Sat 15-Dec-12 09:44 PM | edited Sat 15-Dec-12 10:12 PM by dm1dave
You have received some pretty good advice.
I think the biggest issues here are...
> That the subject is too far away - he is too small in the frame to capture much feather detail.
> The underexposure has made the bird “muddy” – Looking at the eye you appear to have good focus but everything is so dark that there is little contrast. The under exposure and ISO have created just enough noise add to this “muddy” look.
> Handholding. This is a still very long and heavy lens, 15 inches long and 8.5 pounds. To get the best out of your $8000 + investment you should give it solid support. Even at fast shutter speeds I find that you will only get the very best results using support. When I can’t or don’t want to use a tripod I brace my 400/2.8 (I do the same with my Sigma 120-300/2.8) against a solid object or use a beanbag or monopod.
I recommend a using 3 or 4 series Gitzo and a gimbal head if you the best image quality that this lens can produce. It is a bit of a pain to carry around but I have found the use of a tripod to be, or other solid support, to be an invaluable assist as a wildlife photographer.
I also agree that you should not have stopped down so much. These big lenses are optimized for shooting with a wide aperture. So, open up the aperture and lower the ISO.
When you are shooting a dark bird against a bright background – you need to add + exposure compensation. Take a couple of shots and check your histogram and zoom in on the bird to make sure that you can see some detail.
Take control of your AF system. I never use AF-A mode. I usually use AF-C mode and dynamic area AF (with 9 or 21 points) and keep the active focus point in the center.
Remember that any lens especially a lens like the 500/4 takes some getting used to before you can consistently get the best possible results.