canon.

When I first began using it again, I could not get it to take a good picture, let alone a great picture. The auto-focus seldom focused on the subject I wanted to shoot, many of the pictures came out blurry, and the color rendition for scenery shots was not as good as I would have expected from a Nikon camera. It wasn’t all the camera’s fault.

Once I found out that my ex-girlfriend had the diopter set all the way one direction to make up for her bad eyesight, it helped some as far as getting sharper photos. (Her eyesight must have been really bad, which explains why she would get involved with me 🙂 )

But still, the auto-focus seldom focused on the subject I intended to photograph. It’s funny, but over time, that seems to have fixed itself. A few days ago I was taking a photo of a flower under difficult circumstances as far as getting the auto-focus to focus on the one flower I wanted to capture, and I flipped to manual focus to get the shot. It dawned on me that it was the first time in quite a while that I had needed to switch to manual focus. When I had first started carrying the Nikon on a regular basis, I think that close to 75% of the time, I was switching to manual focus, I had to in order to get anything in focus. I have no explanation for why the auto-focus now works the majority of the time, other than the more I use the camera, the more often the auto-focus has focused correctly.

It isn’t perfect yet, there will be times when I press the shutter release to let the camera do its thing, and the auto-focus will lock on and beep to tell me it is OK to shoot, when the frame is still out of focus, but before I can reach for the manual focus switch, the auto-focus servo will kick in again, bring the frame into focus, and beep a second time. This happens in just a split second, and as long as it is working as it is, I’m a happy camper.

As far as blurry photos, some of that was due to the way I was holding the camera. In my last deer hunting post I referred to myself as the human tripod. One thing I have been known for, whether shooting with a camera, or shooting with a rifle, was my ability to hold steady. Even in a family of excellent marksmen, I was a slightly better shot than all the rest of the family, except for my dad. When it came to photography, I seldom used a tripod when using my old Pentax, even when shooting with a 300 mm lens in low light, and very few of the pictures I took turned out fuzzy. When using my Canon, even zoomed in to 48X, most of my photos come out sharp, but it has image stabilization to help me out, so I can’t take all the credit on that one.

That’s what drove me crazy about the Nikon, so many of my photos came out blurry, as if I wasn’t holding the camera steady. I wasn’t. I wasn’t until I realized that it has a “recoil” when the shutter goes. I don’t know if that’s from the mirror locking up, or from the shutter itself, but, the camera definitely tries to twitch as the it captures an image.

After going for my daily walk today, and shooting more pictures, I am sure the movement comes from the mirror locking up out of the way before the shutter opens and closes. No matter what causes the motion though, I have found that I need to keep a firmer grip on the Nikon, and that doing so has about put an end to the blurred photos. Sometimes it is the simplest of things, like holding the camera correctly.

Remember when you read this, I hand hold my camera 99% of the time, even when shooting with a 300 mm lens with shutter speeds slower than 1/100 of a second. Most experts would say that I am lucky to get any usable photos that way, that a tripod is a must under such conditions. I am sure that using a tripod would make the quality of the photos I take better, but I don’t find many critters willing to sit and pose while I set up a tripod. I like doing things the hard way. That’s going to be the subject of an upcoming post, by the way, why I like doing things the hard way when it comes to wildlife photography.

As far as color rendition, I am getting a handle on that as well. I have come to terms with the fact that the Nikon hates large expanses of green foliage in a photo. The worst photo I can take with it is to walk to the top of a hill, set the lens to 70mm and shoot a photo of a forest lit by direct sunlight. Not a great thing for a nature photographer. The greens are washed out and shifted towards yellow.

It loves the color blue, I shot a few photos of a blue jay on my deck, and they stunned me in how well the Nikon captures blue! But, it hates green, at least in large quantities in bright light. It’s funny, I can zoom in on a single leaf in the shade, and it handles that green very well. If I zoom in on a bird surrounded by green leaves, it handles that very well.

I have found two ways to work around this. The first involves camera settings. If I set the camera to aperture priority, stop the lens down to F11 or smaller, and set the exposure compensation down 1/3 stop for early morning/late afternoon lighting, 2/3rds to a full stop lower for direct midday sun, then I get green foliage, not washed out, faded, yellow foliage.

I don’t like doing that, because I know what’s going to happen. I am going to forget to return the camera settings to no exposure compensation and to the program mode. Then I am going to see a record class whitetail buck, or a wood duck at close range, and miss the photo because the camera was set incorrectly for that shot. Sort of like the old days of film when I would load the Pentax with Kodachrome 25 for scenery shots, and see a critter in a spot so shaded that the shutter speed the Kodachrome film required was way too slow to make the shot worth trying.

My other work around for the washed out greens is to use the nature auto-correct feature of the software that came with the Nikon. One click of the mouse and the washed out, faded, yellowish greens turn green, just as I saw them when I pressed the shutter release. I am loath to do that because I am opposed to digital image manipulation of nature photos. But that begs another question, is it digital image manipulation if all you do is use it to overcome the short comings of your camera, as long as that’s all you do, and you don’t try to alter the reality of what you saw when you pressed the shutter release? I am still struggling with that one. Technically, I have altered some images, but never the reality of what I saw.

