Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


Brad Hill: Blog: Photography. Nature. Gear. Software. Conservation. Whatever.

Not so short-winded blatherings on whatever is currently occupying the part of my brain that deals with nature photography and related concerns. Updated sorta weekly.

On this page you'll find all my 2023 blog listings (immediately below). And, further down this page you'll also find some key (and very popular) gear-related blog entries from 2022 (jump to that section now).

And, finally, if you're looking for a directory to ALL my blog listings EVER - just follow this link.

I. 2023 Blog Entries...

15 Dec 2023: Looking for the SHARPEST Nikon Z 400mm Option?

Given my preferred subject matter, where I shoot, and my own preferred image style, the 400mm focal length is extremely important to me. Currently there are 6 "native" Z pathways to get to 400mm and, being the curious type, I wanted to confirm for myself how these different pathways compared. the autumn of 2023 I spent a good chunk of time testing various aspects of their performance, including image sharpness.

Before I go any further, here's a list of the 6 native Z pathways to 400mm:

Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S
Nikkor Z 400mm f4.5 VR S
Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3
Tamron Z 150-500mm F5-6.7 Di III VC VXD
Nikkor Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S
Nikkor Z 70-200mm f2.8 paired with Z TC-2.0x

At the time of this writing I'm planning to produce a detailed report on how the overall performance of these 400mm pathways compare to one another on several fronts - optical performance (including central region AND edge sharpness, quality of out-of-focus zones), usability (including "hand-holdability" and VR performance), and AF performance.

But I'm comfortable revealing right now how these 6 different 400mm options compare in ONE aspect of optical performance - image sharpness. You can read about my test results (and which are the sharpest 400mm options in the Z lens lineup) in the commentary for an image I JUST added to my Gallery of Latest Additions. The discussion can be seen by clicking the "In the Field" tab found just below the main image window of that gallery. At present the image with the 400mm lens sharpness discussion is in the first position in the gallery (i.e., associated with the image of the swimming Steller's Sea Lion). Sometime in the next week or 10 days this image (and the commentary) will be moving "down" through the if you wait a while before looking at the commentary and need to find it, just look for the "surfacing sea lion" image.




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14 Dec 2023: 2024 Photo Tours - A Few Spots Still Open!

Looking for the perfect gift for the wildlife photographer in your life (even if that person is you)? I still have a few spots open on two fantastic photo tours in 2024. Here are the details:

1. Late May 2024: Spring in the Southern Great Bear Instructional Photo Tour: 3 spots available.

View Details on this website
Download Brochure (PDF: 7.1 MB)

2. Mid June 2024: Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour: 3 spots available

View Details on this website
Download Brochure (PDF: 5.8 MB)

For information on my ENTIRE 2024 photo tour program just go here...



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10 Dec 2023: My Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR: Up for Sale!

20 December Update: My Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR has now been sold and is no longer available.

I recently made the decision to sell my copy of the new(ish) Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR lens. Those who may be interested in it can find details on my Gear 4 Sale page.

I know this decision will surprise some, especially given how well-regarded this new "ultra-zoom" lens is...including by me! I will be giving a detailed answer to why I am selling it in the near future (and why I just sold my Z 100-400 f4.5-5.6 VR S), but I feel it's appropriate for me to give a brief summary of my thinking right here and right now! And to be perfectly clear, I sold BOTH my Z 100-400 and my Z 180-600mm and have opted to keep the Tamron Z-mount 150-500mm f5-6.7 Di III VC VXD as my sole "ultra-zoom".


For the record, I don't think the Tamron 150-500mm is better than either the Z 100-400mm or the Z 180-600mm - it just happens to fit my unique needs slightly better. Keep in mind that I have an almost embarrassing wealth of high-quality (and almost all Z-mount S-Series) lenses to choose from for my own photography. And when I purchased my Z 180-600mm I did so with the thinking I would test it extensively against many other lenses and then sell it. To do this I needed the lens for an extended period of time and, in particular, longer than I could borrow one for (from NPS Canada or any other source I am aware of). For me an ultra-zoom lens is definitely NOT my primary wildlife lens - it's there to fill in some focal length gaps when I need to do so, to use as a walk-around lens when hiking, and to sometimes take as a "spare" lens on photo tours or other photo excursions I may partake in (i.e., as an "insurance policy", so to speak). So, for my uses, it follows that a very critical characteristic of an ultra-zoom is that it is very compact and highly portable. Of course, it has to perform well or I wouldn't bother with it at all (and all 3 ultra-zooms I'm discussing today all performed very strongly during my recent lens testing).

I chose the Tamron 150-500 over the Z 100-400 for different reasons than I chose it over 180-600mm. Here is a quick summary of those reasons...

2. Tamron 150-500mm vs. Nikkor Z 100-400mm:

OK...these two lenses are almost identical in size (the Tamron 150-500 is about 1 cm shorter than the Nikkor Z 100-400mm but the Tamron is right around 450 grams - or 1 lb - heavier), so that wasn't a factor in my decision in choosing the Tamron. Two other differences between the lenses were critical to me.

• First, the focal length range between 400mm and 500mm is very important to me, and much more so than between 100mm and 150mm. As just ONE graphic example of this, if you examine the focal lengths used to capture the 29 images I just selected for inclusion in my updated "Wildlife Photography on the BC Coast" guide (download the guide for free here) you'll find they average out to a 481mm focal length! And none of them were taken between 100-150mm.

• Second, during recent lens testing I determined that the Tamron 150-500mm optically (and quite noticeably) outperforms (i.e., is sharper than but with nearly identical bokeh) the Z 100-400mm in the 350mm to 400mm focal length range. At shorter focal lengths the lenses were nearly identical optically.

3. Tamron 150-500mm vs. Nikkor Z 180-600mm:

When I was deciding whether to keep the Z 180-600mm or the Tamron 150-500mm the size/weight and optical performance "factors" were somewhat different. But here's what the critical considerations were for me.

• First, the Tamron 150-500mm is a LOT shorter than the Z 180-600mm - when both are in their "shortest form" the Tamron is 10.7 cm (about 4.25") shorter than the 180-600mm. This is enough to be very significant in a traveling pack or a lens pouch. The Tamron is also somewhat lighter (about 299gm, or about 2/3 of a pound).

• Second, while my lens testing determined that the Z 180-600mm was very slightly better optically overall, at some critical focal lengths (like 500mm) there was virtually no difference in their optical performance. I want to stress two things here. The Z 180-600mm WAS slightly better overall optically. But the differences were extremely small (i.e., seen only with extreme pixel-peeping, and within the range that can be negated during post-processing).

4. BUT, BUT, BUT...

BUT, BUT, BUT...there's a whole lot more to lens performance than optical performance. Yep, agreed. And, my testing showed that the AF performance between the 3 lenses was pretty much negligible. And, the Tamron 150-500 was "smack-dab in the middle" of the two Nikkor zooms in VR performance/hand-holdability (with the Z 180-600 being the lens I could hand-hold at the slowest shutter speed at 400mm and still obtain sharp shots, and the Z 100-400 requiring the highest shutter speed to get sharp shots at 400mm). the end of the day the Tamron's focal length range, overall performance (including optical, AF, and VR performance) and its very compact size combined to tip the scale in its favour...for me. And, of course, I have to admit the price of the lens was pretty darned appealing to!



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9 Dec 2023: BC Coast Wildlife Photography Guide Updated for 2024

Each year I produce a comprehensive and very detailed guide entitled "Wildlife Photography on the BC Coast". I just finished updating it for 2024, and it now include comments on the suitability of some of the latest lenses (like the Z 800mm f6.3S or any of the "ultra-zooms" from Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Tamron) on my photo tours. This guide goes to all the guests attending my photo tours to assist them in preparing for their coastal BC photo tour.

But, because ANY wildlife photographer visiting British Columbia's amazing Pacific coast will likely benefit from the information in it, I like to make it available (for no charge) to all. you go:

Wildlife Photography on the BC Coast - A Comprehensive Guide (PDF: 10.4 MB)




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2 Dec 2023: Looking for the SHARPEST Nikon Z 600mm(ish) Option?

15 December Update: I replaced the word "BEST" with the word "SHARPEST" in the title of this blog entry to better reflect the content immediately below.

Since I made it public that I was doing a whole lot of field-testing of the entire array of Z telephoto and super telephoto lenses I've been receiving a lot of questions by email. One of the most common questions I've been getting pertains to the 600mm(ish) focal length - specifically how the various options of getting to 600mm (or close to it) compare in sharpness.

For the record, right now there are 6 different pathways using Nikkor Z lenses to get to a 600mm(ish) focal length (and I am saying 600mm-ish because I am including pathways both to 560mm and to 600mm). Here they are:

Z 600mm f4 TC VR S = 600mm
Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S with TC engaged = 560mm
Z 600mm f6.3 VR S = 600mm
Z 400mm f4.5 VR S paired with Z TC-1.4x = 560mm
Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 = 600mm
Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 paired with Z TC-1.4x = 560mm

You can read about my test results (and which are the sharpest 600mm options in the Z lens lineup) in the commentary for an image I JUST added to my Gallery of Latest Additions. The discussion can be seen by clicking the "In the Field" tab found just below the main image window of that gallery. At present the image with the 600mm lens sharpness discussion is in the first position in the gallery (i.e., associated with the image of the Black Bear on a log). Sometime in the next week or 10 days this image (and the commentary) will be moving "down" through the if you wait a while before looking at the commentary and need to find it, just look for the "Black Bear on a Log" image.




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29 Nov 2023: Looking for the SHARPEST Nikon Z 800mm(ish) Option?

15 December Update: I replaced the word "BEST" with the word "SHARPEST" in the title of this blog entry to better reflect the content immediately below.

Finally...I've got back to updating my Gallery of Latest Additions! Today's update includes only one new image (a very happy wolf family!), but I suspect it's going to end up being a very popular and very highly-viewed addition.

Why? Because in the commentary associated with the image (click on the "In the Field" tab below the main image to view the commentary) I discuss some of my findings when I field-tested the 7 "Z pathways" to the 800mm(ish) focal length. And in case you're scratching your head to figure out what those 7 pathways you go:

Z 600mm f4 TC VR S with built-in TC engaged = 840mm
Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S paired with Z TC-2.0x = 800mm
Z 800mm f6.3 VR S = 800mm
Z 600mm f6.3S paired with Z TC-1.4x = 840mm
Z 400mm f4.5 VR S paired with Z TC-2.0x = 800mm
Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 paired with Z TC-1.4x = 840mm
Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 paired with Z TC-2.0x = 800mm

I suspect more than a few folks will be surprised by what I found. Note that for the immediate future the discussion is associated with this image...but it will be moving through my Gallery of Latest Additions soon (if you miss it now just look for the thumbnail of 3 wolf pups).




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27 Nov 2023: Recent Lens Testing...And My Resulting Lens Ownership Decisions

As regular followers of this blog know, I'm smack-dab in the middle of field testing several new Z-mount lenses. I'm often asked why I put so much time and energy into field testing lenses so thoroughly (and this go 'round it HAS been a massive task). Well...I certainly DON'T do it for financial gain - you won't find any advertising for the lenses I test on this website nor will you find any affiliate links leading from this website to other websites where the lenses can be purchased (who then, in turn, cut you in on the proceeds).

So why do I do it? Primarily for two reasons. First, one of my responsibilities as a photo tour leader is to give sound recommendations to my guests in terms of which camera gear they should bring on my photo tours. The only way I can give valid and meaningful information on how a specific lens will perform on a given photo tour is to field test that lens myself. Moreover, I do personalized gear consultations (as part of my Online Tutoring & Consulting services) - and I feel a responsibility to back up what I say during those sessions with verified information (why should anyone pay for advice that is simply a "gut-feel" or an opinion?).

Second - and probably most importantly - I'm always striving to put together the "optimal" field kit for my own wildlife photography uses, and I can only do this if I EXACTLY know how the gear performs. Not only does this allow me to put together the best possible combination of gear for any specific shooting situation, but it also guides me in how I use each particular lens in the field. So, for example, if I'm in a field situation where I'm shooting a subject (e.g., an elk at sunrise) and the composition that pleases me the most is putting the elk WAY off-center while using a 600mm focal length then (and only because of my lens testing) I'm in a position where I can most effectively choose between using a Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 and a Z 600mm f6.3S. ( this case the best choice - assuming you're looking for the elk to be maximally sharp - is definitely the Z 600mm f6.3S. And stopping down the Z 180-600mm won't get you to a place where the elk is as sharp as it is when shot wide open with the Z 600mm f6.3S...which only became clear to me after running a LOT of field tests!).

Anyway...I'm far enough along in my testing of the Nikkor Z 135mm f1.8S Plena, the Tamron 150-500mm f5-6.7, the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3S and the Nikkor Z 600mm f6.3S to share the following information, including where it has - and still is - taking me in my own gear acquisition decisions. For a quick summary of which lenses these lenses are being compared and tested against just scroll down to my 13 November blog entry.

1. Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena

I'm a huge fan of fast, prime lenses and while most folks think of this lens as a "portrait lens" it interested me as a lens for shooting animalscapes (a gallery of my Animalscape images available for viewing here), landscapes, and wildlife portraits. Hey, why shouldn't a lens that's great for shooting portraits of humans not also be great for shooting animal portraits? Note that I am only field-testing and comparing this lens against a small number of other lenses (and only doing a very limited review of it).

MY OWN OWNERSHIP DECISION: This is close to a flawless lens...and I am getting incredibly good results in the field with it (it redefines what "edge-to-edge sharpness" means). Not only am I DEFINITELY adding this lens to my permanent kit, it is one of the very few lenses you will see me carrying both while "walking around" (i.e., as part of my "Commando Wildlife Kit") and when on photo tours and expeditions (i.e., as part of my "Destination Wildlife Kit").

For more info about what I mean by my "Commando" and "Destination" wildlife kits, see this section within the "Stuff I Use" portion of this website: 3. Lenses & Teleconverters - Divvied Up Into My Most Commonly Used Kits.

2. Tamron Z-mount 150-500mm f/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD

This "ultra-zoom" fell into my lap (on loan from Tamron) at the perfect time - right when I was testing the Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 (including against the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S). I started testing it with low expectations on how it would perform, but it continuously surprised me in how solid it was optically and how well its autofocus system worked. Of course, I instantly liked how compact it was - and the price was certainly very attractive. Optically it matched or exceeded the performance of the Z 100-400mm in every test I threw at it, and it was almost indistinguishable in optical performance from the Z 180-600mm (to be clear, extreme edges of the 180-600 ARE a little sharper at most focal lengths, but beyond that they are really close in optical performance.)

MY OWN OWNERSHIP DECISION: I was so impressed with this lens that as soon as I returned the loaner to Tamron I ordered my own copy of it. And, with having the Tamron 150-500 I had little reason to keep my Z 100-400 - so I put my own Z 100-400 up for sale (and promptly sold it). Why? Well, as mentioned above, the Tamron's optical and autofocus performance were really solid. And, while giving me 100mm more in focal length, it was actually more compact (shorter) than my Z 100-400 - and a WHOLE LOT more compact (and significantly lighter) than my 180-600mm. With its compact size it has already become part of my "Commando" wildlife kit. And, again because of its compact size, I also can much more easily take it with me on photo tours and other expeditions where I am taking one or more bigger lenses (like my Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S) with me. So the Tamron will - at times - ALSO be part of my "Destination" wildlife kit.

3. Nikkor Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR

It was a no-brainer that I once this lens was announced I had to acquire a copy for extended field testing. I expected this lens to be "pretty good" but not much beyond that. Well...while the 180-600mm has the same limitations of any variable (and small maximum) aperture "ultra-zoom" - it is a really, really solid lens optically, has very good AF performance, and quite good VR performance. From an optical perspective what stands out to me is how well its sharpness (at almost all focal lengths) holds up edge-to-edge. It does soften up (i.e., is less sharp) a little as you approach 600mm, but that softening is really quite minimal. But at all other focal lengths this lens isn't far off good prime lenses in sharpness, and does beat the Z 100-400 in sharpness at 400mm (and at ALL overlapping focal lengths if you look at the sharpness of the extreme edges). There are two things I DON'T get about this lens - why it's so inexpensive (arguably quite underpriced) and why it doesn't carry the "S" designation?

Besides the minor softening near its longest focal length does the 180-600mm have any weak points? Well...for ME (and my uses of it) its size and weight put it in a "funny place" for two reasons. First, it's too big to complement the other lenses in my "Commando" wildlife kit - which means for me it's just a tad to big to work as a "walkaround" lens. Second, that same size and weight makes it difficult to fit into my "Destination" wildlife kits that already have other big lenses in them (like my Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S) - and there's no way I'm leaving my 400 f2.8 at home when going on an expedition so I can fit in my Z 180-600mm.

MY OWN OWNERSHIP DECISION: I have to admit that with this lens I have been (and still am) - flip-flopping on whether this lens fits into my kit (and matches what I do) well enough to keep it. When I first ordered it I had the mindset that of "I'll buy it, extensively test it so I know exactly how it performs, and then flip it". But its performance soon had me thinking that I just might keep it. But, shortly thereafter, I started testing the Tamron 150-500 and quickly decided I WOULD sell both my Z 100-400 and my Z 180-600mm and keep the Tamron 150-500 as my sole "ultra-zoom" (and I did subsequently get my own copy of the Tamron 150-500). And that's where I was sitting up until last weekend - I had absolutely decided I would finish testing the 180-600mm and then sell it. But then I made the mistake of yanking and processing some images that I shot with the 180-600mm during my last two photo tours of 2023 - and their technical quality was very, very good. Like 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR good...but shot with a lighter, and WAY, WAY less expensive package (albeit one stop slower). So right now I'm REALLY on the fence over whether I'll keep this lens...its size and weight still makes it a relatively poor fit in either of my wildlife kits. I'll make my decision within the next month or 180-600mm may still go up for sale! But one thing I want to be very clear about - the Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 is a surprisingly good lens and, at least in my opinion, it's exceptionally good value. If someone is a slightly more "casual" wildlife photographer and/or doesn't already own some top-notch "big" lenses (that will compete with this lens for space in their kit), it is really, really hard NOT to recommend this lens to them! Just because it may not fit into my kit doesn't mean it isn't a great buy for a LOT of other photographers! 😉

4. Nikkor Z 600mm f/6.3 VR S

This lens is testing out very, very's very sharp - including in the extreme edges/corners and so far (= more testing still to do on this) its out-of-focus zones appear to be the best of any of the PF lenses. And, of course, it's wonderfully light and compact. Sure, I would like it to be an f5.6 (or even faster) lens, but not if making it faster made it bigger and heavier. Another relevant point is that it does "pretty well" with the Z TC-1.4x (producing a focal length of 840mm). What does "pretty well" mean in this context? Well, it definitely produces far sharper images at 840mm than the 180-600mm does (when both are paired with the Z TC-1.4x). doesn't match the optical performance of 3 other Z 800mm(ish) options - the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S, the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S plus Z TC-2x, or the Z 800mm f6.3S. And, these other 3 800mm(ish) options all have apertures that are a stop or more faster, which increases their overall usability in many situations encountered by wildlife photographers.

MY OWN OWNERSHIP DECISION: No flip-flopping on this one - I'm definitely keeping my Z 600mm f6.3S. Not only does it fit well into my "Commando" wildlife kit (so easy to slip into my MindShift PhotoCross 13 sling bag...and I hardly feel any weight on my back when it's in there!), but its small size and low weight means it will also be part of my "Destination" wildlife kit on some of my photo tours and other expeditions.

Next updates? Hmmmm...not sure...possibly some new additions to my Gallery of Latest Additions (I'm SO FAR behind on that!).



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20 Nov 2023: Additions to my Used "Gear 4 Sale" Page...

23 Nov 2023 UPDATE: The Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens below has now been sold and is no longer available.

I've just begun the process of clearing out some of my Nikkor Z lenses that have become "surplus" and/or redundant. This is partly a result of my current and ongoing lens testing and my perpetual quest to develop the "ideal" wildlife kit that best matches my own shooting style and peculiarities.

Today's new addition to the page is a Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S zoom lens in excellent condition and at a great price. Check it out here...

I'll be putting at least a couple more used Nikkor Z lenses up for sale in the coming weeks.



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13 Nov 2023: Lens Testing, Lens Testing, Lens Testing!!

Since my last blog post I have been bogged down doing more lens testing than I've ever done over a 3-week period. This testing has been driven by my commitment to produce detailed lens reviews of three new Z-mount lenses with obvious application to wildlife photography as well a "mini-review" of a lens not normally thought of as a wildlife lens - the Nikkor Z 135mm f1.8S Plena. The three "wildlife lenses" I'm extensively testing and reviewing are the Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR, the Nikkor Z 600mm f6.3 VR S, and the Tamron Z-mount 150-500mm f5-6.7 Di III VC VXD.

My lens testing mixes controlled, systematic field-testing of several performance parameters (optical performance, AF performance, and VR performance) with actual field-shooting - all with the goal of producing a review that is both highly detailed and representative of how the particular lens actually performs in the field.

During my controlled, systematic field testing I put a huge emphasis on comparing how a particular lens stacks up against other "competing" lenses over several distances and a wide range of apertures. Given the 3 lenses I'm currently testing, my own collection of lenses, and a few lenses Nikon Canada was generous enough to send me to make my comparisons complete, this bout of testing involved a HUGE number of lenses and trials. For example, the lenses I have tested against the Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR (including when combined with a Z TC-1.4x) included the following lenses:

• Nikkor Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S (personal copy)
• Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E (personal copy)
• Nikkor Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S (personal copy)
• Tamron Z-mount 150-500mm f5-6.7 Di III VC VXD (on loan from Tamron)
• Sigma Sport 150-600mm f5-6.3 (personal copy)
• Nikkor Z 400mm f4.5 VR S (personal copy)
• Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S (personal copy)
• Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF (on loan from Nikon)
• Nikkor Z 600mm f4 TC VR S (on loan from Nikon)
• Nikkor Z 600mm f6.3 VR S PF (personal copy)
• Nikkor Z 800mm f6.3 VR S PF (personal copy)

Additionally, with my own rather extensive collection of lenses and those on loan to me from Nikon and Tamron I had (and happily took!) the opportunity to go beyond the testing of the 3 new Z-mount lenses described above and do some extra testing. Why? To help answer some nagging questions like...

1. How do the SIX current "Z pathways" to 800mm(ish) - including lens/TC combinations producing an 840mm focal length - compare optically and in "overall usability"?

2. How do the FOUR current "Z pathways" to 560mm - including lens/TC combinations producing a 560mm focal length - compare optically and in "overall usability"...and to Nikon's TWO Z 600mm lenses?

3. How do ALL the various Z pathways to 400mm (and there is a LOT of them, especially when you add in the Z TC's) - compare optically and in "overall usability"? can probably imagine how much field work and computer work is required to pull all of this together. Which means it will definitely take some time to get the final results online. On the good news side - I have completed almost ALL the field testing and have evaluated most of the thousands of resulting images.

But - and largely because I've had tons of folks emailing me and asking about what I have been finding (many of which are delaying purchasing decisions until they hear from me) - here are some "high-level and broad strokes" comments on what I have found out about how the three lenses I'm field-testing (the Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR, the Nikkor Z 600mm f6.3 VR S, and the Tamron Z-mount 150-500mm f5-6.7 Di III VC VXD) perform. Note that what follows is decidedly "nuance-free" (and nuances can and do matter) and is primarily focused on optical performance. Expect a whole lot more detail when the final reviews come out...

1. Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR

While kinda big and definitely not too light, this "ultra-zoom" is very, very solid optically and with a really good autofocus system. Two things have really stood out in the optical testing of this lens. First at MOST focal lengths it's close to as sharp as the best primes (though it does lose some sharpness as you approach 600mm). Second, this lens is remarkably sharp ACROSS THE ENTIRE FRAME (again at almost all focal lengths) - including out to the extreme edges. It's out-of-focus zones are better than you find on most variable aperture zooms, though owing to its narrow(er) maximum aperture you don't get the subject-isolating power or dreamy bokeh of Nikon's best "premium" telephoto zooms (like the Z 70-200mm f2.8 VR S or the 120-300mm f2.8E) or Nikon's two "super-primes" (the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S or the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S).

How sharp is this lens?'s a good frame of reference that many users and potential buyers will be able to relate to: There's almost no difference between the central region sharpness of the Z 100-400mm and the Z 180-600mm up to about 250mm. But at longer focal lengths the 180-600mm definitely pulls away from the 100-400 in sharpness (especially on the edges), and by the time you get to 400mm the Z 180-600mm is significantly (and noticeably) sharper than the Z 100-400 (with the extreme edges dramatically sharper on the 180-600).

Are there any optical "weaknesses" of the Z 180-600mm? Well...arguably two. I've already mentioned that it softens up somewhat as it approaches 600mm. It's NOT super soft at 600mm, but the difference in sharpness between the Z 180-600mm and Nikon's two Z 600mm primes is much greater than it is at 500mm (compared to the 500mm PF) or at 400mm (against Nikon's two Z 400mm primes).

And...this "softening up" at 600mm goes hand-in-hand with its second optical weakness - how it performs with the Z TC-1.4x. And here I am referring to how it performs with the Z TC-1.4X when shot at its maximum focal length (of 600mm). Simply put, of the 6 current "real" Z pathways to the 800mm(ish) focal length, the Z 180-600mm plus Z TC-1.4X is clearly the weakest. Note that when I say "real pathways to the 800mm(ish) focal length" I am excluding one possible option - the Z 100-400mm plus Z TC-2x (because of its poor image quality). I personally think buying the Z 180-600mm because it can get one to 840mm when combined with the Z TC-1.4X wouldn't be a wise move.

