Posted on May 21, 2019
small… medium… Large
As the Dire Straits used to sing: “you get to meet all sorts…” in their hit song ‘Private Investigations’, so does this apply to the Mara. In the case of lions, with a bit of luck you’ll see tiny lions, not-so-small lions, larger lions, and massive lions.
Our driver used to say: “the Mara never disappoints”, and he was right. Especially during the second half of the week we saw both cute little ones and big (especially when standing next to your vehicle) mama and papa lions with whom we had some unexpected encounters (read on for that one).
On day 5 of our safari, the sun had already set and we found ourselves in the middle of an empty (as in: no tourists around, they had already gone back) savanna when we spotted a female lion who was walking away from her pride (no reason why…). But every now and then she was standing still, turning around, seemingly waiting for something or someone. And there they were: two tiny cubs walking perfectly in sync working hard to catch up with mom…
As I didn’t have too much light anymore and I wanted to freeze their motion as best as I could, with a bit of negative exposure compensation I still ended up over 1200 ISO which fortunately isn’t really any problem for the D850. This is where a prime lens (f/4) really helps: if I had shot this one with my D500 and 200-500mm f/5.6 zoom I would have had a very hard/impossible time trying to get rid of the noise…
And then, tiny lions become (with a bit of luck) small lions, like this one we found playing in the grass in the early morning on the last day (7) of our safari.
Sometimes you get a shot which you had never thought you’d ever get, or perhaps never thought would even be possible. In the late afternoon on day 6 of our safari we were watching a couple of male and female lions. The males were quite interested in the females, and one of the females decided to walk towards our Land Cruiser to perhaps escape a bit from the unrelenting attention of the males. As the female was standing very close to our car, one of the males walked straight towards us, and to my 600mm f/4 super telephoto lens.
When I was thinking about this shot I couldn’t help wondering why you don’t see too many of these around. Most obvious explanation is that you just have to be very, very lucky for a male lion to walk straight towards you on the Mara savanna (or any other wildlife area for that matter). The other reason, I thought, was that if this were to happen in another situation; e.g. shooting from outside rather than from the inside of a (relatively) safe vehicle, you might actually not even make it to posting the image on your blog as you would have likely ended up as lunch (or dinner) ;∼)
So this was a once in a lifetime shot, which easily could not have happened. But it did, and so ‘the Mara never disappoints’ as our driver said, was true. There is absolutely no guarantee you get these kinds of shots when you visit the Mara, but if you’re up for the challenge, just drop me a note at: email@example.com as I’m planning to organize another trip to the Mara around the October timeframe this year with a small group of photography enthusiasts.
My next article will probably be the last one the Mara lions, after which I’l move on to hyenas and other wildlife. Stay tuned!
Posted on May 12, 2019
In the Mara, you’re not alone. Obviously you may be travelling with your partner, family, etc. but (hopefully) also with an experienced driver who will safely guide you to those hard to find places where you’ll have the opportunity to get that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Next to that, expect several hundreds, or rather thousands of other people with varying degrees in photography enthusiasm – and related equipment.
Not all, but most people do prefer to ‘avoid the crowds’ so when you decide to embark on one of these life-changing safari journeys, make sure you work with the right travel agent who can advise you on the best times for your journey. I know I did, and I was very happy with the outcome (which is one of the reasons I’ve decided to travel again later this year and plan for a small group of photography enthousiasts to join).
In terms of the folks we’ve seen this time, this was somewhat of an eye-opener for me. My first safari trip was over 20 years ago. The ‘typical tourists’ in those days usually came from Western Europe or North America. Fast forward to the new millennium and century, and even in the Mara you can see how the world has changed in terms of globalization: of all the tourists I saw in the Mara my guess is that (at least) 80% were from India. Another 10% or so seemed from Asian descent; e.g. Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and the remaining 10% was probably split between (North & South) American and (West and East) European.
And in case you wonder why not 80% of the tourists were from China instead of India: well for one reason or another China has focused on infrastructure rather than safaris! When you drive around in Kenia you will find Chinese railways, Chinese roads, Chinese vehicles, Chinese buildings and many, many Chinese to help build all this infrastructure in Kenia. It’s one thing to read about it or see it on TV, but to experience it in real life is something different. The world is changing!
What is also changing, is technology. I’ve been a Nikon user ever since I (re)started my photography around 10 years ago. Even then, I noticed that more people were using Canon, and only very few any of the other brands (Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Fuji etc.) At that time, Nikon had their full frame D3(S) and D300(S) combo, and it was doing very well in the market. Fast forward 10 years, and despite several technological innovations (latest: mirrorless) I see less and less Nikon. Whatever Nikon did over the past years, if gaining market share was their strategic goal, it didn’t work out too well.
Of all the (pro/prosumer) gear I saw in the Mara, I’d guess that (at least) 70-80% was Canon. Those big and/or smaller white lenses were everywhere. Perhaps 5-10% or so was Nikon, another 5-10% Sony, and the rest was again taken up by the Pentax and Fujis of this world. Ratio pro/prosumer vs. point-and-shoot (pure tourism) was probably 50/50; many people choose a safari in the Mara just for entertainment and safari vacation, rather than a unique photographic opportunity (which I completely respect).
Actually, I noticed the same ‘brand ratio’ during my recent visit to the ‘Frisian Flag‘ where the majority of the aviation ‘spotters’ were using Canon gear. Perhaps only 10-15% were Nikon shooters, and still relatively few Sony (mirrorless) gear around. Sometimes the latest market numbers (showing significant market decline for Canon and Nikon especially in DSLRs) do not fully reflect ‘what’s on the ground’…
The other thing that struck me, was the way most of the photographers were shooting. It’s one thing to be able to buy (or rent) that expensive camera and lens, but it’s quite another to understand how to use it (technically), and to achieve that desired outcome (artistically). Which is yet another reason why I decided to go back to the Mara later this year with a small group of photography enthusiasts and share some experiences and best/personal photography practices. For that, just drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will let you know about availability.
This section on lions of my series of the Masai Mara will continue for a couple of weeks as I simply need to get through some of my best lion shots… as usual, the ones I hadn’t planned for came out best. Nature photography can be both a curse and a blessing, but always fascinating … stay tuned!
Posted on May 11, 2019
Morning has broken
Early in the morning on day four of our safari adventure, I was walking to our Land Cruiser with my gear to prepare for another exciting day in the Mara. While I was wondering where this strange light was coming from as we were still an hour before sunrise, I noticed the ‘blood-red-super’ moon on my right. And as I did not bring any gear for landscape photography (e.g. tripod) I just took a bit of a risk and tried a shot hand-holding my 600mm f/4 super telephoto lens…
The Mara is a mystical place. You never really know what your day is going to look like after you wake up and start preparing for your safari. You may have certain expectations but in the end, the Mara seems to decide what it will present you with… Mornings always seem special though in the Mara. Some of our best moments were just after sunrise when we spotted lions: prides, couples, and cubs.
With a little help from your skilled guide/driver and with a little luck, you can position yourself in the right way to capture those magical Mara (lion) mornings…
…All from a safe distance off course. However, these lions have zero interest in tourists; they do have 100% interest in their fellow lions of the opposite gender. They can spend days working hard to make little lions…it’s another mystery to experience these animals who can be so cruel (in our view) yet can also be so caring and loving towards each other.
Talking about tourists: it was quite interesting to see the differences in tourists visiting the Mara in terms of their origin, travelling style, photography gear (if any), photography styles, etc. I’ll save that one for my next article… which I’m planning to send out tomorrow, so stay tuned!
And if my past articles on the Mara, this one, or perhaps tomorrow’s one strike a cord… just drop me a note at: email@example.com as I’m aiming to organize a safari trip later this year for a small group of photography enthusiasts and share some of these experiences and best/personal photography practices.
Posted on April 28, 2019
In this final article on my very first experience with aviation/fighter jet photography, I’ll run through some of the pilot close-ups I took upon arrival from their exercises over the North Sea. While some of them liked to show off a little to the audience during takeoffs, they were obviously a bit more focused during their landings, although a couple would still take a second or two and wave at the over 100 aviation enthusiasts close to the runway.
I guess I picked up a few new lessons (…and skills):
- Aviation photography is fun…!
Fighter jets are just amazing machines and the pilots seem to really enjoy what they’re doing; the whole vibe and interaction between the ‘spotters’ and the pilots is great to experience.
- Aviation photography is difficult…
Well, at least the type where the jets are flying right passed you at very high speed… You need both reach (long lenses) and agility (no tripod) to have a chance on getting any decent composition.
- Aviation photography requires the right kind of camera…
In my experience, I really needed those megapixels from the Nikon D850, in combination with a decent frame rate. Higher rate is definitely better. But what turned out to be the most important factor for me on this one, was buffer size, and memory card writing speed. The D850 unfortunately doesn’t reach D500/D5 writing speeds but the XQD card is also too slow; faster obviously than SD but still not fast enough. The new & upcoming CFexpress cards promise 3-4x faster writing speeds compared to XQD and rumour has it Nikon will arrange for backwards compatibility with the D850. Looking forward to that one!
I just had to give the last image to my new “uber” cool German pilots.
And for any queries or comments, simply drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on April 19, 2019
As I mentioned in my previous article, I started off shooting with the D500 as I assumed it would get me ‘closer’ to the jets. However a major drawback is that you can only get the composition you’re looking for in a fraction of a second as these jets fly pretty fast (like most of them do). Before you know it they are already too close end you up with only a nose, tail, piece of wing or in most cases, empty sky.
So I found myself looking for more for ’empty space’ around the jets during shooting to crop/recompose later on, given sufficient pixels off course… which is just what the D850 has!
The D850 is perfect for the job, except for one, or perhaps 2 features it’s missing, compared to the D500:
- Frame rate: you get 9 frames/sec. with the D850 (battery pack attached, off course) vs. 10 frames/sec. with the D500. 1 frame may not seem that big of a deal, but in reality it does make a difference. However, this is still quite ‘manageable’ compared to the D500.
- Image buffer: this one IS a big deal. You get a 51 image buffer with the D850 (RAW, lossless compressed, 14-bit) compared to 200 images with the D500. An image buffer fills up very, very quickly. When there is only one jet flying by you may be OK, but when there are 3 or 4 flying towards you and you want to capture them all… your D850 is still busy emptying the buffer to your XQD card while the action is passing by. And forget about the SD card, it’s totally useless in this context. During one morning I actually managed to fill my XQD card completely after which my D850 switched to the SD card… That works nicely when you are shooting tulips (just had to give a typical Dutch example) but forget about any fast action for 20-30 seconds or more.
So while I was learning these new lessons from the ‘fighter jet field’ (literally), I was wondering why I was having this challenge in the first place. It would be so easy for Nikon to simply add more memory to the D850’s buffer and voilá, you have a high-resolution, high-DR, fast-action camera. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a D850 with a 200 image buffer?
But then I was thinking… why would Nikon want to do this? Or perhaps, why would Nikon NOT want to do this? The logical answer seemed to me: they would kill their own pro-level DSLR market. Nikon’s flagship D5 does have a 200 image buffer size, with a 20 MP full frame sensor. If Nikon would release a 46 MP full frame DSLR with a much better DR compared to the D5 (which is what the D850 has) and similar buffer size, many professional photographers would not consider the D5 anymore for sure. As such, image buffer size is, in a sense, a ‘photography currency’, next to other ones like DR, frame rate, sensor size/FX/DX etc.
However, even with that limited buffer size the images on my D850 just looked better compared to my D500. The excellent DR and those 46 megapixels give you so much freedom to capture and edit the images you’re after. I also learned quite quickly to stop pressing the shutter regularly to give the buffer enough time to empty – or at least empty enough to accept another 20-30 shots for a couple of seconds.
And last but not least, there is Nikon’s amazing continuous-autofocus mode: 3D-tracking. I started off shooting with my D500 in ‘single’ continuous autofocus as this is the setting I almost always use in nature photography. However when I noticed soon that my keeper rate was pretty poor, I remembered my positive experiences with shooting snowy owls with 3D tracking. This is the perfect setting for in-flight fighter jets as well: both my D500 and D850 got >90% of the shots in focus (composition wasn’t always great but at least in focus!).
In fact, the main reason why I still prefer Nikon over any of the other brands in the market is a combination of their excellent sensors, built-like-a-tank pro-level bodies, and excellent autofocus system in their pro series. Which is also the main reason why I’m holding back on the new Nikon mirrorless models (Z7/Z6): these do not have the same autofocus performance as on the D5/D500/D850. If/when Nikon releases a ‘Z9’ with similar 3D-tracking performance, I’ll be one of the first to take it to the test. …Hope this will happen still in this life time :)
I’ll post another couple of articles soon… so stay tuned!
And for any queries or comments, simply drop me a note at: email@example.com
Posted on April 17, 2019
Every year, at the Leeuwarden military air force base in Friesland, The Netherlands, there is an event called ‘Frisian Flag’. A set number of countries are participating with their pilots and fighter jets in arial reconnaissance and combat exercises. And with that international event you get a large number of fighter jet ‘spotters’ who bring their cameras, chairs, coffee & tea, and even ladders to get them close to the action.
So, I decided to take a look for the first time and take a small break from my recent Masai Mara images and blog (small break because I’ll be going right back to that one) and try out something completely new: shooting jets! (‘shooting’ has a somewhat awkward flavour in this context…)
…WOW! This is really something else. Fighter jet engines, in full swing when taking off, are… LOUD! Forget about the latest and greatest silent commercial jetliner engines etc. etc. These guys do not kid around. The takeoffs are stunning, the way the pilots manoeuvre their jets right after takeoff is stunning, the way they fly in and break out of formation when returning is stunning, and for one reason or another the landings are pretty cool as well.
This year our Royal Dutch airforce with its F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons joined ‘forces’ with the following international partners & jets:
- German EF2000 Eurofighter Typhoon
- Swiss F/A-18 Hornet
- French Mirage 2000D
- Polish F-16C/D Fighting Falcons
- United States also with their F-16C/D Fighting Falcons
So in all this turmoil I was thinking: how do I shoot fighter jets? Which camera is the preferred one? Do I need extenders or will the 600mm f/4 suffice? Which shutter speed? Which auto focus mode? Which VR mode on the lens? Which aperture? Basically, as usual, I had no idea what I was doing. So: I just started shooting and (very quickly) learned some interesting new factoids that I thought were nice to share…
Let’s get started!
I started off with my D500 and 600mm f/4E super telephoto lens, as I assumed I would need around 900mm effective focal length. So that turned out to be valid at a relative large distance, but not when these jets come screaming right at you. When that happens, you’re struggling seriously to keep the jet in your viewfinder. In fact, it’s very, very hard to keep a decent composition. However… there is one big advantage with the D500: 200 frame buffer! With some luck, you may find that single shot somewhere hidden in those 200+ shots you took of that jet taking off and buzzing/screaming right by you.
Talking about screaming: the French have re-invented that word with their Mirage. If you compare a Mirage to all the other jets, it’s like comparing a battle tank to a rifle (so to speak). Everything about the French is ‘soft’: their language is ‘soft’ (beautiful), the climate is soft (very nice), their attitude is soft (they’re very friendly), their fashion is soft (pretty) and so on. You would expect that trend continues with their airforce…? Nope. These beasts produce more noise that a couple of F-16s and F/A 18s put together! It’s as if you don’t need to even arm a Mirage: its sheer noise will overwhelm any enemy… you just need to see (hear) it to believe it. Monstrous machines! (yet still somewhat elegant, like the French :)
The Polish brought an F-16 that I had not seen before: a little bulky from the top but quite slim at the bottom… Still pretty cool planes.
The Americans were… American! As in: fast and loud :)
The Swiss brought their ‘beautiful’ (for lack of a better word) F/A-18 Hornets. These look quite different from all the other jets. Perhaps it’s because they are a generation ahead or something, but they definitely stand out.
And off course there are the pilots! These are some pretty cool folks: some of them take joy in flying right beside their personal fans (spotters) down below and come up with all sorts of ideas to show off a little. For example, they stay quite low above the ground right after takeoff so photographers can continue to take shots at low angle, or they roll over so everyone can see ‘the goods’ they carry under their wings. Or even better: some like to wave at the audience while taking off! (don’t try this at home folks)
So, now it’s no hidden secret that some countries did not have the best of experience with the Germans in the previous millennium/century… But we’re now in the new millennium & century and I can formally claim, at least for myself, and I would not have thought I’d actually be saying this… but after watching these pilots at ‘Frisian Flag’ I just think: Germans are ‘uber’ cool!!!
What a cool dude! Forget about one hand waving and one hand at the controls… No Way! This guy is having a ball and is showing it to the world! :) German airforce: you guys rock! :)
But I guess in all this excitement I forgot to write about those settings that can either make or break your fighter jet-shooting experience. Well, I’ll most likely post another 2 articles on this topic, as I have some nice shots taken with the D850 and explanations why I decided to switch to that camera.
Next post coming soon… stay tuned!
Posted on April 7, 2019
How to prepare for a safari: camera settings
So you’ve got everything prepared and are ready to press the shutter on your (almost) perfect camera for that shot you’ve been waiting for since you started planning your safari journey. You take the shot and …
In my case, this usually ends up in some form of disappointment, especially at the beginning of my photography trip. There’s a handful of parameters you need to juggle with before you take the shot, and I often seem to be needing a couple of hours for my ‘photography memory’ to come back to me. For example, when I was shooting the leopard during the very first day of our Mara trip, I was holding my 600mm super telephoto lens on the side of the Land Cruiser instead of on one of the bean bags. Main reason was my experience with Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) mechanism & settings in combination with hand-holding this lens or on a tripod. And I managed to get only a few tack sharp shots from that leopard, to my surprise. Later on, I discovered that bean bags actually work quite well in combination with VR on the 600mm f/4E set to ‘normal’ as long as you keep your shutter speed away from 1/1000 s. So no need for ‘sport’ especially at higher shutter speeds, remarkably.
Then there is the ‘regular parameter combo’ of ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and Depth of Field (DoF) settings. To get the exact shot you have in mind when you’re in full manual mode (as I’ve been using for the past 5-6 years), you’ll need to set these parameters in such a way that they not only work for your shot, but also not impact each other negatively. Let’s take an example:
- I usually set my aperture based on the DoF (and blurry background/bokeh) I’m looking for; however within the limits of available light (not impact ISO too much) and required shutter speed (too fast means less light)
- Then, I need to decide whether it’s a ‘below 1/1000 s.’ or ‘above 1/000 s.’ shot – thanks to Nikon’s VR mechanism which apparently operates at that same frequency and can really mess up your shots if you choose 1/000 s.
