Monthly Archives: May 2016

Leave of Absence

Goldfinch looking back....

Goldfinch looking back….

Starting May 25th I’ll be away from my office for a couple of weeks, this is due to a scheduled cardiac bypass surgery. I’ve sent a note to all who booked my summer and fall workshops and tours. The schedule will remain intact as planned. I’ll be in much better shape in six weeks time than I had been in the past couple of years.

I am actually very happy with the timing of this surgery. It gives me plenty of time to get back into shape for the fall Grizzly Bear Tour in British Columbia. That tour is my main  goal for the year. I’ll stay out in BC for a month after the tour to scout a few other locations with my accredited guide friend. This is to offer some enhancements in the 2017 grizzly tours, to have some unique locations and opportunities that offer a cut above the average bear workshops. I’ll write about this in detail some time in late October or November.

I have been working on a couple of new articles, both nature photo related and technical. However, I’ll publish these in a few weeks time once I’ll have reached a stable point in recovery. Thanks to all those friends and clients who knew about this upcoming surgery and sent their best wishes.

See you on the trail soon…………

Lexar 2000x Pro SDXC card & Nikon D500 incompatibility update

LexarJust a quick note regarding to the incompatibility issue between this particular line of cards with the Nikon D500. I got a replacement card from Lexar yesterday. I immediately tried it out in the D500 to see if the corruption error issue was fixed. No, it still persisted. The camera took a few bursts but when I wstarted displaying the images to preview them the screen went blank and  a message appeared stating that this card is corrupted and needs to be replaced.

I reformatted the card a few times but the issue remained the same. However, I discovered that the camera was recording the images and the corruption only happened when I called up the images in camera for review. If I took the card out of the camera after a number of shots without reviewing the images then I was able to download them to my computer. However, as soon as I tried to review them in camera the card got corrupted and needed reformatting.

I was in touch with Lexar about this issue. They informed me that unfortunately the incompatibility issue is still there and that they and Nikon are working on resolving it. There is no date set as of yet for the fix but they’ll announce it as soon as it will be completed.

Nikon D810 vs. D500 for Bird Photography

I got a few questions about how the Nikon D810 would compare to the D500 for bird photography. I too was curious about comparing the two cameras side by side. I have used the D810 extensively for bird photography ever since it was introduced. So I didn’t have any doubt that it is a good camera for the subject. However, since it is less agile than the new D500 I was curious how it would feel using the two cameras intermittently, changing back and forth between the two.

I must put it forward that I am not fixated on birds in flight photography per say. I do have a number of BIF images taken with various cameras from the D3 to the D810. However, I do not consider myself a BIF aficionado or would claim expertise in the field. I usually look at birds as a part of the surrounding, as a small vignette of the environment that includes a bird in it. I am more intrigued by trying to catch some “expression” in the bird’s face as it hunts for food, relaxes or it is checking out the photographer with curiosity. Please do not expect any “winners” among the photographs in this presentation. I was simply comparing the two cameras. If some images have more appeal to them than others then that is due to the birds more than the photographer.

So, what is my opinion after using the two cameras side by side? Well, it is simple. Well, both are just fine in general. Whether one choses the D810 over the D500 or the other way around is simply a matter of personal preferences, budget, and targeted subject matter. I used a Nikkor 500mm f4E FL lens and a 1.4x TC III for all but one of the images. One Cape May warbler was taken with a 200-500mm f5.6 Nikkor which I also test for another article, it is identified with a caption. Anyhow, I was after small birds, mostly warblers and some flycatchers. The birds have just arrived back to their summer range, they were hungry and in the midst of setting up camp and building their nests. So, they were not only small but very active too. They were darting from spot to spot after food and to claim their home  turf. The fast and unpredictable movement immediately added some advantage to the D500 camera. The new AF system of the D500 is simply superior to the D810’s. Following the birds and focusing on them was definitely much easier with the D500. The DX camera definitely wins in this respect. I felt that I was held back by a weight when I was using the D810.

