TALKING IMAGES 50 – USING THE NIKON Z 6 TO PHOTOGRAPH SMALL BIRDS IN FLIGHT

 

 

All images: Skylarks in song flight, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.

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Something that I’m interested to test on Nikon’s new Z 6 mirrorless camera is the accuracy and speed of the autofocus, and flying birds are – for an ex-birder like me – an obvious target.   To this end, I’ve already posted a picture of swans in flight here .

But down on the Somerset Levels recently, I aimed the camera at something far smaller and more elusive.  Skylarks kept leaping up from grassy fields all around me and ascending into their wonderful, towering song flights and so, using back button focusing (also described here ), I took a few potshots at them in silhouette.  These birds are about 7 inches (16-18cm) from bill tip to tail tip when laid out flat and, moving rapidly and erratically around, they presented quite a challenge.  The final image here shows the whole frame of the shot above it, to give an idea both of the birds’  size in the (electronic) viewfinder, and of how enlarged the first three of these images are.  All pictures were taken at 300mm telephoto, at 800 ISO.

There are two points to make here.  First, I used Dynamic Area Autofocus, where the camera takes information about the target not only from the focus point being used, but also from surrounding points if – like these small birds – the target is moving rapidly and erratically.  I used a single autofocus point, the central one, throughout.

And second, I used the lens I’m married to, the 70-300 AF-S Nikkor which – like me! – may be showing its age (from 2007) a little now.  To which end, I’ve acquired the 2017 upgrade, the 70-300 AF-P Nikkor – and time will tell on how this one performs!

The resulting images here are certainly not perfect, but to me they are in the right ballpark, and I’m looking forward to further testing.  Click onto each image to open a larger version in a separate window.

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About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for many types of subject, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

14 Responses to TALKING IMAGES 50 – USING THE NIKON Z 6 TO PHOTOGRAPH SMALL BIRDS IN FLIGHT

  1. bluebrightly says:

    This is fun, and I can imagine how exciting it was to have success with a flying passerine – they’re just way too small to catch, usually. I wish you hours and hours of future fun doing more of these.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Thank you – and next time, after Michael’s hint, I’ll remember to use spot metering linked to the active autofocus point – I think the Z 6 uses this link all the time. A 🙂

      Like

  2. oneowner says:

    I can’t imagine a more challenging test for a camera sd lens that shooting birds, especially in flight. I confess I’m not familiar with Dynamic Area Autofocus but am well aware of the problems of std. AF on Nikon cameras. I’m still using the old 70-300 but I probably only shoot 5-10% of files with that lens. I have a Sigma zoom or the macro on the camera, both lenses have been very reliable. Still, I wouldn’t trade that 70-300.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      I don’t know how recent an innovation Dynamic Area Autofocus is – if your camera is not recent, it might not be available.

      Haha!!! but re the 70-300 I feel exactly the same >> I always say I’m married to the AF-S 70-300 Nikkor 4.5.5.6 G; I’ve just got the updated AF-P E version, and will be using that a lot. A 🙂

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  3. You’re doing well. Dynamic area autofocus is definitely the way to go. I would also suggest spot metering. This is an activity that takes lots of practice. A couple of weeks ago I went out on a bird shoot and shot more than 50 photos. I threw them all out. Tracking a small rapidly moving object is a real challenge for me, but as it is said, practice makes perfect. These of yours turned out way better than mine.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Michael, this is interesting stuff. Thanks for your confirmation re the autofocus. I’ve done some of this sort of photography in the past with the D700 and D800 and did use spot metering then – it escaped my mind this time!

      Then there’s the question of motor drive – but I’ve heard that taking a series of single shots (like these) is better because it gives the camera more chance of achieving focus between the shots – what do you think?

      Also BAD NEWS! >>> Nikon have put out a product recall for SOME Z 6 and Z 7 cameras due to an IBIS malfunction, which will be rectified free of charge. But I’m so far unable to find out whether my serial number is affected.

      Thanks for your thoughts, always very welcome. A 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. paula graham says:

    Interesting stuff to take in.

    Like

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