Red deer

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.

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D500, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 500

And that’s it for this post… ūüôā

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Nikon D850 vs. D500 vs. D4S: which one?

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.

Nikon D500: ISO 100

Nikon D850: ISO 64

Nikon D850: ISO 100

Nikon D4S: ISO 100

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:

Nikon D500: ISO 100

Nikon D850: ISO 64

Nikon D4S: ISO 100

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:

Nikon D500: ISO 100 @ 1/1000 s.

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.

Nikon D500: ISO 800

Nikon D850: ISO 800

Nikon D4S: ISO 900

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)

Nikon D500: ISO 1600

Nikon D850: ISO 1600

Nikon D4S: ISO 1800

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:

Nikon D500: ISO 3600

Nikon D850: ISO 3600

Nikon D4S: ISO 3200

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:

Nikon D500: ISO 6400

Nikon D850: ISO 7200

Nikon D4S: ISO 6400

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:

Nikon D500: ISO 12800

Nikon D850: ISO 11400

Nikon D4S: 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.

Nikon D500: ISO 800 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D850: ISO 800 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D4S: ISO 900 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

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:

Nikon D500: ISO 1600 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D850: ISO 1600 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D4S: ISO 1800 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Same results as with ISO 800. Double again:

Nikon D500: ISO 3600 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D850: ISO 3600 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D4S: ISO 3200 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

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:

Nikon D500: ISO 6400 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D850: ISO 7200 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D4S: ISO 6400 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

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?

Nikon D500: ISO 12800 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D850: ISO 11400 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

Nikon D4S: ISO 12800 + 2 stops exposure in ViewNX-i

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 ūüėČ

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!

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 640, +0.3 exp. comp.

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Nikon D850 review part 3: four-legged creatures and more impressions from the Great Bear Rain Forest

…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.

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/1600 s., ISO 280, 0 exp. comp.

This tells me that the various articles on the Internet are correct: take for example a look at this one:

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikon-d850-first-impressions-review/6

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:

http://photonstophotos.net/Charts/PDR.htm#Canon%20EOS%201D%20X%20Mark%20II,Nikon%20D5,Nikon%20D850

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.

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 500, +0.3 exp. comp.

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…

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 1600, -0.7 exp. comp.

In my next article I‚Äôll 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‚Ķ stay tuned!

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Nikon D850 review part 2: interstellar experience – eye vs. sensor

… 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:

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G on Nikon D850, f/2.8, 20 s., ISO 3200

And here is what the D850 sensor actually captures… quite a bit different from our human eyes.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G on Nikon D850, f/2.8, 20 s., ISO 3200

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!

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Nikon D850 review part 1: first impressions from the Great Bear Rain Forest

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…

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 720, -0.7 exp. comp.

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:

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/160 s., ISO 900, -0.7 exp. comp. (no crop)

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:

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/160 s., ISO 900, -0.7 exp. comp. (100% crop)

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.

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/5.6, 1/1250 s., ISO 280, 0 exp. comp.

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.

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/1600 s., ISO 110, -0.3 exp. comp.

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…

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D850, f/4, 1/1250 s., ISO 720, +0.3 exp. comp.

In my next article I’ll continue my review with more images (from this planet and beyond) and a bit less ‘impressions’… stay tuned!

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Nikon D850 real Life/Nature review: into the Great Bear Rainforest

…stay tuned for (a lot) more to come about this ‘monster/hyped/leaked/sold out etc.’ but quite amazing DSLR camera from Nikon, based on some real experiences (and adventure) in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest!

 

Magical mysterious Myanmar (with the Nikon 70-200mm)

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’.

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Landscapes with the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR (and post-processing)

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.

Nikon 16-35 mm f/4G @ 22mm on Nikon D4, f/11, 1/4 s., ISO 100

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:

Nikon 16-35 mm f/4G @ 22 mm on Nikon D4, f/16, 1/1.6 s., ISO 100

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…).

Nikon 16-35 mm f/4G @ 19 mm on Nikon D4, f/8, 1/50 s., ISO 100

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:

Nikon 16-35 mm f/4G @ 22mm on Nikon D4, f/11, 1/4 s., ISO 100

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.

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL with the Nikon D500 (and extenders!)

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 ūüôā

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Golden Monkeys of Volcanoes National Park – part 2: Nikon D4S & 600mm f/4E FL combo

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…

serengeti-toys

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.

d4s-golden-monkey-portrait2-1

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.

d4s-golden-monkey-mum-and-baby

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!

d4s-golden-monkey-portrait1

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/800 s., ISO 250, -0.7 exp. comp.

d4s-golden-monkey-begging

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!

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Golden Monkeys of Volcanoes National Park – part 1: Nikon D500 & 70-200mm f/2.8E FL combo

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…!

d500-golden-monkey-mum-and-baby

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.

d500-golden-monkey-portrait2

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 160, -0.7 exp. comp.

d500-golden-monkey-portrait1

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.

d500-golden-monkey-baby

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.

d500-cute-golden-monkey

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E FL on Nikon D500, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 180, -0.7 exp. comp.

d500-golden-monkey-begging

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!

