Category Archives: Nikon

BC Smoke

Although we live on the East slope of the Rockies in Alberta we are suffering badly from smoke pollution drifting over the mountains from the extensive BC wildfires. The last two days have been particularly bad, in fact this morning the the AQI (Air Quality Index) in Canmore was at 502, the highest I have seen it so far which was 140 times the WHO recommended exposure. As I write this it is still rated at 337, which is considered hazardous.

Todays view
Todays view
Todays view
Normal view over Bow River toward mount Rundle
Normal view over Bow River toward mount Rundle

Although meaningful photography is pretty meaningless in these conditions I wanted to show a couple of examples of just how bad it is.

Todays view
Todays view
Todays view
Normal view toward the Old Engine Bridge over the Bow River
Normal view toward the Old Engine Bridge over the Bow River

We are forecast for rain later today, everyone here is praying it comes and is extensive, and here’s hoping it makes it’s way over the mountains into British Columbia to assist with the firefighting efforts there.

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Fox family

Driving to one of my regular beaches to search for migrating and resident shorebirds a few days ago I suddenly glimpsed a flash of red in the sand dunes beside the road. Pulling over I was astonished to see a fox sitting in the narrow strip of dunes between the coastal road and the beach.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon Z6, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 lens at 130mm, 1/320sec @ f8 ISO 320. Manual mode with auto ISO turned on.

Switching off the engine and lowering the car window did not seem to disturb the animal one bit, then suddenly another head popped up out of the dunes followed by another. I had inadvertently discovered an active foxes den.

Normally to shoot foxes near their den requires staying well back, using very long lenses, lots of patience, using a long slow approach. Often a blind is necessary or, at the very least, remaining in the vehicle while shooting. Remaining in the vehicle in this case was entirely impractical as there were only a couple of small pullouts to get off the road, neither in a position where I could photograph from.

Red Fox among sand dunes, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikkor 500mm f4 with TC14 teleconverter (700mm) 1/2500sec @ f8 ISO 800. Manual exposure with auto ISO

I was creeping out of my vehicle while trying not to disturb the foxes when I suddenly noticed a runner coming up the road, not only that but she was going to pass within a few feet of where the foxes were sitting. ‘That’s that’ I thought, expecting to see the foxes vanish in an instant, but they took no notice whatsoever. I realised that they had become completely habituated to traffic, joggers and walkers on the road side of the dunes, and beachgoers on the other.

I have now returned several times, always early in the morning when the sun angle and direction is absolutely perfect for photography. Each time I have learned more about the individual characters of each animal.

Red Fox among sand dunes, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikkor 500mm f4 1/2000sec @ f7.1 ISO 560. Manual exposure with auto ISO

One of the kits is completely laid back and pays no attention to any disturbance, traffic or human. The other is a little more wary, always keeping one eye on anyone nearby, but still never seems to feel threatened. In fact, the more I return the more they completely accept my presence as part of their normal life.

Red Fox among sand dunes, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikkor 500mm f4 1/1000sec @ f6.3 ISO 360. Manual exposure with auto ISO

Interestingly, foxes generally mate for life, and after the kits are born both parents generally attend to their needs. At this den I have only ever seen one adult, so I am not sure if one has gone missing or that is simply a coincidence. Looking carefully at my images it does seem that it is always the same adult, so I assume it is the vixen. If she is on her own she is doing a great job as both her and the kits are in fabulous condition.

Shooting Etiquette

Remember that at all times when photographing wildlife no image is worth causing distress to the animals involved. If you are changing their normal behaviour in any way you are too close.

Approach slowly, a bit at a time. Keeping a low profile often allows you to get much closer to your subjects without unduly disturbing them. Using your vehicle as a blind is a great way of getting close, animals don’t usually associate cars, which of course they see all the time, with a threat.

You can see from all the images above that these foxes are certainly concerned by my presence and are totally relaxed.

To view more fox images and a selection of my latest images please visit the main web site.

