D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm

Started 9 months ago | Discussions
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
9 months ago

This has been bugging me ever since I got my D5200 earlier this year.  I find it impossible to get a sharp photo out of the Nikon 55-300 VR lens when shooting at full zoom.  Even when I bump the speeds up to 1/2500s, the images still come out soft.  I really don't think it's a hand shake issue, but maybe there is something else in the camera that introduces slight blur?  But as soon as I back away a little from 300mm, I can get a nice sharp photo.  The two images below are an example of this.  They are SOOC JPEGs, except I had to crop them a little to not bump against dpreview's 20 megapixel limit.

I was trying to focus on the bird on the left, using viewfinder.  The first shot is the soft one at 300mm.  The second one is OK at 220mm.  I also tried using Exposure Delay Mode to avoid mirror slap, but it made no difference.

By the way, this has never been an issue using this same lens on my old D40.  I could get very sharp photos at 300mm, even at speeds as low as 1/250s.  Alas, there are obviously fewer pixels on the D40, so maybe I just didn't notice.

Anyway, is there something I need to be doing with my D5200 to avoid this soft photo issue at 300mm?

Thanks!

 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon D40 Nikon D5200
If you believe there are incorrect tags, please send us this post using our feedback form.
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
Re: manual focus?
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

I just remembered... there was one time when I was able to get a sharp shot at 300mm.  It was when I flipped the lens to manual focus and set the focus myself.  What does this tell me?  Is it a lens or a camera issue?  How to fix it?

 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
blue_cheese
Senior MemberPosts: 1,411
Like?
Re: manual focus?
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

Escape wrote:

I just remembered... there was one time when I was able to get a sharp shot at 300mm. It was when I flipped the lens to manual focus and set the focus myself. What does this tell me? Is it a lens or a camera issue? How to fix it?

AF system can be causing the miss, as you zoom out the lens closes to F5.6 the amount of light available to the AF module goes down and as a result it becomes less reliable. Try focusing using live view. If you get soft results in live view then likely lens is just a soft copy. I definitely get better results more consistently out of my 55-300. That softness has nothing to do with the megapixel count as it is easily apparent on the image and do not need pixel peeping.

-- hide signature --

"There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."
- Ayn Rand

Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
dave1812
Senior MemberPosts: 1,899Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

do a test, using a tripod and no VR.   see if that improves things.  I know u said you don't think it's from hand shake, but there's only one way to be sure...

-- hide signature --

Dave

 dave1812's gear list:dave1812's gear list
Nikon D5100 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G Nikon AF-S DX Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR +1 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
Re: manual focus?
In reply to blue_cheese, 9 months ago

Thanks.  You're right.  The sharpness at 300mm improves when using liveview instead.

 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to dave1812, 9 months ago

Thanks.

Using a tripod, with VR off, when focusing through viewfinder, the images are still softer than when focusing through liveview.  Interstingly, in liveview when I turn VR on, things get worse.

 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
mosswings
Veteran MemberPosts: 5,913Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

Escape, the 55-300 is, like almost all zooms, slightly soft at 300mm. This is a consequence of the compromises needed to create a very wide focal length range zoom lens. Read some of these in-use and test reports on the lens and you'll find out where it is at its best and its worst and how to use it to best results:

http://www.bythom.com/nikkor-55-300mm-DX-lens-review.htm

http://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-55-300mm-vr

http://slrgear.com/reviews/showproduct.php/product/1359/cat/13

In general, you need to stop down any lens, and especially this one, by at least one stop to get the maximum sharpness out of it. This means f8-f11 at 300mm. However, you start running in to diffraction limiting by about f7 with the d5200's 24mp sensor, so setting the lens to beyond f8 does not return appreciable improvements in sharpness (note that diffraction is not per se a sensor related limitation - it arises from the optical chain. What a 24mp sensor does is permit you to see that diffraction more clearly. A 12mp sensor like the D90, for example, can go to about f11 before you start seeing diffraction limiting).