OVERALL: The 180-600mm is a really solid ultra zoom option that will fulfill the needs of many wildlife photographers - and at a quite reasonable price. I see many, many more positives to this lens than I see negatives. Everyone I personally know who has bought this lens has been very happy with it.

2. Nikkor Z 600mm f6.3 VR S PF

Disclosure: While I have thoroughly and systematically tested this lens against Nikon's other Z 600mm options AND against Nikon's best Z 560mm options, I haven't had a chance to get too much field-shooting in with this lens. So I can't offer as much insight into this lens's performance in the field compared to the other lenses I'm discussing today. Of course, you'll be able to read oodles about how this lens performs in the field in my final review of it (and in incremental updates I have planned for publication here on my blog).

That said, there are several things I can say about the Z 600mm f6.3 VR S right now. First, it is amazingly small and light (and therefore highly "hand-holdable" and usable) for a 600mm lens. Of course, it's almost not worth mentioning how much smaller and lighter than the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S...but its shooting weight is 657 gm (or about 1.5 lb) less than that of the Z 180-600mm. You want to be mobile and agile with a 600mm lens in your hands? Well...the lens for you is the Z 600mm f6.3 VR S PF.

How is it optically? Really, really good. In all my optical testing the Z 600mm f6.3S was very, very close to as sharp as the amazing Z 600mm f4 TC VR S. And in saying this I am referring to central region sharpness, sharpness halfway to the edge, and at the extreme edge of the frame. The quality of the out-of-focus zones is really good in this lens...and in my eyes I think its the best of any of the PF lenses. Of course, you don't have as much "subject isolating ability" as you do with the Z 600mm f4S.

The most germane optical performance question: How does it compare to the Z 180-600mm @ 600mm? It's a big step up in sharpness...and very noticeable. And I do find the quality of the out-of-focus zones (and the transition from fully in-focus to full out-of-focus) noticeably better with the Z 600mm f6.3 VR S than the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR ( stated above, the quality of the out-of-focus zones of the Z 180-600 is good compared to most variable-aperture zooms).

What about TC performance? I have only tested it with the Z TC-1.4x (and won't be testing it with the Z TC-2x as any lens/TC with a maximum aperture of f13 is almost useless in the field) and while it was NOT as sharp as the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S when its built-in TC is engaged, it was quite good (and a whole lot better than the Z 180-600mm plus Z TC-1.4x combo). I'll be saying more about how the Z 600mm f6.3 VR S plus Z TC-1.4x combo stacks up against other 800mm(ish) Z options in the not-too-distant future.

OVERALL: I have to do more field-shooting with the Z 600mm f6.3 VR S before I can say much more about it. But what I can say is that in the limited field shooting I have done so far I really, really like the results. And it is so, so usable!

3. Tamron Z-mount 150-500mm f5-6.7 Di III VC VXD

This lens kinda fell into my lap for testing completely unexpectedly. And, to be honest, before I started testing it and just shooting with it I had fairly low expectations regarding how it would perform. For example, I expected it to be noticeably less sharp than both the Z 100-400mm and the Z 180-600mm and fall way behind the two Nikon zooms in autofocus performance. Boy...I couldn't have been more wrong.

The first thing that captured my attention about the Tamron 150-500 was how compact it was - though offering a focal length 100mm longer than the Z 100-400mm it's about 1 cm shorter than the 100-400 when both are zoomed back to their minimum focal length. And it's 13.1 cm (over 5"!) shorter than the Z 180-600mm. While it's shooting weight is 468 gm (slightly over a pound) heavier than the 100-400, it's 293 gm (.65 lb) lighter than the Z 180-600mm. If your photography includes traveling and you're already bringing other "big lenses" along with you, the size advantage of the Tamron 150-500 can be a very big plus (especially compared to the Z 180-600mm).

The second thing I noticed about the Tamron 150-500 was its autofocus's actually really good. Shortly after I got it I had the opportunity to shoot some extreme action in horrendous conditions (low light, strong wind, and snowing) with it - and its hit rate was really good (note that I did NOT have the opportunity to test it against Nikon's Z 100-400 or Z 180-600mm under the exact same conditions). Check out this one sample shot to see what I mean (all relevant tech specs are on the image frame): Rosey On the Run: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 4.8 MB)

How is it optically? Really, really solid. As in pretty much on par with the Z 180-600mm in central region sharpness and in sharpness halfway to the edge of the frame. It is NOT as sharp as the Z 180-600mm at the extreme edges when shot wide open (and at a short subject distance)...but that difference disappears with distant subjects. is sharper than the Z 100-400 at 300mm and 400mm (in central region, halfway to edge, and extreme edge). Moreover, it doesn't noticeably soften up at its longest focal length - @ 500mm it's absolutely on par with the Z 180-600mm and only infinitesimally less sharp than the Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF. This lens is really good optically!

What about that "other aspect" of optical performance - how a lens renders out-of-focus zones? be honest...its out-of-focus zones seem to be even slightly softer and smoother than those of the Z 180-600mm when comparing images shot at the same focal length and aperture. I found this particularly surprising given the Tamron has only 7 aperture blades (compared to the 9 of the Z 180-600). But seeing is believing (unless an image has been manipulated using Generative Fill in Photoshop! 😉)

What about TC performance? Non-existent...there is no TC for it.

OVERALL: This lens has really, really surprised me in its performance and should be considered as a truly viable option to the Z 100-400 or the Z 180-600mm. I think it would be a huge mistake to overlook it. For some, its compact size, strong AF performance, and strong optical performance may make it the BEST choice as their "ultra" telephoto zoom, especially if they are prone to traveling and have other "big lenses" they want to bring along. And it certainly is easier on the pocket book than the two Nikkor zooms...and with a warranty that is 5 full years longer! Heck, its tripod foot is even Arca-Swiss compatible right out of the box (which instantly makes me want to support Tamron for doing the right thing! 😉)

Anyway...that's all for now. I have to get back to doing some MORE controlled, systematic lens field-testing and actual field-shooting...followed by staring at my computer screen until I go cross-eyed! 😉

More soon...



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26 Oct 2023: Capture One Pro 23.3 Introduces AI-based Masking

Yesterday Capture One put out a "dot release" update to Capture One Pro (from version 23.2.5 to 23.3). Normally dot releases offer only limited new functionality and many of them are little more than maintenance releases with a few bug fixes in them. But this one has an awesome new feature that anyone who uses Capture One Pro and likes to make selective edits to their images will just love - AI-based masking that "automatically" creates masks of your subject (or, if you prefer, anything but the subject). While I've only used it on about 10 images so far, in each case I chose pretty complex subjects (with wispy hairs and/or feathers) - and it is already proving to be a HUGE time-saver for me.

As is their habit, Capture One put a lot of effort into how they implemented this new feature - it's "additive" in the sense that you can add to the mask of subject (or add MORE subjects if there are multiple ones in your shot) and easily combine it with their other masking tools (so with their gradient masking tools, their Luma Range tool, their Magic Brush or Magic Eraser, etc.). And, the AI Masking is combined with an AI you can "intelligently" delete parts of the mask if that's needed.

Back in the summer I attended an interactive online presentation put on by Capture One where they revealed their plans for the future of the product. AI, of course, took center stage. And, at least according to their CEO, Capture One is choosing to leave all creativity in the hands of the photographer and use AI features to speed up the tedious, time-consuming tasks. So, for example, they are using AI to group similar images together for culling purposes (during image import) and now - with AI Masking - to dramatically speed up the process of building complex masks during image editing. This "leave creativity in the hands of the photographer" approach differs quite dramatically from that of Adobe who are being more...uhhhh...adventurous in their use of AI (at least as seen in features like the new "Generative Fill" in Photoshop which takes your photograph and dramatically alters it using the creativity of Adobe's AI team!). I readily admit that Generative Fill can be a lot of fun - and it will attract a lot of users - but there is definitely something about it that is very unsettling (at least to me). I personally am far more comfortable with Capture One's use of AI than Adobe's use of it. Different strokes for different folks, eh?

Oh...and there's one other signficiant difference between how Capture One and Adobe are approaching and using AI - with Capture One you do NOT have to be online to use their AI tools (with features like Photoshop's Generative Fill and Generative Expand you DO have to be online for the tools to work).

Over the coming weeks I'll be exploring all the nuances of Capture One Pro's AI masking (and associated AI tools) as I process images captured during my last 3 photo tours over the last 6 weeks. I'll be sharing that info with all those participating in my online tutoring on post-processing with Capture One Pro (info here).



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24 Oct 2023: My Z 600mm f6.3 VR S On the Way!

I received word yesterday that my Z 600mm f6.3 VR S will be available for me at my dealer on Thursday, 26 October. Because of my reasonably remote location it will have to be shipped from my dealer to odds are I won't have it in my hands until next Monday (the 30th). As soon as I get it I will begin shooting with it and testing it. I AM going to do a full, detailed field test on this lens.

From intel I've been able to obtain it appears there will be more than a trickle of Z 600mm f6.3 VR S lenses available on the 26th (much like the Z 8 where Nikon actually had a lot of stock at launch). Hmmmm...maybe Nikon has learned that waiting until they have some inventory built up before they announce (and ship) products is better than slowly trickling out their new releases? But please keep in mind that it's still possible availability of the Z 600mm f6.3 VR S will vary geographically and some may be waiting for quite some time for theirs...



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24 Oct 2023: Nikon Z 9 "Birds" Subject Detection: The BEST Mode for Mammals??

By now most Nikon-shooting wildlife photographers will know that in their last Z 9 firmware update Nikon introduced a new subject detection mode to its already excellent AF system - i.e., "Birds" mode. I installed the firmware update just before I left on my mid-October "Autumn in the Queen Charlotte Strait Exploratory Photo Adventure" photo tour (details of that tour right here). The timing of the firmware update was perfect as the Autumn QCS photo tour presents a TON of opportunities to shoot birds (both perched and in flight).

Before leaving on the tour I did view a few of the very early (and probably too early!) YouTube reviews of the new "Birds" mode and they left me quite excited about trying it out. Those same videos (based on very, very limited field use) left me with the impression that while the "Birds" mode outperformed "Animal" mode when shooting birds, you should probably only use it when you are SURE you are going to be shooting birds. In other words, don't use it on mammals (or reptiles, amphibians, etc.). it turns out...nothing could be further from the truth... a nutshell...during the Autumn QCS photo tour I was leading I (and several of my guests) tried "Birds" mode on several species of marine mammals - and on one black bear - and we ALL found that it significantly outperformed "Animal" mode. Since returning home I have expanded the range of mammals I have tried "Birds" subject detection mode on (adding in my young dog, squirrels, and deer) and have continued to find the same thing - it works better overall on these mammals than "Animal" mode does.

To be as clear and precise as possible, here's exactly what I have discovered on the photo tour and in my subsequent shooting since:

1. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on Humpback and Killer Whales: When shooting whales I have found that my preferred AF mode is using a custom Wide-area mode that is thin and wide (13x3) with subject detection on and (historically) set to "Animals". During my Autumn QCS trip there were countless opportunties to compare "Animal" and "Birds" subject detection modes. The result was very clear - the "Birds" mode picked up and recognized the subject faster (as determined when the smaller subjection detection boxes appeared within the 13x3 box) than "Animals" mode did. Like WAY faster! BTW: I have always been surprised that Nikon's subject detection system actually works on whales given how little you see of them. What you see when photographing whales with Nikon's subject detection is that the small focus box (or the subject detection box) goes to the dorsal fin of the whale or, if visible, to the tail flukes. Which is exactly what I want it to do when I'm photographing whales. And it does it better in "Birds" mode than "Animals" mode.

2. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on Steller Sea Lions (in water and while on land): On this trip most of our sea lion shooting was of distant subjects - I was using my Z 800mm PF for most of it and even then the subjects weren't even close to filling the frame. When using "Animal" mode (again when combined with a custom 13x3 Wide-area AF area mode) the AF system almost NEVER indicated it recognized the subjects. However, the "Birds" mode not only found the subject quickly and efficiently, but even when the subjects were tiny in the frame it grabbed the eye amazingly well. The difference in performance between "Animal" and "Birds" mode was striking - like night and day.

3. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on Harbour Seals (mostly in water with only the head - or parts of the head - showing): Over an extended session with Harbour Seals I was able to switch back and forth between "Animal" and "Birds" mode multiple times. And, while the difference in performance wasn't as great as it was with sea lions, "Birds" mode outperformed "Animal" mode in at least one way - it DEFINITELY recognized seal heads (and eyes) better when in "Birds" mode than in "Animal" mode when the seal's head was very small in the frame. Note that I used both Wide-area (custom, 13x3) and 3D-tracking when shooting the seals...and both produced the same result as described just above.

4. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on a Black Bear: We only had a few minutes (in exceptionally poor light) with a Black Bear on this photo tour so I didn't have time to switch back and forth between the two subject-detection modes (I shot in ONLY with "Birds" mode). However, I've shot a LOT of Black Bears with "Animal" mode and can say with confidence that in this scenario there is NO WAY in "Animal" mode the subject detection system would have picked up the bear's eye. However, when I was using "Birds" mode it instantly went to the eye. Obviously not a comparative test, and you'll have to trust my experience on this one...

5. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on Homo sapiens: Same result with "Birds" and "Animal" mode - neither picked up human eyes (tho' both occasionally recognized the head as a subject.)

And...what has further shooting since I have returned home (mostly while testing out my Plena)? Here you go:

6. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on My Domestic Dog: I've shot about 4000 images of my young pup (Portuguese Water Dog) with my Plena over the last few days and have had just tons of opportunities to compare how well "Birds" mode and "Animal" mode compare. Net result...only a very slight edge to "Birds" mode. And that "extra" performance I've gotten out of "Birds" mode is that it recognizes my dog Joe even when he is tiny in the frame/EVF (when "Animal" mode does not recognize him as a subject).

7. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on Red Squirrels: I've only shot a couple hundred squirrel images since the firmware update, but it seems like what I found with my dog (only a slight advantage to "Birds" mode) holds true with squirrels. On this one I reserve my right to modify my anecdotal findings as I shoot more squirrel images.

8. Performance of "Birds" subject detection mode on White-tailed Deer: Even a smaller sample size than with squirrels - just one short deer-shooting session where I used ONLY "Birds" mode. It did work well (instantly went to the eye) with the subject filling a small percentage of the frame/EVF...but at this point I can't really say how it compares to "Animal" mode for deer.

ANYWAY, I won't speculate on how "Birds" mode works on other mammals (such a primates) or on other non-mammalian animals (reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc.), but so far I have found it works as well or better than "Animal" mode on all the non-human mammals I have encountered. At this point I have switched over to "Birds" as my default subject detection mode on my primary wildlife cameras (my two Z 9's). And, I am finding I am now a bit reluctant to pick up my Z 8 for wildlife shooting because - at least for now - its AF system doesn't match that of the Z 9 (it doesn't have a "Birds" mode yet).

Two final comments. First, at this point it seems like "Birds" mode might be poorly named - I am now thinking of it as an updated and improved "Animal" mode...basically "Animal V2.0". I am sure everyone has seems like there's a race out there among YouTubers to post the FIRST review of a product or firmware update...even if the creator has had limited or no time really using the product and is providing little if any actually useful info. In this case the advice given by one prominent wildlife photographer with a strong YouTube presence was to use "Birds mode only when you are sure you are going to shooting birds" was flat out wrong (at least for the species I commonly encounter). Makes me even less inclined to bother with wasting time on YouTube! 😉

Feel free to drop me a line ( with YOUR findings of how Nikon's "Birds" subject mode works on non-avian subjects.



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22 Oct 2023: A Return Home - To My Plena!

Late on Friday I returned home after leading my third photo tour over the past month and a half. And, as I hoped - besides coming home to a very excited young pup - there was a shiny new toy waiting for me - the Nikkor Z 135mm f1.8S Plena.

In the coming days I'll post a "Postscript" blog entry on the 3 successful (and COVID-free) photo tours, including how the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 performed under some pretty trying real-world field conditions. For now, just a few words about the Plena and my plans for evaluating it.

First - what I'm NOT planning on doing with the Plena: I'm NOT going to test it extensively OR produce a full-blown review of it. Instead I'm going to do a very finite amount of testing on it (largely to satisfy my own curiosity about how it performs, including how it stacks up against the Z 85mm f1.2S) and shoot it in the situations that I purchased it for (both for animal/wildlife portraits and for animalscape shooting). I WILL report what I learn about it right here on my blog and, if I can find the time, I may post a "limited" and/or "mini" review of it in the Field Tests section of this website.

Can I say anything about it at all now? Sure. First - and tho' I've just begun shooting with it (I captured about 1000 shots with it over the last couple of days) - it does seem to perform exactly "as advertised" - virtually no vignetting even when shot wide open; exceptionally sharp at all apertures; and with excellent bokeh and out-of-focus zones (and all "point-source" highlights in the out-of-focus zones are rendered very round even when shot wide open). Second, I can already tell that the Plena IS a superb lens. Finally...I think I've already noticed some small (but interesting) differences in how the Plena renders out-of-focus zones relative to the Z 85mm f1.2S. In my future limited testing of the lens I'll try to learn more about the differences in how the Plenaa and the Z 85mm f1.2S render out-of-focus zones...

Why am I only going to do "limited" testing of the Plena? Several reasons. First, most of the folks coming to this blog and website are wildlife photographers, and neither the Plena nor the Z 85mm f1.2S are - or are likely to become - popular wildlife lenses. Second, there are a ton of tests of these lenses out there already. And third, I have only so much time for lens testing...and I am going to be investing a LOT of time testing both the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 and the Z 600mm f6.3S VR S in the coming weeks.

All for now. Expect a very interesting commentary on the Z 9's new "Bird" subject-detection mode in the next few days ( just might see me propose a new name for it based on what I have experienced about its performance over my last photo tour and the last few days since I've been shooting it at home!).



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10 Oct 2023: Yes, I AM Still Alive (And Well)!

A recent flurry of emails asking me if I was OK (or if there was some technical problem with my website) told me I better explain why I have posted so little to this website since August 22. Long, boring story short - with leading 3 consecutive photo tours (the last of which I leave for tomorrow AM), fitting in time to test and shoot new gear (think Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3), socializing and training a new pup (here's one of my latest pictures of Joe), and thinning and pruning the forest around our cabin ("fire-smarting" it)...I have just had zero time for discretionary activities, including updating this blog and website.

Anyway...I'll be back from my coming Autumn in the Queen Charlotte Strait Exploratory Adventure (info here) and behind my desk again on 23 October, so expect blog entries, a long string of image posts in my Gallery of Latest Additions (I have SO MANY images to share!) and other website updates beginning shortly after that.

Some random tidbits...including "teasers" of what to expect soon...

1. Yes, I HAVE begun systematic testing of the Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR - and have also shot it extensively in the field (and I WILL be shooting it more on my coming photo tour). It's too early for me to give details of my findings, but its performance has exceeded my expectations by a fairly significant margin. It is VERY sharp up to 400mm (even sharper at 400mm than the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S at the distances I've tested so far!) but does soften up a LITTLE BIT at longer focal lengths (I have not had a chance to pinpoint where it softens slightly, but I currently think it's somewhere around 500mm). Expect more comments about this lens shortly after I return (tho' my full review is still a ways off).

2. Yes, I have a Plena (Z 135mm f1.8S) coming my way - it's likely to arrive just after I leave for my next photo tour. Which means I can begin shooting with it and doing some testing on it shortly after I return. I am still undecided if I am going to do a full review of the lens, but at the very least I will be commenting on its performance and posting images shots with it. I will also explain why I (as a wildlife photographer) would want this lens (and a lens like the Z 85mm f1.2S, which I just love).

3. The internet service at my cabin has decayed exponentially over the past 6 months, and my service provider has no solution to fixing the problem (and apparently no plans to even continue with the service ...thanks for nothing Telus!). "only very moderate speed" service is now down to a snail's pace and with frequent outages. SO...I've had to initiate switching to the only other option available to me - Starlink. My conversion to the new service should take place on or about October 23 and it SHOULD mean a massive increase (approximately 10-fold) in both my upload and download speed. So...why am I mentioning this? Well...if my Starlink connection gives me the data transfer rates it should, I will have the option of posting more "dynamic" content...such as summaries of my lens and gear reviews via video (you may have heard of a thing called YouTube 😉). I'm still thinking about exactly how I want to present my gear testing and reviews on YouTube, but expect whatever I do to contain REAL and SUBSTANTIVE information, and not just meaningless fluff (I guarantee you won't see any lens sniff tests or wind tunnel tests from me).

4. After having my June Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen photo tours heavily impacted (basically destroyed!) by COVID, both my late August Summer in the Southern Great Bear Exploratory Photo Adventure (info here) and my mid-September Into the Great Bear Rainforest Exploratory Photo Adventure (info here) went EXTREMELY well. Expect commentaries about the two photo tours (and posts of images captured during them) beginning in late October.

Gotta run...time to pack for my next adventure...



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22 Aug 2023: Off to the Great Bear Rainforest...

I leave early tomorrow AM to lead my Summer in the Southern Great Bear Exploratory Photo Adventure. Should be great fun!

I'll be away until September 4th...which means there'll be no blog or web updates until after I return.

A couple quick notes:

1. Any 2024 photo tour enquiries (see blog entry immediately below) that roll in during my absence will be dealt with in the order they entered my email inbin.

2. It's highly likely my shiny new Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR will have arrived and be waiting for me when I return. I will be testing this lens extensively against just a whack of other Nikkor (and Sigma) lenses (both zooms and primes) that overlap with it in focal length. That testing will begin as soon as I'm back and I will be posting regular short updates here on my blog about how the Z 180-600mm stacks up against "competing" glass. I am REALLY looking forward to putting Nikon's latest "super-zoom" through its paces and discovering how it really performs under real-world shooting conditions.



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16 Aug 2023: Registration Opens for Spring 2024 Photo Tours!

I have just completed allocating spots for those who signed up for my 2024 photo tour Priority Booking Lists for my three spring 2024 photo tours. Which means that I am now officially opening up registration for the remaining spots on these 3 popular photo tours:

1. Late May 2024: Spring in the Southern Great Bear Instructional Photo Tour (Registration NOW OPEN - 3 spots available)

2. Mid June 2024: Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour (Registration NOW OPEN - 3 spots available)

3. Mid-late June 2024: The Khutzeymateen Explorer Photo Op (Registration NOW OPEN - 1 spot available)

For information on my ENTIRE 2024 photo tour program just go here...

Historically spots on my Great Bear Rainforest and Khutzeymateen photo tours sell very fast - so if you are interested in joining in on the fun in 2024 you should contact me pronto!



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7 Aug 2023: Late Cancellation Opens Up Spot on October Marine Mammals Photo Tour!

A late cancellation has opened up one spot on my mid-October "Autumn in the Queen Charlotte Strait" Exploratory Photo Adventure. This photo tour focuses primarily on the marine mammals of the biologically rich and diverse Queen Charlotte Strait near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Our "target" species on this trip include Killer Whales, Humpback Whales, Sea Otters, Steller Sea Lions, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, and more. This trip also features diverse coastal sea birds and great land- and seascapes.

Here's where to go to get all the critical details:

• Dedicated web page: Autumn in the Queen Charlotte Strait Exploratory Photo Adventure

• Detailed Brochure: Brochure: Autumn in the Queen Charlotte Strait Exploratory Photo Adventure (PDF: 7.1 MB)

This last spot will be allocated on a "first-come, first-served" basis. So if doing a fantastic photo tour on the spectacular BC coast is on your bucket would be a good idea to move quickly.

For more info - or to nab this last spot - just contact me at



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13 July 2023: My Experience with the Z 8 Service Advisory/Recall

I know that to "get attention" online you're supposed to be ultra-negative, snarky or say something completely outrageous (or any combination thereof). I also know that if you say something good about a product or company you risk being called a "fan-boy" by many. But regardless of the wisdom of doing it (and because I really don't care about getting attention for what I consider the wrong reasons), I feel it's appropriate to relay my own experiences with the recent Nikon Z 8 service advisory/recall (to fix an issue where a flaw/defect prevents a lens from being locked to the camera). Note that I live in Canada and the following experiences were with Nikon Canada and I have no idea how they compare to the experiences provided by Nikon in other countries.

My Z 8 was one of the those that was recalled and needed to be fixed by Nikon. To be really honest I was really frustrated (PO'ed for sure) about having to send my nearly new Z 8 back to Nikon. My frustration was probably "enhanced" by two things. First, I live in very rural area where even the simplest shipping tasks take WAY longer than you'd expect - like a week for a simple letter to go a few hundred kilometers. So I was instantly thinking "Great, I lose my Z 8 for 3-weeks to a month". Second, only a few days after the announcement of the recall I was leaving for a 6-day "non-photography" trip to Nova Scotia where I wanted to bring a super minimal kit (Z 8 and Z 24-120mm) in my carry-on and where I absolutely did NOT want to bring any checked baggage. So it was one of the few times where I REALLY wanted to take advantage of the size/weight savings of the Z 8 (compared to my Z 9's). GRRRR!!!

So at that point I was definitely in the "VERY unimpressed" category.

But, being a good boy, I followed Nikon's recall "process" to a T. And...absolutely everything went silky smooth. As part of the online process with Nikon Canada I quickly received my free Purolator shipping labels. I shipped my Z 8 on the first Monday after the recall, and received notice Wednesday AM that Nikon had it (along with links to check the progress of the repair and to track its return shipping). By the next day I received notice my camera was already fixed and on its way back to me. Huh? Everything going smoothly? How could that be in this day and age of enhanced customer disservice strategies?

