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 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 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. 

1 comment:

Cathy Carroll said...

It took me until this morning to really read through your review and study your new camera photos. I can see why you're enthusiastic! It's really important to understand optics and you do. And we all get to appreciate the results. Glad you are pleased with the new Nikon D500.

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