Nikon TC-14

In 1999 I prepared for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney by replacing much of my equipment with the latest and greatest available at the time. The latest buzz word was ‘digital imaging’, Nikon having just released its first professional digital camera, the Nikon D1. It was greeted, to a great extent, with a huge amount of scepticism, ranging from ‘it’s just a novelty’, ‘the images will never be as good as film’, to, ‘I will never be seen dead with one of these new fangled cameras’. I remember a similar reaction when the first autofocus lenses appeared a few years earlier.

I took a somewhat different view so, along with my first 600mm f4, and replacing many of my shorter lenses I decided that maybe, there was more to this digital thing than others thought. I invested over $6,500 Canadian dollars on a D1 body and a couple of spare batteries. Added to this were two IBM Microdrive memory cards with the massive storage capacity of 170mb – yep mb not gb! These ran to about another $600 each. Microdrives were actually a miniature hard disk with spinning media in a compact flash size. Only problem with this is that if you dropped one it was toast, much like dropping a hard drive onto the floor today would give the same result.

Off I went to the Olympics, where I shot around 50% film and 50% on the D1. Well one thing was true from the naysayers, the quality was not as good as my film cameras. The D1 sensor was a mere 2.7 megapixel, and had a top speed of 4.5 frames per second. Plus, you certainly didn’t want to go above ISo 44 before the images became virtually unusable. Not exactly mind blowing by today’s standards. 

The Sydney Olympics were the first Games where transmission of images directly to clients was a real prospect for anyone other than the big agencies. Each evening I would download my images from the D1, caption and keyword using an early version of Photomechanic, and make some rudimentary corrections in Photoshop 5.0. I dare not crop anything , the images were too small to start with. Then it was off to the Main Press centre to collect my processed films from Kodak, scribble captions on the slide mounts, and use a film scanner for those I wanted to send that evening. (By external modem attached to my laptop). Then a selection would be made and sent by Fedex overnight out to clients. In the early hours of the morning I would get back to my hotel for a few hours sleep before doing it all again the next day. Who say’s being a sports photographer was fun?

Olympic Games, Sydney, September 2000, John Whitaker (GBR) riding Calvaro

Nikon D1, Nikon 600mm f4 lens, 1/1000 sec at f4, ISO 200, manual exposure

Returning to Canada at the end of the Games I reviewed all the images that had been used by my clients. Imagine my surprise to find that the majority had come from that 2.7mp D1 even with it’s crap quality. A little investigation soon shed light on the mystery. The images were used because they arrived with the clients first, and once an image was put on the page editors are reluctant to redo their work and change it. This was a revelation and while many of my colleagues continued to stick with film I suddenly realized that they were blind to the future of photography and I immediately dumped all my film cameras and went 100% digital, one of the first independent photographers to do so.

Within a year Nikon had progressed to the D1X which upped the sensor to 5mp, although this dropped the shooting speed to a mere 3 fps with a buffer of 9 frames, but only if you were shooting jpegs! But, the quality was a little better so another $6000+ was dropped and so it all began.

Incidentally , that original Nikon D1 was sold on to Isobel Springett who was right at the start of her photographic career. She is now an amazing wildlife and nature photographer and it’s well worth taking a look at her web site and viewing her work at www.isobelspriingett.com

Since then I have used every Nikon flagship camera up to the Nikon D4. I missed out on the D5 as my shooting interests were slowly switching away from sports and concentrating more on nature and wildlife so decided the Nikon D850 was a better fit, with it’s huge 45.7 mp sensor and 9fps shooting speed. Wouldn’t I have liked to have had this in my bag in Sydney?

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias bringing a stick to nesting mate Arthur R Marshall National Wildlife Reserve Loxahatchee Florida

Nikon D2x, Nikon 600mm f4 lens, 1/3200 sec at f4, ISO 200, aperture priority automatic exposure set to -0/7 With the D2x, launched in 2004, we are up to 12.4 mp and 5fps and much better image quality, although ISO 800 is still pushing the boundaries.

Now, I wonder just how much longer I will even be using a DSLR as mirrorless takes over the scene.

So, you may be wondering why the title of this blog is Nikon TC-14? Well, a few days ago I picked up the D850 with my 500mm f4 and attached TC-14 teleconverter and went to remove it from the lens. Wouldn’t budge. It was jammed solid, and I couldn’t even retract the  release pin. Now here was a problem, as I wasn’t sure if Nikon Servicing was even operating with the coronavirus situation, and I needed the 500mm urgently. So it was out with my miniature screwdriver set and I began to dismantle the teleconverter that was still attached to the lens. I eventually succeeded in getting it off, the release pin had sheared off and there was evidence of further internal damage.

