Making a change to one’s camera kit is always a good reason to go out to get some practice using it outside and indoors. I went out to Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls Ontario a few days ago with my Nikon 1 V3 and CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens to practice my hand-holding technique photographing birds using slower shutter speeds.
Slower is a relative term of course and to me it means anything less than 1/60 of a second when photographing birds or other animals hand-held.
Most of the birds at Bird Kingdom are free flying so it isn’t like a typical zoo environment. While some birds are more skittish than others, many of the individual birds are used to being around people and they will tolerate you getting close to them, within reason.
I knew from doing a review of the Nikon 1 V3 some time ago that the auto focus performance isn’t quite as snappy as that of my V2s in lower light conditions. I arrived at Bird Kingdom after 3PM on an overcast, Canadian winter day which ensured that the shooting conditions would be a bit challenging. I shot the image above at 4:25 PM in the afternoon. By this time of day the light was getting quite difficult but my V3 was still able to acquire focus, albeit with a fair amount of focus lag involved.
Photographing birds using slower shutter speeds is a great way to not only get to know your gear, but also test your hand-holding technique. Practicing your breathing and using a smooth shutter release are especially important. It is also a very good way to hone your observation skills, patience, and shot discipline.
Birds tend to have somewhat choppy movements and will often ‘freeze’ for a split second when adjusting their position on a perch or walking around. Watching individual birds closely is important when timing your shutter release.
Obviously if the bird is moving slightly when capturing their image at a slower shutter speed it will cause some motion blur in your photograph. I quite enjoy the challenge of trying to get reasonably sharp bird images at slower shutter speeds.
Some of the parrots at Bird Kingdom seem to be in perpetual motion so they don’t make ideal subjects for this type of photography practice. As you can see from the number of different species represented in this article many of the birds do have split-second pauses in their movements and thus can be photographed using slower shutter speeds. Other than the image above, I was able to keep my ISO to a maximum of ISO-3200 during my recent visit.
Staying simultaneously aware of pauses in a bird’s motion as well as your own hand-holding technique can increase the number of keepers you can get from this type of practice exercise.
I used the ‘normal’ VR setting and found that the CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 worked quite well with my Nikon 1 V3. As expected, I did notice some focus lag in particularly dark conditions but I never had a situation where I simply could not take an image with my kit.
I wouldn’t necessarily try to photograph wild birds at shutter speeds under 1/60, but knowing that I can often get reasonable quality images at these speeds means that I don’t hesitate using somewhat slower shutter speeds (i.e. in the 1/80 to 1/160 range) than many folks would probably use when photographing wild subjects. This helps to extend the shooting potential of my Nikon 1 gear. Given the lighting at Bird Kingdom during my visit, if I would have used a more typical shutter speed of 1/250 to 1/400 for these bird images I simply would not have been able to get a decent exposure for some of them as they would have been underexposed to a fair degree, even at ISO-3200.
This type of photography practice does help to increase powers of observation, which can be helpful when learning to anticipate when a wild bird may take flight, drop from the sky to fish, or come in for a landing.
Bird Kingdom does have a few other species on display which provide additional image opportunities. I’ve photographed the Green Iguana above a number of times in the past but usually at a faster shutter speed. Using 1/30 for the image above allowed me to shoot at ISO-220 and use more of the dynamic range and colour depth available with the V3’s small CX sensor. This is another potential benefit that can come from practicing slower shutter speed hand-held photography.
I often attempt to take photographs of the Egyptian Fruit Bats during a visit to Bird Kingdom. While I didn’t purposely try to shoot at very slow shutter speeds (i.e. less than 1/15) I did capture the image above hand-held at 1/10 of a second. My slowest shutter speed for birds was 1/13 and I did get some useable images at that speed.
If you’ve never done this kind of practice photography before I’d encourage you to give it a try. As I mentioned earlier, it is a great way to learn more about the capability of your camera gear, assess your hand-holding technique, extend the shooting potential of your gear, as well as increase your powers of observation, patience and shot discipline. Most importantly is can simply be a ton of fun to challenge yourself!
All images in this article were captured hand-held in available light using a Nikon 1 V3 and 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens (equivalent field of view 189-810mm). In all cases the photographs were produced from RAW files using my standard process of OpticsPro 11, CS6 and Nik Suite.
