Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Pushing the Limits!

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In the Field

Z 9 Testing - Pushing the Limits! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 16, 2021.

This is my third 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.

When I'm not in the field shooting wildlife I put in a huge amount of time testing, poking, and prodding cameras and lenses. I do this to test the limits of what I CAN do with a camera when I'm faced with tough conditions. So I can predict how the gear will react when the chips are down. And that's precisely what I was doing when I captured this image - pushing the limits.

You WON'T hear me claim this is a great image. But it was a highly USEFUL image for me to shoot. The testing conditions? Action shots (shutter speed 1/1600 sec) of a VERY fast dog (Marley!) in low, flat light using a Nikon Z 9 paired with a Nikon 500mm f5.6E PF plus TC-14EIII (1.4x) TC connected using a FTZ adapter - and captured at ISO 8000. Experienced shooters will know this is basically a perfect recipe for a crappy, very noisy shot with limited tonal range and little detail (and likely with most shots in the sequence quite out-of-focus!). But hey...if you don't push the limits once in awhile you'll never know what your gear will do!

The result? Well...not a wall hanger...but way, way, better than I had any reason to expect! In previous testing I knew the Z 9 plus 500mm PF combo offered great autofocus performance. Oh...and to those still insisting that F-mount lenses don't focus well on Z-bodies with FTZ're flat-out wrong - they focus just fine! But I had assumed that adding the TC-14EIII (1.4x) TC would hamper the AF to the point where it wouldn't be able to keep up with Marley in full flight. Wrong...the whole sequence was one sharp shot after another!

In terms of the ISO performance...well in my's a pretty darned good result for ISO 8000 (you should check out the 4800 pixel image below to see what you think of it). YES, I used a specialized noise reduction tool (Topaz DeNoise) to tame the visible noise, but the original file retained good tonal range (note the light-on-white detail in the snow) and the color is just fine.

My own take-home lessons from this shooting session? Well...the Z 9's 3D-Tracking with subject recognition autofocus continues to work really well (and it's still very fast) when TC's are added to long telephoto lenses, even if you throw a FTZ adapter into the mix (not that it matters, but in this case the adapter was a FTZ II). And the Z 9 gives you easily enough high ISO performance for the vast majority of shooting situations. On that note, on the processing side I am finding the same thing with the high ISO shots of the Z 9 as I did with the Z 7II - I can get absolutely acceptable results up to ISO 6400 when using selective noise reduction in Capture One Pro. Above that there are instances (depending on scene type) where I can get slightly better results if I use Topaz DeNoise AI.

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of Marley doing her thing for your scrutiny:

Pushing the Limits! Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 4.2 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 - Pushing the Limits! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 16, 2021.

Lossless compressed RAW (NEF); ISO 8000.

Nikon Z 9 with Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF plus TC-14EIII (1.4x) TC (total focal length of 700mm). Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. 3D-Tracking area AF area mode with subject recognition on (in Auto mode).

1/1600s @ f5.6; +0.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Z 9 Testing - Pushing the Limits! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 16, 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 tweaks to the brightness (mid-tone exposure), highlights and contrast (using a levels adjustment). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 4 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to whites, highlights, clarity (mid-tone contrast) and shadow detail.

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


Z 9 Testing - Pushing the Limits! Findlay Creek Region (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. Dec 16, 2021.

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