- While I’m considering the shutter speeds, I am aiming for the lowest ISO possible, to help me get that sweet DR of my sensor. The higher the DR, the better I will be able to retrieve shadows and highlights in image editing.
- However, shutter speed is off course also directly related to the object your shooting. If you’re aiming to capture images of a cheetah in action, for example, you better go for the highest possible shutter speed; but off course limited again by your required minimum ISO and aperture settings…
To make all this work most modern (semi) pro cameras do have an ‘auto ISO’ setting. Without auto ISO it would all just become too complicated and you’d find yourself computing – and missing, rather than taking shots. But again there is a catch here as well: it’s important to set the ‘maximum ISO’ to the value which is still acceptable for you in relation to the DR you can get from your camera. In most cases: cheaper cameras show relatively low DR at higher ISO and more expensive cameras show relatively high DR at higher ISO. Traditionally, Nikon’s pro-level DSLRs and their latest mirrorless cameras show relatively high DR at higher ISO compared to other brands. By the way, you would assume that these cameras show higher DR at lower ISO, which is true in most cases – weird exception is Nikon’s flagship D5 pro DSLR which shows relatively poor DR at lower ISO unlike for example the excellent D850 and D500 DSLRs.
And then there is the exposure compensation setting, which is dependent on the amount of light in your overall composition vs. on your subject, the position of your focal point in relation to your aperture settings and DoF, and… and so on. Too much to cover in a boring article and much better to explain in real life during a wonderful safari trip! ) So if these stories and images strike a cord in the coming weeks… drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org as I’m currently planning to organize a safari trip later this year for a small group of photography enthusiasts and share some of these experiences and best/personal photography practices.
In my next articles I’ll be moving on to the Mara lions… we had some very scary but most amazing and beautiful encounters with them. Stay tuned…!
Posted on March 31, 2019
How to prepare for a safari: equipment & outfit
So you’ve got your fantastic (new) camera and lens/lenses, a great tour operator, driver, accommodation, and you’re about to hop on your plane to Nairobi to start your adventurous safari journey! In that case, it’s worth reminding yourself if you did actually pack your other necessary items as well before you took off…
Let’s start with the camera-related items. The Mara is a dusty place. Very dusty. A couple of years ago I was in the Dubai desert with my brand new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL zoom lens… and when I returned home I went straight to the Nikon service centre in my country to get it stripped and cleaned from the microscopically small dust particles inside. I was a good lesson learned for me: I’ll never carry my lenses outside in the open without a lens cover ever again.
But a lens cover only will not suffice. The Mara dust will also make its way onto the outer glass element of your lens, ever so slowly. So, I also bring rain covers on my trips which provide a pretty good seal against the worst dust as well. Then there is the hood: for my 600mm f/4 I never use the original hood: it’s around $500 to replace and it’s bulky and heavy. Solution: get a foldable hood which easily attaches with velcro to your lens, for example like the one from LensCoat (no, still not getting sponsored by them…). This will also help keep the dust away.
Then there are your clothes: the Mara is a very cold place in the morning and a very hot place in the early afternoon to late evening. Cotton/jeans trousers will get too hot very quickly, so it’s better to go with trekking ones made up from a mix of polyester and cotton. The same goes for your shirts: try to avoid cotton during the day (evenings are fine). And another simple one I figured out a couple of years ago: the right hat. As you don’t want that Kenyan sun to burn right on top of your head you’re definitely looking at some form of protection there as well. I used to wear baseball caps during my photography trips; the only drawback with those is that when you want to shoot in portrait mode, you need to rotate your cap or remove it all together, loosing precious seconds.
A simple and elegant solution for head protection: a boonie hat! They come in all shapes, colours, and sizes, and the biggest benefit is that you can keep it where it is while you rotate your composition and camera from landscape to portrait and back. Most of them also have some openings on top to keep the airflow going.
On our 2nd day in the Mara we encountered this cheetah in the early morning, sitting on a small hill, looking for breakfast. I started off in landscape mode but I struggled to get the composition I wanted. So I decided to give portrait a chance and the result was much better. When you’re in a situation where you don’t have to worry about the hat you’re wearing when you quickly need to change between landscape and portrait mode, this will increase your chances to get that shot you want!
Next to gear, however, you’ll also need to master your shooting skills to increase your chances for that lucky shot. Which I’ll save for my next article.
And as mentioned in my previous posts, I’m aiming to organize a safari trip this year for a small group of photography enthusiasts and share some of these experiences and best/personal photography practices. So if these stories and images strike a cord in the coming weeks… drop me a note at: email@example.com.
Posted on March 26, 2019
How to prepare for a safari: gear
Next to preparing for the logistics, tour operator, driver, accommodation, travel etc. etc. there is this small detail around gear as well you may need to pay some attention to… preferably well-before your departure to your (hopefully not-) once in a lifetime safari adventure!
There’s so much to go through in terms of all the important items: the right bag for your camera & lenses, comfortable clothes, a useful hat to protect you from the scorching sun right on top of you during noon, shoes, and the list goes on. In fact, I’ll save this for a next article and will just focus on my camera gear in this article.
In the Mara you’ll find all sorts of critters, ranging from small and far away to humongous and pretty near… And if your goal is to take stunning images of all, you’ll need to figure out the tricky balance between hauling loads of cameras and (prime) lenses for those high-quality images vs. the more lightweight and versatile zoom lenses albeit with (usually) reduced IQ and light sensitivity (f/5.6 and up).
Usually, and especially for these kinds of photography trips, 2 DSLRs are a must. When you’re in the middle of the action, there is simply no time to switch lenses. To make matters worse, the Mara can be a very dusty place and switching lenses will certainly cause more dust to flow into your camera, which will find its way onto your sensor sooner than you expect. Then there is the topic of lenses: which primes and/or which zooms? Zooms are pretty much a necessity when you need to cover the range of, let’s say 10 to around 75 meters or more. But as I’m not carrying more than 2 DSLRs (I’m just a modest nature photographer with limited funds) this means I will have to switch lenses (very few good zooms out there covering the 10-100 meter range @ f/2 :). All this considered, my ‘golden combo’ is made up of…
- Nikon’s flagship full frame D850 attached to another flagship: the 600mm f/4E FL super telephoto prime lens. This combo will give you the pixels you need in case you need to crop (cursed by many photographers but so very useful when you really need it) and the very best IQ you can ever wish for.
- Nikon’s second best flagship/crop frame D500 attached to Nikon’s strangely economic yet even more amazing 200-500mm f/5.6 zoom lens, giving you an effective 300-750mm to play with (next to the ‘fixed’ 600mm main combo).
- And if all that fails, I’ll put on (I believe still) the world’s very best 70-200mm f/2.8E zoom lens out there, just in case I need f/2.8 or when 300mm is too much and I cannot have more than an effective 100mm for a shot (e.g. lion/giraffe/elephant at close distance).
If the weight of all this is still (painfully) acceptable, you typically end up with something looking like this:
Off course you also need to plan for a vehicle that allows you to carry all this gear with easy access when the action happens! Joining a group of tourists in a small minivan will most likely not fit that bill…
On the 4th day of our safari trip we came across this cheetah we had spotted earlier from a distance in the morning. We were slowly cruising around when suddenly it popped up right next to our land cruiser, not more than 15 meters away. It was still quite early in the afternoon and the angle of the sun was definitely not ideal for shooting, but the closeness of the cheetah and the background made up for a nice combo nonetheless. Because we were so near I had to stop down to keep some depth of field (DoF). And as I shoot fully manual, I wanted/needed to have the right shutter speed that works well with the vibration reduction mechanism of the 600mm (avoid 1/000s!), compensate the exposure for the bright afternoon light so not to loose the shadows, and aim for the lowest ISO sensitivity to get that super high dynamic range of the D850.
The thing about nature photography is that you actually need to put all these parameters in your head, calculate the desired outcome, and try to get the best possible composition all at the same time, in a split second. It’s a strange but amazingly fascinating hobby/profession/fun thing to do!
As I mentioned in my previous posts, I’m aiming to organize a safari trip this year for a small group of photography enthusiasts and share some of these experiences and best/personal photography practices. So if these stories and images strike a cord in the coming weeks… drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll take it from there!
(Many) more posts to come… Stay tuned!
Posted on March 21, 2019
How to prepare for a safari
In the next set of articles I’ll discuss about the preparations surrounding a safari trip. There are all sorts of considerations that could either make or break your safari adventure. It can really help to understand what they are, which ones may apply to your specific situation and expectations, and what to do to complete the preparations in time before your planned trip.
It all starts with understanding what you want to get out of your own safari journey. Are you happy to just tour around? Do you like to take some snapshots perhaps with your mobile phone or (one step up) your pocket camera? Or are you an enthusiast nature photographer or even professional with a serious set of camera gear you need to have in close reach to catch that once in a lifetime shot?
Once you’ve figured out the answers to these questions (shouldn’t be too hard… :) you can think about the items of your trip that merit some investment (time/money or both) to get them completed in time. For example, if you’re happy to cruise around in a minivan for a day or 2, simply choose from the hundreds of tour operators in the Mara and you’re practically on your way. In my case, I was looking for the right tour operator (photography), the right accommodation (small/boutique), the right transportation (large land cruiser with enough room to put my gear) and the right driver. Of all the factors that contribute to a successful safari trip, your driver may be the most important one: I knew I needed both a good driver and a guide who knows the Mara for spotting wildlife, who knows about photography to position the vehicle at the right time and right angle, and who knows about people and has the social skills so you can perform as a team and have fun along the way as well. …Easy, right? :).
My own preparations took me about 4 months, and while I had figured out what I wanted to achieve, finding the right tour operator was a different story all together. Of all the minivans and land cruisers I’ve seen in the Mara, I’d say only 3 or 4 were actually fully geared for nature photographers. The majority of vehicles catered for the ‘enthusiast’ safari tourist with photography gear ranging from mobile phones, tablets, consumer/prosumer DSLRs and mirrorless, up to the very few with the pro DSLRs and big glass.
Looking back, I’m happy I did spend the time looking for that right tour operator and as I mentioned in my previous article, I’m aiming to organize a similar safari trip in the near future (this year) for a small group of photography enthusiasts. This series of articles has yet to start but I have already received some reactions from some interested readers, so this is starting to look better each day! If the stories and images strike a cord in the coming weeks… drop me a note at: email@example.com and we’ll take it from there!
In the next set of articles I’ll post some more cheetah shots while talking about gear (“what’s in the bag”), clothing, accommodation, and anything else that comes to mind to ensure a successful safari journey… And I’ll make an effort to keep those posts coming. Stay tuned!
Posted on March 11, 2019
We had just passed one of the main gates into Kenya’s Masai Mara national park, driving for not more that 10 minutes, when our driver suddenly stops as he notices this beautiful male leopard relaxing in a tree at around 100 metres distance or so. So, time to bring out my Nikon D850 with the 600mm f/4, put it on the side of our Toyota Land Cruiser and start our 7-day adventure in the Mara.
Earlier, I had spent months looking for a local travel agent who specializes in photography: there’s a whole list of requirements I had laid down in order to create the best conditions for a successful safari photography trip. There must be hundreds or more tour operators inside and outside of Kenya offering safari trips and most of them will cater for the ‘general safari tourist’. You’re most likely to end up in a minivan or Land Cruiser packed with other tourists armed with pocket cameras or mobile phones… Instead, I made it clear from the beginning I wanted to stay away from the tourists (yes I know I’m one as well…) which called for a relatively small (tented) camp, that I was looking for a driver/guide skilled in both spotting wildlife and who understood the basic principles of photography, and that I was focused on finding big cats. A couple of years earlier I had visited Tanzania’s Serengeti and the only cheetah I’d been able to spot was one at the horizon; this time I had set my sights on the big cats – cheetahs, leopard, lions and basically any predator out there with teeth!
But like with any (wild)life/nature photography trip: nature will ultimately decide for you your own unique experience. Over the course of the week we encountered lions (& cubs), cheetahs, hyenas (& cubs), more zebras then I had ever seen before, elephant, hippos, crocodiles, baboons, cape buffalos, giraffes and… one (1) leopard, on the first day of our trip, just after entering the Mara. Each day is a surprise in the Mara: you expect to see a lot and see almost nothing, and you expect nothing and see almost everything. This is what makes the Mara so special. As my driver used to say: “Mara never disappoints”. It’s the journey that creates your own adventure.
Over the coming weeks I’ll start adding my images to this blog and I’ll probably also experiment a little with some needed changes to the look & feel of the site. So if you see anything strange… it’s all under control (well, hopefully). And while I post my images and war stories, I’ll also focus on the context of a ‘photography safari’: what does travel & transportation look like on a safari trip, what should you consider in terms of gear – both camera gear and supportive materials (e.g. camera bags), what about settings for shooting – beanbags vs. hand-held vs. tripod etc. etc.
And lastly, the very positive experience I’ve had with my carefully selected local Kenya tour operator has made me consider organizing a similar safari trip in the near future for a small group of photography enthousiasts. For many other (commercial) photographers (which I’m not), hosting trips and workshops is a key business activity and source of income. For me, it would simply be the opportunity to embark on a similar adventure as the one I’ve experienced recently and to be able to share some of the (hard) lessons-learned over the past decade. So if the stories and images strike a cord in the coming weeks… drop me a note at at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll take it from there!
The journey begins…
Posted on February 26, 2019
I just returned from an awe-inspiring week in Kenya’s Masai Mara national park: over 1500km2 of savanna with countless wildlife – zebra, impala, gazelle, elephant, giraffe, hyena, lion, leopard, cheeta, birdlife and the list goes on and on…
The main goal I had set out for this trip was to experience Africa’s ‘big cats’ (from a safe distance) – something I had tried in Tanzania’s Serengeti a few years back but due to Serengeti’s sheer size and some other factors I wasn’t able to get the shots I wanted in the end, and so I chose for Kenya this time wishing for better luck. And luck was what I got.
Next to over 8000 images (which I’m still in the process of analyzing) I took away from this amazing experience reflections about – first and foremost – Mara’s wildlife and nature, my gear (both camera and supporting), lodging, transportation, the tourists (always too many) etc etc. The best way to get me through all of this is to just note down my thoughts and images in a number of articles I’ll be posting over the coming weeks (perhaps months) and see how it all works out.
And other than on/after my trips before, I’m now actually looking at options to organize a combined photography/workshop tour to this stunning Africa region – I’ll come back on this while I’m working out the details (and images & articles) over the coming weeks.
This blog actually needs a serious overhaul as well: it is based on a WordPress ‘theme’ which is not even supported anymore and making any changes to it requires me to migrate to a new and more modern theme. All in all, the next post should be a nice one on a revamped website!
Posted on December 22, 2018
It’s that time of the year again, and you look back at what has passed, and forward to what (you) might (want to) happen.
2018 has been a year with a lot of changes for me personally, both positives and negatives… like usual in life :) . In terms of “life/nature”, this year my travels have taken me from the too-cute tarsiers from Bohol in the Philippines, to North Sea seals who taught me you can actually take sharp shots @ 1800mm, hand held on a rocky boat (I could use that kind of luck better in this year’s lottery…), to red deers in our local national park Hoge Veluwe, where I learned again that when you think your photography day (or even year) is over, you might still get your greatest shot when you least expect it!
I’m also happy to see an ongoing increase in visitors to my blog! Only 4 years ago, when I managed to decipher the intricate WordPress ways of creating and editing websites and posts, I started off with a whole and modest … 82 visitors, and 1 like! :) After a big jump in visitors in 2016 there is now an increase in visitors of around 2000 each year, much to my surprise, and really nice to see.
When I was playing with the idea for this final post of the year, I was going through some of the gazillion images that have never made it (to any place for anyone to see…). And going through that long list of RAW files, I came upon the shot below: nothing too special, another example of a snowy owl taking off. But it was the symmetry of the owl’s wings across the image and the position of its head which she (it’s a female owl) managed to keep horizontally, which kind of made me pause. And so I chose this shot to bid farewell to 2018, and fly into the New Year.
My best wishes to you all for 2019 and may your Life and Nature (images) be plentiful, peaceful, beautiful, and wonderful.
And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simply add comments below or otherwise drop me a note at: email@example.com
Posted on October 11, 2018
We are nearing the end of the ‘rut’ again of this season, and so my hopes were not very high when I went to our National Park ‘Hoge Veluwe’ a couple hours before sunset to see if the deers were up to any action. And indeed, no deer in sight; it was probably my most ’empty’ visit ever since visiting the park for the past three years or so.
So just before sunset while heading back, my fellow photographer friend noticed a group of red deers (too) far away and in the shade, so no chance of any useful shots. I had actually switched to my D500 with TC-20E III attached to give me that ridiculous 1800mm effective focal distance, but the shots were horribly soft. I switched back to the D850/600mm f/4 combo while I wasn’t expecting anything useful anymore: the sun had already begun to set and we were approaching darkness.
Suddenly, some of the deers decided to take a walk right towards us and crossing our view of the setting sun. Most photographers seemed to be unaware of what was happening and the uniqueness of the situation. I was suddenly triggered and acted instinctively: I knew I only had one or two seconds to catch a young male deer walking right in my field of view of the setting sun. The 9 frames/sec. of the D850 ‘saved the day’: out of the 15 shots or so about 12 were totally underexposed as I was shooting straight into the sun while I had my shutter speed and aperture fixed (I usually shoot auto ISO). But while I was going through the shots on my D850, there he was: Mr. Deer, right below the sun as it was starting to touch the horizon, and for some reason the D850’s metering was able to make sense out of the combination of ridiculous highlights, blacks, and white balance -although I have no idea whatsoever how that camera would ever be able to calculate white balance of a deer against a fiery setting sun… but it did!.
