Bird Photography with the Z6 and firmware 2.0

Started Jun 1, 2019 | Discussions thread
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ericbowles Senior Member • Posts: 1,432
Bird Photography with the Z6 and firmware 2.0

I just returned from nearly a week at and around Cape May.  I arrived May 16 - just in time to use the new firmware update for bird photos.   Cape May is one of the top 10 birding locations in North America.  I was leading a group part of the time, but did have a chance to shoot more than 4000 images with the Z6.  The high was 1714 images in one day on a single battery charge.

I previously had tested the Z6 with sandhill cranes and found the AF equivalent to the D810 - good but not as good as the D850 and D500 with a weakness in that Wide Modes did not support Closest Subject Priority properly

After the firmware update, I'd rate the Z6 AF performance as good or better than the D850 for fast moving subjects.  I had a D850 as a backup camera and tested it side by side for a little while, but I never had a reason to choose the D850 over the Z6 because of performance.  I prefer the Z6 and the EVF.

While a bit distant and cropped, terns in flight made a good, repeatable subject to test  the Z6 with teh Nikon 200-500.

My normal choice for birds in flight are the Wide AF modes. To the extent possible, I use Wide-Small, but will move to Wide Large if the bird is hard ot keep in the frame. The reason is Wide modes now incorporate closest subject priority - so as long as there is no obstruction, the subject has a very good chance of being in focus.

This was the kind of shot where Wide AF modes really worked - almost always picking up and maintianing focus on fast moving gulls.

On the ground, I use Wide Small some of the time, but also use Dynamic. Dynamic has a little bit of emphasis on closest subject, but really is useful because it is more precise. Wide modes often pick up the foreground or a nearby stick or pile of debris. Using Dynamic still lets me have a chance to track some motion - such as walking on the ground. The capture rate gets pretty low when they start to fly but it is still possible.

This yellow crowned night heron was at a rookery and easily photographed.  The preening behavior was a matter of timing.  This was using the Z6, 200-500, and 1.4 teleconverter.  The combination worked very well in good light - even for birds in flight.

Here is where Wide AF struggled.  For a few frames, the closest subject priority picked up the grasses in fornt of the bird.  But with Wide Small I was able to acquire focus eventually.  That's not the cameras fault - you just have to make choices.

For flocks the Wide Small and Large modes work well. I never once picked up the background while photographing a flock in flight. I prefer Wide Large, but Wide Small was fine.

Flocks are easy - but regardless of the size of the flock, I want focus on the birds nearer the camera.  The Z6 never missed by picking up the back of the flock, or the background.

I'm always using AFC for wildlife unless I have a perched subject with time to use Pinpoint AF and AFS.

I used the Z6 with the 105 f/2.8 macro to photgrpah some of the banding and research by New Jersey Fish and Wildlife.  They were banding red knots and ruddy turnstones.

I program my FN1 button to zoom to 50% and use it both before and after pressing the shutter release.

I used the 600 f/4 AFS VR, 200-500 f/5.6 with and without the TC14E III teleconverter, and the 300 f/4 AFS with the TC14E II teleconverter. All combinations worked for birds in flight - even the 200-500 + TC.

One of the area beaches had a nice group of oystercatchers and snowy plovers.  This was with the 200-500 and Z6 on a monopod in moderately overcast conditions.  I kept ISO levels below 1600, and noise was never a problem.

Overall it was a great week and the Z6 certainly exceeded expectations.  I have no reservations at all about using the Z6 for birds in flight or similar action.

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Eric Bowles

 ericbowles's gear list:ericbowles's gear list
Nikon 1 V1 Nikon D800E Nikon D850 Nikon Z6 Nikon Z50 +27 more
Nikon D850 Nikon Z6
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