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Thread: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

  1. #1
    FrankMi's Avatar
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    Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    There has been a bit of discussion lately about the expense, weight, and bulk of long lenses. Typically, it can get very expensive to afford a DSLR lens that is over 300mm and unless you regularly shoot small wildlife such as birds is probably not justified for most non-professional photographers.

    One alternative that has been considered is to get a second camera that has a 30x or longer zoom as an inexpensive alternative. The typical benefits include having a camera at the ready that doesn’t need the delay of swapping lenses, a backup camera in case the DSLR isn’t available, and the ability to shoot up to 1,200mm (FFE) zoom. Usually the image stabilization, even at these zoom ranges, is very good. The drawbacks include; they usually do not shoot in RAW mode (but this is changing), the sensor size is very small compared to a DSLR, they typically have more noise in the image, and for the purest, it just ain’t ‘macho’.

    This test compares the Nikon D3100 DX with a 300mm (450mm FFE) lens with the Canon SX40 HS with its FFE 24-840mm (35X) zoom lens.

    The question is “Will the longer reach of the 840mm Canon lens produce a sharper image than the same size image in pixels cropped from the larger Nikon sensor using the shorter 450mm lens?”

    I took a statue of a rooster that was 15” tall with a 4” head and a ˝” eye and photographed it from 35 feet away.

    Because I usually shoot the Nikon in RAW mode, that is what I used here. The Canon is limited to JPG images. The ISO of both cameras was set at 100 and the aperture was set to F8. The Canon was at 767mm FFE and the Nikon at 450mm FFE.

    Here is the setup and yes, owing to the bright sunlight the rooster’s beak has blown highlights:

    Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    For the test shots, I turned the rooster slightly counterclockwise.

    Here is the Rooster’s head at 500px with the Canon on top and the Nikon below:

    Long Lens verses Large Sensor


    Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Zooming in on the 1/4" eye at 35 feet (also cropped at 500 pixels) we get the following detail:

    Long Lens verses Large Sensor


    Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Although the Canon is sharper than the Nikon, it also has more noise.
    After typical post processing which does differ slightly for RAW and JPG files we get the following (cropped at 1,000 pixels):

    Long Lens verses Large Sensor


    Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    The DoF is noticeable better in the Canon with the greater (5.6x verses Nikon's 1.5x) crop ratio.

    I will be away for a couple of days and will be able to follow-up when I return.
    Last edited by FrankMi; 23rd October 2012 at 12:35 PM.

  2. #2
    Letrow's Avatar
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Interesting Frank. The quality of the Canon positively surprises me. I had not expected that. So, maybe a good alternative as you say. I'll probably manage to live without RAW if I need to.

    Edit: and I see there is a SX50 now as well with 50x zoom and RAW

  3. #3
    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    We actually went the other way. My wife had been using her older Panasonic super-zoom (640mm equiv), if I remember correctly, while I bit the bullet and bought the Nikkor 80-400mm lens prior to one of our trips. She tried the combination of her D90 with an 18-200mm lens, plus tried to live with the superzoom for the really long shots.

    She got quite frustrated with the number of blown shots she was getting; even through the superzoom had an electronic viewfinder, the shutter speed and ISO combinations just did not work for serious wildlife photography. She just stopped using the superzoom and just shot with her 18-200mm.

    Prior to our trip to Africa last November, she checked out friends Sigma 150-500mm lens and opted to pick it up. The Nikkor 80-400 is a screw drive and is does not focus blazingly quickly. The Sigma is much better in that department, but is not well built as the Nikon, although optically they get similar results. She got some shots she could never have dreamt of getting with the superzoom.

    Bottom line; you will get the extended range with the superzoom, but the lens will be slow and will have fairly significant distortion. I would expect that you will get some shots, but miss others. Getting anything that is small or is moving is virtually impossible on her superzoom, even in bright, sunny conditions.

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    benm's Avatar
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    A very interesting comparison. The Canon did a lot better than I would have expected. Of course, most birds aren't this cooperative. As soon as the bird is flying the DSLR will get the shot (hopefully!) but the P&S won't have a chance.

