Panasonig G9 - PL100-400 - fix my bird

Started 11 months ago | Discussions thread
jalywol Veteran Member • Posts: 9,587
Practice...and a comprehensive set of tips:

This is a long post, but you may find it helpful:

If you are coming from a non-interchangeable lens camera, shooting long tele and getting consistent results is going to take some time, as you develop good holding and overall technique with it. As you do this, remember, patience is a virtue...

My first long tele was the 100-300mm. Initially I was hugely disappointed in it, as everything I shot out at the long end seemed essentially kind of fuzzy. Gradually, as I worked with the lens over the first year, I developed much better technique with it, and ended up getting very good results overall, even hand held, afterwards.

When I bought the 100-400mm a couple of years ago, then, I was able to get good shots from it from the beginning, as I simply continued with the technique I had developed over my years of using the 100-300mm. Given that, I have some pointers that should help you as you are working with your 100-400mm.

First and foremost, you need to always remember, this is a REALLY long lens. Any motion or chance of motion of either camera or lens while shooting is going to be amplified, so stability is paramount. Of course, the OIS in the lens is actually quite effective, so you do have much more leeway than you would with an unstabilized lens, but it still cannot compensate for EVERYTHING, and the less motion it has to handle, the more effective it is.

(Note: Some people advise turning off the OIS as you get up into higher speeds. I personally have not found that necessary, so that's one area that you will need to experiment with yourself to decide which way works best for you).

So here's the short ( ) and sweet list of things that will help with optimizing your results with this lens:

  1. Bracing: If you are hand-holding the lens, good holding technique is beyond essential. If you are out in the middle of a field and there is no place to lean either your body or camera on, then adopting a stable foot stance along with your elbows braced to your chest as you hold the camera (using the EVF against your eye also, not the rear LCD) will really help with your keeper rate.
  2. Do not "point and shoot" this lens. I get lazy sometimes, see something cool, raise the camera and lens and shoot. Mostly that gives me blurry results, at which time I smack myself in the head and go back to proper bracing and taking time with my shots, with far better results.
  3. If you are going to be out and about, and shooting longer in places where there is no available support, especially in not great light, I strongly recommend having a monopod (or tripod, but I hate carrying them) available.
    I am a hand-holding shooter primarily, but I keep the monopod with me for those moments when conditions are simply not going to give me good results without more stabilization. I have some shots, from last year, of a few very elusive, distant, wood ducks that would not have come out at all had I not had a monopod in the car to use when I came upon them.
  4. Use E-shutter whenever you can. If you need to use the regular shutter, then use the electronic first curtain option. As I said before, any motion is going to be amplified when using this long a lens, even that of the quiet shutter of the G9...
  5. Focusing: Remember your camera uses CDAF to focus. This means that it focuses far more readily on areas that have higher contrast. Focusing on the plain brown head of the Merganser is going to be difficult as a result, so the camera instead locked onto the more contrasty waves behind it. As someone else said in this thread already, pick a higher contrast area on the bird's body in the same plane as the head, focus on that and recompose, and your shots should be much more reliably in focus with a difficult target like this.
  6. Experiment with different focus box sizes. I generally use S-AF with the smallest possible box, and only occasionally the pinpoint focus, when necessary. Larger boxes tend to include enough background to confuse the focusing system, especially if the background is higher contrast than the subject. I suspect this is what happened with your Merganser shots.
  7. KEEP YOUR ISO AS LOW AS POSSIBLE. I try and stay at 200 or 400 for the most part, as there is noticeable loss of detail above this especially if the light is less than ideal. I have taken good shots at ISO 1600 in great light, but that's more the exception than the rule....Unless you are trying to stop motion, it's better to keep the speed lower to keep your ISO down if possible.
  8. For JPG output: Set your in-camera NR setting down to its very lowest (-5 on my GX8). Your JPGs will be a little bit noisier, but they will not be smudgy....and you can control the NR in post processing if you wish at that point. Or, just process from RAW, where you control the whole thing.
  9. Remember, on a lens as long as this, environmental factors can affect what you get, too. There's a lot of atmosphere in between you and a distant target when you are full out at 400mm, and if there are temperature and moisture gradients in between you and your subject, you are going to get some major distortion that has nothing to do with your shooting technique (see shot of barge below...400mm on a warm winter day with very cold surface seawater made for one heck of a soup for the lens to see through....)
  10. And, last but not least, to get really good feather detail, you need to be close to your subject. I've attached below two shots from yesterday for an example.
    The first is a Chipping Sparrow, taken from about 15 feet away. Sharp, lots of feather detail. The second is a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, that was around 70 feet away, You can see some detail on the Sapsucker, but not that much. Had I been about 25 feet closer, you could have seen quite a bit more detail. That's not a lens problem or fault, it's just that the bird is simply takes up too small an area on the sensor at that distance to cover enough pixels for detail to be really good. (To get lots of detail on small objects at a distance, you need a lot of pixels, and there just aren't enough of them here for good feather detail.)
  • Oh, and one other thing....don't be afraid to use selective sharpening in your post processing. Don't oversharpen, it's not necessary, but careful use of the sharpening tool can really bring out the best in images with a lot of fine detail. I suspect with the G9 you will need to do this less than I do with the GX8, due to the lack of AA filter on the G9 that's there on the GX8, but you still may find it helpful on some images.

My favorite atmospheric distortion shot

Chipping Sparrow (uncropped except for a tiny bit off the top)

Uncropped Sapsucker shot. Notice how much less area the bird takes up in the frame than the Chipping Sparrow does in the first image. That matters when it comes to the rendering of fine detail (like feathers).


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