Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Natural History Museum - 22 Jul 2016

Today's temps are supposed to reach 100+ degrees fahrenheit, and its supposed to be this hot for the next week. I decided to take the Metro to the Smithsonian and visit the Natural History Museum here in Washington, DC. The Hall of Mammals was impressive, as were the Mineral and Gemstone Galleries and the Iceland Revealed Exhibit.

My favorite exhibit, however, was the Nature's Best Photography Exhibit showing on the 2nd floor. I don't believe I've ever seen a collection of such stunning, HD-quality, wall-sized photos in my life. I practically cried.  If you have a love for nature photography as I do, you'll want to see this.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Digibinning The National Zoo in DC - 21 Jul 2016

I'm accompanying Robin for a few days here in Washington, DC while she attends a Futuring Workshop for work. While she's in class, I've been checking out the local attractions. The National Zoo is only 1.1 miles away from our hotel, so I took a walk to the zoo and spent the day checking out the exhibits. I didn't bring any of the camera or digiscoping equipment, but instead just brought a pair of Kowa 8x33 binoculars and my Sony a6300 camera. With only the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 on the camera I had no telephoto capabilities, but used the binoculars as my lens. Without an adapter I was forced to handhold the camera and binoculars to photograph the locals, but had pretty good luck! Here's my digibinned photo-essay.










Image quality was not bad, but there was a significant blue-shift in all images that had to be corrected. Chromatic aberration was also a problem, but that was probably due to less than perfect optics from the binoculars. Still, I had a ball taking photographs of the local birds and captive animals. An Acadian Flycatcher was the best countable bird of the day.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Nikon D500 Does Tree Swallows! - 17 Jul 2016


I took the Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII down to Lake Erie Metropark to practice Group Autofocus and Rear Camera Autofocus. Of the ~700 shots I took approximately 300 were keepers (sharp focus) so I was very pleased w/ my performance. I spent the time next to shore near one of the nest boxes and tried photographing the swallows as they fed over the water.















Group Autofocus is supposed to help maintain tracking efficiency when birds pass into areas of busy backgrounds (foliage) and I have to say, it did very well once locked on. The trick is getting the birds locked in... It worked much better w/ larger subjects. But be forewarned, Group Autofocus focuses on the closest object, so its easy to lose eye-focus when a wing flap occurs. I noticed this yesterday when an Eastern Kingbird was perched on a tree - even though it was centered in the camera the focus was on a branch sticking forward. So, now I have the front camera function button set to Single-Point Autofocus for birds in denser foliage.




I can't believe how much fun I'm having w/ this camera...




Saturday, July 16, 2016

Nikon D500 Goes Birding! - 14 Jul 2016

I bit the bullet. Took the plunge. However you want to say it, I did it. I hit "Send" on the cart, and, two-days later, courtesy of B&H Photo I received the new Nikon D500 Camera. The long-awaited, much-anticipated successor to the Nikon D300s arrived on the doorstep and I was a proud? new owner of Nikon's Flagship DX DSLR camera.

To be honest, I wasn't giddy with excitement, either. The announcement of the camera came after waiting ~6 years for news of a D300s successor that even Nikon themselves said would never come. In the meantime I enjoyed the D300s, and even its successor and latest DX flagship, the Nikon D7100. The D7100 gave me 18 MP and 5 fps of Nikon quality and took some wonderful images. But, low fps and poor buffer meant disappointingly poor burst rates. It was a step up in quality from the D300s but a step back in performance. For a bird-photographer, it was a bit of a let down.

Like everyone else, I waited for the never-to-come D400 that would give 24 MP and at least 8 fps performance.  I checked the DPreview.com website everyday waiting for the announcement. It would never come. Finally, early this year, Nikon announced a DX Flagship in the D500. I went to the unveiling shows that presented the D500 along w/ its full-frame partner, the Nikon D5. The specs made me drool: 20 MP, 10 fps, 200-shot buffer RAW, WiFi, 4K Video, EXPEED 5. The first units would ship in April. So, why didn't I bite? And why wasn't I giddy when it arrived?

Maybe it was because I thought that I would miss out on the first shipment of camera; you had to pre-order to get the camera first-time around. I didn't have permission yet. Maybe it was because the first shipment delay was almost immediately announced. We'd have to wait. Then a second shipment and backorder. I would have to wait until a third shipment comes in order to get a body-only shipment, and I had already been screwed into buying a "kit" when the D7100 came out.  I was actually waiting for the e-mail or call telling me that I'd have to buy a kit for another $600 on top of the $2600 I was spending for the camera, battery pack, extra battery, memory cards, and screen protector.