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Gorillas in the Mist

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.

agashya1

‘Agashya boss
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E 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 ūüôā

reflection

‘Thinking about it…
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E 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…

after-the-rain2

‘Kwitonda¬†baby after the rain
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E 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 (‘Fran√ßois’, 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.

agashya3

‘Silverback …or alien?
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E FL @ 160mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/640 s., ISO 1600

after-the-rain1

‘Kwitonda¬†baby & mum
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E 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…

agashya2

‘Agashya portrait
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E 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.

snack

‘Snack time!
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E FL @ 135mm on Nikon D4S, f/2.8, 1/800 s., ISO 800

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

A ‘killing combination’: lion vs. zebra with the Nikon 600mm f/4E FL & D4S

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:

“Acquire target”

d4s_9276

“Consider¬†alternatives”

d4s_9282

“Ignore alternatives”

d4s_9283

“Refocus”

d4s_9286

“Increase speed”

d4s_9288

“Anticipate direction”

d4s_9294

“Steady…”

d4s_9314

“Steady…”

d4s_9322

“Prepare to engage”

d4s_9327

“Use rudder to stabilise”

d4s_9330

“Target engaged”

d4s_9334

“Increase speed”

d4s_9335

“Prepare to capture”

d4s_9343

“Target captured!”

d4s_9353

“Grab hold”

d4s_9357

“Terminate target”

d4s_9362

“Mission accomplished”

d4s_9377

“In case of any confusion…”

d4s_9378

“Allow me to clarify:”

d4s_9380

“This is my…”

d4s_9381

“My…”

d4s_9382

“My precious!”

d4s_9383

Article 3 on my Tanzania and Rwanda trip coming soon!

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Adventures in Africa with the new Nikon D500 and 70-200mm f/2.8E FL

…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.

serengeti-leopard

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…

serengeti-leopard-portrait

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:

serengeti-superb-starling

‘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:

serengeti-male-lion

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…

rwanda-mountain-gorilla-mom

Gorilla mum with baby
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E 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…

rwanda-mountain-gorilla-silverback

‘Behold…¬†KONG!!!’
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
E 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!

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G vs. the new 70-200mm f/2.8E FL

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.

nikon-70-200mm-duo

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…

nikon-70-200mm-hoods

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%).

70200mmg-center-full

Not too bad, yet visibly soft even at center focus.

70200mme-center-full

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.

70200mmg-left-full

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).

70200mme-left-full

Same result: the new lens is better. Now for the right focus point:

70200mmg-right-full

70200mme-right-full

Result the same. How about infinity (couple of hundred meters) and still at f/2.8?

70200mm-g-infinity-full

70200mm-e-infinity-full

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…)

Happy holidays!

“Low-ISO high dynamic range”, humpback whales, Nikon D4S… and New York?

This may seem a rather weird combination of topics to address in a single article, yet there is a relation believe it or not ūüôā

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:

ny-empire-state-building

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:

ny-skyline

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.

nyc-humpback-whale

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…

Nikon 600mm f/4E FL vs. Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E

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:

Snow Owl7-part2

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:

200-500mm-200mm

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E @ 200mm on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/320 s., ISO 200, 100% crop

200-500mm-300mm

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E @ 300mm on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/320 s., ISO 250, 100% crop

200-500mm-400mm

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E @ 400mm on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/320 s., ISO 400, 100% crop

200-500mm-500mm

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):

600mm-600mm

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% ūüôā

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! ūüôā

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…).

D4S_7154-small

Nikon 600mm f/4E on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/640 s., ISO 320, app. 10% crop

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.

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: enquiry@fliek.com

F-stop Tilopa and Sukha backpacks, and LensCoat TravelHood

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’.

Fstop Tilopa - Sukha

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:

F-stop Tilopa:

  • 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

F-stop Sukha:

  • 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 600mm FL - standard hood

Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm f/4E FL, and original Nikon lens hood 

Nikon 600mm FL - Lenscoat Lenshood

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.

Fstop-Tilopa---Nikon-600mmFL2

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…!

Gremlins vs. the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E

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

‚ÄúHiding in sight‚ÄĚ
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

‚ÄúIn the jungle‚ÄĚ
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

‚ÄúThrough the leaves‚ÄĚ
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

‚ÄúLooking at you‚ÄĚ
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 450mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/50 s., ISO 4500

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Which (Nikon) lens? 600/500/400/300 mm?

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!).

Hey you!!

‚ÄúHey… you!!‚ÄĚ
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.

Snow Owl7-part2

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: enquiry@fliek.com.

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR lens review part 3: vignetting

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.

Nikon-850mm-image-1

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.

Nikon-850mm-image-2

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:

Nikon-850mm-image-3

Much better indeed, but still those small dark corners. Let’s see if these can be removed in ACR:

Nikon-850mm-image-4

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?

Nikon-850mm-image-5

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:

Nikon-850mm-image-6

Wow, vignetting is pretty much gone, shot wide open at f5.6. How about stopping down to f/8?

Nikon-850mm-image-7

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:

Nikon-850mm-image-8

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…

Nikon-600mm-image-1

Definitely visible vignetting, however quite smooth and expected to easily correct in ACR.

Nikon-600mm-image-2

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?

Nikon-600mm-image-3

Vignetting is visibly less compared to f/4, and still ‘smooth’ so expected to be easily removed in ACR.

Nikon-600mm-image-4

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…

Canada Rockies Coyote

“Kootenay Coyote”
Nikon 400mm f/2.8 G
 on Nikon D4, f/5.6, 1/400 s., ISO 1400

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

Snow Owls of Canada, Part 3 (and: a little on image editing)

In this last part of my Snow(y) Owls series I’ll write¬†a few words on image editing: a topic that gets a lot of attention on various forums and blogs. Image editing is something completely different from the experience of getting out there into the nature, and preparing yourself for the greatest shot of some wild and beautiful animal somewhere in the middle of nowhere!

It’s a very creative, yet quite¬†boring activity: working with your favorite or collection of favorite software programs and somehow retrieve the image at the time of shooting; a nearly impossible task given (1) everyone’s perception is different (and therefore subjective) and (2) DSLRs do not capture images as we see it (for a whole range of reasons).

