Tag Archives: Nikon D800

Following on from my ‘personal learning notes’ from my Farne Island blog on wildlife photography technique I have some great conversation with Alan Hewitt from Hawkshead Photography. I thought I would update what I have learned.

Prior to my Farne workshop Alan had persuaded me to use my D800 instead of my D7000 which is my normal default for wildlife – of course I did rent a 200-400 f/4.0 which helped that decision. So this blog is the context of EXPEED 3 processing and the 51 point auto-focus. I was really impressed in the improvement with the D800 compared with my D7000 and have been tempted to switch to the D7100 as a consequence as it has the same auto focus and processing. However it seems the buffer on the D7100 is so pathetic if you use RAW you are lucky to get 3-4 sequential frames. I still don’t know what to do as at the moment a 200-400 f/4.0 is out of budget to buy and even renting for a few weeks is expensive and JPEG seems such a retrograde step – off to Africa again for 3 weeks in Nov/Dec this year. I dare say I will blog about this over the next months.

Auto focus update

The Farne’s highlighted that with rapid moving subjects setting up auto focus correctly and understanding the consequences of your settings is critical. In a previous post I asked myself several questions about wildlife photography and resolved:

  • Use single-point AF for “autofocus area mode”.
      • A new thing I have learned is that on the D800 if you click the centre button on the multi selector it reverts to the centre focus point (saving scrolling and time). Also the image size of the D800 enables cropping to give space to the front of the bird and reduce it behind.
      • Not all of the 51 focus points are equal there are two types – cross hatch and line points. The cross hatch points are central and are much more sensitive as these are 2D rather than a horizontal line (in landscape frame).
      • In addition not all focus points remain ‘designated’ as cross hatch, they ‘degrade’ to line points, depending on the Nikon AF lens (or combinations with a teleconvertor) you are using – this occurs were the widest aperture is between f/5.6 and f/8.0 (note: AF lens open the aperture as wide as possible whilst focussing regardless of any setting you have dialled in). The distribution of the points on the D800 can be seen below – see Nikon for more information.

    Nikon Focus Points D800

        • So understanding which focus points are cross hatch for the lens (or lens/ teleconvertor combination) is important so that by default you can use them rather than the line focus points. In other words use centre points and compose the image frame in post-processing.
  • Use AF-C for “autofocus mode”
  • For “a1 – AF-C priority selection” I have been using “Focus” on D7000 and “Release + Focus” on D800. Alan has been great in debating this and the following is how I am going to try in future:
    • On the D7000 and D800 use “Release” this is because it takes significant processing to get focus ‘lock’ and it means you cannot grab a reasonable frame rate – of course some shots will end up out of focus as time speeds by and the animal, or you, moves. I am comfortable with this for the D7000 but I am uncertain that “Release + Focus” is not a worthwhile compromise – going to try though!
    • To minimise the problem of having shots out of focus using “Release” it is important to separate the focusing action from the trigger action. This done by using “AF-ON” alone and disable focus on the trigger (“a4 – AF activation” set to OFF). This means the trigger button will not attempt to re-focus when you take a continuous shot sequence. You are reliant on your depth of field and AF-C tracking (given you keep your thumb on the AF-ON button) to ensure a series of shots are in focus. I am sure this needs loads of practice to get “rid” of years of learnt behaviour.
    • Using “AF-ON” as OFF is also meant to switch off VR which saves battery and I have found to be limited help if not handholding – the D800 and D4 firmware don’t do this at the moment (they should) so if you can remember turn it off – do so.

Flash Sync Speed

The D800 normal flash sync speed is 1/250s and I found this to be too slow when taking flash enhanced bird shots on the Farne’s.

Artic Tern on the attack in Farne Islands

However using “Custom Setting Menu > e1 Flash Sync Speed” it is possible to change this all the way to 1/8000s.

Choose “1/320s (Auto FP)” or “1/250s (Auto FP)” then use shutter-priority or manual modes to set the shutter speed to anything you want. When you set the shutter speed to faster than 1/250s the camera fires the flash in thousands of short pulses instead of one big flash. Obviously the faster the shutter speed the less power the flash can manage and you are dependent on the ambient light.

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It is said that persistence is one of the greatest attributes that a landscape photographer can posses. Having discovered yesterday that there was a cave to get past the point from Byer’s Hole (or The Wherry) that might give access into the bay at 2.1m over datum it seemed obvious to have another go if the weather forecast look good – which it did.