Lots of lessons learned from this one I guess, but most important of all: every photographer needs a bit of luck now every and then…
As usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on October 1, 2018
Let’s start with my previous article and my reservation of the Nikon Z7. This time I’m using ‘reservation’ in two ways: I have developed some reservations over the past few weeks regarding Nikon’s latest super-digital-New Era-Z7 mirrorless camera, and decided to cancel my reservation (order) today (in fact less than an hour ago). Why am I making someone else very happy with my cancelled order? (Nikon cannot fulfil demand currently…)
First and foremost, I’m using cameras for nature and wildlife photography. This usually means rough weather, rough environments, rough light (less of it), rough action (animals usually not doing what you want them to do) and so on. So you need a camera that is fast – meaning it should focus fast, shoot fast, and should be very ergonomic so it will do whatever you want to do, fast. The Z7 doesn’t match the D850 (which I own) on these criteria: I can get 9 frames/sec. on my D850 with full AE/AF where the Z7 will max out at 5.5. This is like stepping back to the years of the D800… it’s nice when you do landscapes and portraits but will be challenging for action. A real setback was when I heard that Nikon had not yet released a battery pack for the Z7, and that the one that is currently under development may not even have a shutter button! This will do for a simple camera but it’s ergonomically again stepping back compared for example to the D850 & D500 battery packs: once you’ve used those you just don’t want to go back…
Second, now that the Z7 is released we’re seeing interesting articles on sensor performance. See for example the latest from DP Review on banding. Something I’m sure Nikon will fix in future generations, and something most photographers won’t even notice, but when you’re often working on retrieving those shadows you want the best possible dynamic range with as little noise as possible (something Canon photographers typically had/have their challenges with…). It’s probably not a deal-breaker for most but is some indication that we’re seeing a ‘first generation’ here.
Third, Nikon charges almost €4000 for the Z7 in The Netherlands and over $3500 in the US – I still have no clue why so much more in Europe for most of these products. So it’s top-price for a 1st generation product, that will mature for sure. However you’ll need to ask yourself if you want to invest while realizing needed improvements may only be enjoyed after investing even more in a couple of years. Sure, if there are no alternatives the decision is made easily, but with a top of the line existing & mature DSLR range… doubts do start to emerge. So, I’m going to wait patiently for Nikon’s new fully pro-level “Z8”, or “Z9”, or whatever they call it, which will be a worthy successor to the D850 – hopefully… and I’ll need to be patient for another 2-3 years – hopefully.
Meanwhile, back at the farm…I went to see the red deers who are in rut again during this time of the year. If you’re patient enough – as well as lucky, you may catch a male deer showing off and strike a pose (for some reason I associated this shot and posture with the drama from Edvard Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King… knowing well we don’t have any mountains in The Netherlands, anyway…). It’s is the third year I’m visiting this event and these elegant creatures, and I’ve discovered that Nikon’s 600mm f/4 super telephoto lens works like a charm when used hand-held, with VR at ‘normal’ and a shutter speed around the 1/640-1/800 s. range, hooked up to the D850. It’s fast, sharp, and you can easily work with the lights and shadows in post-processing. It’s obviously not a lightweight combo…for that you can choose the Z7 :)
“In the Hall of the Mountain King”
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 640, -0.7EV exp. comp., hand-held
As usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: email@example.com
Posted on August 29, 2018
Nikon has just announced their first mirrorless full-frame cameras: the Z6 and Z7. The whole (photography) world has been waiting (and waiting), has observed, has been overwhelmed, underwhelmed, surprised, amazed, disappointed, and so on. Now, everyone is waiting (and waiting some more…) for the first batches to be shipped; I can only hope for the US folks they don’t have to wait such a ridiculous long time as they did/still do with the D850 (although Nikon has already started apologising in advance with the Z-series…).
On that note: I have pre-ordered the Z7 with my local camera retailer here in The Netherlands. Why? The short answer: because I just have to experience for myself if & how Nikon has managed to improve their products based on previous-millennium technology (literally: their first SLR was introduced in 1959 and their ‘digital SLR’-D1 was announced in 1999).
The long answer…
This is not about just a new digital camera. This is about a leading global camera manufacturer, moving away from mechanically-engineered devices and understanding (albeit a bit late compared to the competition, but that’s a different story) the current paradigm shift to the new Digital Era where mechanics give way to electronics. It’s about digital optics instead of mechanical flappy mirrors in bulky housings.
With that strategic change comes a totally new design: a new and much wider mount for new and (even) better lenses. We’re getting a new image processor with probably even better IQ compared to the D850; perhaps even better white balance straight out of the camera. We’re getting a somewhat changed and assumably improved focusing system with a gazillion focus points. We’re basically getting a new way of shooting images and a new experience that comes along with it…
But, and there’s always a ‘but’… smart folks at Nikon must have decided not to target their current ‘flagship’ DSLR landscape with this new and improved way of making photographs. The Z-series can only shoot about 5-6 frames/second with 14-bit RAW and full auto exposure so forget about shooting fast-flying birds (e.g. snowy owls), sports etc. (the Z7 can do 8 frames/sec. with AE locked so not too bad but still not truly pro-level). There is (currently) no vertical grip planned so be prepared for some uncomfortable positioning of your arms and hands when shooting in portrait mode in tricky wildlife shooting settings. You will not find big pro-level prime lenses (300/400/500/600mm) in their multi-year lens lineup planning, and the list goes on. It’s almost as if Nikon wants us to first get carefully used to this new product and new way of shooting and only ever so slowly shift their and our ‘focus’ from the old to the new; i.e. from the Mechanical to the Digital Era.
It’s very exciting nonetheless! While everyone is already sharing their opinions about this Big Change (as you can expect) there’s really only one way to figure out what Nikon’s new ‘Digital Generation’ of cameras are capable of. And that is to actually get one and experience it yourself…
Over 7 years ago I bought the new D800 as I was really excited about Nikon’s new full frame DSLR. But my copy was also part of the batch that left Nikon’s factory with incorrect/poor quality control and I got the dreaded focus issue. After trying a couple more times I gave up on the D800 series completely and got de D750 instead, which to this date I think had the best sensor (especially at lower ISOs). Then came the D850 (this time with the right quality control…) combining super fast frame rate, an insane pixel count, and an improved imaging processor, basically giving me a reason to sell my D4s. By actually acquiring and using new cameras you will experience and learn (the good and bad) about these new cameras and ways to enjoy and/or improve your photography. Going after opinions is usually just a poor substitute…
I’m expecting my Z7 (very) soon (will not share any details on the exact date although 99% sure when) and I’m already looking forward to share some of my early findings and impressions, in a way similar to my previous posts; i.e. very non-scientific and pragmatic/’user oriented’, in both ‘domestic’ and ‘in the field’ settings. Fingers crossed…
Posted on June 20, 2018
Berlin is Germany’s vibrant capital. It’s also a city with a very important and dark history. When you visit Berlin for the first time you may be surprised to see so many relatively new buildings, and so very few historical ones; the reason for this is obvious: World War II and its destruction of infrastructure and life.
While I only spent a short time in Berlin and visited only a few sites, the remains of the Berlin Wall from the Cold War and the Holocaust Memorial were the ones that stuck in my mind and made me contemplate about our past, our present, and any similarities in terms of the events that took place then, and the world in which we live in now.
And as I had not expected or planned to do any serious photography I was just casually checking some shots I took with my iPhone; not expecting anything from it. But after I did, and applied some minor changes to the images on the phone itself, I guess some impressions triggered me to write this article, a very different one than what I usually write about. This one I guess is about the opposite of life: the ‘Dark Side’ with life’s opposite: death and destruction. Let me take you through two examples.
When you visit the site of the remains of the Cold War Berlin Wall (‘Berlin Wall Monument’), you will find a path right next to it (below the Wall; part of the same complex) where you can walk along a line of pictures and stories that tell about the history of events that lead to World War II. There was one thing that caught my eye and stuck in terms ‘then & now’: it was about the book burnings. The Nazis wanted to control the information that was available to the public in such a way that only their information was available, and therefore ensure that only their messages were going to be believed, and only their beliefs were going to be supported by the public. And as there was no Internet off course, the main information channel to control was… books.
Fast forward to 2018… Now we do have Internet and now we do have social media. In fact, these information channels are much more prevalent than books. And what we see now is not book burnings, but influencing the public by controlling – or rather contorting – the information the public has access to. It has been tried and done for decades, but only in the past few years it has become an effective, global phenomenon that everyone can see happening and being reported/criticised on.
What I got from my visit to Berlin, and visit to this site, is that history is repeating itself today. It’s something that is not supposed to, but it has anyway. And when you look at the Berlin Wall, the outcome is something destructive; it only leads to something dark. It’s something humanity should have learned from and prevent from happening again. Yet…
Then, there is the Holocaust Memorial, not far from Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate and parliament buildings. 2711 concrete slabs (like solid concrete boxes) with varying heights spread out in a grid-like pattern. My first impression: ‘is that it?’ Just a bunch of slabs. Could be some foundation of a building or something. But when you enter this bizarre structure, something weird happens… at least it did to me. You (i.e. me) start to feel a little ‘drawn in’, you want to walk a little further, take a turn, see where you end up, etc. etc. And in the mean time these slabs get higher and higher; it gets a little darker and darker, and after a couple of minutes you’re thinking ‘where the hell am I?’. Some feeling of being lost, desolation comes up and there is a sense of ‘how do I get out of here?’… It’s something hard to describe and the best way to experience it is by going there yourself as I’m sure everyone has his/her own personal experience. And it’s most likely not the experience you expect the very first time you lay eyes on this memorial.
While I was immersed in this bizarre experience, I decided to try and capture this hard to explain impression and emotion… with my little iPhone X as that’s all I had with me. And for one reason or another I felt I had to have someone in this scenario to help me communicate a message of negativity, darkness, ‘being lost’. Whether it was luck or not, I got just that scenario when someone suddenly popped up and walked in front of me trying to navigate through the maze. Strangely, he didn’t seem to hesitate and walked steadily as if he knew where he had to go while going deeper and deeper into the maze…
What I got from the experience of having visited the Holocaust Memorial is that the opposite of ‘Life’ is real. It’s something that exists and has happened on many occasions before; we even have monuments to help us remember what it is and for each of us to experience in a unique and personal way (incl. my feeble attempts to express via an iPhone image…). Regardless what you call it: ‘death’, ‘darkness’ or even some popular old/new Star Wars theme, this thing is the same: it’s daunting and has the ability to draw people in, into desolation and darkness. And hopefully, when it does, you get a better understanding that Life (& Nature!) is a much better alternative.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Berlin I would encourage you to visit this site and experience for yourself what this monument will tell you.
Posted on May 18, 2018
If you want to get to the ‘cool’ spots and see those magical creatures for yourself which your normally only see on NatGeo, your only option is often to sign up to one of the trips organised by a nature/wildlife photographer. These are typically all-inclusive expeditions with groups of up to 12 (less is better!) photography enthusiasts where you go places you would normally never end up. With a price to match, by the way… For many pro-photographers these trips are their main source of income so expect a dent in our bank account (size relative to the size of your account… but expect a dent nonetheless).
I’ve been to Alaska on 2 of these trips. Looking back, the first time was the best: I saw more than I could have imagined, however luck was perhaps on my side as well. The group was also great: there was a nice ‘atmosphere’ and everyone was getting along great. That first experience called for a follow-up, so I went again the next year. Same photographer, but smaller group (and smaller boat). It was on this second trip that I took my brand new Nikon 600mm f/4E FL super telephoto lens (and not really knowing how to manage that beast). Unlike on the first trip, the ‘atmosphere’ wasn’t really there. Part of it was probably caused by our photographer/host staying close to one of the guests who was a personal friend, which led him to often leave the boat first and start his own shooting experience with his buddy while leaving the others behind. I guess you just have to be lucky, and you’re always taking a risk when joining a group and host/guide pro-photographer. For those of you who like to know more, feel free to drop me a note (see below).
So it was on one of these afternoons where I arrived after my host on Hallo Bay beach in Katmai National Park, Alaska. The sun was setting, it was low tide, and we were very lucky to see a sow (momma bear) wandering a bit with her 2 cubs on the sand and in the shallow waters. It was one of those magical moments that actually make the trip all worth while.
We were shooting from probably around 100 meters so even with my 600mm I couldn’t get enough bear in the frame. And there was no such thing as a Nikon D500 yet…! So I attached the 1.4 TC which did help a little (I had left the 2.0 TC back home…). Looking back, there were definitely some lessons learned on my ‘journey to photography.’
First and foremost, you never know how your trip will work out; hope for the best but be ready to expect less. And even when you’re not getting the experience you wanted, your luck just might change before you know it. Also, pack for everything! Yes, the weight is a pain but you may just need that extra teleconverter or lens. So… continue your Journey to Photography and be prepared to capture that magical moment we’re all hoping for… just don’t expect any guarantees ;)
As usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on April 13, 2018
In the northern part of The Netherlands, we have the ‘Wadden Sea’, a World Heritage Site referred to by UNESCO as “the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats in the world”. Basically lots of small islands, many sandy beaches, and lots of marine wildlife. We have two main species of seals over there: ‘regular’ seals and grey seals. Neither to be mistaken with sea lions; e.g. seals do not have ear flaps, do not use their flippers to move around on land; they move with their bellies (not the most efficient way but that’s how nature made them…).
It’s currently spring time in the Northern Hemisphere and the seals are picking their favourite sandy spots on or in between the Wadden Sea islands to relax from swimming and fishing and catch some early season sunshine on a patch of exposed sand. The standard – and only legal way to spot them, is to rent one of the tour boats and watch them from a ‘safe’ distance; i.e. up to a distance of 100 meters or more. Safe doesn’t always mean practical, and in the case of seals it’s basically impossible to a single decent shot. Not only is this distance just too far; these tour boats are relatively small and as they are continuously hit by the waves, you find yourself moving violently in all directions, trying to keep your focus on the seals over and over again while your gear keeps pushing on your arms with over 5 kg. of gravitational force… pretty much impossible.
I started off with the Nikon D850 and the 600mm f/4E FL super telephoto prime. It didn’t get me close enough for a decent shot: I just got a bunch of dark spots on a nasty bright background. Fortunately I had brought my TC-20E III extender: ‘heave artillery’ I normally don’t use. But I had tried this extender once before in ‘test mode’ and the results were unexpectedly positive: very little decrease in IQ and sharpness on the new Nikon DSLRs and new lenses (like the 600mm f/4E FL). As I still didn’t get close enough even with the TC-20E III on the D850, I decided to take out the D500 to give me that additional 50% focal length through its 1.5 crop frame/factor. And lo & behold, I finally managed to get perhaps not even 1% of these friendly furry critters successfully in my viewfinder.
Getting a sharp image at an effective focal length of 1800mm while moving violently around in all directions, is not something you experience every day. What helps is the excellent VR on the Nikon 600mm f/4, which I always set to ‘normal’ and not ‘sport’ when hand-holding the lens (the latter works better when using on a tripod). And then we have the cool 10 frames/sec. of the D500 which helps as well. But next to all that, I guess there’s always a little luck you need on your side…
So when I took my first glance at this little guy (or girl; happy to hear from any skilled biologist) I couldn’t help thinking about the time of the (sunny) day, the expression on the seal’s face, the whole setting (trying to balance myself in a rocking boat shooting like crazy, not expecting anything useful) and I thought: this was all a bit like Pharrell Willams… “It might seem crazy what I’m ’bout to say… Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break… Because I’m happy… !
‘Tarsier teachings’ – day 2: more samples with the Nikon D500 + 600mm f/4E FL and Nikon D850 + 70-200mm f/2.8E FL
Posted on April 12, 2018
Just a couple more shots of our little furry primate critters, again one with the D500 and two with the D850. Not intentionally, all portraits this time.
Let’s get close again: the best-of-the-best Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E in combination with those 46 megapixels of the D850…
Just what is this little guy thinking…
In my next article I’ll take a little intermezzo from the Tarsiers and take a step back to the marine wildlife of … The Netherlands, of all places. Stay tuned!
And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: email@example.com
‘Tarsier teachings’ – day 2: studying the Nikon D500 + 600mm f/4E FL, Nikon D850 + 70-200mm f/2.8E FL combos
Posted on March 31, 2018
On day 2 of my Bohol Tarsier visit, I left the 200-500mm f/5.6 in my bag and was keen to check the level of detail I could capture with the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E attached to the D850 46 megapixels. I had already given up on the D850/600mm f/4E combo because of the minimum focus distance of the 600mm prime (4.4 meters) in combination with the full frame D850. However, the D500 crop frame will give you an effective 900mm focal length so that should make up a bit for that nasty minimal focus distance of the 600mm.
If you cannot get close to your object and your object is relatively small (e.g. Tarsiers), this is a sweet combo: 900mm does the trick nicely, and the 21 MP of the D500 gives you all the room you need for detail and cropping.
Now, let’s get into an even more detailed level: leveraging the minimum focus distance of the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E (1.1 meters) in combination with the 46 megapixels of the D850…
With the f/2.8 aperture on the 70-200mm, you’re getting very blurry backgrounds and a razor-thin depth of field (DoF) of around 2 cm. at a focus distance of 2 meters at 200mm focal length. The excellent VR on the 70-200mm helps you keep your shutter speed very low, and the excellent dynamic range of the D850 at low ISO helps to keep noise low when bringing back some of those darks in your image.
Ever wondered how many eyelashes a Tarsier has? Go ahead and count! :) (should do nice on a retina or 4K screen…)
This image was cropped by about 50%; I could easily get even more details without comprising any quality. The D850/70-200mm combo is by far the most amazing set I’ve used in almost a decade of photography.
Instead of doing nothing with some of my other D850/70-200mm shots, I’ll post them in the next article or (most likely) two. Stay tuned!
And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Tarsier teachings’ – day 1: Nikon D850 & 600mm f/4E FL, Nikon D500 & 200-500mm f/5.6 & 70-200mm f/2.8E FL combos
Posted on March 25, 2018
On the first day of my little tarsier adventure I was going to ‘target’ them with the new Nikon D850 and the excellent 600mm f/4E FL prime. As a backup I was carrying the D500 with 200-500mm f/5.6E zoom attached. I also had the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E in my bag, but wasn’t really planning on using it as I thought it wouldn’t get me close enough to the tarsiers…
Speaking of which, tarsiers are the smallest primates in the world, about the size of a human fist. I didn’t really know upfront what the best camera/lens combo would be to get these little critters framed in the best possible way; my only previous experience had been the D4S/200-500mm f/5.6E.