And, shortly thereafter (while I was away on my trip) I received notice my camera was back and ready for pickup (at the local courier office). So we're talking 8 total days of my Z 8 being out of my hands (if I had been home to receive it). Absolutely mind-boggling!

So I went from being VERY unimpressed with the need to send my Z 8 back for repair to being VERY impressed with how the recall/repair process was executed. Major kudos are extended to all those at Nikon who created and executed upon the Z 8 recall/repair program. Well done - you took what could have been a big negative and turned it close to neutral (nope, still NOT a positive for me, but dealing with it was as painless as possible). Good save!



PS: My trip to Nova Scotia with my partner was of a personal nature...but these three images will probably tell you what we picked up there (and when you're looking at the images think "seven inches tall"): Let's Hit the Road; Every Stick's Worst Nightmare; The Lowdown

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1 July 2023: New Khutzeymateen Grizzlies Images Appearing in...

New images (and image commentaries) from my 2023 Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour (details of the photo tour here) are finding their way into my popular Gallery of Latest Additions. Check 'em out...

I'll be adding more new images to that gallery in the coming days and keep your eye on it!



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26 June 2023: Late Cancellation Opens Up Spot on September Great Bear Photo Tour!

A late cancellation has opened up one spot on my very popular September "Into The Great Bear Rainforest" Exploratory Photo Adventure. This photo tour is always extremely difficult to get a spot on and it invariably features just fantastic photo ops.'s my photo tour with the highest probability of encountering and photographing the all-white Spirit Bear.

Here's where to go to get all the critical details:

• Dedicated web page: Into the Great Bear Rainforest Exploratory Photo Adventure

• Detailed Brochure: Brochure: Into the Great Bear Rainforest Exploratory Photo Adventure (PDF: 7.7 MB)

This last spot will be allocated on a "first-come, first-served" basis. So if doing a fantastic photo tour into the world-renown Great Bear Rainforest is on your bucket would be a good idea to move quickly (it's kinda one of those "ya snooze, ya looze" situations).

For more info - or to nab this last spot - just contact me at



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22 June 2023: Nikkor Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR - Better Than I Expected!

As most Nikon-shooting wildlife photographers already know, the long-awaited Z 180-600mm f5.6-6.3 VR zoom lens was announced yesterday. The announcement was, of course, anticipated and definitely not a surprise. But, at least to me, there were 3 surprises in the lens's specifications, and each of them contributed to the lens already being slotted into the "better than expected" category (at least by me). Here's the three surprises:

1. Short-throw Internal Zoom! I (and I think most) expected the Z 180-600mm to be a "typical" super-zoom lens which expanded in length as one zoomed from its shortest focal lengths to its longest one.'s an internal zoom lens that is the same length at all focal lengths! Not only does this mean the lens's balance point changes only minimally when zooming, but it's WAY BETTER for those (like me) who use rain covers a lot. Not only can it be hard to get a good rain cover fit for a telescoping zoom, but the zooming action itself can real hard to use in the field when the lens has a rain cover on. The internal zoom puts the Nikkor Z 180-600mm on par with the Sony FE 200-600mm zoom (with both ahead of the extending Canon RF 100-500mm zoom). And...owners of the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6E zoom lens will be pleased to hear that you can zoom from 180-600mm with only a 70° turn needed to go from 180 to 600mm.

2. Weather Sealed! This was another knock against the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6E zoom - it wasn't weather sealed. Well...the new Z 180-600mm IS weather-sealed. Which it needs to be for serious wildlife shooting. Another check-mark for the lens.

3. Weight! If Nikon's weight claims are accurate (and they usually are) then the Z 180-600mm is going to be really easy to handle and hand-hold. Nikon claims the lens is 1955 gm (4.3 lb) without its tripod collar, and 2140 gm (4.7 lb) with its tripod collar. While I expected the lens to be light, I was anticipating it to be in the 2250-2500 gm (or about 5-5.5 lb) range.

Of course, these are just specifications, and how a lens performs in the field (in terms of optical, autofocus, and VR performance) matters infinitely than specs do. To that end, I have contacted Nikon and requested a production model lens for testing purposes (and note that Nikon always prefers I get production models for testing as they know I am going to thoroughly test it over an extended period of time). At this point I can't say when it will arrive, but when it does I will begin sussing out how this very promising lens really performs in the field. I have no real doubt that it will be quite sharp, but how it renders out-of-focus zones still remains to be seen (and in my books the quality of out-of-focus zones is as important to a lens as sharpness is).

And, last but not least, I have confirmed with Nikon that this IS a "pure" Nikon product - it is not a re-branded Tamron (or any other 3rd party lens maker) lens.

While I'm reserving my own feelings about this lens until I test it, I think there's already no doubt that if Nikon can meet the demand and fulfill orders in a reasonable time frame, it's going to be a big hit among Nikon-shooting wildlife photographers.



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22 June 2023: COVID Batters Khutzeymateen Grizzlies Photo Tours

Just when you think we're almost done with hits back with a vengeance! I'm talking about COVID...which just battered my first of two Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Photo Tours (my instructional trip - info here). To make a long and infuriating (at least to me) story short, COVID found its way onto our boat in the Khutzeymateen and ran rampant through our guests and crew. By the last day of the photo tour 4 of 6 guests had been evacuated out. On the plus side, those of us remaining sure had a lot of room in the Zodiac!

On the very last night of the first Khutzeymateen trip I tested positive myself, which meant I had to leave the boat as my second of two back-to-back Khutzeymateen photo tours began (leaving the guests with a GREAT bear guide but no photo tour leader). Fortunately we had a new and non-infected crew (captain and bear guide plus a cook) arrive to take over and - at least until now - it looks like my second Khutzeymateen Photo Tour (my Explorer trip - info here) has not been impacted by COVID.

During my shortened stay in the Khutzeymateen I did have the some opportunities to test and explore the capabilities of some new gear (specifically the Z 800mm and Z 8) in the unique environment of the Khutzeymateen. And, because I'm back from my Khutzeymateen trips almost a full week earlier than expected, I'll be able to post images taken with - and comments about - that gear earlier than expected. Those images and comments will start appearing in my Gallery of Latest Additions soon.



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11 June 2023: Off to the Khutzeymateen...for Grizzlies!

I leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow to lead back-to-back photo tours in and around the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary - my Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen Instructional Photo Tour and my Khutzeymateen Explorer Photo Adventure. Even though I have been leading photo tours into the Khutzeymateen since 2006 I still get very excited about these trips - they're always different and always amazing! I'm particularly looking forward to shooting some new gear in the Khutz this year, including my Z 8 and my Z 800mm f6.3S. Should be great fun!

I'll be back in my office on June 26th and both blog and web updates will resume shortly after that.

Wishing all-y'all good subjects and good light while I'm away.



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7 June 2023: New Z 8 Images Appearing in My Gallery of Latest Additions...

I've added several more Z 8 images (and detailed image commentaries) to my popular Gallery of Latest Additions. The most recent additions include images shot with the Z 8 + Z 800mm f6.3S and the Z 8 + 85mm f1.2S.

For those that don't know, you can access the commentaries associated with each image by clicking on the "In the Field" tab below the main image window in this gallery (and all my image galleries).



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7 June 2023: DxO Adds Z 8 RAW Support and Z 8 Lens Modules

Z 8 owners who are users of DxO PhotoLab Elite and PureRAW will be pleased to hear that support for Z 8 RAW files (including HE and HE* raw formats) was added today. At the same time DxO added:

• Just a pile of lens optics modules for use with the Z 8, even including a module for the Z 8 + Z 800mm f6.3S
A lens optics module for the Z 9 + Z 800mm f6.3S combination

While DxO was a little slow adding RAW support for the Z 8 (both Lightroom and Capture One have had it for a number of weeks) the additions of all the Z 8 lens optics modules (and the Z 9 + Z 800mm f6.3S optics module) are a nice bonus.



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5 June 2023: Nikon Z 8 vs. Z 9: Burst Depth

In releasing the Z 8 Nikon has offered users a "mini Z 9". The Z 8 is basically a trimmed down (smaller and lighter) version of the Z 9. While some obvious compromises had to made to cut the size and weight of the Z 9 (things like going with a smaller and less powerful battery, removal of the vertical grip and controls and associated buttons, removal of the built-in GPS, etc.) we've been encouraged to think that the in the field most of the key performance parameters of the two cameras should be pretty much identical. So...same image quality, autofocus performance, and more.

Given the functional similarity of the two cameras I have opted to not bother testing the Z 8 as thoroughly as I tested the Z 9 (go here to see my thoughts on the Z 9 and a list of blog entries made on that camera). Instead, and as an owner of two Z 9's and now a Z 8, I am more interested in seeing if the two cameras do perform the same (or very similarly) in the field. Of course, being a scientist (= skeptic) at heart obviously influenced my decision to "hunt" for performance differences between the two cameras! 😉

In this blog entry I'm posting my results of some "quick and dirty" testing of the burst depth of the two cameras. And by burst depth I am referring to the number of images that can be sequentially captured at a specific frame rate until that frame rate noticeably slows or begins to "stutter". So, for example, how many lossless compressed raw images can be captured at 20 fps before the frame rate drops?

I. Bare Bones Background:

The number of images a camera can capture in a single burst is dependent on many variables, but at the end of the day it's all about how much data the camera's "buffer" can hold and how fast the camera can move data from that buffer onto a memory card. Of course the data storage and data transfer rates of the camera alone don't determine burst depth - many other factors influence the amount of data the camera must store and transfer, including the camera's resolution, file format, scene complexity, frame rate, the memory card's sustained write speed, phase of the moon (OK, I'm kidding about that last one), et cetera. In order to make meaningful comparisons of the burst depth of two or more cameras you must, of course, keep all variables impacting on the amount of data that's "flowing" through your camera constant.

II. What I Did:

I compared the number of images a Nikon Z 8 and Z 9 could capture in a single high speed burst under controlled conditions. Because a Z 9 (and presumably a Z 8) can move a LOT of data through it in a big hurry I tested image formats and frame rates that maximize the data flow through the camera (i.e., you really have to push a Z 9 to find ANY limit to their bust depths). So I tested only two RAW formats (Lossless compressed and High Efficiency* formats) and two frame rates (20 fps and 15 fps).

1. What I Kept Constant:

• The scene: I mounted my Z 400mm f2.8 on a firm tripod and focused on a distant scene that was about 50% clear sky and 50% wooded mountain ridge. All tests were conducted using the identical scene and focus point and constant lighting.
• ISO: Fixed at ISO 200
• Aperture: Fixed at f2.8
• Shutter speed: Fixed at 1/6400s
• Data Card: I used the SAME data card in both cameras - a Delkin Black CFExpress 512 GB. In past testing against many other data cards (including other Delkin Blacks of different capacity that were "supposed" to be faster) this card produced the biggest burst depths. Note that I did full re-format of the card between EACH trial (using the camera that was being tested).
• And all other camera settings...

2. What I Varied:

• File format (two file formats were tested - Lossless compressed RAWS and High Efficiency * RAWS)
• Frame rate (two frame rates were tested - 20 fps and 15 fps)

3. A Few Methodological Details:

For each file format and frame rate I ran 10 trials (this was very boring). So, for example, I ran 10 trials (bursts) of lossless compressed RAWs captured at 20 fps on my Z 9 (and, of course, on my Z 8). Note that I switched cameras after each trial - so I did one trial on my Z 9, followed by one trial on my Z 8. I told you this was very boring.

Note that when running trials where the burst depth is smaller than the number of images the card will hold, you can actually see the burst depth limit approaching as the value shown for the number of exposures remaining on the LCD or in the EVF (e.g., R020) decreases from its maximum value of 20 down to 1. A second or two after the "R value" drops to 1 the frame rate of the camera audibly slows - and this audible slowing of the frame rate denoted the end of my bursts. Note also that the R value is a good indicator of a burst being limitless (i.e., the camera will shoot at that rate until the entire memory card is full) - with a limitless burst the R value quickly drops from 20 to 17 or 18 and then holds there. If I captured 1,000 or more images and the R value was holding constant (normally at R017 or R018) the entire time I deemed the burst as limitless. Because I had the R-value as a guide, I was able to stop capturing images within one frame of when the frame rate audibly dropped.

Because of the observed extreme consistency in burst depth between each of the 10 trials for each camera (i.e., almost zero variation) I simply averaged the burst depths for each format/frame rate series. There was nothing in the variation between the trials that was even remotely interesting (or that would interest even the most bored statistician).

III. What I Found - My Results:

Here are the average numbers I obtained for burst depths for each image format/frame rate combination:

1. Lossless Compressed RAW; 20 FPS

• Nikon Z 9: 77.7 frames per burst
• Nikon Z 8: 77.6 frames per burst

In plain language - there was no difference in burst depth between the Nikon Z 8 and Z 9 when shooting continuous bursts of lossless compressed RAW images at 20 fps.

2. Lossless Compressed RAW; 15 FPS

• Nikon Z 9: Limitless burst (continues at 15 fps until data card is full)
• Nikon Z 8: Limitless burst (continues at 15 fps until data card is full)

Again, no difference between the Z 8 and Z 9. And a good take-home lesson for those who need more than 77 frames per burst on their Z 8 or Z 9 cameras - slowing the frame rate from 20 fps to 15 fps functionally removes any limit to your burst depths (assuming you're using a data card equal to or faster than the Delkin Black CFExpress 512 GB card used in this test).

3. High Efficiency* RAW; 20 FPS

• Nikon Z 9: 624.3 frames per burst
• Nikon Z 8: 481.7 frames per burst

HMMMM...this is a REAL difference between the two cameras - the Z 9 bursts were, on average, 29% bigger than those of the Z 8. Note also that by going to the HE* format the burst depths increased dramatically compared to 20 fps bursts when shooting lossless compressed images (for both the Z 8 and Z 9).

4. High Efficiency* RAW; 15 FPS

• Nikon Z 9: Limitless burst (continues at 15 fps until data card is full)
• Nikon Z 8: Limitless burst (continues at 15 fps until data card is full)

Hardly a surprise given the results above!

IV. A Brief Discussion:

I was not at all surprised that the burst depth of the Z 8 and Z 9 were identical in three of four of my image format/frame rate combinations. But I have to admit I was surprised that there was a significant and very consistent difference in burst depths between the two cameras when I was shooting High Efficiency RAW images at 20 fps. I have no explanation about why these burst depths differed. I half expect that someone will suggest this observed difference in burst depths might be related to differences in cooling rates of the two cameras when large volumes of data are flowing through them, but I have neither the information required nor the background to evaluate this...uhhhh...speculation/hypothesis.

Is there any significance to this finding? From a photographic perspective - and for 99.9% of photographers - the answer is a resounding NO. If someone decides against a Z 8 (or even criticizes it) for "ONLY" capturing 481.7 frames in a 20 fps burst when shooting High Efficiency* RAW images (compared to 624.3 for the Z 9) they need to get a life. Yes, there may be SOMEONE on the planet who can dream up a real-world use case where a burst of 481.7 45.7 MP images shot a 20 fps is insufficient...but for most of's simply irrelevant. And I have no doubt that the ONE person who NEEDS the added burst depth of the Z 9 when shooting HE* files at 20 fps WILL email me and chew me out for dissing them...😉

That said, the thing that interests me is the fact that there is a difference at all. I'm left wondering if this one admittedly obscure performance difference exists between the Z 8 and Z 9 then perhaps there are OTHER performance differences that haven't shown their head yet? Certainly in the shooting I have done with the Z 8 to date I have been more than satisfied that its performance is virtually a clone of the Z 9. Yes - and as I have already stated in a few places - I personally prefer the Z 9, but that's based largely on ergonomic differences related to camera size, especially when shooting "big" (as in BIGGER than a Z 400mm f4.5S) lenses - NOT on actual camera performance. Heck, if it wasn't for the Z 9, the Z 8 would be the absolute best wildlife camera Nikon has ever produced! And I'm sure some practitioners of "other" photographic genres (such as travel photographers) will consider the Z 8 to be THE BEST camera Nikon has ever produced, bar none.



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31 May 2023: My Coverage of the Nikon Z 8

Since last week I've received several emails from folks asking me if I am going to test, review, and thoroughly "cover" the Nikon Z 8 on this blog and website. So here's my answer...

Because of the strong similarity between the Nikon Z 8 and Z 9 I will be doing only limited testing on the Z 8, and that testing will focus primarily on performance and "usability" comparisons between the Z 8 and Z 9. So answering questions like "Do the two cameras have the same burst depth?" (Spoiler: They don't...but 99.9% of users will never notice the difference. Details on this very soon.)

And...because I am doing only limited testing on the Z 8, I won't be producing a full-fledged review of it.

However, in the coming days, weeks, and months I will have quite a bit to say about the Z 8. And I'll be saying it here on this blog and in the comments associated with my image posts in my Gallery of Latest Additions. As a matter of fact, I have already begun posting Z 8 images and making comments about the Z 8 in that gallery. My most recent image post discusses why I can already say (after shooting with the Z 8 for slightly under one week) that I strongly prefer the Z 9 over the Z 8. To view these comments you simply have to click on the "In the Field" tab below the main image window in my Gallery of Latest Additions.

So stay tuned and check back soon...



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24 May 2023: The Nikon Z 8: HE and HE* RAW File Support in Capture One

Many probably already know that the latest version of Capture One 23 (build supports Z 8 RAW files. However, the reports on Capture One's Z 8 RAW support that I saw (including Capture One's own release notes for the lastest version) didn't specify if this raw support was for ALL of the Z 8's RAW formats (i.e, lossless compressed and both "High Efficiency" - or HE - formats). So yesterday I got my hands on some HE and HE* test files - and I was pleased when I confirmed for myself that Capture One's RAW support for the Z 8 DOES include the HE and HE* formats.

While this early RAW support isn't that surprising given how similar the Z 8's RAW files should be to the Z 9's RAW files, it is still great that Capture One users (including me!) won't have to wait to process their Z 8 files.

What about other RAW processing tools? I also checked the latest versions of Lightroom Classic and DxO PhotoLab 6.6 Elite. Lightroom seems to be already supporting the HE and HE* files as well. Unfortunately, at this time DxO PhotoLab 6.6 Elite does NOT currently support the Z 8's HE and HE* files (you receive this message when you try to use PhotoLab on the HE and HE* files: "This image cannot be processed since it was taken with a camera that is not supported by this version of DxO PhotoLab"). Because I use DxO PhotoLab for noise reduction and capture sharpening of my RAW images I am hoping they add Z 8 HE and HE* RAW support soon. Note that I did NOT test Z 8 lossless compressed RAW files in Capture One, Lightroom, or DxO PhotoLab (but I am assuming/guessing that the same situation will exist with those files - i.e., already supported by Capture One and Lightroom, but not DxO PhotoLab).

I'll have my own Z 8 tomorrow and I'll begin testing and using it immediately. My first tests will be to compare the buffer size (or, more accurately, burst depth) of the Z 8 and Z 9. I think it is likely that the burst depths will be similar (or even identical) but I do want to confirm it. I'll report my findings here as soon as I have them.



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18 May 2023: The Nikon Z 8: Set Up, Customization, and Use Online Sessions

I will begin offering online sessions on the "Set Up, Customization and Use of the Nikon Z 8" in the first week of July. These are 1-on-1 or 1-on-2 sessions designed to help wildlife photographers get the most out of their Nikon Z 8. The sessions cover:

• A very detailed explanation of the Z 8's autofocus options and capabilities, including real-world tips on which AF modes to use in specific wildlife photography situations.
• How to most effectively set up your Z 8's Shooting Menu Banks and Recall Shooting Function option to match your own needs and subject matter.
• How to best customize the Z 8's controls (buttons, dials and more!) to match your own shooting style/needs.
• And just a ton of other tips and tricks for using your Nikon Z 8 most effectively!

For most users the complete online instruction package for the Nikon Z 8 will take 2-4 hours (over one or two 2-hour sessions) depending on their familiarity with the camera (and how much "prep" work individuals do before our sessions).

These sessions are designed for up to two persons only - past experience has shown that with more than two participants it's impossible to effectively cover the material as "personally" and thoroughly as I like.

For more info on the Z 8 Set Up sessions (session and total cost, scheduling, etc) contact me directly at For more general info on my online tutoring offerings, just go here...

Finally, please note that I will only be able to accept a very limited number of participants for July and early August online sessions on the Z 8. My travel schedule will permit me to offer a few more Z 8 Set Up sessions in early September. I'll be unable to offer any Z 8 sessions from mid-September through to about the 3rd week of October. From late October on I'll be "good to go" again on offering more Z 8 sessions...



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10 May 2023: The Nikon Z 8 Is Launched...

Just a few hours ago Nikon announced their latest mirrorless camera in the Z lineup - the Z 8. As many expected, the Z 8 is functionally a "small Z 9" - apparently (according to Nikon) 30% smaller and 30% lighter than the Z 9. It is also significantly smaller than the D850.

At this point it appears that the key performance specifications match the Z 9 - same or similar 45.7 MP sensor, same main AF options (and presumably performance?), et cetera. Of course, the smaller body of the Z 8 means that there are no vertical controls (unless one adds the optional MB-N12 Power Battery Pack) and there are only 2 function buttons (rather than 3) on the front side of the camera.

I have already received a number of emails asking me what I think of the Z 8. To be honest, until I try/test one I can't really say too much. I do think the smaller size and lighter weight WILL appeal to a lot of shooters. I also think it will sell very well as camera size/weight seems to be becoming an increasingly important consideration for more and more shooters.

And...full disclosure...I will be getting one for testing purposes. Once I have had a chance to test it thoroughly I will decide if I will shoot with one Z 9 and one Z 8, or stick with two Z 9's. Note that getting the Z 8 will allow me to offer personalized online sessions on "The Set-up, Use, and Customization of the Nikon Z 8" (as I have been doing for quite some time with the Z 9). You can find out more about my online tutoring right here...

I'll post additional information/thoughts about the Z 8 as I find out more about it!



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9 May 2023: ANOTHER Thursday Evening Talk: Digital Workflow for...

On the evening of Thursday, May 11th I'm giving an online talk/presentation entitled "Digital Workflow for Wildlife Photographers". Here are the critical details:

• WHAT: Online Presentation: Digital Workflow for Wildlife Photographers
• WHEN: Thursday, May 11 @ 8 PM EDT (75 min plus questions)
• WHERE: Inside the Journal of Wildlife Photography Website!
• FOR WHO: All members of the Journal of Wildlife Photography (AKA JOWP)
• COST: FREE to all JOWP members

This one is kinda akin to "The Talk" you deliver to kids "at that age" - where the realities of life (or in this case digital wildlife photography) are faced head-on! It's going to be a wide-ranging talk where I discuss digital workflow from a "drone's eye view". I'll also go down some key rabbit holes and get down and dirty with topics such as...

"Is it STILL worth shooting RAW files, or should I just shoot JPEG's?"
"To Catalog or NOT to Catalog?"
"Where does image culling best fit into my workflow?"
"How critical is it to selectively adjust my images?"
"Arrghhh...Do I REALLY have to keyword my images??"

I think a whole lot of wildlife photographers will find this presentation highly useful and highly helpful.

As you have probably already figured out, to view and participate in this presentation you have to join the Journal of Wildlife Photography. If this appeals to you (or you're even a little curious about it), check out the special membership offer the Journal "gave" to me to extend to anyone who comes to them from this blog:

Journal of Wildlife Photography Membership "Deal"

If you follow that link you'll see the details of the special offer for JOWP membership. Historically JOWP was simply a quarterly high-quality digital wildlife magazine. But very recently JOWP has gone through a complete "re-birth" and it is now a full online "community" of wildlife photographers, complete with various active user groups (there's a Nikon group, a Canadian group, an America's Wildlife group, a Bird Photography group, etc.), online instruction, monthly photo contests and more - and with a whole lot more for members coming soon. There's currently over 16,000 members from around the world and it's growing quickly.

And finally (and as I have previously mentioned on this blog) if you DO join the journal using the link above I DO get a very small "perc". I'm STILL working on getting that chocolate bar by getting 1,000 or so new members to sign up! 😉

Cheers...and hope to see you Thursday evening!


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24 April 2023: Thursday Evening Talk: The ART of Wildlife Photography

This Thursday evening I'm giving an online talk/presentation entitled "The ART of Wildlife Photography: Turn Your Images Into Masterpieces" (that's a mouthful, eh?). Here are the critical details:

• WHAT: Online Presentation: The ART of Wildlife Photography: Turn Your Images Into Masterpieces
• WHEN: Thursday, April 27 @ 8 PM EDT (75 min plus questions)
• WHERE: Inside the Journal of Wildlife Photography Website!
• FOR WHO: All members of the Journal of Wildlife Photography (AKA JOWP)
• COST: FREE to all JOWP members

I think all levels of wildlife photographers will find this talk both interesting and highly useful. I'm certainly looking forward to it! 😉

As you have probably already figured out, to view and participate in this presentation (and future ones we have in the works) you have to join the Journal of Wildlife Photography. If this appeals to you (or you're even a little curious about it), check out the special membership offer the Journal "gave" to me to extend to anyone who comes to them from this blog:

Journal of Wildlife Photography Membership "Deal"

If you follow that link you'll see the details of the special offer for JOWP membership. Historically JOWP was simply a quarterly high-quality digital wildlife magazine. But very recently JOWP has gone through a complete "re-birth" and it is now a full online "community" of wildlife photographers, complete with various active user groups (there's a Nikon group, a Canadian group, an America's Wildlife group, a Bird Photography group, etc.), online instruction, monthly photo contests and more - and with a whole lot more for members coming soon. There's currently over 16,000 members from around the world and it's growing quickly.

And finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, if you DO join the journal using the link above I get a very small "perc"...something like if I sign up 1,000 members I get a free chocolate bar (or something on those lines!). But I only agreed to give a presentation to their membership after fully checking them out and applying the "Would I feel good about joining this group?" test to it. And it passed with flying colours!

Cheers...and hope to see you Thursday evening!


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19 April 2023: 2023 Photo Tours: Only TWO (2) Spots Remaining!

19 April Update (4 hours after original post): One of the two remaining spots for the "Summer in the Southern Great Bear Super Voyage" is now gone. So only ONE spot remains.

The few remaining openings on my 2023 photo tours are steadily diminishing. Right now I'm down to having only TWO ONE remaining spots on all my 2023 photo tours. The two one remaining spots are on my "Summer in the Southern Great Bear Super Voyage" photo op photo tour. This is my longest and most "encompassing" Great Bear Rainforest photo tour and always delivers amazing photo ops.

Here's where to get more details about this great trip:

The Critical Details: Summer in the Southern Great Bear Super Voyage
And...Download PDF Brochure (PDF: 8.6 MB)

IF you're interested in this bucket-list photo tour you should contact me soon...with only two one spots left they it CAN go fast!



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17 April 2023: Nikkor Z 85mm f1.2S Added to My "Stuff I Use" Page...

I just added the Nikkor Z 85mm f1.2S to my Stuff I Use - Part II: Lenses & Teleconverters page. The listing for the Z 85mm f1.2S contains the key elements of my test results of it, along with some further comments about the lens performance in the field. You can read those comments on the Z 85mm f1.2S right here....

As I expected when I updated it (after over a decade!), my "Stuff I Use - Part II: Lenses & Teleconverters" lens directory page is proving to be very popular, especially to wildlife photographers transitioning their lens collection from F-mount to Z-mount.



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14 April 2023: Two Upcoming Online Presentations...

In the next month I'll be giving two online presentations that many wildlife photographers may find interesting and useful (and possibly even enjoyable!). I'm giving these presentations to members of the Journal of Wildlife Photography and...

"Hold-on, hold-on" (you say). "What the heck is the Journal of Wildlife Photography?" (you ask).

Good question. To make a short story longer (and as a bit of background), recently the Journal of Wildlife Photography approached me to give some talks/presentations to their members. To be completely honest...before they approached me I had never heard of them. Historically they were a quarterly high-quality digital wildlife magazine (only), but they have just recently gone through a complete "re-birth" and are now a full online "community" of wildlife photographers, complete with various active user groups (there's a Nikon group, a Canadian group, an America's Wildlife group, a Bird Photography group, etc.), online instruction, monthly photo contests and more - and with a whole lot more for members coming soon. There's currently over 16,000 members from around the world and it's growing quickly.

Anyway...back to the point. I have agreed to give two presentations to their members in April and May. Here's the broad strokes for the two talks I'm giving:

1. The ART of Wildlife Photography (April 27th; 8 PM EDT; 75 minutes plus questions)

2. Digital Workflow for Wildlife Photographers (May 11th; 8 PM EDT; 75 minutes plus questions)

Both of these talks are FREE to members of the Journal of Wildlife Photography.

So...of course...that means to view and participate in these presentations (and future ones we have in the works) you have to join the Journal of Wildlife Photography. If this appeals to you (or you're even a little curious about it), check out the special membership offer the Journal "gave" to me to extend to anyone who comes to them from this blog:

Journal of Wildlife Photography Membership "Deal"

If you follow that link you'll see the details of the special offer. In my view gaining access to the digital magazine is - in itself - well worth the price of membership. And now with the "reborn" website and online community (plus presentations, e-books, and more) of the Journal it's one of the best deals around - especially for those looking to learn more about wildlife photography or simply for inspiration.

And finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, if you DO join the journal using the link above I get a very small "perc"...something like if I sign up 1,000 members I get a free chocolate bar (or something on those lines!). But (just so you know) I only agreed to give a presentation to their members after fully checking them out and applying the "Would I feel good about joining this group?" test to it. And it passed with flying colours! 😉



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12 April 2023: Update to Z 800mm f6.3S VR Review...

I have just updated my review of Nikon's Z 800mm f6.3S VR lens. The updates include:

• 5 new sample images from my recent Pacific Rim Herring Spawn photo tour have been added and...

• the addition of an entire new section that highlights new things I've learned about the lens since acquiring my own copy of it and/or shooting it extensively on my photo tours.

Here's where to go to see:

The Entire Z 800mm f6.3S Review
The New Sample Images
The New Section: Follow-up Field Performance Observations

All-in-all, the Z 800mm f6.3S VR now gets an even bigger thumbs up from me than it did before I took it on Pacific Rim Herring Spawn photo tour.



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5 April 2023: Back in the Saddle...And Catching Up!

After a relatively long hiatus from online activity, I'm now in a position to begin updating this blog and website on my normal quasi-regular basis! What's been keeping me busy? Here's a quick update (along with a heads-up on what's coming soon on this blog and website):

Pacific Rim Herring Spawn Photo Tour and Workshop

This photo tour ran from March 10-18. We were based out of an oceanfront lodge in Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC (details on the trip can be found here). COVID did its best to throw a wrench into the works, but our persistence and a little quick-pivoting in logistics minimized the impact to our adventure. And, most importantly, all of our group stayed healthy and had a great week.

As expected, our primary subject matter on this trip consisted of marine mammals and birds (including many species of sea birds, lots of Bald Eagles, etc.). To say we had lots of opportunities to practice our BIF (bird in flight) skills on fast-flying birds (like cormorants) would be a large understatement.

In terms of my own shooting on the trip...I made the decision at the beginning of the trip to shoot my Z 800mm f6.3S as much as possible, including in scenarios that one would not normally use such a lens. Bottom line is I really wanted to stress test the Z 800mm and come away with an even better understanding about what you can do - and what you can't do - with it. This was my first photo tour since acquiring the Z 800mm and while I tested it very extensively (see my review of it here) before the trip, nothing is more instructive than a solid week of shooting a lens in tough conditions. My take home lessons? Several. First, and at least for me, the Z 800mm can be hand-held for full days of intensive shooting, and also in situations where you must hand-hold the lens for several minutes at a time while waiting to catch that "just right" pose. Second, the AF speed of the lens (when shot on a Z 9) is more than sufficient to capture sharp shots of very fast flying birds. Overall...and even though I was already very happy with it before the trip...the Z 800mm did perform beyond my expectations of it.

Did my extensive shooting of the Z 800mm during the photo tour reveal any flaws in the lens? While I wouldn't call it a flaw (largely because ALL super-telephotos exhibit this same issue to varying degrees) I did find that you have to be quite careful with what's in the "near" out-of-focus zones with this lens. So...if you have busy immediate foregrounds or immediate backgrounds (especially if they contain high-contrast, irregular objects and/or specular on my trip things like a group of shiny rocks or perhaps barnacles on a rock around the subject) those out-of-focus objects don't render as well (or as smoothly) as they would if you were shooting a "traditional" fast super-telephoto like a 400mm f2.8 or a 600mm f4. In a sense, with the Z 800mm f6.3S objects in these near out-of-focus zones appear more irregular or "nervous". I know anything said online tends to be easily blown completely out of proportion, so I want to stress this "issue" does exist with virtually all other lenses as well (to varying degrees). In ALL my shooting (with ALL my lenses) I pay close attention to what's in the near out-of-focus zones...with my Z 800mm f6.3S I am just going to be a little more careful.

I have already begun posting images (and image commentaries) captured during this photo tour in my Gallery of Latest Additions.

Nikkor Z 85mm f1.2S: Arrival, Testing, and Review

My Z 85mm f1.2S arrived just over a week ago and I have already completed my field testing of it. My goal is to have a short review of it completed by late April. And I say "short review" because while I LOVE short, fast prime lenses (especially 85mm ones!) it won't be a lens I (or other wildlife photographers) will be relying on as much as longer focal length lenses. And my review will include my rationale for acquiring and using it for wildlife.

Am I willing to say anything about it now? Sure. First, it IS a very large and very heavy lens for an 85mm. Of course it's exceptionally sharp (as is the much smaller Z 85mm f1.8S). But the Z 85mm f1.2S is ALL about the bokeh! Out-of-focus zones to lust after. In many ways it's very much like the legendary 200mm f2 - heavy and very dense, but in the right hands this lens has the potential to produce very, very special images.

Cheers...more soon (stay tuned)...


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7 March 2023: Gonzo Until March 20th

I leave for BC's west coast at the crack of dawn tomorrow to lead my Pacific Rim Herring Spawn Photo Tour & Workshop. I'll be away until March 20th.

While I'm away there will be no updates to this blog and website, but I will have email access and will be responding to emails. So those emailing me about any of the few remaining spots on 2023 photo tours will get responses. You can view a list of my photo tours with available spaces right here...



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1 March 2023: Major Update to "Techniques" Page...

I just posted an updated version of my "Techniques" page of this website. This page discusses just a few of the techniques I use when I'm "In the Field", "Behind the Camera", or "At the Computer". I think most folks will find the 3 topics discussed under the "In the Field" section of greatest interest.

Here's the link to the updated page:

Brad Hill: A Few of My Key Techniques

Observant followers of this blog will probably realize by now I'm pushing to get caught up on a lot of things before my field (and photo tour) season really gets rolling! 😉



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24 Feb 2023: Major Update to "Digital Darkroom" Section...

I just posted updated versions of the two "Digital Darkroom" pages on this website. These pages outline the computer hardware and software that I use in my workflow.

Here's the links to the updated and revised "Digital Darkroom" pages:

Digital Darkroom: Part I: Digital Workflow & Software

Digital Darkroom: Part II: Computer Hardware

Some may find the updated information useful.



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16 Feb 2023: Major Update to "Stuff I Use" Pages...

Late yesterday I posted updated versions of the 3 "Stuff I Use" pages on this website. While doing the updates I decided to expand on the usefulness of this section of my website, so now these pages are like "resource summaries/directories". So on these pages you'll now find not only a listing of the cameras, lenses, and other gear I am currently, but also handy links to any of my past blog entries, my reviews or my commentaries about that piece of gear. So if you want to go to single place to access ALL the info on the Z 100-400mm f4.5S (or any other lens or camera I'm using) this is the place to visit!

Here's the links to the updated and revised "Stuff I Use" pages:

Brad Hill: Stuff I Use - Part I: Cameras

Brad Hill: Stuff I Use - Part II: Lenses & Teleconverters

Brad Hill: Stuff I Use - Part III: Everything Else I Drag Into the Field!

Part II (on the lenses and teleconverters) definitely contains the most meat and I'm pretty sure this is the section that will prove most useful (and have the most web traffic) over time.

Anyway...hopefully some will find these updates useful.



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04 Feb 2023: Cool Tool: Evaluating the Environmental Cost of Your Food

As one who likes to make informed decisions relevant to my own impact on the environment, I was quite pleased this morning when I ran across this very cool tool that provides dynamic comparisons of the environmental impact of the food I eat. And I thought others might find it interesting/useful as well. So here you go:

Which food is better for the environment?

Yes, I'm aware that there are a lot of assumptions that went into the modelling that produced this tool, and there are definitely some environmental costs (that may vary geographically) that have been omitted (at least for some of the foods), but it's still an interesting and useful tool.



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01 Feb 2023: Continuing to Post Comments on the Z 600mm f4S

Just a quick FYI to let all-y'all know that I am continuing to post comments on the performance of the Z 600mm f4S in the commentaries of the images in my Gallery of Latest Additions. And, as a further FYI, to access the commentaries for EACH image in any of my galleries you simply have to click on the "In the Field" tab below the main image window. Within that commentary you'll also find links to much larger (higher resolution) sample images.

My most recent post discusses how the image quality of the Z 400mm f2.8S with its TC engaged (so at 560mm) stacks up against the Z 600mm f4S when it is shot native (sans TC, so at 600mm).



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26 Jan 2023: Current State of the Union: 2023 Photo Tour Availability

FEB 17 UPDATE: Number of available spots on each photo tour updated.

After what seemed like an interminable process, I have completed placing all those who were on 2023 Priority Booking lists on their 2023 photo tours. Which means I know exactly how many spots are still up for grabs on my 2023 photo tours.

The one-sentence summmary: All spring photo tours are sold out (not surprisingly), but there are a few spots available on my late summer and early autumn photo tours.


1. Summer in the Southern Great Bear Exploratory Photo Adventure 2023 - The SUPER VOYAGE!

• WHEN: August 24 - September 3, 2023
• 1-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION: My longest and most in-depth photo tour of British Columbia's incomparable Great Bear Rainforest - with a spectacular diversity of wildlife subject matter!
• FOR MORE INFO: View trip web page
• FOR THE MOST INFO: Download trip brochure (PDF: 8.6 MB)

2. Into the Great Bear Rainforest Exploratory Photo Adventure 2023

• WHEN: September 20-29, 2023
• 1-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION: Travels into the amazing Great Bear Rainforest during the peak of the salmon run and thus focuses slightly more on bears (including Spirit Bears) than the Summer Great Bear Super Voyage.
• FOR MORE INFO: View trip web page
• FOR THE MOST INFO: Download trip brochure (PDF: 7.7 MB)

3. Autumn in the Queen Charlotte Strait Exploratory Photo Adventure 2023

• WHEN: October 12-19, 2023
• 1-SENTENCE DESCRIPTION: This one is about Marine Mammals (Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, Sea Otters, Sea Lions...and more) with amazingly scenic backdrops - nirvana for "animalscape" lovers!
• FOR MORE INFO: View trip web page
• FOR THE MOST INFO: Download trip brochure (PDF: 7.1 MB)

I will be leading all of these photo tours myself.

These remaining spots will be allocated on a first-come, first served if you're interested you should probably make your move pronto! Contact me at to nab one of these spots!



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22 Jan 2023: About the 1.00 to 1.10 Z Super-telephoto Lens Firmware Update

Earlier this week Nikon issued a lens firmware update for their four super-telephoto Z lenses - the Z 400mm f4.5S, the Z 400mm f2.8S, the Z 600mm f4S, and the Z 800mm f6.3S. This update (from version 1.00 to 1.10 for all 4 lenses) brings the Nikon big glass up to par on their firmware with most of the other Z lenses.

So what does the new firmware actually do? Well, if you own a Z 6II, Z 7II, or a Z 9 (and any of the four lenses) it "activates" two custom menu items that can be really handy. Especially if you regularly hand-hold these lenses. Here's a quick run down of what each of the two updates actually gives you:

Focus ring rotation range (custom function f9 on the Z 9): You can now control how far you have to rotate the focus ring on the lens to go from closest focus to infinity. The shortest rotation range is 90° (one quarter of a rotation of the focus ring), the longest rotation range is 720° (two full rotations of the focus ring). This means you can functionally adjust the sensitivity of the focus ring, with a longer throw giving you more "fine control" than a shorter throw. Of course, you still have the "non-linear" setting, which automatically changes the sensitivity of the focus ring based on how fast you turn it - turn it fast and the focus ring rotation needed to move the focus a large distance decreases, turn it slow and you need MORE focus ring rotation to move the focus position a given amount.

Switch focus/control ring roles (custom function f11 on the Z 9): This function does exactly what it says - if this function is turned "On" then your focus ring takes on the role of the control ring, and the control rings becomes your focus ring.

For me, as a still wildlife photographer, these firmware updates are actually a pretty big deal. Why? Well...I like to hand-hold all my super-telephoto lenses near their distal end (here's a recent shot of me hand-holding my Z 800mm PF to show what I mean). Even though this hand-holding method means I have to support the full weight of the lens with my left arm (which I am sure some won't like or will think is "wrong"), this leaves my left hand and my left thumb near the Fn button(s), the function ring (if the lens has one), and the control ring. But it leaves my thumb quite a ways away from the focusing ring. However, if I turn custom function f11 "On" then the control ring becomes my focusing ring, and I CAN easily reach that ring with my left thumb (while shooting). SO...if I have the need to quickly override the autofocus system on any of my super-telephoto lenses, I can now do so without changing my grip on the lens (which invariably will shake the lens).

I know some may be thinking "Yeah, but how often do you actually override the AF system of a super-telephoto lens to fine-tune your focus?" Well, to be honest, only very rarely. However...if you find yourself focusing on a small-ish distant subject (think of a bird in flight) and the AF system grabs and sticks to the background (which any wildlife photographer will know DOES happen - and not nearly as infrequently as we'd like!) then you can bring the AF system into the right distance range quickly and easily by spinning the control ring with your left thumb. And, for the record, this is very fast to do if you select "non-linear" in custom setting f9 (which you can probably guess is my preferred setting for that option).

So, at least in my books, this is one of those "small but surprisingly useful" firmware updates. Now if Nikon would give us some additional control ring options I'd be even happier! ;-)



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13 Jan 2023: So...What's Left on My Z-lens Wishlist?

18 January 2023 UPDATE: The Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF lens that is referred to below as "up for grabs" has been sold. So it is no longer "up for grabs"! ;-)

Recently I've made a few references to my Z-based wildlife photography kit being almost or "pretty much" complete. Now that I have the Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S, the Z 400mm f4.5S, the Z 400mm f2.8S, and the Z 800mm f6.3S in my possession I am well-stocked in wildlife lenses. And I do have a fairly full range of shorter Z-mount lenses that I occasionally use for wildlife as well, including the Z 24-120mm f4S, the Z 85mm f1.8S and a few more. At this point I really only have two remaining F-mount lenses that fit into the "wildlife lens" category - the Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E and the Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF. So what Z-mount lenses are still on my wishlist (and that I'd be willing to fork out money for)? It's a pretty short list:

1. Z 120-300mm f2.8S (and I strongly hope its FULL name is the "Z 120-300mm f2.8 TC VR S!")

While I know many wildlife photographers would consider this lens "too short" (in focal length) for their needs, I just love this lens. Yep, it's just beast - not only is it very heavy (with a shooting weight of 3468 gm [or almost 8 lb] on my scales), but it's also very "dense". Which makes it a bit of a pain to travel with or carry in the field. But I like the results I get with it so much I am willing to put up its weight.

What changes would I like to see in a Z-mount version of this lens? I'd LOVE IT if it had a built-in 1.4x TC. And, if Nikon could figure out a way to shave 500 gm or so off its weight (I'd like more, but let's stay real) I'd be tickled pink! In a perfect world I'd love it if the lens had a Function Ring on it - and if Nikon had to remove the Control Ring to make room for the Function Ring I wouldn't lose any sleep at all (which tells you what I think of the Control Ring).

Do I think this lens is coming soon? Well, I really hope I'm wrong on this, but NOPE...I think it will be quite some time (two or more years?) before the 120-300mm gets "zeddified". Compared to many other telephotos it is a niche lens (though loved by many sports photographers)...and there probably just isn't a big enough market for it for Nikon to prioritize its development. But...I sure hope I'm wrong about this.

2. Z 200mm f2S

I think my strong preference for fast lenses is beginning to show! One of my pandemic projects was cleaning up my wildlife image catalog and I began with culling my Brown Bear collection. During this process I ran across a section filled with bear images shot with the Nikkor 200mm f2 VR. And they just stood out instantly! I just love the look. With the reality of the transition to Z I really don't regret selling my F-mount 200mm f2 VR, but if Nikon came out with a Z 200mm f2 VR I'd instantly order one. And, for my uses, it doesn't need to have a built-in TC (but I would like it to have a Function Ring!).

Do I think this lens is coming soon? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw it before the Z 120-300mm f2.8S...but I doubt it's right around the corner. Maybe in the next year to 18 months (fingers crossed)?

And, to anticipate emails asking me "But what about..."

1. But What About A Z 500mm f5.6 PF?

Despite how well-received - and how good - the 500mm f5.6E PF is, it's not a priority for me to have a Z-version of it (as a matter of fact, I've placed my own 500mm PF up for grabs). Why? I've found that the Z 400mm f4.5S functionally replaces it for me. Not only is the Z 400mm f4.5S noticeably lighter, when you combine it with the Z-TC 1.4X its image quality at 560mm goes toe-to-toe with the 500mm PF. So a Z 500mm f5.6S PF doesn't get on my wishlist.

2. But What About the Z 200-600mm?

I fully appreciate why a lot of folks are keen to get that Z 200-600mm that has been on Nikon's Z lens roadmap for quite some time. But, as one who has tried very hard to like and use super-zooms (but failed miserably at doing so!)...well...not on my own wishlist.

Is there anything at all on my "pure speculation but could be interesting" list? Yeah, there is. As one who has come to REALLY appreciate how good the Z 400mm f4.5S is, I'm left wondering if Nikon couldn't do the same thing thing (and might be thinking about) a 600mm version of it. So perhaps a small(ish), lightweight(ish) Z 600mm f5.6S that is to the Z 600mm f4S what the Z 400mm f4.5S is to the Z 400mm f2.8S? And, of course, priced appropriately/proportionately (like about 25% of the price of the Z 600mm f4S). Heck, if Nikon did come up with this Z 600mm f5.6S I think it would go directly to my wishlist - it would be great addition to my "alternate" lightweight wildlife kit (AKA my wildlife "commando kit") I use when I have to hike longer distances with my gear. Given the relatively short timeline between when the Z 400mm f2.8S started shipping and the announcement of the Z 400mm f4.5S, we could theoretically hear about this lens (the Z 600mm f5.6S) in the next 6 months or so? Again, this pure speculation and/or wishful thinking on my end...I have NO inside info that this lens is in the works.

That's it...I'm not hard to please, eh? ;-)




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09 Jan 2023: Testing the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S

Back on December 19 Nikon Canada sent me a brand new Z 600mm f4 TC VR S (production model) for testing. I had the lens for a little over two weeks so I had ample time to go over it - and test it, and shoot with it - extensively. Like much of the rest of North America my region had some pretty grim weather over the time I had the lens, so I couldn't really travel to any wildlife hotspots to shoot "exotic" wildlife with it. But I had ample opportunity to rigorously test it against a host of other lenses and shoot some local wildlife with it. The lenses I was able to test it against (including in some cases with teleconverters) included the Z 400mm f4.5S, the Z 400mm f2.8S, and the Z 800mm f6.3S.

I've now sent the the Z 600mm back to Nikon and have thousands of images to pour over - both those captured during systematic testing and others shot while just photographing local wildlife (and, in some cases, some very cooperative and helpful dogs).

After I've had a chance to carefully scrutinize all my test images (and tally up all the results) I will be writing up a detailed review of the Z 600mm f4S. When will this appear? As soon as possible, and very likely in Q1 of this year. Because I had so many other key lenses to test against, I'll also be writing up at least a few other more specific reports on how the lenses compared at various focal lengths (in several regards, NOT just optical performance). So you can also expect a report detailing how the "4 ways to 800mm" using Z lenses compare. Yep, I'm going to be busy!

Because it is going to take me a while to put these reviews and reports together (and because I know some want the information FAST) I am going to be continuously releasing key "tidbits" of information about what I learned during the testing in the "commentaries" in my Gallery of Latest Additions. In fact, I have already begun doing this - right now you'll find a few test images in there and with each of them there are discussions of key findings during my testing. The commentaries of the current images discuss the optical performance of the Z 600mm f4S at 840mm (with its built-in TC engaged) and the AF performance of the Z 600mm f4S @ 600mm. For some, the tidbits of info contained with the images in my Latest Additions gallery will be all the info they'll ever need (including for some assistance in making purchase decisions).

While most regular visitors to this blog and my various image galleries probably already know this, to access the "commentaries" for EACH image in any of my galleries you simply have to click on the "In the Field" tab below the main image window. Within that commentary you'll also find links to much larger (higher resolution) sample images.




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09 Jan 2023: A Belated HNY!

Yes, I know it's January 9 and New Years was a little more than a week ago. But...what the heck - here's hoping all those who follow this blog a very safe, healthy and prosperous 2023 (however you choose to define that!). One of the things I'm most looking forward to in 2023 is...wildlife photography! By that I mean "shooting in the field". I can't remember a year where I was more excited about spending time in the field! Why?'s largely because I honestly feel I now - and for the first time in my life - have close to the perfect wildlife kit! Or at least perfect for my style of wildlife photography. I am covered SO solidly from 24mm up to 1120mm...

On a related note, something else that excites me is that now my transition to Z and my Z-based wildlife kit is as complete as it ever will be, I shouldn't have to spend nearly so much on gear in 2023!! That is truly exciting! ;-)

And that's it for now...I'm starting 2023 off with a short and sweet first blog entry!



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II. Selected and Popular 2022 Gear-related Blog Entries

04 Dec 2022: Some Necessary(?) Bling for Your Z Super-telephoto...

Nikon has always made very good super-telephoto prime lenses and, at least in my opinion, they appear to have upped the ante considerably with their new Z-mount super-telephotos. At present, Nikon is producing three Z super-telephotos - the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S, the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S, and the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S. I own two of these lenses - the Z 400mm f2.8 and the Z 800mm f6.3 and can state without reservation that they are absolutely excellent lenses. I have no reason to believe the Z 600mm f4 won't be equally as good. But...despite their quality, you can make them a little better (or at least "more usable") by investing in a few 3rd party accessories (AKA lens bling!). Here's a few thoughts on the bling I've added to my own two Z super-telephotos...

1. ARCA-SWISS COMPATIBLE LENS FOOT. Of course, Nikon's Z super-telephotos come with a tripod foot. But, for reasons I and thousands of others can't understand, the tripod feet AREN'T Arca-Swiss compatible. Which means that you can't mount your Z super-telephoto on virtually any tripod head or gimbal head until you add "something" to the existing tripod foot. And that "something" is either an Arca-Swiss compatible lens plate (that you screw onto the bottom of the existing tripod foot) or you just go the whole way and replace the stock Nikon tripod foot with 3rd party tripod foot offering Arca-Swiss compatibility.

