Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Up and Over!

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In the Field

Z 9 Testing - Up and Over! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 17, 2021.

This is my first gallery post and commentary conveying my experiences with shooting wildlife and other wild-acting subjects using the Nikon Z 9. In late November of 2021 Nikon was generous enough to send me a late-production Nikon Z 9 and a production version of the Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S lens for testing purposes. They put no constraints on what I did with the camera or what I said about it. During most of the first 3 weeks I was shooting with the Z 9 I was focused primarily on capturing a variety of test shots and experimenting with various camera settings. Consequently I had very little time for doing any "real shooting" with the camera, but I did learn a whole lot about it. I chose this fun shot as my first official post on the Z 9 (and on the Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S) as it says a LOT about how well both the camera and the lens work!

Because the Z 9 is such a revolutionary camera there are just so many aspects of it to discuss. But first and foremost for many is probably the AF system as it has received just a ton of hoopla in Nikon's promotional pieces and on various YouTube videos. This image of a rambunctious young Labra-something that I borrowed for camera testing purposes was captured using the Z 9's 3D-Tracking area mode with Subject Recognition on in Auto mode (which means it will react to ALL 9 subject types the camera recognizes). This AF mode is closer to foolproof than ANY AF system I have ever used. With my photographic style it's hard to even think of a scenario when I wouldn't want to be using 3D-Tracking (with Subject Recognition on). With this mode the shooter decides what he or she wants the camera to "lock" on and then you pretty much just let the camera do its thing. It's important to realize that when using 3D-Tracking the AF system will lock on ANYTHING you choose to focus on, not just the subject types the camera recognizes. After locking on, the photographer can completely ignore focus and just worry about composition and other matters. With this shot I had the single focus point of the 3D-Tracking system positioned in the middle of the viewfinder and put it on Apollo about 25 meters before he got to the log. It instantly recognized Apollo as a dog and quickly shifted focus to his eye. All I did was keep the focus button activated (i.e., pushed on it) and then started shooting as he began his leap over the snow-covered log. Every shot in the 20 fps raw image sequence - tack sharp. Of course, at the beginning of the jumping sequence he was low in the frame and when I captured this image he was in the upper third of the frame. But I didn't even have to THINK about keeping the focus point on him as I knew the camera would do that for me (I did, of course, have to make sure I kept HIM in the frame!). The tracking worked flawlessly. This shot is 100% full-frame with no cropping.

Of course, the successful operation of ANY AF system is dependent not only on the camera...the speed of the lens's AF also plays a big role. And I can assure everyone reading this that if you're wondering about how fast the AF is on the new Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5.5.6S've got nothing to worry about! After shooting thousands and thousands of action shots with the Z 9 plus 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S (mostly of dogs going nuts!) I can say that the AF of the lens itself seems as fast as anything I've ever shot with (including very fast prime lenses). I haven't done serious action shooting with the 100-400 yet when it's combined with either the 1.4x or 2x Z-mount teleconverters, but at least anecdotally the AF seems quite snappy with those TC's in use. I will be putting in some effort to test just how well its AF system works as soon as I can.

As a final my mind the combination of the Z 9 and the 100-400mm lens elevates Nikon's Z system to a truly professional flagship level. The overall performance of the Z 9 is far and away above that of the excellent it's simply a more versatile camera. And the optical and AF performance of the 100-400 matches that of virtually any zoom lens on the market (at any price). Exciting times!

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of Apollo takking flight for your perusal:

Up and Over: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 3.8 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 9 Testing - Up and Over! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 17, 2021.

Lossless compressed RAW (NEF); ISO 1600.

Nikon Z 9 with Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S @ 185mm. Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. 3D-Tracking area AF area mode with subject recognition on (in Auto mode).

1/1600s @ f5; +0.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Z 9 Testing - Up and Over! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 17, 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 22. Global adjustments on this image were limited to a tweak to brightness (mid-tone exposure). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 6 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to brightness, shadows, clarity (mid-tone contrast) and color saturation.

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


Z 9 Testing - Up and Over! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 17, 2021.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is DEFINITELY NOT designated as at risk. ;-)