I got round the point at 0630 with 2.0m over datum hanging onto the cliff to steady myself and timing the waves – the last 2 meters involved bolder hoping to avoid going over my wellies. The cave was easy and I was on the beach with more water than I had seen before and off to the arch for 0739 sunrise. There was a dark cloud but a free horizon so a nice sunrise but no post glow as the sun then went ‘into’ the dark cloud.

Off Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn

Off Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn

Arch at Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn

Rangefinder at Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn

Arch at Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn

Arch at Lizard Point below Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn

By 0840 (low tide 1.0m over datum) I was at the point on the entrance to Byer’s Hole taking a photo Byers Hole-Prof Ian Purves-20130209-0840and met a nice local bloke who was heading off to winkle ‘harvest’ just past Lizard Point. I mentioned the tide and seemed to have no anxiety so we got talking – he regularly uses the cave then climbs the cliff – he also comes down this way! He also mentioned you can walk to Marsden Rock but once past Lizard Point the rocks get bigger and its a bit of a scramble – might have a go.

In post processing I noted some diffraction again – I have got into the bad habit of using f/16 in the dark as it gives more chance of getting foreground and horizon in focus plus it gives slower shutter – comparing one shot when I opened up to f/8 from f/16 and took the identical shot you can see the blurring.

Personal learning notes

I was using the D800 and Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2

  • Diffraction can be seen in the images over f/8.0 (especially f/16) – got to stop using apertures over f/8.0 unless I really need to
  • The Lee filters are great – whilst I can apply a grad filter in post processing you get some noise pulling the foreground – note the images with 18 point star on the sun (from Zeiss 21mm) this was missing with the Cokin filters.
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Slightly abstract title so no one will ever find it! I have been exploring photograph ‘design’ by which I mean composition, exposure, colour, contrast, sharpness/blur and capturing the ‘readers’ attention. I guess I am using ‘reading’ as I want to distinguish passive viewing of an image from participatory exploring of an image which potentially finds meaning. As you can imagine this could be a big post!

Single tree on snow field Northumberland-Prof Ian Purves-20130126-1136-3

To keep this focussed – how can you keep the image open enough so that it isn’t immediately obvious? So far techniques I have come across are:

  • Subject bursting beyond frame
  • Vectors heading outside of the frame
  • Movement trajectory outside of the frame
  • Gateway in/out of the frame
  • Cropping tight
  • Dark areas of contrast with ‘hints’
  • Metaphor
  • Questions not answers

This last one about ‘questions not answers’ comes from David Wards book ‘Landscape Beyond’ – in which he proposes that images that are questions invite us to explore. The other three sections in the book are on simplicity, a sense of mystery and beauty. Anyhow when the snow stopped and it is was likely that I could get the car somewhere (I really need to get a 4×4!) I thought I would step out yesterday. I had a conversation with my son Josh about simplicity in photographs, gave the example of a single tree on a hill and found some examples on Flickr. However I said I wasn’t aware of any local ones – he told me about the three trees near Black Callerton.

So here are a couple of images I took yesterday on a bright sunny cloudless day with fresh snow and a freezing wind. Despite the simplicity of the images there are things to explore and do leave me with questions that I have no answer.

Just had lunch and my favourite photographic critic, my wife, who said about the images “well there alright” and so asked what the blog was on, she responded “blimey your getting a bit up yourself!”. I think I better publish this and tidy the loft.

Single tree on snow field Northumberland-Prof Ian Purves-20130126-1137 Single tree on snow field Northumberland

Personal learning notes

I was using the D800 and Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2 trying to get the foreground and tree in focus I upped the f-stop higher than normal as an experiment.

  • Diffraction (in softening of the branches) can be seen in the images over f/8.0 (especially f/16)
  • It was bright so I left the tripod in the car; so I couldn’t use mirror up – I can see a bit of mirror slap in the f/5.6 images (again in the branches) – don’t be lazy!


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Well having spent what remained of December editing Namibia photos and then cooking for the rest I thought it was about time I got out! Inspired by a couple of photo’s in one of my Christmas Presents Joe Cornish’s book First Light, having checked a) the weather (good … possibly a little fog), b) sunrise (0832) c) angles in the The Photographers Ephemeris and d) tide tables (high tide – neaps @ 0751) it all looked perfect! I got up at 0545 for a 50 minute drive (top down) and set off for Embleton – pitch black when I got there so thankful for the head torch I set off on memory of the path … took a detour along the beach 😉

I had in my mind silhouetted menacing castle high above me with matching menacing cloud pointing towards the doom in the castle! I wanted to pull in some of the round (cannonball) basalt boulders (random link to Namibia) to add to the metaphor and was hoping for a golden glint on the rocks that Joe had found. Sunrise at Dunstanburgh Castle, NorthumberlandAs an aside my wife loves these blurred sea scenes so I set out to add them as much as possible – as it stands she is my only critic! … and the kids will tell you … criticism is one of her specialities (she’ll never read this) …

To being with it was very dark stuck with 30 sec and f/8.0 and shifted ISO up. Unfortunately I had forgotten my glasses so I couldn’t trust my assessment of the liveview on close focus so broke a rule and shifted to f/11.0 and guessed focus (using my Zeiss 21mm). The feelings I had hoped for where present … did I capture them? As the light arrived I stuck a ND8 filter on to keep the shutter slow. Simon Owens arrived he’d been South first and decided the North was a better option, its great to meet people on dark beaches 😉 He gave me a great idea for tomorrow … you can wait!

- 20130105 - 075459 - Prof Ian PurvesSo having processed the images I think I got there … except the golden light (it was red). Biggest problem in post processing was the white balance. Especially the ND8 effect it was a real challenge deciding how to pitch it … go with the Lightroom dropper (Temp: 20,000 and Tint +50) or stay darker and more blue/green … I did the later. Interestingly so did Simon.

Also the filters created a slight vignette … I have known for awhile I needed to change my Cokin set … what to do Lee or Hitech Pro?

There are more photo’s in the Northumberland gallery and one image I took a different white balance approach is below.

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Personal Learning Notes:

  • Explore colour balance when using ND filters
  • Decide which filter route to go down Lee or Hitech Pro

Click icons to see car park and site

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So for the first blog of 2013 lets go back to October 2012 – we were off to Namibia it was booked. I anticipated lots of great landscape photographs (boy did we find them) and whilst I had two D7000’s following the Botswana trip I was not really happy with my 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX NIKKOR plus I felt it was time to make a leap to full frame. The Nikon D800 was getting great reviews and holding the camera it felt great plus it didn’t have the D7000 left hand mode dial which I find is always changing when knocked (silly issue I know).

What to get with a D800?

Well I took a few test shots and then did some timings on the laptop for both load and Lightroom processing … and I bought a new Macbook Pro 15” Retina Display 2.6GHz with SSD and 16Gb RAM … on this machine one image takes 23 seconds into Lightroom through Ingestamatic onto the SSD and backed up to USB 3.0 external drive (this is the fastest procedure by x3!) … on the old machine (well specified Samsung 9 series) forget it. Also you don’t have wait a whole year to zoom in on an image in Lightroom to check on sharpness. Since I got back LR4.3 came out with Retina support.

The next was which wide angle lens so the choice seemed to be the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR (see Ken Rockwell) I was put off the 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR due to it’s lack of ability to put on filters (at least not without an expensive approach) and the weight. However at the time there was no stock in the UK and so I kept reading. I came across Lloyd Chambers site and walked into the Zeiss world. His reviews sold me on the Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZF.2 – a description from the Zeiss site …

The Distagon T* 2,8/21 is a super wide-angle lens and is the leader in its range. Thanks to its aperture of 2.8 and its non-reflecting and virtually distortion-free characteristics, it will help you create spectacular compositions full of variety, dramatic contrast and deep, vivid colours.

… it’s all true. Also I found Robert White their usual helpful self and got both the Zeiss and D800 from them in a few days.

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/5.6 1.0sec

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/5.6 1.0sec

Within a couple of days I was up early and off to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle then onto Hexham fireworks and then up early again for sunrise at Bamburgh Castle (see more images in the Northumberland Gallery).