Snow Owl9-part3

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/3200 s., ISO 560, +2.0 exp. corr.

With I started¬†with digital¬†photography (in 2009), I tried various image editing software such as Adobe Lightroom, DxO, Nikon’s own ViewNX 2 and CaptureNX 2, and Phase One’s Capture One Pro. ViewNX isn’t too bad if you want to have a quick look at how your RAW files look like, and it produces quite ‘natural’ looking files for further processing.

Lightroom is very user friendly but I never liked the colors too much of the generated images. And then there is Capture One Pro which renders quite nice images for wildlife, but I never did manage to get natural colors from my ‘people images’; it must be something I’m doing wrong as Capture One Pro is used by many studio photographers…

Snow Owl10-part3

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/8, 1/2500 s., ISO 900, +0.7 exp. corr.

During my photography trips I noticed most professional photographers use the ‘simple’ combination of Adobe’s Camera Raw (ACR) and PhotoShop (CC). As I was never impressed with the Adobe’s Lightroom colors I had assumed (Adobe’s) ACR would produce the same -and unsatisfactory- result. And so I continued with a varying combo of ViewNX, Capture One Pro, and PhotoShop CC.

Snow Owl11-part3

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/8, 1/2500 s., ISO 1800, +1.0 exp. corr.

Sometime during the editing of my snowy owl images I decided to give ACR another chance; mostly because I was fed up¬†with¬†Capture One Pro’s lack of lens profiles (e.g. the Nikon 600mm F/4E FL) and ViewNX 2’s lack of proper image editing. Actually I had¬†also tried Nikon’s latest Capture¬†NX-D software not that long ago but there’s something very wrong from a software architecture point of view: it’s slooooow and eats up way too much memory. I’ll just wait for another decade or so before I try that one again .

ACR is certainly not as sophisticated as Capture One Pro but I was impressed with its image editing features, and support of (Nikon) lenses (e.g. for correction of vignetting and distortion).

Snow Owl13-part3

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 900, +2.0 exp. corr.

Together with additional PhotoShop add-ins for luminosity masks, which come in handy when editing landscapes, and the Nik software suite, which recently was released free by Google, the combination is a pretty powerful one, and at least at the moment gives me all the tools I need to satisfy my image editing requirements.

Snow Owl12-part3

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 G @ 200mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 900, +1.0 exp. corr.

Editing snowy owls brings up quite a few challenges. White is not simply white during the course of the day: from sunrise to sunset you’re faced with a whole range of whites, both from the snow and the owl, and your camera’s white balance metering system is usually simply wrong, which means: post-production editing! Each generation of DSLR has improved white balance compared to its predecessor and Nikon’s latest D5 DSLR promises better¬†white balance compared to the ‘current’ (i.e. old) D4S, but I’m sure the journey of improving camera white balance will continue for the next decades.

Here’s a typical shot taken just before sunset, where the whites of the snow and the owl are reddish-pink rather than white.

Snow Owl14-part3

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 8000, +1.0 exp. corr.

Capturing images of snow(y) owls is an amazing experience; something I hope to repeat again soon.

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.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Snow Owls of Canada, Part 2 (or: how to shoot birds in flight)

If you want to capture birds-in-flight (“BIF”) you need some pretty good equipment to help you do so. Basically, you camera will need the very best autofocus system to acquire initial focus, the very best autofocus system to continue acquiring focus on a fast moving target, a ridiculous frame rate to capture as many shots as possible while your little birdie is quickly moving out of sight, an even better autofocus system to somehow calculate where it should re-acquire focus after the next shot on the moving target, and so on and so forth.

The good news is that today’s top pro (and ridiculously expensive) DSLRs are able to do all this, the bad news is that you’ll unfortunately have to figure out for yourself which combination of half a dozen settings will help you to achieve the best result. As I’m a Nikon shooter I’ll outline¬†my preferred settings on the D4S, which took me at least 2 full days to figure out (while shooting snow owls, and getting a lot of misses…).

Snow Owl5-part2

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/3200 s., ISO 640, +2.0 exp. corr.

Nikon DSLRs have a setting called 3D-tracking. Without going into all the details, the camera basically acquires initial focus and then tries to maintain focus on your subject, regardless of the movement of our subject, or your movement for that matter. Of all the other autofocus options (e.g. 9/21/51-point dynamic-area AF) this one does part of the trick. But that’s not all…

Second,¬†the “AF-C Priority Selection” menu setting controls how quickly the camera is allowed to take an image depending on acquiring focus or not. I had¬†always¬†set this to either ‘Focus’ or ‘Release + Focus’ where the camera gives priority to focus rather than advancing frames. However, for shooting BIF I noticed I got the best results when this was set to ‘Release’: the camera will capture images even when it hasn’t acquired focus… strangely enough.

Third, the “Focus Tracking with Lock-On” menu setting controls how much the camera should ‘stick’ to the focus while other things change; for example something else jumps into the scene, or the distance between the subject and camera suddenly changes. I had¬†always set this to #3 (Normal), but in the case of shooting snow owls coming at you at about 20 km/h or more, setting this to ‘Off’ works miracles!

Snow Owl6-part2

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 800, +2.0 exp. corr.

In the various photography forums much has already been written on Nikon’s 200-500mm f/5.6 E super zoom. There seems to be some variance in the quality/sharpness of the different samples. I must be lucky as my copy is really tack sharp (and I’m definitely not always lucky, based on my experience with the Nikon D8xx series…). The other experience or perhaps opinion mentioned is that it’s not well-suited for BIF due to it’s slow autofocus.