How about image quality? Well, the D810 was holding its own in the quality department. I used the D810 in its DX mode so that I could get 6 frames per second and have the same “DX reach” as the D500 has. The D810 produces 18.3 Mb files when shot in14 Bit RAW losses compressed setting and in DX crop mode. The D500 yields 24.9 Mb files with the same RAW setting. So, theoretically the D500 will win. I was surprised to see that there was not a huge difference between the images from the two cameras. They were quite comparable and could be used for similarly sized prints without too much trouble. This might be the result of the D810’s 4.8µ photo sites compared to the 4.2µ of the D500. The D810 may compensate for its smaller file sizes by having  “larger and cleaner” buckets to record image data. However, the D500 still had a slight advantage as of final image size for print but not as much as I had expected.

This was a field test, not one that would include charts and measurable data obtained in a studio setting. I was simply alternating between the two bodies, a few shots with one then a few shots with the other. I imported the RAW files into my Mac, processed the files from both cameras with Photo Ninja and finished editing in Photoshop CS6. I treated each image as I normally do, there was no preferential treatment for any of the images. I simply looked at the images on my calibrated monitor then processed them to my liking for print. As I said, the smaller file of the D810 held its own to create comparably sized enlargements to the D500 files, the D500 still had a slight but not significant advantage.

So, which one would I take out every day when I am after birds? The D500, no doubt at all. Its AF system and speed makes it a superb bird and wildlife camera. Also, I like the ISO and compensation button layout of the D500 very much. Nikon gave some thought to this. I can change ISO and exposure compensation on the fly without taking the camera off my eye. As of metering I find that the D500 responds somewhat “differently” to the various metering modes. I cannot pinpoint it out as of yet, all I can say is that it is somehow different from the D810. I needed a couple of days to get the hang of it and dial in my compensations for various scenes. I’ll give some more thought to this subject and come up with an article once I can put my feelings into words. Some folks said a few bad words prematurely about the D500 before they consciously adjusted their way of shooting with this camera. After all it is a tool and every new tool needs to be experimented with. I find this camera to be a worthy tool for bird and wildlife photography and shall use it in tandem with the D810 depending on the subject matter I photograph.

Lexar 2000x SDXC card – Some issues with the D500

Lexar Withe the arrival of the D500 many people were investing into new fast media, like 2nd generation XQD cards from Sony or Lexar or the fastest SDXC cards from SanDisk and Lexar.

It often happens when a new product is introduced that some incompatibility issues surface, glitches come to light despite of all the engineering that was invested in beforehand. As it turned out problems surfaced this time too. A significant number of people reported incompatibility issues between the Nikon D500 and the Lexar 2000x SDXC card. The problem emerges after taking a few photographs wit the camera. Suddenly the camera displays a message stating that the card is damaged and it cannot be used to record images. This happened to me too so I report on this as first hand experience. I performed the customary fix, reformatting the card in camera, several times. However, after a short period of use the error message displayed again and the camera didn’t work with the card. I repeated the reformatting process several times but the outcome was not any better. I sent a message to Lexar and they issued an RMA for a return / replacement.

I have to note it here that the Nikon D500 worked with my SanDisk Extreme Pro cards without any problem. Also, the Lexar 2000x SDXC card worked in my Nikon D810 camera. The problem only existed between the D500 and the Lexar 2000x SDXC card. As I said, there are numerous reports about this problem but there are positive reports too. Other people reported that their card worked fie in the D500. So, it seems to me that the problem is related only to certain batches of this new fast card. Lexar had no problem with offering a return / exchange after receiving my complaint. I am curious if the replacement card will function reliably, I hope it will.

Anyhow, my recommendation is that people looking for a fast SDXC card for their D500 cameras should refrain from purchasing this particular type of card till a statement will come from Lexar that the issue have been resolved and all cards on the market are safe to use in the D500. Since the D500 is primarily geared towards XQD type cards as the main card I suggest to purchase only that card at this time. Both Lexar and Sony 2nd generation cards work fine in the D500. My Lexar 2933x XQD card works perfectly and it is blazing fast. Those who want to use SD cards and hold back on the XQD card should purchase SanDisk Extreme Pro cards. They are a bit more expensive but as far as I know they work fine in the Nikon D500.

Nobody should assume that I have something against Lexar, not at all. I have used many of their cards in the past and will in the future too. However, I felt obligated to report this particular warning about the present status between the Nikon D500 and the Lexar 2000x SDXC. I’ll report back here once I will have received my replacement card from Lexar.