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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Frank. I must say your test is really good and adds to the similar (and also very good) test that Dave did recently (in that case, a Nikon D5000 versus a Nikon P510, shooting a kingfisher). Why I think it adds? Because you eliminated a variable: the kingfisher in two different shots, as you shot a static subject. Thus, you probably assured a same focus quality to both images, with no considerable time delay. This idea is similar to what I have planned to do as soon as I get my 70-300. I will, as soon as I get it, post a test comparing a D5100 x Kodak Z990, which reaches 840mm and shoots Raw.

    I do agree the superzoom is a good alternative for (really) long distance shots. Also, I agree it is hard to shoot flying (and distant) birds, as the focus is much slower than a DSLR focus. Anyway, it is not impossible. Below is a picture I took a couple of months ago, using my Z990 @ 840mm (FFE). This "creature" was about 20-25 meters from me (about 65 to 85 feet), flying at a considerable speed. I think it is a good image for a superzoom camera. (Frank, if you don't like the fact I posted an image on this thread, just let me know and I will remove it promptly)

    Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Finally, I do believe the sensors are getting better and better, what makes us to forecast something like a 1500mm (FFE), 50Mpixels, RAW, low noise at high ISO and, of course, focusing as a current DSLR does, in within maybe 5 years! All this for, say, 500 bucks!! Why not?

    Regards...
    Last edited by Otavio; 24th October 2012 at 12:56 AM.

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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Frank,
    I liked very, very much the tests that you've done.
    The SX40 won the D3100 (even using RAW)!
    You showed that a good optical zoom is better than a digital zoom (cropping a photo is a form of digital zoom very used by some compact cameras and cell phones).
    I suggest that you repeat the photos (same subject at the same distance and with the same aperture and focal lenghts) in conditions of less light and use ISO 400 (I think that is the limit for a superzoom take good photos) and iSO 800 in both cameras. This is for comparing the quality and noise of the sensors.

    I also suggest that you take new photos (same subject at the same distance, with the same aperture), but using focal lenght of 450mm FFE in both cameras. Despite the 14.2 megapixels of the D3100, I think the SX40 (12.1 megapixels) will do a work almost so good, especially in good light conditions (using ISO 100). But I'm not so sure about the results in situations of less light (ISO 400 and 800).

    And, please, let us see the photos with no PP (it's better for seen the flaws of the pictures taken by the cameras).

    Regards,
    Antonio.
    Last edited by Panama Hat & Camera; 24th October 2012 at 11:58 PM.

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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Quote Originally Posted by Antony View Post
    Frank,
    And, please, let us see the photos with no PP (it's better for seen the flaws of the pictures taken by the cameras).

    Regards,
    Antonio.
    Since camera and editor should be complimentary tools it suggests to me that one should judge results after PP.
    I have had RAW available to me, though I don't use it, for quite some time in my bridge cameras.

  8. #8
    FrankMi's Avatar
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    I would like to take the criteria for considering a long-lens P&S back to the original premises. The reason for the comparison was to see if there was a reasonable alternative for those folks that, for one reason or another, did not have the budget, did not want to carry the bulk or weight, or wanted the ability to quickly go from one zoom extreme to the other without having to take the time to swap lenses. Other reasons may be cited as well such as wanting a more inconspicuous camera, not wanting to carry more than one piece of kit (or not wanting to have to carry a backpack), wanting a backup camera for their DSLR, etc.

    Generally speaking, if we have the budget, carrying capacity, shooting conditions, etc., there is no question that a good DSLR with large sensor and long lens will be less limiting on the photographers skill.

    If you examine these images you will not see a huge advantage to the P&S, but if that advantage matches your requirements then this approach may be valid for you.

    I find myself reaching for the DSLR any time that I have control over the shooting conditions. That is usually when I have the time to; plan the composition, swap lenses, set up on the tripod, configure the remote release, get out the knee pads if required, wait for the sun and clouds to get to the best position, etc.