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/8.0

Focal plane a touch back from infinity @ f/8.0

I was amazed. I also could not see any diffraction issues that Lloyd Chambers talks about (in more depth here), however I mostly used f/5.6 and occasionally used f/8.0 and f/11.0 – jumping ahead of myself – with more experience I have in general rarely stopped down more than f/8.0 and use f/5.6 especially if focus is 5m or more. Actually whilst discussing this I mostly focus on infinity and nudge it back so the edge of the ∞ is inside the Infrared mark at f/5.6 everything from just under 3m to infinity is in focus (plus at f/2.8 infinity is in focus – so always a safe spot). If I am looking for foreground focus I get my composition right and use liveview to focus then decide if I want infinity in focus – at 2m at f/11 it is – so it’s only under 2m there is any issue and to be honest it’s nice to have the background out of focus.

Focal plane 40cm @ f/2.8

Focal plane 40cm @ f/2.8

The manual focus felt a real backward step – it is not – it such a great feeling to be back in charge of focus and to think again. In addition I had forgotten what it felt like as these auto-focus lens have such small “throws” the Zeiss is so perfectly balanced you can easily focus down to 22cm (which is only about 3cm in front of the lens hood).

So back to the timeline, I took over 1,200 landscape images with the Zeiss 21 and D800 in Namibia the percentage wastage was staggering small at 5% compared to 50% on wildlife using AF.

What are the highlights of the Zeiss Distagon 21mm and D800 combination?

  • It is a very easy combination to use in the field you can “feel” where you are with focus even if your eyesight is declining (though I need liveview for foreground focus)
  • The micro-contrast and colours are amazing
  • The lens is so sharp
  • The moustache distortion is visible, but rarely meaningful in a distracting way, and it can be removed easily in Lightroom but I don’t remove it! I used to with the Nikon 16-85 but the image doesn’t feel as good to me – I think the micro-contrast is disturbed by the algorithm?
Uncorrected distortion (Image A)

Uncorrected distortion (Image A)

Corrected distortion (Image B)

Corrected distortion (Image B)

I would be surprised if you can see much distortion (until you flick between them on the lightbox) it was the worse image I could find and needs a human artefact – however you can how see the effect of Lightroom’s correction if you look closely at the foreground plus the nice vignette goes
  • I really like the natural vignette at f/2.8 plus also the colour seems somehow a little richer
  • I have mostly stopped using graduated ND filters – what? – yup 14 stops of contrast in the D800 (i.e. local contrast/tonal differentiation) means that you can pull and push with minimal noise. Of course it’s nice to Expose to the Right (ETTR) to ensure you can pull without noise – of interest the “blinkie’s” on the D800 do exaggerate a little and can be pushed – but don’t rely on it and blame me 😉
RAW Unadjusted (Image C)

RAW Unadjusted (Image C)

Adjusted (Image D)

Adjusted (Image D)

Adjustment to RAW: Graduated filter (with Highlight -60) then global Curves; Highlight -60; Shadows +60; Sharpening +60; Contrast +8; Clarity +12 – very slight noise can seen in the sky which can corrected with Luminance smoothing +24


What are the lowlights of the Zeiss Distagon 21mm and D800 combination?

  • 21mm is a big field of view and in Namibia I felt I occasionally needed something between my AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G and the 21mm (Oooo that’ll be the Distagon T* 2/35 … the f/1.4 is massive) but overall with 36Megapixels you can also crop!
  • The price was double the AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR

You might wish to see my other blogs on Namibia, my blog on Safari photography and my galleries African wildlife plus importantly Namibian Landscapes.

Current Zeiss 21mm photos on my flickr

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2012 has seen me in Africa for 5 weeks in 2 trips – I had no Safari photography experience and so spent a lot of time researching what was needed before the first trip. The best article I found was Digital Safari Equipment Tips by Nathan Myhrvold and to be honest you need to read it as I am not going to do such a comprehensive job. However Nathan wrote this in 2007 so there are some issues due to the 5 years from a technology perspective plus I have taken a different approach in certain issues. After taking 15,000 photos (selected photos in gallery), in two trips and created 2 books I’d like to share my thoughts.

The keys issues in order of importance are:

  • Camera support
  • Autofocus speed and ability (less frame per second)
  • Dust
  • Reach – What Safari lens (and camera sensor size)
  • Shutter speed and Auto ISO
  • Backup and power

Note: I photograph in RAW and so should you. I use Lightroom … and so should you. Otherwise you are going to think about a whole host of other issues that I am not going to discuss.