May 5th, 2016

Additional D500 images

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in cold and windy weather

The weather is still very gloomy in SW Ontario, bird migration is in the slow phase. However, some “early birds” returned in limited numbers and the ones around all season are happy with winter gone. Regardless of the cold and rainy weather I took another walk with the D500 for some extra testing of its capabilities. I do not even go into writing too much about it. As far as I am concerned the camera is one of the best tools that Nikon created for wildlife and bird photographers, period. Its focus is swift and precise even in this low contrast heavily overcast lighting. Having a fast lens on the camera helps I guess but that is the same with all cameras. The enclosed images are all taken with the 500mm f4E FL + 1,4x TC III combo. The Ruby-Crowned Kinglet and the Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher were swiftly changing positions, joggling between branches. I do not think that I would have gotten half as many shots in focus with the D810 or the D7200 under the circumstances.

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Blue -Grey Gnatcatcher talking off to get a bug

Also, I enclose a couple of images of a Blue Jay and a Cardinal for illustration purposes. The Blue Jay shows how good detail the camera is capable of recording. Yes, it is easier to photograph a bigger bird like this Jay, however, this fellow was jumping all over the place as it was searching for food around. The cardinal in the photograph projects the image of a calm bird, warming itself under its fluffed up feathers. Well, the image is misleading. This fellow was very much vary of the environment and was not sitting in one place too long. Furthermore, it was always sitting either in a maze of branches or at least “on the other side” of the fence. Meaning that it was hiding behind thicker branches. The D500 was put to task in AF-C S mode to lock onto its head among the branches that the wind kept moving around quite vigorously.

All in all my conclusion is that the D500 very likely will become the prime tool among bird and wildlife photographers this year and the foreseeable future. It is an excellent tool and there is no need for more words to describe how good it is. I am looking forward to use it extensively during my wildlife tours and workshops.

I have already placed an order for a second D500 body. I can see that on certain trips I’ll use only two D500 bodies. One with the 500mm f4E permanently attached and the other one with the 300mm f4E PF or a 70-200mm f4 zoom for closer wildlife. I think I’ll use the two D500s with these lenses exclusively during the grizzly bear tour this fall. The rainy environment of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and its river systems will be the real test for the D500. That said, based on what I’ve already seen, the D500 will take the punishment with ease.

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Blue Jay giving me “the look”….

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Another pose….

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were  Sitting on the “other side”….

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Then taking off without warning….

The images of the Cardinal are heavily cropped. Furthermore, it was sitting between branches that the strong wind kept moving. Due to small branches were swinging in and out of the frame it was a challenging task to keep the bird in focus. However, the D500 in AF-C S mode delivered well focused images.  All photographs on this page were taken hand-held with a D500 outfitted with a 500mm f4E FL + 1.4x TC III.

First outings with the D500

Well, I have been out in the field with the D500 for a couple of days. Checking out spring bird migration, or the lack of it to be exact. A couple of weeks ago I was under the impression that migration will start and be over earlier this year. There was a spell of warm days, beautiful sunny skies and winds coming from South-Southwest that always helps the birds as they cross over the Great Lakes. Then, look at what happened, the end of April temperatures plummeted and cold rainy days settled in.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet, didn’t stay put for more than a split second.

Anyhow, I had to get out with the D500 before my upcoming surgery, that will keep me away from the outdoors for some six weeks. My planned use of the D500 is primarily for bird photography and wildlife in general. Therefore, my writings about the D500 will not include technical descriptions and a review in general, those are already out there plentifully. I just report on those aspects of the camera and its use that I needed it for. Furthermore, my initial outing was specifically bird focused. I’ll write a report about general wildlife experience with the D500 once I am back from my Algonquin Park back country workshop in the second half of June.

So let’s get to it. I plan to use the D5oo primarily with two telephoto lenses. One is the Nikkor 500mm f4E FL and the other is the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 zoom. My first days out with the D500 were with the 500mm prime and the 1.4x TC III attached to it. This would be my main birding setup for smaller and more distant birds. The 700mm effective focal length combined with the DX image size and pixel density of the camera seems to me as a good compromise between reach, hand holding the equipment and speed. So all images I took with the camera were with this 700mm setup. I’ll conduct a 200-500mm zoom only day trip in the coming days if wether will cooperate before my surgery. I’ll publish it separately as soon as possible.