The old and the new

It was then that I realized that this was the last piece of equipment that was still in my bag and in regular use from that re-equipping back in 1999. I wonder how many images have been shot over the last 20 years with this converter attached. A real testament to the superior build of Nikon equipment.

Thanks to The Camera Store in Calgary for shipping a new Nikon TC-14 III to replace the old one and Canada Post for getting it here in just a few days, despite the challenges that Coronavirus is creating.

I wonder if the new one will still be going in 2040? Actually, I wonder if I will still be going in 2040!

PS Many of those original Nikon D1 are still being used today after re-processing in Capture One and Photoshop so they couldn’t have been that bad!

See more images by visiting the photo galleries and my Instagram feed 

Winter surfing

The recent storms that have hit the coast of Nova Scotia have brought the winter surfers out in force. Even with temperatures well below freezing this does not stop these hardy souls getting out on the water to ride the huge incoming waves.

Inevitably, to get good surfing images, you need to either get in the water with the surfers with a waterproof camera or use a long lens. I certainly choose the second option, preferring to stay on dry land, well protected in my down jacket.

Fortunately a short distance from my home there is a great spot to shoot from, where I can stand on a concrete outflow pipe and the surfers end up almost 90 degrees to my position at the end of their rides. This makes for some great images, especially late afternoon with the sun behind me.

Winter surfers riding waves Cherry Hill, Arties Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens + TC14 converter (700mm), manual exposure, 1/2000 s, f7.1 ISO 800, auto white balance. Gitzo GT5540LS tripod with Flexshooter Pro head

Shooting surfers requires a very high shutter speed, to freeze not only the athlete but also the rapidly moving water. Due to the large contrast range between the whites of the cresting waves and the blacks of the wetsuits I used manual exposure settings. A shutter speed of 1/2000th sec and an aperture of f7.1  produced a well exposed raw file from my Nikon D850. These were then processed in Capture One 20. Each file required a little work to display the full dynamic range by pulling the highlight slider down to put detail back into the brightest areas of the waves and the shadow slider up a little to render detail into the blacks of the wetsuits. I am able to preserve much more detail in wide dynamic range images using these sliders in Capture One than I was ever able to do in Adobe Lightroom. You can try a 30 day, full working copy of Capture One by clicking here.

Winter surfers riding waves Cherry Hill, Arties Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens, manual exposure, 1/2000 s, f7.1 ISO 800, auto white balance. Gitzo GT5540LS tripod with Flexshooter Pro head

Equipment

All images were shot using the 45.7mp Nikon D850 with the Nikon 500mm f4 lens both with and without the TC14 converter. When shooting action such as surfing there is always a tendency to just put the longest lens you have on the camera and fill the frame with the action. However, here much of the action is also the movement of the waves so I ensured I had a range of images placing the surfer in different parts of the frame. Often the most powerful images concentrated on the form of the wave with the surfer placed quite small in the frame. You can view a full selection of surfing images by clicking here  

Winter surfers riding waves Cherry Hill, Arties Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens + TC14 converter (700mm), manual exposure, 1/2000 s, f5.6 ISO 800, auto white balance. Gitzo GT5540LS tripod with Flexshooter Pro head

Wildlife and nature with the Nikon Z6

The Nikon Z6 (and its sister Z7) has now been out for just over 10 months and has had one major firmware upgrade in that time, adding functionality and performance enhancements.

For the past two weeks I have been shooting exclusively with the Z6, provided courtesy of Nikon Professional Services.

There are many purely technical reviews available online providing details of the cameras specifications and offering a range of opinions as to its suitability for various tasks. I even started to read one ‘review’ only to discover after a few paragraphs that the writer had not actually handled the camera at all but was basing his opinions solely on the published specifications! IMHO technical reports do little to inform the photographer, it is real world, hands-on use that will inform the most.

