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Review - Birds in Flight with Nikon Z6

Z6 flight birds nature wildlife mirrorless ftz

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#1 ericbowles


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 07:49 AM

I was out earlier this week to photograph sandhill cranes using the Z6. I took 1005 images over a span of 4 hours and has 17% of the battery remaining. Subjects were a mix of in flight and on the ground, but for this I've emphasize in flight or landing. Lighting conditions were mixed with about 75% clouds but some nice blue sky and good light periodically, so manual exposure was a struggle without Auto ISO. I ended up using a combination of Aperture Priority and Manual with and without Auto ISO. 
I used a shutter speed of 1/1000 for the 300mm + TC images, and 1/1250 for the 600mm images - both about twice the focal length. ISO was as low as 140, and as high as 2500 as light dropped. Apertures were f/5.6 with the 300 and teleconverter, and f/5 to f/4.5 with the 600mm - pretty close to wide open.
The subjects were mainly sandhill cranes - at a distance of 150 to 300 yards. That's a lot longer than I wanted, but you can't control the birds. After all, they do allow hunting of the cranes in the area with permits.
I used AF-C the entire time. Generally I used Wide Small area mode, but also used Dynamic for few images. Single was used for a few shots, but in general just did not make sense unless the subject was perched in a difficult area. Both Dynamic and Wide worked pretty well. The one disappointment with Wide was I found it did lose focus more than expected and would sometimes hunt when the target should have been easy.
My frame rate was High Extended almost the entire time. While there was a small chatter across the frame, I had no problem at all keeping the AF point on the subject. It was almost too easy.
I started with a 300 f/4 AF and TC14E II teleconverter shooting handheld. The combination is not as sharp as some other lenses, but was light and easy to use handheld. Tracking subjects in flight was generally very easy. I was able to keep the focus dot right on the subject and had no problem keeping the square on the subject. Frame rate was excellent and I got a number of good passes. Hunting was generally on very distant subjects that were small in the frame, or subjects that were moving very quickly.
About half way through, I switched to my 600 f/4 AFS VR. This is a very sharp lens, but big and heavy so a tripod and gimbal is required. The lenses is faster to focus, but when you lose focus recovery is not very good. I should have used the focus limited but did not. 
Overall, I found the Z6 to be excellent for perched or standing subjects, and pretty good for in flight but not as good as my D850. For flight, I'd rate it about 80% of my D850 but equal to my D800E or D810. For perched subjects I'd rate it equal to my D850 or possibly 20% better. There were some images I got that required manual override, and with a function button programmed for 50% zoom, I was able to quickly adjust focus and get the shot. The frame rate of the Z6 is faster than my D850, so when I was tracking a bird in flight I got more frames and wing position options. 
The Function Button programmed to Zoom is a major advantage for bird photography. I used it several times to identify distant subjects. I could quickly press the button, identify the subject and get a quick ID shot, then return to my normal photography. I was identifying birds at distances of up to 800 yards or more and capturing ID images in flight. It also provides for immediate zoom viewing on playback.
All these images are cropped anywhere from near 50% to 100%. All were processed in Lightroom.
Overall my take is the Z6 is certainly usable for birds in flight. It takes some practice to remember to activate the EVF when you see the bird - not when the camera comes to your eye. I hope to see some improvement in Wide AF with a firmware update. As Thom Hogan has alluded, it's not consistent enough in picking up the closest subject and the positive of hte D500 and to a lesser extent the D850 and D5 is that the miss is never picking up the background with Group AF. I was missing and picking up the background or hunting a bit more than I expected, and if that was resolved the Z6 could be my preferred camera.

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Edited by ericbowles, 13 January 2019 - 07:51 AM.

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#2 kickstan


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 08:27 AM

Very nice Eric, great captures

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#3 Wheatsack


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 12:52 PM

Very nice captures Eric.

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#4 Herman


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 01:23 PM

Superb series, Eric.



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#5 Sailjunkie


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 01:49 PM

Nice review and series, Eric.  :)


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#6 james23p


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 02:55 PM

Great info Eric!!! Thanks for posting.

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#7 Jeff


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 04:07 PM

Nice series. The second is my favorite. Jeff
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#8 Art


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Posted 13 January 2019 - 04:28 PM

Good review, Eric thanks for posting.


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