Maybe it was the disappointing reviews that started flooding the internet almost immediately after the first-shipments were received. Really? Battery issues, memory card issues, exposure issues, Wifi issues (only Android users can use this camera), image quality not better than the D7200, and Autofocus Fine Tune doesn't work.

But, after making a presentation to management for approval to purchase the camera, and finding that it was in stock at B&H, I placed the order. It arrived, and for me at this point, it would be a "nice" new tool to replace the long-in-the tooth D7100 that was taped up after a few field-drops. I had dinner, sat on the deck w/ Robin enjoying the evening, and waited to unpackage the camera from the box. I finally unpackaged it. It felt solid, it felt heavy, and it felt "good". I would have to go through the menus and make sure that settings were ok: autofocus area, white balance, metering, etc... I hadn't gotten to handle the camera at the camera shows so I didn't know how 10 fps would feel until I took it outside and tried it on the American Goldfinches on the thistle feeder. Oh, wow, that does feel "nice". Autofocus fast, and appears to be accurate. Maybe I don't have to Auto-Fine-Tune my Nikkor 300 mm f/2.8 VRII and TC-17EII converter? And hey, the lens doesn't "grind" when the VR is turned on (w/ the D7100 the system always felt loose and the lens made intermittent grinding sounds when VR was activated).

I didn't plan on writing a review. Everyone who has the camera has a review on their blog or on YouTube. I'll leave it to them to break down the good, bad and ugly. A couple of nice reviews are worth reading, though. Thom Hogan has a nice writeup, and he's Mr. Nikon. Steve Perry's name popped up a couple of times while reading forums, and I checked out his review on his BackCountryGallery.com website - IT'S OUTSTANDING! I even took his recommendations for camera settings for bird photography. Trouble was, I would have to watch his video a second time after returning from a trip to Pt. Mouillee before I'd get the settings correct (I couldn't figure out how to adjust Autofocus mode from "S" to "Group" while I was in the field...).

So, I'm at Pt. Mouillee SGA in Monroe Co., MI with a new camera and hoping to give it a first-go. Parking at Siegler Rd. and biking out on the North Causeway I spotted a Forster's Tern flying along the shoreline in my direction. Autofocus was a bit slow to lock-on, but a 20-frame burst later I had my first pics w/ the new camera. The bird was a bit far away, but perhaps it gave me a chance to judge autofocus accuracy? Seemed spot on! Here's the cropped image w/ just a touch of Lightroom adjustment. Wow! No need for sharpening:






I immediately got greedy and tried my luck with the numerous Tree Swallows that were flying around. With the camera Autofocus set to Single-Area (spot) I was having a rough time locking on to these flying bullets, but when I did I had several keepers. Even the cropped image looks sharp:


A Great Egret was foraging nearby and presented a bit larger subject. How does the camera handle whites? Against the darker background the dynamic range of the camera was sufficient for me to preserve the highlights using Lightroom. Here's the cropped / adjusted image: feather detail is sharp, and so is the eye!


Red-winged Blackbirds flushed from the Middle Causeway and I was slow to lock Autofocus, but the camera kept focus even though this female was leaving the frame. Impressive!

Bank Swallows were everywhere, so I tried my luck at some flight shots. My keeper rate was poor, but w/ the old D7100 my keeper rate would be none. I either had totally OOF images or spot-on focused images. Tack-sharp images even w/ these fast-moving beauties darting in all directions. 





Out at Cell 3 the Forster's Terns and Ring-billed Gulls were flying overhead and past a dark backdrop of vegetation along the east bank. The D500 did a nice job of keeping focus once I locked-on.



I wanted to shoot some shorebirds, so I patiently waited for some of the Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, or possibly the Stilt Sandpipers to fly by. Unfortunately for me, they seemed to do so only after I holstered the camera for some digiscoping action. But when they did, the camera did not disappoint.



So, how do I feel now? I don't think GIDDY is an adequate term to describe my feelings. I couldn't be more thrilled at how this camera operates. For the first time in a long time I'm excited to carry this beast of a combo (Nikon D500, 300/2.8 VRII, TC-17EII) into the field. Autofocus is lightning fast, and accurate. I now have the camera set to Group Autofocus, and am getting more adept at using rear-button Autofocus (see Steve Perry's video). I can't wait to get back out into the field to give this system another go.


Thank you, B&H Photo. And thank you, Nikon. The D500 is everything I've waited for.

All images were shot at 1/2000 sec. or faster using Aperture-Priority (f/5.6) and Auto-ISO between 400 - 3200. 








Blog Archive