So, I decided to simply bring all my main gear with me this time: 2 DSLRs, 1 mega prima and 3 large zoom lenses. And as carry-on to the plane, I decided to try and fit it all in the F-stop Tilopa bag. Miraculously the whole set actually fits!
But this is not the one reason why I really like these camera bags from F-stop. Om my trip to Bohol, the ground stewardess decided that my bag was too heavy; despite I was going to board an Airbus A320 with ample space in the overhead bins. Anyway, she wasn’t going to let me through with such a ‘heavy bag’…
I thought I’d show her some ‘F-stop magic’ and offered her I could take out the inner camera unit (“ICU”) and carry it with me separately if that was going to make any difference. And so I did… She then weighed the separate bag and the ICU again, which obviously weighed exactly the same, and… I was allowed to pass! Not sure what she had had for breakfast, but I just smiled and carried on; this time with the almost empty bag on my back and the rather heavy ICU in my hand.
I went to see the tarsiers in the afternoon on the first day, with relatively low light. Would the D850 with 600mm f/4 easily outperform the D500 with 200-500mm f/5.6?
I don’t think I’d ever shot tiny fluffy furry creatures before with my Nikon 600mm f/4E FL prime lens. It’s hard! Biggest problem is the minimum focus distance: it’s well over 4 meters (US spelling :)) and it’s hard to get up close and personal with tarsiers that way. Then there is the 600mm focal length and while the 600mm has excellent VR; you’re taking risks with shooting at 1/60 sec. or so trying to keep your ISO low… So I got some nice shots, but I found myself going for the D500+200-500mm f/5.6 quite soon…
With the D500 you immediately see the 1.5 crop advantage (i.e. in the case of wildlife photography): this shot was at an effective 630mm focal length but I could get a lot closer than with the 600mm prime. The other thing I noticed had to do with the 200-500mm: it ‘hunts’; i.e. struggles to focus in low light, which is simply due to its f/5.6 minimum aperture. An aperture of f/5.6 simply won’t work in situations where a little tarsier is hiding in the (relative) dark, under some leaves, while what remains of the sun is shining through all sorts of gaps in between and your camera likes all those spots a lot more than the totally dark spot you’re trying to focus on…
So, my D850/600mm combo wasn’t really giving me what I had expected, and the D500/200-500mm was even worse. As I still wanted to keep the D850/600mm combo ‘just in case’, I chose to attach the 70-200mm f/2.8 to the D500. Would the 2 stop increase in light save the day?
So this is what a larger aperture brings you: lower ISO, no problems in focusing and a better dynamic range which allows you to bring back shadows without bad noise popping up – the D500 and D850 perform very well in this area (same for the D4S, not for the D5… sorry couldn’t help it).
The 70-200mm f/2.8 allowed me to come up much closer than the 600mm f/4 (1 meter minimum focus distance compared to over 4 meters) and you gain an additional stop compared to the 600mm (+ another one compared to the 200-500mm f/5.6 who had already retired for the night). So the D500 + 70-200mm f/28E turned out to be the clear winner; completely against my expectations. The ‘tarsier teachings’ I got from that first day of shooting:
- The 600mm f/4 is more suited for larger objects (mammals), at larger distance. The relatively long minimum focus distance makes tiny creatures harder to frame.
- F/5.6 doesn’t work too well in low light! This is why expensive/pro-grade lenses have higher/larger apertures, and cheaper/consumer-grade lenses have smaller ones.
- The moment I saw the shots taken with the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E lens I remembered what an incredible lens that is: the bokeh is just absolutely stunning, it’s very very sharp wide open, and so on. It’s the absolute #1 zoom lens in this range out there at the moment (as stated by most if not all relevant websites, no other lens (in this category) comes close at the moment (sorry Sony/Canon).
The day had come to an end, and I was wondering if the 70-200mm would be doing even better with the D850 attached. How would those 46 megapixels look like on that amazing lens? Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll be discussing my experiences with this combination. In short… I was stunned.
On a different note: Nikon has just released its brand new 180-400 f/4 zoom lens with built-in 1.4 TC. What I found interesting in the context of the findings discussed in this article, is that you’ll be shooting at f/5.6 when you want to use the 400-560mm range. Now this will work fine in scenes with lots of light but not so much when you’re trying to frame tiny little tarsiers hiding under bush leaves. In that case, you may find yourself having spent well over $12,000 when having to put your expensive toy away to replace it with a larger aperture lens instead. Over $12,000 for a lens with an f/5.6 aperture at a zoom range you’ll be using it the most… something to think about :)
Please note that these images are protected by copyright and are not allowed to be used in any commercial way. If you’re interested in personal use only (like using as personal desktop/tablet/mobile background) then that’s fine; however any other use is prohibited by law.
‘Tarsier teachings’: experiences with the Nikon D850 & D500, Nikon 600mm f/4E FL, 200-500mm f/5.6E & 70-200mm f/2.8E FL
Posted on March 19, 2018
That’s a rather lengthy title for a post, but it sums up what my next set of articles will focus on! I recently had the opportunity to visit the Philippines again, and I couldn’t resist catching up with the world’s cutest little furballs: the tarsiers on the island of Bohol…
On my previous trip about 2 years ago I found myself shooting the D4S/200-500mm f/5.6 combo; reason being that I needed the low ISO/high dynamic range of the D4S (unlike its D5 successor… but enough said on that already) and the reach of the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6. However, this combo did come with its drawbacks as well: f/5.6 is slow and doesn’t help much when you need to focus on little tarsiers taking naps in the dark shade under leaves during daytime. Fortunately, the D4S was able to cope in low light and had little issues with focusing.
I now only have the Nikon D850 and D500; I recently sold my D4S simply because of the incredible features of the D850: 9 frames/sec. (with battery pack), 46 MP and a very accurate white balance. My initial goal was to experiment with the D850/600mm f/4E FL combo: enjoy the full 46 megapixels with a 1 stop gain compared to the 200-500mm f/5.6. Just in case, I brought my D500, the 200-500mm f/5.6 as well as the 70-200mm f/2.8E FL. I wasn’t expecting much from the 70-200mm f/2.8 simply because of it’s (lack of) reach.
What I did expect was the whole set to weigh a lot; and it did at around 15kg in my F-stop Tilopa bag (where I actually managed to squeeze in the whole set – more on that in the next article). What I did not expect were the results of the different DSLR/lens combos: those little tarsiers taught me some interesting lessons…
I’l address the different combos and outcomes in the next articles… stay tuned!
Posted on January 19, 2018
I thought I’d take a short break from Alaska bear galore and shift focus to a place closer to home: an area we call “Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen” which roughly translates as “Amsterdam water way dunes”. It’s an area that serves to produce drinking water for the city of Amsterdam and many surrounding towns and has quite a few deer and birdlife. And next to that, some elusive little foxes.
I’ve visited the place quite a few times but never had any luck catching these cute little flurry creatures in such as way they would make up a nice shot. Last week my luck suddenly changed and I managed to take a few shots before this little one decided to wander off again.
I only brought my Nikon D850/600mm f/4E FL ED VR combo this time, and in terms of resolution it was just overkill: the 600mm took me close enough where I didn’t need to do much cropping at all afterwards, and I could enjoy the beautiful dynamic range of this super DSLR – even while sunset had almost finished. And over the years I’ve sort of gotten used to hand-holding the 600mm; not for a very long time but long enough to use that 9 frames/second on the D850 (battery pack attached) and get a useful series.
Posted on December 25, 2017
It was on the very first day of my first Alaska adventure that we saw some splashes from afar. We had been cruising in the morning across the Katmai inlets and some of my fellow photographers had gotten so bored they were starting to shoot the waves off our boat (not exactly what anyone of us travelled for…). Anyway, as it was my first Alaska trip I was enjoying the whole experience anyway, when I suddenly saw these distant splashes… It turned out to be two bears who were going for a combo of morning breakfast as well as having a bit of fun with each other.
I must have taken several hundreds of shots of that scene and I never actually did anything with them, until now. It will probably take me an article or 2-3 to post the the winners, which I will be working on over this holiday season. The first shot below I actually messed up: I had my exposure compensation all wrong and the image was seriously underexposed. However for a D4S bringing back the darks is like a walk in the park due to its wonderful dynamic range at low ISOs (unlike the D5 but a lot on that said already… well, let me add a link to a latest article from a well-known Nikon owner and blogger who wrote about the D5 and mentioned the challenges with its dynamic range at lower ISOs). So, after some processing I actually quite liked the pose of the bear in its setting.
And let’s now introduce the brothers…! A couple of more shots of these two bad boys in my next posts…
And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: email@example.com
Posted on December 1, 2017
The first time you see a breaching humpback whale is something you are unlike to ever forget. In my case, we were sailing towards a large glacier from Seward, Alaska when we found ourselves right in the middle of a group of humpback whales going for an early morning snack of fresh fish.
Next, we saw a mom and her young one taking several jumps out of the water. I was still carrying my D4S/500mm combo and all of a sudden these humpbacks decided to jump right next to our boat… what are the chances! So I grabbed my (then) D610/70-200mm combo and ran from one side of the boat to the other to get some shots of these humpbacks jumping out all over the place. Something I have not seen again anytime, anywhere afterwards; the captain actually said the same: something he had never seen before.
This little one was making 180 degree turns after jumping out of the water: (s)he was doing on left turn (left for the whale ;) ) using the tail and fins for balance and rotation, and ultimately landing on its belly. Still, scientists do not fully understand why whales breach. And the only reason I can think of after witnessing these pirouettes, is that they simply enjoy it! What an experience…
Posted on November 26, 2017
My first boat trip in Alaska was in Seward where many cruise boats and ferries gather. It was on this first trip where I saw humpback whales breaching right next to our boat; something the captain said he had never seen before, at least not that close. On the trip to the fjords and glaciers, we came across large fields of floating ice where seals were taking a nap and enjoying a bit of sunshine.
The image below has also been dormant for too long on my hard drive. I’ve tried to ‘do’ something with it a couple of times but I was never really pleased with the outcome. For whatever reason I decided to give it another try today and this time I’ve kept things really simple: no trying to push this little fluffy one into a rule of thirds or something similar, but simply let it stay where it is (a very minor crop) and apply some small tonal changes and sharpening. I hope (s)he is still out there swimming happily and enjoying life…
As usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on November 26, 2017
Time for another one of those shots that has stayed in my memory (both on hard drive and the grey matter between my ears ;~).
We were following a sow (female bear) and her two cubs very carefully and from a safe distance. The cubs had pretty much only one thing on their mind: playing with each other and with momma bear. After some time she gave in, and it was the first and only time I had ever seen a bear smile. Perhaps it wasn’t a real smile but it certainly looked that way. She was visibly enjoying the play with her cubs.
The shot below is one of those lucky ones when she had her attention on her cubs, but kept a close eye on us as well. At a certain moment she looked me right in the eye, or rather lens. In most cases you would never want to approach a sow with cubs, but I guess this was just one of those rare and magical exceptions… nature at its finest.
As usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: email@example.com
Posted on November 21, 2017
I’ve been keeping a large number of shots from my trips to Alaska on my hard drives without actually doing anything useful to them, like proper editing and posting. So, sort of as an intermezzo between my lens and latest DSLR goodie impressions/reviews, I thought I’d do just that.
My first set was taken on my first trip to Alaska, and looking back the very best one. It’s sometimes funny how you appreciate certain experiences only by comparing them to others; i.e. the photo trips following the first one. In this case I remember the coastal brown bears fishing right in front of me (albeit at a safe distance… well, safe in the sense that I made it back alive, not necessarily safe in more absolute terms). Or the humpback whales jumping out of the water next to our boat at less than 50 meters away; and the captain saying that in his entire career he’d never seen anything like it (and he did sound quite sincere).
All amazing natural life experiences, and ones I’d like to share in this and the coming posts.
Posted on October 14, 2017
Every year during late September we have the ‘bronst’ here in the parks in The Netherlands, where male red deer compete for the females. At the park ‘Hoge Veluwe’ the deer walk around beautiful patches of heath and during one sunset I caught this female in a colourful purple & red setting, lit up by the setting evening sun.
And that’s it for this post… :)
Please note that these images are protected by copyright and are not allowed to be used in any commercial way. If you’re interested in personal use only (like using as personal desktop/tablet/mobile background) then that’s fine; however any other use is prohibited by law.
Posted on October 8, 2017
I’ll bet this question came up with many photographers right after Nikon accounced the D850. Something like: “Oh wow! 46 MP? 9 frames per second? Ehhh, but what does this mean for my current D5/D4S/D500/D810 etc.?”
I got the D4S after my D3S and D4. And that’s where I stopped: the D5 was reported to have poor dynamic range at lower ISOs compared to its predecessors (and tests proved it). Next to that, I was very unpleasantly surprised by its price in Europe. It currently still goes for EUR 7000 while in the US it’s around $6500, so basically over $1000 more expensive in Europe! I have no idea what Nikon was or is thinking (like probably many others) but I’m not joining that party. To underline my sentiments, B&H have some interesting D5 reviews on their website. On a more positive note: Nikon has demonstrated they actually can disrupt the market through innovation with the release of the D850, so my hopes are on a D5S/D6. Time will tell soon… (expecting an announcement late this or early next year)
I got the D500 as a backup for my D4S and because of its crop sensor; so an easy way to get to 1.5 focal length on my primes and zooms. And it’s a great pro-level camera; great dynamic range (even outperforming the D5 below ISO 400…) and again a welcome surprise from Nikon in that they can produce excellent cameras at a decent price.
After my focus point misery with the D800E/D810 I decided to wait it out, and lo & behold: the D850 was announced! Its specs were so crazy that the obvious question came begging: “what do I do with my current camera(s)?” Is the D850 able to replace them all, for example? On my recent trip to the Great Bear Rainforest I shot the D500 with my 600mm f/4E FL prime, and the results were horrible: all images were soft. I still have no idea what went wrong, but I had much better results with the D850 instead. Then, a couple of weeks ago I was shooting deer here in The Netherlands and my images with the D850 were a little soft. So I tried the D500 and the result was much better! Very confusing… So, I thought: let’s do a little comparison on resolution, noise at higher ISO, and shadow recovery and see which one comes out best when adding all results together.
We’ll start with some resolution images, as usual with my standard test subject. All images were shot with the Nikon 600mm f/4E FL, at 100% crop, exported from ViewNX-i as TIFF and imported/generated in Photoshop CC as JPG. No sharpening applied.
The D500 image looks a tiny bit bigger than the D850 one, but it’s also a tiny bit less detailed, if that makes any sense. On the D850 ISO 64 vs ISO 100, I can see a small difference in RAW (in ViewNX-i/PS) but when generated as JPG that small difference is gone. Resolution is obviously much higher on the D500/D850, but the D4S is still as sharp as ever. If you can get close enough to your subject, the 16 MP on the D4S will do the job. However, it’s seriously outperformed by the newer generation D500/D850 on resolution. Another test subject to check my initial results:
Again, the D850 has the advantage over the D500, and I’m not taking into account the ISO 64 vs ISO 100 difference too much. The D4S still looks great, despite the unfair difference in resolution. Before I continue, I’ll include a last test shot, which reminded me again of my earlier article on how to use long lenses:
This was shot at 1/1000 s. as a quite a few of my other test shots. Same position, same VR setting, same everything. I remembered suddenly from my earlier tests that 1/1000 s. is a risky shutter speed in combination with VR: mostly it will work, but if you’re unlucky you’ll get bad ones as the VR sampling frequency seems to run at that speed as well. Therefore, unpredictable results.
Let’s continue with some ‘noise in the dark’ shots. For this I chose a dark spot in a bush at around the same distance as the previous test shots.
Again, a very slight cleaner image of the D850 compared to the D500 while the D4S is the best; mostly because of the much smaller resolution! (fewer pixels make bigger pixels receiving more light)
Same results around ISO 1600 as with 800: slightly cleaner images with the D850 but all three cameras perform well at this ISO. Let’s continue doubling the ISO:
The trend continues, but with the D500 I’m getting a bit more concerned than with the D850 and D4S. As these are 100% crops it will all be fine at for example 50% crop, but nonetheless there’s an early warning signal. The D4S is still clean. Let’s continue again doubling the ISO:
Similar results in the ISO 6400 range. I would want to remain below 6400 with both the D500 and D850, if I can. And if I can’t, I’d want to crop as little as possible. The D4S is still the cleanest. Moving on to around ISO 12800:
Definitely a ‘no’ on the D500, and wouldn’t want to go that far either with the D850. Here we’re getting into the realm of comparing horrible noise to horrible noise. I don’t want to start my impressions on the D5 again, but I do believe that when dynamic range goes below a certain point there’s just not much use in considering those images to be ‘beautiful shots’. Sure, for journalism purposes there may be a use to have grainy images with very little/no dynamic range at ISO 25000-100000+ for example, but it’s not exactly material you’d want to print on an A1-size poster and enjoy looking at (realising everyone’s different so I’m sure exceptions exist :))
Now: how about trying to bring back some of those shadows? I still find myself using exposure compensation in the range of 1/3 to over 1 stop in lots of situations where I’m shooting dark animals, and/or animals in dark environments. In those situations you’d want to bring some of the shadows back with as little as possible loss of image quality. Nikon (pro) cameras are well known for their capability to bring back shadows/darks during image editing, while keeping noise at an acceptable level, throughout the ISO range (except for the D5, just had to mention that again…) so I was curious how the D500, D850 and my trusted D4S would perform.
Clearly, again, the cleanest result for the D4S which only makes sense with those 16 MP. The difference between the D500 and the D850 isn’t significant but the D850 is slightly cleaner. Let’s double the ISO:
Same results as with ISO 800. Double again:
Cleanest image again for the D4S. At ISO 3200 I’d want to avoid having to add 2 stops of exposure in images both from the D500 and D850. More likely, another stop of exposure and only 50% crop would still give usable results. However, I see ISO 3200 as the start of a ‘warning number’ for shadow recovery for the D500/D850. Double ISO again:
I’d say that ISO 6400 is pretty much the limit for usable shadow recovery on all cameras, perhaps with an exception for the D4S. Results will off course be better with only 1 stop correction and not 100% cropped, but I think I’d stick to this maximum anyway. Finally, what does it all look like when we double the ISO again?
