Tale of two moonsIn focus moon

Tonight I took several pictures of the Super Moon, I am a novice practicing in manual mode. Can someone explain why these photos are drastically different. The out of focus was shot with a Nikon D3200 55-200mm telephoto kit lens at ISO 200, 200mm, f/10, 1/125 sec. The in-focus ISO 200, 200MM, F/9.0 1/400 sec. I don't think the settings are drastically different are they?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Manual" what? Exposure mode? Focus mode? AF point selection mode? How was your camera stabilized? How did you actuate the shutter? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 14, 2016 at 6:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ he lens for the out of focus and the in focus shot was probably photographed with the auto-focus activated on the camera since I wasn't satisfied with my initial results. I set the exposure on the out of focus -photo to -3.3. I shot all images on a tripod and with a wireless remote. Not sure about the AF point selection, this may have been altered since I was trying a few different things to try and get a better photo. I just added a pic of the settings to the question. Thanks for your questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric
    Nov 14, 2016 at 6:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ please see the additional information in my answer.. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 14, 2016 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: How to capture details of the moon? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Nov 14, 2016 at 10:06
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that there's a roughly two-stop exposure difference between the two shots so, yes, the settings were quite dramatically different. So what aspect of the photographs are you asking about? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 14, 2016 at 12:53

1 Answer 1


The biggest clue is the fact that the out of focus shot makes the moon appear to be significantly smaller than the in focus shot. With many Nikon telephoto zoom lenses as the focus distance is reduced the field of view is expanded. Some versions of Nikon's 70-200mm f/2.8 series of lenses have field of view of only about 140mm at the minimum focus distance when set at the maximum focal length of 200mm. This is referred to as focus breathing. If the effective focal length does not change, then the out of focus shot would make the moon appear slightly larger.

Based on the relative sizes of the two images and assuming both are at the same focal length when shot and at the same enlargement it seems something caused the focus distance to be greatly reduced in the out of focus shot.

It is almost always necessary to manually focus astronomical subjects. The AF systems in most cameras can't focus on small, dim objects in the sky. Even when they can, their margin of error is usually too great to give the kinds of results most people desire when doing astrophotography. Because infinity focus changes with focal length and other environmental factors, most lenses allow the focusing elements to go past infinity. Many lenses with high speed AF motors allow an even greater buffer past infinity focus so the focus motor is less likely to bump against the end of travel when trying to focus at infinity.

With digital cameras manual focus using the viewfinder can be difficult even in bright light. It's even harder in dim light. Fortunately there is a better way if your camera has a Live View shooting mode. Set the lens to "manual focusing", use the Live view magnifier to zoom in on a section of the sky (in your case the moon) and manually focus until it is as sharp as you can get it. Since AF is turned off, the lens will stay focused at that distance as long as the focus ring is not moved. You can then exit live view and shoot using the viewfinder to compose. Just be careful not to touch or move the focus or zoom rings on the lens.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I wish I'd known that last paragraph last night. I'll put my 30 blurry moon shots [auto & manual focus] down to 'learning curve'. Thanks for the info. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 14, 2016 at 8:21

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