The Nikon Z 6, Z 7, & Z 50 mirrorless cameras bring most of the power and sophistication of recent Nikon DSLR’s to more compact packages. Add to this the innovative Nikkor 500/5.6 PF telephoto lens, and one has a very attractive wildlife photography combination that is lighter and more manageable than one based on traditional DSLR’s and telephotos. In this brief article I describe and illustrate my experience using the combination of a Z 7 and the 500/5.6 PF to document birds and other wildlife of the northwest coast of Costa Rica. This is not intended as a comprehensive review of either the camera or the lens, but hopefully it will serve to give the reader a feel for the capabilities of the combination when used in bird photography.
I should state up front that I am not a traditional birder (no life list, etc.), and am only modestly experienced with bird photography. My previous efforts involved either a D700 or D800E DSLR and a Nikkor 300/2.8 G telephoto, all excellent pieces of equipment, but not ideal for bird photography due to the rather short focal length of the lens. On occasion a TE 1.4 II teleconverter was used to produce an effective 420 mm focal length at f/4; this worked well. Some of the time I used a Wimberly gimbal on a sturdy tripod, other times I shot from a car. These combinations, however, were heavy and not terribly portable, and the 300mm focal length was limiting except for large or very nearby birds. They were awkward and frankly difficult to use hand-held. Nonetheless, in the right circumstances they could produce excellent results. Figures 1 & 2 show two examples from these setups, the first using the D700 on the gimbal and the latter using the D800E hand-held from inside a car.
A group of Sandhill Cranes in the early morning in the Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, taken with a D700 and a 300/2.8 G telephoto on a Wimberley gimbal at f/2.8, 1/3200 s, ISO 3200.
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An Osprey with its meal, taken near Davis, CA, with a D800E and a 300/2.8 G telephoto, hand-held, at f/5.6, 1/1250 s, ISO 200.
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As I grew older, the weight and bulk of these combinations became too much for comfort. Thus I sold the D800E and my 24-70/2.8 G lens and replaced them with a Z 7, a 24-70/4S zoom, and a FTZ adapter. I chose the Z 7 over upgrading to a D850 because the former is significantly smaller and lighter while they have equivalent image quality and resolution. I then ordered the innovative new Nikkor F 500/5.6 PF (Phase Fresnel) telephoto, and after a seven month wait it arrived just in time for a long-planned trip to Costa Rica during the last week of February 2020.
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