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I am going on a road trip over this summer and I'd like something that can handle being zoomed in a lot. I have a very capable Nikon D5200, and a 55-300mm telephoto lens that goes with it. However, while doing (unrelated) research, I stumbled across an article that states that superzooms nowadays have 1,000mm 35mm equivalent zooms? Here's the article in question.

If I buy one of these, will I be getting the increase I'm thinking of? I know that there is a conversion factor, but if I've looked into this right, my 300mm on a Nikon DX camera is only equivalent to somewhere around 500mm in 35mm.

Would someone be able to make sure that I'm converting this right, or convert these superzoom measurements to their Nikon DX equivalent? I'd much rather buy a superzoom like this, considering that lenses beyond 300mm seem to cost silly money.

Thanks, and feel free to ask me any questions :)

-Captain Zoom

EDIT: Found this website, I have decided to just crop as it will still produce a very usable image. http://www.discoverdigitalphotography.com/2013/how-does-the-zoom-of-a-superzoom-camera-compare-to-a-dslr/

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I'm sure they would like to sell you a new camera, and it is true that your 300mm lens on DX is "only" equivalent field of view of 450mm on 35mm film, but you are already way ahead with a better camera now than you would have then. Hold your ground.

  1. Your sensor is way larger than these little guys, which is a strong plus. Your crop factor (compared to 35mm film size) is 1.5x. Theirs is 5.55x. So your sensor is 3.7x larger than theirs. This means less enlargement is necessary to view or print your images, and also, the noise level is much less (allowing higher ISO). You have the good stuff.

However B. (switching sides, but still same advantage): The "only" equivalent of 450mm on 35 mm film is offset by your frame being 1.5x smaller (0.67 size) than 35 mm film. So you necessarily enlarge it 1.5x more and thus see the same size and view as 35mm film. The little superzoom camera frame is the same view, but it has to be enlarged 5.55x more to see the same size. The DX 1.5x format is very popular with wildlife and birders and sports for this reason, the greater necessary enlargement is like extra magnification, but it is already a very good start. If you have a good lens, the 1.5x greater enlargement is not a bad thing.

  1. Best good zoom lenses zoom over a small range, maybe a 3x range, for example, one of the best is the $1700 Nikon 24-70mm, or 2.9x range. Designing a superzoom to zoom over a 10x or 40x range is a huge compromise on quality. It cannot be best all all these possible settings. Probably mediocre at best. Enlarging mediocre even more is not a good thing. Some of these little guys sell for maybe $300, camera and lens. It is point&shoot stuff, and they don't really care, but good stuff costs more.
  • Okay - so if I crop an image from my 55-300mm lens (at 300mm, 450mm equivalent at 35 mm film) would I get a better result cropping that to 1000mm (equivalent) then a superzoom at that same zoom? – Bunsen Burner Mar 28 '16 at 18:38
  • Hard to say. Cropping pixels loses pixels, so result will not enlarge as well as more pixels. The sensor cropping the lens view is different, it still has the full 24 megapixels, and so will enlarge better. --- If you need the 1000 mm equivalent view, you can simply enlarge your 1.5x view. That is less enlargement than from the tiny sensor on these cheap little cameras. Better, you can buy a 600 mm lens for DX (1000/1.5 = 666mm). Today we have Tamron and Sigma 600 mm zooms for about $1000 (a typical 4x zoom range). But we get nothing for free by enlarging small stuff to look large. – WayneF Mar 28 '16 at 18:50
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The math is simple. Nikon cropped-sensor cameras have a 1.5X focal-length-multiplier, so 300mm is equivalent to 450mm in 35mm-terms. Ultra-zooms lens are labelled with their actual focal-length but the specifications also have the 35-mm-equivalent for easier comparison.

Take the Nikon P900 for example which I reviewed here. If you look at the top of image of the camera, the lens is labelled 4.3-357mm which is equivalent to 24-2000mm lens. There is just no easy way to get this reach on a DSLR, you would need a 2X converter and around 600mm lens (600 x 1.5 x 2 = 1800mm). Such lenses weigh several kg (2-5 about) and are costly (2-14K USD).

  • This is what I'm getting at - the equivalent lenses cost way too much for me. Is it worth it getting a superzoom for those shots or should I just use my 55-300 and crop the image? – Bunsen Burner Mar 28 '16 at 18:26
  • @CaptainZoom - The image-quality of a DSLR gives you an advantage and lets you crop but it won't compensate for a huge difference. If you have a 450mm equivalent lens, you need to crop 75% of pixels just to get an image equivalent to a 900mmm one. You would need to crop again another 75%, so 92% of original pixels, to get the same images as an 1800mm ultra-zoom. No matter how good your DSLR is, it will pretty much come out as a cell-hone pic if you remove 92% of pixels – Itai Mar 28 '16 at 20:46
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Your maths is pretty much correct; the D5500 has a crop factor of 1.5, so your 300 mm lens has a 35 mm equivalent field of view of a 450 mm lens.

However... focal length isn't the only thing that matters. Your D5500 will have much higher image quality than a superzoom (simplifying a lot, because it has a bigger sensor), so you'll be able to crop the image from the D5500 a lot in a way that you couldn't with the superzoom. Which will give you a better picture at the end of the day? Difficult question, to which the answer may depend a lot on exactly which superzoom you get.

Two final comments:

  • The superzoom will also be a lot smaller than your D5500 with 300 mm lens.
  • You can always consider renting a big lens, rather than buying one.
  • Renting a big lens like that is still too much money - so what do you think? Is it better to go for a superzoom with, say, a 1000mm equivalent lens or crop the DX's 300mm image? – Bunsen Burner Mar 28 '16 at 18:31
  • @CaptainZoom is renting a longer one really much more expensive than buying a decent superzoom? You'll get much better results and if this is a on earth-in-a-lifetime trip, it might be worth it. Also consider buying a good used 500mm or similar and then selling it afterwards. You shouldn't lose any money. – Steve Ives Mar 28 '16 at 18:43
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One way of looking at it is that $300 spent on a point and shoot camera is rounding error on a professional quality long range lens [where "long range" is something in excess of 300mm]. Which is to say, a person can probably find roughly $300 difference in online pricing of the same lens and certainly find $300+ differences between the really good model and the top of the line model of lenses with similar focal length.

It comes down to personal expectations. For some people a potentially lower quality image is better than no image at all. For others it isn't. There are objective differences between approaches, but the right answer is only in terms of the right answer for a specific individual.

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