The only experience I have is that my copy is able to obtain and maintain¬†focus with BIF very, very close to my 600mm f/4 E FL prime. On the final day of shooting, I tried my¬†200-500mm on a few occasions and all my shots were tack sharp (with my newly discovered combo of camera focus settings…). Example? Here’s one:

Snow Owl7-part2

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 E @ 340mm on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 3200, +1.0 exp. corr.

Snow owls are amazing creatures. They will track their prey pretty much like a (Nikon) DSLR: never loosing sight, regardless of movement, distance and speed! All you need to know is the right settings and off you go …! ūüôā

Snow Owl8-part2

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/8, 1/2500 s., ISO 1250, +1.0 exp. corr.

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 background) then that’s fine; however any other use is prohibited by law.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Snow Owls of Canada, Part 1 (or: getting serious with the Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL)

I had the pleasure of visiting Alberta, Canada recently. Canada is a wildlife photographer’s walhalla (second to Galapagos probably…) and most who visit will travel to the Canadian Rockies to view one of the most amazing mountain ranges in the world, and the¬†abundant wildlife that goes with it.

To the east of the Canadian Rockies are Alberta’s prairies and farm land. Here is where migrated Snow Owls from the arctic (where they breed) spend their winter time feeding¬†(amongst others) on lemmings and mice. Male Snow Owls are almost completely white, relatively small and quite shy; the females have more flecks, are bigger and more inquisitive.

Snow Owl1-part1

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 800, +2.0 exp. corr.

On this trip I had the opportunity (or rather very difficult challenge) to practice with my Nikon D4S and both 600mm FL super-telephoto lens and 200-500mm f/5.6 super-telephoto zoom, a photographic concept/technique known as ‘birds in flight’ (BIF). I’m actually not a huge (generic) birding fan; however raptors are an exception: their two forward-facing eyes and expression make them somewhat easier and more exciting to ‘associate’ with, in a way.

Snow Owl2-2-part1Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL + TC-14E III @ 850mm on Nikon D4S, f/8, 1/2500 s., ISO 800, +1.0 exp. corr.

Chapters and probably whole books must have been written on how to shoot Birds-in-Flight, and photography forums are rich in advice – and even more in opinions. I must have tried pretty much every possible option on my D4S in terms of autofocus tracking, but the one combo that finally worked for me was the continuous autofocus in 3D-tracking mode, in combination with two other autofocus setting. In fact, I had never used those other settings before and was always under the impression they were quite useless. Well, now I know why those settings exist: to capture tack-sharp images of birds in flight, flying straight towards you which must be the trickiest situation for any autofocus systems to manage.

 

Snow Owl3-4-part1

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/8, 1/2500 s., ISO 1250, +1.0 exp. corr.

While I only managed to capture my best shots at the final day of my 4-day trip (using¬†3D-tracking mode), I did manage to identify about 70 really good keepers out of over 5000 shots, which is a new high score for me :). No worries, I won’t post all 70 but I will probably make a further selection and post more images over the next few weeks in 2-3 articles.

Snow Owl4-part1

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/3200 s., ISO 1800, +1.0 exp. corr.

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 background) then that’s fine; however any other use is prohibited by law.

And as usual, for any questions, comments or feedback, simple add comments below (preferred) or otherwise drop me a note at: enquiry@fliek.com

 

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR and Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR: images from Khao Yai National Park

I recently visited Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. Experience from my trips to Alaska had taught me that adding a wide-range, super-telephoto zoom lens to your big prime will get you that level of versatility you need to capture those furry little (or big) creatures, especially when jumping and running around.

So for the first time, I left my trusted 70-200 f/2.8 zoom behind and took my brand new Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR with me, next to my 600mm f/4 FL. Obviously nicely tucked in a LensCoat lens cover! (no, still not getting paid by them…)

Nikon 200-500mm

Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6

When we came across a group of¬†macaques, the 200-500mm proved to be very versatile indeed. I had started shooting with my 600mm f/4 FL on my Gitzo tripod (yes, in ‘Sport’ mode!) but soon wanted to take some shots from within the group. Luckily it seemed they were used to people – apparently¬†– so I was able to shoot from anything between about 5 and 20 meters, a perfect range for the 200-500mm, attached¬†to my Nikon D750.

Khao Yai Macaque Nikon 200-500mm f5.6

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 on Nikon D750, f/6.3, 1/250 s. ISO 1000, -0.7 exp. corr.

Khao Yai Macaques Nikon 200-500mm f5.6

Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 on Nikon D750, f/5.6, 1/400s. ISO 640, -0.7 exp. corr.

The 600mm f/4 was performing perfect on my tripod with VR in ‘SPORT’ mode:

Khao Yai Macaque Nikon 600mm FL f4

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/320 s. ISO 400, -0.3 exp. corr.

But sometimes I needed the range of the 600mm f/4 FL while trying to ‘catch’ fast-moving gibbons high up the trees, which turned out to be almost impossible. I was very lucky to get this one; I was shooting hand-held, with VR set ‘NORMAL’:

Khao Yai Gibbon Nikon 600mm FL f4

Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL on Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/320 s. ISO 4000, +0.3 exp. corr.

And now for something completely different! ūüôā

On the last day of my trip, my guide spotted a large croc on the other side of the river. While I was bing sucked dry by a million or so mosquitos, I carefully set up my tripod, positioned by D4S and 600mm f/4 FL and started shooting. Meanwhile, the croc just went about its business, which was pretty much nothing other than lying down and taking a nap, or so I thought. I decided to add the new TC-14E III teleconverter to give me 850mm @ f/5.6 and saw my little croc was perhaps just as interested in me as I was in him.

