Up Close and Personal at the Zoo with the Nikon 1 V2

Recently a Photography Life contributor, Alpha Whiskey, posted a great article here on some techniques that we can use to challenge ourselves as photographers. Finding ways to grow and stimulate our individual creativity is one of the most important things we can do to advance our skill level. I gave myself one such challenge this week and I thought I would share the results of it with you with images taken at the Metro Toronto Zoo.

Zoo Sample Images (1)

Since my brother-in-law was going to use the review sample of the Tamron 150-600 VC lens with his Nikon D7000 at the zoo to give me his perspectives for my upcoming lens review, I thought it would be interesting if I went to the zoo with only one camera body and one lens. So, I thought about the challenges I would be facing when shooting at such a diverse venue as the zoo: variable lighting with outdoor and building interiors, dealing with bars, mesh and netting, shooting through glass viewing panels smudged by the hands of thousands of young children…and a huge variety of subject matter. I made my equipment selection, and then came up with a theme for my challenge: ”Up Close and Personal at the Zoo”.

All of the images in this article were taken hand-held. They were processed from RAW files using DxOMark OpticsPro 8, CS6 and Nik Suite. No additional noise reduction was applied to any of the images in this article. Shooting details are found underneath my copyright on each image.

Zoo Sample Images (2)

Choosing to shoot to a theme helps us see the world around us in a different manner. Orangutans become even more human with their actions and expressions…

Zoo Sample Images (3)

Zoo Sample Images (4)

Zoo Sample Images (5)

Birds become more vibrant…

Zoo Sample Images (6)

Zoo Sample Images (7)

Zoo Sample Images (8)

Both the mass of and the details of animals become more apparent…

Zoo Sample Images (9)

Zoo Sample Images (10)

Zoo Sample Images (11)

Even to the point of seeing water droplets on a subject’s head…

Zoo Sample Images (12)

Or the texture of an ever-changing skin…

Zoo Sample Images (13)

Or finding a face only a mother could love…

Zoo Sample Images (14)

And others that many of us have learned to fear…

Zoo Sample Images (15)

For more sample images from my “Up Close and Personal at the Zoo” challenge, check out the below YouTube video:

If you were going to give yourself a creative challenge what would it be? If you had to limit yourself to one camera body and one lens for your challenge what would you choose and why?

Article and all images Copyright 2014, Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.


  1. 1
    June 24, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Spell bound by the images and this article has proved that if one is creative and has the skill can produce such beautiful images without spending money on a once in a lifetime safari. Many people believe that only those images of animals are good which are shot at any of the forests and images of animals in zoo are not good images, though I support the fact that images of animal in the wild in their habitat adds drama and story to the images but if one takes the time and is creative can produce images of animals in the zoo which are wonderful just like your images. I am inspired by the images and will try to photograph some animals in our local zoo. What lens did you use to take these images. Once again thank you for the beautiful images

    • 3
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 25, 2014 at 3:42 am

      Hello Zeeshan,

      Thank you very much for your kind words regarding the images. I used a Nikkor 70-200 f/4 VR (FX) lens for the images in this article.


  2. June 24, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Thomas, thank you for referring to my article (despite the controversy it invited!), and I think you have taken some terrific images here.
    I’m also very impressed that you set yourself a challenge, undertook it, and came away with some excellent results. Very well done indeed. :)

    Warm Regards,

    • 4
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 25, 2014 at 3:46 am

      Hi Sharif,

      Thanks very much for the positive comments on the images in the article. I hope we see more articles from you on Photography Life. Creating a bit of controversy is a good thing if it gets people involved and motivated!


  3. 5
    ) Dave
    June 25, 2014 at 4:26 am

    Thomas – a great article and images are excellent. What time of day did you shoot these? I’m a Toronto resident and am excited to get back to the Toronto Zoo – it’s been a while! – and experiment. Thanks!


    • 7
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 25, 2014 at 11:21 am

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the positive feedback!

      I got to the zoo about 10:30am and was shooting until about 5:30pm.


  4. 6
    ) Patrick O'Connor
    June 25, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Wonderful images and commentary.
    If I were to set a challenge for myself, it would be to go out with only my UW Zoom (Tokina 16-28). While I like the images I get from it, I usually think in terms of isolating the subject and so, use my long lenses far more often.
    I’m actually about to start a challenge using a Canon P w/50mm lens, that my Father-in-law recently gave me. Just waiting to get a light meter. Any suggestions? Anyone?