In the past I always quickly replaced the OEM Nikon tripod foot with a 3rd party one (I've used feet from Wimberley, Really Right Stuff and Jobu). When I got my Z 400mm f2.8S I initially decided to stick with the OEM foot and just "bolt" a lens plate onto it. Why? Largely because I found the stock tripod foot to be reasonably comfortable when using it for its second major role - acting like a handle to carry the lens. And, when I was going into situations where I KNEW I wouldn't be using a tripod (like on my Khutzeymateen Grizzlies photo tours where we shoot exclusively from a Zodiac and must hand-hold all lenses we use) I'd just take the plate off before the trip. But when shooting closer to home I often found it was a pain to be always adding (or removing) the lens plate. So...I decided it was time to invest in a whole new tripod foot. After reviewing the specifications of several available brands I decided to go with the carbon-fiber Italian-made Zenelli LFZ model (based largely on its weight, length of plate, and the amount of gap it left between my hand and the lens when using it as a handle). In fact, I bought two of them - one for my Z 400mm f2.8 and one for Z 800mm f6.3. I was a little leery of this foot initially, partly owing to its price and partly owing the "sometimes" tendency of Italian products being high on form factor but lower on real-world functionality. But...after using them for a few weeks now I am quite pleased with my Zenelli LFZ's - when used as a handle (admittedly my primary use of a tripod foot) they fit comfortably into my hand. And they ARE very light (slightly lighter than the OEM Nikon tripod foot BEFORE you add a lens plate to it). Expensive? Yes. But still a minor expense compared to the cost of buying any Z super-telephoto!

NOTE: I have been told by a couple of sources that all 3 Nikon Z super-telephotos have the same tripod foot bolt pattern (and that the OEM foot is identical for all 3 of them). I can confirm that the Z 400mm f2.8 and the Z 800mm use the exact same OEM tripod foot (so the same Zenelli LFZ foot fits on both lenses), but I haven't had a Z 600mm f4 in my hands yet. So I can't confirm that its lens plate is identical quite yet...

2. REAL LENS CAPS! Anyone who has owned an F-mount or Z-mount super-telephoto (zoom or prime) lens will know that Nikon supplies a lens cap (of sorts) for the large front element with them. While there's nothing really wrong with these lens caps (which are really more like open-ended bags), they are both heavier and bulkier than they need to be. But don't despair - high-quality "pinch-style" lens caps similar in design to Nikon's caps for smaller lenses ARE available! Where? Through Zemlin Photo. You can check out the Zemlin super-telephoto lens caps right here. I love these caps and now have them for my Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E, my Z 400mm f2.8, and my Z 800mm f6.3. Great for traveling photographers.

Note that Zemlin Photo makes MORE than just great lens caps - he also offers replacement lens hoods that are FAR more affordable than the OEM ones from Nikon (and they ARE available in different lengths) and that work extremely well. I've actually got TWO Zemlin lens hoods for my Z 400mm f2.8 - one standard length (matching the length of the OEM one from Nikon) for day-to-day use and a longer one that offers better protection from rain that I use when leading photo tours on BC's we(s)t coast (I have found that even if you have the presence of mind to always hold your lens level in hard enough rain you will get some "splatters" on your front lens element if you are using a "standard" length lens hood). Zemlin also offers several different eyepieces for the Nikon Z 9, including two models that are compatible with ThinkTank or AquaTech rain covers and one "standard" model with a built-in molded silicone eye-cup. I'm liking what Mr. Zemlin is doing...

Finally, please note that if you check out and purchase ANY of the products above, I make ZERO commission on them (even if you use the links supplied above). I am simply pointing these products out because I have tried them and they all have offered "something" to me above and beyond what the stock Nikon bits offered. And, I'm OK with sharing this info without being paid to do so.



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24 Nov 2022: Z 800mm f6.3 VR S "Falls Into My Lap!"

Regularly followers of this blog and website already know I tend to be an early adopter of new technology, and specifically of new camera gear. In most cases this is simply because I order it shortly after it's announced and I have a good relationship with my local Nikon dealer (which is The Camera Store in Calgary). And in some cases I get "priority purchase" privileges from Nikon because I am a Canadian NPS member.

In the case of the still rare Z 800mm f6.3 I played it cautious and decided I would not order one until after I had the opportunity to thoroughly test one. I got that chance in late June of 2022 when Nikon sent me one for a 10-day period (with no constraints on what I could do with it). Long story short, I loved the lens - I wrote a "mini-review" on it that you can read here: 10 Days With the Nikkor Z 800mm f6.3 VR S.

So...after testing the lens I DID promptly order one in early July. And that put me WAY back in the queue to get one. With the rate that these lenses are being shipped (glacially slow) I had resigned myself to not seeing my own copy until at least next spring, if not later. is it I now have a nice shiny Z 800mm in my possession now? Funny story behind that. Just over a week ago I gave an online presentation to a group of Canadian photographers on the topic of managing the transition from Nikon's DSLR's to their mirrorless cameras and lenses. During that talk I had a slide that showed my current collection of Z-mount lenses. The last line on the slide was this: "On Order (and still waiting): Z 800mm f6.3 VR S". Well...the very next day I received an email from a fellow Canadian photographer who viewed the presentation and who recently took delivery of their own Z 800mm (I'm guessing he went on the waiting list for a Z 800mm at his store very early on). And, he just up and offered his 800 to me! Between us we worked out a plan to get it in my hands so I could test it (before purchasing). Which I did and, as expected it tested out just fine. So I now have a shiny new Z 800mm f6.3 VR S! You may be wondering why he would give up such a "hot commodity". looks like he's decided that he wants/needs one of the long Z primes with a built-in TC (so either the Z 400mm f2.8 VR TC S or the Z 600mm f4 VR TC S).

So...if anyone who sees me posting new images shot with the Z 800mm or reads new commentaries about it is wondering how I "jumped the queue" and got my Z 800mm so quickly (only 4 months after ordering one!) - well...that's how! I just got lucky.

With my acquisition of the Z 800mm I am now extremely close to being "fully" transitioned over to Z-mount for my entire wildlife photography kit. In fact, the only F-mount lens I regularly still use for wildlife shooting is my Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E. I can't believe it is a priority for Nikon to produce a Z-mount version of the 120-300mm f2.8E - not only is it a niche lens, but it's a darned expensive one to boot. So I may be shooting my F-mount 120-300mm f2.8E for quite some time...which is just fine by me.

As a final note, I have asked to borrow a Z Nikkor 600mm f4 TC VR S from Nikon for testing purposes. Because I already own the Z 400mm f4.5S, the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S, and now the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S (and both Z-TC's) I'll be in great position to test and compare all sorts of permutations and combinations of Nikon's Z super-telephotos. That will include testing the Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S with its built-in TC (560mm) against the Z 600mm f4 TC VR S at 600mm, testing the Z 600mm TC VR S with its built-in TC (840mm) against the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S, and so on (the number of comparisons I'll be able to make will be almost endless!). So anyone pondering which Z-mount super-telephoto is right for them might want to wait a bit (until I get to perform the tests and post the results). But...keep in mind that I currently can't say (or even guess) when I'll see the loaner copy of the Z 600mm f4 and can begin the testing. So...stay tuned!



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11 August 2022: My 10 Days With the Z 800mm f6.3 VR S

I've just posted a "mini-review" of the Nikkor Z 800mm f6.3 VR S super-telephoto lens. Nikon loaned me a copy of the Z 800mm PF for a 10-day period back in late June and I was able to shoot with it and test it extensively. And, as an owner of the Z 400mm f2.8S (and a Z TC-2x teleconverter) I was able to do a lot of head-to-head testing of the Z 800mm PF against Z 400mm f2.8S + 2x TC.

Here's the Quick & Dirty (Executive) Summary from the mini-review:

The Nikkor Z 800mm PF opens up professional quality very long focal length photography to a larger group of photographers than ever before. The relatively low weight and smaller size greatly contribute to the portability and overall usability of the lens. Optically the lens produces top-notch images, both in terms of sharpness and the quality of the out-of-focus zones (or bokeh). Moreover, you can shoot it absolutely wide-open with no sharpness "penalties". Its VR system contributes significantly to the lens' "hand-holdability", and I was able to obtain sharp, hand-held shots down to 1/30s. While I didn't systematically test the lens' autofocus system, it was exceptionally accurate and fast enough to meet all my demands (including delivering very high hit ratios of a dog running rapidly directly at me). Owners of the still new Z 400mm f2.8S can combine that lens with the Z TC-2x to deliver an 800mm lens that is comparable in image quality to the Z 800mm PF at almost all apertures, though the heavier weight and somewhat slower autofocus of the Z 400mm f2.8S plus TC combination leave the Z 800mm PF as the most usable 800mm solution in Nikon's (and possibly any manufacturer's) lens lineup.

The ENTIRE mini-review (which really isn't too "mini") includes tests of the optical and VR performance of the lens, sample images and more. Here's where to go to see it:

10 Days With the Nikkor Z 800mm f6.3 VR S

And, if anyone wants to link directly to the review, here's the full link:



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17 May 2022: Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8S Field Test - An Interim Report

As many know, I am in the midst of field testing the Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8S TC VR S (hereafter referred to as the Z 400mm f2.8S). My field-testing of this lens includes a mix of shooting with the lens in a field setting plus a lot of systematic field-based testing where I compare various aspects of the Z 400mm f2.8S's performance against several other lenses. This means I am testing optical performance, AF performance, VR performance, and more against the following lenses: the Nikkor 400mm f2.8E (which Nikon Canada loaned me for testing purposes), the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S, the Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E (when paired with a TC-14EIII 1.4x teleconverter), and the Nikkor Z 70-200mm f2.8S (when paired with a Z-TC 2.0x teleconverter).

At this point I have completed virtually all the field tests I need to do and have quickly skimmed over the resulting images (but I have NOT finished methodically scrutinizing them in extreme detail...which takes a huge chunk of time). I have also shot about 5,000 images in the field with the Z 400mm f2.8S, including about equal numbers of images when shot native at 400mm and with the built-in 1.4x TC (@ 560mm) and with a Z-TC 2.0x (@ 800mm). I leave on Thursday (May 19) for a few weeks of leading photo tours in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest during which I will be shooting extensively with the Z 400mm f2.8S.

SO...rather than making everyone wait until after I get back from my coming photo tours (and I can find the time to put together my final and very comprehensive review of the lens), here's an interim report on the broad strokes of my findings and experiences with the Z 400mm f2.8S to date. I've looked at my test images closely enough to know that none of these findings will differ in my final review, but that review will go into a whole lot more detail and discuss performance nuances that I know are important to some shooters. Hopefully today's entry will be sufficient for those waiting to hear my thoughts on the lens before making their own decision on whether to purchase it or not.

Today I'll start with an overall summary and then say a few words about several performance characteristics of the lens.


I purchased the Z Nikkor 400mm f2.8S with lofty expectations - that it would be in every way as good or better than the excellent Nikkor 400mm f2.8E when shot at 400mm, that it would be an absolutely excellent 560mm f4 lens, and that when combined with the Z-TC 2.0X it would be a very good 800mm f5.6 lens capable of completely professional-level output. My expectations have all been met or exceeded. And, equally as importantly, a large weight saving on the lens relative to its precursor, the integration of a 1.4x teleconverter, its improved Synchro VR, and its completely new magnetically-driven AF motor have collectively resulted in a dramatically increased overall usability and, at least for me, an increased hit ratio of sharp, top-shelf images. With my shooting style (that includes a lot of hand-holding of super-telephoto lenses) and preferred subject matter (think large mammals, many with sharp teeth and probably not as many birds as many other wildlife photographers) this is as close to the perfect lens as I have ever shot with or tested. That doesn't mean it IS perfect...but holy smokes is this lens ever amazing! ;-)



No 400mm f2.8 is a small lens. And in linear dimensions the Z 400mm f2.8S is close to a clone of the 400mm f2.8E. Overall length (when the lenses have their stock hoods in place) is only 4 mm different (with the Z 400mm actually shorter than the 400mm f2.8E). But don't forget, the Z 400mm has a built-in TC that adds length to the lens...but Nikon found a way to add-in the TC without making the lens any longer when you're actually shooting it in the field.


Now we see a big advancement, with the Z 400mm f2.8S coming in very significantly lighter than the 400mm f2.8E. How much lighter? Well...I don't know how Nikon weighs their lenses (like whether or not they exclude the lens hood and/or caps), but on my digital scales and when the lens is in "shooting state" (no lens caps, but with hood included) the Z 400mm 2.8S is 986 gm (2.17 lb) lighter than the 400mm f2.8E. In absolute terms, when in shooting state the Z 400mm f2.8S comes in at 3167 gm (6.98 lb) and the 400mm f2.8E at 4153 gm (9.16 lb). This makes a HUGE difference when carrying it in the simply feels dramatically lighter. And, for me, it translates into being able to hand-hold it for LONGER than I can hand-hold the 400mm f2.8E (and here I'm referring to how long I can hand-hold it continuously before having to put it down). Interestingly, if I turn the VR off and shoot both 400's hand-held I can get sharp shots down to almost identical shutter speeds. I'll comment more on this in my full review of the lens.


Here again there is a significant difference between the Z 400mm f2.8S and the 400mm f2.8E. In sum, on the Z 400mm we gain a second L-Fn button, a control ring, a Fn ring (which, with Z 9 firmware 2.0 can be programmed to do a LOT of different things). And, of course, Nikon added a lever to activate the built-in 1/4x TC (complete with a locking switch). We also now have "just" A (autofocus) and M (manual focus) on a single switch (and without the A/M and M/A options) on the Z 400mm. The only other switch is the AF limiter (giving you two options - full or 6m to infinity). There is no VR switch - this is controlled by a menu item in your Z camera body.


Well...both 400mm's are top-quality Japanese-built lenses. Stylistically they're a little different, with the new Z 400mm coming in with an almost Sigma-like more "industrial" look and feel (kind of in the spirit of Soviet-era utilitarianism). But, if anything, the rings (like the tripod collar) move smoother on the Z 400mm than the 400mm f2.8E (they almost feel like they are smoothly gliding on needle bearings).


On the positive side, it is smaller and with less space between itself and the lens barrel (but it's easily large enough for hands of close to any size). Also on the positive side it makes a GREAT handle...for my hands it's the best handle Nikon has ever put on a super-telephoto lens.

On the negative side...well Nikon should just give up and quit calling this a tripod foot and just call it a handle. For the vast majority of users of this lens a tripod foot means "Arca Swiss compatible" and, of course, the handle is NOT an Arca Swiss compatible tripod foot. Making things worse, Nikon decided it needed to have two threaded mounts on the foot, but they made them different sizes (one has a 1/4" thread and one has a 3/8" thread). SO...if you want to put an Arca Swiss lens plate on the handle you have to get a 3/8" to 1/4" adapter.

The net result? Anyone wanting to convert the handle to an Arca-Swiss compatible tripod foot has to either add a lens plate to it or replace the entire handle with a 3rd party tripod foot. In the past I have always replaced Nikon super-telephoto handles with 3rd party tripod feet, but in this case I have to say I like the feel of the handle so much (it is nicely padded and happens to fit my hand very well) I will probably (and for the first time) just add a lens plate on those occasions where this lens needs to be mounted on tripod.

I am still shaking my head over how Nikon can produce such an amazing lens with ALL the latest technologies and yet not understand the difference between a handle and a tripod foot.


Nikon has done a good job on balancing this lens - if you place it on a gimbal head with a Z 9 body attached you'll find the balance point is just in front of the lens collar (very close to the focusing ring), which means it's almost directly underneath the handle/tripod foot. And that means you when you convert the handle to a tripod foot using a lens plate you don't need a long one! I'm using an older Wimberley plate that's under 10 cm (under 4") long and even if I throw on a Z-TC 2x I still have sufficient "groove space" to get to the balance point.


OK...this has the potential to be a bit of a hot potato, but I have to call it like I see it. I am not unaware that another Nikon pundit (Thom Hogan) has produced a review of this lens that really pans the handling of the Z 400mm f2.8S. His argument boils down to the fact that he doesn't think the lens controls aren't correctly positioned for hand-holding the lens. Here's exactly what he says (italics mine):

"Which brings me to the problem: the controls on the 400mm f/2.8 S aren't positioned for hand holding. Not even close. The point where the lens balances in your left hand palm cradling its underside puts your fingers nowhere near any of the controls you'll want to use."

And...he further states:

"I note in Nikon's literature that they keep showing images of people holding the lens near the front, on the knurled area that widens out to the front element. Those folk can at least reach the L-Fn2 buttons with a finger, but they're still a long way from any of the other controls on the lens. Moreover, I don't think that's really where they want to be holding the lens. I'm holding it at the center of gravity, which means that I can rotate it more easily when following fast moving subjects."

I am quite sure Thom believes this to be true and it's an accurate reflection of his experience. Without trying to get into a squabble, I'll just say that MY EXPERIENCE DIFFERS DRAMATICALLY. Someone who read Thom's review of the lens recently asked to produce a quote about my own thoughts about the handling of the lens. Here's what I said:

"When it comes to lens handling you'll almost always find different users have very different experiences. Differences in long-held habits, body size, arm length, strength, and more all play a role. In the specific case of the Z 400mm f2.8S my hand naturally goes to further out on the lens than it may for other shooters. This puts me in a comfortable position to hand-hold the lens for an extended period of time, and I can hold the lens steadier than if my hand is under the lens balance point (i.e., closer to the camera body). When in my preferred hand-holding position my thumb is perfectly positioned to operate the Fn-ring and my pinky finger can rotate the focus ring. Additionally, my thumb is right beside the L-Fn button (L-Fn2) and can access it without any shifting of the hand."

"For me, handling is spectacular on the Z 400mm f2.8S. I have never worried about or felt the need to seek out the balance point on a lens when positioning my left hand (and I have no problem whatsoever shifting from horizontal to vertical shooting positions)."

I suppose it's entirely possible that some may think I am holding the lens "wrong", just like I have been told it is "wrong" to use the shutter button for AF operation. But, I strongly believe lens handling is a subjective thing and what's right for one shooter may be wrong for another. But I'd never state that the lens was poorly designed simply because my chosen way of hand-holding it wasn't optimal for that lens. So, to be clear, I won't say the handling of the Z 400mm f2.8S is superb, average, poor or awful for anyone else - THEY have to decide that. But for me the handling of the Z 400mm f2.8S is excellent, even if some think I am hand-holding the lens wrong! ;-)


I'm going to leave the real meat of this section from my final review, but for suffice to say that the optical performance of the Z 400mm f2.8S is exceptionally close to that of the 400mm f2.8E (they are close to optical performance clones) but I have found two areas where the optical performance of the Z 400mm f2.8S slightly exceeds that of the 400mm f2.8E. First, I have found it very slightly sharper when shot wide open. Which means you have less need to stop it down to get to maximum sharpness. When I owned the 400mm f2.8E and wanted the absolute best balance between "tack sharpness and buttery out-of-focus zones" I'd shoot it at f3.2. I see no need with the Z 400mm f2.8S to stop it down at all (so for me I'll shoot it at f2.8 for the best balance of sharpness and bokeh). There is an absolutely special - almost magical - quality to the images from this lens when shot at f2.8...and I love it.

Second, in my testing the extreme edges of the image (when shooting distant scenes and at all apertures) were sharper on the Z 400mm f2.8S than on the 400mm f2.8E.

What about when teleconverters are involved? Note that ALL my optical testing was done with a Z 9 body, and it's becoming almost dogma that you'll get (on average) better performance out of your TC's (even F-mount TC's on F-mount lenses) when shot on a Z-body. That said, and even though the built-in TC on the Z 400mm f2.8S contains an ED element and is specially designed for the 400mm lens, I could find no differences in optical quality between Z 400mm f2.8S and the 400mm f2.8E when their respective teleconverters are added to the mix. So, at 560mm (built-in 1.4x TC for the Z 400mm f2.8S and TC-14EIII for the 400mm f2.8E) and at 800mm (both 400's with their respective 2x TC's) the image quality, including both sharpness and bokeh, was a dead heat between the two 400's. And, most importantly, that image quality was EXCELLENT. Feel free to jump into my Gallery of Latest Additions to see some examples of 800mm images shot hand-held with the Z 400mm f2.8S (and at some pretty slow shutter speeds) to see what I mean. And while this make tick off some DSLR shooters, the kind of image quality I am talking about is far better than what you'd get in almost all instances if you were shooting the 400mm f2.8E with the TC-14EIII or the TC-20EIII on any Nikon DSLR (including D6's and D850's).

Note that my final review will give an exhaustive comparison of results with TC's, including how shooting a 1.4x TC stack on the Z 400mm compares to shooting it with the Z-TC 2.0x, etc.


One of the biggest technological changes on the Z 400mm f2.8S is the use (for the first time that I am aware of) of a new AF mechanism driven by magnets (that Nikon refers to as a "Silky Swift Voice Coil Motor" or, if you prefer, a "Silky Swift VCM" in short). The AF system also uses an optical ABS (absolute) encoder, reportedly to "...detect and communicate lens position information with extreme accuracy - key to fast, accurate autofocusing."

What does Nikon claim that these AF advancements mean in the field? In sum, they combine to deliver "...higher initial speed, higher accuracy, and the smoothest, most silent operation of any Nikon AF drive system. Additionally, vibration within the mechanism has been reduced with an innovative guide bar and minimal space between moving parts, allowing for maximum speed during autofocus."

Ok...what have I found? Overall...Nikon's claims appear to be valid. Specifically:

AF Speed: Well, subjectively initial focus DOES seem snappier on the Z 400mm f2.8S, but if I am being totally honest these lenses BOTH focus so fast I haven't been able to come up with a test that can separate them. Both are simply blazing fast.

AF Sound: This one is a no brainer - the Z 400mm f2.8S is DRAMATICALLY quieter than the 400mm f2.8E. Unless you're in a sound-proof room you are unlikely to ever hear the focus of the Z 400mm f2.8S. And when you are in that sound-proof room all you will hear is a super soft "zzzttt" when it refocuses.

AF Accuracy and Precision: Without getting into a long diatribe about the difference between accuracy (proximity to the actual true value) and precision (the reproducibility of a measurement or action like autofocus) I can say that I did create a test to check for these attributes (for now all I'll say is that it involved a LOT repeated short bursts on a fixed target with a de-focusing of the lens between each short burst). And guess what? The Z 400mm f2.8S did produce noticeably more consistent and accurate focus in my tests. And, most importantly, it mirrored what I was seeing in the field with the Z 400mm f2.8S - a higher proportion of in-focus shots (especially when shooting bursts) whether the subject was static or moving.


Again, all the tests here were done using a Nikon Z 9 . And, because it is the ONLY current Z body that offers Synchro VR (where the VR of the lens and the IBIS of the body combine for a "synergistic" VR experience) anyone repeating my tests with a different Z body may not get the same results.

Anyway...long story short, I was actually measuring hand-holdability (i.e., the lowest shutter speed that I could get predictably sharp shots when hand-holding the lenses) and I DID find that I could hand-hold the Z 400mm f2.8S at much slower shutter speeds than I could with the 400mm f2.8E. Note that my methodology allowed me to remove any effect of weight differences between the lenses and the difference in hand-holdability is very likely due solely to the improved VR of the Z 400mm f2.8S. Note also that there are a LOT of interesting nuances in my results from these tests...and those WILL be available in my final review. I will give numbers later, but I am almost stunned how slow of a shutter speed I can hand-hold the Z 400mm f2.8S at and still get tack-sharp shots. For me (and I suspect many other wildlife photographers) this difference in VR performance alone makes the Z 400mm f2.8S way more usable than the 400mm f2.8E.


The Z 400mm f2.8S simply rocks. It offers both incredible image quality (at 400mm, 560mm, and 800mm) and MUCH higher overall usability than the F-mount lens it is functionally replacing. Of course, at the price of the lens it SHOULD rock. But if you can look beyond the price, in absolute terms this lens can offer something totally unique and completely impossible just a couple of years ago - you can lug (all by yourself, without a sherpa) a top-notch 400mm f2.8, 560mm f4, and an 800mm f5.6 into the field at the same time - and you can almost instantly switch between these 3 options. All this, and it comes with a great handle! ;-) For me this "three-in-one" prime WAS worth the purchase price. For others? Well...that's up to them to decide. ;-)



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10 May 2022: Zemlin Photo - A Good Find!

I will be leaving next week to lead back-to-back "Spring in the Southern Great Bear" photo tours. Because these trips head deep into British Columbia's Great Bear RAINforest it behooves one to ensure they have rain covers for their cameras. I use both AquaTech Sport Shields and ThinkTank Hydrophobia rain covers - and BOTH require specialized "dedicated" eyepieces. SO...when I discovered that neither ThinkTank or AquaTech were offering eyepieces for the Nikon Z 9 I was more than a little concerned. After all, I am taking only Z 9's on this trip.

Enter Zemlin Photo ( Zemlin Photo is owned and operated by Karl Zemlin - a part-time professional photographer and retired mechanical engineer. Zemlin Photo has a small range of products but, like with the Z 9 eyepieces I needed, they tend to be things that are very valuable to real photographers. His products include:

• Replacement hoods for telephoto and super-telephoot lenses for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, and Sigma lenses - all at very reasonable prices.

• Replacement lens caps for super-telephoto lenses from Nikon, Canon, Sigma, and Sony lenses.

