Z6 II and Z7 II announcement imminent

In just less than 6 hours the updated version of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 will be formally announced. www.nikon.ca

So, what will we see in the specs for this update?

Rumoured specs have been floating around various internet sites for a few weeks but I suspect that no-one really knows, other than the folks at Nikon, what enhancements we might see.

What would I like to see?

Having tested the original Z6 quite extensively for wildlife work here a few enhancements that would lead me to make a purchase.

  • Faster and more accurate autofocus
  • Improved eye AF with animal detection
  • Blackout free Electronic viewfinder (EVF)
  • Higher resolution EVF
  • A battery grip with full controls for portrait shooting
  • Improved frame rate
  • Dual memory slots

I am really not interested in a larger sensor for the Z6 – I have my D850 for high resolution requirements.

I will be bringing you a hands-on report on the new model as soon as it is actually available.

Full circle

In October 1998 I, along with my wife Jean, emigrated to Canada from our previous home in France, and settled in Calgary. In great part our decision to come to Calgary was pre-ordained as we had been attending one of the world’s major equestrian events, The Masters Showjumping, at Spruce Meadows, for many years before we decided to make Calgary our new home.

A lot has happened in the years between 1998 and today. We spent three years in Calgary before the yearning to have a bit more land took hold and we headed on to Courtenay in British Columbia. From there it was Florida USA, back to British Columbia, a couple of years in Toronto, again a return to BC, Lake Chapala Mexico, Nova Scotia and now, as I sit typing this from a hotel room in Banff, we are waiting to move into our new home back in Calgary.

Evening storm approaches Banff, Canadian Rockies, Canada

When we drove back into Alberta, and particularly over the past few days revisiting some our old haunts in Banff National Park, (despite the restrictions caused by covid) it has felt like we have come home, full circle!

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

I will now have the opportunity to spend time in the mountains and prairies photographing wildlife and also get back into shooting some major sport. That’s assuming that covid 19 is ever mastered to the point of having a major sporting program.

This year has hit many sports photographers really hard. I myself should have just returned from working six weeks at the Tokyo Olympics and we all know how that turned out. Who knows if we will be in Tokyo in 2021? Without an effective vaccine it looks a slim possibility.

So, as soon as we are settled into our new home I will concentrate on the wildlife side of my work while I wait for the sports world to get back to some sort of normality. Look out for new daily images on Instagram, (my feed has been very quiet while we have been in the process of moving).

Bighorn Sheep, Mount Norquay, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Workshops and field trips

I will also soon be announcing my workshop series for 2021. This will include some software workshops concentrating on improving photographers workflow and processing images using Capture One. More details on these will be posted shortly. Capture One is now the only software I use for processing RAW files. Occasionally a file will get passed to Photoshop for some final work but this is a rarity.

I will also be organizing some field trips for photographers starting in Spring 2021. Out of Covid 19 necessity these will be locally based around Southern Alberta. Until the situation eases I will not be organizing any non-Canadian workshops.

Fox Family

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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 among sand dunes, 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.

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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

Which tripod head

I often come across other photographers while shooting and regularly see them using inadequate tripods and, more particularly, bad tripod heads.

The tripod often has tiny thin lens with 5 or more sections. Great for folding the tripod down to a small size for carrying but rendering the tripod completely unstable when the bottom sections are opened up. They are just too thin to provide stable support for any sort of telephoto lens, especially if there is a it of a breeze blowing.

Similarly, poorly built tripod heads, actually hinder rather than help photographers. Often the head was bought as an integral part of the tripod and suffers from poor design, does not lock in one place when tightened up. (i.e. the camera and lens move from the desired position as you tighten the controls). Frustrating to say the least.

With tripods costing from $100 to well over $1000 and heads ranging from those included with a cheap tripod to also well over $1000 how do you choose what is best for you?

Tripods

Choose a tripod that suits both your shooting style and budget. Carbon fibre should be your material of choice for the legs both for it’s low weight and inherent stiffness. Pay particular attention to the lowest (i.e. smallest diameter) section. This is the most prone to weakness. If too small it will transmit the smallest vibrations, even from a gust of wind, up through the legs. Make sure it extends to a suitable height, I like at least my eye level so that when a head is attached you are still OK if the ground in front of you is slightly lower than where you are standing.

I don’t like tripods with a built-in extending column. Why have a nice sturdy three legs and then top it with a single legged support, making a monopod on a tripod? I also prefer no more than three extensions on the legs.

My recomendations

Since the beginning of my career I have used Gitzo tripods. Currently my choice is the GT5540LS (now superceded  by the GT5543LS). A bit heavy if you are planning a trek up a mountain but the steadiest support I have ever owned.

My choice is probably overkill for most but there are great carbon fibre tripods available from Gitzo, Really Right Stuff, Induro, Benro and Oben to name a few. 

Lastly when choosing a tripod, check the leg locking mechanism. There is nothing worse than getting all set up and about to take that award winning shot when one leg starts to slowly collapse, unbalancing the whole rig with great potential for disaster. 