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Just recently I discovered Photography Life and today is the first time I’ve been reading some of your articles. I’m really glad that I’ve discovered your site and am learning a few new techniques and some things to try to improve my skills. I do take a lot of bird pictures of various types and in various conditions so reading your articles on shooting these has me anxious to go head out and practice.
Welcome to Photography Life! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the articles here!
Thanks a lot for this article, very impressive shooting technic! How does the VR of the 70-200/4 compare to the VR used in the CX70-300? For me the Nikon1-System is a light travel kit but it’s main usage is to provide me with a light telephoto-solution (which is why I am still using the 1v1 as it does have the same batteries as the D750, otherwise I would have updrades to the 1v2 long ago) I owned a 70-200/2.8 II in the past, which has been a strong performer with the 1v1 but sold it a while ago and am considering the 70-200/4 due to size and weight…
It has been quite a while since I used my Nikon 1 gear with an FX lens as I sold my D800 and all of my FX glass in the summer of 2015. The Nikkor 70-200 f/4 was one of my favourite lenses to use with a V2 and FT-1 adapter. From what I remember the lens was very sharp on that body and the VR was excellent. It was a fairly small FX lens so that made it quite nice to use for extended periods of time. I also used that lens with a 1.7X teleconverter with my V2, and while there was some loss of sharpness, and the auto-focus slowed a bit, it was still a nice combination for static birds. It didn’t work that well with birds-in-flight though. The CX 70-300 is an exceptional lens with excellent VR and sharpness throughout the zoom range. When I first bought this lens I still had my Nikon D800 and FX lenses, as well as a Tamron 150-600. It was my purchase and use of the CX 70-300 that was the “final straw’ in me deciding to sell all of my full frame gear.
Wow, didn’t know you got rid of all you DSLR-Equipment, but it just proofs what a versitile system the Nikon1 is (or could be) in the right hands! I just hope it will be continued and doesn’t die with the announcement of the Nikon DLs.
The CX70-300 is a great lens but with a steep price tag – I always wished Nikon would announce something like a cx180/2-Lens…
Guess my decision will either be the Tamron 70-200/2.8 VC or the Nikon 70-200/4 VR, thanks a lot for your advice!
I have enough gear to last me at least three years or so. After that I may stop doing client work anyway. At that point I may need to reconsider my gear needs. If my Nikon 1 kit is still going strong I’ll probably just keep shooting with it.
I should have mentioned that not all 3rd party lenses will work on a Nikon 1 body with the FT-1 adapter. It is always wise to test it out before buying.
Now that you have the V3, have you had a chance to compare it with your J5 which has a different sensor and supposedly greater DR. I know it doesn’t have a viewfinder but have you seen any difference in your low light samples? I’m a big fan of your work and always enjoy your articles and I went to the Bird Kingdom 2 years ago and was very impressed with the place where I used my V1 with my 70-300 VR ft-1 combo. Regards Gerry
Your timing is excellent! I just wrote a new article on my photography blog about various Nikon 1 bodies: tomstirrphotography.com/choos…kon-1-body. This new posting discusses various aspects of the Vs, V3 and J5.You may find it interesting. I’m hoping to get out more with my V3 after I get out from under a lot of client work.
Since I put all of my Nikon 1 RAW files (regardless of the ISO at which they were captured) through the PRIME noise reduction function in OpticsPro 11 I haven’t seen much difference in terms of image noise. The J5 absolutely has noticeably better dynamic range and colour depth, especially when shot at base ISO than the V2 or V3. I have quite a number of custom presets in OpticsPro 11 that I used with my V2s and they work equally well with my V3 but I don’t use any of those presets with the J5 as the files are quite a bit different. I do far less work with J5 files than with my V2/V3 files.
If my schedule permits I’m planning a reader event at Bird Kingdom…likely in the second half of February.
Thanks for your quick reply. I’d love to go back to Bird Kingdom and it’s cool looking at your pictures because I have shots of most of these same birds. It’s kinda deja vu. I don’t get out to Ontario before May long week end so won’t be able to make it to Bird Kingdom that soon. I also went to the butterfly conservatory up the road, and it was also very impressive venue as I’m sure you’ll agree.