This is, of course, a really big restriction when you're shooting with long focal lengths and hand holding. You need to keep the shutter speed extremely high - 1/(2*FL{35mm equiv) is what I'd consider a minimum - and that's 1/900 sec for a 300mm lens on a 24MP DX body. At shutter speeds above 1/300 sec VR is not really that effective, so you have to have extremely steady hands. If you're using a slow lens like the 55-300, you have to kick up the ISO rather high - 800-1200, sometimes more - to keep SS high. The D5200 begins losing some edge sharpness to increasing noise at that point. It's at its best at ISO 100-400. You can, fortunately, shoot RAW and do some good sharpening and NR in postprocessing, but the point is that you're at a disadvantage no matter what. A tripod is the obvious solution...if the subject is not moving.

Another source of softness is AF accuracy and offsets across the focal length range. Zoom lenses do not maintain the exact same focal plane across all focal lengths - the longer the range, the wider the slop. You can prove this to yourself by setting your camera up on a tripod and taking pictures of a flat high contrast target using the viewfinder to focus and then repeat using LiveView. You will generally find that LiveView often gives slightly better results. This is because PDAF (Viewfinder) calculates where to set the lens from an initial measurement...CDAF (LiveView) iterates towards the final result. PDAF is fast and quite accurate, but CDAF is more precise and repeatable. Higher end DSLRs have AF Fine Tuning, which allows you to calibrate and optimize PDAF performance for each lens, but with only one offset constant available to you you have to decide which end of the lens you want to optimize.

Another camera setting related problem is operator motions between framing and capture. The D5200 defaults to AF-S, which means that the camera focuses once, on the half-press, and not again until the shutter is fully cycled. With a high resolution camera like the D5200 you can easily see misfocus that arises from your own fore-and-aft motions in the brief interval between half- and full-press. If you are practicing good technique - which means you are being very deliberate and smooth in your finger motions and not just jabbing the trigger - there is plenty of time for operator wobbles to manifest. The solution for this is to us AF-C or AF-A mode, and set your AF-C shutter release priority (option a3, I believe) to Focus Priority.  The camera will now continue to track focus right up to the moment of release, and will not release unless it has acquired focus.  This is what I use on my D7100 - it eliminated a lot of slightly missed shots under less-than-optimal conditions. Shooting handheld at extreme telephoto lengths is by definition less-than-optimal.

Atmospheric distortions (haze, dust, heat waves) can also affect your captures. This may not be relevant to your example shots, but it certainly should be noted.

If you are really wanting to extract the very best performance out of your D5200, you have to use the very best lenses and the most critical technique. If you are shooting at telephoto lengths, the best lens is a (for example) 300mm prime. And it's expensive.

 mosswings's gear list:mosswings's gear list
Olympus XZ-1 Nikon D90 Nikon D7100 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR +1 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
Thank you!
In reply to mosswings, 9 months ago
No text.
 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
GerardHaines
Regular MemberPosts: 417Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

Escape wrote:

Thanks.

Using a tripod, with VR off, when focusing through viewfinder, the images are still softer than when focusing through liveview. Interstingly, in liveview when I turn VR on, things get worse.

That's why VR is supposed to be shut off when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

 GerardHaines's gear list:GerardHaines's gear list
Nikon D7000 Nikon D5100 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 DX II +1 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Steve Bingham
Forum ProPosts: 20,388Gear list
Like?
Mosswings
In reply to mosswings, 9 months ago

What a great answer. You said it all.

-- hide signature --

Steve Bingham
www.dustylens.com
www.ghost-town-photography.com

 Steve Bingham's gear list:Steve Bingham's gear list
Nikon D300 Nikon D7100 Nikon D610 Nikon D5300 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR +21 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
mgd43
Senior MemberPosts: 3,385Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

I have a D5200 and I had a D40x which has the same focusing system as the D40. I thought of a couple of other possibilities to check out.

1. The D5200 has a lot more focus points than your D40, Are you sure that the camera is set to the focus point you want. I find that since it cannot be locked, it can be accidentally changed too easily.

