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How-to's

My Experience with the Nikon Z9 and Wildlife

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens)


Keywords: connie_cassinetto, adobe, topaz, denoise, editing, postprocessing, wildlife

I’ve been following the news, information, and forums on the Nikon Z9 with great interest since the camera was released for sale last December and here we are, a year later, and the talk is ongoing.  When this camera came out I had no intention of buying it as I had heard it was large and heavy.  My thought had been to figure out some way to decrease weight and bulk due to my age, everything seems to be getting heavier these days.  I mostly shoot wildlife and the equipment can be fairly heavy after handholding for long periods of time.  I do use a tripod if I know the subject will be stationary or easy to track, but that does not seem to occur often, and I like the fluidity of handholding and being able to move around to get my shot.   My resolve not to buy the camera lasted until the end of March.  I loved the mirrorless shots I was seeing from friends with Canon and Sony cameras and that got the best of me so, instead of jumping ship from Nikon (to Sony), I ordered the Z9.  Luckily, I got the camera within a month and I’ve been trying it out for the last year on various shoots.

The main reason I wanted the Z9 was because of its auto-focus system and the ability to track moving objects.  I really enjoy the challenge of photographing moving objects, primarily wildlife, and I was looking forward to getting a camera with an autofocus system that could lock on and follow a moving animal.  The Z9 focus system has proven to be a bit of a challenge to many of the people who have purchased it as the focus system is very different from the prior dSLR cameras.  The Z9 is a highly complex camera that is a computer that just happens to take great pictures.  Once I understood how the auto-focus system worked and got the hang of it the camera performed wonderfully and I was able to get shots of animals with the focus right on the eye, resulting in very sharp shots.  The autofocus system will follow the animal as it moves through the environment and the focus stays right right on the subject as it moves. The focus will stay on or near the eye, if set there, as long as the eye is apparent. I shot with the camera in Yellowstone in June and in Kenya, Africa, in August-September and in Bosque del Apache and another wildlife refuge in New Mexico in December.

In Yellowstone I did use the Auto-area AF area mode for a short period of time and the two images below show how the camera focused on the eye of the bear (unprocessed RAW image screenshots) and it tracked on the eye as the bear moved.  If an animal is large and the eye is apparent the Auto-area AF will lock on quickly and stay there, it may not be as quick or accurate if the animal is small or obscured in some way, perhaps by brush.  The Animal Tracking setting will focus first on the eye if it is apparent but also on the head or body if the eye is not apparent.  In this instance it was a perfect time to use the Auto-area AF.  It should be noted here that there are multiple other camera settings that need to be set to use the autofocus in tracking mode, not just choosing the type of auto focus mode to use. Most of the time in Africa I used Dynamic AF which is similar to what a dSLR camera has as an autofocus setting as I was comfortable with this type of setting and wanted to ensure I’d get focused shots for my three-week visit. I was uncertain, at that time, about how the camera focus system worked and did not want to test it out too much until I was more familiar with it.  

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3 comments

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on January 25, 2023

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Hi Dave and Will, thanks for your comments. As for Steve Perry, I follow the forum regularly and have shot with him multiple times. His e-books are very good and I, too, would recommend them to a new Z9 owner. I almost included that in the article, but chose not to so thanks for bringing him up. There are many other people, too, who have written and video information on the z9. I did find the information that Nikon put out very useful, there was a piece on shooting sports that can be applied to wildlife. In the end, though, simply shooting and experimenting is what needs to happen as there are multiple ways to set the many buttons available. I still need to experiment more with the auto, auto-focus on the camera as I was impressed by it but the rain has kept me in, I live in California.

Will Randall (WSR) on January 22, 2023

I have been shooting the D9 for over a year. Many shooters expect miracles from the Z9. This article very accurately explains what the focus system can and can not do. The photographer needs to use the camera as a tool and be familiar with what will work well and what will probably not work well when using the focus systems. A great article for new Z9 shooters!!

Dave Strong (Strodav) on January 19, 2023

Thanks for sharing. What helped me up the steep learning curve for the Z9 AF system is Steve Perry's EBook "The Ultimate Nikon Setup Guide".

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