First Impressions: Nikon Z7 and NIKKOR AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Lens

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

Last month while attending the Nature Visions Photo Expo I had the opportunity to get my hands on the new Nikon Z7, full-frame mirrorless camera and the new AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens. This is not a rigorous review, merely my impressions of Nikon’s latest pieces of kit.

 © 2018 Nikon Inc.

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

Coming from a D750, the Z7 is noticeably smaller and lighter. Both beneficial for landscape photography. However, it did not immediately feel at home in my hand, as some other reviewers have said. The AF On button and Multi-Selector are positioned differently and my thumb had to search to find them. The multi-selector in particular was hard to reach while shooting. The Sub-selector (joystick) can be used to move the AF point, but my hands are used to the multi-selector. With some practice, I’m sure it would become more natural. The electronic viewfinder was as brilliant as promised. So bright and clear you don’t even notice that it’s a display, aside from the wealth of information that is available without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.

 © 2018 Nikon Inc.

© 2018 Nikon Inc.

The overall build quality is excellent and very much Nikon. The AF system was fast and accurate in my tests on the expo floor. The AF system has some trouble with small subjects on low contrast backgrounds, but I was clearly pushing to find its limits, with the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF mounted with the F-mount adapter and shooting indoors.

The 500mm PF lens is pretty remarkable. It is light for a super-telephoto (only 3.2 lbs according to Nikon) and compact as well at just over 9 inches (without F-mount adapter for Z bodies). I could easily hand-hold this lens in the field for hours. The AF was fast and accurate, despite sub-par indoor lighting. I did find the limit of the Z7 + 500 PF combo, as noted above on small targets with low contrast backgrounds, but in real world use, it would likely perform well. The use of the Fresnel lens has enabled a lens with a long reach without the penalty of excessive weight. You do have to watch you light levels and there for ISO because at wide open, it just f/5.6. The extra stop of an f/4 lens would definitely be appreciated, but the light weight of this lens might get you places you would want to carry the 6.8 lbs f/4 500mm.

Relative to its bigger f/4 brother, the 500mm PF is also lighter on your wallet, around a third of the price.

CONCLUSION

I am not ready to make the leap to the Z7, but I would might Santa leaving a AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR under my tree. I also had a chance to get a quick hinds-on look at the D850 while at the show, and it is all they say it is, and yes, I want one.





Be Ready to Take Advantage of the Weather

 
 EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (18mm) ISO 100 1/6 sec @ f 8

EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (18mm) ISO 100 1/6 sec @ f 8

As a part-time landscape photographer I have to work my photography in when I can between family and work obligations.  One way I to achieve this is to to have my camera bag ready to go when an opportunity presents itself (more on that another time).  One such opportunity came along recently.  An abrupt change in weather caused widespread dense fog across central North Carolina.  It was a school morning and I needed to drive my son to school.  I grabbed my gear and out the door we went.  After dropping my son, I stopped by a local park on my way home and found what felt like a never ending series of subjects and compositions.  Fog is an amazing aid to a photographer.  It removes potentially busy and cluttered backgrounds and enables you to isolate your subject easily.  Fog brings a wonderful mood to images and it extends the potential shooting time well past the golden hour with it soft defuse light, allowing you to shoot as long as the fog lasts.  On this day, I had to wrap long before I had exhausted all potential subjects. Work appointments and projects demanded my attention.  Never the less, I got a solid hour of shooting in and came away with more than a couple keeper.

 EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (26mm) ISO 100 1/13 sec @ f 8

EXIF: Nikkor 18-140mm (26mm) ISO 100 1/13 sec @ f 8

When shooting in fog there are a few things to keep in mind to help maximize your chance of a successful image.  First, Use The Fog to isolate your subject and remove distractions. On the practical side, be sure to bring your tripod.  As you can see from the EXIF data on the images above, given the low light level you will be shooting at slow shutter speeds and a stable platform is crucial.  Next make sure you have a few microfiber lens clothes with you and perhaps a small towel.  Your lens and camera will will get some water droplets on it, no matter how careful you are.  Setting your camera up properly is the next important step.  Keep your ISO as low as possible to minimize noise.  In terms of focus and exposure, stick with manual.  You can use AF to get initial focus, assuming your subject is relatively close, but the fog can raise havoc with your camera's AF system, causing it to search endlessly for focus.  So, switch off AF and as always, switch off VR when using a tripod. 

