Lens Envy and the D800

Polar Bear with Piggy-back Cub, Svalbard

I had my first chance this past week to field-test the new Nikon D800 on a trip to Svalbard in the Norwegian arctic. Knowing that I would be shooting from the deck of a ship, and hand-holding my camera a lot, I decided to pair the D800 with the Nikkor 300mm f2.8, probably the sharpest lens I own, along with the TC14x teleconverter. This would have to serve as my “big lens” on this trip.

To be honest, I felt sure that the huge 36MP sensor on the D800 would also allow me to shoot in DX format, with the apparent magnification that this offers. The combination – lens, teleconverter and sensor – should be able to get me as close to anything as I would need to be.

I was wrong. The single best photo opportunity we had during those ten days was a situation which called for a lens in the roughly 2000mm range. It was a mother polar bear, carrying her young cub on her back as she swam to shore – a beautiful and tender moment that cried out to be recorded. But even with my effective 600+mm lens, it was still tiny in the frame – in fact, see if you can find this image in the full-frame picture below.

Was I able to get a picture?  Strictly speaking, yes, but blown up so big that I think you could count the number of pixels in the bear on one hand. But the fact that I got anything at all is testimony to both the monster resolution of the D800 and the sharpness of the 300mm.

I still think I made the right call: some pictures are just hard to get…

To learn more about this event, take a look here.

Nikon D800, 300mm f2.8 lens, TC1.4x