Nikon flower photography with FX and CX

Like many photographers I enjoy taking images of flowers and foliage. In many ways flowers are ‘equal opportunity’ subjects. Images can be captured using the simplest of gear like cellphones and point-and-shoot cameras, all the way up to quite complex rigs that include macro lenses, tripods, flashes, reflectors, and shutter releases. This article shares some sample Nikon flower photography captured with FX and CX gear.

Note: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-280, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-280, shot with extension tubes

As you view the images please keep in mind that the various images were captured at different times, under different lighting conditions, using different camera gear. This article does not attempt to directly compare image quality between Nikon FX and CX gear.

Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/6.7, 1/2000, ISO-800
Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/6.7, 1/2000, ISO-800

Doing so strikes me as a rather pointless exercise since everyone knows image quality from a full frame FX sensor will surpass that of images taken with CX gear. All we need to do is examine DxOMark test data for a clear confirmation of FX and CX sensor performance differences. 

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-1000, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-1000, shot with extension tubes
  • First let’s look at a Nikon D800. Dynamic range – 14.4 EVs. Colour depth – 25.3 bits. Low light – 2853 ISO.
  • Let’s compare that with the test scores for a Nikon 1 J5. Dynamic range – 12 EVs. Colour depth – 22.1 bits. Low light – 479 ISO.

DxOMark suggests that a difference of 1-bit of colour depth is needed to be discernible by most people, and 0.5 EVs of dynamic range. They also consider 22-bits of colour depth to be at an ‘excellent’ level, as is 12-EVs of dynamic range.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-1000, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-1000, shot with extension tubes

Regardless of the gear used I always prefer to shoot hand-held as I tend to be very spontaneous with my captures. Another factor when shooting flower images is that I am most often out with my wife at venues where shooting with tripods is difficult at best, and forbidden at worst. We are also usually under some time constraints which makes shooting hand-held more practical.

Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 200mm, f/11, 1/500, ISO-1000
Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 200mm, f/11, 1/500, ISO-1000

I much prefer to create images of entire blossoms or macro-type images rather than groupings of flowers. When I owned Nikon FX gear I did have the Nikkor Micro 105 mm f/2.8 prime and occasionally used it with my D800. It was never one of my favourite lenses as it seemed to be best suited to be used with a tripod and focused manually.

I attempted to use the Nikkor 105 mm f/2.8 on my Nikon 1 V2’s by way of the FT-1 adapter but I found it was an unusable combination for me. It was unbalanced ergonomically and the lens was prone to a distracting level of focus hunting.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-3600, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-3600, shot with extension tubes

Since there is no native 1 Nikon macro lens I most often use the 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 with stacked extension tubes when photographing flowers.

Nikon D600 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 240mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/6.7, 1/125, ISO-1600
Nikon D600 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 240mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/6.7, 1/125, ISO-1600

Since I am quite often shooting flower images in private gardens during ‘open garden’ events I am usually restricted to staying on established walkways. I prefer to use telephoto zoom lenses as they give me more image framing flexibility. In the past when shooting with FX gear I often used a 1.7X teleconverter, trading off some image sharpness for added reach.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO-160, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO-160, shot with extension tubes

Shooting with a full frame camera can make it easier to create bokeh in images given depth-of-field properties.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-400, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-400, shot with extension tubes

When using cameras with smaller sensors, like Nikon 1 gear, I am more careful selecting individual subject flowers and I pay a good deal of attention to the distance between them and the background in a potential image to help achieve the amount of image separation I want in the image.

Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/22, 1/125, ISO-1000
Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/22, 1/125, ISO-1000

Smaller sensor cameras create more noise in images than their full frame siblings and using some kind of noise reduction software is needed.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO-160, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO-160, shot with extension tubes

Since the dynamic range of smaller sensor cameras is also more limited I often shoot on overcast days, or find subject flowers in shaded areas. The 20.8 MP BSI sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 is a significant improvement over the Aptina sensors used in previous Nikon 1 models in terms of dynamic range, and provides more shooting flexibility as shooting subject flowers in stronger sunlight is possible.

Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/6.7, 1/100, ISO-400
Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/6.7, 1/100, ISO-400

Every photographer has their own style and approach, and doing flower photography is no exception. Many folks prefer to use tripods and dedicated macro lenses. Some add the use of flashes and reflectors to create the exact lighting they desire.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-500, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-500, shot with extension tubes

It really comes down to individual choice. I am attracted to natural light and all of my images are shot in available light without the use of any flash or reflectors. Since I usually shoot outdoors it is also important to consider wind strength when choosing an appropriate shutter speed.

Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/10, 1/400, ISO-1000
Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 340mm (1.7X Nikkor teleconverter used), f/10, 1/400, ISO-1000

I really enjoy using Nikon 1 gear for flower photography. I love the small size and light weight, especially when using the 1 Nikon 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 zoom lens with extension tubes.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-2800, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-2800, shot with extension tubes

I typically shoot using single point auto-focus when using my Nikon 1 gear so I can position the AF point exactly where I want it, and avoid having to focus and recompose.

Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 190mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-1000
Nikon D800 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 @ 190mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-1000

Post processing of Nikon 1 files is quite different than when I used to shoot with full frame gear. I am much more aggressive adjusting highlights and typically spend more time with levels, and with black and white sliders than I did with my Nikon D800 files. From time to time I may also make individual hue adjustments to create a bit more pop with a Nikon 1 image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-500, shot with extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-500, shot with extension tubes

At the end of the day flower photography can be a very enjoyable pastime. Regardless of the camera you own I’d encourage you to just go out and capture some images… but be forewarned… once you do you may get hooked!

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12 thoughts on “Nikon flower photography with FX and CX”

  1. You do great work with any camera, Thomas. That said, I have to say that the D800 images are awesome. Since I own both D800 and two V2’s, I can make valid comparisons. The best way to really see the differences is to make prints of the size that I prefer, such as 11×14 and 13×19. One will see a definite difference there. Now I am not putting down the V2, I love mine, especially with the CX 70-300 VR. But the D800 is also a marvelous camera and for my big hands is a perfect fit. With both, I have the best of both worlds. I won’t be parting with my D800 but neither will I forsake my V2’s either. Just saying that one can’t make valid comparisons between the two formats.

    For lightweight carry, of a complete system, I go to my V2. For my best choice of 35mm equipment and for the best IQ, I always reach for my D800.

    I really enjoyed the article, however. As always, lots of good info.

    Vern Rogers (fotabug)

    1. Hi Vern,
      I agree with you totally on the D800 images…which is exactly why I started the article by stating that fact right upfront…and reinforcing the notion that the purpose of the post wasn’t to compare image quality between the cameras. The full frame sensor of the D800 is in a completely different league than a Nikon 1 CX sensor as DxO test data clearly indicates. I always thought of my D800 as a ‘failsafe’ camera…I could point it at anything and be confident that it would perform as expected and give me solid images time after time. Having said that I haven’t regretted selling off my D800 and all of my FX gear…I just wasn’t getting a sufficient amount of use from it to justify keeping thousands of dollars of capital tied up in it.
      Tom

  2. Lately, in my haste to review many hundreds of images, I’ve tended to bypass DxO and that’s a real mistake. The program’s “Prime” noise reduction feature definitely improves IQ. Here’s a question: Do you use a program (like Photo Mechanic or fastrawviewer) to quickly cull shots ? I’m always mindful of DxO’s admonitions to not pre-process files but I’m somewhat intrigued by these fast RAW reviewers, especially after a session that might produce a thousand or more pictures. I want to avoid bogging down my workflow by having DxO process EVERY exposure since some made during burst modes will not be kept. In summary, what is the most efficient way you’ve found to cull?

    1. Hi David,

      I should first explain that I’m not a typical photographer in that I also have other parts to my business like video, executive coaching, employee surveys, posters and some other things. As a result of that eclectic mix of services and products I use Windows Explorer for all of my filing needs since I store all kinds of file types for individual clients (i.e. photo, video, Word, Excel, PowerPoint).

      I always shoot in RAW + jpeg fine. One of the reasons for that is so I can use Windows Explorer to quickly sort through files. When I come back from shooting a lot of images I typically set up sub folders in Windows Explorer and do some initial fast groupings of shots by subject matter. I’ll then set up an ‘images to process file’ where I will then place the best potential images from the day from the various sub files. When I open up an image from the ‘images to process file’ OpticsPro then only opens up those high potential images. Doing this type of sorting also allows me to delete hundreds of unnecessary files very quickly later on since I can usually just kill entire sub files.

      Using Windows Explorer for all of my filing needs also saves me the time and trouble of having to learn yet another piece of software.

      Tom

  3. Hi
    I just looked at the pictures a few times, and tried to guess which was taken with what.

    At this web level, in my monitor, and without open the images… I was unable to tell the difference after 3rd attempt…
    I think this speaks for your work! 🙂

    P.S. I like this flower pictures

  4. Absolutely gorgeous, Thomas. There is no doubt that your prowess with the Nikon 1 series of cameras and lenses is extraordinary. While I very much would like the designers to overcome the laws of physics and stuff a so-called “full-frame” sensor in it (at the same time keeping lenses lilliputian, of course), few can quibble with the IQ you coax from it in its present form. I confess that it and its 70-300mm less represent the most enjoyable day-to-day shooting experience among the cameras I own. Keep inspiring us!

    1. Hi David,
      Thanks for your positive comment – I’m glad you enjoyed the images! Like you, I’m hopeful that sensor technology will keep advancing and improve the performance from small sensors like the CX.
      Tom

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