To give you an idea of the incredible range 850mm gives you, I also shot the overall scene with my iPhone:

croc-iphone

Croc with iPhone …hint: near the river, mid/left of the image

And now…:
iPhone vs. Nikon 600mm f/4 E FL + TC-14E III on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/320 s. ISO 400, -0.7 exp. corr.:

croc-Nikon 600mm f4 FL TC14 850mm

I… See… You…!

 

Best wishes for 2016 from Life/Nature! &…2015 Reflections, 2016 Projections

hallo-bay-water-sunset

First of all, my very best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous 2016 to all of you, full of Life & Nature photography!

By the end of 2015 and in just a little over 1 year, this site was viewed over 8,100 times by people from 72 (!) countries across the globe Рsomething I had certainly not expected when I started this site!

WP stats 2015

Back in Nov/Dec¬†2014 my initial intent was to just post some of the images I had captured from around¬†the world’s most beautiful places, rather than keeping them on my hard drive or to print and put on a bookshelf to gather dust. And next to posting images I guess I was inclined¬†to also share some impressions on¬†the gear I’m using, perhaps triggered¬†when I got my new Nikon D4 DSLR and I immediately noticed the flimsy/loose memory card door that actually ‘squealed’ when I held the camera. I was surprised nobody else had picked this up, or had written about it. More recently, my review of the new Nikon 600mm f/4 Fluorite super telephoto lens has seen a lot of reads and reactions across various blogs around the globe.

And so, this site has moved to a bit of a mix of gear review as well as image posting, which is something I’ll aim to continue in the new year. What else is on the agenda for 2016?

I terms of images, I’ll do my best to at least post my ‘top-10’ images, now sitting idle on my hard drive,¬†from places I‚Äôve visited before:¬†South Africa,¬†Galapagos,¬†Myanmar,¬†Canada, and (off course)¬†Alaska. And if I’ve been on a photography trip with some of the big names out there that has really been totally amazing, you’ll read about that as well!

In terms of reviews, I’ll certainly be putting my new Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 to the test. A (repeated) note on that subject: you will not see any (semi) scientific reviews on this site regarding gear, which you can see on the many other (more or less) established sites out there. Instead I’ll be focusing on real/practical use. For example, when I use my Nikon 600mm f/4 Fluorite super telephoto lens it’s almost always on a tripod and with multiple, short bursts. So you will not see me running an Imatest-test with remote trigger and VR: off in a lab to check image sharpness – it will just never happen (with me at least) in real life!

And to¬†get all that content in a user-friendly way to my readers, I’ll dig into the wonderful mysteries of WordPress (hosted) blog structures and see if I can at least simply create some sliders for my images. Sounds simple, in theory ūüėČ

On a final note: I’m receiving quite some reactions on my posts via email, which is certainly welcomed! However, please also do feel free to add any questions or comments to each blog post, so that others may benefit, learn, and/or react as well. Some photographers use comments and others (deliberately) don’t. Let’s give it a try and have some good discussions.

Happy 2016! ūüôā

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E (FL) test: minor update

In my original post I used image size reduction in Photoshop which did not help in viewing the actual differences between the images of the two lenses.

The images are now reduced in size by using JPG quality compression instead (not size reduction) without any visible loss in quality. This should hopefully reflect the differences between the lenses better!

One final note: the differences are (mainly) visible at 100% crop and obviously with some pixel-peeping. Still, the quality differences are visible (at least to my eye); everyone can and should make their own decision as to the extent these differences merit a choice in one lens over the other. All I can say for myself, is that I’m even happier I selected the new Fluorite lens over its predecessor.

Life/Nature, November 16 2015

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E (FL) test & review: Clash of the Titans! (or simply: old vs. new…)

[This post was updated on Nov 16, 2015: in my first post I used image size reduction in Photoshop which did not help in viewing the actual differences between the images of the two lenses. The images are now reduced in size by using JPG compression instead without any visible loss in quality. This should hopefully reflect the differences between the lenses better!]

09- Nikon 600mm G vs Nikon 600mm E

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E (FL)

Ever since I decided to spend a ridiculous amount of money on the amazing¬†Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E FL (Fluorite) super telephoto (the ‘new’) lens, I hoped that it performs better than its predecessor, the¬†Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G (the ‘old’ lens). It’s a bit like you hope your new iPhone/Android performs better than your previous model, your new car runs faster than your old one, your new DSLR has better ISO performance than the one you bought just a few years ago … etc.

After some email communication with a professional – and well known – nature and wildlife photographer from Canada who I’ve had the pleasure visiting a couple of years ago, I was interested even more in any differences as he was/is quite confident both models would be similar in optical performance. He shoots (mostly) with the new Nikon AF-S 400mm f/4 E FL but still owns the ‘old’ AF-S 600mm f/4 E G lens as well and is not looking at replacing for the reason mentioned.

So in other words, I may have spent thousands extra on a lens with similar quality as its predecessor. And if that’s truly the case, that would, let’s say, suck quite a bit… Right, as we say in The Netherlands: ‘meten is weten!’ which translates to something like ‘to measure is to know!’ (rimes better in Dutch… ūüôā ).

I had the opportunity to hire the ‘old’¬†Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G at my local camera retailer and I started checking out the differences – and similarities. Both models are actually sold currently, although the new model is only available in (very) small quantities. While I don’t have the facts, I can image Nikon is ramping down development of the old model to give way for the new one, albeit that the price difference is significant (app. 4K EUR/$) and customers may still opt for the old model.

Before I go to the comparisons, the first thing that struck me was that the hoods can actually be interchanged! Much has been said about the (too) large size of the 2-part hood of the ‘old’¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G lens; well the new one has about the same hight and diameter. And the old hood fits perfectly on the new lens and vice versa!