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Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher, the bluest I’ve ever seen, also very agile.

Once I got muscle memory somewhat trained to the D500 and lens combo I started getting very comfortable with it. As I mentioned the weather was not very cooperating. Migrating birds just have started trickling into Southwestern Ontario, the cold weather and strong winds held them back and were also taxing on the photographer. Anyway, I managed to spot some hooded warblers, gnatcatchers and other little folks in the protection of bushes  and evergreens. Getting them into the viewfinder was challenging. They were hiding from the winds and were moving very fast in the branches to catch whatever bugs were available. I had a hard task to crack but I am glad to report that the camera lived up to my expectations. Indeed, its AF system is quite capable. I used my D7200 in similar situations beforehand, it was decent but the focusing speed of the D500 is in a different league. It is so much snappier and also quiter than that of the D7200’s.

Catching the little birds swiftly hopping from twig to twig and branch to branch did not allow for too many frames in one burst. The maze of branches were dense and one or two images were the most I could take before the birds changed position and got partially obscured by other branches. The 10 fps capability of the D500 is amazing. However, I needed to train my trigger finger to touch the release button very lightly. Otherwise I ended up with a bird on the first frame  and a bird behind some twigs in the following frames. The little buggers were so vary and swift. I ended up setting 7fps on CL mode, so that I could squeeze off my first two frames and stop after that. AF was so good that if I did my part of the job then the first frame was in focus in almost all shots. So, birders be happy the AF is the best we Nikon users have ever had and it is awesome.

Very cold April end day. The bird was far away in the bullrush, swimming and turning arratically and ducking its head into the water frequently. It just popped out from the bullrush for a second before turning back. The D500 locked on well.

American Coot

I am also in content with the ISO capability of the D500. I took a good number of test shots with it from 100 to 400 ISO around my home and they were extremely fine for quality enlargements. I am not showing anything here of those, they were just garden shots with some sparrows acting as stand in targets. Please just take my word for it, the images were clean and suitable for nice enlargements. Now, as of high ISO I am not considering using anything crazy for my photography. I would not care less if the camera had settings for ISO one hundred million or more. The practical high ISO for me tops at ISO 3200 and more often less than that. I just do not shoot in the outdoors if lighting is not good enough. I am not a great fan of shooting at such high ISO ratings that my noise reduction software would become the main tool in post processing. My most used daytime ISO setting is ranging from ISO 400 to ISO 1600. This span of settings can serve me just fine with a 500mm lens and 1.4x TC combo. If and when I shoot from a sturdy tripod with a Gimbal head then I go down to ISO 200 if the light is decent, it is a good range to shoot slow moving waterfowl.

The enclosed few images were shot at my “regular top” ISO 3200 setting, courtesy of heavy overcast and fast moving subjects. Also, since the birds were extremely agile and farther in the vegetation I had to crop the images quite a bit. Still, I feel that the results did justice for the D500. I also went out to a marsh to see if waterfowl would be around. Nope, they are holding back too or just were hunkering down in the bad weather. The only bird I was able to locate with my binoculars was an American Coot in the bullrush. I got a few frames of it as it was exposing itself briefly in the opening of the vegetation. She too was quite agile and protected in the vegetation, so I had to be happy with a few frames that I was  able to get.

Well, that is it for now. I am not going to sing further praise here, there is no need for that. The camera is good, my expectations about its agility and ISO handling are met, so I am content with it. My backpack will carry two cameras from here on, a D810 and a D500. I retired my D4, it is in the capable hands of a friend of mine by now. My D7200 stays in the family, my daughter got it. However, for those who cannot justify the cost of the D500 or do not have a need for its fps and buffer I still suggest to have a good look at the D7200. It is still an excellent camera and would serve many for a long time in birding and nature photography.

The goose was appearing very suddenly and flying at a great speed. I barely had time to turn the camera on, locate the bird in the finder and squeeze of two frames before it flew by me. The AF system of the D500 proved itself.