• Two different replacement eyepieces for the Nikon Z 9 - one with a modified DK-19 rubber eyecup and one designed to work with AquaTech and ThinkTank rain covers (which also include a modified DK-19 rubber eyecup).

I ordered and have taken delivery of the rain cover-compatible eyepieces. The quality of them seems excellent and they'll be thoroughly field-tested over the next 3 weeks. Based on the eyepiece quality - and a personal communication from a buyer of a Zemlin lens cap and hood - I have just ordered a new (and lighter) Zemlin hood for my Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E plus a lens cap for the same lens. I don't expect these last bits to arrive before my spring Great Bear photo tours, but I should have them in time to test them during the June "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour I am leading. Expect a report on how they worked for me after that trip.



PS: If anyone is interested in going on a FANTASTIC photo tour with me, I still have a few spots left on my Summer in the Southern Great Bear Instructional Photo Tour this coming August!

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02 May 2022: The Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8S Fn Ring & Z 9 Firmware 2.0 - Very Cool!

The launch of the Z 800mm PF and the release of Z 9 firmware 2.0 have created a flurry of excitement among many Nikon-shooting photographers, including (or perhaps especially) among wildlife photographers. The firmware update had so much in it for both still photographers and videographers that some very significant features were easy to overlook or miss altogether. One feature associated with the update is currently limited to such a small audience that the vast majority of Z 9 owners may have had no clue about it, though if they looked closely at the new listing under custom setting f2 - Custom controls (shooting) - and scrolled all the way down to the 2nd and 3rd last "customizable buttons/dials/rings" they'd have seen a whole slew of new options for the lens Fn ring. Like I mean a huge number of options...36 in total!

Hold it, hold it, hold it (you say)! What the heck is a Lens Fn ring?'s a new "twistable" lens ring that's found (to the best of my knowledge) on only ONE current Nikkor lens - the new Z 400mm f2.8S. It's NOT the control's a new ring - and on the Z 400mm it's the twistable ring that's most distant from the camera body...and in my case it falls directly under where my hand sits. It also has a very different textured surface, making it super easy to distinguish by feel alone. And, there's something else different about this ring - it only moves about 1 cm clockwise and 1 cm counter-clockwise. When released, it snaps back to its original (centered) position as though it is spring-loaded.

Prior to firmware 2.0 this Fn ring did one thing and one thing only - when you twisted it it would "...recall your saved focus position". Now I'm sure there's some photographers that need and use this feature and they may love it. But it's not a feature that is very important to me (a similar feature has existed on many of the Nikkor super-telephotos I've owned over the years and I think I've used it once or twice).

BUT...enter Z 9 firmware 2.0 and...presto...this ring can control a huge number of camera operations (as I mentioned above the list includes 36 camera functions). And, for many of them it does it in a very unique way. Here's just a couple of the more unique functions:

Exposure compensation +: Select this option and rotate the dial clockwise (and then let go) and the exposure is increased by 0.3 stop. Rotate the dial counter clockwise (and then let go) and exposure is decreased by 0.3 stop. Rotate the dial and continue holding it and the amount of exposure compensation increases (or decreases) steadily as you continue with your twist of the ring. And, unlike Easy Exposure Compensation this is a hard exposure compensation that sticks (even if you turn the camera off).

ISO sensitivity (increase): Select this option and ISO increases with a clockwise twist and decreases with a counter-clockwise twist. When you get to your desired ISO just let go of the ring and you're at your new setting (assuming you have Auto ISO off). Again, this is a hard ISO setting.

Other high value functions (at least IMHO) you can control with this button include AF-area mode, AF-area mode + AF-On, Preview, Recall Shooting functions (RSF) and RSF (hold), displaying a grid or virtual horizon in the EVF, Starlight view, Playback zoom on, Silent mode, yada, yada, yada! Best of all, between the location of the button and how it returns to its centered position this ring isn't prone (at all) to being inadvertently changed through bumping or grabbing the lens (which is definitely a potential issue with the Control ring).

My take on the worth of this new ring on the Z 400mm (in conjunction with firmware 2.0)? It's awesome...I love it! And, I wish I had this ring on ALL my Z-mount lenses.

How do I currently have mine set up? For now I have mine set to switch my AF-area mode and turn AF on. My default AF-area mode on my two Z 9's is 3D-tracking. If I twist the Fn ring on the lens clockwise it changes to Single Point mode and focuses and if I twist the AF ring counter-clockwise it changes to Dynamic-area (M) and focuses. If I let go of the ring the AF mode goes back to 3D-tracking. Of course, because I'm controlling the AF-area mode and AF-On with my left hand, my right hand is free to do whatever it wants, including toggling the focus point around (in my world if I'm using either Single Point or Dynamic-area mode there's a good chance I want to toggle the point around).

Does the Z 800 PF have this ring? Nope. Why not (given it came out AFTER the Z 400mm)? My best guess is that for the foreseeable future the Fn ring will be found only on Nikon's new top-end "traditional" (big and fast) super-telephoto lenses (like the Z 400mm ) as a form of added value for forking out the huge bucks these lens cost. Next lens with a Fn ring? My best guess is that it will be the Z 600mm, assuming its a traditional "big and fast" f4 lens that may or may not have a built-in TC. Yep, lots of speculation in this paragraph...but I that's how I'm seeing the line of Z super-telephotos evolving.

Note that at the time of this writing Nikon's online literature and marketing web pages don't include information on the new functions associated with the Fn ring that was introduced in Z 9 firmware 2.0. For instance, if you look at the page featuring the Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8S it just states that the Fn ring recalls the saved focus position.

It's nigh on impossible to associate a dollar value with a new feature like the Fn ring on the Z 400mm or how much impact it will make in driving the sales of lenses that have it. But I have to say that with Z 9 firmware 2.0 my Z 400mm became significantly more useful than it was just over a few weeks ago! That leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Sweet.



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19 April 2022: The Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S - Just a Few First Words

My Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S arrived in my hands late last Wednesday...and since then I've stolen whatever time I can free-up to shoot with it and begin systematically testing it. Before long I'll be posting a rather in-depth "First Impressions" report. But because I'm getting a lot of those "Well...what do you think?" emails I'll say a few things right now (and present a few images).

Long story short - up to this point the Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S has met or exceeded all my rather lofty expectations of it. What were those expectations? You can read them in detail in my blog entry of 21 January 2022 entitled "A Few Thoughts on the Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S" (jump to that entry here), but the short version is this:

From an optical perspective I expected it to be an outstanding 400mm f2.8 prime, an excellent 560mm f4 (with the internal TC-engaged), and a very good 800mm f5.6 (when combined with the Z-TC 2.0x). And, compared to the 400mm f2.8E, I expected better VR performance from it when used with the Z 9 along with a quieter and faster AF system. And, like I just said, it has met or exceeded all my rather lofty expectations of it.

Sample photos?'s a few...all are full frame or the next thing to it...but reduced to 4800 pixels on the long axis. All are processed with Capture One 22.2. Tech specs included with each photo.

1. @ 400mm

This is one of my favourite local field-based scenes (visible from our property) to use for checking edge-to-edge sharpness on multiple positions on the frame. This one was captured hand-held at f4.5, but the shot at f3.2 was indistinguishable - and the one shot at f2.8 can only be distinguished with extreme pixel-peeping.

April Sunrise in the East Kootenays: Download 4800 pixel image

2. @ 560mm

This shot utilizes the built-in 1.4x teleconverter which was specially designed to match the optics of the Z 400mm f2.8 (it even contains an ED lens element). I can't imagine a 600mm f4 being much sharper!

Female Hairy Woodpecker: Download 4800 pixel image

3. @ 800mm

OK...I have to admit that I was REAL curious how the Z 400mm f2.8 would perform when paired up with the Z-TC 2.0x. So here's three hand-held images captured at 800mm.

I captured this female elk on our property just as the first light beams of the day hit it. Shot wide open at f5.6.

Female Elk - First Light: Download 4800 pixel image

Hooters (Dusky Grouse) breed on our property every spring - and the males do the show-off routine! This one captured at f6.3.

Happy Hooter: Download 4800 pixel image

Our Mountain Bluebirds are JUST beginning to think about building nests. This male was hanging out near a bluebird box trying to convince his partner to quit looking and just settle in! Hand-held at 1/250s (using VR Normal).

Dawn Bluebird: Download 4800 pixel image

More on the Z 400mm f2.8 coming soon...



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07 April 2022: Some Thoughts on the Nikkor Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S

Most Nikon-shooting wildlife photographers will know by now that Nikon officially announced the Nikkor Z 800mm f6.3 VR S yesterday. Since the development announcement (a development announcement is kind of like a pre-announcement of a product...basically Nikon saying "We are announcing that we will be announcing a new lens in the near future"!) of the new Z-mount 800mm lens a lot of Nikon-shooting have been really excited. If anything, yesterday's announcement - and especially the price of the lens - got them even MORE excited! And for good reason. Nikon is about to deliver to us a high-quality, quite fast, and very small, light and hand-holdable 800mm lens at a price that isn't nearly as far out in the stratosphere as most "real" super-telephotos are. For many nothing could be better!

This post isn't intended to be a spec spew...those wishing to see ALL the specs can check out any official Nikon website or go here on But here are the most critical details:

It's an S-Line lens...which means it's in Nikon's TOP mirrorless line of lenses and meets Nikon's highest quality and performance standards (don't ask me what those standards are, but it meets them!).

It's a PF (Phase Fresnel) lens, which is the primary reason it is so light and small. Oddly, it's the first PF lens that doesn't have the letters "PF" in its name. What's with that? It WILL be known as the 800 PF! ;-)

It comes in at 2385 gm (5.25 lb), which is real close to HALF the weight of the F-mount Nikkor 800mm f5.6E after you add a mount adapter FTZ to it to use it on a Z-body. For reference, the 800 PF is about 925 gm (2 lb) heavier than the 500 PF.

It is 385mm (15.2") long, which is 76mm (3") shorter than the F-mount Nikkor 800mm f5.6E.

It's an f6.3 lens, which is only .3 stops slower than the F-mount 800mm f5.6E

It retails in Canada for $8,499.00 CAD; the F-mount Nikkor 800mm f5.6E retails for $19,999 CAD (2.3 times as much).

If you examine the specs in detail you'd conclude that this lens is chock full of Nikon's recent and standard "high-end" mix of technology and optical overall its specs are rock solid. About the only super-telephoto lens in Nikon's lineup that significantly exceeds it in specifications is the new Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S which, even if you forget about the built-in TC, is like a "showcase lens" highlighting all of Nikon's latest and greatest ideas and technologies.

How does it perform? To be clear...I have NOT tested, tried, or even touched a 800mm PF yet. But, the anecdotal reports that are rolling in, including from high-credibility independent photographers (like Steve Perry) are very promising. My own expectation...based partly on how well the F-mount 500mm f5.6E performs on Z-bodies and based partly on how good ALL S-Line lenses that it will be simply excellent. I do HOPE to test one ASAP, but I'm not sure yet when I'll be able to get my grimy hands on one.

Is it destined to be a "game-changer"? be honest...I'd bet on it! At least for the right crowd (more on that in a moment). I'm convinced it's going to be a HUGE winner for Nikon and, more importantly, a huge win for "the right crowd" of Nikon-shooting wildlife photographers. It is going to be REALLY, REALLY hard for some wildlife photographers to resist the allure of this lens. And this is the type of lens that may cause some Canon and Sony shooters to switch to Nikon. I know of more than one wildlife photographer who switched from Canon to Nikon because of the 500mm PF...and for some the draw of this lens will be even stronger than that of the 500 PF (which is just a great wildlife lens!).

Who is it actually for? I'll limit my discussion here to its use in wildlife shooting and let others chat about this lenses suitability for sports or other uses. And, within the wildlife photography genre the most easily identifiable group that are squarely in the target market for this lens are bird photographers. Heck, just look at the layout of the product page for this lens on the or websites - they're filled with images of birds! Of course, it will also be a great lens for other wildlife subjects that, for whatever reason, you aren't able to closely approach (or even relatively closely approach). But as corny as it sounds...bird photographers should (and likely will) flock to this lens! ;-)

How will it compare in image quality to the Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S plus the Z-teleconverter 2.0? I'm bringing this topic up because I've already received several emails asking me that exact question. Truth is, I can't answer this yet (and I doubt anyone else really can either). A few years back this would have been almost a nonsensical question with the obvious answer being "Of course a 800mm prime will outperform a 400mm plus 2x TC". many have discovered, even F-mount TC's perform REALLY well when shot on Z-bodies. And, the Z-TC's are producing stellar results on lenses like the 70-200mm f2.8S and 100-400mm 4.5-5.6S. So, when paired with a lens like the 400mm f2.8S that should be optically excellent, it IS conceivable that the 400mm f2.8S plus the Z-teleconverter 2.0x will compete well in overall optical performance with the 800mm PF. It will be .3 stop faster! And I wouldn't be surprised if the bokeh of the 400mm plus TC is even a little better than that of the 800mm PF. Note that early anecdotal results (e.g., a recent YouTube video by Matt Granger) of the 400mm plus Z TC 2.0 are very encouraging. I do hope to have the opportunity to systematically test these two 800mm "solutions" against one another in the near (or not-so-distant) future...but that's out of my hands ( promises!).

Will I be buying a 800mm PF? Well, this may surprise some, but my answer is a clear "no". This in no way should be interpreted as me saying anything negative about the lens, but not every lens is right for every photographer. Here are the two primary reasons I won't be ordering a 800mnm PF:

1. With my preferred subject matter and style I just don't need the 800mm focal length very often. I always think "animalscape" first (check out my Animalscape Gallery if you doubt me!) and I LIKE the wider view. I don't subscribe to the "closer is better" school of wildlife photography.

2. When I simultaneously owned a 400mm f2.8, 500mm f4, and a 600mm f4, I used the 400m the most and the 600mm the least (by far). For ME the sweet spot in focal length is in the 400-500mm range. And I am quite confident that if I got a 800mm PF I would use it only rarely.

And, of course, keep in mind that I am getting the new Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S. And I am very hopeful that this lens will pair up so well with the Z-teleconverter 2.0x that in the few cases where I DO need a 800mm I'll have a very good one at my disposal!

Anyway...even if the 800mm PF isn't joining my own wildlife kit I think Nikon HAS hit a home-run with it. If you're a Nikon-shooting wildlife photographer it's pretty hard NOT to have a smile on your face right now! ;-)



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06 April 2022: Now Coming to You Mac Studio!

This short post is the first coming from my new computer...a spanking new Mac Studio. While I tend to keep my wildlife photography kit very current, the same can't be said for my computers...I try to squeeze every bit of use out of them I can. This Mac Studio is replacing my iMac 5K from 2014 - a computer that served me exceptionally well for 8 years.

When it comes to computers I tend to spec them out quite high-end, largely because I want them to be fast enough (and with enough capacity) to last for years. In the distant past, that meant going to the top-of-the-line machines. However, the top of the line machines these days are built to efficiently edit large video files and are almost overkill for photo-editing and image management (at least for my needs). So, I didn't see the NEED to buy the absolute top-of-the-line Mac Studio. Because I know I will be asked if I don't supply the information, here's the key specs of the Mac Studio I picked up:

Chip: M1 Ultra (with 20-core CPU, 48-core GPU, 32-core Neural Engine)
Unified Memory: 64 GB
Storage: 2 TB SSD

Because I lost use of my iMac 5K display when retiring my iMac, I also picked up a new Studio Display with the Mac Studio (and I went for the standard glass on the Studio Display in that my office has good lighting control and no sources of glare). I am using this in conjunction with my primary "editing" display, which is an Eizo I sit in front of twin 27" displays. Rounding out the critical bits of hardware I use...I had my iMac - and now have my Mac Studio - connected to two 16TB Promise Pegasus external Thunderbolt drives (used as RAIDs).

Will I be reviewing the Mac Studio for its suitability as a photo-editing and management "environment"? Nope, not a hope - while a BIT of a geek, I am simply not qualified to produce a meaningful and credible review of a state-of-the-art computer. Stating "Golly...this sucker is a whole lot faster than my 8-year old iMac" is about the full extent to which I can comment! ;-)

That said, I have no issue relating my experience in transitioning to the new machine (along with my absolute earliest impressions of the new machine). you go...


• As stupid as this sounds, the boxes of both the computer and the display were nothing short of works of art. Irrelevant to performance (of course), but it does show attention to detail that I appreciate. Opening up one of these products might be the first case where an "unboxing" video might even be worthwhile (but you won't find one of those here!).

• Data migration and setup: The data migration was flawless and reasonably fast (took about 2 hours using peer-to-peer wireless data transfer). Once this was done, it was like sitting down in front of my old computer and everything just worked! Initial setup for ALMOST everything (but see "DISLIKES" below) was glitch-free...including primary and secondary display setup, et cetera.

• Speed using critical apps? Well both Capture One AND Photoshop are performing at levels that I couldn't even imagine before, including when working with image catalogs with over 120,000 images in them. Golly...this sucker is a whole lot faster than my 8-year old iMac! ;-)


• My Promise Pegasus external thunderbolt drives were an absolute PAIN to be "made compatible". On initial setup they simple wouldn't mount, and while investigating the problem I was told by multiple representatives at both Apple and Promise that my external drives were simply incompatible and I was hooped. Eventually (3 days later) I finally found someone at Apple willing to go "off-script" and dig around for a solution, which turned out to be a pretty straightforward "fix" (after we found a very well hidden driver...which required a pretty complex installation way beyond "double-clicking" and re-starting).

Anyway...I'm now a very happy camper with an image-editing and image-management environment that just rocks. And, hopefully, it will be another 8 years before I do another blog entry on computer hardware! ;-)



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25 March 2022: Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S or 70-200mm f2.8S Plus Teleconverters?

Shortly after I received a Nikon Z 9 and a 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S lens for testing in November of 2021 I started getting emails asking me how the optical quality of the Z 100-400mm compared to that of the excellent Z 70-200mm f2.8S plus the Z-mount teleconverters. Not long ago (in the "before mirrorless" times) this would have been almost a nonsensical question, with the answer being "Of course the longer zoom without teleconverters kicks the butt of the shorter zoom with teleconverters". And, shortly after getting into the hands of photographers reports (including my own) started rolling in outlining just how optically strong the Z 100-400mm lens was, further suggesting that the 100-400mm would easily out-perform the 70-200mm plus Z-TC's. However, not only do ALL teleconverters tend to perform better with Nikon's Z (mirrorless) bodies than they did on Nikon's DSLR's but, as many shooters have found, the Z-mount 70-200mm f2.8S is a simply outstanding lens AND it pairs up exceptionally well with both the 1.4x and 2.0x Z-teleconverters.

So...the question of whether shooting the Z 100-400mm produces significantly better results than the Z 70-200mm f2.8S plus the two Z-mount teleconverters is actually a pretty good one. Of course, other similarities between the lenses (and lens/TC combos) make the comparison even more interesting - both offer a maximum focal length of 400mm (at f5.6) and the short end of their focal range is quite similar as well. Moreover, the lenses are very similar in length and in weight. So, I thought a comparison of these lenses could be be worthwhile and quite useful to some. So here you go! ;-)


The Big Picture:

I field-tested the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S against the 70-200mm f2.8S plus teleconverters under controlled conditions at two distances and a wide aperture range (from wide open through to f11) and three focal lengths - 280mm, 300mm, and 400mm (280mm was included so I could bring the 70-200mm f2.8S plus the Z-teleconverter 1.4x into the mix). Almost for kicks (and partly to help justify my purchase of it!) I included one other lens into the mix at the focal lengths of 280mm and 300mm - the Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E.

A Few More Details: Here's what I mean when I say that I field-tested the images under "controlled" conditions:

• All images were captured as lossless compressed raw files using a Nikon Z 9 mounted on a Jobu Algonquin tripod equipped with a Jobu HD MkIV gimbal head. The shutter was triggered using a Nikon MC-20 cable release. For each lens, distance, aperture, and focal length combination I captured 3 images and slightly defocused (and refocused) the lens between each shot. All images were captured using AF-S set to pinpoint AF area mode (which uses a highly accurate pure contrast-detect autofocus method). During each 3-shot sequence I waited 10 seconds after re-focusing before capturing the subsequent images. For ALL image captures the VR mechanism was turned off on the lens and/or camera.

• For each lens, distance, and focal length combination I captured images in 1/3 stop increments beginning at wide open (maximum aperture for that lens and focal length) through to f11.

• The "short distance" tests were performed at 6.8 meters from the subject, which is the sort of distance you'd use lenses in this focal range to capture things like smaller birds (from jay or robin size and down) or small mammals. At 6.8 meters the subject was an old weathered stump I've used for similar lens tests about a zillion times. This stump has very fine texture on it which facilitates assessment of image sharpness. Its upper backside provides a great "near out-of-focus" face on it and, and the background has objects in it varying in distance from approximately 5 meters through to 40 meters plus a distant slope approximately 1.5 km away - this background allows me to easily assess the quality of the out-of-focus zones (OOF)...AKA the "bokeh" of the lens. Anyone wishing to see an image of the stump scene can contact me.

• The "mid distance" tests were performed at 17 meters from the subject - the sort of distance you'd use lenses in this focal range to capture larger wildlife such as eagles, medium-sized mammals (e.g., coyotes), and the like. At 17 meters the subject was a weathered life-sized carving of an eagle, complete with very fine texture covering its body. In the background of the scene are tree trunks at approximately 4 meters behind the subject, a rake standing upright at 2 meters behind the subject (yup, placed by me to assist in assessing bokeh), and conifer trees at approximately 50 meters behind the subject. Again, anyone wishing to see an image of the carved eagle scene can contact me.

• After image capture all images were visually scrutinized using Capture One Pro on an iMac desktop computer and a calibrated Eizo CG279X display (109 ppi). During image import ALL images were subject to the identical capture sharpening (which is part of the Capture One profile for the Nikon Z 9). I use Capture One to assess images in tests like this because t has excellent light-table features, including the ability to view up to 12 images simultaneously at 100% magnification (removing the need, inaccuracy and inefficiency associated with doing multiple pair-wise combinations). Additionally it has excellent image filtering tools, allowing one to quickly sort and peruse/compare images by focal length, aperture, lens used, etc.

• For each aperture, focal length, and distance combination I compared/examined the lenses (and/or lens/TC combinations) for sharpness and bokeh. Both of these characteristics were ranked from 1 to 4 (there are up to 4 lenses and/or lens/TC combinations in this test...depending on the focal length examined), with 1 being the sharpest image and 4 the softest (least sharp) and with 1 being the smoothest bokeh and 4 the least smooth (and least visually appealing) bokeh.


I'll present the results in two ways - the shortest encapsulation of the major trends (the "sound-bite" version for those who want no more than YouTube style detail!) and then a more detailed view of the results for those that appreciate nuance and are looking to have the information they need to use their gear as effectively as possible.

BUT FIRST...let's get the issue of how the 120-300mm f2.8mm performed out of the way and then forget about it. At the two focal lengths it covered in my tests (280mm and 300mm) the 120-300mm f2.8E was the CLEAR winner in sharpness and in the quality of the out-of-focus zones (or bokeh). And that's at all apertures and both distances. It simply kicked the butt of the other lenses and lens/TC combinations. Period. And it should have - not only is this lens dramatically more expensive than the others in this test (we're talking more than 3x the price of the other lenses) but it is one of those "special" lenses in the tradition of the 200mm f2G VR or the 400mm f2.8E. Got $12K CAD or so burning a hole in your pocket? Get yourself a 120-300mm f2.8E.

1. RESULTS - The Sound Bite Version:

If all you care about it is getting to 280mm, then the Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5S and the 70-200mm f2.8S plus the Z-teleconverter 1.4x produce images extremely similar in both sharpness and bokeh. Both lens options are excellent.

However, you don't buy a 100-400mm lens and never shoot it above 280mm! At 300mm the 100-400mm was perceptibly sharper at short distance than the 70-200mm f2.8S plus Z-teleconverter 2.0X (but the bokeh of the two lenses was very similar). However, the sharpness difference between the two lenses diminished and was nearly indistinguishable at the mid distance I tested (17 meters). And at this mid-distance the bokeh hardly differed between the two lenses.

What happens at 400mm? An interesting thing - the sharpness difference between the two lenses shrinks to the point where it is virtually indistinguishable. But, the bokeh difference (with the 100-400 offering superior bokeh) increases, especially at shorter distances (where you get considerably better bokeh out of the 100-400).

Am I saying there is NO discernible difference in image quality between the Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S and the 70-200mm f2.8S plus the Z-mount teleconverters? Nope. But the differences are small and of a magnitude that many shooters probably wouldn't notice (or care about). But see also my comments in the "But wait, there's more..." section and my Final Discussion section.

2. RESULTS - More Details:

i. At 280mm

Image Sharpness: At this focal length (and both test distances) it was ALMOST impossible to find any sharpness difference between the 100-400mm f4.5-f5.6S and the 70-200mm f2.8S plus the Z-teleconverter 1.4x. The only discernible difference I could find was when both the lenses (or lens/TC combos) were shot at f5.6 - at this aperture the 70-200mm plus TC was slightly sharper (at both distances) than the 100-400mm. This sharpness difference disappeared by f6.3 and did not reappear at smaller apertures.

Note that at 280mm I also tested the 70-200mm f2.8S plus the Z-teleconverter 2x (so with the 70-200mm "zoomed back" to 140mm). This combination produced slightly - but discernibly - softer (less sharp) images at both distances and all apertures.