    If I am on a time constraint owing to being on vacation or in a group, shooting unpredictable wildlife, exploring a new area and looking for something interesting to shoot, virtually anything that is random in nature, I almost always reach for the Long Lens P&S or, if practical, carry both the DSLR and the P&S.

    Quote Originally Posted by Letrow View Post
    Interesting Frank. The quality of the Canon positively surprises me. I had not expected that. So, maybe a good alternative as you say. I'll probably manage to live without RAW if I need to. Edit: and I see there is a SX50 now as well with 50x zoom and RAW
    Hi Peter, Under the shooting circumstances, the quality was about what I expected, in fact, I was surprised that I could crop the DSLR image that much and still get as good an image as I did!

    Yes, the Canon SX50 HS has a significantly longer zoom and does shoot RAW but I’m hoping to see some real world reviews to confirm that there aren’t any new ‘gotcha’s.

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    We actually went the other way.
    Hi Manfred, you and your wife are in a position where it makes more sense to get the longer lens for your DSLR. If I had the budget, I might still be nervous about the size and weight but for planned shots it would be great!

    Quote Originally Posted by benm View Post
    A very interesting comparison. The Canon did a lot better than I would have expected. Of course, most birds aren't this cooperative. As soon as the bird is flying the DSLR will get the shot (hopefully!) but the P&S won't have a chance.
    Hi Ben, I did not attempt to compare the P&S to the DSLR under other conditions and I fully expect that the results would not remain identical with short zoom ranges or significant differences in ISO, brightness, contrast, target motion, aperture, etc. The purpose of the test was to simply get a starting point for comparison of the image sharpness.

    Quote Originally Posted by Otavio View Post
    Frank. I must say your test is really good and adds to the similar (and also very good) test that Dave did recently (in that case, a Nikon D5000 versus a Nikon P510, shooting a kingfisher). Why I think it adds? Because you eliminated a variable: the kingfisher in two different shots, as you shot a static subject. Thus, you probably assured a same focus quality to both images, with no considerable time delay. This idea is similar to what I have planned to do as soon as I get my 70-300. I will, as soon as I get it, post a test comparing a D5100 x Kodak Z990, which reaches 840mm and shoots Raw.

    I do agree the superzoom is a good alternative for (really) long distance shots. Also, I agree it is hard to shoot flying (and distant) birds, as the focus is much slower than a DSLR focus. Anyway, it is not impossible. Below is a picture I took a couple of months ago, using my Z990 @ 840mm (FFE). This "creature" was about 20-25 meters from me (about 65 to 85 feet), flying at a considerable speed. I think it is a good image for a superzoom camera. (Frank, if you don't like the fact I posted an image on this thread, just let me know and I will remove it promptly)

    Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Finally, I do believe the sensors are getting better and better, what makes us to forecast something like a 1500mm (FFE), 50Mpixels, RAW, low noise at high ISO and, of course, focusing as a current DSLR does, in within maybe 5 years! All this for, say, 500 bucks!! Why not?

    Regards...
    Hi Otávio, There is definitely a place for the superzoom camera in my kit! The Canon SX40 is now available for just over $300US and the SX50 is now $480US so for me it is a great alternative. I feel testing our own lenses and cameras under different conditions such as high ISO, DoF settings, low light, lens to lens, and camera to camera are valuable lessons that would benefit many of us. I think there would be many a surprised look if folks shot some scenes with both their DSLR and Cell Phone Camera and compared the result on their monitors. I was astonished when I saw what kind of results my cell phone could produce in this image.

    I don’t mind anyone posting to any of my threads except the P52 thread due to its size and the number of images that are already there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Antony View Post
    Frank,
    I liked very, very much the tests that you've done.
    The SX40 won the D3100 (even using RAW)!
    You showed that a good optical zoom is better than a digital zoom (cropping a photo is a form of digital zoom very used by some compact cameras and cell phones).
    I suggest that you repeat the photos (same subject at the same distance and with the same aperture and focal lenghts) in conditions of less light and use ISO 400 (I think that is the limit for a superzoom take good photos) and iSO 800 in both cameras. This is for comparing the quality and noise of the sensors.