Tripod heads

A lot depends on your shooting style and the subjects you are aiming for. 

Ball heads

Arca Swiss ball head on Overxposed ground plate as used for low level remote photography

If you are primarily a landscape photographer a good ball head will do nicely. Make sure that when you tighten the locking screw that the head remains exactly where you want it with no ‘creep’ especially if there is a front heavy telephoto attached. My recommendations for ball heads are the original Arca Swiss Monoball ($US387) or the Really Right Stuff BH-55 ($US489). I know some photographers who use these heads with supertelephoto lenses but they are really only sutable for static subjects – I find it’s almost impossible to shoot anything that is moving. There are other makes that give equally good results but I base the above on my personal experience of using these.

I now use my Arca Swiss head only for mounting on a plate when shooting remote images. Unfortunately the Overxposed ground plates and risers are no longer in production.

 

Gimbal heads

If you are shooting sports or wildlife from a tripod then many consider a gimbal head an absolute necessity. Properly set up a gimbal head supports your large telephotos in a weightless fashion and allows a smooth range of movement for following your subject.

The original gimbal head, the Wimberley, ($595) continues to be popular and is still a great choice. I used a Wimberley head for many years with my Nikon 600mm f4, 500mm f4 and 200-400 f4 lenses. I had less success using Wimberley’s Sidekick head that turns an Arca Swiss head into a Gimbal – well sort of!  

Roberto, my guide for Pantanal tours checks out the close focussing capabilities of my Nikon 600mm on a Wimbeley Head

I also used the Really Right Stuff PG02 ($US 891) for a while, great head but heavy 5.43lbs

But, beware, not all gimbals are made equal. There are a number of less expensive gimbal heads around that are made with poor materials, less precise tolerances, and are anything but smooth in their operation. Make sure you try before you buy.

The downside of gimbal heads is that they are difficult to impossible to use with a shorter lens. There’s no easy way to mount a camera body onto the head. This meant when travelling it was necessary to have two heads, one for telephotos and one for shorter lenses.

So what is my recommendation? Actually none of the above!

In May 2020 I took delivery of a head that is the answer to everything.

The Flexshooter Pro

The Flexshooter Pro head

  I had read all the hype about the Flexshooter Pro ($US599) and frankly was a little concerned that I was going to be disappointed. How could one head perform both functions without compromise? The Flexshooter Pro  is a ballhead that acts like a gimbal head.

The answer is a unique ball in ball design. A large outer silver ball allows you to level your rig using the built-in bubble level. A smaller inner black ball that uses a system of springs (I don’t know how, nor want to it just works) to apply tension to the lens and camera.

Topping the head is a unique two-way Arca Swiss clamp. This allows you to insert your telephoto lenses in one orientation and your directly mounted camera body in the other. Voila, only one head needed! Of course you need an Arca Swiss type foot or camera plate attached but that’s true of every head mentioned. The Arca Swiss clamping system has become the de-facto method for most tripod head manufacturers. Replacement feet and plates are available from a number of manufacturers including Really Right Stuff, Kirk, Wimberley and others.

Flexshooter with D850 and 16mm lens

Above all the greatest asset of this head is that when you tighten the knobs the head stays exactly where it was put. No creep or sag at all. I only really tighten the head any amount for landscape or other short lens work. For my big telephotos I work with the black ball set quite loose. As I swing my lens around with the rig properly balanced, I can let go and the lens will stay exactly where it was pointing.

Flexshooter with 200-400mm f4 lens mounted

I have used this head exclusively since taking delivery and sold my gimbal heads. I consider it to be second best purchase of 2019, only ranking behind my Nikon D850 body.

Incidentally, Flexshooter also make  a larger Extreme Ballhead with a carrying capacity of  132lbs as opposed to the 100lbs of the Pro version. Personally I have never found the Pro version wanting in any regard.

If you wish to purchase any item mentioned above I would appreciate you using my affiliate link below



Capture One 20

Capture One version 20 was released early in December 2019 and is touted as a major upgrade over Capture One 12. Now, you may well ask what happened to versions 13 through 19 and the short answer is they never existed. Version 20 is to bring the vesion number in line with the year, of course it now being 2020.

Whats New

  • Greatly improved noise reduction algorithm
  • New basic colour editor
  • Improved High Dynamic Range Tool
  • Improved Crop Tool
  • ‘Switch to next’ speeds up image selection
  • Select tools to have scrolling turned on and pin your favourites to non-scrolling mode (Very useful when working on smaller screens)
  • Copy layers and masks between images

I have been using Capture One 20 since it’s release date (In fact before that as I was part of the Beta program). Below are the new and improved aspects.

Noise Reduction

The new noise reduction algorithm is a huge improvement over version 12. Much smoother reduction, less artifacts, improved colour accuracy and improved recognition of patterns and edges all contribute to a better image. The amount slider has a much stronger effect than previously and overall noise reduction is increased for higher ISO images. This improvement is so good that I have stopped using NIK Dfine completely, which previously was my go-to tool.

