Picture Quality

Hi, I am using my 55-300 lens to capture birds. Now, as I am trying to zoom in to the images they are not as sharp. Why is that? P.S I know a good shot has nothing to do with sharpness.


  • Some of this may be in the viewing. When an object is small in the frame, it looks sharper. The more you zoom in (or crop in), the more the unsharpness will be evident.

    To some degree this may be the lens. The 55-300, while optically quite decent, loses some sharpness at the long end. You might experiment with running it out to something around 250 mm rather than all the way, and cropping to provide an equivalent field of view to 300. There's some experimenting to do here, depending on how far away the bird is. If you're already cropping the 300 shots a lot, then you may lose more than you gain.

    You also need to make sure that you are using the right AF mode, and that the focus point is on your subject. As you zoom in, depth of field decreases considerably, and any AF error is magnified. For birds you should likely be using AFC, and single point AF. If the bird is flying, you can go to dynamic area, but keep the area at its smallest if you can. The better you get at panning a moving bird the better you'll do. For a bird in a tree, you must make sure you're focusing on the bird, not the surrounding tree. When your quarry is far away, this can be a problem, because the focus point may overlap the bird and settle on the wrong thing. That problem increases with distance, but can be helped a little by making multiple tries. Unfortunately you cannot manually adjust focus on this lens when AF is on, and MF is difficult with the small viewfinder, so multiple tries work best.

    I had this problem often last year when trying to shoot monkeys and sloths in the trees on the Amazon (oh poor me, right?). The lens would occasionally guess wrong and hit foliage behind the animal. Multiple tries helped.

    Finally, try to keep your ISO low and your shutter speed high. That's a tall order, but one of the problems with high ISO noise is that it eats away at edge detail, and though that's fine for many things, it's a killer when you crop in on wildlife shots. And also, although the VR on this lens is good, remember that as you go to a longer focal length, you need a faster shutter speed to do away with camera shake. Without VR your minimum shutter speed at 300 mm. would be about 1/500. With VR you can go much lower, but that will only correct camera blur, and not stop motion. You'll still need a shutter speed close to that if the bird is moving. If you're panning a bird in flight, you can sometimes get away with much slower speeds, but the wings will usually be blurred by motion.

    If the choice is between shutter speed and ISO, choose the higher ISO. If conditions vary, one thing you can do is set Auto ISO, but before you do that, experiment to see what maximum ISO you can tolerate, and set that as your upper limit.

    Finally, note that the 55-300 is notoriously slow to focus, so be patient. If you're tracking wildlife that is not standing still, shooting in short bursts can help, as the camera may make its first shot before the lens has quite finished focusing.

    Although it's true that super-duper sharpness is not always the quality of a good shot (e.g. Henri Cartier-Bresson's famous street shots were often a little soft), it is a pretty important quality of wildlife images unless the wildlife is doing something unusual. You can blur the wings of a fishing eagle or a pouncing cheetah, or the beak of a songbird singing, but you pretty much have to nail some part of it - usually its eyes.
  • I'll try and not use full zoom next time as I think that is the sole reason for them being low on sharpness. I also want to upload the picture but can't find a way to do so, please guide.
  • Also, Is 55-300 a bad lens?
  • I don't think the 55-300 is a bad lens, but it is a fairly low-end consumer lens, and as such it is not as robustly made as some. Optically I find mine to be pretty decent, but not spectacular. Its main fault is, I think, that the focus is slow. My wife recently upgraded from hers to a 70-300 VR (recently discontinued, I think, full frame lens of similar optical performance) and it focuses literally twice as fast, as well as more accurately with less tendency to hunt. It's maybe a tiny bit sharper as well, but the difference is not huge. I still use the 55-300, and it's decent as well as easy to travel with, but it can be frustrating to focus on fast moving birds.

    As for downloading pictures, there's no direct way here, but you might try one of the free sites like Dropbox or Jumpshare, which will allow you to download a file to which you can then link.

    You might consider trying a few test shots on something like foliage that has some depth, to see if the AF is hitting correctly. If there's an AF error, it will show as better focus either behind or in front of your chosen spot. Unfortunately you can't do much about this on the D5200. On higher end cameras one can fine tune the AF, but not on this one. If you can shoot on a tripod, try it with both viewfinder and Live View. LV uses a different AF system within the camera, and it reads directly off the sensor, so it is always accurate. Ideally the focus in both cases should match, but it does not always so so quite perfectly. It is possible to have lens or camera re-adjusted, but it's not a home job. With that said, I must say that my original 55-300, the warranty replacement I got last year, and my wife's 55-300 were all right on the money.
Sign In or Register to comment.