The D500 is out of the game first. And although the D850 looks a tiny bit better, I wouldn’t go that far either. Same for the D4S despite it’s bigger pixels. These images may do for journalism or UFOs, for example, but I wouldn’t use them for nature photography. Let’s see if I can summarise these (way too elaborate) test results:
Resolution and dynamic range/image quality:
- At 100% crop, D500 images are slightly larger than the one from the D850.
- The D4S cannot keep up; if you’re close to your subject those 16 MP will do a great job, but Nikon’s latest & greatest DSLRs outperform the D4S (and D5 for that matter) on resolution: more pixels mean more room to play with.
- Image quality (contrast, detail, dynamic range) is best on the D850. While the difference isn’t huge, the D850 outperforms the D500.
Noise and shadow recovery in dark areas:
- I’m going to try and keep my D500 below ISO 3200-4000 both for noise and shadow recovery.
- De 850 is better: I’m going to keep it below the ISO 6400 range but there’s no way I’ll take it to Nikon’s specified max. ISO 25600 unless aliens have invited me to take some shots of their latest & greatest UFO and I may need it…
Nikon D850 vs. D500 vs. D4S: which one?
- If budget is an issue: go with the D850
- If budget is a bit of a lesser issue: D850 + D500 as backup camera
- If budget is no issue: keep whatever you have (incl. your D5) but expect that you may use your D850 more often than any of your other cameras, incl. your D4S/D5. I know I will; at least until Nikon releases the D5S/D6 which I’ll be more than happy to buy if it has…
- At least 24 MP, but 30+MP would be exceeding expectations
- At least 14 fps
- Similar DR as the D850, across the ISO range
- Lost the capability to shoot in total darkness. Infrared cameras and such are better suited for that ;)
To close: the image below of a little bear cub was shot late afternoon in the Great Bear Rainforest with the D850; I must have cropped it to around 50% as I was still way too far for my D850/600mm f/4 combo. I added +1/3 stop exposure compensation on the D850 and added another stop in ViewNX-i/Photoshop CC at selective areas across the image. All this at ISO 640, and a walk in the park for the D850.
Nikon has managed to exceed many (pro) photographer’s expectations with the D850; it will be a challenge to continue that trend, but the hopes are high!
Please note that these images are protected by copyright and are not allowed to be used in any commercial way. If you’re interested in personal use only (like using as personal desktop/tablet/mobile background) then that’s fine; however any other use is prohibited by law.
Nikon D850 review part 3: four-legged creatures and more impressions from the Great Bear Rain Forest
Posted on September 27, 2017
…That’s a bit of a long title but it does summarise the next couple of images and the subject of this article.
During my processing/editing of the D850 images I’ve noticed a couple of things. First, it’s very easy to bring back the (not really lost) shadows and (not really) blown highlights. When I look at some of the images during editing in either ViewNX-i (albeit not much editing there) and Photoshop CC, it’s remarkable how much of the tones can be tweaked to an acceptable level; basically get things back in balance. In the image below for example, I was certain that the reflection of the late morning sun on the river would have caused a lot of blown highlights. Not the case: in Camera Raw it was quite easy to bring them back to a more balanced level.
This tells me that the various articles on the Internet are correct: take for example a look at this one:
Photographic dynamic range of the D850 lower than ISO 3200 easily beats the big guns like the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1D X Mark II while beyond ISO 3200 it’s almost on par with the Canon, which is just crazy for the 46MP from the Nikon vs. 20 MP from the Canon:
The other thing I’ve noticed while editing my images, is the total lack of having to change the white balance of the RAW files. On my D4S this was pretty much always the case; however on the D500 considerably less. I have not changed the white balance of any of my D850 images so far; something I have NEVER done with my previous Nikon cameras (D500 excluded). This does however include generating the TIFFs out of ViewNX-i and not import the RAW files into Photoshop CC/Camera Raw. PS does not have a clue how to read the colours of the D850 (yet) while the Nikon software seems to capture it 100% correct. Not having to change the white balance is real time-saver during editing… makes it more fun to do.
Cuddly bears (at least some of them) were not the only wildlife we saw in the Great Bear Rainforest. There was a small deer family that seemed to wonder around the lodge we were staying at. For some reason they liked to hang around and enjoy the vegetation and were not intimidated by the guests and staff whatsoever. So on one late evening I took my D850 and 600mm and approached them to take a couple of shots. Sort of together with this little one, ISO 1600 was a ‘walk in the park’ for the D850…
In my next article I’ll probably include some more fluffy creatures before I call it a day. After that, I was triggered by a reader to do a comparison between the D4S/D500 and the D850 (I don’t have any other DSLRs) so that might lead to some interesting conclusions… stay tuned!
Posted on September 26, 2017
… I wish! Although you can get close with a 46 megapixel DSLR sensor and a spot somewhere in the Great Bear Rainforest where there are just mountains, rivers, bears, and salmon a almost no people or buildings to light-pollute the sky.
Before I went on my trip I was wondering if I should bring my Nikon 14-24mm with me or not. It was the first lens I had ever bought (what a lens to start with…) and it’s probably the least-used lens in my collection. It’s a great lens, but I prefer my 16-35mm f/4 because of the ability to hold filters and its VR. Anyway, even though the 14-24mm weighs a ton, I decided to bring it with me because ‘you never know.’
On our first evening we went to test the D850’s features around time-lapse and night sky photography; something I had never done before. I took the D850 and placed it on my RRS ball head and Gitzo tripod, which all went well. What did not go so well was the condensation that was sticking to my 14-24mm and the D850 as the Great Bear Rainforest does live up to its name: rain means humidity. A lot. After some continuous wiping I finally managed to get a couple of decent shots. What I did not expect however, was the difference between what our human eyes can see when we look up to the stars in the night sky, and what the D850 sensor is capturing in those huge 46 MP files.
When I was young (long time ago) I remember our first Dutch astronaut (in the Space Shuttle) telling about his experiences. And that he was so mesmerized about the different colours out there in the universe. Starts and galaxies are not just all white as we see them in the night (very few starts probably for those of you who live in the cities like myself), but they rather emit all sorts of colours, covering all ranges in the spectrum. I didn’t think too much of it, but I remember thinking it would be kinda cool to see that myself one day. Well I’m still not up there in space, but the closest I came to that experience was to take a shot with the D850 and late in the evening take it through some post-processing after which I was quite surprised…
So here we go: I’ve only applied some minimal formatting to the ‘original’ image to make it appear as close as I can to what I perceived that night looked like to my naked eye:
And here is what the D850 sensor actually captures… quite a bit different from our human eyes.
It’s as if almost each of those 46MP have been receiving photons of at least one planet, star and/or galaxy. Blue ones, red ones, orange ones… It even captured a small meteorite that was completely invisible to my eye and on the original RAW. To me, the more I look at this image and try to see all the unique stars and galaxies, the smaller I become. Until I realise we are just such a tiny speck in something so unimaginable bigger…
Well, I guess that was the more philosophical view on the D850 and its amazing sensor; my next review articles will again focus on the beauty of the (wild) Life/Nature of the Great Bear Rainforest captured with the Nikon D850. Stay tuned!
Posted on September 24, 2017
Another magic place on earth: the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada: a huge (32000 km2) protected park, about an hours flight north of Vancouver (reachable by boat and car as well – the road trip is not for the fainthearted). The home base of our trip was a lodge about 45 mins. drive from Bella Coola (population app. 2000), in the middle of pretty much nowhere. Nowhere being thousands of acres of rainforest and a massive network of rivers; rivers that are completely filled with spawning salmon. So much salmon in fact, that the bears have the luxury to stay in their own territories and do not have to visit each other and compete for juicy fish. They simply relax in their personal piece of the forest (with their little bears) and every now and then, when they develop an appetite, take a stroll along the river and get a little snack or two, after which they go back and relax some more. What a life…
Just before I left for this trip, Nikon released the D850 DSLR. “Released” is perhaps a little too much said: first it was announced, then in a first batch in very small amounts delivered to a small number of retailers around the globe, after it became immediately and completely sold out. All of this because of a couple of very interesting, and market-disrupting specs (next to a nicely carried out marketing campaign with all sorts of ‘leaks’ getting out, slowly building up the excitement and off course demand…): a whopping 46 MP (45.7 to be precise), ISO and dynamic range equal or better than the D810 (the de-facto high-quality 35mm DSLR standard at the time), and whole bunch of new features but most importantly: a crazy 9 frames per second (with additional battery pack MB-D18; 7 fps without). 46 MP with 9 fps…now that’s a market disruptor!
So I decided to kindly ask, beg, bug and whatever have you, my local camera retailer for this D850 as I was going on this trip to the Great Bear Rainforest. What an opportunity that would be for some first impressions in a real ‘Life/Nature’ situation! Next to that, I was quite keen to break my Nikon D800(e) and D810 curse of the dreaded focus (or rather out of focus) points. However, unlike my friends and colleagues in North America, for some reason Nikon Europe does not prioritise any NPS members and they will just have to stand in line like everyone else to get their hands on this new gadget. Whether it was luck or something else (my bugging/begging), my retailer was so kind to let me provide them a couple of thousand Euros again, and off I went with a brand new Nikon D850, incl. battery back.
The very first thing that strikes you is the professional ‘feel’ of the camera. It just feels rock solid, similar to my D4S and D500. Then, when you put your favourite wildlife lens on it (in my case the 600mm f/4E FL), it focuses as fast as my D4S and D500. So that’s all good as well. But when you take your first couple of test shots, behold this crazy resolution: 46MP! What does that look like? So here’s the non-cropped test image, taken with my 600mm lens, which compared to looking at this with my naked eye already gives quite some modification:
Now we crop to 100%; something I would almost never do, but I may crop to something around 50% if it turns out my object was too far and my 600mm wasn’t long enough:
So that’s what 46 MP looks like on a D850 with a 600mm super telephoto lens… A tree your eyes can hardly distinguish turns into individual leaves and twigs, from more that 100 meters away. Incredible. I’m sure in 10 years from now all this is old school, but for now it’s incredible.
The other thing that becomes clear is the way the D850 handles dynamic range: in the Great Bear Rainforest it actually doesn’t rain all the time (why do they call it that way then…?) and in fact, it was quite warm and sunny during our visit. The camera will then have to deal with relatively harsh late morning light in combination with dark shadows from the trees, which you’d like to bring all back in post. For those who are a big fan of the D5 better skip this section now…
When you’re retrieving your shadows you obviously want to leave the noise where it is. And this does happen in situations with a lot of light where you shoot with low ISO, like the image below. The Nikon D4/D4S does a great job at this, and the D810 even better. However the D5 does not which is why I kept my D4S (I got some critique for not liking the D5, but I can’t change the facts…). The D850 has a similar dynamic range profile as the D810 (at level or slightly above) which is remarkable for those additional 10 MP on the same sensor size, and editing of the images in for example PhotoShop is a relatively easy task.
On the other hand, images that are shot at low ISO and do not have strong blacks or highlights that need maintenance, demonstrate the relatively high dynamic range of the D850.
So what we have is a pro-level DSLR with an amazing 9 fps (battery pack attached), a crazy 46MP resolution, and similar or better dynamic range as the D810. I did bring my D4S on this trip but I felt no need to actually use it: the additional 30 MP from the D850 did not outweigh the additional 2 fps from the D4S. The D4S is a sweet professional camera which I really like and has served me well, but Nikon has now produced an interesting alternative to their pro-level DSLRs (D4S/D5).
What’s not to like about this camera? There are two things…
- Is your current computer/laptop slow? Then think again when you buy the D850. Editing images is going to be sloooow… I now have to upgrade my laptop to be able to handle the 46MP files in just seconds vs minutes it’s now taking me. And the fact that Apple was not able to succeed in architecting their MacBooks with more than 16GB (in the year 2017 AD!!) is not helping either (but that’s a different story).
- Images shot with my D4S were almost always sharp. So were they on my D3S, and my D750. But when you start playing with 36+ MP you get into the situation where you find that your images may look sharp at first glance, but cropped at 100% they seem just ‘almost sharp’. I find I have to raise my shutter speed between 1 and 2 stops to get to an acceptable sharpness level. This was already a known fact with the D810 and this finding is relevant to the D850 as well. It’s now up to our camera manufacturers to start improving the VR on lenses as well as in-camera (not present yet in Nikon…) so we can enjoy the full quality of these sensors.
In my next article I’ll continue my review with more images (from this planet and beyond) and a bit less ‘impressions’… stay tuned!
Posted on September 17, 2017
Posted on July 30, 2017
Myanmar is one of these last ‘hidden gems’: countries that have kept their own identity in terms of culture, religions and beliefs throughout the years, compared to what we call ‘modern society’ – at least to a certain extent. Travelling to these countries is like stepping back in time when you’re immersing yourself in something quite different from the world we know and live in. There’s a sense of mystery surrounding the buddhist monasteries in Mandalay and the plains of Bagan with hundreds of stupas and temples. Yet tourism is picking up dramatically and it will surely change the country; not necessarily always for the better.
Some of the images below are well-known to visitors whereas some may not. During my travels I always asked my guide to take us to places not frequently visited by tourists, like monasteries where monks are taking lectures. Here I could at least try to capture some of the magic, or energy as some may call it that seem to surround everyone and everything, without being haunted by countless of picture-hungry tourists who like to ‘snap and go’ as much and as fast as they can.
Let’s start in Mandalay and its iconic U-bein bridge, one of Mandalay’s most visited places.
Mandalay U-bein bridge sunrise
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 70mm on Nikon D4, f/8, 1/640 s., ISO 100, -1.0 exp. comp.
On my first trip I managed to capture the image of the buddhist nuns below. I do wonder if this is at all possible again these days with the huge increase in tourism: the bridge is now continuously full with tourists taking snapshots all the time…
Nuns on U-bein bridge at sunset
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 200mm on Nikon D3S, f/4, 1/640 s., ISO 500, -1.0 exp. comp.
Near the U-bein bridge are monasteries that are visited frequently by tourists. In fact, there is one where busloads of tourists come and go to see the monks standing in line for their lunch. I got the impression there were more tourists than monks in this place. However the monks seem to have become quite used to the scene, although it does look like a bit of a circus. Best to be avoided if you’re not so keen on someone standing right in front of you who came from some region on this planet where ‘etiquette’ has no meaning at all…
Monk in queue for lunch at Mandalay monastery
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 200mm on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/1250 s., ISO 100, spot metered.
When my guide took me to the monastery below, I was quite amazed to hear there were over 1500 monks studying there. And when I heard that their religious teachings covered something more than five times the size compared to the Bible texts, I was even more amazed. And when I heard the students have to learn all of this by heart, I didn’t know what to think anymore. So I just went walking across the room, looking for shots while every now and then a monk would look up as if to say ‘what are you doing here?!’ Amazing experience.
Mandalay monastery teachings
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 200mm on Nikon D4, f/2.8, 1/100 s., ISO 1100, -2.3 exp. comp.
Mandalay monastery monk studying
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 200mm on Nikon D4, f/2.8, 1/100 s., ISO 800, -2.3 exp. comp.
Bagan is a magical place; something that just has to be experienced in reality. Tourists do gather in the thousands (if not more) to view the sunrise and sunset where the many stupas and temples are faintly lit up by the sun. Actually, the 70-200mm lens is perfect in these situations. I saw many photographers playing around with their wide angle zoom lenses believing (incorrectly) ‘the more the better’. In fact, the shot below was taking at the end of a morning sunrise when I wasn’t even able to get a good position as so many tourists were standing in front of me. Slightly frustrated, I picked up my 70-200mm and took this shot hoping for a bit of luck.
Bagan sunrise (from temple that is now closed)
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 140mm on Nikon D3S, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 200
For a bit of extra cash you can skip the tourists and catch a balloon; certainly one of the more interesting alternatives to see the Bagan temples at sunrise or sunset. Your success off course depends heavily of the weather at the time of shooting, but with a bit of luck you can capture the magic from the air.
Bagan sunrise (from balloon)
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 200mm on Nikon D3S, f/2.8, 1/125 s., ISO 220
I remember the first time I was complaining to my guide that I hadn’t seen any monks yet during my trip. So when we arrived in Bagan he told me ‘you are very lucky, tomorrow you will see the monks’. Turns out he was referring to a once in a year-only event, the ‘Ananda pagoda festival’ where thousands of monks gather to receive gifts from Myanmar people gathering from all over the country, a unique religious event. I just couldn’t believe my luck.
Ananda pagoda festival monks
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 145mm on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/125 s., ISO 2500, -0.3 exp. comp.
Ananda pagoda festival monks
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 145mm on Nikon D3S, f/4.5, 1/400 s., ISO 200
Another well-known place to visit in Myanmar is Inle lake. You can easily find lots of images on the Internet with fishermen posing for photographers while fishing. I again chose to go ‘off the beaten track’ and let my guide take me to the monasteries nearby. It was again a completely different and magical experience.
Nyaung Schwe monastery monks attending evening prayer
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 70mm on Nikon D4, f/2.8, 1/40 s., ISO 1600, -2.0 exp. comp.
Shooting with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is not always easy inside monasteries as there is very little light to work with. Best is to switch to a prime lens like the 85mm f/1.8 to bring those ISOs down. The 85mm also has a pretty smooth bokeh especially at f/1.8:
Nyaung Schwe monastery monks attending evening prayer
Nikon 85mm f/1.8G on Nikon D4, f/1.8, 1/80 s., ISO 1250, -2.0 exp. comp.
Nyaung Schwe monastery head monk
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 140mm on Nikon D4, f/4, 1/200 s., ISO 1400, -1.7 exp. comp.
Talking about magic: this last image was taken during once of those moments you simply cannot plan for, or even expect to happen. You just have to be lucky, or perhaps luck is not the right word. My guide and I were sitting in a room where we witnessed a small group of young monks taking lectures. Nothing much was happening, I was looking through my viewfinder to see if there was an interesting shot I could take. Then, I noticed the setting sun was shining exactly though a small window, directly onto one of the monks. And only unto that single monk. I recall thinking: ‘my autofocus must really like this because of the light and contrast’, but I also became aware of the scene: the young monk was really focused on the lecture, unlike most of the other monks, and continued to do so while the sun rays were shining on his face. He seemed not to be bothered by it; in fact he seemed to be completely focused on the lecture taking place in front of him.