The Safari Day

We spent our first trip in Botswana mostly on Concessions and then sometime in Chobe national park our experiences are similar to Nathan. On the second trip we drove ourselves in a Landrover Defender around Namibia; in which you can make your own day – it is cool being able to spend many hours by one water hole, often on your own, you see much more (I might do a blog one of these days). When driving yourself you initially miss the Safari vehicles openness and the skills of the guides to get your photo position right (where the animal will go next – get The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals, how to get level with the animals eyes, avoiding those mid ground bits of grass that mess up focus and the sun/shade).

Camera Support and Workflow

This critical! The vehicles are all different (some discussion coming) and the size and weight of your lens is important. Briefly jumping ahead, I did not use a large prime, I used a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and occasionally with x2 convertor, this works (see later), so I did not follow the gimbal head advice. I believe my approach would work with a large prime but I have not tested it at length – the guys at Robert White where fantastic and say the birding chaps use the method I will describe. All cameras had a Really Right Stuff L-Plate and I changed the 70-200 foot plate to a Really Right Stuff.

In general there are three safari vehicle types:

  • Self-drive 4×4 (we used Safari Drive – recommended)
  • Southern African open vehicles (in my experience these are in use in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, I understand it is also true of South Africa and Zimbabwe)
  • Northern African closed vehicles with opening roof

You need an easy fluid workflow, during which you don’t strain yourself, that lets you rest the lens/camera with a dust cover (I use a micro-fibre towel) and quickly gets you in position for the shots.

Self-drive 4×4 are easily addressed. You cannot get out of your vehicle so you have to reach to the back seat for the camera and bean bag. Yup you have to rest the bag on the half  Landrover Defenderraised glass. They do actually stay on even in rough terrain but the beans shake down and eventually the lens ends up on the glass. If you’re driving getting your vehicle position right is critical – then switch the engine off – I learnt this the hard way, you cannot get tack sharp pictures with the engine on – also if you have to move the 4×4 it draws attention to yourself. The monopod method (see next) is also OK in a Defender however there is too much manipulation and you end up hitting your partner with the monopod. Namibia Day 3I used a Stealth Gear Double Bean Bag from Wex couldn’t fault it. I used Haricot beans and took all the 500g bags the “supermarket” had in Windhoek, which was x5, I tried this in the car park but it was not enough so got x2 500g bags of another bean and really could have got another one in it.



Southern African open vehicles are great; the Concessions have no canvas roof but the parks do. You cannot use a bean bag. I was really tempted with the Really Right Stuff Andy Biggs setup – however in the end I felt it was a lot to spend so I made my own approach. I - 20120808 - 105805 - Ian Purvesused a carbon fibre monopod with twist grips (VANGUARD Elite CP-324 4-Section Carbon Fibre Monopod 167cm), with an Arca Swiss Monoball Ball and Socket Z1 sp with quickset device and took two ways of attaching the monopod to the vehicle;



  • Manfrotto Double Super Clamp from Camulet
  • Old bike inner tube cut in half without the valve

Both attachment methods worked brilliantly however the vibrations and dust are significant. Your camera cannot stay on the ballhead. I stopped using them quickly – you do not need them. The monopod is great without ridged attachment if you set the ball head such that the friction is such it will bend 60-70 degree the lens rests on your thighs (with towel or fleece hatcovering it) when not in use. The camera/lens can be up and straight AND level in a flash. On the Arca Swiss quickset I marked with inedible white pen the balance points for lens with and without convertor. I tested this briefly with a 500mm f4 and it worked great … except (see later).

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Northern African closed vehicles with opening roof it would seem a bean bag is the approach but I have no experience.

Autofocus speed and ability (less frame per second)

Wildlife photograph revolves around getting a tack sharp image of the nearest eye of the subject animal. This seems to be one of those rare unbreakable photography rules – where I have failed the image just isn’t “right”. So my focus approach is obviously auto focus with;

  • AF-C priority selection: Focus (D800 will do Release + Focus)
  • AF-S priority selection: Focus
  • Focus mode: Auto-Servo AF
  • Autofocus area mode: Single-point AF (should I trust Auto-area AF – see Nasim Mansurov)
  • Autofocus mode: AF-A (perhaps I should use AF-C – see Ken Rockwell)
  • Release mode: 4 fps

Animal movements and blinking necessitate taking a few frames per second to avoid disappointment however my observation is that if you go faster than 4 fps you just end up with more out of focus shots. Perhaps “Autofocus mode: AF-A” doesn’t flip to AF-C accurately enough? Once locked you are reliant on the camera/lens focus ability. In modern lens this is a camera issue. Also note that many cameras have a f/5.6 limit when used with convertor. The new D800 and D4 have a f/8 limit.

