Why smaller sensors beat full-frame sensors for wildlife photography

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by freixas, Jun 11, 2019 at 10:05 AM.

  1. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I remember back when the Canon 5D was new it was very much a studio camera and had very pedestrian (by modern standards of its day) AF, whilst the 50D and latter 7D had very powerful AF systems. So wildlife shooters went for the crop sensor as they had better fps rates and far superior AF; even though the 5D had better ISO performance. It wasn't until either the 5D2 or 3 (I forget which now) added a basically identical AF system to the 7D that the 5D fullframe line became within the mid-range bracket for most customers; though even now the superior 5D 4 is very expensive compared to a 7DMII (I think although its been a while since I checked prices).

    Wildlife shooters are oft ones to save on the camera and go more on the lens because whilst you CAN get close with a fisheye and whilst you can be creative with a wide angle for scenic shots; many people are not Steve Irwin and they are not after landscape type wildlife shots all the time, so longer lenses help a lot!


     
  2. RVT1K

    RVT1K No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    While equipment shouldn't be overlooked, I think skills are a huge factor.

    I've been photographing (as an amateur) for a long time and nature is one of my favorite subjects. I've accumulated better and better equipment over the years but I think the biggest improvements came from me learning what to do and actually doing it. One of the things that I've learned is that there isn't an autofocus system on Earth better than my eyes and just because I can see it doesn't mean my camera will focus and grab it.

    I was also thinking about the comparison as I have a D7000 and my (newly acquired YAHOO!) D4. Same manufacturer, one full frame sensor and one a crop sensor. I could put each on a tripod with the same lens mounted, I figured my 70-200 f/2.8 since its probably my best. Set everything the same for both...same ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed.

    But then I though about the fact that all of you have a different monitor that may or may not be calibrated and a whole host of other things that happen between me taking the photos, posting them, and others looking at them. I also thought about the focus issue, a tiny bit off for either camera and the results are meaningless. And let's not overlook that both cameras have different electronics on top of different sensors.
     
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  3. freixas

    freixas TPF Noob!

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    I could have sworn I mentioned $$$ at some point. I actually considered the 5D Mark IV (~$2,000) FF vs the 80D APS-C. I chose the latter because of its smaller pixel pitch and the fact that I could still use my EF-S lenses. And it was cheaper.

    For the 5D Mark IV to get the same number of pixels for a bird, it would need a 1.3X larger lens. Of course, if I bought the 1.3X larger lens and stuck it on the 80D, I'd be even further ahead. The $$$ equation just comes out worse for the 5D Mark IV.

    Those who haven't read the full thread might wonder why I said 1.3x and not 1.6x. When you want an equal number of pixels for a given object (photographed with the same lens at the same focal length), all you have to do is compare the ratio of the pixel pitch. 1.6x is what you need if you want to match the FOV of the entire sensor.

    There's also restrictions that arise as weight increases. If you are rich and can get the 5D Mark IV with its 1.3x larger lens, the images should be better (at least in low light), but that lens is going to be heavier than the 80D and its 1x lens. When you're trying to capture a twitchy bird that might hang around for just a few seconds, you need to be fast and maneuverable.
     
  4. freixas

    freixas TPF Noob!

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    You may photograph nature, but that's not at all the same as wildlife photography. Bird photography (a subset of wildlife) is a specialty and it sounds like you know nothing about it.

    I do landscape photos as well (just sold 2 this week). I take my time composing those. I learned long ago that you rarely have a chance to think about composition when photographing birds. You plunk the bird right in the center of the view using a single auto-focus point and hope for the best. Composition comes in post--and usually after cropping.

    Here's a photo I took that I had all of about 2 seconds to capture (meaning the bird was there for that long). Good luck trying to do this manually. It's a Scrub Jay, by the way.

    Clipboard01.png
     
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  5. RVT1K

    RVT1K No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Yeah, I got nothing. Except I've posted every one here before. _DSM0333ps1 16X9 - Copy.jpg


    _DSC8448PS1 16x9 - Copy.jpg

    _DSM0529PS1 16x9 - Copy.jpg
     
  6. JBPhotog

    JBPhotog No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Rather than waxing poetic about mine is better than yours, has anyone done an audit of the top dozen wildlife shooters gear?

