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Trouble w 80-400 VR

Discussion in 'Lens Lust' started by wind_walker, May 22, 2007.

  1. Dear Cafe members:

    I'm currently on an 8-day trip in Yellowstone to photograph wildlife. Nikon 80-400 VR is my only long lens, and I've shot with it before and had tack sharp results. But out here, I just can't seem to get a good shot. Everything seems to have ghosting on it . . . I've had once-in-a-lifetime opportunties, and the pics are so soft it pathetic. We got an op on a coyote den, catch the male bringing in food, and the pups eating and at play. NONE of my pics came out sharp. It was snowing then the sun popped out from time to time . . . I'm using a tripod w/ballhead, but can't seem to keep the camera really still in 40mph winds. I tried loosening the ballhead a bit, and using VR, but nothing seems to work. I've tried really hard to hold the camera still, but NO sharp pics. Am I doing something wrong? ANy ideas?

    Wasn't sure what forum to post this on . . anyone out there with the 80-400VR that can help? I get internet access every night; but uploading the pics is not working from the hotel internet; maybe just a speed issue. THis is killing me, I'm all the way out here and getting no good shots.

  2. rvink


    Mar 21, 2006
    New Zealand
    Can you explain the nature of the "softness" in more detail? You mention ghosting and also 40mph wind.
    If it's ghosting, or more likely flare due to the snow, try using a hood.
    If it's camera shake due to the wind, use the fastest shutter speed you can - up the ISO and remove any filters (polarizer...) which might be cutting light.
    Hope that helps.
  3. Artorius


    May 1, 2005
    Tacoma, WA
    I agree with the hood, are you using it? Any examples? What ASA + f/stop are you using? My lens was flawless at 5.6 with ASA 400 for skateboarders and BMX bikes. You might want to try a monopod, although I never needed one.
  4. I have also noticed some "softness" sometimes. I attribute it to shooting with slow shutter speeds (slower than 1/100 second) and being fooled that the VR function will save me. The VR function works very well with camera shake/movement while I am kayaking...But, it DOES NOT keep the @#%& bird from moving....
  5. weiran


    Jan 2, 2007
    Nottingham, UK
    A 100% crop of an example photo will help us diagnose your problem.
  6. Hood and filters would have been my first questions as well. If it's wind, time or shutter release button and move to stand in the way to block the wind?
  7. Mike, try to "slow down" your shutter... If you're above the 1/1000th (sometimes even 1/640th) VR won't work and serve you the opposite.

    Did you keep the VR-off while traveling? If not it might be damaged.
  8. The chemist

    The chemist

    Jul 22, 2005
    Also are you having fogging issues from climate change i.e condensation. Make sure the front and back element are clean. VR off when locked down as I think you noted.
  9. Guest-002

    Guest-002 Guest

    Jan 14, 2006
    Worcester, MA
    Oh my gosh! Never heard of that one. I turn my camera off when it's packed, but I can foresee a situation where I've forgotten to do so. Does this mean I shoud also turn off the VR just to be sure?
  10. cwilt


    Apr 24, 2005
    Denver, CO
    Noticed that you were from Missouri.

    If you are shooting handheld, be aware that the change in altitude can have an effect on your body in ways that can cause more or different shake than normal.
  11. sorry for the late reply. I'm still in a motel in Yellowstone, and can't get pics uploaded. I'm home this weekend and will send some. The light has not been great, and I just can't seem to hold the camera still enough with low light. I thought VR would save me, but it has not. I'm not a very steady hand. Snowed 2" here today, so not much shooting worth keeping.

    Thanks for all the tips, I have the hood on, and shot some still birds today, that came out perfectly clear. So the lens/camera can do it. Must be some combination of shutter speed and my inability to hold the camera still enough. Can you use VR on the tripod w/ the 80-400? I've got my tripod locked down, but the tripod mount seems to have some play in it. When using a low shutter speed, and the camera moves at all on far-away subjects, its fuzzy.

    Thanks again I'll send pics later.
  12. weiran


    Jan 2, 2007
    Nottingham, UK
    Are you using VR when on a tripod? You're supposed to turn VR off as it can get confused.
  13. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    I don't think shooting over 1/1000 has anything to do with VR. Still works for me.

    This is 1/4000 hand held. I also shoot at the rookery at high shutter speeds of 1/1000 t0 1/1600

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    Wind blowing and slow shutter speed will blurr. I take the lens hood off.

    Harry B shoots the 80-400 VR with out the lens hood all the time
  14. Here's Some Samples - Just Got Home

    Sorry again for the late reply, no cell service, and not much internet access in north yellowstone:smile:

    I tried a number of things . . the owl pics are hand held, the coyote and ram pics are on a tripod, I think with VR off. I've about convinced myself that the problem is I can't get the shutter speed up enough with an f5.6 lens. On things that are perfectly still, I can switch on VR, and handhold and get pretty good shots. But coyote pups never stop moving, and even when I get the shutter speed up on the tripod, it seems the camera is still not perfectly still. My buddy was shooting a Canon 1DMkII, with a 500 f4 w/IS. He leaves his IS on all the time, even on the Gitzo composite tripod with Jobu head. His shots are PERFECT. If I enlarge his grey owl pic to 100% on the screen, everything is in focus, and is tack sharp. At 100% on the screen, mine are all fuzzy a bit. They are pretty good pics, at least for me. Am I just comparing apples to oranges . . . and I realize he is a much better photographer than I am. I'm just not sure what to work on :confused: 

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  15. PS - I have not done anything to these pics, just saved them onto the desktop to post.
  16. The forst thing i did after reading Panos' post, was to go to my shelf and switch OFF the VR on my lens which is always kept ON.