So what I am saying is that having a camera with leading auto focus ability is more important than frames per second. I noticed a big difference between my D7000’s and D800, although the D7000 is still pretty good. One area where both camera’s are similar is buffer capacity which is around 11 frames for the D7000 and 16 for the D800 – this another reason to keep fps down as the action, whilst possibly frenetic with a kill, lasts longer than a 2-3 seconds. You need a D4 or D3s if you are serious but in 5 weeks I possibly missed a few nice frames on four occasions and in three of the four I got some good ones, in one I missed the keys shots of the action.


Boy there is a lot of dust. To minimise the effect:

  • Take 2 bodies and have different reach between them to save any lens swapping
  • Take a pillow case for adding converters and keep the pillow case in plastic zip lock bag (in fact keep everything in plastic zip lock bags)
  • Cover your lens when it’s not in use (I use a micro-fibre towel … light brown). Before you cover it check for dust and finger prints on filter (no good checking just before you shoot as you’ll forget or miss the shot)

You still end up with dust so I carry;

  • Nikon Micro-fibre small cloths with lens fluid
  • Nikon Lens Pen
  • Giottos GTAA1900 Rocket Air Blower (hardly used successfully I wonder if canned air spray might be better?)
  • Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly 724 Brite (this occasionally smears dust so I use the swabs below)
  • Visible Dust 1.0x (for D800) and 1.6x (for D7000) Sensor Cleaning Kit (Vdust Solution and 4 Orange Swabs) – the instructions are not great so read up on their website before you go and keep the fluid to absolute minimum … don’t panic when it smears … it evaporates and use swab which is drying by then to remove any visible smear

Reach – What Safari lens (and camera sensor size)

I am just going to discuss Animal rather than Landscape (I mostly use a Zeiss 21mm Distagon T* f/2.8 for Landscape – look for later posts [addition: here it is]).

When I went on my first trip I spent ages reading and worrying what to do. At the time I had a Nikon D7000 which most people say is a perfect camera for Safari as it has decent focus ability, good high ISO capabilities, 16 Megapixels, good frame per second at 6 and DX frame giving x1.5 multiple on focal length of lens. Of course the multiple is a bit artificial especially if you have a FX with 36 megapixels (more of later). The D7000 is affordable, so I bought a second body and started worrying about the lens.

The options seemed to be

  • AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II with TC-20E III Teleconverter
  • 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S NIKKOR with TC-20E III Teleconverter
  • 500mm f/4D ED-IF AF-S II NIKKOR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 200-400MM F/4G ED VR II

The 70-200 is the only affordable one but the others can be easily hired with insurance for Africa. On the first trip we had limited luggage with 20kg on the small plane transfers. However in the end I had 10Kg clothes and 13Kg of cameras and we were never asked about luggage at all. Plus I read that with the concession you get really close and so a large lens is not needed? Anyhow the D7000 with 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II with TC-20E III Teleconverter has a theoretical reach of 600mm and so that is what I took. Generally the other D7000 had a 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX NIKKOR on.

In summary, apart from birds, it has been perfect and I would recommend the combination. The concessions are great – I have been 2.5 m from lions eating a Zebra they have just killed. In the parks you just don’t see what you’re missing but in Chobe you can drive by the river where most things happen (at least in dry months).

For Namibia I was more interested in Landscape and as mentioned I bought a D800 and a Zeiss 21mm. I only got these a couple of weeks before we went and so I stuck with my D7000 70-200 combo for wildlife and used the D800 with a AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G as backup for a bit of breadth or close-by animals.

Looking through the images on getting back I wonder if the D800 might have been a better option!?

  • The noise in higher ISO’s is radically better than the D7000 (which I thought to be superb)Namibia
  • The D800 has 14 stops of contrast … you can push and pull image in Lightroom amazingly
  • 4 fps isn’t that slow especially as the focus seems so much better on the D800
  • You can put the D800 into 16 megapixels DX mode … but then you can crop 36 megapixel image to DX frame with 16 megapixels …
  • D800 can manage focussing at f/8.0 so you could teleconvert a rented 500mm f/4.0 with a TC-20E III Teleconverter

Anyhow that’s another trip?