    The results will shed some light on this and maybe a fork is part of he conclusion.
     
  7. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    That's a good idea about checking the gear used by the dozen top wildlife photographers.

    As of now meaning June, 2019 I'm not really sure what the top wildlife shooters are using
     
  8. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    @Derrel from 2018 - Marsel van Oosten See this year's best wildlife photos I found this quote from interview in 121 Clicks interesting in particular the last paragraph:

    Your gear and what role does they play in a wildlife photographer’s career?
    I shoot with Nikon cameras and lenses. I currently shoot with D3s, D4 and D800 cameras, and my lenses include a 14-24/2.8, 17-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8, 105 macro, 200-400/4, and a 600/4.

    My gear is important, because they are my tools. Any artist needs good tools to get the best results. However, the importance of expensive, professional gear is highly overrated. A good photographer can take great shots with even the simplest camera. Good pictures are shot with your head.
    -----------------------------------------------------

    Footnote: As a KIMII user, I would take exception with the slow focus comment earlier, as I've never found that to be an issue with FA, or DA ltd. glass only with certain third party lenses.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019 at 11:57 AM
  9. freixas

    freixas TPF Noob!

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    All these are feeder shots where the focus can be planned ahead of time and you can wait around for birds to show up. There are other shots where patience helps and focus can be pre-planned. If you want to stick with those, more power to you. The shot I posted was not one of those—the Jay flew from the ground to a tree branch, stayed there for a few seconds and left.

    This would be interesting. Check out BogdanBoev on DeviantArt. The camera metadata is shown. Poking around a few of the shots, I see the Canon DX 1 paired with a 400mm lens. I'm not sure how accurate the metadata is—these are amazing shots for a 400mm and the DX1 has large pixels. Sadly, many of the shots don't include metadata.

    In his profile photo, if that's a 400mm, I'll eat my hat. Some of his photos list a 600mm lens and I'm not sure if the metadata would list whether he used a 2x extender. That would be more in line with his images.

    I ran into a number of other profile shots where the photographer was posed next to a massive lens. Common focal lengths were 400mm and 600mm, although usually these were fast lenses. Most listed extenders.

    Poking around, I see an interesting piece of equipment: a blind.

    Despite what some people here may assume, I don't think any one factor makes for great wildlife photos. I have a friend who is willing to spend hours (sometimes an entire day!) tracking down one bird. It makes a big difference (he shots on a Nikon crop camera, not sure which, with an inexpensive 600mm lens—and autofocus).

    Post what you find.
     
  10. freixas

    freixas TPF Noob!

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    Interesting since he both says the gear is important and that it isn't. My wife tried to take bird photos with a point-and-shoot camera without a viewfinder (just the LCD panel on the back). She was not happy. Yeah, you might get a lucky shot here or there, but the equipment will work against you.
     
  11. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    On the one hand any skilled wildlife photographer with the money will most likely have top end gear. The only times I tend to see them without are:
    1) When disability/old age etc.... results in them wanting a lighter setup (since most top end wildlife gear is bigger and heavier)
    2) When travel or situational constraints mean that they cannot take the "best gear" with them.

    Otherwise they are all out there with 300mm f2.8; 600mm, 500mm 400mm e tc.... lenses.


    Now why many say that and then say "but it doesn't matter" is mostly because the majority of their reading audience are beginners who are not going to buy those top end lenses. So they've got to justify that sure you can't afford the 400mm f2.8, but a 70-300mm can do well you just have to work within its limitations and understand that often as not the weaker link is you not the gear.


    Better gear won't replace good skills, but similarly bad gear has limitations that will limit what is possible even with a skilled operator.
     
  12. RVT1K

    RVT1K No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    He didn't say his gear wasn't important, he clearly states it is.

    He qualifies his statement by saying the need for top-line equipment is overrated.

    But I also suspect he was speaking of the artistic side of things when he said "Good pictures are shot with your head". Just because something is in focus doesn't automatically make it a good photo.
     
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