focal distance

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by anyte, Aug 25, 2004.

  1. anyte

    anyte Member

    Messages:
    701
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    35mm
    How close do you have to be to something, say a hawk maybe, in order to get a decent photograph with a 300mm lens.

    I see hundreds of photos all over photography boards of closeups of raptors, and when I ask everyone insists that you can get the shots with a 200 or 300mm lens. Some people say you have to get close but they don't say how close, and there's no way to get closer to something that's up a tree or flying over head unless you can fly as well.

    The only thing my 300mm lens seems to be good for is getting better shots of dragonflies that I can't get close enough to with my shorter lens. Otherwise it seems to be completely useless for anything.

    I have taken photographs from my balcony of birds on neighbors balcony (I'm on the third floor, they're on the second). Those aren't so great either. I could probably crop them and have an OK shot but the neighbor's balcony is a mess and ruins the images no matter what you do.

    Nothing out here is tame - you can't just sit and wait for them to come up in your lap, it's never going to happen. The minute you move they're gone. The birds that nest over the air conditioner won't even fly up to it if I'm sitting on the balcony or standing at the door.

    The other advice is to learn your subject and learn when it's best to get those great shots. Well I know my subject, they sit in trees or out in the fields ... they fly around all over ... they are anywhere and everywhere but where my 300mm seems to reach.

    Everyone says birds are hard to photograph and yet at the same time they say it's so easy - "set up a bird feeder" "you can get good shots with a 200mm lens".

    Well I'm sick to death of asking questions about this on boards specific to nature photography - all they do is confuse me. I'm sitting here looking at some shots I took last Sunday and they're simply a waste of film and effort. The bird is too stinking small and I can't imagine how cropping and enlarging would help (though that too has been suggested).

    Am I just clueless? Am I missing something - like I need to take a ladder with me into the wilderness?

    I don't get it. I really don't. My thinking is a 600mm lens would double the focal length and double the size of the subject and that still wouldn't produce a shot worth getting excited about - not when comparing to the results I've gotten. It seriously looks like you have to be within 10 to 20 feet of your subject and I don't see how that's possible unless your shooting animals at the zoo.

    Any clarification on this matter would be appreciated.
     
  2. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

    Messages:
    3,042
    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    From what little experience I have with nature photography you have already identified the 2 main points.

    The longer the lens the better (even with a 500mm lens a small bird will only fill about 25% of the frame from 20 feet away.

    So that also brings us to being as close as possible. Many of the best shots are taken from hides and lots of patience over several days, also many people bait the scene within distance of the hide to get the birds there and keep them there long enough to shoot. Others will set up "false" perches for the bird to land on again within distance of the hide. 200-300mm is fine with wild birds that have become accustomed to human presence allowing you to get reasonably close with slow movement to get the shot.

    Many of the "better" pictures these days are I tremble to say produced by digi-scoping. Hope that in part answers your question. I'm sure there are many more experienced photographers here that may be able to add more information. Good luck it's a very frustrating but rewarding area of photography.
     
  3. mark

    mark Member

    Messages:
    5,261
    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2003
    300mm with a doubler, maybe. I also here a blind works wonders or a remote shutter release. Here are the lengths I have read about

    Set blind up and hang around in it for four days without leaving so your scent is not as prevelant, wait three more days for raptor to get used to your BO and then maybe if you are lucky you will oly have to wait a couple of more days to get those really powerful shots.

    Put camera in tree or on rock near nest or perch. Wait for rapter to get used to it. set up a remote movement sensor shutter release and pray.

    Get lucky as hell and then lie about it on an internet forum.

    You choose which one those folks on the other board are doing. This is a rough thing to do. I looked into it and realized it took much more patience than I have. I don't have to stalk and wait out a flower of a mountain. Those damn rocks keep getting away from me though.
     
  4. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

    Messages:
    4,532
    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2002
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    PM David Goldfarb and ask him, he is an experienced bird photgrapher and I am sure will give you good tips.
     
  5. Nige

    Nige Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,089
    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2002
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    do a search for a program (freeware I believe) called fCalc. You can work out all the measurements using this little ripper of a program.
     
  6. John McCallum

    John McCallum Member

    Messages:
    2,410
    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2004
    Location:
    New Zealand
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    anyte I use an 80-200mm zoom with a 2x converter. This seems to be ample for most, though sometimes wish I had more. 600-800 is a commonly talked about focal length for wildlife and birds in particular. Much beyond that and a fast enough shutter speed starts becoming elusive.
    If you got a 2x converter on the 300mm, I recon that would be pretty good. The attached images were taken handheld on 50 ASA film at effectively 400mm.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 25, 2004
  7. rogueish

    rogueish Member

    Messages:
    877
    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2004
    Location:
    3rd Rock
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I know it's almost like cheating, but have you considered checking out the local zoo? At the very lest, it would be practice, and the handlers are usually quite knowledgeable about thier "wild" habits and habitates.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 25, 2004
  8. gma

    gma Member

    Messages:
    793
    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2004
    Location:
    Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A 2X tele extender will fill the frame and at the same time reduce the effective f stop and resolution. Combined with a 300mm lens, it is your solution for wildlife unless you want to spend a lot for a 500 to 1000mm lens that you might not use all that frequently. When I was in the USAF in Alaska I had a cheap 400 mm (f/6.3 I think). I made moose "portraits" at lunch time at distances of 20-30 feet. The cows are about as smart as a domestic cow and pay little attention to people. Canadian geese were photographed at distances of 50 yards or so with good success. Of course they are enormous birds. I think for any serious wildlife work you will need an effective focal length of 500mm or longer. Mirror optics are available as well at bargain prices.
     