Bokeh: Again, very, very similar results when the 100-400mm are compared to the 70-200mm f2.8 plus the 1.4x TC. But at most apertures the "near" out-of-focus zones (only about 30 cm behind the subject) of the images captured with the 70-200mm plus 2x TC were "busier" and less smooth than those shot with the other two lens (and lens/TC combos).

ii. At 300mm

Image Sharpness: At 300mm and at short distance the 100-400mm was slightly but noticeably sharper than the 70-200mm plus the 2x TC from f5.6 through to f8. From f9 through f11 I could see no sharpness difference between the lenses. At longer distance-to-subject this sharpness difference favoring the 100-400mm wasn't evident.

Bokeh: Pretty much a saw-off EXCEPT in one instance - at the shorter distance-to-subject and when shot wide open - here the bokeh of the 100-400mm was smoother and more appealing than that of the 70-200mm plus 2x TC.

iii. At 400mm

Image Sharpness: At 400mm I could not detect any sharpness difference between the 100-400mm and the 70-200mm plus 2x TC (at either distance). This likely suggests that the 70-200mm (which is undoubtedly the best 70-200mm that Nikon has ever made) holds it's sharpness at maximum focal length a little better than the 100-400mm does.

Bokeh: Now we see something interesting - from wide open through to f7.1 the bokeh of the 100-400mm is DEFINITELY better (smoother and more visually appealing) than that of the 70-200mm plus the 2x TC. From f8 on the difference in bokeh is negligible.

SO...overall...the optical performance of the 100-400mm DOES exceed that of the 70-200mm plus the two TC's, but not by a dramatic amount.


If you define lens quality SOLELY on image sharpness and bokeh you might read my results and think that the 100-400mm and the 70-200mm plus Z TC's are close to equivalent (with only a small edge going to the 100-400). But there's other factors to consider, such as:

1. Convenience, Cost, and Usability?

For the 70-200mm f2.8S to come close to rivaling the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S you definitely need to have BOTH of the Z-teleconverters. There are lots of consequences of this. First, while excellent in quality, they aren't cheap. At the time of writing buying both of these TC's would set you back a little over $1500 CAD. Yep, still cheaper for those who already own a 70-200 than buying a 100-400, but not chicken feed. And for those who DON'T already own the 70-200mm and the two TC's, a photographer (and especially a wildlife photographer) might well be better off overall by passing on the 70-200mm f2.8S altogether and investing instead in the 100-400mm AND the excellent 24-120mm f4S (for close to the same total expenditure).

And...then there's the usability issue. If you do go down the 70-200mm plus two TC's route, you will be spending more time swapping things around (taking lens off, adding TC needed at the time, then doing it again when the shooting scenario changes) rather than simply zooming your 100-400 to a different focal length. Not only is this continual lens/TC swapping a general PITA, but in some environments it can lead to more dust getting inside your camera. I know many shooters who travel to Africa regularly, and they tend to hate switching lenses in that dusty environment. Yep, the sensor shield of the Z 9 helps somewhat, but that doesn't help Z 6 or Z 7 users.

2. Autofocus?

Ok...I did NOT do any systematic testing of how the AF speed of the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S compares to that of the 70-200mm f2.8S plus Z-TC's so my comments are completely subjective. I have shot the 100-400mm extensively - the 70-200mm f2.8S (with our without TC's) somewhat less. But differences in AF speed between the two lenses (with and without TC's) weren't apparent to me, and both are very fast at re-focusing between subjects at moderately different distances from the camera (which is what matters to me when I'm in a field situation). I place no value in measurements (however accurate) of how fast a lens goes from closest focus to focusing at infinity...I don't believe this "measurement" is highly correlated (if correlated at all) with the AF characteristics that matter to me in a field setting.


If I call a spade a spade, the 70-200mm f2.8S works amazingly well with BOTH of the Z-teleconverters. For the first time (at least in my opinion), a zoom lens with external teleconverters IS worth considering as a "high-quality" option, even for discerning photographers. On the other hand, the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S is an EXCELLENT lens. My testing has convinced me that the difference in the optical performance of the Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S and the 70-200mm f2.8S plus the 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters IS subtle but it's real - with the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 edging out the 70-200mm f2.8S (plus TC's) in overall optical performance. For shooters that only rarely need to go beyond 200mm (which would exclude almost all wildlife shooters) - or for shooters that already own the 70-200mm and that don't want to fork out the bucks for the 100-400 - going down the 70-200mm plus TC's road may make good sense. Different strokes for different folks!

Even though a 70-200mm f2.8 lens has been long-considered a "staple" part of most wildlife photographer's kit, it's my view that the majority of wildlife shooters would be better served overall with the 100-400mm rather than relying on a 70-200mm plus TC's. In fact, as an owner of the 100-400mm and the excellent 24-120mm f4S, I am actually beginning to wonder how a 70-200mm f2.8 legitimately fits into my wildlife kit. And, recently I've had a number of other wildlife photographers contact me asking the same question: "If I own the 24-120mm AND the 100-400mm why do I need a 70-200?" The pat answer is (of course)...for those low-light situations OR when I want the background-blurring "power" of a f2.8 aperture. And for some shooters that answer may be valid. But in my case (and as an owner of the superb 120-300mm f2.8E that has even BETTER subject-isolation power than any 70-200mm f2.8)...the presence of the 70-200mm f2.8S in my wildlife kit may end up being very time-limited! ;-)



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05 March 2022: The Nikon Z 9 - Tidbits & Trivia #2: Understanding RSF

This is my second installment of my Z 9 - Tidbits and Trivia series. My previous entry was on the Z 9's Wide-area AF area mode (see it here...).

Recall Shooting Functions (hereafter = RSF) is a powerful assignable button function found on the Nikon Z 9. Based on feedback I'm getting from a lot of Z 9 users (as well as from folks I have been helping setting up their Z 9 via my online tutoring service), it seems like it's very poorly known and poorly understood. In a way that makes complete sense - RSF made its first appearance in rudimentary form in the Nikon D5 and then re-appeared in a far more usable form in the Nikon D6. I don't know too many users of the D5 who used it, be honest...the pool of users of the Nikon D6 isn't really huge, and of those not all of them really "got" the value of RSF.'s not surprising that the awareness and understanding of the power of this "almost hidden" feature is low. But now, with a LOT of Nikon shooters getting (or waiting for) a Z 9 it's high time this feature to come out of the shadows and get some attention! Thus this blog entry. And, I'm also probably going to scream if one more person emails me and says "I wish I could push a single button to turn subject detection off (or on)" or "I wish I could push a single button to change from subject detection = People to subject detection = Animals". With RSF you can do either of these things, and a whole lot more...

BTW...if you're a Z 9 owner it's probably best to go through this blog entry with camera in-hand.


RSF is simply one of the many functions that Nikon allows you to assign to one of many buttons on the Z 9. That means it's in the Custom Menu - specifically it's in custom setting f2 which is labelled "Custom controls (shooting)". To find it you have to go to one of the buttons that supports it and scroll down the button options list to find it. Which buttons support RSF? There's up to 9 of them, depending on the lens in use. Here's the list:

• Fn1 through to Fn3
• Sub-selector center
• Vertical multi-selector center
• AF-ON Vertical
• L-Fn and L-Fn2


Well...that depends on how you set it up. When you navigate into the RSF menu (so that means going into custom setting f2 > Recall shooting functions on one of those buttons listed above) you'll find it can control up to 12 shooting functions. So you can configure it to change all 12 functions with the push of a button. Or, you can configure it to ANY SUBSET of those 12 functions with the push of a button, including just ONE of the 12 functions. The 12 functions that can be controlled by RSF are:

• Shooting mode (Manual vs. aperture priority, etc.)
• Shutter speed
• Aperture
• Exposure compensation
• ISO sensitivity settings
• Metering
• White Balance
• AF-area mode
• Subject detection options
• Focus tracking with lock-on
• Release mode (frame rate)

To fully appreciate the power and flexibility of RSF you HAVE to remember that EACH of these 12 functions CAN be controlled by RSF but THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE controlled by RSF (i.e., you have the option of toggling each of the 12 functions ON or OFF). an example...if you don't want your RSF button push to change the Shooting mode you're in (say aperture priority) then just toggle Shooting mode off.

So...returning to the question of "What does it actually do?" - it can do the following types of things:

A. Change (at the push of a button) your current settings from being in a classic landscape collection (e.g, manual exposure with a fixed low ISO with the aperture stopped down and on single point AF-area mode) to a group of settings better suited to shooting high-speed action (e.g., manual exposure at a high shutter speed with Auto ISO on with aperture wide open [regardless of the lens in use!] using 3D-tracking with subject detection set to Animal).

B. Change (at the push of a button) your default setting of having subject detection on to turning it off. Or vice-versa. Or swap from subject detection = Animal to subject detection = People (or Vehicles, or Auto).

C. Change from matrix metering to spot metering with the push of a single button (I've had a few people email me complaining that they can't do this with the Z 9...uhhh...yes you can!).

If you think creatively you should be able to figure out a LOT of highly useful other things you can do with RSF. With a little thought one could probably produce an entire book full of different and very handy-dandy RSF configurations - along with use cases for each of them. Hmmm...I just got an idea. ;-)


Yes, but ALL of those buttons will have the same RSF configuration (while in the same custom settings menu...see the next point).


NO! But this is a place where a lot of Z 9 shooters get a bit lost. The critical thing to remember is that you set up your RSF in your Custom menu settings. And the critical thing that a lot of people don't know is that a Z 9 (and a D5 and a D6) have FOUR different custom settings banks. So that means your Z 9 can store up to 4 different RSF configurations. NOW...that means to go from one RSF configuration to another you have to switch from one custom settings bank to another custom settings bank. At present this CAN'T be done using a button-dial combination (like you can with shooting menu banks). About the fastest way I know of switching between custom settings banks (and thus between RSF configurations) is to put custom settings banks in your iMenu.


Here's some areas where I've found folks struggling to understand the setup and use of RSF:

• Understanding what custom settings banks are. More and more photographers are figuring out what shooting menu banks are and how setting them up can help them in the field, but it seems the concept of also having multiple custom settings banks is tough for many to wrap their head around. It DOES represent a jump up in complexity.

• Understanding and remembering that shooting menu banks and custom settings banks are independent of one another. So, if you are in your default custom settings bank (which is called bank "A" by default) it applies no matter what shooting menu bank you are in. Once you switch to custom settings bank B it then applies to ALL your shooting menu banks.

• Realizing that EACH of the 12 functions found within RSF can be toggled ON or OFF independently of the other 11 functions. This fact has huge repercussions in terms of what you can make RSF do for you.


Yup, there's lot of little nuances to figure out when you're using RSF. Here's my current list of tips and tricks:

• You must fight off the impulse to use Nikon's WORST EVER labeled menu option! Huh? When you go into RSF and set it up the way you want you'll eventually get to the last item and then, just below it, see the option to "Save current settings". Any normal person would think this would save all the adjustments they've just made to the 12 functions above. I certainly did! But after selecting that option umpteen times and wondering why ALL the settings you just put in disappeared, it will slowly dawn on you that this "Save current settings" actually means "Save current camera settings as RSF settings". Instead you just hit the Done button to save the settings you painstakingly added to RSF.

• Want to make sure EVERY lens you use will always shoot wide open after invoking RSF? To do this just set the Aperture function of RSF to slightly larger than your fastest lens. fastest lens is the Nikkor 50mm ensure this lens is shot wide open (as well as every other lens I have) is switched to wide open when using one of my RSF configurations I have set the aperture to f1.1. So that means when I put my 400mm f2.8S TC on my Z 9 and invoke RSF it will shoot at f2.8. And my 500mm f5.6E PF will always shoot at f5.6 when RSF is invoked.

• Baffled by how Auto ISO works when using RSF? Ok...this one gets a BIT complicated. The critical thing to remember if you have the ISO sensitivity settings in RSF adjusted to turn Auto ISO on is that the VALUES for Auto ISO (like the maximum ISO value you want to limit it to) are inherited from the shooting bank you invoke RSF from. So if you are in Shooting Bank A and you have the Auto ISO set to go no higher than ISO 6400, this is the ISO ceiling that RSF will inherit when you invoke it. That's straightforward and easy-to-understand. But what happens if you invoke RSF (and your RSF configuration has Auto ISO turned on) from a shooting bank that has Auto ISO off? Well...It STILL inherits the values for Auto ISO that are set in that shooting menu. So even though Auto ISO is OFF, if you look in the Auto ISO settings (for that shooting bank) there is still a value for base ISO and for the highest you'll let it climb to - and THOSE are the Auto ISO values RSF will inherit. You may have to read this one twice to get it!

• If you change any camera settings when RSF is invoked (i.e., you're still holding down the button assigned to RSF) then almost all of those changed settings stick (they become the NEW settings for RSF). So the RSF configuration I use the most uses manual exposure mode with a shutter speed of 1/2000s and a wide open aperture. But if I rotate the back dial and change the shutter speed while my RSF button is held down the new shutter speed is what is stored in RSF.

• IF you are setting up RSF in multiple custom menu banks, it is likely you will want to set it up with EVERYTHING in the custom menus banks the same EXCEPT the RSF settings. The easiest way to do this BY FAR is to set up your first custom settings bank exactly how you want it and then copy it over to the next custom settings bank (the Z 9 allows you to do this via the Manage option in the listing of the custom settings banks) and then change ONLY the RSF settings. To do the 3rd and 4th custom settings banks just repeat this process twice.

• Preferred button for RSF? Well...that's going to vary between users and there's no right or wrong on this one. But, after experimenting with a bunch of different button setups, I have settled out on using the L-Fn buttons (both of them on lenses that have two L-Fn buttons) for RSF. Why? To leave my thumb and fingers free to make other changes (e.g., to the shutter speed as described immediately above) while I am pushing the RSF (L-Fn) button. Note that virtually ALL the lenses I would use RSF with have L-Fn buttons. Why BOTH L-Fn buttons? That's a long story and will be the subject of a future minor rant on my part, but it's so both my F-mount lenses with L-Fn buttons and my Z-mount lenses with L-Fn buttons will have the button that is in the same location (distal to the camera body) invoke RSF. Those confused by this should look at how L-Fn and L-Fn2 buttons on Z-mount lenses are positioned relative to how they are positioned on F-mount lenses. I explain more fully at a later date...


Nope (what a dumb question!). I can think of at least two ways to improve it:

A. Add a RSF (Hold) version of it (just like on the D6). This means that when you push a button assigned to RSF the RSF setting holds until you push it again. That's so you don't have to keep holding the button to have RSF invoked. This would free up the finger or thumb that's holding the RSF button. This item is already on my Z 9 firmware update wishlist.

B. Allow the storage of multiple RSF configurations (e.g., RSF1, RSF2) within a single custom menu bank - and make them each assignable to different buttons. This would dramatically increase the button customization options available to Z 9 users. How many RSF configurations would we need? A few weeks back I plotted out what would work for me (in terms of all the different things I'd like RSF to do for me) and came up with 4 RSF configurations per custom menu bank. And with 4 I'd only need to use two custom menu banks (for a total of 8 RSF configurations).

There you go...simple as pie! Now go away and think about and play with your RSF configurations. And please don't send me any more emails grumbling about how you can't turn off the Z 9's subject detection with the push of a button! ;-)



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22 Feb 2022: Follow-up On: The Z 9's Wide-area AF Mode

Based on feedback I've received, my blog entry of 20 Feb called "The Nikon Z 9 - Tidbits & Trivia #1: Wide-area AF Mode" went over very well. Thanks to all who sent me feedback.

In that entry I made the following statement:

" has already been suggested by "insiders" (and I'm pretty sure it was first suggested by the helpful guy known as "Nikon Ricci", but don't quote me on that) that it won't be long before we see a firmware update that adds more patterns/shapes of the Wide-area modes...likely along the lines of how the D6 has 17 configurable patterns for its excellent Group Area AF area mode."

I want to make it clear that I have no inside information on this - what I said was based on publicly-available information. It does makes sense to me that Nikon would add additional patterns or configurations for the Wide-area AF area modes, but that doesn't mean it WILL happen!

BUT...IF Nikon does what has been strongly suggested and gives us more wide-area patterns/configurations, I am hopeful that they give us the option of having one or two Wide-area modes that are smaller than the current Wide-area (S) mode. This would allow us to more precisely pick our subject upon which it will then do its thing (i.e., search for an eye/head/torso attached to that subject, including outside the Wide-area focus box)...and would be useful when shooting scenes with multiple subjects in them (especially if they are quite close together). While these "very small" Wide-area AF area modes with subject detection on would operate very differently than 3D-tracking (with subject detection on), I think it would be a nice complement to it - especially for the control freaks, like me!



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20 Feb 2022: The Nikon Z 9 - Tidbits & Trivia #1: Wide-area AF Mode

Today I'm starting an informal series of blog posts that will discuss a potpourri of topics and/or "issues" relating to the Nikon Z 9. Most of what will be covered in this series will also be later found in my final review of the Nikon Z 9, but I will not be publishing that review until late June (at the earliest) I thought there would be value in getting these tidbits and trivia (much of which won't be trivial to some users) out earlier. The inspiration and content for this series of blog posts comes partly from my own testing, studying, shooting, poking and prodding the Z 9, and partly from email exchanges I've had with photographers from around the world about the Z 9 (much of which owes its origin to reader-submissions to my ongoing Nikon Z 9 Firmware Update Wishlist).

Today's topic? The Z 9's Wide-area AF area modes. Why? Well...while I am sure there are LOTS of Z 9 owners (or soon-to-be-owners...they hope) who fully understand how the two current Wide-area AF area modes work, based on a whole lot of feedback and questions I have received, there's definitely folks out there who don't full understand these very cool and very useful AF area modes.'s the key things you need to know about the Z 9's AF area modes:

1. At present the Z 9 has TWO Wide-area AF area modes - Wide-area (S) and Wide-area (L). The S version has a focus box that is smaller and square; the L version is larger (around 3x as large as S) and rectangular. Why did I start the first sentence off with "At first..."? Because it has already been suggested by "insiders" (and I'm pretty sure it was first suggested by the helpful guy known as "Nikon Ricci", but don't quote me on that) that it won't be long before we see a firmware update that adds more patterns/shapes of the Wide-area modes...likely along the lines of how the D6 has 17 configurable patterns for its excellent Group Area AF area mode.

2. The focus-priority of both Wide-area AF area modes is dependent on whether or not Subject Detection is ON or OFF! And, by this I mean the actual behaviour of AF changes a LOT if Subject detection is on or off. Kind of like a Henry Jekyll vs. Mr. Hyde thing, except in the case of Wide-area AF mode BOTH characters are good guys (just different).

If subject detection is OFF (or if subject detection is on and there is no detectable subject under the focus box), then the focus priority of the Wide-area AF area modes is the closest object within the focus "box". This means it acts JUST LIKE Group Area AF area mode of the last few generations of mid-to-high end Nikon DSLR's. Yes, the shape of the focus box is different (it's no longer a diamond), but it acts just like Group Area AF. As the legions of lovers of Group Area AF area mode know, this is a highly useful AF area mode, but it doesn't have any form of AF tracking - the subject must be maintained under the focus box to stay in focus. When do you use it? Lots of places, especially in action sequences where you want the leading edge (or bit, or part) of your subject in focus. When can it cause you grief? When there is something within the focus box (like foreground!) between you and your subject.

If subject detection is ON and your subject "type" (think Auto, People, Animal, Vehicle) falls wholly or partly under the Wide-area focus box, then the focus priority becomes your subject (and NOT the closet object). So if a person or an animal is wholly or partially under the Wide-area focus box, it will automatically search for an eye, head, or torso (in that order) and will almost instantly shift focus to the bit it finds (and you'll see only a smaller focus box on the eye, or head, or torso of your subject). Now there ARE some idiosyncrasies about how this works that I will discuss in a moment, but the key thing to keep in your mind is that the Wide-area focus box will constrain where the Z 9 will search for the subject type your camera is set for (Auto, People, Animals, or Vehicles).

Want to test this yourself? don't need a complex setup to do so...just a scenario like this: Download Simple Focus Priority Test Image (JPEG: 1.5 MB)

3. The subject-detection focus box is NOT constrained by the Wide-area focus box! have to read that carefully and think about it. When shooting in either Wide-area AF mode with subject detection on the only constraint is that the SUBJECT must be wholly or partially under the Wide-area focus box. But, the focus-detect focus box can jump WAY OUTSIDE the Wide-area AF focus box. Huh? Think of this scenario: You're super close to your subject (be it a model, a bride, Michael Jordan, a bird, an elk) and you're using Wide-area (S) AF area mode and it only covers a small part of the subject. What happens? Well the system is smart enough to know that the chest or neck of the subject (which is all the Wide-area AF (S) box is covering) is your subject and it will look for an eye, head or torso attached to that subject EVEN IF IT IS WAY OUTSIDE THE WIDE-AREA FOCUS BOX!. Still confused? Just check out this image and it should all make sense: Download Sample Image with Subject-detection Focus Box WAY OUTSIDE the Wide-area Focus Box! (JPEG: 1.2 MB)

4. OK...what do you mean by "...If subject detection is ON and your subject "type" falls wholly or partly under the Wide-area focus box"? It means that you DON'T have to get the full Wide-area focus box over your subject to have it recognize it.. Still confused? Just check out this image and again it should all make sense: Download Sample Image with Wide-area Focus Box on Partly Overlapping the Subject (JPEG: 1.2 MB)

5. What happens if you get the Wide-area focus box close to your subject's head - but it's not overlapping the subject...will the subject-detect focus box jump over to the eye?'re hooped (remember...the idea of Wide-area AF area mode with subject detection on is to constrain where the camera will look for a subject). Don't get it? Just check out this image and again it should click: Download Sample Image with MISSED Wide-area Focus Box (JPEG: 1.1 MB)

So...there you have it. Now you understand enough about the Z 9's Wide-area AF Area mode to successfully use it in the field. And, once you start playing around with this AF area mode you should realize how well it is thought out (and you'll begin to understand ALL the scenarios where this AF Area mode works just great). And...the fact that your Wide-area focus box needs to only partly overlap your subject, combined with the fact that the subject-detection focus box will jump WAY OUTSIDE the Wide-area focus box, means you likely don't have to figure out how to dynamically switch from Wide-area AF area mode (with subject detection on) to 3D-tracking when your subject closes in on you.



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21 Jan 2022: A Few Thoughts on the Nikkor Z 400mm f2.8 TC VR S

By now most Nikon-shooting wildlife photographers and sports photographers know that Nikon has just announced their first super-telephoto Z-mount lens - the Nikkor 400mm f2.8 TC VR S. I'll avoid getting into a spec-spew about the lens - those wishing those kind of nuts-and-bolts details can visit any Nikon website or places like From my perspective as a wildlife shooter who specializes in large carnivores and marine mammals (and not so much in small birds) here are what I perceive to be the most critical headline features of the new Nikkor 400mm f2.8. I have ordered these features from most to least important to me, and only the first 4 features below impacted on my own purchase decision for this lens.

1. The Built-in Teleconverter:

In integrating a 1.4x TC into the lens (along with designing a method of instantly turning it on or off, even when looking through the viewfinder) Nikon has given us pretty much two super-telephotos in one - a 400mm f2.8 and an "almost 600mm" (560mm to be exact) f4. Based only on Nikon's published MTF charts it looks like the lens when shot at 400mm (with the TC NOT engaged) is going to be exceptionally sharp from center to edge (no surprise there). And, when shot at 560mm (with the TC engaged) the lens is still going to offer excellent central sharpness with only a slight fall-off in sharpness on the edges (and has there ever been anyone who cares about extreme edge sharpness when shooting a 500mm or 600mm f4?). Based on my own experience shooting TC's with a Z-mount body - whether F-mount TC's or Z-mount TC's - and based on my own experience with Nikon's "other" lens offering a built-in TC (the 180-400mm f4E), I personally expect that in the field the 560mm f4 "version" of this lens will deliver results in the field in almost all ways comparable to a Nikkor 600mm f4 (less 40mm of focal length of course). In other words, my own expectation is that when carrying this new 400mm lens into the field it really will be equivalent to having two top-notch super-telephotos with you.

2. Compatible with both the 1.4x and 2x Z-teleconverters:

Normally you'd just assume that a prime super-telephoto was compatible with the appropriate Nikon teleconverters. However, there was a very large online American camera retailer that flatly stated that the new 400mm f2.8S was NOT compatible with external teleconverters...and that caused some people some angst. Well...the good news is that the new 400 IS compatible with both the Z-teleconverters. So combined with the Z-teleconverter 2.0x the 400mm f2.8S becomes a 800mm f5.6. Historically (back in the DSLR and F-mount era) serious shooters might have said "so what?" (because they felt that no serious shooting was done with a 2x teleconverter). However, based on i) how well ALL teleconverters work when shot on a Z-body and ii) the great performance the Z-teleconverter 2.0x offers on both the 70-200mm f2.8S and the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S, I am expecting excellent (and professional quality) results when the 400mm f2.8S is shot with the Z-teleconverter 2.0x. So, in a sense, you could argue that if you go into the field with a 2x TC the 400mm f2.8S functionally acts like THREE super-telephotos - an extraordinary 400mm f2.8, an excellent 560mm f4, and a very good 800mm f5.6. And that is pretty darned cool...

I feel compelled to make a few further teleconverters comments, based largely off what I have learned when I have shot and compared the results of the 180-400mm f4E when using its internal TC vs. external TC's on a Z-body (these comments don't necessarily reflect what you'd find if shot on a Nikon DSLR):

• You'll commonly hear people say online that if a TC is "built-in" Nikon does something special in "optically matching" the TC to the lens. This isn't my experience. I have shot and compared the results of shooting the 180-400mm with its built in TC to shooting it with an external TC (the TC-14EIII). I could find no differences in image quality whatsoever (both were excellent). I expect this to be the case with the new 400mm f2.8S as well...leaving the primary advantages of having the TC built-in being the ease and speed of engaging and dis-engaging it as well as the fact that you never have to take the lens off the body to "insert" the TC (which in dusty or rainy environments can be a really big deal).

