Maybe my self-esteem was dipping that day or maybe I was just feeling like seeing how the little people lived. Whatever the reason I decided I needed to humiliate myself a bit so I decided to slap a third party lens on my Ferrari, er, I mean Nikon D4s. The choice – the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC USD. For the last 30 years I’d never shot anything but Nikon glass – no cheap third party lens would dirty up my cameras.
We are continuing our coverage of the Nikon D810 and today we want to talk about the capability of the D810 to photograph wildlife, particularly birds. Bird photography is complex and very demanding in terms of gear when it comes to autofocus speed, accuracy and response time. While mirrorless cameras have become a superb choice for everyday photography, they are hard and sometimes impossible to use for photographing fast-moving subjects, like birds in flight. Most mirrorless systems today don’t even have fast telephoto lenses longer than 300mm. Hence, DSLR cameras are the default choice for wildlife photography today.
After my review of the Tamron 150-600mm VC telephoto zoom lens appeared here at Photography Life, a number of readers had questions on how that lens compared to the long telephoto zooms from Sigma. As luck would have it, I was able to borrow a recently purchased Sigma 150-500mm OS from a friend and this article captures some initial thoughts about photographing birds, including those in flight, with this lens.
Over the past week or so I’ve been out taking a lot of images to prepare for my upcoming review of the Tamron 150-600mm VC lens. At this point it looks like my review will be completed and up for Photography Life readers to see at the end of June.
In advance of the full review I thought another very short article with a few more sample images may be of interest. This article has some photos of cormorants taken at a large nesting colony that is located just off Eastport Drive adjacent to the Hamilton harbor in Ontario. This is a favorite photo site of many area bird photographers. In this area you can also find black-crowned night herons, a wide variety of gulls, the occasional swan, and if you scan for small, fast moving birds…you can also spot the odd kingfisher.
The following images were all taken this morning with the Tamron 160-600 VC with my Nikon D800. If you’re like me when I first started out trying to photograph birds it was a major accomplishment just to get a large bird like a cormorant centered in the frame with a decent exposure…as in the following image:
Many Nikon owners have been chomping at the bit waiting for the F-Mount version of the new Tamron 150-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VC zoom lens to be available. I recently borrowed a review sample from Tamron’s Canadian distributor. In advance of my full review, I thought that Photography Life readers would like to see some sample images of birds in flight. My full review of this lens will appear later in June or early July.
For the past 8 months or so I have been shooting a lot of static and perched birds with a Nikon 1 V2, FT-1 adapter, my Nikkor 70-200 f/4 VR lens and TC-17E II teleconverter. This set-up gives me an equivalent field-of-view of 918mm @ a rather slow f/6.7. Even though the teleconverter does cause some loss of sharpness I’ve been happy with the results as you can see from the sample below.
While successful for perched birds, this set-up has been a different story for birds in flight. I’ve found that the auto focusing hunts a great deal at f/6.7 when trying to capture birds in flight, and the EFoV of 918mm makes it extremely difficult to keep a flying bird in the frame long enough to acquire focus. My skill set is such that other than getting the odd image of a cormorant flying in the distance at a 90-degree angle to me, I was unsuccessful in getting very many usable shots.
My D7000, Nikkor 500mm and I have had some wonderful times together – the shots of a Peregrine chick jumping off the ledge for the first time, the yoga-stretching Osprey that made Audubon’s Top 100, and who can forget the Night Heron flying past with a baby alligator in it’s mouth. But like all relationships, it seemed the initial pizazz was fading. I began to notice how she had trouble staying focused and got noisy when I pushed an issue. Furthermore, with 190,000 clicks under her belt, well, let’s just say her shutter curtains were starting to droop a bit. It was time to move on, but don’t get me wrong, we’ll always be friends. Now I hate to admit it, but I’d been having an online affair with the new Nikkor 800mm for almost a year – I’d link over to her B&H page and run my finger gently around her buy now button. Oh how we teased each other… Then one day we went all the way.
Next week she was there in front of me, the ten pound, one ounce Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR OMG BFF. However, when I unpacked my new lens, it was obviously lacking a proper rear lens cap. How inconsiderate of Nikon not to include a D4s to keep the rear element clean. Nothing a few years of crippling debt couldn’t solve. I dusted off my backup credit card and a few days later the D4$ showed up. So without further ado, my first 29 hours testing the 800mm/D4$ combo for reach, handholding, buffer, burst rate, high ISO ability and general BIFiness.
Let’s start at the end of the day and half of testing – 800mm of reach allowed me to maintain a non-threatening distance from this Common Black-hawk posing in front of the moon sneaking through the clouds. 1/1250, f/6.3, ISO 2500, 800mm, D4s. I cut loose with some artistic experimentation with this – embrace the post-processing noise – it’s pretty much the last you’ll see in the article:
This week is crazy here at PL, because we are bringing in more and more talent from all over the world for our readers to learn and get inspiration from. Today, we are expanding our team of writers with a talented wildlife photographer, Robert Andersen! I am sure you have been enjoying Robert’s detailed articles on Raptor Photography and getting answers to some of the most complex questions related to camera autofocus, handling, hand-holding and much more! Without a doubt, Robert will be an amazing resource as a permanent team member for our readers, so please give him a warm welcome!
I got a lot of feedback and questions from my last two posts and it seems like there is some interest in my articles, so I am yet again inspired to give this writing thing another shot. I just want to re-iterate that what I suggest or talk about here is what I do and what works for me – you will have to find your own way to your photography success.
1) Focus Point
I am going to start with focus point and where it should be, and that would be on the eye of the subject. There are many things that can be forgiven in photography, but a blurry eye is not one of them. All the power is in the eyes and your own eye will always be drawn there without you thinking about it. I am shooting with a Nikon D4 so this is Nikon terminology, I use Single Point AF Mode, because I am a control freak and don’t let the camera make the decisions for me. There is Dynamic Area AF Mode you might want to consider trying and see if it works for you, but don’t try it on a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
The insert in this photo will show you what I mean about ideal focus point location. The longer the focal length of your lens is and the shorter the distance to the subject, it becomes that much more important to precisely place your focus point on the eye. In a multiple subject shot, your focal point should be on the animal that is the closest to you.
I recently wrote an article on hand-holding large and heavy lenses, which attracted quite a bit of attention and some nice comments and questions from PL readers. I am not really a writer, but a few people asked me about my technique for getting those shots. Let me start by saying that I am not an expert and there are many ways to skin a cat. So this is the way I get my shots and you will have to find your own way to achieving what you want. Let’s start with a “money shot”: what I would say is the shot of the day, the shot that made it all worth it.