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I've been having sharpness issues with recent bird captures, and then realized we've been having a very grey winter.  I usually use Aperture Priority with a fairly fast (500+) shutter speed.  My lens is a

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED AF-S DX Autofocus Zoom Lens.  Does the 4-5.6 mean that my aperture is limited to those two openings? If so, then I need another lens with lower (more open) aperture settings.

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Have you tried using your flash Mary?? It may help with the detail.

Wondering if this is a wear and tear issue, and might be worth taking some control shots under different conditions with the same settings (& tripod etc). 4-5.6 refers to the maximum aperture for the lens, which decreases as you zoom in.

For this kind of lens brightness of scene is very important to get great clarity. In this winter cloudy atmosphere is just not possible with lower ISO. With high ISO you will loose on clarity (noise). I think that you use 200 mm what makes image even more soft. For birds photography is best to start with minimum 300 mm and 2.8 aperture.Zoom lens with 2.8 on all extend is the best. With your lens you will get best results on very bright day.

Thanks for all of the information.  I appreciate your generosity.  Got a good tripod (Manfrotto) for Christmas, don't have external flash units yet, probably for my birthday in Sept. the next lens, probably not until 2014.  Until then I'll wait for sunny days to try the bird captures.

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