It was a very strange moment that is difficult to describe. Looking back I felt there was something special that happened at that moment, and I can still see or feel that ‘something special’ in the shot that I took. Perhaps the young monk experienced something similar. An enlightened moment…
Nyaung Schwe monastery monks attending lecture
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G @ 175mm on Nikon D4, f/4, 1/250 s., ISO 1100, -1.0 exp. comp.
Myanmar is a magical place. If you have the chance to visit you should take the opportunity, while it is still unique and not ‘assembled’ into ‘modernisation’ and ‘globalization’.
Posted on July 2, 2017
A long way back I wrote I would do something useful with some of the (tens/hundreds of) thousand images in my archives. Well, I’ve always wanted to pick up my images from an early trip to Canada back in 2011. I was just getting into wildlife photography, I had (just) one DSLR (Nikon D4) and I also took up some landscape photography. What better place in the world to practice your landscape photography than the Canadian Rockies! Every place there is like some artist’s painting, and provides the opportunity for you to capture it with your expensive little toy.
Actually, capturing these images is just part of the challenge. Landscape photography is very different from wildlife photography. Think slow versus fast, very early mornings, ‘golden hours’, sunrises and sunsets, filters, remote triggers, etc. And once you’ve managed to capture what you think isn’t too bad, your image will look quite different from what you’ve seen with your own eyes due to the fact that digital camera sensors do not come near the ‘dynamic range’ and quality of our own eyes. Therefore it’s not not a big surprise that much of the image post-processing tutorials you find on the Web practise with landscape images.
The first image is arguably the most classic one from Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada: Lake Louise.
The Nikon 16-35mm wide angle zoomlens gives you a pretty good range for your landscape requirements: it’s a little soft at either end but between around 18 and 30 mm it will produce excellent sharp images, and unlike the much pricier 12-24 mm f/2.8, it holds standard-sized filters, whereas in case of the the 12-24 mm you’ll be looking for very exotic (and pricy) filter alternatives. In the early days I was shooting with both a circular polariser together with Lee graduated neutral density filters. However I would now resort to simply stacking multiple shots with varying exposures and import into Photoshop CC for further processing.
Let’s try another Banff classic: the Valley of the Ten Peaks:
Image ‘post-processing’; i.e. processing after the shot is taken, is almost always a must. Modern sensors and supporting imaging software still lack the ability to transform shots taken into something that comes very close to our perceived reality of the world. Ironically, while the landscape shot does not look similar to how you see it, the amount of data stored in the digital RAW file does enable you to bring back the colours, highlights and shadows as you think they were at the time of shooting (or not, as some image editors do, but I’ll leave the photography ‘art vs reality’ discussion for now…).
In terms of software my preferred set is Photoshop CC and the Nik Collection add-in from Google: Dfine, Viveza, Color Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro. The Nik Control Points feature was and still is my main processing tool. And like so many other disappointed customers I too find it very strange that first Google buys this product and then decides to stop further development. Why spend money to kill something good that is used by so many people? Beyond my comprehension… I must be missing something.
Anyway, in terms of processing steps I usually start with (some) cropping (in CC) to ensure the composition ‘feels’ good, de-noise, selective highlight or shadow recovery (in Nik), selective contrast enhancement or reduction, selective sharpening, and if all that hasn’t worked out, I start all over again. Sometimes though, only a few minor tweaks are required.
Like in this image: beautiful Bow Lake (hand-held with VR on as I forgot to take my tripod out of my car and was too lazy to walk back…).
When I visited Maligne lake in Jasper National Park, one day very early in the morning, I recall that there were a couple of other photographers shooting the sunrise. Or rather, they were waiting for a sunrise that didn’t really happen: early morning darkness just changed into early morning light without any golden sunshine. So they left. Which was in itself enough reason for me to stay and see what would happen. The fact that I was there all by myself wasn’t too bad already, but I was actually quite pleased with how the morning light was developing. The lake was calm, the scenery was somewhat serene, and I found an interesting foreground of what was left of a tree trunk, just popping out of the cold lake water.
Mysterious Maligne Lake:
Landscape photography is quite a different ‘beast’ compared to wildlife photography but can be a lot of fun, if you have the patience to get where you want/need to go, and if you know a couple of tricks to let the images appear the way you (think you) have perceived them. And you don’t even need to have that perfect landscape camera (although it will certainly help!): as long as you keep your ISO down to 100 or even less, a high-quality sensor (like that on the D4/D4S) will help you to get those lights, darks, and colours back with the right imaging software tools.
Posted on April 17, 2017
You will not often find these two toys together in the hands of the same (consumer/’prosumer’) photographer. The 600mm is Nikon’s flagship super telephoto lens, a bit more ‘common’ than the 800mm, with a price to match (i.e. relatively expensive). The D500 is a crop frame (1.5x) camera and (relatively) less expensive than Nikon’s full frame DSLRs, yet still a professional model. The 1.5x crop factor is nice when you cannot afford the pricy long telephoto lenses, and so you get an affordable alternative when you use a crop frame camera with a relatively cheaper lens and lower focal length.
However… if you do have both you can actually carry out some nice experiments! For example, a 600mm on a D500 gives you effectively 900mm to play with. 900mm is a LOT of focal length. But then there are also the extenders. The ones in my bag are the 1.4x and the 2x, so on a D500 this gives you 1260mm and 1800mm respectively. That’s 1800mm! That’s basically INSANE!
Anyway, on a sunny day not so long ago, I decided to do a little test and see how the images and resolution compare. Could I even manage to capture sharp images at this ridiculous focal length? Well, the 1.5x crop factor doesn’t mean the number of sharp images are reduced by 1.5; however the 2x extender does make things a bit harder. I was also wondering if I would ever use these combinations in the field, or if I would simply stick to using the 600mm on my Nikon 4DS and D500. …Only one way to find out.
First, my favourite little electric box at around 100 meters distance. The angle of view of this object is pretty close to my real ‘eye’ view; i.e. around 45-50mm.
First, the D4S + 600mm f/4E combo, 100% crop:
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 100
Tack sharp. Now for the D500 + 600mm f/4E, also 100% crop. What does 900mm look like?
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D500, f/4, 1/1000 s., ISO 100
Wow, the D500 makes a serious difference! Not only do you get the 1.5 crop factor out of the box (or rather sensor) but you get an extra 6 megapixels to play with. That’s 6MP more on a surface which is 1.5 times smaller. Let’s push things more and add the 1.4x extender:
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D500 + TC-14E III (1260mm), f/5.6, 1/500 s., ISO 100
I shot this combo wide open, at f/5.6 so it is allowed to be a little soft, but it’s too soft for my liking. I did test the differences between the new TC-14E III and its predecessor before and I found the older model to outperform the newer one, believe it or not. I guess I’ll be testing the differences between these two again soon and if the results stay the same I may be tempted to return my new TC-14E III.
Now let’s get maximum crazy: 600mm + D500 + 2x extender = 1800mm.
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D500 + TC-20E III (1800mm), f/8, 1/400 s., ISO 100
So that’s what 1800mm gives you compared to around 45-50mm (see top image) at 100% crop. The image is still a little soft as it’s shot wide open (f/8 with the 2 stop loss of the 2x extender) but I actually like it better than with the 1.4x extender; it seems a bit less soft. Also note the shutter speed: 1/400 sec.! Now, I did not get a very high keeper rate at this focal length and shutter speed; perhaps 10-20%. However, this does show you can get relatively sharp images at 1800mm! Would you crop to 100% in reality? Off course you wouldn’t. So I took the image and instead I cropped it to something like 50-60% instead. Would it be sharp?
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D500 + TC-20E III (1800mm), f/8, 1/500 s., ISO 100
That isn’t too bad at all! So you can take sharp shots at an insane 1800mm (effectively) with a 1/500 s. shutter speed using the 600mm f/4E FL, the D500 and the 2x extender. Let’s check the differences one more time. First, the view with your own eyes:
And then at 1800mm effective focal length with the combo:
This tells me the TC-20E III performs very well on the D500/600mm f/4 E FL combo and results in an incredible 1800mm which can result in very usable images!
The image below wasn’t actually shot with this exotic combo but rather the ‘normal’ 600mm/D4S combo, hand held. Just thought it was a nice way to end this article :)
Posted on February 18, 2017
Usually there are a good couple of weeks between my posts, or (unfortunately) sometimes even months: as I’m only a part-time (pro) photographer I do need to spend some time earning enough money to pay for that (too) expensive Nikon equipment… In this case I went through all my Golden Monkeys, both shot with the D500 and the D4S in one go, so therefore the short timeframe between my previous post and this one.
In my previous article I wrote about the D500/new 70-200mm f/2.8E FL combo, pretty much the latest & greatest of what Nikon has to offer. Yet the full frame D4S with the 600mm f/4E FL super telephoto lens isn’t too bad either. In fact, this may be the very best Nikon combo for wildlife photography, although I wouldn’t mind to have the few extra megapixels of the D5 (not its poorer DR at base ISO!). The bokeh on the 70-200mm f/2.8E FL is very, very nice, yet I was even more impressed with the bokeh in the images shot with the 600mm. There is just a different ‘soul’ to these images; bit difficult to explain…
But, before we go there, let’s have a look at the typical set of camera gear you can consider when going on a safari trip. On the left, a D750 with the 70-200mm zoom this will take care of any closeup shots or nice landscapes. In the middle, the D500 with the 200-500mm zoom attached. This set is a bit like your ‘insurance policy’: it will cover all sorts of animals within all sorts of ranges, however it’s not a ‘fast’ combination: the 200-500mm is only f/5.6 and the D500 is a crop frame and will cost you that bit of extra noise. So like with any DSLR/lens combo, there is a ‘ price’. And on the right your ‘flagship’ combo: full frame DSLR, low noise, very high DR across the ISO range, and a fast, telephoto prime/pro-lens with that: a 600mm f/4. This combo is pretty much the best there is, yet the ‘price’ is that this works better for static rather than fast-moving (from/towards you) objects, where you’ll have to revert to your backup DSLR and zoom combination.
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 320, -0.7 exp. comp.
Last but not least, you’ll need a very good bag to help you store all that gear in; in my case the F-stop Sukha which stores just about anything. One additional comment on that one: forget about that bag being waterproof… When I walked around in the Rwandese jungle in torrential rain, water absolutely entered the bag and got some of my equipment wet. You’ll need a special waterproof cover to do the job, just saying… Oh, and very last and certainly not least: you’ll need a nice hat for that needed protection from the sun, which is positioned just about right on top of you in Tanzania or Rwanda at noon. Because of their soft edge, boonie hats are really useful in that you don’t need to rotate them on your head like you have to with a baseball cap for example, when switching from landscape to portrait mode.
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 400, -0.7 exp. comp.
On some of my previous images I wasn’t always happy with the bokeh of the new 600mm f/4E lens. However for whatever reason, in this case I was totally impressed. Perhaps it was the ‘ideal’ range between the foreground (monkeys) and background subject (leaves), but I just really liked how to 600 made the monkeys come out against the soft and blurry jungle background. What a lens!
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 250, -0.7 exp. comp.
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/1000 s., ISO 280, -1.0 exp. comp.
Stay tuned for my next post!
Posted on February 16, 2017
On my third day in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda I went on a trek to see the ‘Golden Monkeys’. This time, it was with a slightly larger group of tourists. Again, the majority was equipped with their smart phones… which makes for even more difficult shots as these monkeys are a whole lot smaller than gorillas…!
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 640, -0.7 exp. comp.
These monkeys are perhaps a bit of an anti-climax after having experienced mountain gorillas for two days. They’re obviously much smaller (largest ones are perhaps app. 50 cm. in height) and you don’t get the same ‘click’ you experience with gorillas (I even communicated with the silverbacks! – see my previous article). But they are cute little creatures nonetheless, jumping around the whole time playing and looking for food.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 160, -0.7 exp. comp.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 180, -0.7 exp. comp.
Their appearance though, is quite extraordinary. Nature has decided to fit these little creatures with the most amazing colourful golden hairs on their faces, backs, and chest, while their arms, legs, and upper heads are covered in black. And what surprised me the most was how the images actually came out (or in) my D500 with the new 70-200mm f.2.8E FL zoom lens attached. For the first time I did not have to make any changes to the white balance of my images; it seemed the D500 nailed the colours perfectly. I had read before that the D500 and D5 have improved metering and white balance compared to the D4(S) and this seems to be correct, at least from my experience.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/2.8, 1/1250 s., ISO 400, -0.7 exp. comp.
Shooting the D500 with the 70-200mm f/2.8E FL zoom lens at f/2.8 shows the beautiful bokeh this lens is able to produce. The D500 has a sweet shutter sound (i.e. not loud) so the monkeys don’t get spooked by any loud clicks. Obviously, at f/2.8 and at up to 200mm the DOF is very thin, so you need to distance yourself carefully to get your required DOF. The other pleasure of this combo is the 21 megapixels spread out on a crop/DX-size sensor, which gives you lots of bandwidth to crop your image further if you need to during editing. And another benefit: the focus points are so spread out that you can easily keep your continuous autofocus on and select focus points on the far edges of your viewfinder. Perhaps not very often, but very handy when you need it.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 180, -0.7 exp. comp.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 140, -0.7 exp. comp.
The only thing I do not understand is why Nikon waited such a long to release the D500. Instead, they chose to bring out another dozen CoolPix cameras, and non-exciting upgrades to their D3000/5000/7000 non-pro DX series DSLRs. And in the mean time their pro-consumer base had to keep waiting (in he dark as usual) for a true successor to the pro D300(S). It’s a management decision that may have contributed to their current poor company performance. But I think I’ll leave all that for another blog post…
Getting close to the Golden Monkeys allowed me to get my first impressions of the D500, which exceeded my expectations by far. However I wasn’t always able to get near enough so I did switch to my D4S/600mm f/4E FL combo heavyweight every now and then. It was interesting to see the differences in the images shot with both combos. It was as if each combo has its own ‘soul’. I was really impressed with the D500/70-200mm combo but the D4S/600mm combo was still the winner, despite the challenges in having to adjust the white balance during editing (which is a real pain). More on those images in my next post!
Posted on January 28, 2017
Many have seen or heard of the movie “Gorillas in the Mist”: the story of Dian Fossey, who lived and worked in the forests of Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, studying mountain gorillas. Her death remains unsolved, although it was clear she had been murdered, many believe by poachers.
The Rwanda government picks up several million dollars each year from visiting tourists, effectively making the gorillas multimillionaires… And the government does everything to protect its multimillion dollar investment: the gorilla viewing trips are highly regulated – and protected by many mountain rangers in the park, armed to the teeth with, amongst others, kalashnikovs to deter anyone even thinking about taking the life of a gorilla. These forests must be amongst the most heavily protected in the world, and poaching here is equal to suicide.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL @ 98mm on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/640 s., ISO 110
There are several gorilla groups which can be visited. Tourists are each assigned to view one group, and are accompanied by park guides after receiving a briefing on various topics, one of which is ‘gorilla language’. A very important phrase is “I am your friend” – but then in Gorilla off course…
I’ve spoken that ‘phrase’ a couple of times during my second viewing day and the silverback actually replied! It was really special to feel we were communicating, and even agreeing on something :)
‘Thinking about it…‘
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL @ 130mm on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/640 s., ISO 180
On my first trip we were surprised by a rain shower I had never experienced before; more water than in your own bathroom shower! As the trips are capped at 1 hour max, I was getting a bit worried after about half an hour of torrential rain. However, it did clear up a bit and I pulled out my new 70-200mm f/2.8E fluorite zoom lens, attached to my D4S. Even though I did not have any rain protection with me for this combo (long story…) I decided to go ahead with it, and as expected, the combo proved very much weather proof: both the lens and camera were exposed to the (mild) rain but were not affected whatsoever. I guess it pays off to have professional gear after all…
‘Kwitonda baby after the rain‘
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL @ 200mm on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/500 s., ISO 900
The challenge on the second day was a different one: where we found our gorilla group on the first day simply on the forest floor after about a 30 min. trek, on the second day our new group was having breakfast on a mountain slope. And there were no paths to the gorillas… So the park rangers simply made a path for us cutting away the vegetation towards the group.
With the help of our amazing park guide (‘François’, one of the last park guides who actually worked for Dian Fossey!) I managed to get a couple of portraits of the group’s silverback boss.
‘Silverback …or alien?‘
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL @ 160mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/640 s., ISO 1600
‘Kwitonda baby & mum‘
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL @ 200mm on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/500 s., ISO 900
After every burst, I was saying to my new acquaintance: ‘I am your friend’ (in gorilla language) and he seemed to believe me when he replied back a couple of times ‘I am your friend’, looking straight at me with what almost seemed, a smile…
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL @ 150mm on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/500 s., ISO 500
The youngsters are the most difficult to frame within a decent composition and in focus: they’re just all over the place! When you’ve got them looking into one direction, they’ll change their position causing you to re-compose your image, after which they’ll change position again, and so on… They’re also highly playful, and will sometimes approach you for a game. Fortunately the park guides are always nearby to tell them ‘no not now!’ after which they will back off again and play with their own family & friends. The whole idea is that they shouldn’t get too used to humans, and must be protected from human diseases as well.
Interestingly, Dian Fossey was an opponent of gorilla tourism, yet this tourism is the very reason why the mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda are thriving, and earning millions for Rwanda and the Rwandese people.
An amazing, life-changing and unforgettable experience.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL @ 135mm on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 800
Posted on January 22, 2017
In this second article on my recent trip to Tanzania and Rwanda I thought I’d focus on something I had never seen before: a kill by a big cat. In this case a lioness chasing a group of zebras, picking an unlucky one, managing to kill it and leaving it for her family of cubs and sisters. An amazing experience!
My driver had his sights on a single female lion, slowly walking towards a group of zebras, quite far away. He told me he would like follow the lioness, while the other tourists were happily busy with their mobile phones shooting little critters far away, not realising how they would appear on their images…
Anyway, we continued to pursue the lioness very slowly, at around 100 metres distance, and at some point in time we actually lost her in the bush: their colour actually blends in perfectly in the dry Serengeti grasses… Then, all of a sudden, the zebras started to run in all directions, dust and grass was blowing in the air and I managed to spot the lioness chasing the zebras. The action was so fast and chaotic that I had no real idea where I was pointing my 600mm lens. I had prepared for some form of action: I had my shutter speed at 1/1600 s. and my aperture wide open at f/4 to keep my ISO down, knowing I would still get sharp images, as long as my D4S would be able to track the lioness. But as I didn’t really know where she was, it was all a bit of a gamble. Basically, while I had my D4S shooting away at 11 frames/sec. I could only hope that my D4S was tracking the lioness as I had no clue what was happening… All images are at 100% crop, so don’t expect any astronomical IQ!