08- Nikon 600mm E vs Nikon 600mm G hood

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G hood (right) vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E hood (left)

My understanding of Nikon’s new Fluorite lenses is, and has been that they are already very sharp at maximum aperture (e.g. ‘wide open’) and exhibit that sharpness in a more lineair pattern, unlike the previous generation that reaches maximum sharpness somewhere between f/5.6 and f/8.

I used the same object as in my previous tests (little transformer box at app. 100 meters/yards) and mounted the new and old 600mm lenses to my Nikon D750. I wanted to get as much resolution as possible out of the images – that’s why the D750 and not my D4S (I don’t have the D810 – as I wrote about a couple of blogs ago…). The whole set was mounted on a Gitzo tripod and Wimberley gimbal head; the D750 was set with a 3 second shutter delay mode to prevent camera/shutter shake as much as possible. I took shots ranging from f/4 to f/8 and with speeds of 1/250 and 1/500 sec. and VR was set to off. By now I’m sure you’ve figured out I’m not using any quantitative, semi-scientific measurements like Imatest or similar. Instead, I look at the results on my Dell 4K resolution monitor with Nikon ViewNX2 displaying the images at 100% and converting the RAW files at the highest JPG quality settings. What this means is that I will not be able to specify with 10 decimals which lens outperforms the other in terms of sharpness, vignetting, bokeh, etc. but it does mean that I get a pretty good idea, qualitatively based on my own observation. So… let’s get started!

01-Nikon 600mm (G-F4-250s.)

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E Рf/4, 1/250 sec.

Surprisingly, there are surprises :)! First thing I noticed: the rather significant difference in sharpness. The images with¬†the 600mm G lens were all soft (or soft + blurry) whereas only a few with the 600mm E lens were ‘blurry’; i.e. due to camera/lens shake. Also the color rendering of the new lens is different compared to the previous one. My white balance was exactly the same as I only changed the lenses; my camera stayed the same between shots. I guess, different glass, different colors! Based on the number of shots I took and the varying sharpness in the shots, I came to the following conclusions:

  • Wide open, the¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G is softer than the¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E
  • Possible reasons: the glass & construction on the¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E is simply better (and more expensive, so it better be!) than on the¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G
  • Additional reason: the new¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E lens has an electronic diaphragm, which is electrically activated, compared to the¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G which is mechanically activated. And the smallest mechanical move with these types of long focal lenses may cause the smallest, additional shake and therefore blurry/softness (my theory…)

02-Nikon 600mm (G-F4-500s.)

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E Рf/4, 1/500 sec.

At 1/500 sec. and wide open, the¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G is a fraction better than at 1/250 sec. (which is in line with my ‘shake by diaphragm’ – theory) but still visibly softer than the¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E. Let’s move on to f/5.6!

03-Nikon 600mm (G-F5.6-250s.)

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E Рf/5.6, 1/250 sec.

At f/5.6 the and 1/250 sec. the AF-S 600mm f/4 G catches up. The new lens still, in comparison, has the edge in terms of contract and sharpness (see next images on that as well).

04-Nikon 600mm (G-F5.6-500s.)

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E Рf/5.6, 1/500 sec.

At f/5.6 and 1/500 sec.: same story. The differences between the old lens and the new one are a bit more visible; i.e. better sharpness and contract for the new Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E.

OK, the basic comparisons are done and it’s clear (at least for me) who the winner is. Let’s try and get some more ‘evidence’! How about comparing each lens at different apertures:

06-Nikon 600mm (G4-G5.6-500s.)

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G: f/4 vs. f/5.6, 1/250 sec.

Just as I expected – there is quite a difference in sharpness when you shoot the¬†Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G ‘old’ lens at f/4 or f/5.6. And this is in line with pretty much all literature and other measurements/experiences from photographers related to these types of Nikon lenses. How about the difference with the new Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E?

05-Nikon 600mm (F4-F5.6-500s.)

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E: f/4 vs. f/5.6, 1/250 sec.

If I really had to choose, I’d go for the one shot at f/5.6, but the differences are very, very small. Again, this is in line with the¬†current literature and findings/reports/blogs/etc. from around the world: the new Nikon Fluorite lenses are much sharper across their aperture range; i.e. the curve is more lineair compared to the previous generation of lenses.

My last comparison is between my sharpest shot with the G, and with the E lens, so regardless of aperture and shutter speed: the Best vs. the Best!

07-Nikon-600mm (G-vs-E-best-vs-best F8-250s vs F4-250s)

Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G vs. Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E: “best vs. the best”

The image on the left from the ‘old’ G lens looks pretty good! However it’s still not on par with the image on the right from the ‘new’ E lens in terms of sharpness and contrast. The settings?¬†The¬†Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G was shot at f/8; the¬†Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E was shot at f/4, both 1/250 sec.

Conclusion of conclusions:

  • The new Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E outperforms its predecessor in weight, sharpness, and contrast (perhaps other factors as well but I did not measure, incl. VR).
  • The colour differences are interesting, but do not bother me that much. I’m happy with both and can accept that different glass materials result in (slightly) different colors.
  • I can get up to 2 stops gain with my new¬†Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E compared to its predecessor. To me, this is significant. I’m basically going to shoot with my¬†Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 E wide open all the time unless for ‘Depth of Field’ (DOF) reasons.
  • I’m not saying the ‘old’¬†Nikon¬†AF-S 600mm f/4 G is bad! The new model is just better! – and it better be for that amount of money Nikon is charging…

For those photographers out there who (still) truly believe these lenses are optically the same (to a large extent), please feel free to run your own test and publish your results!

For any questions or feedback, just drop me a note at: feedback@fliek.com

Life/Nature, November 15, 2015

Alaska fishing bear goes viral …and for sale!