 

New Basic Colour Editor

Basic color editor

To term this new tool ‘basic’ is to greatly undersell its potential. It is simplicity itself to grade a particular colour. Select the tool, move the cursor to the colour on the image you wish to work with, click and hold and simply move the cursor left and right or up and down. Horizontal movements control hue (add the ALT key] to control lightness), vertical movements control saturation.

Alternatively you can also use the dropper tool to select a colour and adjust with the sliders. All the old clour balance tools are still intact should you wish to use them instead.

 

 

 

High Dynamic Range

High dynamic range tool

High dynamic range adjustments should not be confused with the creation of HDR imges, i.e. the blending of several image with different exposures to create one new HDR (and often garish!) image.

For my purposes, and the purposes of Capture One, HDR adjustments are designed to extract the full dynamic range possible from a raw capture. In previous versions the HDR tool was used to recover shadows and/or highlights. With version 20 the tool has been reworked to allow both recovery, or, to increase the shadows and highlights and now to also adjust the blacks and whites.

What this means is that, for example, in the highlights slider, move left to recover detail and right to increase highlight brightness.Shadows works the converse way. In effect you can now, for the first time brighten highlights and recover shadows.

This tool now sports two additional controls, White and Black. These sliders affect only the blacks and whites in the image, in a similar way to setting the black point and white point in Lightroom. 

This tool now gives ultimate control over the full dynamic range of the image whilst retaining a completely natural look.

Crop Tool

I could never understand why, when using previous versions of Capture One, I had to select another tool after making a crop for the crop to actually be applied to the image. Then, if I needed to tweak the crop, I had to go back and reselect the crop tool again. This was one of my biggest frustrations of the program. Finally this has been addressed in version 20, Make a crop and hit enter – hooray – immediately the crop is applied to the image. In addition the corner crop handles have been enlarged to make grabbing them with the cursor much easier.

In addition holding the shift key while making a crop retains the current aspect ratio and ALT will crop from the middle outwards

The crop tool

Scrollable tools

Scrollable tools

In previous versions if all the tools did not fit on your screen space you had to collapse some to make room for others. Now you can select some tools to permanently display i.e. ‘pinned’ and move others that, for example, you use only intermittently, to a new scrollable area. This is particularly valuable if working on a small screen or laptop.

For my main 27″ screen (a BenQ SW2700) on which I do most of my work, I have built a set of custom tools (Capture One has almost infinite ways of customizing just about everything to suit your own workflow) that suit my own particular way of working. Working from the top down I have in the pinned area:

  • Layers
  • Exposure
  • White balance
  • High dynamic range
  • Clarity
  • Levels

Below that in a scrollable area I have

  • Color Editor
  • Noise reduction
  • Sharpening
  • Spot removal
  • Base Characteristics (this is only there to allow me to upgrade the processing engine from previous versions of  Capture One to version 20 if needed for images that were previously imported. of course all new imports will automatically use the Capture One 20 engine)

To move tool to or from the scrollable area click on the three small dots which open the tool preferences fly-out and select move to or remove from the scrollable area

 

 

 

Copy and apply layers

With the powerful layers built in to Capture One I find I am making less and less round trips to Photoshop. Often we find ourselves working on several very similar images and previously you could only copy the whole layer set from one image to another. This has now been improved so that you can select which layers to copy and additionally the layers will self adjust if the images are different dimensions. Copied layers will now add themselves to the new images existing layers instead of replacing them.

Version 20 also has a number of minor tweaks.

Preview quality is somewhat improved, support for DNG files is better (I never use them so can’t comment), and you can use switch to next when viewing previews i.e. add a star rating to an image and you will automatically proceed to the next thumbnail. Personally I leave this turned off.

Conclusion

So, this is a fairly big release. For my particular image workflow the improved dynamic range tool and noise reduction algorithm, particularly on high ISo images, along with the easier cropping would be worth the price of the upgrade.

Likes

  • Improved crop tool
  • High dynamic range tools beats every other program I have tried
  • Better Noise reduction tool now means I don’t have to round trip to another software
  • New basic color editor makes colour grading easy.

Dislikes

  • Cataloging still needs improvement. Search function is still slow, especially if you have a large catalog which, of course I do.
  • Importing is still a bit too slow and often the previews take an inordinately long time to generate which is frustrating if you import a large shoot are in a hurry to start work on the images.
  • Price of upgrade from previous versions a little on the high side

A new license Capture One Pro 20 costs $299, with an upgrade $159. Sony and Fujifilm versions can be licensed for $129.

A monthly, subscription is $15 a month. The Sony and Fujifilm subscriptions are $8 per month.

If you want to give it a try there is a 30-day fully-featured free trial 

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

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

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)

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)

100% unsharpened crop of original

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)