  5. 8
    ) Thomas Stirr
    June 25, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Hi Patrick,

    Appreciate the positive comments on my images!

    A wide zoom is an interesting choice for your challenge….are you planning city scapes….landscapes….floral gardens….?


    • 9
      ) Patrick O'Connor
      June 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Cityscapes and landscapes. Kinda ordinary but I’ll try to think of unique spins on them.

      I once saw a very cool photo where the photographer used an UW lens, with an extension tube, to get right up next to a dandelion at seed, on the side from where he took off the seeds. It looked like a tiny person had taken the photo from inside the dandelion ball, looking out.

      • 10
        ) Thomas Stirr
        June 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

        Hi Patrick,

        Sounds like a very interesting approach i.e. UW lens with extension tube.

        If you wear some old clothes (or have a camera with a tilt-screen) another interesting perspective when shooting cityscapes/landscapes with a wide angle lens is to lie on your belly and shoot just a few inches off the ground.


        • 11
          ) Patrick O'Connor
          June 25, 2014 at 1:26 pm

          All my clothes are old! :-)
          I often shoot from ground level; especially along shorelines, etc.

  6. 12
    ) Tom Wardrup
    June 25, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Incredible that you got such sharp images, hand held at Eff. f/l’s greater than 500mm, and shutter speeds less than 1/60 if I was reading the data right. And also the lack of noise on that small sensor at ISO’s of 1600 and greater. All very amazing. Great images.

    • 13
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 25, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks very much for your comments….greatly appreciated.

      You read the data correctly…I did shoot handheld at some very slow shutter speeds with long efov.

      The VR on the Nikkor 70-200 f/4 VR lens is simply superb….plus having it mounted on a Nikon 1 V2 makes for a very light and easy to hold combination….that really helps with doing handheld shots. The Nikon 1 V2’s 2.7x crop factor obviously helps as well in terms of actually hand-holding a 70-200 zoom but getting an efov of 189-540. That’s the main reason that I matched up the 70-200 f/4 VR with the Nikon 1 V2 for my challenge.

      To get the shot of the green snake (1/20 shutter speed) I braced myself up against a wall for added support.

      I’ve found that ISO-1600 is the limit for the Nikon 1 V2 in terms of noise…when viewing the images at 100% you can see some grain…but I find that it is not objectionable at ISO-1600….more like the film grain some of us ‘older’ shooters are accustomed to so I usually don’t apply any noise reduction until ISO-3200. None of the images in this article were above ISO-1600.

      There are two images in the video at ISO-3200 and ISO-5000….I did apply some noise reduction to those two images only.

      Thanks again for your feedback and positive comments.


  7. 14
    ) Alis
    June 30, 2014 at 5:05 am

    Beautiful pictures! Very impressive.

    I’m still struggeling between getting the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 or 70-200 f/4…

    My main subjects are dogs and I find myself more and more using my Nikkor 180mm AF. The only drawback of this lens is the slow autofocus. But the pictures are sharp, it’s incredible. Much better than my tokina 50-135mm which tend to be soft at 135mm (and also has a slow autofocus).
    So if I could take only one lens with me for a dog shooting I would take the 180mm prime.

    • 15
      ) Thomas Stirr
      June 30, 2014 at 5:22 am

      Hi Alis,

      Thanks very much for your positive comments.

      Both of the Nikkor 70-200 lenses you are considering are excellent. It really comes down to whether you need the faster aperture and if that is worth the extra cost and weight. I opted for the 70-200 f/4 and have not regretted the decision at all. The lens is quite sharp…the VR is outstanding…and it works like a charm on my D800 and Nikon 1 V2.


      • 16
        ) Alis
        June 30, 2014 at 5:33 am

        Hi Tom
        Thanks for your reply.

        Well… usually I set up my aperture at f4 but that’s because I have trouble getting the dogs’ eyes sharp, especially when the dog is running towards me. With f4 I have a bit more DOF and a bigger chance of sharp eyes. But I’m training to get sharp pics at 2.8 ;-)

        The major PLUS is the weight of the f4 lens.
        Currently I own a d7100 but I think sooner or later I’ll go FX (thinking of d810, that would be reeeeeeeaaaaallly nice lol).

        Anyway I am in no rush, so I’ll just keep shooting my 180mm and see what happens.

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