During my very first visit to Alaska in 2014 I encountered this brown bear (ursus arctos), or more often referred to by its sub-species name: ‘Alaska coastal bear’ (ursus arctos alascensis) in¬†Hallo Bay, fishing for salmon¬†at a late afternoon.

I was in a small group walking on the beach with my Nikon D4S DSLR attached to a Nikon 500mm f/4 super telephoto lens with 1.4 teleconverter attached, and the whole package resting on a Gitzo tripod and Wimberly gimbal head (yes it weighs a ton). When these cute little furballs (they get up to 1500 pounds; larger than grizzlies) are busy catching fish, the action usually only takes a second or 2. And that action is observed from a very safe distance, so at least at around 100 meters/yards unless the bear decides to run and jump towards you.

It was low tide and just before sunset when this one indeed came running towards me, chasing a fish, while I had my finger on the shutter, continuous autofocus switched on …happily shooting away at 11 frames/second. The poor guy (or girl) actually ended up missing the fish and then looked at me from a not-so-far distance as if to say “this isn’t my day” (disclosure: (s)he did catch other fish soon after and surely was a happy bear again :).

hallo-bay-sundowner-fishing

Splash!

Ever since I started this website I received a lot of positive comments on this image, and more recently I’ve also received requests for actual prints.¬†To make this a special opportunity, I thought it would be nice to offer the first 25 prints of this Alaska brown bear in a ‘limited first edition‘: a ‘certificate of authenticity’ will be added to each print and/or my personal signature (in case I’m able to provide the print in person). The prints will be created and delivered by a¬†professional printing company I’ve had and still have very good experience with. I will also offer the prints in this limited first edition at a 25% discount compared to the list price, with the following types and dimensions:

Photo print on 3mm aluminum dibond, matte finish

  • “Easy to place on most walls” – 60×40 cm (23.6×15.7″): ‚ā¨ 379,00 (list: ‚ā¨ 499,95)
  • “Cool size”¬†– 75×50 cm (29.5×19.7″):¬†‚ā¨ 419,00¬†(list: ‚ā¨ 549,95)
  • “Mega cool size”¬†– 90×60 cm (35.4×23.6″):¬†‚ā¨ 449,00¬†(list: ‚ā¨ 599,95)

Photo print under acrylic glass, 3mm aluminum dibond, matte finish

  • “Easy to place on most walls”¬†– 60×40 cm (23.6×15.7″):¬†‚ā¨ 399,00¬†(list: ‚ā¨ 529,95)
  • “Cool size”¬†– 75×50 cm (29.5×19.7″):¬†‚ā¨ 449,00¬†(list: ‚ā¨ 599,95)
  • “Mega cool size”¬†– 90×60 cm (35.4×23.6″):¬†‚ā¨ 526,00¬†(list: ‚ā¨ 699,95)

The rates above are incl. 21% VAT and excl. shipping costs. If you’re interested in becoming a distinct owner of a ‘limited first edition’ print of this Alaska bear¬†with this attractive discount, or if you have any related or other questions or comments, just drop me a note at:
enquiry@fliek.com

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 E FL ED VR lens review: part 2 (‘long lens technique’)

600reviewpartii

So, you’ve finally made the purchase of your (photography) life, and from now on you’ll be capturing the very best images in the whole world, outperforming everyone, right? Sometimes you hear about people buying a Ferrari and wrapping¬†their beautiful little toy around a big old oak tree that didn’t move when the driver wasn’t sure what he was doing and that tree was approaching at high speed…

Well, a Nikon 600mm requires some special handling as well, or any long lens for that matter. After my second trip to Alaska I noticed, or at least felt that the¬†number of (tack) sharp shots was lower than after my first trip. Which didn’t make sense as I often had¬†an effective 700mm with a 1.4 teleconverter attached to my 500mm prime lens during my¬†first trip. So what was different?

First, I had the previous model of Nikon super telephoto primes, which had a ‘tripod’ mode. The new models don’t have that setting anymore. During my second trip I always had the VR settings on my lens switched to “ON”. Second, I used a Really Right Stuff Long Lens Support package (no, I’m still not getting paid by them) to support my 500mm. During my second trip I didn’t use it as I thought my latest state-of-the-art VR would surely take care of any camera shake and lens vibrations. And then there may¬†have been other differences as well that can affect image sharpness, like if/how you hold your hand on your lens while your other hand is busy shooting.

So I decided to spend a couple of my precious weekends figuring out the mysteries of how to capture sharp images with a long lens (perhaps better if I had done that before leaving on my second trip to Alaska…), in this case not just any long lens but the very latest and supposedly (one of the) best of Nikon’s primes. Browse through the web and you’ll see a lot of articles, opinions (but not too much actual research) on whether to use VR (vibration reduction) in combination with the use of a tripod, or¬†in combination with high shutter speeds, or even a combination of the two. In fact, I’ve been looking at the following ‘parameters’ that can affect images sharpness:

  • Camera
  • Shutter speed
  • Tripod vs hand-held
  • VR ON, SPORT, or OFF
  • Single or burst shot
  • “long lens technique”/(RRS) lens support or not

