The Road to Full Frame (a customers perspective)

This blog post is from one of our long standing customers; Glen Alder. Glen describes the learning curve involved in changing to full frame for shooting macro. This blog entry is in two parts. 

My primary camera was initially a Nikon D300 with a sensor of 12.3M pixels, good in low light and recorded reasonable colours. It had a cropped sensor and this had some advantages such as multiplying the lens length by a factor of 1.5 times and recording a good depth of field. These features helped with the type of photography that I really enjoyed the macro world.

In 2012 I spent some time with a Pro wildlife photographer who kindly looked through some of my photos that I had taken over the years. He gave me some very positive feedback on the photos and more importantly some guidance for my future photography.

Later that year I become ill and I had to face the very real prospect of having to give up work. So rather than just sitting back and doing nothing I decided to change from the Nikon D300 and its cropped sensor to the Nikon D800 which had a full frame sensor.

This is a monster of a camera regarding its features, build quality and of course its colossal pixel count of 36.3M pixels. I also invested in new lenses at this time, as I figured it deserved the best glass that I could afford. I bought this equipment at Christmas 2012.

Due to illness I did not really use it until just before March 2013 when I was due to go to Portugal to photograph the wild orchids found in the Algarve. I had been there the year before with the Nikon D300.

While in Portugal I set about photographing any orchid that I came across and took some 700 photos. I returned home and loaded the photos onto my computer and then BANG. I was amazed, hardly any of my photos were as I had expected. Almost every photo had little in the way of depth of field. Most of the photos were taken using my Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro lens, the same lens that I had used with my Nikon D300 the previous year. Most of the Photos were best described as rubbish.

I was shocked and so disillusioned that I seriously considered selling camera equipment and just giving up photography all together.

Then I sat back and started to ask myself what had gone wrong. Was it something that I had done, was it the camera, I was certain that it was not the macro lens. It really bugged me as I’m not normally a person who easily gives up. So I started to ask questions at the camera shop and anybody that I could talk to. I still used my camera with varying degrees of success, but I did not really achieve the level of photos that I managed with my old D300. I had visions of there being a great improvement in my photos just because I had bought a better camera.

Later that year I spent a lot of time taking pictures of native British orchids in particular the Autumn Ladies Tresses. This orchid is something that resembles a blade of grass and is of a similar size and colour with small white and green flowers. I managed to get some images that I was pleased with and other people were impressed with. I think that this might have been one of the first sets on images that had really come together, photographic wise.

While out on a photographic session photographing fungi I had a chance meeting with another photographer who also had the Nikon D800. He was kind enough to listen to and answer my questions about the Nikon D800 and the results that I was getting.

He identified the problem straight way and explained that when using cameras that have different size sensors there is a change in the depth of field that is recorded. With my Nikon D300, it had a cropped sensor and it gave me more depth of field. The Nikon D800 has a full frame sensor and with this the recorded depth of field is considerably less, which is exactly what I was seeing with my images. He also mentioned that using the D800 required a change in technique high pixel count is very unforgiving. After this I began to change the way that I took photos with the Nikon D800, I tried where ever possible to use a tripod, mirror lockup and a remote release. If I hand hold the camera then the shutter speed needed to be higher in order to reduce the risk of camera shake being recorded. My success rate began to improve, but no matter what I did there was still little in the way of depth of field. This is great for photographing animals at distance, but close up with macro work it’s not always ideal, especially if you want to record a large depth of field.

There are a few ways to help improve the situation with close ups one of which is to take the subject from further away and then crop the image in software, this will give an increase in the depth of field, but it’s still not a huge depth of field.

Another way is to use the method of stacking images to give a much increased depth of field. This basically requires a series of photos to be taken and for each one the point of focus is altered across the image. The f (aperture) value needs to be on the small side so that the background remains out of focus. Then in software all of the images are combined to produce an image that is in focus across the whole subject.

Glen Alder

In the next part of the blog I describe how the use of stacking really helped me to achieve better macro images and the process involved.

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