I’ll check out your blog as I only own the V1 at present but I’m looking to up grade as soon as Nikon decides what they are doing with the 1 series. I love the v1 and have pretty much all the lenses I need although I can see by your pictures that the 70-300 you use is certainly a gorgeous lens , especially with dedicated AF, instead of using the Ft-1 and other Nikkors.
You’re welcome Gerry! I agree that the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory is as you say ‘an impressive venue’. My wife and I just took annual memberships there, as we also did at Bird Kingdom. The Nikon 1 CX is a wonderful lens that I love using.
Good thread Thomas,and could not agree more about slower speeds.This one is at 1/50 handheld with the Nikon 200-500 www.flickr.com/photo…031568492/
Thanks for the comment Richard – and for sharing the image on Flickr!
Great photos as always Thomas. Thank you.
Glad you liked them Jorge!
A good article about practicing handheld technique and slower shutter speeds. I just got a new Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 lens and am doing the same thing right now with the lens on my D750 or D600 IR conversion to improve my technique. Of course, your rig is a bit lighter to handle.
With regards to moving subjects, I use my Nikon1 J3 in the WP-N2 housing for underwater photography. While some subject sit still, many never stop moving, like clownfish and several other species. Since I must hit a balance between shutter speed, ISO and aperture, I will cap the ISO, shoot wide open on aperture priority snd live with the shutter speed I can get. To make up for it, I move the J3 to 5fps or 10 fps mode and shoot a burst of about 4-7 shots. This means a lot more shots to screen but does significantly increase the likelihood of getting one in focus. With the good autofocus and the great burst speed, I have a much better shot at getting a few good ones.
Do you use the burst modes much?
Thanks for sharing some of your technique! At this point I haven’t tried using short image bursts when shooting at slower shutter speeds. It is a very intriguing idea though…and one that I will try in the not too distant future!
Great article as always. I am always amazed at the photos you take hand held. Good technique and practice is surely needed to take photos like you do, and you are truly a master from what I have seen over the years reading your posts. A smaller system like the Nikon 1 certainly does help also. I am not able to take photos anywhere near as good as yours with my D800 hand held. At 66, I don’t have that steady a hand anymore to shoot hand held. I have contemplated a smaller system, but finances dictate differently at this time.
It is always a pleasure to hear from you! I’m glad you enjoyed the article! You’re absolutely right that a smaller, lighter system does help me quite a bit shooting hand-held. The quality of the VR in the Nikon 1 zoom lenses is also a significant factor. When I had full frame gear I shot with a D800 and it truly is a superb camera. I’m sure it produces wonderful results for you. As long as your enjoying your gear there is no reason to change.
Great work, Tom!
I’ve used mono-pods previously when I’ve done bird studies, but have not shot handheld @ slow shutter speeds, especially of moving targets.
What was your flash set-up, if any?
Thanks for the positive comment Steve!
No flash or supplementary lighting of any kind was used. All images were shot hand-held in available light.
The lens you mention, CX 70-300 mm
are you referring to the VR 70-300 mm
‘CX’ refers to the native 1 Nikon mount 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. Since Nikon 1 bodies can be used with FX and DX Nikkor lenses with F-mounts by way of an FT-1 adapter I wanted to ensure that folks were clear that I did not use an F-mount lens for any of these images. Here is a link that describes the CX 70-300 lens: www.bhphotovideo.com/c/pro…0_300.html
You the king of handheld! I love the lighting on the Green Iguana. All these animals seem at peace around you. Love all your animal photos.
By the way, why didn’t you buy another V2?
I’m glad you enjoyed the images – thanks for the positive comment!
In terms of the V2s…there hasn’t been any available new ones for sale in Canada for quite a long time. I haven’t even seen a used one for sale for over a year now. So, I decided to purchase a V3 instead. For as much as there are some things like the detachable EVF and grip that I don’t like about the V3, it does provide a faster AF-C frame rate, more resolution (i.e. 18.4MP vs. 14.2MP) and slightly sharper images since there is no low pass filter. This will be my dedicated wildlife and birding camera. This change will allow me to extend the life of my trio of V2s which are my primary cameras for my client video business.