    :D  :D 

  17. Hi Mike --

    Your buddy was using a pro rig. His Canon 1DMkII + 500mm f4 IS
    offers a more accurate, faster autofocus motor
    and a longer, faster lens than your 'semi-pro' setup
    of the Nikon D50 + 80-400mm f4.5-f.6 VR.

    However, having just tested out the D50 + 80-400VR combo this
    last weekend when visiting at my sister's house, I know you can get
    good sharp photos from it. Here's what I found:

    Try Lens Servo setting on AF-S.
    The 80-400VR on a D50 tended to have a bit of difficulty deciding
    on that last bit of focus when I tried the AF-C or AF-A settings.
    (I personally don't like AF-A at all, but that's another story.)

    Were you shooting Jpg or Raw??
    If you were shooting Jpg, the go ahead and turn up Sharpness to
    Medium High or High for a better straight-out-of-the-camera 'look'.
    Make sure Jpg size setting is Large and Jpg quality setting is for
    the least compression (Fine).

    Did you 'focus and recompose' ?? Don't do that ! Focus on the animal's
    eyes and shoot immediately -- especially if you are keeping the
    Aperture set wide as possible (f4.5-5.6) to get the most speed from
    this lens. If you 'focus and recompose', you can easily throw things more
    out of focus than you think might be possible !!

    When on tripod, turn off the VR for this lens.
    (Other Nikon VRs may have slightly different rules.)

    I'm using a tripod w/ballhead, but can't seem to keep the camera really still in 40mph winds.
    Well, no kidding, who could ?? !!!! :biggrin::biggrin::biggrin:
    Levity aside, your tripod may not be quite sturdy enough. I don't recall
    seeing in your post what tripod you were using, but I'll just say that
    you gotta have the best, most sturdy, toughest tripod you can afford
    if you're going to be shooting "in the wild". Perhaps your tripod is due
    for an upgrade??
    AND, as much as we all love VR, be aware that photographs taken
    on-tripod (assuming a proper, pro-style tripod) will beat
    VR hand-held shots every time. Really. Oh sure, you can get pretty
    close on a "good" day with "good" VR hand-holding technique,
    but you will rarely, if ever, equal a tripod shot.
    That right there was one of the toughest lessons I ever had to learn
    because I just hate tripods. Well, what are ya gonna do?
    The rules of physics are what they are.

    The shots you posted are quite nice. I think you did great !!
    This kind of shooting takes years of practice to perfect,
    but WOW --- you got owl shots !!!!!! How cool is that !!!!! :wink::wink::wink:
    I downloaded the mountain sheep shot and leveled & sharpened it
    in Photoshop and found that it cleans up beautifully. So I think you
    have some good keepers to work with. (BTW, I'd do selective sharpening
    in these shots -- you don't want to sharpen the backgrounds, right?)

    Practice !! Then practice some more !!
    Hope this helps --
    Cheers -- Andrea B.
    aka "annedi"
  18. I'm using a Sigma 80-400 which may be similar. I havn't yet had the chance to compare both, which I would like to....

    My findings with my Sigma:
    Shooting at the long end (400mm) it is notably soft/lacks contrast up to f8. If I want the best image quality, I try to use f8 or an even smaller aperture. Yes, you'll need good light then, and that's one of my main problems as well..
    On a good day, I can shoot handheld f8 1/320s at 400mm WITHOUT OS/VR, as I found out that at that shutter speed it is contra productive.
    On a monopod, 1/200s does work most of the time, but usually I try to stay above that as 400mm are very prone of getting motion blur.

    Although I haven't tried one yet, I believe a 500/4 prime lens is a totally different beast which I expect to be more sharp at wider apertures than your zoom at 400mm.
  19. Kerry Pierce

    Kerry Pierce

    Jan 7, 2006
    Are you bumping up the ISO to compensate for the lower lighting conditions? My suggestion would be to bump the ISO to keep your shutter speed at 1/250 or higher, especially hand held with VR at 400mm. Shooting at 400mm is not a trivial task, especially in adverse conditions.

    If your tripod and/or head is shaky, the same applies. You might even want to try using VR with the ball head being very loose. Rest your hand lightly on top of the lens, directly over the tripod mount screw. Alternatively, the stock tripod foot on the 80-400 is known to be less than sterling. You might want to try to wedge something between the foot and lens to help dampen the vibrations.

    heh, yes, as has been mentioned, you're comparing apples to oranges. The 500 f/4 lens alone is $5500 and the 1dmk2 is $3400. Whether or not he is a much better photographer than you is unknown, but you certainly aren't doing yourself any favors by comparing images from your $2k kit to the images from his $9k pro kit. :biggrin: :biggrin:
  20. Gale


    Jan 26, 2005
    Viera Fl
    I never turn my VR off

    Just do some editing on those images , they are very nice.
    Wish I had taken them or the opportunity to take them.
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