Specifications

But, for the sake of clarity, here are the technical specifications, although this article is far more about actually using the camera in a real world situation:

Please note I do not include movie specifications here as they do not form part of this review.

24.5 megapixel CMOS sensor, size full frame (FX)
1 x XQD card slot (support for FastCF cards when released)
12 FPS (at full resolution)
ISO 100 – 51,200 (auto ISO available – see more on this below)
3.2: rear monitor (tilting) with touch sensitivity
OLED electronic viewfinder with 100% coverage and eye sensor to automatically switch between rear monitor and viewfinder
Z Mount for lenses. F mount lenses with adapter Electronic shutter 1/8000 to 30 sec Autofocus – Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist – 273 (single-point AF) AF modes -Pinpoint, Single-Point, Dynamic-area AF, Wide-area AF (S), Wide-area AF (L), Auto-area AF (Pinpoint and Dynamic-area AF available in photo mode only) Vibration reduction – built-in with 5-axis sensor shift
Weight 585g

For complete specs including movie go to – https://en.nikon.ca/nikon-products/product/mirrorless-cameras/z-6.html?

Handling

My first impression on unboxing the camera was wow, this is a lightweight piece of gear. It weighs in at a mere 585g compared to the D850, my current workhorse DSLR, that tips the scales at 915g, body only. Once you add the MB-D18 battery grip to get up to 9fps along with an EL-18c battery you are now up to 1,520g.

The majority of my wildlife work tends to be with long telephoto lenses, primarily  the 500mm f4 and 200-400 f4 which are already weighty beasts, so it was a pleasure to be able to reduce the overall weight when walking any distance. However, I did find the lighter weight of the Z6 a real challenge when mounting a super telephoto on my Flexshooter Pro head. It was almost impossible to get a good balance, the rig was constantly forward heavy. Maybe a longer foot on the lens to allow one to shift the balance point farther back would solve this problem.

Hand holding was at first also somewhat challenging. Trying to follow a bird in flight was a very different experience to what I am used to with a heavier DSLR. However, after a couple of days practice I got used to the different balance and by the end of two weeks I was actually getting as many sharp images as with my D50

Which bring us to one of the main questions – is the Z6 good enough all-around as an action camera? My answer is (with some minor reservations), a definitive “YES”. I have read reports that have indicated that the autofocus is lacking on accuracy and slower than in the D5 and D850. This was not my experience once I figured out how to set things up for the optimum performance.

In the review below I have concentrated on using the Z6 along with the FTZ adapter, as currently there are no supertelephoto Z mount lenses available.

Autofocus

The Z6 offers a range of autofocus options. The Z6’s Single AF mode features a choice of Auto-area, Wide-area (with either small or large focusing areas) and Single-point modes. Single point mode can be further refined to offer pinpoint focusing , which as its name suggests uses a tiny area of the available focus points to achieve a sharp image.

I had been experimenting shooting shorebirds with Single AF with auto area with considerably mixed results, some razor sharp others, well, just not acceptably sharp. Then I decided to try pinpoint, which immediately solved the problem. Just about every image was razor sharp (I accept operator rather than camera error in some cases), and I could put the focus spot directly over the eye of the subject. In addition, in this mode the focus spot turns green  when focus is achieved.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) foraging on beach, Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 900 (auto ISO), 1/2000th @ f5.6. Exposure +0.7 from metered value. Focusing by pinpoint positioned on eye

That’s all well and good for fairly static subjects but for moving subjects select AF-C to achieve continuous focus. In this mode you again have the choice of single point (but no pinpoint), wide area small, wide area large, and dynamic which continually tracks your subject as it moves around the frame. I tried all these modes on the Z6 and was pleased to find the accuracy and speed of autofocus little different from my DSLRs.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) hovering over a pond searching for fish, Broad Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 360 (auto ISO), 1/2500th @ f6.3 Focusing by wide area small.

This is contrary to some other online reports I have read, but, when delving deeper into the negative reports they often share one feature. The tests were done with non-Nikon glass, i.e. independent brand lenses. Does this shed some light on the problem?

My menu settings for the Z6 for autofocus are the same as for my DSLR’s.

AF-S priority set to focus
AF-C priority set to release
Autofocus activation set to AF-ON only (I prefer to have the shutter button take the photo and focus with the AF-ON button on the rear of the camera.)