 Histogram exposed to the right to achieve my desired affect

Histogram exposed to the right to achieve my desired affect

 Histogram of image at the exposure the camera chose on aperture priority

Histogram of image at the exposure the camera chose on aperture priority

To get the exposure right, use the histogram on your camera.  Don't be afraid to "expose to the right" and capture an image that looks overexposed on the camera back preview.  If your histogram does not clip the highlights, you can brings them down in post (I use Lightroom) and by shifting your exposure to the right, you pick up the ability to really bring out shadow detail that might otherwise be lost.  Shooting in aperture priority without exposure compensation will result in images that are under exposed.  The histograms above illustrate this for the boardwalk image at the top of this post.  

Lastly, enjoy the peace and solitude that comes from being in a natural area in the fog.  Get out an shoot the next time the fog rolls in, even if it is just in your backyard or local park.


You learn your work by doing your work

The term "aspiring artist" has been around a long time. Merriam-Webster defines aspire as, "to want to have or achieve something (such as a particular career or level of success)".  I've never been fond of the phrase.  It implies that there is a future stated or goal to which an artist strives to achieve and that the current work of the artist is not yet adequate or a quality to be "recognized".   

The artist's journey is a continual evolution of his or her work.  No one stage being more or less relivant or meaningful in terms of their creative output.  Eileen Rafferty in here presentation, Ritual + Curiosity Keys to Creativity on B&H Event Space shared a quote from Art and Fear - by David Bayles and Ted Orland, that for me sums up the artist journey for me, "You learn how to make your work by making your work."

At the heart of this statement is the truth that each photo I have taken, from my early efforts as a yearbook photographer in junior high to the latest images I have captured, all have contributed to who I am as an artist.  In fact looking back of the work of my 13 year old self, I see elements of quality images, long before I knew what composition, the rule of thirds, or depth of view were.  Now there was plenty of junk in that pile of prints and negatives, but my ability to see was clearly there.  In some ways my youthful ignorance was freeing.  I did not fear.  When I feel uncertainty and fear starting to creep in, I remind myself that I make photographs first and foremost for myself.  I have a need to create and photography is a means by which I can create and share images.  The image first appears in my mind and through my use of a camera, lens, lighting, and composition, I am able to capture and process the image into a finished work that if I am successful, fulfills the the vision that was on my mind's canvas.

So if you know the feeling of needing to create something, get out there and just do it.  No fear, no judgement, just free inspired creative work.  If you are satisfied with the work, you have succeeded.  If you the resulting work leaves you less than fulfilled, then you have not failed, you have had the opportunity to learn.  I firmly believe that is a human need that calls each of us to express our own creativity.  Creative work comes in many forms.  Get out there and make some music, paint, drawn, bake, cook, write, or dance.  Do the work that you are called to make, learn your craft and be joyful.


The Feeling of Autumn Colors

It has not been a particularly good year for fall colors here in The Triangle.  It's been dry much of the summer and we have had several recent large temperature swings.  As a result many of the trees started dropping leaves early and others failed to yield the beautiful reds, oranges and golds, just yellow to brown.  I was inspired this morning to head out into my front yard and try my hand at a technique call intentional camera movement (ICM).   The resulting images will convey mood and emotion rather than capturing a moment in time.

First, you want to think about what the final product will look like, streaks of color in the direction you move the camera, and select a subject with a variance in color and contrast.  In terms of composition, the key is to try and frame up the shot so you do not have bright sky or deep shadow in the planned frame.  Remember you will be moving the camera (typically vertical or horizontal) so plan accordingly to know where your image will start and stop.

ICM-Fall-Colors-Online-2.jpg

To shoot ICM you want a shutter speed of around 1 second and you then as the name implies, move your camera while the shutter is open.  This is best done in manual mode.  First focus on your subject (auto-focus can be used, but as soon as you have focus lock, switch off AF so the camera does not try to focus while you are shooting).  Set your ISO to the lowest native level on your camera (100 ISO in my case) and meter your subject area as usual and adjust your aperture for a properly exposed image. 

