Going to the Dark Side

Dec 29, 2016 ~ Sometimes adventures are totally spontaneous and unexpected. Recently Bill Maroldo bought the new Sony A99II full frame camera for wide-angle shooting. But, then he wanted to use it with his Sony 500mm f/4 lens for birding. That is the lens I had been using since he got his Nikon rig about a year ago. Sigh.... well, it is HIS lens so I had to give it over and rely on my Sony 70-400 mm lens for own photography. It is an excellent lens and sometimes more versatile than the monster 500mm prime lens. I was doing OK with the change...  until he offered to let me use his Nikon D810 with the Nikkor 600mm lens plus 1.4x TC. Just to see how I liked it since it was just sitting there...

The Nikon has an optical viewfinder (OVF) while the Sony A77II I have been shooting has an electronic viewfinder (EVF), The Sony shows you how your image will look in the viewfinder as you adjust the shutter speed and/or ISO settings. It is enormously helpful and is similar to having Live View in the viewfinder instead of on the LCD monitor. Here is a link to a discussion of the differences in OVF and EVF. I was skeptical about that change but I found the YUGE Nikon optical viewfinder is especially bright and really nice. It is stabilized and I was immediately impressed, plus the camera auto-focuses much faster than my Sony. A LOT faster.

The camera's buttons and dials are slightly rearranged but I figured out the important ones fairly quickly. The day was bright overcast so I didn't really have to change the settings much.

Crested Caracara with nesting materials Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 f/7.1 sec ISO 640

Crested Caracara with nesting materials
Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 f/7.1 sec ISO 640

We spotted a Crested Caracara on the ground near La Fitte's Cove in Galveston. After we turned around and parked on the shoulder facing the wrong way (!) it was apparent the bird was collecting nesting materials! He was on a slight grassy incline, and I was bracing the Nikon rig on a rice bag on the hood of the truck, and trying to remember not to step backwards into the traffic. The D810 has a 36mp sensor; the viewfinder image is so large I could move the focus point right over his EYE. The A77II has a 24mp sensor and the focus point is movable as well, but depending on the size and distance to the bird, the chest is sometimes an easier target.

So, I am keeping up with his stroll across the lawn and then he started to fly.... 

Crested Caracara in search of a nest Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~  1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 640

Crested Caracara in search of a nest
Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~  1/2000 sec
f/7.1 ISO 640

Even braced on the truck I was able to maneuver the rig up and keep the bird in focus, something that has usually eluded me with the Sony A77II and Sony 500mm lens. The Sony set-up just doesn't focus as quickly as the Nikon. Yes, Sony has a lock-on focus, but you have to FIND the bird first. It is most useful on a BIF against the plain sky - so that it doesn't get confused by waving grass or branches. The Nikon 600mm weighs 8.4 lbs and the Sony 500mm weighs 7.63 lbs, but the balance is completely different. I found I am much better at hand-holding the Nikon rig. The big photo at the top of this post was the next image after this one. Yes, the wing is clipped but it is a good shot none the less. Pretty good for some of my first shots!

Osprey with big fish (click to embiggen)
Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~  1/2000 sec
f/7.1 ISO 640

And I got another chance with this Osprey (and fish) on 8 1/2 Mile Rd in Galveston. He was perched on a pole near the road and facing away from us. As we got closer, he bolted. I managed to keep up with him for five shots and all five were in focus. Yes, the camera/lens is heavy to hand-hold but the focus is so much quicker; I am not wasting time hunting for the bird in the sky. And success breeds more success: once you get a good shot, you can keep clicking.

Unusually cooperative Eastern Phoebe Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4c TC ~  1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 640

Unusually cooperative Eastern Phoebe
Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4c TC ~  1/2000 sec f/7.1 ISO 640

I got at chance to try it on a small bird, this Eastern Phoebe perched on a fence row along Settegast Rd in Galveston. This image is a 8 mp crop out of the 36 mp original image. You have so much more real estate!

Young Great Blue Heron Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~  1/1600 sec f/8.0 ISO 640

Young Great Blue Heron
Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~  1/1600 sec
f/8.0 ISO 640

Now, this Great Blue Heron is hardly a contest since he was standing so still, but the feather detail is excellent. This young guy was hanging around a boat ramp in Surfside. Oh, we found the most amazing abandoned truck near that location I am going to write up and share soon.

Dark Hawk Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~  1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

Dark Hawk
Nikon D810 with Nikkor 600mm f/4 FL ED+ Nikon 1.4x TC ~  1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 1000

And headed home we spotted this hawk hiding at the top of a utility pole, necessitating another U-turn but at least this time we were parked legally. I took this braced between the door and truck body. He kept looking over his shoulder at us, and flew off after 13 shots. He was flying away from us and so I didn't try for any inflight shots. As far as an ID, I just don't know. Hawks have a lot of color variation, and we didn't see his chest or tail. Could even be a female Northern Harrier, but we didn't notice a white rump.

I used Bill's Nikon set up for the first time and took 121 images, with at least 10 pretty good keepers. I got several good images of each bird we saw except a White-tailed Kite. For that one the shadows were bad, it was too far away and the images were just mediocre. What I did notice is with the BIF shots, each photo in the series was in focus. With the slower focusing Sony and 500mm lens, I never had that kind of consistency. Or ease of shooting. Plus, I know the Nikon can handle higher ISOs than my Sony A77II as I have sat in the truck watching Bill take good photos at dusk using ISO 3200.

So... all the way home we discussed the possibility of me moving over to Nikon. I have two Sony A77IIs, a Sony 70-400 G2 lens, a really nice Sony 18-50mm lens and then a Sigma wide angle that I have never really used much. I would definitely want to keep one of the Sonys as a backup camera. Nikon is a serious investment as their equipment is generally more expensive than Sony or Canon. But I really, really liked shooting that D810. We talked about a Nikon cropped camera, such as the very popular D500, but I wanted more than 20mp (you can't successfully crop much from that size image) and of course I would have to buy a telephoto lens. Personally, I have never been too impressed with third-party lenses and I was beginning to feel this was a case of Go Big or Go Home. After thinking about it all night I placed an order to B&H the next morning. Lucky me, they were having a Holiday Sale and I got some freebies.

Quick phone photo of my late Christmas present!

Quick phone photo of my late Christmas present!

All of it arrived quickly; free one day shipping! That is my new Nikkor 500 mm f/4E FL ED VR lens (a bit lighter at 6.81 lbs than the 600mm Bill has), the D810 and 1.4x teleconverter. The deal B&H has (hurry, just til the end of the month) included a vertical battery grip and some cards and batteries and even a backpack.

What a way to wind up the year! Next week I hope to have a bunch of new photos to show you taken with my new gear. Who else out there shoots Nikon? Who wants to go over to the dark side and join the Nikon shooters? Let me know in the comments below. And lets make a lot of great photos in the New Year!

Nikon New Year

Nikon New Year

Shipwreck at Surfside

Shipwreck at Surfside