I met people with both the 300mm and 500mm both are beasts especially the 500mm. I feel that the shipping issues, the workflow problems, the back/shoulder strain issues and support problems really mean you have to be a pro that goes down the gym to use these lenses. The exception is birds – I have some nice shots but very few great shots. However does the bigger reach solve the problem? I suspect general Safari is not the ideal approach to birds and you need to go on a dedicated birding Safari and spend more time/technique getting nearer the skittish sharp eyed little buggers.

Shutter speed and Auto ISO

To get tack sharp images you need to use a high shutter speed with long reach lens, same number or higher (e.g. 200mm with 1/250s, 400mm with 1/500s).

At f/2.8 at 200mm with the subject 20m away you have only 50cm front and back depth of field (DoF), at f/5.6 about 1m as the distance drops say 10m it is f/2.8 – 14cm; f/5.6 – 25cm so you might need f/8.0 – 40cm to get a whole animal in focus.

I leave the camera in Aperture Priority and have Auto ISO on with max ISO 3,200 and lowest shutter speed of 1/500s (on the D800 it adapts to the lens which is great!) you have to keep a close eye on the ISO and always roll back to f/2.8 to get the least noisy image. It perhaps acceptable in the golden hours to have a slightly noisy image but daft using f/8.0 on a small animal at noon especially if the ISO goes over 800 on the D7000 (the D800 looks amazing at 3,200). This is the commonest mistake I made – forgetting to roll back to f/2.8 (or f/5.6 with TC). The other problem is knocking the mode dial on the D7000 from “A” to something else, say “S” and not noticing for several, critical, shots.

Backup and power

For backup I took a laptop (fast MacBook Pro with Retina display and 500Mb SSD) with two rugged USB 3.0 1TB drives. I used Ingestamatic to download to the MBP SSD and simultaneous backup to one of the external drives and then autoloaded into Lightroom 4.0. I used Ingestamatic because of better file labelling, GPS linkage but mostly x3 faster upload from the SD card than just using Lightroom. If had time I would pick and reject images in Lightroom and once done I would synchronise my Lightroom directory with the second harddrive using ChronoSync.

In lodges and camps they will have 240v some of the time (in the lodge not your room) and they are usually have UK or South Africa sockets. I took a power surge protected UK four block with a South African convertor and had no problems – except I only took one each of the required leads and I lost my USB to Mini USB cable and thus GPS Tracker on the first trip (second trip I duplicated all cables). I also took a double battery charger which was 240v/12v for my EN-EL15’s and had four batteries. This was a Pearstone Duo Battery Charger for Nikon EN-EL15 from B&H in the USA and cost a lot for shipping; I saw something similar in Camulet recently.

On the self-drive it was whole new can of worms. The Defender had a fridge and so a second battery but this was linked to the main starter battery! It only had one cigar lighter that was linked to the starter battery. So I rigged an extra fours sockets using:

  • TRIXES Car Battery Clip-on Snap-on Cigarette Lighter Socket Adaptor 12v for Cars, Caravan, lorry and Camping
  • Ring Automotive RMS4 Quadruple Multi-Socket Complete with Battery Analyser

I stuck an inline 10A fuse on the clip on and took spare fuses. I also took slow blow 8A 32mm glass fuses for the items with these in the male cigar adapter. We blew x2 10A fuses and x5 8A fuses in three weeks!

I also took a 100Wh Hyperjuice for 12v charging of the MBP both in the Landy with engine running and when the engine was not on. 85W is like leaving your headlights on and the MBP take 5 hour for a full charge. The Hyperjuice was brilliant and also had USB output as well.

As a backup I had a 100w invertor with UK socket which I never used but I lent it out to others.

Things I still need to learn and practice

Whilst I have some amazing tack sharp images …

Personal Learning Notes:

  • I need to try using other auto-focus settings (especially ‘Autofocus area mode’ and ‘Autofocus mode’) and experiment
  • I suspect a local birding spot would be the ideal as they are by far the hardest animals to capture.
  • And whilst I am at it perhaps I should practice approaching birds having reviewed this posting.
  • Have I got the right lens combination or should I hire something bigger?

Update 18 Jan 2013: See Wildlife photography technique post

Further update on autofocusing 01 Aug 2013 see blog

Gear List

This has got a big post … if you’re interested ask.

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