  9. mark

    mark Member

    Messages:
    5,261
    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2003
    John,
    Those are really nice shots.
     
  10. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    17,922
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Frame filling raptor shots made with a 200mm lens are often of captive birds or involve doing something ethically questionable like baiting them (a recent photo.net "Photo of the Week" is a good example). If you have a feeder or have access to one, then 200mm or 300mm is a possibility, if you have a window or a blind (and a car can serve as a blind if the feeder is accessible to, say, a driveway) that's close enough, or if you set up a remote triggering system.

    That said, most bird photography starts at 400mm. I use a 400/4.5 mostly for handheld flight shots and a 600/4.5 on a tripod. If you're comfortable with manual focus, a lens like a 600/4.5 may be less costly than you think.

    [​IMG]

    How close do you have to be? Well, 15 feet is ideal for a bird at rest. This usually involves finding where the birds hang out--favorite perches, foraging spots, watering holes--situating yourself where the light is in your favor, and waiting for a long time and shooting a lot of film. On a full day of bird photography, I typically shoot around 6 rolls of 36 exp., and I'm pretty conservative. I've often been set up next to photographers who shoot at least twice as many frames as I do. I could afford to shoot more, but it's just not my style. I usually toss out about half of the shots I take in the first edit--a fairly normal ratio. I spent a few hours by this stream where I photographed the bluejay, and about half a dozen species came by, but this was the nicest shot of the day. I was using the 600 and a 25mm extension tube at about 15-20 feet.

    [​IMG]

    A blind helps. I haven't really gotten into using a portable blind--eventually I will--but if I'm in an area where blinds are set up, I'll take advantage of it. The goldfinch was at Jamaica Bay Natural Wildlife Reserve, which has a few blinds set up, some with feeders. Really hardcore types will build floating blinds for photographing water birds on lakes and ponds.

    Some photographers are great stalkers. Franz Lanting will dance with the albatrosses. Art Morris will slither on his stomach in the sand to get close to shorebirds without frightening them off. There's a guy named Douglas Herr who is active on some of the Leica forums who takes great shots with old Leica R equipment and a shoulder pod, mainly by using careful stalking techniques in the field, looking at the bird obliquely (i.e., not like a predator), prefocusing and raising the camera at the last moment to get the shot like Henri Cartier-Bresson.

    [​IMG]

    Flight shots are tough, but the bird is larger with wings extended. I'd say the ideal distance is around 50 feet. Closer than that, and the bird is usually moving too fast even for autofocus. The shot above is a composite of four sequential slides of the same osprey. You'll notice that most bird photographers don't show too many flight shots. I've been working on that, and I have a bunch that I need to scan and add to the website (go to http://www.echonyc.com/~goldfarb/photo/ and click on the mute swan for the bird gallery).
     
  11. anyte

    anyte Member

    Messages:
    701
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    35mm
    John - beautiful shots.

    I have found and downloaded fCalc - I'll have to give it a run through tomorrow.

    I've considered going to the zoo. Waiting for a free day and good weather - so I can take some shots outdoors.

    I'm not sure Minolta zoom lenses work with an extender - I've checked but haven't been able to confirm either way. I've considered more than a few times getting a 300 prime and an extender.

    There are a few blinds available throughout the refuge I shoot in - you have to register to use them and I haven't considered checking into it yet.

    Jorge - thank you.


    Thank you everyone - wonderful and helpful advice as always.
     
  12. anyte

    anyte Member

    Messages:
    701
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    35mm
    David,

    Thank you so much for all the input. I'm ok with manual focus - I use manual focus for all my shots. My flight shots are my best but then a 300mm zoom is light compared to a prime. And flight formations at least create an interesting image even if you can't necessarily see that you're looking at pelicans.

    I've bookmarked your site so I can give it a decent look through after I've had some sleep.

    Thank you again for all the input.
     
  13. 127

    127 Member

    Messages:
    581
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2004
    Location:
    uk
    Shooter:
    127 Format
    I've not done much wildlife stuff (aside from the peahen shot I did for the print exchange, but that thing was so tame it was all I could do to keep it out of my sandwiches).

    However I was thinking about it recently, and found M42 lenses in rediculous focal lengths cost next to nothing. A trip to a local 2nd hand dealer returned a decent 400mm prime lens for 25 pounds. Adding a teleconverter ups that to 800mm for an all in cost of <30 pounds (shop around and you'll get a camera thrown in for free if you don't already have an M42 compatable!).