The goose appeared very suddenly. It came into sight from flying fast and low over the bullrush like an attacking plane, I barely had time to turn the camera on, locate the bird in the finder and squeeze of two frames before it flew by me. The AF system of the D500 proved itself.

2016 Spring – Scottish Borders

Backroads in the BordersThe 2016 spring tour in the Scottish Borders went quite well. We spent a week in the Borders area and were home by Good Friday. It was a low key and relaxing trip, stayed at a working sheep farm that I fell in love with on a previous trip. Food and hospitality was as warm as one can get and the farm was a treat to all newcomers. Having a good Scottish breakfast is a good way to start a day. I love the kippers  and cheese that they have at the farm. The weather was exactly how I had had on previous occasions. Relatively mild for a Canadian, good for hiking, lots of light drizzles and some great sky. We had all the early spring weather components that I like about the Borders area. It is a nice time of the year to be there, beat the summer tourist folks and have a great time in the back country.

Visiting the local pub a few miles down the road with our “questionable accent” turned out to be another great experience. Once the locals learnt that we were from Canada the level of hospitality got notched up quite a bit. We sat with them, shared stories while downing a couple of pints and made new friends. We even got an invite to visit another farm and tips on local spots to see. All in a all the trip turned out to be the quintessential backroad experience that everyone was waiting for. I knew that I had an easy task on this trip, I am almost a “native of the Borders” by now and know some nice areas to visit.

The folks I took on this trip were Canon shooters with one exception. Three were using EOS 5D Mark II and Mark III cameras with 24-70mm  zoom lenses while one person had a Fuji XT-1 with the awesome 16-55mm f2.8 lens. I had advised the participants about lens selection beforehand and they took my advice. Nobody changed lenses during the trip more than once, just when a little longer 70-200mm lens was needed. The range of the short zoom was working for 95% of the time. The vistas of the Borders region are calling for moderate wide angle lenses in the 24 to 35 mm range.

This time I took my old Fuji S2 Pro with me. I thought it would be good enough since the trip was not for my pleasure but for the participants of this workshop. I actually didn’t mind taking the Old Girl with me. She was the camera I used a few years back when I first spent some time in the Borders. I always had a soft spot for the Fuji colours. It is also capable with its RAW images although quite slow to write them to the card. So I shot Fine JPEGs when I wanted to keep my shooting a bit faster. The Fuji didn’t let me down, its colours were popping like Velvia chrome film. All in a all I quite enjoyed slowing down and shooting with the S2. Its resolution restricts the size of enlargements I can make from its files but it is usable for 16″x20″ prints without too much effort.

Ruins of Abbey & Hermitage CastleWe visited some medieval ruins, like the remnants of the Abbey beside Hermitage Castle, admired the hillsides dotted with sheep and lambs, crossed some creeks and just generally had a great time. The yellow and red of the dry heather from the previous year and the growth of new green provided a great palette of colours in the countryside. White dots of sheep and sometimes angry looking skies added to the aura of the landscape. We did get soaked a couple of times but a thermos of good hot coffee kept our spirits high up, then we dried our coats in the pub beside the fire. We spent some evenings in the pub and that added a lot to the experience. It is much more fun to look through the take of the day after a good meal and some good ale.

Time flew by very fast but we managed to se everything I planned for without rushing. I find that Scotland is not the fast paced tourists. It is better to slow down, just soak up the countryside, talk to the locals and just generally appreciate a more laid back approach. You never know what your eyes will discover just after the next bend of the road. Sometimes we kept stopping every quarter of a mile. Slight changes in vantage points and elevation gave surprisingly different images about the otherwise gently rolling hillsides. A shaft of light bursting through the clouds spotlighting an area or the hills overlapping and intersecting in the background provided for endless landscape opportunities. Sheep on the hillside with mothers keeping a watch over their lambs proved to be good for vignettes of the scenery. The weathered headstone of a bridge from the seventeen hundreds were just as much of a highlight as the colours of the season. We wrapped up our tour with a nice evening meal at the farm and reinforced our souls with some good whisky from the Highlands. We drove back to Manchester dropped of our rental vehicle and were home bound for Good Friday with lots of memories and photographs to cherish.

Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey, almost HDR looking Fuji colours, thanks to the sky, the colour of the stones and grass in the foreground.