Let’s see what happened:
“Prepare to engage”
“Use rudder to stabilise”
“Prepare to capture”
“In case of any confusion…”
“Allow me to clarify:”
“This is my…”
Article 3 on my Tanzania and Rwanda trip coming soon!
Posted on January 17, 2017
…and actually also my workhorse D4S and the 600mm f/4E FL lens, but that would make for a rather lengthy and potentially boring title!
This article, and the following ones on the same topic will hopefully not be boring at all; at least my recent trip to Tanzania and Rwanda were far from it. In fact, the trip to Rwanda was a life-changing one, as many people have described it as well who have experienced the same as I have: encountering mountain gorillas in the middle of dark Africa. It’s an experience that is hard to describe so I will mostly let my images speak for themselves.
My travel started in Tanzania where I wanted to shoot images of leopards; something I had not been able to on previous visits to Africa for years. Leopards are very tricky to shoot: they are often in trees, either sleeping or waiting for lunch to drop by. And against a blue sky they make for a pretty lousy artistic shot. So on the very first day I was incredibly lucky to find this young leopard walking around, searching for prey. And I wasn’t the only one: I’m assuming I’m talking to a rather large, mixed crowd of photographers via my blog and that would mean some of you use iPhones or something similar to take pictures while on a safari. Perhaps not many, but probably a few… Well, when you’re on safari in the Serengeti in Tanzania the ratio iPhone (or similar) vs. DSLR would be something like 90 to 10 – not joking. I was amazed how many tourists use their mobile phones on a safari. Something I fail to understand to this very day. Let’s just be very clear: please don’t. Looking at the images you are trying to get – and weren’t able to will (most likely) make you regret your decision when you’re back.
Anyway, back to the story… In this specific case I was surrounded by a dozen (4×4) cars or so (not a strange phenomenon in the Serengeti unfortunately), and there are about two lanes of them obstructing my view with my D4S and 600mm combo. Through some small miracle my driver managed to squeeze in and I actual got a shot of this beautiful creature without any movement to navigate, nor time available to consider any alternative positions or gear.
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 280
This bad boy then decided to relax a little on a small mound, waiting for anything interesting to walk by. I could’t believe my luck when (s)he decided to give me a nice pose…
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 220
After this experience I felt this trip was a big success and anything else wouldn’t come close anymore. Little did I know about mountain gorillas in Rwanda. However, before we go there, other really amazing animals do cross your path with a bit of luck. And they’re not all of the biting kind:
‘Superb Starling’ (quite common in the Serengeti)
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 220, hand held
And in terms of the creatures that do bite: these tend to take very long naps during the daytime and so you’re lucky when you meet some who are quite active and thinking about things only they know:
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/800 s., ISO 320
You may have noticed I did not present any image that was actually shot with the new Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL lens, which I briefly tested in my previous article. Well, one of the key reasons I decided to get that pricy gadget was for my trip to Rwanda. I had done a bit of research and the stories were all the same: chances are you will get quite close to the gorillas so forget about a 600mm super telephoto lens. In fact, you may get so close (very close… too close) even a standard 70-200 zoom may be too much. However I decided to carry two camera/lens combos with me: the new 70-200mm attached to my D4S and the 200-500mm attached to my D500, just in case.
The first time you see a wild gorilla, is something you may never forget. The first time you see a fully grown silverback male in the wild, or even staring at you, is something you most certainly will never forget. The only way I can describe it would be as if I’d be looking at an alien who just landed: you just don’t know what to say or think (consciously); a moment when you’re frozen and you loose sense of time. Basic natural instincts seem to take over: you’re on high alert but are still admiring what you’re viewing and experiencing. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of it all: their behavior is so similar to that of humans; you’re looking at an animal that reminds you of a human (a big one!) yet isn’t… and so your thoughts and admiration continue…
Gorilla mum with baby
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/400 s., ISO 1400
Visit time are restricted to one hour; strictly enforced by the park guides and park guards accompanying you on your trip. So I was rather disappointed, to say the least, when our first 30 minutes were lost as the biggest torrential rain I had ever experienced came washing down on us. I’m talking water volumes comparable to that of a bathroom shower. And then some. But after that half hour the skies seemed to clear up a little; enough for me to take out my D4S and 20-700mm combo. It was still raining and my gear was getting wet, but I felt quite comfortable it would easily handle the rain – and it did (it’s weather-sealed, and it better be for that price). My guide had already noticed I was something of a different ‘tourist’ as the others (yes, with mobile phones… nice people though! In fact, very nice group with great stories, more on that later) and he took me on a little ‘private tour’, going straight through the thick jungle, not having a clue where we were going. Before I knew it I got another shock: staring right into Mister Silverback; about 5 meters away…
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/500 s., ISO 800
My guide told me story: there was a male tourist once who bragged about being able to arm-wrestle a gorilla, a silverback. Apparently the guy had some muscles and felt he was very strong. And not afraid. My guide told me the guy was the first one in the group who ran away the moment he laid eyes on a silverback, probably staring right back at him.
By the way: I must have been as scared as that guy; however I knew I just had to continue to shoot. This was what I had come here for, and I wasn’t going to give in (or up). When this big boy came slowly towards me my guide did come to me though and told me to very slowly step back… More on that in my next articles. On that note, I’m not sure yet how many articles I will write about this visit, but given the amount of shots I took I think there will be another 4 or 5 – at least. Hope you will stay tuned!
Posted on December 5, 2016
First and foremost, I have to say upfront that it’s not my intent to turn this photography blog into some kind of gear review site! So why another (short) review?
I recently got myself Nikon’s improved version of the already very good 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens. For those who haven’t noticed yet: Nikon is involved in a wave of lens improvements, where some are equipped with its latest fluorite lenses and technology. Fluorite means less weight and increased sharpness, even at lower apertures, and across the entire lens, so from center to edge. So where’s the catch? If there is one, it’s definitely price. These new lenses are up to 25-50% more expensive than their predecessors. But, sharper at lower apertures can easily mean one stop gained, and a reduction in ISO of 50%, which means better quality images, especially in combination with high shutter speeds (birdies flying, predators running etc.). For example, I was used to often shoot the 70-200mm f/2.8G ‘old’ lens at f/4 as it was just a little soft at f/2.8. Starting at f/4 my images were usually tack sharp. Now, the promise is that the new lens may already be acceptable sharp at f/2.8 which makes for a very tempting upgrade.
And there are some other benefits as well. The 70-200mm f/2.8G lens is known for its ‘focus breathing’. Basically, subjects shot at 200mm from a close distance look as if they were shot at around 135mm. Pay for 200mm, get 65 mm less… The new lens is also a bit shorter (few mm) but more importantly, 110 gr. lighter. Not a big difference, but nice.
I can be quite critical when it comes to these expensive toys, so I actually want to make a compliment as well for a change (which is also critique by the way…): there’s a smart person or group of people out there at Nikon who realized the previous lens cap didn’t have the most useful shape: you couldn’t rest the lens on the cap when attached to the lens. Not something you would do all the time but sometimes it does come in handy if you quickly need to put your lens on a flat object; e.g. table, chair/seat, or similar. The current shape allows you to do just that: the cap is now perfectly shaped to put your lens on a flat object, relatively stable.
However, perhaps there has been another group at Nikon who felt it was useful to switch the zoom ring for the focus ring. On the previous model you could shoot with the cap attached reversed on the lens; on the new model you can forget about that as the cap sits in the way of the zoom ring. An additional disadvantage is that you easily touch the focus ring while zooming: an issue that did not exist with in the previous model. I do sometimes think people can actually get their PHDs from studying the decision-making process at Nikon…
OK, let’s have a closer look at the performance of the new lens compared to its predecessor. Now, I only spent a couple of hours shooting and comparing the images, and as a result I mainly focused on the performance differences at f/2.8 which is where I’d like to shoot this lens at on my coming trips. All images shot wide open (f/2.8) with a Nikon D4S attached. All images processed to JPG with Nikon ViewNX-i, not sharpened, and full crop (100%).
Not too bad, yet visibly soft even at center focus.
So I just spent a significant amount on a lens that at least outperforms its predecessor! I’d say a combination of 2 benefits: less focus breathing and better sharpness. Also better contrast with the new Fluorite lens, something I also noticed with the new 600mm FL lens compared to its predecessor.
Let’s have a look at one of the left focus points; not te very edge of the lens as I was shooting with a D4S and was using the focus point. I may give it another try some time moving the lens to its very edge… (focus and recompose).
Same result: the new lens is better. Now for the right focus point:
Result the same. How about infinity (couple of hundred meters) and still at f/2.8?
At infinity the old lens doesn’t show any significant focus breathing anymore, so the images pretty much have the same size. But the IQ on the new lens is better: better sharpness and better contrast.
So normally I would end this article with a couple of nice nature or travel shots, but I simply don’t have any yet with this new lens! Stay tuned for a couple of weeks and I will share some hopefully amazing shots. Some of those will hopefully have been taken with a Nikon D500 DSLR: an amazing camera I recently acquired and is slowly exceeding my expectations…more on that soon as well.
For any questions or comments, as usual please add them below (my email provider linked to this website is not helping very much and has messed up the ability to reply to incoming messages…)
Posted on October 22, 2016
This may seem a rather weird combination of topics to address in a single article, yet there is a relation believe it or not :)
I recently had the opportunity to visit New York City: an amazing city with amazing people, and some amazing architecture. This city truly doesn’t sleep: you’ll see crowds of people at 16:00 PM as well as at 04:00 AM on the streets… and even more during the weekends. Nonetheless, as a true opportunistic travel & nature photographer I brought my Nikon D4S DSLR and my 600mm FL + 200-500mm combo; just in case (and I don’t visit zoos for wildlife shooting)…
When you’re in New York (Manhattan), this is a typical view:
iPhone 6S plus, Empire State Building, New York City, New York, USA
Travel about an hour however in a south-eastern direction, and New York City looks quite different:
Nikon 600mm f/4E on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/2500 s., ISO 110
This is the view you get when you book a whale watching trip with American Princess Cruises at Breezy Point in Rockaway, Queens. Yes, whale watching in New York! Before I came across this company I had already made plans to rent a car and travel for several hours along the Atlantic coastline to try and find a whale watching tour guide. So I was quite surprised when I came across this company who organizes marine wildlife/whale watching tours. And when I talked about it to New Yorkers after I returned to my hotel in Manhattan, most were not even aware you can actually watch whales (humpbacks) close to the New York coastline…
The tours typically start at 12:00 PM (noon) and take about 4 hours: an hour to sail to the viewing spots in the Atlantic and around an hour going back. For photographers this is absolutely the worst possible time to shoot: the sun is at its highest and you’ll get the most unforgiving, harsh light. The differences between light and dark are horrendous. You’ll need seriously professional and therefore expensive super modern/latest sensor to fight blown out highlights and lost darks. And off course, besides all these challenges you also need to be lucky enough to actually encounter one of these amazing creatures!
However, after about 3 hours staring at the sea I finally managed to capture the shot below. I had already set my shutter to around 1/2500 and my aperture to f/5.6, just to keep my D4S from overexposing due to the harsh daylight.
Nikon 600mm f/4E on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 320
Such amazing creatures; if they could only be left alone all over the world to be admired all over the world! Anyway, back to the image… This is your typical “low-ISO high dynamic range (DR)” image (perhaps not typical). And under these circumstances, the darks will be as black as a black hole (well almost) and those shiny highlights will destroy any usable information on your sensor. In fact, on my original image the humpback’s tail is completely black and the sea is pretty much white washed. The amazing high dynamic range at low ISOs of the D4S enabled me to retrieve the darks and trim down the highlights, and I managed to retrieve an actual whale from my shot instead of a collection of blacks and whites. I actually noticed that humpback tails have blues, reds, blacks, greens… amazing! And noise? None (noticeable).
Back to the Nikon D4S. As many will know, the D4S has been replaced by the D5. And as I’ve indicated before, it doesn’t hurt to know about the low-ISO high dynamic range of the D5. Much has already been written about it. Nikon has improved upon the D4S in terms of an amazing, and possibly the world’s best autofocus system, an extra 4 megapixels (nice step forward from 16 in the D4S) and another frame/second: not a game changer, and still lagging behind the Canon 1DX(2), but still nice. But would I have been able to capture the same shot with the D5 as with my D4S, after processing? I honestly don’t think so. Why? Have a look here: Nikon D5 has lowest base ISO dynamic range of any current FF Nikon DSLR. I was quite shocked the first time I read this article on DPReview (as I was really intent on upgrading), and I must admit I’m still quite surprised about the reactions on the Internet about D5 buyers and how most of them “shoot high ISO anyway so it doesn’t matter…”. For a camera that’s about $/EUR 1000 more than a D4S (I’m not joking: the D5 goes for EUR 7100 retail in The Netherlands – seriously) and has such poor DR I can only say that there’s no way I could have taken a similar shot of my little humpback as I have: the DR of the D5 wouldn’t have been sufficient for the job.
Now this is all very personal, qualitative, nonscientific and opinionated information off course! However… if you find yourself in New York City, and suddenly for some strange reason wanting to capture great shots of humpback whales in the middle of the afternoon… bring your D4S and leave your D5 ehh.. somewhere else, at least until Nikon introduces its super improved D5S with the most amazing DR ever engineered (and we can stop wondering why on earth Nikon comes out with a new flagship DSLR with lower/poorer DR than its predecessor). Nikon works in mysterious ways indeed…
Posted on August 24, 2016
Recently I was asked about the ‘image quality’ (IQ) of the (very expensive) Nikon 600mm f/4E lens compared to the (relatively cheap) Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E telephoto zoom lens. Many photographers will probably think I’m close to insane even by bringing this subject up.The 200-500mm has not received the very best of reviews and the 600mm is considered to be the very best super telephoto prime lens out there; e.g. have a look at the lenscore.org website here: AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4.0E FL ED VR
So why would anyone in their right state of mind think there could only be minor differences between the 2 lenses? I think I’ve figured out the answer to that question when I went on to take a couple of test shots with my D4S attached to my 600mm and my D750 attached to my 200-500mm, both hand-held and VR on both in ‘normal’ mode. I know, not a highly standardized test with too many different factors etc. but the results were quite satisfying, to me anyway.
Let’s first have a look at a very nice and sharp shot taken with the 200-500mm:
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 340mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 3200, +1.0 exp. corr.
Nothing wrong with this one I would say: tack sharp and no sign of any lens softness (in areas where I don’t want it). However, note that this image is not cropped at 100%; it’s probably more around 20% or so, so there are a lot of pixels left to play with and give me the sharpness I need (only some minor/local sharpening applied with Nik software). In fact, most images I shoot with the 200-500mm on either my D4S or D750 look absolutely fantastic. So how can I measure the differences between a lens that costs around $13K and one at close to $1.5K, almost a tenth of the cost? I went back to my trusted test subject and took a number of test shots with my D750 and 200-500mm; however this time the images are cropped at 100%; no sharpening applied:
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E @ 200mm on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/320 s., ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E @ 300mm on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/320 s., ISO 250, 100% crop
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E @ 400mm on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/320 s., ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E @ 500mm on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/320 s., ISO 400, 100% crop
Not too bad. And now, the 600mm attached to my D4S (still no sharpening applied):
Nikon 600mm f/4E on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/640 s., ISO 500, 100% crop
Ouch! The 200-500mm looks really nice in terms of IQ even up to 500mm, at 100% crop. Until the moment you compare it directly with the 600mm, also at 100% crop: some photograph enthusiasts may actually be close to crying if they only own a 200-500mm and see the difference. However all this sadness may evaporate in an instant when they realize the 600mm is close to 10 times the cost of their 200-500mm, and they will happily continue shooting with the 200-500mm and simply not crop at a ridiculous 100% :)
I was happy with my 600mm and I’m even a little happier now, knowing I have a lens with incredible IQ, sharpness and excellent contrast (even at a ridiculous cost). And when I shoot with my 200-500mm lens and look at my perfectly sharp shots I’ll again ask myself why on earth I bought that 600mm monster… Welcome to the wonderful (and sometimes a bit crazy) world of photography! :)
The image below was shot recently in an area around Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where we have deer and foxes (amongst other wildlife) freely walking around (I keep trying for the foxes…). It was taken with my D4S and 600mm, hand held, and I still have no regrets that I got the 600mm (while the 200-500mm is always there in my bag…).
Nikon 600mm f/4E on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/640 s., ISO 320, app. 10% crop
And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred, as I’m having some email issues: I can receive but not reply) or otherwise drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on August 23, 2016
In this article I’ll focus on two items that can be quite useful and sometimes critical in your photography travels. If you’re into nature and wildlife photography there’s a pretty good chance you’re carrying several kilograms of long lens glass and at least one or more (semi-) professional DSLRs. And when the opportunity comes up, that shot you’ve been waiting for, for months or even years, you want to have access to your gear as quickly as possible without having to dig around, attach a different lens to your camera, struggling to keep your bag and gear upright instead of falling into the sea or off a cliff… just to name a few of the many challenges for nature photographers.
Ideally, you’ll have immediate access to your camera, attached to your super telephoto prime lens. There are however not many camera bags out there designed for this purpose. Let’s go through a couple of examples: I have a 2 ThinkTank bags that wil help me get a lot of my gear on a plane. But they’re not going to help me in comfortably walking long distances and having immediate access to my gear. I also have a Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW bag which I’ve carried on my trips to Asia; last time to Bohol in the Philippines (check out my previous article: Gremlins vs. the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E). Similar to the ThinkTank bags, the Lowepro can store a lot of gear but it will not comfortably store your 600mm prime. And on my last trip I discovered the Lowepro is insufficiently waterproof when water had entered the bag after I left it for about 20 minutes outside in the rain (drizzle).