Auto Exposure

Exposure is one of the things that sets a mirrorless camera apart from its DSLR cousins. With the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) what you see is what you get. In other words as you alter exposure parameters the EVF adjusts to a good approximation of how the final image will be exposed. In addition, you can also set up to see a histogram displayed in the EVF further aiding in exposure.

For much of my photography I am now taking advantage of Auto ISO. With the latest generation of cameras, the Z6 included, high ISO images are not a problem. I have no hesitation up to ISO 1600 where necessary with little or no post-production noise reduction required. Even at 3200 and 6400 an acceptable image can still be produced, albeit with a bit of tweaking in post. I use Capture One 12 for the majority of  my post production work.

Auto ISO allows you to set both the desired aperture and shutter speed, and the camera will set an appropriate ISO setting. To achieve this I shoot almost all my wildlife images in manual mode, use the auto ISO setting to select the ISO, and use exposure compensation if necessary to achieve the correct exposure. The beauty of the Z6 is that as you adjust the exposure compensation you can see the effect on the exposure in the EVF.

Shortcomings of the EVF

Whilst on the subject of the EVF and its advantages, this also highlighted my one main reservation with this camera. That was the slight lag for the EVF to turn on as you raised the camera to your eye. For the majority of shooting this was not a problem, but there was more than one occasion when a bird in flight appeared suddenly, and I missed the first, and often critical, opportunity as the bird flew by waiting for the fraction of a second for the EVF to light up.

Once I got the focus point on the subject in the viewfinder the focus tracking locked on with great accuracy, but using the EVF certainly does take a bit of getting used to.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) perched in a tree, Cherry Hill, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 500 (auto ISO), 1/1000th @ f5.6 Focusing by wide area small.

Battery Life

Nikon gives a rating of 340 shots per full charge of the EN-EL 15b battery. I found this to be a gross underestimate of the actual capacity. Most days I shot well over 300 images and still had at least 50% battery remaining. This in spite of the fact that I used the EVF 100% of the time I was shooting, which should, in theory, have more battery drain.

Incidentally, you can use previous versions of the  EN-EL battery but these will not charge in-camera via the USB cord.

The single card slot debate

Okay, no review can be complete without mention of the contentious debate around the single XQD card slot. Here is my take – get over it! For the last 10 years I have had Nikon DSLRs with two card slots. In the early days I used the second slot as an overflow, simply because the available cards at that time were low capacity compared to today. Since larger cards became available, I have rarely put a card in the second slot.

How many images have I lost due to this reckless behaviour? Precisely none. I have never had a card fail in camera. Maybe I have just been lucky. I have left cards in pockets that have gone through washing machine cycles, I have left cards in press offices that have ‘disappeared’ when covering major sports, and have lost more than one when out in the wilds, but I re-iterate, I have never had a card fail in camera. Incidentally I use only Lexar and Sandisk CF cards.

There are two slots available in my Nikon D850, one XQD and one SD. I do not even own a suitable SD card for this camera. I again rely on well-known brands for my cards, for XQD I use Sony and Delkin cards.

Image Quality

In short, image quality is outstanding. After all’s said and done, whatever the tech specs of the camera you are using it is the final output that matters. Fine detail is well preserved, even at higher ISOs, with great dynamic range. Colours are accurate (assuming good exposure) which means far less post-production work. However, I did find the Z6 a little less tolerant of exposure mistakes. Making a large exposure correction results in more noise than a similar exposure correction with an image from the D850.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 2200 (auto ISO), 1/2500th @ f5.6. Exposure +0.3 from metered value. As you can see even at ISO 

All images are shot as raw 14 bit.

I firmly believe that mirrorless cameras are the future of photography and that we will see huge progress in the near future. I don’t think I’ll ever be buying another DSLR, although I am not yet ready to completely ditch my D850.

The Nikon Z6 will prove to be the perfect second camera for my day-to-day outfit, and, when I want to go lightweight, would be my first choice of body.

Disclaimer

I am not directly connected, nor employed, by Nikon. I am a long-time Nikon user (35years+) and a member of NPS (Nikon Professional Services)