When you’re out there playing with a 600mm super telephoto lens you typically are out to catch action. Not always, but usually. And action requires a camera that can take a lot of shots in a very short time. So I decided to first check¬†my¬†Nikon D750 in singe shot mode for any interesting differences with my D4S, which I almost always use in burst mode (11/sec.).¬†For each measurement with¬†both the D750 and D4S I took a number of shots ranging between 10-25. My ‘target’ was a small electrical transformer box at app.¬†100 meters/yards distance:

transformer

Nikon D750, 50mm, f/5.6, 1/200 s., 100% crop

DSLR: Nikon D750

  • 1/320 sec., VR ON, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 10% sharp
  • 1/320 sec., VR OFF, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 30% sharp
    Observation: VR ON in combination with a tripod is not good…
  • 1/500 sec., VR ON, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 0% sharp
  • 1/500 sec., VR OFF, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 40% sharp
  • 1/500 sec., VR SPORT, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 40% sharp
    Observation: VR SPORT in combination with a tripod is better than VR ON
  • 1/1000 sec., VR ON, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 0% sharp
  • 1/1000 sec., VR OFF, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 50% sharp
  • 1/1000 sec., VR SPORT, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 60% sharp
    Observation: VR SPORT in combination with a tripod is definitely better than VR ON
    Observation: image quality increases slightly when VR is OFF with increased shutter speed
  • 1/1600 sec., VR OFF, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 0% sharp
  • 1/1600 sec., VR SPORT, tripod, single shot, no RRS support: app. 60% sharp
    Observation: The D750 doesn’t¬†like long lenses too much (without long lens support)…and/or vice versa
600mmblog-750_1015

Nikon D750, f/4, 1/1000 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, VR OFF

600mmblog-750_1023

Nikon D750, f/4, 1/1000 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, VR ON

DSLR: Nikon D4S

  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, single shot, hand loosely on lens: app. 60% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, single shot, hand not on lens: app. 20% sharp
    Observation: hand-on-lens technique with VR OFF improves IQ
  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, hand loosely on lens: app. 50% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, hand not on lens: app. 60% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR SPORT, tripod, burst, hand not on lens: app. 35% sharp
    Observation: hand-on-lens technique is unpredictable; VR OFF without hand on lens improves IQ
  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support: app. 60% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst, RRS support: app. 85% sharp
    Observation: RRS support really works; VR SPORT is pretty good on a tripod with support!
600mmblog-D4S_7825-(VR-OFF)

Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/1250 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, RRS support, VR OFF

600mmblog-D4S_7852-(VR-SPORT)

Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/1250 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, RRS support, VR SPORT

  • 1/125 sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support: app. 100% sharp
    Observation: VR SPORT works miracles at slow shutter speeds
  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support: app. 80% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support: app. 55% sharp
    Observation: with luck, you can get more sharp shots with VR OFF at high shutter speeds
  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support: app. 25% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support: app. 35% sharp
    Observation: …but you’re not always lucky

As I was getting a little disappointed, I decided to switch my autofocus setting to “Focus” in the continuous shooting mode on my D4S. Hopefully that would increase my number of keepers…

  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 69% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 48% sharp
    Observation: VR can indeed impact sharpness at higher shutter speeds
    Observation: setting VR AF-C Priority to <Focus> increases chance of sharp images
  • 1/1250 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 27% sharp
  • 1/1250 sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 70% sharp
    Observation: with VR OFF you have to be lucky; with VR SPORT you need less luck!
600mmblog-D4S_8482-VR-OFF)

Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/1250 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, RRS support, VR OFF

600mmblog-D4S_8516-(VR-SPORT)

Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/1250 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, RRS support, VR SPORT

  • 1/2000 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 47% sharp
  • 1/2000 sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 40% sharp
    Observation: at higher shutter speeds, VR OFF takes the edge
  • 1/2500 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 17% sharp
  • 1/2500¬†sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 50% sharp
    Observation: however VR SPORT is your safest bet
600mmblog-D4S_8690-(VR-SPORT)

Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/2500 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, RRS support, VR SPORT

600mmblog-D4S_8718-(VR-OFF)

Nikon D4S, f/4, 1/2500 s., 600mm f/4 FL, tripod, RRS support, VR OFF

  • 1/8000 sec., VR OFF, tripod, burst, RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 34% sharp
  • 1/8000¬†sec., VR¬†SPORT, tripod, burst,¬†RRS support, AF-C Priority: Focus: app. 34% sharp
    Observation: the dilemma will continue…

Now let’s try and bring this test to some form of conclusion:

  1. Unless I’m hand-holding my new Nikon 600mm f/4 FL the whole time/day (yeah, right) I will not use VR ON. If I want VR, I’ll select VR SPORT. In fact, I may never use VR ON anyway…
  2. If I can, I will shoot at low shutter speed, which will not only give me better ISO but will increase my number of keepers.
  3. I’ll shoot with multiple, short bursts. These increase your chances of getting sharp images. A D4S will therefore increase your chances compared to s D750 for example where you will not have the benefits of the fast frame rate.
  4. Try to avoid 1/1000 s. shutter speed, at least when shooting on a tripod. The sample frequency of the VR runs at 1000 Hz. and the results can be very unpredictable.
  5. The sharpest image with VR OFF is always sharper than the sharpest image with VR SPORT. However, your chances of getting sharp images with VR OFF seem to vary. If everything’s perfect, use VR OFF. If not; e.g. you shake, your car shakes, the wind blows, or whatever else, use VR SPORT and your chances are a little better compared to VR OFF.
  6. I’ll be using VR SPORT going forward at most shutter speeds. If the situation allows, I’ll try and take double shots/series: a few bursts with VR SPORT and a few with VR OFF just to increase my chances of keepers. However there will probably not be too many of these situations. Time will tell… (and I’ll be sharing¬†my experiences!)

Here in The Netherlands we just had¬†‘de bronst’ where male red deers are fighting for their female partners. This shot was taken 2 weeks ago (September 2015) with the D4S, 600mm f/4 FL and VR SPORT on a tripod and with the RRS support package. Definitely one of the keepers!

Red deer (Cervus elaphus)

Red deer (Cervus elapses) at the ‘Hoge Veluwe’