Sunday, January 29, 2023

Soft v. Sharp

The squirrel is cute, but yikes that chromatic aberration!

The Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is a telephoto zoom lens meant for people who may have bought a D3xxx or D5xxx with the 18-55mm kit zoom and want to add a lens with more reach for shooting wildlife or sports. Build quality is decent, with a metal lens mount.

Alas, if you're trying to shoot your kid's high school football game, focus is painfully slow, especially for a SWM lens. And if you're shooting squirrels on a cloudy day, like I was the other day, the lens is noticeably soft wide open. This compounds the problem with the D2X sensor starting to show noticeable noise at ISO 400.

Also, the chromatic aberration is obvious enough to be distracting in heavily backlit shots. In that picture of the gray squirrel above, the chromatic aberration (CA) is the green & purple fringing on the dark branches in out-of-focus areas.

What it does have going for it is a lot of reach, plus it's (relatively) inexpensive and lightweight. The 300mm long end on a crop-sensor DX camera is the same field of view as 450mm on a full-frame FX body.

D2X & 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR @ 300mm, 1/180th at f/5.6, ISO400

I think it's best left for sunny days when I can stop it down some while still shooting at base ISO.

There's also probably a good example of lens-to-lens variation at work, here. I use the 18-200mm as my general-purpose walking-around lens for squirrel snapping on the D2X and D300S bodies. I've complained about its lack of sharpness on the 24MP D7100, but the 12MP sensors on the older cameras don't reveal its flaws nearly so much.

Neither the 55-300 nor the 18-200 have reputations as super sharp glass, they're priced fairly closely, and places that quantify these things tend to rate them about the same, but a "good" example of one and a "bad" example of the other can have a noticeable difference on the final product.

Nikon D2X & 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II @ 200mm, 1/125th at f/6, ISO400