Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Dusky Grouse - Casting a WIDE Net!

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In the Field

Z 6II Testing - Dusky Grouse - Casting a WIDE Net! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. May 15, 2021.

This is my eighth gallery post detailing my experiences with shooting wildlife using the Nikon Z 6II. Like with many of the previous Z 6II images I have recently posted, this image was captured during a sunrise "camera walk" on our property in SE British Columbia. We're lucky enough to have 3 or 4 male Dusky Grouse currently dividing up our property (and adjoining land) into breeding territories (based on my crude guestimates where I've seen each of the males it looks like they are each defending territories of about 9 hectares - or around 22 acres - each). In this shot (which is full-frame) I captured one of the more cooperative males mid-hoot. If you actually sit and watch the Dusky's when they're singing they tend to sit and hoot in the same spot for a good 20 minutes or so. If they haven't attracted any females in that time they (like a good fisherman!) move up to 50 meters or so to the next good looking spot and try again. And so one. Over an entire morning they end up casting a very wide net for their female "prey".

Anyway...I've been using the Dusky Grouse males as "real life subjects" to get a good handle on how the Nikon Z 6II performs as a wildlife camera. On this particular occasion the male Dusky was singing his hoot song in the shade right under the lowest branches of a thick Douglas Fir...and it gave me a good chance to push the Z 6II low-light capabilities. In this real-world test I was hand-holding my Z 6II with a Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF lens plus TC-14EIII teleconverter mounted on it. Because I was close to the hooter I needed to stop down to f11 or so to get the "critical bits" (tip of bill to eyes and down to the upper breast feathers) in sharp focus. While I LIKELY could have let the shutter speed drop lower than I did and still get sharp shots (this image was captured at 1/200s) with the 700mm focal length, I opted not to so that the ISO would be pusher higher. Previously I had shot the Z 6II in the field at up to ISO 6400 and obtained results I was really happy with, so when I saw I was shooting this sequence at ISO 8000 I was pleased to be "pushing new ISO terrain" to see how the Z 6II would handle it.

How did the Z 6II handle the challenge? can see for yourself (and there is a MUCH larger version below you can download and examine). In my view the Z 6II handled the ISO 8000 shooting situation extremely well. This image HAS had some noise reduction performed on it (using Capture One), but even when I reduced the luminosity noise reduction slider to zero the image was still remarkably clean and noise-free.

Other old-timers like me might say "Well...since the Nikon D3s we could shoot at ISO 8000 and get quite low-noise shots." Absolutely true. But those same old-timers should know that ISO 8000 shots with the D3s were quite flat tonally and the colors at high ISO best...marginal. this shot nicely shows, the ISO 8000 shots with the Z 6II have great tonal range and really nice color. In a nutshell, they simply don't LOOK like the ISO 8000 images of the D3s (or D4, or D4s)...they look a heckuva lot better!

Until Nikon announced the development of the Z 9 and, in another independent interview, confirmed it would have a "high resolution stacked CMOS sensor" I could see little reason to get a Z 6II. But now that we know the Z 9 is likely (tho' not guaranteed) to be in the 50 MP range, we can safely assume that it won't offer the ISO performance of a camera like the Nikon D5 or D6. That conclusion (which is admittedly a little speculative at this time) made me wonder what Nikon mirrorless camera I could turn to in order to have similar ISO performance to my D6...and that's when I decided I HAD to get my hands on a Z 6II and put it through its paces. As outlined in my 22 March 2021 Blog entry, under strictly controlled test conditions the D6 still shoots slightly cleaner (less noisy) images in the ISO 6400 and above range. the real world...and after you factor in tonal range and color depth into the equation...the Z 6II is very close to being on par with the D6 in high ISO performance. So those considering a future Z 9 purchase and who have some need for excellent high ISO performance may want to consider picking up a Z 6II to complement their Z 9. So far I'm not regretting getting mine! ;-)

Now I need to go find a real world shooting situation that requires an ISO of 12800. Time to go grouse hunting again...

Here's a much larger version (4800 pixel) of this determined hooter:

Dusky Grouse - Casting a WIDE Net! Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 6.8 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Z 6II Testing - Dusky Grouse - Casting a WIDE Net! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. May 15, 2021.

Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 8000.

Nikon Z 6II paired with Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF plus TC-14EIII (1.4x) teleconverter (for a total focal length of 700mm). Hand-held. VR on and in Sport mode. Single Point Area AF area mode.

1/200s @ f11; -0.67 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Z 6II Testing - Dusky Grouse - Casting a WIDE Net! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. May 15, 2021.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 21. Global adjustments on this image were limited to tweaks to the highlights and exposure. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 7 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to brightness, color balance, noise reduction, clarity, and saturation.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Z 6II Testing - Dusky Grouse - Casting a WIDE Net! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. May 15, 2021.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

Until recently the Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) was considered a single species with at least two sub-species. However, mitochondrial DNA sequence data, combined with older behavioural and distributional data, has resulted in the decision to split the species into two species - Sooty Grouse (coastal), and Dusky Grouse (found in the interior).

Dusky and Sooty Grouse are endemic to mountainous regions of western North America and both have geographic ranges restricted to moderate to high altitude regions. Many populations undergo an altitudinal migration, spending winters in conifer forests at higher elevations and then descending to lower elevations and more open terrain to breed in the spring. During breeding the males perform a dramatic dance and produce repetitive low-frequency vocalizations (hoots) to attract females to their breeding territories.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada