As I have been posting, I have pressed the D4 into Birding service for shooting in the ISO 1400-2500 range and it seems to be performing quite well. This whole ISO 1000-3200 range is extremely useful for birding as much of it occurs at low light and I need shutter speed to stop motion. And the D4 FPS, un-fillable buffer, and impeccable autofocus are all very helpful for birding too.
These Pileated Woodpecker (Papa and Baby via tripod) are ISO 2500, 2200, 2200, 2200, 1600, and 2500 (Chipmunk handheld) respectively.
Thanks very much Paul. Yes, I am using that Auto-ISO Auto feature of the D4, where if I am on tripod I set it to one "notch" lower which gives a 1/focal length less one stop (e.g. 1/320 with the 500VR plus TC14), or default middle notch if I am trying to stop the motion of a bird that is singing as in the 2nd last photo, or one or even two notches higher for Birds in Flight (BIF).
All the woodpecker photos are 500VR with the TC14 and all the rest are TC17 and many of these are wide-open which is not ideal in a theoretical sense, in that one should stop-down TCs, but it seems if I nail focus is not a problem.
My D300 has been my first casualty, I sold it two months after getting the D4, as you indicate you can't be cavalier about ISO with that camera, although it was very good in its day. It was a great workhorse for me with 72K actuations, so I got my money's worth. It went to a very knowledgeable young photographer who was getting back into serious shooting after a hiatus. I am thinking a D400 in good light combined with a D4 in tougher light will eventually give me a very nice capability for my wildlife outings.
If I am going to make a habit of FX bird photography I might need one of those new 800mm lenses Nikon has over at the British Open
Hi Steve, These are simply fantastic! Can you say how you set focus? You've obviously 'nailed' it! I assume AF-S but what were the other focus settings (e.g. area mode?, 3D-tracking?, auto area AF?, viewfinder view or LV?, etc.). Did you lock forces with the AF button or with the shutter release button?
Sorry for all the questions but you've achieved some great images and I'd love to learn just 'how'!
I use a standard Capture Sharpening, Creative Sharpening, Output Sharpening approach. Looking back on the Pileated, I think I batch processed the sharpening and were I to give them some individual attention I would cut back on the Creative sharpening.
Capture Sharpening is made upon rendering the raw image, which since I use Capture NX2 is defaulted via my camera at a level of 3 on my Neutral Picture Control.
Creative Sharpening in this case is two passes of USM, the first at 50,3,4 and the second applied selectively just to the head and adjacent back but not rest of the image at a level of 30,5,4.
Output Sharpening is a light USM of 15,3,2 after downsizing to 1200 pixels image width.
I don't generally use Noise Reduction of any kind or at least never on my subject, sometimes on the background, but none was used here.
I did some quick and dirty rote contrast adjustment using the Auto-Contrast feature of LCH in Capture NX2, but I generally backed well off what Auto gave me to retain detail in the shadows. I forgot to apply S-curve to most of them - ah well always something can be done to go back and improve
Oftentimes I will do some D-lighting applied selectively to dark feathers, but not on these sets.
>Hi Steve, These are simply fantastic! Can you say how you >set focus? You've obviously 'nailed' it! I assume AF-S but >what were the other focus settings (e.g. area mode?, >3D-tracking?, auto area AF?, viewfinder view or LV?, etc.). >Did you lock forces with the AF button or with the shutter >release button? > >Sorry for all the questions but you've achieved some great >images and I'd love to learn just 'how'! > >Thanks, Joel
I use AF-C, 9-point dynamic as my standard setup and use viewfinder (phase detect) autofocus. I also use Long Len Technique when on tripod, which basically just means my left arm is outstretched and left hand is pressing down on the lens hood to dampen vibration. I'm using a gimbal not a ball head as reaction time must be very swift. I'm also generally trying to achieve a decent shutter speed even for non-flying birds (1/320 up to much preferably 1/800) - I'm a bit of a high shutter speed advocate because I see such a large difference in percentage of keepers in my own results if I can get the shutter speed up. For example I have a 20 or maybe it was even 30-shot burst of a different Golden-crowned Kinglet at 1/60 (sort of a hail-mary attempt) and had a 0.00% keeper rate Birds are always moving their heads and that of course is the one area that must be sharp on a bird photo!
I use the shutter button, but now that AF-ON implements VR, I may make some small inroads in using AF-ON, but I expect shutter will continue to be my standard way to engage AF. The reason is that I need my thumb to move the AF point, I am constantly moving the AF point to be placed exactly on the birds head. On those occasions where I want to lock focus I use the AF-ON button which is programmed to perform AE/AF-Lock instead, but this is rarely needed since I normally move the AF point to the birds head and using AF-C have no need to lock AF. In fact I generally don't want AF locked, I want the camera constantly to refocus with each movement however small by the bird. Because all of this is such low tolerance, I consider AF-fine tune a must. I will say that so far, the D4 AF is a step up for me coming from D700, 7000, 300. D4 just nails it, nails it, nails it all day long.
In my case I always use VR, even with high shutter speeds, and in this lens case I have to remember to switch it from tripod-mode VR to normal VR and back as the situation permits - I seem to forget this a lot! (but it doesn't have a large impact from what I can see when on tripod and when not well then I don't get as energetic a VR so I need to try and remember better)
Steve, most of the time you're likely shooting with a shutter speed of 1/500 or higher. Assuming that's true, I believe that VR isn't helping you, and actually in some cases, in can hurt your photograph.
It has recommendations regarding when to use the different focus modes and the number of "focus points" (9, 21, 51, and 3D). I found it useful along with an associated page regarding when NOT to use VR as one person mentioned.
Thanks again for your set up info - can't wait to try out your recommendations! Joel
Thinking of the 800/5.6, we have to remember that we would be able to use that with a TC too, now that the latest cameras can focus at f8! Mind you, it would certainly be a test of technique
I recently asked if the D4 and the 800mm would become the new birding combo, and mentioned that I thought the D400 was no longer that important. Many responded, and seemed to miss my point. Perhaps it was the way I worded my initial post.
Great shots. I have been, frankly, astonished by the speed and accuracy of the D4's autofocus for birding. It's been amazing for me. Even with my 500mm + 1.7x teleconverter, the focus is quick with no hunting, and is rarely not dead on. I'm using the center focus point for birding.
Thanks for your comments. Cropping is moderate on the big Pileated, medium on the rest, necessarily heavier on the smaller birds such as the Lazuli and Goldfinch. The Lazuli was a mistake on my part, at ISO 360 I should have mounted my D7000 for its cropping advantage. I had it around my neck with a body cap on it, so I should have thought it through more clearly and mounted the DX camera which has more pixel reach and at that moderate ISO has very good IQ.
I am still working out when to optimize by switching cameras. Intuitively if it is a larger bird and I can get adequately close, the D4 is my better option as it is just as pixel dense as my D7000. For those smaller target birds though, I think a DX camera is going to be my better option unless the light is terrible, otherwise I will need to crop the D4 too heavily. Action is probably best on the D4 too, but distance is a factor sometimes there too. That is why I would also like the D4 autofocus in a D400, which I feel the pixel density is bound to be more advantageous even than on a D800E. Hey, how about a D400E without optical low-pass filter while we are at it
Thank you for this great insite. I have upgraded from a D300s to a D4, missing the cropfactor but got a great low light camera in return.
As I'm using my 200-400mm as standard lens for birding, if needed with the 1,4 TC, the DOF creates a challenge if the birds do come close e.g. 10 ft, switching to f6.3-7.1-8.0 appetures slowing down the shutterspeed, so I have to bump up the ISO.