    This stuff is so cheap, it's great fun at pocket money prices.

    Ian
     
  14. gr82bart

    gr82bart Member

    Messages:
    5,271
    Joined:
    Mar 1, 2003
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    David,

    Wow! I've never considered shooting birds, but your vivid description has made me want to give it a shot!

    Thanks, Art.
     
  15. gma

    gma Member

    Messages:
    793
    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2004
    Location:
    Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That is right, 127.

    I almost mentioned that even if you do not have a Pentax M42 mount camera, you can get a used one for hardly anything.
     
  16. anyte

    anyte Member

    Messages:
    701
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I'm still too wet behind the ears to know what a M42 is. Sounds like some kind of automatic weapon. *laughs*

    David - your bird photos are wonderful. I took a look at the landscapes as well - wonderful work.
     
  17. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    17,922
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Thanks, folks.

    Give it a go, Art! If everyone photographed birds with film, I think we could keep Kodachrome and Ilfochrome in production for a long time!

    I think most bird photographers start out as birders and pick up photography as a way of recording their sightings, but I went the other way, and started photographing birds a few years ago, because I was curious about what all those eccentric people in Manhattan were looking at with their binoculars. It's amazing how many people live here (I was one of them!) without realizing that they are in the middle of this incredible natural phenomenon--the Eastern Flyway--that's been going on for thousands of years in spite of all human development, and they might not even know it's happening.
     
  18. gma

    gma Member

    Messages:
    793
    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2004
    Location:
    Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    M 42 refers to the old Praktica and Pentax 42mm thread mount. There are dozens of cameras that use the M42 size lenses. Lenses are plentiful and dirt cheap. You can buy a Pentax Spotmatic camera for $40 on the internet. The camera was $250 thirty years ago. Fine cameras and many are in excellent operating condition, but don't count on the meter to be accurate.
     
  19. photomc

    photomc Member

    Messages:
    3,575
    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2003
    Location:
    Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Don't forget to look area the area you live for a nearby wildlife refuge. Many times they will have blinds set up for bird watchers, and you can use it too! Also, to get an idea of what the bird would look like on a print/slide consider using a pair of field glasses to see what magnification you might need. If you like the way something looks with 8x field glasses, then you will need something around a 400mm lens, 10x - 500mm. Oh, and don't forget that you will want the fastest lens you can afford - unless your eyes are better than mine..I can't seem to see much of anything anymore.

    Check out Elliot Porters bird photos, he did some of them using 4x5 with flash, triggers and blinds. Some of them are amazing.
     
  20. anyte

    anyte Member

    Messages:
    701
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I'm lucky enough to live on the border of a huge national refuge. The two units closest to me are 2,600 acres and 1,500 acres. There's 14,000 acres in all spanning 34 miles. Once I have a lens worthy of shooting birds with I'll look into registering to use one of the blinds. I've seen one that I would like to use but it's not listed, nor do I see a way to get to it since it seems to be part way out into the marsh.

    Thanks for the tip on Elliot Porter - amazing work.
     
  21. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    17,922
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Check with the park rangers. It might be that the water level is lower for part of the year for access to the blind, or you might just need high boots or a pair of waders.
     
  22. photomc

    photomc Member

    Messages:
    3,575
    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2003
    Location:
    Texas
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Yeah! I think the guy has been forgotten for his work. Glad to hear you have good access to the refuges. Another tip, and David would be a much better source for this type of information, is set up a few feeders - close to the house if possible, and use the house as a blind. You will be surprised with who comes to feeders. This will also give you a chance to see how the lens you have perform at each focal length and what you might need in the future. After all a 300mm f2.8 prime lens can become a 600mm f5.6 with a 2x on it, which is a nice combo..and much less than a prime 600mm.

    Also, don't forget that most slide films are much more saturated, IMO, than any print film. Everyone has there favorite film - just find yours.

    Good luck.
     
  23. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    17,922
    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2002
    Location:
    Honolulu, Ha
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I don't do feeders myself (living in an apartment building with no balcony), but there are some good books on the subject.

    Main issues with feeders are choosing a feeder design and feed that will attract the birds you want, making a commitment to keep them stocked over a period of years, keeping them out of reach of predators like cats, and keeping them clean, because feeders can be a source of disease due to problems with cleanliness, and because they bring certain birds into closer proximity with each other than they might be in nature.
     
  24. anyte

    anyte Member

    Messages:
    701
    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2004
    Location:
    Minnesota
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I live in an apartment and we're not allowed to have feeders near the building. There's a creek and lots of trees across the road that are frequented by a number of different birds though. I've seen great blue herons in the creek, and in the trees I've seen green herons and woodpeckers. I see goldfinch, housefinch, something that maybe an oriole, cardinals, red wing blackbirds, blue birds - and many more. I see raptors on occassion. And one neighbor has a humming bird feeder up so humming birds are a typical sight. If a long lens and converter combination will give me the focal distance needed I can get a lot of shots from my balcony.

    The blinds would be great to get shots of egrets, pelicans, pheasant and a number of other birds that don't stray outside the refuge. I will check into using the blinds.