Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Early Spring Nuthatch

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In the Field

Early Spring Nuthatch. Findlay Creek (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. 21 March 2019.

Compared to much of the rest of Canada, spring starts early in my neck of the woods. In most years winter is pretty much done at the end of February - which means migrant birds start returning and resident birds (like this Red-breasted Nuthatch) start exhibiting spring fever (party time!).

I captured this shot when I was in the midst of field-testing the Nikkor 500mm f5.6 PF lens. One question I have been getting a lot since I began my testing is about how it performs with the TC-14EIII (or 1.4x) teleconverter. This shot was captured with just that combination - the 500mm PF plus TC-14EIII (which means it was captured with a 700mm total focal length). My thoughts? Read on...

Optically the 500mm PF and the TC-14EIII pair up very well. The resulting images are very sharp edge-to-edge. While there is a LITTLE degradation in image sharpness (compared to when the lens is shot native), it is very minimal - and certainly within the range of "softness" that can easily be overcome with image sharpening during post-processing. So that's one thumbs up!

AF performance? This is interesting. This lens/TC combination has a maximum aperture of f8, which means that (at least in theory) a lot of the focus points on ALL of Nikon's DSLR's are rendered unusable. In fact, Nikon's top 3 DSLR's (the D5, D850, and D500) have only 15 focus points (only 11 of which are selectable) that are supposed to work with maximum apertures of f8. Interestingly, I found on those 3 cameras that ALL of the selectable focus points seemed to work well with the 500PF/TC-14EIII combination (at least in the light I was shooting with on the day I captured this image). And, I could detect no noticeable slowdown of the AF system. I CAN'T say (yet) that all 153 selectable points will work (or work well) in low-light scenarios, but I WAS encouraged that at least in bright light the AF system of Nikon's top DSLR's did well with the 500PF/TC-14EIII combo. This shot, by the way, was captured with a Z7 and the AF system seemed to have NO PROBLEM whatsoever with this lens/TC combination. So...AF performance of this lens/TC combination gets another thumbs up!

But, even though all looks good so far with this lens/TC combination, I feel compelled to point out that ANY lens with a maximum aperture of f8 loses a degree of "usability" in many real-world shooting situations. First off, unless you like shooting in the ISO stratosphere, this combination isn't well suited to low-light shooting (especially if one is working with moving subjects or is hand-holding the lens/TC combination). Second, you have a narrow range of usable apertures, which means you don't have very much control of your DoF (which, of course, limits your creative options). But...if you can live with the limitations of the small maximum aperture, it's real hard to think of a lighter and more compact way to get to a true 700mm of focal length.

What about the TC-17EII (1.7x) and TC-20EIII (2x) teleconverters? I don't know - and I won't be testing them with this lens. Occasionally I can live with a maximum aperture of f8, but I can't see myself ever shooting with the even smaller maximum apertures associated with using the 1.7x and 2x TC's. This isn't to say others might not find a use for the 500mm PF with the 1.7x and 2x TC's, but those combinations aren't for me...

Here's a larger (2400 pixel) version of this very attractive little passerine for your perusal:

Early Spring Nuthatch: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 0.8 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 wildlife 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

Early Spring Nuthatch. Findlay Creek (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. 21 March 2019.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 500.

Nikon Z7 mirrorless body paired (using the FTZ mount adapter) with Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF plus TC-14EIII (focal length of 700mm). Supported on Jobu Killarney tripod with Jobu Heavy Duty MkIV gimbal head. VR on and in Sport mode. Z7 AF system set to AF-C (9-point Dynamic area mode).

1/800s @ f9; -0.67 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Early Spring Nuthatch. Findlay Creek (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. 21 March 2019.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 12. Global adjustments to this shot included modifications to exposure and colour desaturation. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case adjustments were made on 4 separate layers and included local/selective editing of (or adjustment of) shadow recovery, exposure (balancing), clarity, and colour saturation.

Photoshop adjustments were limited to image re-sizing, conversion of Prophoto RGB colour gamut (to sRGB), final sharpening for online display, and insertion of watermark.


Early Spring Nuthatch. Findlay Creek (East Kootenays), British Columbia, Canada. 21 March 2019.

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

The Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) is a common resident of North America's boreal forests. It differs from North America's 3 other nuthatch species by its preference for forests that have a strong fir and/or spruce component.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are a hole-nesting species and typically excavated their own cavities (rather than using pre-existing holes). They exhibit all the "typical" nuthatch behaviors, including climbing head-down on tree trunks while probing for insects, caching seeds in winter, and joining other species (such as chickadees and woodpeckers) in foraging flocks (outside of the breeding season).

It is the only North American nuthatch to undergo regular irruptive movements that seem to be driven by instances of a shortage of winter food on their breeding grounds. During irruptive years they can invade atypical habitats as far south as the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the deserts of New Mexico.

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