Now you are ready to shoot.  I took the approach similar to applying spray paint, start moving and then press the button and keep moving after the shutter closes.  One nice fluid motion.  Plan to take a number of images and try moving the camera in different directions.  The first image above was done starting above my head and moving the camera straight down.  The image below was moving form left to right.

 Impressions of Fall Colors -  Buy a Print

Impressions of Fall Colors - Buy a Print

I was really quite pleased with the results.  This is exactly the kind of images I had envisioned.  So although this scene was not particularly beautiful, I was able to see the image I wanted to create.  For reference, the scene I shot follows below.  It is the most colorful tree on my property, but it is small and at the edge of a scrubby wooded area, making the direct view of the scene, somewhat uninspiring.

So the lesson from this morning's spontaneous experiment is, don't be afraid to try new techniques and step outside your usual style.  You may just find a new source of creativity and a new way to see the world around you.

 The scene that generated the images above.

The scene that generated the images above.


What's in My Bag?

Photographers are often asked, "what do you shoot with?", what do you take with you on a photo shoot?, and other such questions.  So here's my answer to "What's in my bag?"

Camera: 

Nikon D750
Nikon D7100

Lenses:

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD SP
  AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
  AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
  Nikkor 50mm f1.8 (manual)

Other Equipment:

Tripod:
    Zeiss Aluminum Tripod 1911-090
    Manfrotto MHXPRO-BHQ6 XPRO Ball Head

Accessories:
    Cokin P-Series Filter System
       NUANCES Neutral Density 3.0 Filter (10-stops)
       NUANCES Neutral Density 1.5 Filter (5-stops)
       Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 0.9 Filter (3-Stop)
       0.6 Neutral Density 153 Filter (2-stops)
    Nikon SB-600 Speedlight
    ML-L3 Wireless Remote Control (Infrared)
    TriggerTrap (smartphone app and cable for shutter control, intervalometer, etc.)
    Rogue Flash Bender Small (w/diffusion panel)
    ExpoImaging Rogue Gels Universal Lighting Filter Kit
    Roll of black gaff tape (don't leave home without it!)
    Microfiber clothes
Fast dry backpacking towel (great for drying off your kit in rain or mist)
    

For non-photographic equipment, check out my recent Facebook post.


The Beginning...

I have been capturing images for more than four decades. I first picked up a camera around age ten, a Kodak 110 Instamatic. It wasn’t long before I graduated to 35mm with a Kodak Pony handed down from my parents. But it wasn’t until my grandfather, Rev. Warren Darnell, took me on what he called a “photo safari”, that the passion was truly ignited. A photo safari is a great name for a walk about with the purpose of looking for images to make. It can be in your backyard, down the street, or on the other side of the world.

By the time I made it to high school, I had acquired a used Pentex SLR with 50mm prime and a telephoto zoom and was shooting for the school yearbook. Thanks to a thief, an insurance claim and a few bucks saved from cutting lawns, I was able to upgrade to a Nikon FM with 50mm f1.8 prime and Sigma 70-250mm zoom. The outfit continued to grow with the addition of an FE body. To this day, the FE is one of my favorite cameras to shoot with. It is a tank, it is simple and straight forward to use. It simply gets out of your way and lets you concentrate on the subject and composition and make great images.

 My Nikon film kit, still going strong after 35 years.

My Nikon film kit, still going strong after 35 years.

Photography has been an on-again, off-again hobby now for forty+ years and a couple of years ago I started to take it more seriously and move from hobby to craft, and maybe one day to a profession.

So after many hours of YouTube videos, a few books, and probably a couple of thousand shuttle clicks, I’m stepping out and sharing my work with the world. Chip Freund Photography is born.

One this page, a forthcoming web site and other social media outlets I will share my images, photographic adventures, tips and techniques, moments of inspiration and likely frustration as well.

Today, I’m still shooting Nikon and have gone digital with my trusty D7100. It and its successor the D7200 are great pro-sumer bodies. I can use all of my old manual Nikon glass as well as the latest DX and even FX class lenses. I share more about “what’s in my bag”, in later post.

 My current kit, a Nikon D7100 w/ 35mm f1.8 and 18-140mm zoom

My current kit, a Nikon D7100 w/ 35mm f1.8 and 18-140mm zoom

I welcome you on my continuing journey as I further explore my craft, develop my style and refine my eye and technique.