• Adding the TC-20EIII (2x) to the 180-400mm f4E (without the internal TC engaged) produces visually identical results to shooting it with TC-14EIII (1.4x) plus the internal 1.4x TC engaged (and don't forget that a 1.4x TC is actually a "square root of 2" TC, meaning that a stack of two 1.4x TC's is equivalent to using a single 2x TC). IF this same result is found with the 400mm f2.8S (and you can bet this will be one of the first things I'll test!), then it means you can go into the field with "just" a 1.4x TC plus the 400mm f2.8S and have your 3-in-1 super-telephoto lens.

3. The Weight Loss!

The new 400mm f2.8S comes in at 2950 gm - the 400mm f2.8E weighed 3800 gm. This 850 gm (1 lb 14 oz) weight loss is really significant...and will definitely be noticeable in the field. So the lens will be easier to transport and carry and, more importantly, easier to hand-hold. Cool.

4. The Synchro VR (when shot on a Z 9):

As a "most of the time hand-holder of all lenses" I'm a huge VR fan, and having up to 5.5 stops of VR is a really big deal to me. With Synchro VR the IBIS of the Z 9 interacts with the VR of the lens to get to that 5.5 stops of total image stabilization. In comparison, the 400mm f2.8E offers about 3.5 to 4 stops of image stabilization. For low light shooters (like me) that extra 1.5 to 2 stops of image stabilization can make or break image quality when you're pushing the limits of slow shutter speeds in low light settings.

5. All the "Other" New Technologies:

The 400mm f2.8S offers a lot of other technological advances, but it's hard to judge their value until the lens in hand. Those include:

New Voice Coil Motor (VCM) AF Motor: This new AF motor system uses magnets to move the lens focus groups. Nikon claims this VCM AF motor delivers "higher initial speed" (presumably the initial acquisition of focus?), higher AF accuracy, and near silent performance. Sounds great to me...and let's hope it performs as advertised. The 400mm f2.8E focused awfully fast, but who's going to complain about an even faster and quieter AF system?

Meso Amorphous Coat - a new lens coating that Nikon claims is even better than their Nano Crystal Coat or even the still-new ARNEO coating to reduce flare under harsh lighting conditions (like strong backlighting or even shooting with the sun in the frame). Again, another impossible-to-judge-until-lens-is-in-hand new feature, but if it delivers as it's supposed to...great!

SR Lens Element: This new-ish lens element isn't unique to the 400mm f2.8E, but the two other lenses that have an SR element (the 120-300mm f2.8E and the 70-200mm f2.8S) deliver amazing optical performance (I own both of them and love them). Of course, it's impossible for me to judge just how much the single SR element contributes to the image quality we see, but according to Nikon this element helps ensure colours in our images are more accurately produced. Ok with me...

New Fn Ring: Besides the Control Ring we're coming to expect on most S-Line Z-mount lenses, the 400mm f2.8S also gives us a separate Fn ring on the barrel of the lens. With this ring you simple twist it to recall a saved focus position. I can easily envision situations is sports photography where this feature could be very useful, but I see it being less useful for most wildlife photography scenarios. So, at least for me, this feature had absolutely no impact in my decision to purchase this lens or not.

So what exactly are my expectations for this new lens? Well...that it will be slightly superior optically to the excellent Nikkor 400mm f2.8E, and I expect that slightly better optical performance to be most noticeable when shot wide open. I also expect that when shot with the built-in TC engaged it will be slightly better optically than the 400mm f2.8E was shot with a TC-14EIII. In this case I mean I expect it to be slightly sharper at 560mm (especially when shot wide open). Note that this is not faint praise...the F-mount 400mm f2.8E performs exceptionally well with the TC-14EIII and is the ONLY lens/TC combination that (historically) I never hesitated to use.

Further I fully expect the 400mm f2.8S to compete very favourably against the 600mm f4E in optical quality (albeit at a focal length 40mm shorter). And...I DO expect it to be a very good 800mm f5.6 when combined with the Z-teleconverter 2.0x (and possibly if shot with the Z-teleconverter 1.4x plus the internal TC engaged).

Is that it? Nope. Between its lighter weight and better VR (when shot on a Z 9) I expect it will be MUCH easier to obtain sharp hand-held shots at very low shutter speeds. As a wildlife shooter who shoots a lot on BC's beautiful but rainy coast - and often from Zodiac inflatable boats - this is HUGE for me.

What about the elephant in the room? Yep, I was expecting this lens to be expensive, but I have to admit that I was almost knocked out of my chair when I saw the lens was going for $18,199 CAD. I recall feeling the exact same way when I first saw the price of the 180-400mm f4E and the 120-300mm f2.8E, two lenses that I ended up purchasing...and I have not regretted those purchases. And the fact that I view the 400mm f2.8S as pretty much getting 3 super-telephotos for the price of one (even a VERY BIG price for one), I can justify (rationalize?) the cost of the 400mm f2.8S.

So...yes I have ordered my own 400mm f2.8S and I will be testing it as soon as I get my hands on it (don't ask me when that will be). Because I know I will asked "How will the 400mm f2.8S fit into your kit?" intention is to sell my 180-400mm and keep both my 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S and my 120-300mm f2.8E (which, incidentally, works spectacularly well on a Z 9 when shot with the TC-14EIII). So, depending on the logistics and subject matter, I will be pairing up the 400mm f2.8S with either the 100-400 or the 120-300mm f2.8E when shooting (be that on a photo tour I am leading or during any of my own shooting or expeditions). In most cases you'll probably also see me with a 24-120mm f4S in my me great coverage from 24mm to 400mm, and then also at 560mm and 800mm (and all this with just 3 lenses and TC's).



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6 Jan 2022: The Nikkor 24-120mm f4S: Early Impressions and Thoughts

This blog entry focuses on my early impressions and thoughts on the "other" S-Line lens announced and introduced at the same time as the Nikon Z 9 and the Nikkor 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR S - the Nikkor 24-120mm f4S. To a large degree this new wide angle-to-short telephoto zoom was kind of overshadowed by the other new Z gear that was simultaneously announced, but in at least my opinion it's a lens that, in theory, should have a whole lot of appeal. I think you'd have to look long and hard for someone who doesn't think a single lens covering a focal length from 24mm to 120mm wouldn't be highly useful, assuming that its image quality holds up over that entire focal range. But I'm getting ahead of myself...first a little background info is needed.


I have always loved the IDEA of a 24-120mm zoom with a fixed aperture...and I've purchased every iteration of the F-mount 24-120mm Nikon has ever produced, including the "old" variable aperture model (the 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 AF-D). Each time it's been with the hope that I am going to get a lens that is optically strong throughout its entire focal range. And, if I'm being honest, they ALL disappointed me - and they certainly didn't become even semi-permanent residents of my kit. Why? Invariably the central region sharpness was...well...OK (not great), but the edge sharpness at the "longer" end of the focal range wasn't (it would be best described as "edge softness", not "edge sharpness"). Yes, over time each successive model DID get better, but even with the latest F-mount version (the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f4G ED VR) the edges were quite soft from about 95mm through to 120mm. This statement is based on my own testing and it WAS more noticeable if it was shot on higher resolution bodies (I sold my copy of the "G" version immediately after I tested it on a D800E). But as one who shoots a fair number of landscapes and animalscapes in the 90-120mm range a 24-120mm lens with soft edges from 95mm to 120mm has little appeal.

But, that all being said, when I heard that Nikon was going to do a Z-mount 24-120mm f4 in the S-Line I was quite excited. This was primarily because every S-Line Z-mount lens I own (6 in number before getting the 24-120mm and the 100-400mm) has very sharp edges - and certainly sharper than their F-mount counterparts. So I was at least reasonably confident that Nikon would solve the "primary problem" of the previous 24-120's. And, more importantly that we'd finally have a 24-120mm lens that fully lived up to its theoretical promise of high versatility and usefulness. Of course, as an aging nature photographer, the thought of going out in the field on a hike while carrying only two lenses (the 24-120mm f4S and the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6) and still very competently covering the vast majority of landscape and wildlife opportunities one might encounter is super appealing... today's entry I'll first cover the "mandatory" (and boring) physical characteristics of the lens and then get into what I have found out about the image quality of the 24-120m f4S. On that note, the very first thing I did with the lens was to test its central region and edge sharpness against a few key lenses at 70mm, 100mm, and 120mm. I've now also shot the lens quite a bit in the 24mm to 70mm range and thus can comment on how it performs in that range. So while these are early impressions, I think I have a pretty good handle on how this lens performs. And please note that I will NOT be producing a detailed stand-alone review of this lens - you'll get this blog entry on it, very likely some future blog entries on it, and definitely image samples (beyond those supplied today) in either my Gallery of Latest Additions or in my Z 9 Collection Gallery.


Like most of the other S-Line Z-mount lenses the 24-120mm f4S is manufactured in Thailand. All rings (zoom, focus, control) rotate very smoothly and the single toggle switch (Auto vs. Manual focus) clicks positively into its two positions. I can't imagine anyone being unhappy with its finish and the overall quality of construction. But then again, there seems to be a lot of things that people say online these days that I can't imagine them saying! ;-)

• Size & Weight: While not a "miniature" lens, the 24-120mm comes in on the "small and light" side of the spectrum. At 630 gm (Nikon's specs and confirmed on my scale) it's 80 gm (almost 3 oz) lighter than the F-mount version. Width of the lens is identical to the F-mount version (both are 84mm) and the Z-mount version is about 15mm longer than the F-mount version.

• Controls: The controls on the lens are what we're coming to expect on an S-Line Z-mount zoom - a zoom ring, both a focus ring and a customizable control ring, a customizable L-Fn button, and a single toggle switch (letting you choose autofocus or manual focus). About the only thing missing compared to some of the other S-Line zooms is the EL (Electroluminescent) lens information panel.

• Lens "Extension": Extension when zooming is about what you'd expect - going from 24mm to 120mm (in a quarter turn or slightly less of the zoom ring) extends the lens about as much as the 100-400mm f4s does in going from 100-400mm. Unlike the 100-400mm you can feel a slight shift in balance when you zoom the lens from 24mm to 120mm, but it's certainly not an issue with any significance in the field.

• Filter Thread: For most lenses this tends to be a "it is what it is" thing, but I have to admit I really like the filter thread size of the 24-120mm: It's 77mm filter size is the exact same as both the 70-200mm f2.8S and the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6mm VR S. So if you're carrying any two (or all three) of these lenses at once the same circular polarizer (or variable ND, or whatever) will fit all of them without step-down rings. Little thing, but a nice thing (especially when hiking with your gear).

• Some "Unseen" Physical Characteristics: A few things that you don't know about how the lens operates until you actually get it in your hands (or read about it). Such as...

Fully weather sealed! This is again one of those things that you don't see, but can be critical for some users. Like me. While I never advocate that ANY camera and lens should be left unprotected in the rain (or wet snow), sometimes it happens. It's nice to know that when this happens you're likely to be fine with the 24-120mm. This is also nice if you're shooting in a dusty environment.

Multi-focus system: Like with many of the other top-end S-Line lenses the 24-120mm uses TWO stepping motors in sync, meaning no single element has to be moved as much to go from closest focus to distant focus. Nikon claims (and I have no reason to dispute the claim) that this leads to increased edge-to-edge sharpness (which I'll discuss below).

Closer close-focus: At 120mm the lens focuses down to 34 cm (1.15'), which is 12 cm (over 4") closer than the F-mount version. Nice if you like to shoot "macro-style" with the lens.

Okey dokey...let's get into the more interesting things!


I've completed both some systematic tests on the 24-120mm f4S (vs. other S-Line lenses) as well as spending time shooting the 24-120mm on a production Z 9 in a field setting...

1. Systematic Tests

As mentioned above, the first thing I wanted to assess on the 24-120mm f4S was edge-sharpness in the upper end of its focal length range. As with all my lens testing, I systematically test lenses with as many variables controlled as possible (with the lens on a tripod, using a cable release, VR off, full electronic shutter, etc.), but I do so in a field setting and not in a lab. I care about how field-based images look, not targets shot in my basement. While I normally test lenses at various distances-to-subject, in this case I tested only with distant subjects, thus mimicking the performance one would get when landscape shooting. Like with all my previous lens tests, I was primarily interested in how the 24-120mm stacked up against other lenses that overlap it in focal length and aperture. Here's a little more info on my testing protocol:

Test Distance: The distant scene I used contained a treeline running edge-to-edge at a distance of approximately 1.6 km from the camera. The treelike runs parallel to the camera's image sensor and facilitates edge-to-edge (or even corner sharpness depending on where you place the treeline in the frame). The background extended to about 30 km. Focal point was on the treeliine.

Focal Lengths Tested: 70mm, 100mm, 120mm.

Test Lenses: Here are the lenses against which I compared the Nikkor 24-120mm f4S:

@ 70mm: The Nikkor 24-70mm f4S and the 70-200mm f2.8S
@ 100mm: The Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8S
@ 120mm: The Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8S

Apertures Tested: From wide open to f11 in 1/3 stop increments for each lens.

Test Camera: Nikon Z 9 (production model)

Image Assessment: Image assessment was done on the lossless compressed raw files as viewed in Capture One Pro 22. Images were assessed in the central region and both edges at 100% magnification on an Eizo CG297X (109 ppi).

Results: Here's the essential result followed by a little more detail:

The ESSENTIAL Result Unlike ALL the F-mount versions of the 24-120mm, the 24-120mm f4S pairs exceptional central region sharpness with very sharp edges (at all focal lengths and almost all apertures).

Additional Details: Nikon Z 9 (production model)

@ 70mm: Central region sharpness of the 24-120mm f4S, 24-70mm f4S, and the 70-200mm f2.8S were absolutely indistinguishable at all apertures. Edge sharpness was highest on the 24-120mm f4S with the 24-70mm f4S producing only very slightly less sharp edges. The excellent 70-200mm f2.8S's edges were actually the least sharp (but still awfully sharp) of the 3 lenses.

@ 100mm: Central region sharpness of the 24-120mm f4S and the 70-200mm f2.8S were indistinguishable at all apertures. The edges of the 70-200mm f2.8S were very slightly sharper than those of the 24-120mm from f4 through to f7.1, and at smaller apertures the edge sharpness of the two lenses were indistinguishable.

@ 120mm: Central region sharpness of the 24-120mm f4S and the 70-200mm f2.8S were indistinguishable at all apertures. At all apertures the edges of the 70-200mm f2.8S were very slightly sharper than those of the 24-120mm. However, the difference was only noticeable with extreme pixel-peeping and even very mild sharpening during post-processing would easily negate the differences.

2. Results from "Just Shooting"

I've now captured a little over 2,000 images in the field with the Nikkor 24-120mm f4S (all shot with a production Z 9). While admittedly anecdotal, two consistent characteristics really stick out for me. The first is the far superior overall sharpness (in both the central region and the edges) compared to all other versions of the 24-120mm Nikon has offered previously. This is one very sharp lens! The second is its excellent contrast in virtually all lighting situations, including back-lit scenes.

For additional information on other aspects of the optical performance of the 24-120mm see the comments associated with the sample images below.


Given the greater depth of field and other optical differences between a zoom like the 24-120mm compared to super-telephoto lenses it's hard to really assess autofocus performance of a lens like the 24-120mm f4S. What I can say is that the focus feels extremely "snappy" at all focal lengths and in the hundreds and hundreds of action shots I've captured with it (using mostly my own or borrowed dogs) the in-focus hit rate (when shot with a Z 9) is exceptionally high. I can't imagine anyone (who actually uses the lens and/or is a photographer!) finding fault with the AF performance of the Nikkor 24-120mm f4S.


Here's 6 sample images captured with the 24-120mm f4S at a variety of focal lengths. Keep in mind these aren't "gallery images" but rather testing images where I was looking to assess a particular characteristic of the lens while snowshoeing around our cabin in southeastern BC. All are hand-held shots captured with a production Nikon Z 9. All were captured as lossless compressed raw files and processed (and converted to JPEG) using Capture One Pro 22. All are reduced down to 4800 pixels on the long axis and should be easily large enough to assess the point I'm showing. The landscape shots are uncropped and the dog shots are either full frame or next to it. Critical shooting data is included on the shots themselves. These samples will be more useful if you read the comments associated with each.

1. @ 27mm: Looking to the North. This one gives a good idea of the overall sharpness in both the central region and edges at the "short end" of the focal range. The snowy ridge in the central part of the image (which is actually a glacial feature known as an esker) is covered in elk tracks that are highly visible (and detailed) at 100% magnification. Note that this image was shot at -25C and there IS some ice fog in the air that softens the image slightly at or near the distant horizon. Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 10 MB).

2. @ 35mm: Rockies to the East. I captured this "typical" winter scene (for my neck of the woods) with edge-to-edge foreground trees primarily to "get a handle" on edge-to-edge sharpness of the lens at both closer distances AND shorter focal lengths. Another cold weather shot (captured at around -25C) but because of the angle of sunlight hitting the distant mountains ice fog isn't softening the mountains too much. Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 10.1 MB).

3. @ 39mm: What Are You Doing Down There? This back- and side-lit shot (of Poncho licking his nose while trotting at me!) shows a few things. First is the nice contrast the lens exhibits even under suboptimal lighting conditions. Second is AF speed - this is one in a sequence of a little over 100 shots that began with Poncho VERY SMALL in the frame and continued until he was licking me...but the point is ALL were tack sharp. Obviously AF performance is related to BOTH the camera in use and the lens in use, and this was shot with a Nikon Z 9...but if either lens or camera offers sub-standard AF performance you don't get ALL sharp shots of a running or trotting dog! For those that may be interested, this was shot using 3D-tracking with subject recognition on and I was holding the camera on the ground and using the vertically-tilted LCD to frame the shot. Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 4 MB).

4. @ 120mm: Mount DeSmedt @ Sunrise. Before anyone sends me an email saying the distant background is out of focus...I know...and it's a DoF issue, not a focus or lens sharpness issue! ;-) I captured this very frosty shot (captured at -30C) to examine (and show) the edge sharpness on foreground objects when the 24-120mm is shot at 120mm. In this case I was stopped down to f8 and likely could not have stopped down enough to get both the foreground tree line and the distant mountain in focus (without shooting a focus stack). Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 6.4 MB).

5. @ 120mm: Coming in Low. In this one Poncho is decidedly not pleased to be doing multiple runs at -25C (but he sure liked the treats he got on each run). Like with the previous shot of Poncho above this is a side-backlit shot and nicely shows the contrast of the lens under less-than-ideal lighting. But more importantly, this f4 shot shows the bokeh you CAN get if you position your subject and background appropriately with the 24-120mm f4S. Of course, if you were shooting a 70-200mm f2.8S here (or a 120-300mm f2.8E) at the same 120mm focal length but at f2.8 you could produce even more pleasing bokeh, but that's one of the limitations that you have to live with when shooting an f4 lens. My BEST lens for maximizing bokeh on a 120mm shot like this? Definitely my Nikkor 120-300mm f2.8E...but that one costs over 8 times as much and the shot wouldn't look 8 times better! Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 3.5 MB).

6. @ 120mm: Poncho Caught Mid-lick. This one speaks to AF again...this is part of a 50 frame sequence of Poncho coming at me pretty darned fast and EVERY FRAME in the sequence was tack sharp. Neither lens nor the camera's AF system let me down at all. Note that the background trees are MUCH closer to the subject and thus even at f4 they couldn't be softened as much as one would probably prefer.'s a small and light f4 lens! ;-) Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 4.0 MB).


If I'm being honest I have to say that I am just thrilled that we finally have a 24-120mm Nikkor lens that lives up to the theoretical promise of a 24-120mm! Obviously the focal range of the lens makes it extremely versatile and with appeal to a lot of very different types of photographers (and in time I think that will translate into Nikon selling a LOT of copies of this lens). But in a way this lens is even better than I what I hoped it would be - I always think of a versatile zoom as, you know, "...a jack of all trades, but master of none." But the 24-120mm f4S gives away almost nothing to the best of the S-Line lenses that it overlaps with in focal length and aperture, including the excellent shorter focal length S-Line prime lenses. Yes, of course, if I am pixel-peeping I will see some very small differences in image quality if I compare the 24-120mm @ 50mm to the incredible 50mm f1.2S at, say, f5. And, of course, if you shoot the 50mm f1.2S at f1.2 you get bokeh that the 24-120mm just can't match. But for the overlapping focal lengths and apertures the difference in image quality is just so, so small. Once the limitations inherent in ANY F4 lenses are accepted I would be surprised if any photographer, regardless of how picky they are, wouldn't be just tickled pink with this lens.

If I narrow down the discussion to nature and wildlife photographers another HUGE positive about the 24-120mm f4S is how well it can complement other key lenses in their kit. The most obvious example for those who have transitioned to the Z system would be the new 100-400mm f4.5-5.6S - in carrying JUST the 24-120mm and the 100-400mm in the field a tremendous range of photographic scenarios (covering landscapes, animalscapes, and even tighter work with wildlife) can be more than competently handled. While right now the 100-400mm is still a rare lens (so not too many can take advantage of this lens "complementarity" quite yet) in a year or less it WILL be a common lens and lots of Nikon-shooting nature photographers will be able to take advantage of this "dynamic duo" (yeah, I know, kind of corny...but true). For those using a hybrid mirrorless-DSLR system the 24-120mm will complement many lenses in their kit, be that a 70-200mm f2.8 (or f4), the old 80-400mm workhorse, get the picture.

Because there are so many different types of photographers out there (each with differing standards and needs) and I am only ONE shooter with my own quirks and idiosyncrasies, I always hesitate to recommend ANY lens to ANYONE. Instead, I'm simply going to say I am thrilled to have this lens in my own kit and wouldn't mind one bit if I didn't see it in any of my competitors kits! If you want to interpret this as me giving this lens "my highest recommendation" go right ahead.

Finally, while I don't have a slew of gallery-quality images shot with the 24-120mm to show you yet, I will be posting shots taken with this lens in both my Gallery of Latest Additions and my Z 9 Collection Gallery in the coming weeks and months. So keep an eye on those galleries if you want to see more images shot with the 24-120mm.



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2 Jan 2022: The Nikon Z 9: Some Observations on Its Cold Weather Performance

One of the "specs" of the Z 9 that those who don't live or visit cold climates may have missed is that Nikon officially lists the Z 9's operating environment to be from -10℃ to 40℃ (that's +14℉ to 104℉ for the 4% of the world still holding onto that scale!). Those photographers who experience "real" winters will know that -10℃ isn't very cold, and IF the Z 9 stopped operating at -11℃ it would be very limiting. Of course, most of us know that Nikon tends to publish VERY conservative ratings on things like battery life (i.e., shots per charge) and temperature operating range...and they very likely assumed that the Z 9 would work just fine at temperatures FAR below -10℃. Nonetheless, I have to admit that "not so cold" published temperature operating range left ME feeling a little cold... can imagine how thrilled I was when a Christmas-to-New Years cold snap was forecasted for my region. of all...the forecast came true...the warmest temperature we saw from Dec 25 to Jan 1 was -18℃, and for much of the time it was much colder than that (down to -30℃). And, I was able to get out shooting the Z 9 a LOT during the cold snap, including several multiple hour sessions at -25℃. During one of these -25℃ sessions my Z 9 was exposed to the elements (sitting on a tripod) for 4 hours, with the camera left powered on the entire time (note that I primarily use "Viewfinder Priority", so I'm not saying the LCD was on for the entire 4 hours). On another occasion I was positioned with my eye to the viewfinder and breathing on the camera long enough (in -22℃) that when I next checked the back of the camera it was fully covered in frost and ice (I should have snapped a shot of it with my iPhone, but I can never remember how the complex camera on that thing works ;-)

Anyway...I can now confidently report that my Z 9 never faltered once during its cold weather use and that Nikon's stated temperature operating environment IS very conservative. I was left feeling that I would falter (owing to cold weather) before the Z 9 would.

How did the EN-EL18D battery hold up? I did no systematic testing of this, but I can offer up this anecdote: At the beginning of the 4 hour shooting session at -25℃ the battery's charge was at 87%. At the end of the 4 hours (and about 500 shots later) the battery showed a 71% charge. The Z 9 was on the entire time (with the EVF set to "Viewfinder Priority" and the Standby timer set to "Limitless"...both of which are my go-to default settings).

Bottom lines: I think very few users will have a problem with the cold weather performance of the Nikon Z 9. And...I would be very surprised if someone else goes out and tries to replicate my results! ;-) Hey...I'm a Canadian who LIKES cold weather (but even my curiosity about this issue is satisfied enough that I won't be doing any more cold weather testing of the Z 9).



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Blog Archive - not so fresh but still very readable and relevant...

2023 - The Whole Ball of Wax
2022 - It's ALL here!
2021 - All the Painful Details!
2020 - With ALL the Meat!
2019 - ALL the Gory Details
2018 - The Whole Enchilada
2017 - The Full Meal Deal
2016 - The Whole Shebang
2015 - The Whole Shebang
2014 - The Whole Shebang
2013 - The Whole Shebang
2012 - Almost The Whole Shebang
2011 - The Whole Shebang
2009 - October to December2009 - July to September2009 - April to June
2009 - January to March 2008 - October to December 2008 - July to September
2008 - April to June 2008 - January to March 2007 - October to December
2007 - July to September 2007 - April to June 2007 - January to March