Female Downy Woodpecker

Telephoto Limitations: Female Downy Woodpecker


Female Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker (crop)

This female downy woodpecker was on a feeder outside my window. The photograph was taken through the window. Photographing through window glass is rough on sharpness, because the window glass does not have the optical performance of camera lens glass. The window was not clean, either, and those imperfections can be seen as bright spots on the image. There were two that were prominent; I repaired them with the Burn tool in Aperture. I was able to repair one fairly well, at least at this image size. The other I was able to reduce, but it is still noticeable. Fortunately the remaining blemish is not on the bird itself. I used my SB-600 at -1 strength to provide some fill light. The flash the was picked up by specks on the window, making them more prominent.

Why didn’t I clean the window? I let this window stay a little dirty so that the birds see it and are less likely to run into it when they fly away from the windows.

The window glass reduced the quality of the image, but on the other hand it allowed me to get very close to the subject, much closer than I would have been outside.

Female Downy Woodpecker on feeder

Female Downy Woodpecker (original)

This photograph was taken with a Nikon D90 and a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens. The uncropped version  is shown to the right. This brings to mind a cold reality about telephoto lenses. Note that when I took this picture, I was about six feet away from the subject. I had the telephoto extended to the full 300mm. With the crop factor of the DX Nikon D90, that’s the equivalent of a 450mm lens.  Even with all that magnification power, I still had to be six feet away from the subject to fill the frame with the whole bird–and then crop heavily to really get a good close-up. Now this is a small bird, of course, but it’s a pretty common size among song birds.

This is the great disappointment of consumer-priced zooms. They sound impressive, but they just don’t get you very far. For a while I had a Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom DX. Nice to have all that in one lens, but the 200mm telephoto was just not useful for distant action or wildlife. Filling the frame at 200mm just got me close enough to spook the subject. I was carrying around all that extra glass for little benefit. That’s the reason why you see sports photographers and wildlife photographers with huge lenses. Come big, or don’t come at all. I moved back to a 18-55mm lens for my walkaround, and picked up the 70-300mm for special occasions when I seek to encounter wildlife.

Of course, wildlife photographers use all sorts of other tricks to get close, because tight is right no matter the focal length. So, they use blinds, or patience, or hire a local guide who knows where the den is, or, in my case, they hang out at bird feeders.

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