I have to admit that I did use that feature on the photos I posted when I hiked Muskegon State Park on the 4th of July. All I had to show for my hike as far as photos were crappy, as I hadn’t been able to afford to replace my Canon at that time. That’s actually my third option for scenery pictures, pull the Canon out of my pocket and use it rather than the Nikon. But, that doesn’t make the photos I take with the Nikon any better, and the Nikon does have some advantages over the Canon, such as being able to shoot more quickly.

Being hard headed, I am going to make the Nikon work as it should. Maybe I should play with some of the other settings, such as white balance. Right now I have it set to auto, the camera chooses the correct white balance for the shot. Maybe I should try setting it to full daylight, and see if that helps with foliage shots. Just a thought.

Here’s an update since I first wrote this, I have tried setting the white balance for the lighting that I am shooting in, rather than have it set to the auto mode. When I am shooting in the shade with the white balance set to shade, it makes an improvement in the quality of the photos I get. However, when I set it for direct sunlight, and shoot in direct sunlight, the colors rendition seems better, but it is hard to tell, as when I shoot with those settings, everything comes out slightly over exposed.

AAAAARrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So tomorrow, I’ll try setting the white balance to direct sunlight, and adjust the exposure compensation down and try again.

An update to the update, I didn’t wait until the next day to try with the Nikon again. I stepped out onto the deck of my apartment and shot a series of photos with the white balance set for direct sunlight, and adjusting the exposure compensation down 1/3 rd of a stop between photos. It was around 1:30 P. M. on a day without a cloud in the sky. It was the kind of day I would consider ideal for landscape photography.

I shot these in the aperture mode with the lens stopped down to F/13 and the shutter speed varied between 1/125 at no exposure compensation down to 1/250 at a full stop lower. Just as I assumed would be the case, at no exposure compensation the photo is overexposed and the color saturation and rendition is weak.

No exposure compensation

Stopping down 1/3 of a stop produced the best exposure, but the color saturation and rendition were still not the best.

-1/3 stop exposure compensation

Stopping down 2/3 of a stop was too much.

-2/3 stop exposure compensation

As was a full stop.

- one full stop exposure compensation

I could have saved myself the trouble and just shot one shot with my Canon Powershot set to everything auto in the program mode.

Taken with a Canon Powershot

The Canon came closet to capturing what I saw when I stepped out on the deck, as is typical when I am shooting in full sunlight. The exposure, color saturation and rendition are excellent!

Oh, and it did happen, of course, it wasn’t a record class whitetail buck or a wood duck, it was a red tailed hawk. I was shooting some foliage shots earlier in the day with the Nikon set as I described earlier for those shots, when a red tailed hawk flew low over my head. I didn’t have time to change the settings, but I did manage to get one good shot of the hawk despite the camera not being set correctly. The other four or five shots came out poorly as the shutter speed was too low to freeze movement.

Red tailed hawk in flight

That’s a shot that is almost impossible for me to get with my Canon though. No matter how much I practice, I can’t follow moving targets in the Canon’s LCD screen, and the shutter lag makes it even worse.

In low light, the Nikon is vastly superior to the Canon as well, which is why most of my deer photos have been taken with the Nikon. In the early morning, late evening, or in deep shade, the Canon can’t come close to the performance of the Nikon.

I am thinking that when I get rich again, I will buy a few more lenses for the Nikon. I need a wide-angle lens, a macro lens, and a longer telephoto lens than I have now.

I suppose I could make up with my ex so I could use the lenses I bought for her. No, that wouldn’t work.

A few months ago, I was seriously considering trading the Nikon in for a new Canon, I’m glad I didn’t. When I get it right, the Nikon does take better photos. As it is now, I get it right more often than not, at least I think so. The Nikon will do things the Canon won’t, such as the birds in flight, or very low light photos, so I will continue to carry both, and use each of them for the photos they do best. It isn’t that big of a deal to carry both, as the Canon fits in a pocket, and is as light or lighter than another lens for the Nikon would be. Keeping the Canon in a pocket is no big deal, it doesn’t work well for action shots, or when I have to shoot quickly anyway, that’s where the Nikon really shines.

I may also find that at least some of the trouble I have had with the Nikon is due to the 70-300 mm lens that I have for it. From reading reviews and talking to other people, the consensus is that the lens I have isn’t one of the best that Nikon has ever produced.

I have even learned to like playing with the camera settings again. The Canon spoiled me, I never change any settings on it, I just point and shoot, and I know what I am going to wind up with. To make up for its poor low light performance, I have used fill-in flash more often, and it works well as long as a subject is close enough. After thirty years of using the totally manual Pentax I have, not having to make any adjustments was kind of nice, for a while.

Since I have been working with the Nikon, I have come to appreciate how much control I can have when I want it. I use the shutter and aperture modes as “presets” for certain types of shooting conditions. On an interesting side note, I didn’t realize until I started this post that I was “forcing” the Canon to come up with the exposure settings I wanted to use in the way I chose the lighting angles and I composed the photos I took with it.

All in all, using both cameras is making me a better photographer, at least I hope it is anyway. And if any one has any suggestions for me as far as getting the Nikon to faithfully reproduce the color green at the shorter focus lengths of the lens I have, I sure would appreciate those as well.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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