2. When using AF-A and AF-C the focus can shift when you move the camera to recompose. Try using the center focus point and AF-S. Focus, lock the focus, and recompose. Also not all focus points work the same. The center point is the most accurate.

 mgd43's gear list:mgd43's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 Nikon Coolpix P7800 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM +4 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
mgd43
Senior MemberPosts: 3,385Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to mgd43, 9 months ago

Another thought. If you use Dynamic-area AF, Auto-area AF, or 3D-tracking the camera may shift to a focus point that you did not intend. Try using Single-point AF.

 mgd43's gear list:mgd43's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 Nikon Coolpix P7800 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM +4 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to mgd43, 9 months ago

Thanks. I did try using AF-S and single (center) focus point. That's how I typically shoot. It does not help fix the problem.

I think I just need to stay away from full zoom on this lens unless I'm using a tripod.

 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
mosswings
Veteran MemberPosts: 5,913Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

Escape wrote:

Thanks. I did try using AF-S and single (center) focus point. That's how I typically shoot. It does not help fix the problem.

Try AF-C/Focus Priority. AF-S is better used on a tripod.

I think I just need to stay away from full zoom on this lens unless I'm using a tripod.

Possibly.  Shut VR off when you do, though.

 mosswings's gear list:mosswings's gear list
Olympus XZ-1 Nikon D90 Nikon D7100 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR +1 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
GerardHaines
Regular MemberPosts: 417Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to mosswings, 9 months ago

mosswings wrote:

Escape wrote:

Thanks. I did try using AF-S and single (center) focus point. That's how I typically shoot. It does not help fix the problem.

Try AF-C/Focus Priority. AF-S is better used on a tripod.

I think I just need to stay away from full zoom on this lens unless I'm using a tripod.

Possibly. Shut VR off when you do, though.

Shooting at 1/1000"...would a tripod make any difference?

 GerardHaines's gear list:GerardHaines's gear list
Nikon D7000 Nikon D5100 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 DX II +1 more
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
blue_cheese
Senior MemberPosts: 1,411
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

Escape wrote:

Thanks. I did try using AF-S and single (center) focus point. That's how I typically shoot. It does not help fix the problem.

I think I just need to stay away from full zoom on this lens unless I'm using a tripod.

I would not accept that. The result you are getting is bad, if you are consistently getting it soft like that something is wrong with camera or lens. If softness varies from shot to shot then there are other elements at play simply related to camera/lens for situation suitability.

-- hide signature --

"There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."
- Ayn Rand

Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to blue_cheese, 9 months ago

blue_cheese wrote:

Escape wrote:

Thanks. I did try using AF-S and single (center) focus point. That's how I typically shoot. It does not help fix the problem.

I think I just need to stay away from full zoom on this lens unless I'm using a tripod.

I would not accept that. The result you are getting is bad, if you are consistently getting it soft like that something is wrong with camera or lens.

In viewfinder mode, I am consistently getting it soft like that at 300mm, even when on a tripod.  If I use LiveView on a tripod, the result is better, but still not as sharp as at 220mm.

If I use LiveView handheld at 300mm, the result isn't really much better than in viewfinder mode.

 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
blue_cheese
Senior MemberPosts: 1,411
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

Here is my results with the lowly D3100 albeit, but I maintain the softness in your photo is easily visible when down sampled, unless you cropped it/pixel peeped for same pixel size the higher resolution should actually make the photo look even sharper.

All of these shots are handheld with VR on, often I don't bother to even stop down the lens, and in some cases I even push the handheld shutter speed.

-- hide signature --

"There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."
- Ayn Rand

Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Escape
Regular MemberPosts: 340Gear list
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to blue_cheese, 9 months ago

Were these shot in live view or viewfinder mode?

Regardless, yours are definitely sharper if they're 100% crops.   I'm wondering if it's an issue with my D5200 since like I mentioned earlier, I never had this problem with my D40 and the same lens.

 Escape's gear list:Escape's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Nikon D5200 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM | C
Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
blue_cheese
Senior MemberPosts: 1,411
Like?
Re: D5200 and Nikon 55-300 VR: soft at 300mm
In reply to Escape, 9 months ago

All in viewfinder, most are not 100% crops except for the moon shot. I am not in the mood of uploading 100% crops, but the last picture of the evergreen tree as uninspired as it is is full res SOOC JPEG, you can view it at 100%.

-- hide signature --

"There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil."
- Ayn Rand

Reply   Reply with quote   Complain
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum MMy threads