    I also suggest that you take new photos (same subject at the same distance, with the same aperture), but using focal lenght of 450mm FFE in both cameras. Despite the 14.2 megapixels of the D3100, I think the SX40 (12.1 megapixels) will do a work almost so good, especially in good light conditions (using ISO 100). But I'm not so sure about the results in situations of less light (ISO 400 and 800).

    And, please, let us see the photos with no PP (it's better for seen the flaws of the pictures taken by the cameras).

    Regards,
    Antonio.
    Hi Antonio, I may well run additional tests soon. I am getting some test patterns for this purpose but feel that test patterns may not provide the kind of gut feel that I need to make camera/lens selections in the field.

    I did compare the two cameras at 400mm FFE and the Nikon won hands down. The better glass and larger sensor easily outmatched the SX40, as expected. The smaller sensor in the SX40 is noisier than the Nikon and does get worse as the ISO is increased.

    In the case of the SX40, however, I may be able to get the image in lower light than the Nikon. I’ll need to confirm that though. I pixel-peep my images in PP and in ‘most’ cases can reduce the noise to either zero or acceptable levels so for most of my shooting, noise in the final result is not an issue (for my tastes), even when shooting the SX40 in high ISO.
    Last edited by FrankMi; 25th October 2012 at 08:35 PM.

  9. #9
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Thank you so much Frank, and the other posters. A most excellent thread. Much food for thought. So many choices, so little time!

  10. #10
    FrankMi's Avatar
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Quote Originally Posted by davidedric View Post
    Thank you so much Frank, and the other posters. A most excellent thread. Much food for thought. So many choices, so little time!
    Thank you for viewing and commenting Dave!

  11. #11
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    very interesting comparison Frank
    thank you.... or .... I must do not thank you? after 2 years of superzoom photography I did the big step to a DSLR (it was 2010) must I regret it???
    just kidding!!

    your test is very interesting, although you made a BIG error: you compared a Canon to a Nikon! never do that!

    seriously speaking, the progress either on lens quality or autofocus or image stabilization or sensor quality leads the P&S cameras closer and closer to the pro DSLRs. just look at the rumors for the new DO lenses that Canon will unveil next year: it could change the whole market, since all the lenses will (could) be much smaller and lighter. and it is bread for mirrorless system... or look at the frequency of the updates of the P&S cameras (and consumer DSLRs): cropcameras fill the gap with the pro FF- cameras in a couple of year, but the FF cameras are updated every many years.
    When I left my panasonic with 28-600mm FFE Leica lens I clearly knew that in many occasions my new 50D will add nothing to the quality of my pictures, but I accepted to spend a lot of money to get the great benefits the bigger sensor and the bigger lenses are able to deliver. I knew that I will not shoot anymore to a subject far away, but I knew that I will get a very much sharper image when the subject will be closer. but there still are many differences between a DSLR and a superzoom.
    The other guys said some instances, I'd add that the great DoF reached with the small sensor of the superzoom camera will not be so usefull when you have to separate your rooster from other hen-house inhabitans.
    usually, the life for a cemara, is quite harsher in the field than on this kind of test.
    finally I agree that superzoom cameras can be a cheap way, but I recommend to buy a DSLR with a 3rd party supertele lens (and a teleconverter) to wildlife\sport photographer. as well as i recommend a DSLR and a wide angle lens to landscape photographer
    ciao
    Nicola

  12. #12
    FrankMi's Avatar
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    Re: Long Lens verses Large Sensor

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicola View Post
    very interesting comparison Frank
    thank you.... or .... I must do not thank you? after 2 years of superzoom photography I did the big step to a DSLR (it was 2010) must I regret it???
    just kidding!!
    Not at all Nicola. If I had the budget I'd have a longer lens on my DSLR. Come to think about it, if I had the budget I'd have a much nicer camera body as well!

    Part of this post was to help folks on a 'limited' budget realize what options are available with an inexpensive long lens camera.

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