Photographic Weight-loss Program

Photographic Weight-loss Program

April 27, 2018 ~ Maybe you remember I sold off my old Sony equipment to get a new Nikon 300 f/4E PF ED VR lens. I needed (oh boy, First World Problem, I know!) an intermediate range lens since sometimes the Nikon 500 f/4 is just too much, especially with the Nikon 1.4x teleconverter (700 mm). I love the reach, clarity and huge sensor of my set up, but the weight is a lot for hand-holding and prolonged birds-in-flight work. This is an addition to my equipment, not a replacement. The new Nikon 300 f/4 PF will give me 420 mm with the 1.4x teleconverter which is a lot of reach in a lightweight package.

OK, too much math, let's see some photos!

We headed to Texas City Dike on a (free) Monday for the first trip out. I had used Bill Maroldo's 300 f/4 PF a few times, but this was with my own. And my 1.4x teleconverter. Since we were concentrating on birds-in-flight (BIF) I was using the dynamic 9-spot focus mode. 

Oystercatcher making a small jump
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/3200 sec f/7.1 ISO 800; hand-held

As usual, the weathermen lied about cloud cover and the light was horrible. Way too bright and since the water was muddy brown everything just looked too warm. Like a 1950s movie. This American Oystercatcher was making short hops along the rocks at the barriers. I have always had trouble catching them in flight. They aren't particularly fast but moving the 500 f/4 (either hand-held or tripod mounted) for their quick takeoffs and landings has been challenging. I got a nice series of 7 shots off as he moved about 20 feet in front of me. And all were in focus! I liked the wing position on this one, and the head angle is acceptable. It would have been nicer if it was turned just a bit more toward me; a lot of times you just get their backside as they jump.

Laughing Gull checking me out
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/3200 sec f/7.1 ISO 500; hand-held

We found a puddle full of Skimmers, Sandwich Terns, Willets, little peeps and of course Laughing Gulls. This guy was coming straight at me and flew over my head. No way I could have kept focus with the 9 lb-plus rig this close and this fast. I mean, the image above is still 27 MP after cropping the 36 MP original. 

I was really liking my new toy. 

Sandwich Tern san fish
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/3200 sec f/7.1 ISO 800; hand-held

Sandwich Terns were flying overhead, often with courting fish. I have gotten terns before but when they were at a distance and flying across my field of view. I don't think I have gotten one overhead before. 420 mm is plenty reach when the birds are this close.

New rig weighs a bit more that 3.6 lbs with the teleconverter and a battery. As Bill Maroldo said "It feels like cheating". 

Brown Pelican full stretch sailing on the wind
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; hand-held

We had decided to leave and try Resoft Park since the light was so bright at the dike. But there was a lot of activity off to our right from the breakers we wanted to check out. At the very end of the dike we could see about two dozen Brown Pelicans diving in the deeper water. We drove down to the end and climbed up on the rocks.

They were flying toward us...

And tilt and to dive... 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; hand-held

And then turning to dive. No way I could have gotten these shots with the 500 f/4. That would have been maneuvering the 9 lb-plus rig for half-hour. The new setup was so easy to hand-hold and the hardest part was deciding which pelican to follow. 

What a pose!
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; hand-held

Sometimes they got in really strange positions. I think the 420 mm reach is just right for this close distance. I didn't have to worry about clipping wings or missing part of the bird. Of course, Brown Pelicans do fly really slow on a predictable path, but they pick up a lot of speed when they dive.

Just before splash
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; hand-held

And this is how they hit the water...

Double pelican pleasure
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2500
 sec f/7.1 ISO 640; hand-held

Often more than one crowded into the frame. Like I said, the light was much too bright for my liking but it was still over my shoulder and the shadows on the pelicans aren't too bad. At least the ones I chose to show you. If this had been an overcast day, I would have stayed until my cards and batteries ran out. 

Cattle Egret in breeding colors
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000; hand-held

We did go on over to Resoft Park on the way home. If you haven't been there are several islands with nesting Cattle Egrets, Snowy Egrets, some Little Blues, a few Great Egerts and Roseate Spoonbills. I did see a Black-crowned Night Heron back in the foliage.  

Hope she likes this one! 
Nikon D810 with NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR + Nikon 1.4x TC ~ 1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 2000; hand-held

The rookery is not as big or open as High Island, but you can get some nice shots of birds bringing in sticks for the nests. The last pier on your left as your drive up is the closest to an active rookery island and we found lots of birds coming in over the foot bridge with sticks and nesting material. From somewhere a few clouds showed up so these were shot at a higher ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed.

You can read more about the 300 f/4 PF lens here. This lightweight lens has a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens element with an Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass element to produce a reduced size lens. There are some weird lens flare issues, but I don't see that as a problem with avian photography. Nikon Rumors had a story last week that Nikon is working on a Phase Fresnel 600 mm f/5.6 lens that might come out this year. It will be considerably lighter and cheaper than the 8-lb plus 600 mm f/4 version. Technology is always changing:  either bigger/smaller, cheaper/more expensive, simpler/more complex . But you know that already. 

How are you doing for gear? Do you have anything on your Wish List? What about this 1.6 lb 300 f/4 PF lens  on a Nikon D500 cropped camera?  That would give you 450 mm and only about 3.5 lbs? And 10 fps? And you could add a teleconveter.  Hmmm... Let me know what you are pining for in the comments below. 

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