On my last trip to Canada, where I had the opportunity to capture some amazing images of Snow Owls (see Snow Owls of Canada, Part 3 (and: a little on image editing) I tried a new bag: the F-stop ‘Sukha’. One of the key reasons I got the Sukha is its design to store a 600mm prime lens attached to a DSLR – upright, and to retrieve the entire set quickly from the top opening of the back. F-stop bags use an internal ‘bag’ for your gear called ‘Internal Camera Unit’ (ICU), available in various sizes. You can add one big ICU in your bag, or a combination of several smaller ones depending on your personal preferences; e.g. the type of gear required for the day, or several days, the type of environment, the type of photography etc.
The largest ICU to be used with the Sukha is the rather massive ‘Tele Master’ ICU. This ICU wasn’t available at the time I got the Sukha, so I went with the second largest ICU, the ‘XL Pro’.
F-stop Sukha (left) and Tilopa (right) backpacks
When the Tele Master ICU did finally become available I decided to buy it and see how it would fit in the Sukha. What a combination! The ICU fills the entire bag and (obviously) has the unique top opening, so you can have access to your gear in an instant, without having to open the zippers on the inside of the bag first (F-stop bags open from the inside, rather than from the outside). There’s just one problem: due to its size it’s a (near impossible) struggle to get the Sukha on a plane as carry-on baggage (for obvious reasons). One time I actually had to remove the XL Pro ICU with my gear from the backpack as it didn’t fit anymore in the overhead bins. With the Tele Master ICU inserted, forget about bringing your Sukha on a plane; it will have to travel separately as checked-in luggage.
While F-stop indicates the smaller version of the Tilopa, the ‘Ajna’ is suitable as carry-on baggage, the Tilopa should be accepted with a number of airlines as well (with a bit of luck; after all I did manage to get the Sukha on a plane…). It’s a little less tall (app. 9 cm/3.5 inch) than the Sukha and is a perfect fit for the XL Pro ICU, which became unemployed after I got my Tele Master ICU. So how does this combo help you in the field? Here’s how I plan to use these bags:
- Short (day/weekend) trips, should have sufficient time available to get the gear, change lenses etc.
- Not too much gear; e.g. 2 DSLRs, 2 long (disconnected) lenses (1 prime, 1 zoom)
- Very suitable for (very) long-duration tracks due to the relatively low weight
- Storing your bag & gear as carry-on baggage in overhead bins on a plane
- Long (week/month) trips, quick access to your gear
- Medium/large amount of gear; e.g. 2-3 DSLRs, 2 long (attached) lenses (1 prime, 1 zoom), various wide angle lenses for landscapes, etc.
- Short to medium-duration tracks (due to higher weight)
- Storing your bag as check-in baggage, same for the ICU; e.g. pack both in a larger bag and fill with other travel baggage
So where do you keep your precious gear when you’re on a plane with your Sukha checked in? Well, why not in your Tilopa and XL Pro ICU, which you’ll store nicely in the overhead bins! And even if the airline staff starts complaining about the size of the Tilopa, you simply take out the ICU and easily place it in the overhead bin separately. It should easily fit in the ‘standard’ medium to long-distance carriers but also on some of the shorter distance ones (as I’ve experienced).
These bags are made to the highest standards and can withstand almost any kind of weather: I’ve used the Sukha in snow and rain and everything stayed dry inside. And if you plan to use them under some kind of waterfall (…why?) you can even add one of the F-stop protective covers. Lastly, no: I’m not being sponsored by F-stop. I just believe these bags are really great and I will use them a lot during my nature photography trips… And I hope to write about any new and hopefully useful experiences, tips & tricks.
The other very useful gear ‘gadget’ I recently acquired is the LensCoat TravelHood (no, not getting sponsored by them either …). Lens manufacturers often provide relatively long protective lens hoods with their super telephone prime lenses, and the challenge or rather issue is that these hoods can take up a lot of space, can easily damage, and are (very) expense to replace. On one of my Alaska trips I saw a photographer drop his Nikon 600mm ‘G’ lens: the hood absorbed most of the impact but cracked as a result: $500 instant write-off …! And if you want to carry your big glass in your Sukha or Tilopa bag (for example), there is very little to no space left for a bulky lens hood. This is where the LensCoat TravelHood comes in.
Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm f/4E FL, and original Nikon lens hood
Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm f/4E FL, and LensCoat TravelHood
The TravelHood weighs less then the original lens hood (in my case the Nikon 600mm f/4E FL) which is a nice ‘plus’; it also easily folds flat so it won’t take up any serious amount of space – you can simply store it in your backpack (e.g. front compartment) and it’s around half an inch (1.25 cm) shorter compared than the original hood as well; i.e. measured from the end of the lens to the end of the hood. In less than a minute or so, you simply fold the TravelHood over the outer edge of your lens (there’s a soft rubbery cushion) and the Velcro strips ensure a tight fit. It’s not exactly the cheapest alternative but it’s a very nice invention, you’ll save some weight and precious backpack space, and you will not risk cracking original lens hoods anymore, with associated costs. I’ve now removed my original Nikon lens hood and will store it; instead I’ll be using the TravelHood from now on.
F-stop Tilopa backpack with a Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm f/4E FL and LensCoat TravelHood
Initially I had in mind to include in this post a comparison between the Nikon 600mm f/4E FL prime lens and the excellent 200-500mm f/5.6E telephoto zoom, but I’ll create a new article for that one. Should be ready in a day or two…!
Posted on June 19, 2016
In fact, the Tarsier, or Carlito syrichta, is one of the world’s smallest primates, measuring between 8 and 16 centimeters.
…And they look just like little gremlins! :).
I recently had the opportunity to visit two Tarsier sanctuaries on the island of Bohol in the Philippines. Tarsiers are nocturnal animals: they are on the hunt at night, and during the day they prefer to stay in their own little hiding place, under some palm leaves hanging on to a tree branch to cover them from the daylight and sun. This is also where the photography challenges come in. Let’s name the factors: ‘small’, ‘dark’, ‘relatively distant’ (up t0 about 5 meters) and distance changes with the subject (some closer, some further away). Well, at least they’re not moving (too fast)! (which would make things even worse…)
“Hiding in sight”
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 500mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/100 s., ISO 1400
So how do these factors translate into photography equipment? If you shoot full frame (like me; I don’t have the D500 -yet) you’re looking at up to 500mm to capture these little furballs nicely in your frame without having to crop too much afterwards in post processing (cropping an image you took at up to ISO 10.000 or so does not exactly help in bringing down your noise…) However, sometimes you find 300mm is OK, sometimes 400mm, so anything between 300-500mm typically works. Ideally you’ll be carrying a 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 with you, but if you want to stay alive a little longer in the Philippine jungle with temperatures towards 35 degrees centigrade and something that feels like 100% humidity, you’re better off with a zoom to save some weight (and yourself from dehydrating).
“In the jungle”
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 500mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/60 s., ISO 360
Off course I used my 200-500mm f/5.6 for the job – yes, the lens that has received quite some negative feedback in various forums and test sites… I did actually start with my Nikon D750 + trusted 70-200mm f/2.8 combo. The results were pretty bad: the little gremlins weren’t filling my viewfinder enough @ 200mm and the D750 was struggling to focus in the dark. I got a few shots, but soon turned to my D4S in combination with the 200-500mm f/5.6 super-telephoto zoom lens.
“Through the leaves”
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 500mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/100 s., ISO 2200
Soon, I noticed the ISO (which I always have on ‘Auto ISO’ – I shoot fully manual) jumping to 10.000 and over 12.000 ISO in the middle of the jungle. So it was time to test the VR of the 200-500mm f/5.6 E to the max: I was setting my shutter speed to 1/60 sec. and sometimes less to bring ISO -and noise- down. Not all show were sharp off course, but much to my surprise, I got a remarkable high number of tack sharp shots.
“Looking at you”
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 450mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/50 s., ISO 4500
Posted on May 2, 2016
One of my readers was asking me the following question: “given I’m mostly shooting birds in low light, which (super) telephoto lens should I choose? (600mm f/4 or 400mm f/2.8)”
…What would you suggest?
I thought I’d spend an (small) article on this, rather than trying to answer in just a couple of lines. And also, it was a nice opportunity to dig into my images from my trip to the Galapagos a couple of years ago (I hope to post more!).
Galapagos Owl, Nikon 300mm f/2.8 G on Nikon D3S, f/2.8, 1/500 s., ISO 1800
So, let’s ‘parameterize’ the statement a little: “birds” and “low light”. Now, this is not exactly the ideal situation for a wildlife photographer! Basically, to get the very best images with the best bokeh and the best image sharpness with the highest shutter speeds (to ‘ freeze’ those flapping wings) and to shoot these while chasing the birdies all over the place (cause that’s what these creatures tend to do…) you simply need an f2.8 (or better, f1.2) lens @ about 800mm-1200mm weighing just a couple of ounces (hundreds of grams). Unfortunately, scientific progress in optics has left us all a little behind, and a lens like this – if ever manufactured – would weigh a couple of hundred tons, or more (and cost tenfold, or also more…). So, we have to choose the best of what is currently out there. Actually, my recommended choice is a combination of 2 DSLRs and 2 lenses, but I’ll get to that in a second (depending on your reading speed…).
In general, it hard to get close to birds. This means you need a lens with a large focal length: at least 400mm or more; 300mm can do as well (even 200mm or less) but you basically have to be at the Galapagos islands or something similar where you can approach the birds up to just a meter or so (see image above)! I owned the Nikon 400mm f/2.8G lens and found this better for large mammals (e.g. bears, deer etc.) at relatively close (20-30 meters) distance and not so much for smaller animals especially at larger distances.
The (current) 500mm and 600mm lenses are all @ f/4 aperture, meaning you’ll loose a stop compared to the 400mm f/2.8. However, the (required) larger focal length will result in less cropping and therefore better ISO (more remaining pixels will effectively reduce visible noise). If you combine this with a DSLR that not only has great IQ at higher ISO values, but perhaps even more importantly, can bring back those underexposed highlights, you’ve got a winning combo. This seems to apply for DSLRs like the Nikon D4S and D750, as well as the new D500. However, for those hard fans who are contemplating the new Nikon D5, please check out dpreview.com. You may be unpleasantly surprised with the dynamic range of the successor to the D4S! As for me, I’m definitely holding on to my D4S until a D5S comes out, hopefully with a dynamic range that fits the huge price tag (i.e. not the case with the D5…).
So the better choice would be to go with a fast prime and sufficient focal length. Traditionally, ‘birders’ go for the 500m f/4 because of reach, fast zoom, and last but not least: weight. Now we’re getting personal: if weight is more important to you than reach, go for the 500mm f/4. If you care a little less about weight (and cost for that matter) and welcome more reach (app. 40% more than the 500mm) go for the 600mm f/4. In terms of teleconverters: the whole idea of a TC (let’s say 1.4) is that you need them only on occasion: if you find you’re using your TC almost always… get the longer lens! (again, budget permitting…)
But this is not where my recommendation stops: I have discovered on pretty much every trip (perhaps with the exception of Galapagos) that my prime lens was insufficient in capturing all the images I was after. I simply also needed a flexible, relatively long-range zoom to get the images my fast prime is too close for. Until about half a year ago I was using the 70-200mm f/2.8 for that purpose, and as it often didn’t reach far enough I would add a 1.4 TC, and use it @ f5/6. This combo gave me an effective 100-280mm on full frame, and the image quality (IQ) wasn’t too bad at all! That was until Nikon surprised the entire (photography) world with their release of the “AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR”, providing an attractive alternative to competitors such as Tamron and Sigma. The 200-500mm f/5.6 is now a bestseller and has been tested extensively. Much to my surprise, it hasn’t received the best reviews, but all I can say is that my copy is incredibly sharp. How sharp? OK, I’m already starting to regret this… but my D750 +200-500mm f/5.6E perhaps shows me more detail (perhaps) than my D4S + 600mm f/4 combo. I’ve taken a lot of test shots and the result is the same each time. It’s just amazing.
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 340mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 3200, +1.0 exp. corr.
The combination of a D4S + 600mm f/4 and D750 + 200-500mm f/5.6E is a very powerful one: The pro DSLR/prime combo will give you the reach you need in those situations you can ‘control’, and if you have the time you can add a 1.4 TC as well, giving you 800mm f/5.6 in exceptional cases (again, if you always need 800mm then perhaps better to sell your house and buy one…). When things tend to get ‘out of control’; e.g. Alaska bears suddenly running around (or towards) you; drop the prime (slowly…) and quickly reach out to your backup DSLR (or in the case of the D750, a very nice landscape body as well) and use your flexible zoom to get those tack sharp shots while the action is happening.
In summary: if you’re a millionaire/billionaire, by all means by all lenses and see what works for you. For everybody else, consider a pro DSLR + fast prime (500mm for weight, 600mm for reach) and backup DSLR (e.g. D750/new D500) + the sweet 200-500mm f/5.6E combo. This will take care of your birding needs. If you’re mostly after small/none moving and reasonable large mammals, consider the 400mm f/2.8 especially in low light situations, or if your budget is not helping you much, simple consider the 200-500mm f/5.6E-only, assuming you do have enough light for both low ISO shooting and AF tracking.
Any questions, comments or feedback, simply add below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: email@example.com.
Posted on April 17, 2016
During a recent sunny weekend, I had the opportunity to take a couple of test shots against a nice blue sky and check the extent of vignetting with the new Nikon 600mm f/4 E Fluorite lens. I had noticed before that the 600mm does vignette with a TC-14E III teleconverter attached on my trip to Alaska, as also reported on various photography forums.
Luckily I still have the ‘old’ (TC-14E II) next to the new TC-14E III teleconverter and so I decided to do some comparative analysis: how bad is the vignetting with both teleconverters, and how easily is it corrected? And what about vignetting without a teleconverter?
For those of you who are not so interested in apertures, shutter speeds, vignetting and other photography ‘tech talk’, just skip to the end of this article for a nice image I took in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada about 4 years ago (and took me 4 years to post, more on that below…).
So let’s get started. First, the standard configuration for those who need that extra reach: the 600mm + Nikon’s latest TC-14E III teleconverter.
As expected, and reported, a rather nasty vignette that requires some post-processing correction. I’m using Adobe’s Camera RAW (ACR), part of Adobe’s PhotoShop Creative Cloud.
Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of the vignette completely: small dark corners remain. The only option is to crop; i.e. remove part of the image. This shouldn’t be a big issue in most cases, but it’s not ideal. If we stop down by 1 stop; so f/8, the result should improve:
Much better indeed, but still those small dark corners. Let’s see if these can be removed in ACR:
The dark corners have almost disappeared; however I would still crop a little if I need to have my entire image at the same brightness…
Now, one would expect: newer versions of technology are better compared to their older versions, right? Just like the new Nikon 600m is expected to perform better against the older – which I’ve written about earlier, etc. So surely, the old teleconverter would not outperform the newer (and more expensive) version, right?
Hmm strange, the ‘old’ TC-14E II teleconverter also shows vignetting, but less pronounced; i.e. the corners are smoother compared to the new TC-14E II. And if that is correct, post-processing should be able to fix this better:
Wow, vignetting is pretty much gone, shot wide open at f5.6. How about stopping down to f/8?
Without even applying corrections in ACR, there’s hardly any vignetting. and if that’s correct, the image should be near perfect after post-processing in ACR:
And so it is! Vignetting is pretty much gone. So where does this leave us?
Yes, the new Nikon Nikon 600mm f/4 E Fluorite lens does vignette with a 1.4 teleconverter attached. Is this related to the 600mm f/4 lens or the teleconverter? Or both? Well, the test shots above demonstrate that the vignetting is at least partly due to the TC-14E III teleconverter. The older TC-14E II produces less vignetting, and it is more easily corrected in post-processing.
But this means that Nikon has created a newer version of its 1.4 teleconverter with less quality. By the way… I did also check for sharpness differences in the images and I couldn’t find any. Why on earth would such a high-tech company come up with new technology with reduced quality? If anybody has the answer, I’d be very keen to hear and understand!
Let’s just check the vignetting of the Nikon 600mm f/4 E Fluorite lens without any teleconverters attached. Perhaps I missed something after all…
Definitely visible vignetting, however quite smooth and expected to easily correct in ACR.
And indeed; vignetting pretty much gone after applying the corrections in ACR. What about the differences between wide open (f/4) and f/5.6?
Vignetting is visibly less compared to f/4, and still ‘smooth’ so expected to be easily removed in ACR.
Exactly, just minute traces left of vignetting after playing around in ACR.
It’s conclusion time:
- The Nikon 600mm f/4 E Fluorite lens vignettes when shot wide open.
- Vignetting is also visible when a 1.4 teleconverter is attached.
- The new Nikon TC-14E III teleconverter leaves vignetting traces that are impossible (very difficult) to remove in post-processing (I’ve also tried Nikon’s Capture NX-D with similar results).
- Surprisingly, the previous teleconverter model, TC-14E II, produces less/’better’ vignetting which is easier to remove in post-processing.
- Vignetting in images shot with the Nikon 600mm f/4 E Fluorite with or without the old teleconverter (TC-14E II) is easily removed in post-processing.
- And… now for the bizar conclusion: to me it seems the new Nikon TC-14E III teleconverter is of lesser quality than its predecessor, the TC-14E II. Perhaps a harsh statement, but how else can this be described?
I will seriously consider taking the TC-14E II with me going forward and use it when I need to reach 800+mm. The TC-14E III will stay in the bag (or I’ll sell it…).
Now for the image below: this bad boy (or girl) was walking close to the Kootenay highway back in 2012 (or thereabouts) when I was driving there with a well-known Canadian professional wildlife photographer. In fact, he spotted this coyote first and stopped the car after we took our gear and started to take our first shots. I had my (new) Nikon D4 and my (also new) Nikon 400mm f/2.8 G AF-S ED VR lens (the ‘previous’ model). It was early morning and some of my shots were OK, some were horrible, and some were nice except for the totally failed white balance. I guess the D4 had a hard time with the greens of the fields, blues from the sky, and brown/reds of the coyote against the early morning sun.
Just a couple of weeks ago (so 4 years later) I decided to give it another try using ACR, PhotoShop CC and the Nik suite, and I finally managed to get my coyote to look as I remembered it…
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 G on Nikon D4, f/5.6, 1/400 s., ISO 1400