Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF: Report from the Field

Tis a well know fact that this blog does not do equipment reports. It’s not as though there aren’t enough opinionated sites to trash the best of hardware. However I’ve had a few enquiries regarding this lens, and rather than rehash what Uncle Google can find in a minute, I thought I’d rather share a few paras and pictures on my use with the lens so far.

If you own Canon gear, don’t proceed any further, you have the wonderful DO 400mm f/4.  Be happy!

I hummed and hahed when the lens was first released.  The big bikkies involved was probably the first stumbling block. And I was working with the Simga Sport 150-600mm f/6.3 and it was working well for me.(more to follow below)

But the low weight and small size were an attraction, and in the end, I placed an order with Ross at Camera Exchange in Box Hill, in October 2018. I also planned to trade the Sigma at that time.
Eventually, got a note from Ross. “It’s here!”. March 29 2019. The wait-time worldwide has been astounding. So I motored over to collect the lens. Thanks Ross.

What follows is where it fits with my current work.

Time for the Pixelpeepers to click away now, as there are no charts, no ranking scores, no graphs and definitely no lens test charts to pour over. No dudes riding bicycles, or shots of the building over the road, or some obscure mountain in the distance.
Just how does it work for me.
Also please remember that these are all JPEG images made out of Lightroom to 1600pixels at 90% Qaulity. A few are crops, some almost full frame. Shot on both D810 and D500.  I’ll note the data with each shot.

All the ratings are against My Expectations of the lens, coupled with use of previous lenses in the field. 100 % is just that. I’m completely happy with that aspect.

  1. Price: No % Score, but I’d have no hesitation in buying it.
    Gotta get that out of the way.
    It’s a pro piece of kit, Nikon are asking big bucks. If that doesn’t fit with your bankbalance, then click away now. For those who want to save some money, the Nikon 200-500, Sigma Sport 150-600, and the Sigma Contemporary are all good value for money, and sharp. Canon users have the DO 400mm or a pretty nice 100-400 f/5.6 Zoom and a neat 400mm f/5.6 without image stabilisation. Any one of those lenses would be a reason for me to change to the Canon System.
    My reasoning was to amortize the investment over the next 10 years or so, and a couple of bucks a week is a reasonable.
  2. Size: 100% Meets my expectations.
    It is about the same size as a 70-200 f/2.8. Which makes it imminently handhold-able.
  3. Weight: 100% Meets my expectations.
    Having been using the 300mm f/4 PF from its introduction, I had a definite idea about how the weight would be. I’m confident I could carry it all day in normal use without needing a porter.
  4. Handleability: 100% Meets my expectations.
    I’ve thrown around some big lenses in my time, but this one just feels right. The balance on the camera and handholding is very comfortable. Mr An Onymous will tell you I once fell in love with a 10-30mm zoom for the Nikon 1 system, just from picking it up off the benchtop. I ordered one the next day. If it feels right, the chi is working, and it is pointless to fight nature.
  5. Focus AF: Exceeds my expectations. This is such a fast lens to focus, especially on the D500. Sometimes I think it finds the subject before I get it sorted out in the frame. Big plus. And it locks and follows. If I compare it to the 300mm f/2.8 or the 70-200mm f/2.8, which are my go to ‘speedsters’ for action, then it’s right up there as good as, if not better.  I can’t compare it to the 400mm f/2.8 as I’ve never owned one, but that is the gold standard in fast focus.  I reckon this lens would give it a pretty good run.
    The other feature is like all pro lenses, its sharp all the way from the closest point to infinity. Unlike most consumer zooms that lose interest in focusing after about 30m. I’m looking at you 18-200mm and 80-400mm.
  6. Sharpness: 100% of my expectations.
    Just have a look at the photos below.  I don’t do comparisons, but looks equal to the 300mm f/2.8, and has more contrast than the 300mm PF.(My copy.  EE’s copy is a little better than mine I think).
  7. Unsharp fuzzy bits.
    My photos don’t have bokeh, (never pronounced so a Japanese would know what these people are talking about), mine have fuzzy out of focus bits.
    So against a smooth backdrop 100% of expectation. Milky smooth as it should be.
    Against busy high contrast backgrounds, 75% of expectation. But then my expectation wasn’t that high. Digital sensors are the real problem here. Most lenses struggle with those clunky blobby bits of branch and bush and the like.
  8. That Removable Foot. 100% meets my expectation.
    I’ve seen some remarkable nonsense written about the foot. It’s like “OH wow, something to complain about”.  If the only reason not to buy this lens is the foot, then my advice would be trade in the camera gear and buy a set of golf-clubs. It is the same foot used on the 70-200 f/2.8 zoom.  I’ve owned three of them over the years, and not once has it worked itself loose, and those lenses travelled lots photographing car events.  If the user is so clumsy as to loosen it off then forget to tighten it, I don’t see that as a feature fault, I see that as incompetence!
    For my hand the end of the foot rests nicely on the edge of palm of my hand, and my fingers sit well just before the lenshood, near the programmable buttons (coming up soon). A good fit for me. I’ve used it without, and my preference is with the foot.  I’ve also no intention of buying third party Arca mount foots.  I simply don’t intend to ever put it on a tripod again. (Coming up soon).
  9. Programmable Buttons. 95% meet expectations. I use these a lot. Just wish they were a little bigger so my finger doesn’t need to hunt for them.  They can be set for a specific distance and the lens will return to that spot. About 30% of my use. Or programmed out of the D810 and D500 menus to do a range of activities. Mine is usually an AF function about 70% of the time.
  10. Tripod use. Balances well with the D500 on a Wimberley.  If you can’t get it to balance on a Wimberley, then read the instructions. On the Markins Q20 that I use a lot, it’s a treat. But now, the problem is you have to take a lightweight lens, and sally forth into the field with a whacking great tripod. Don’t see the point.  End of discussion
  11. VR 100% of my expectations.  Image stabilisation is so much better implemented than on the 300mm f/4 PF. I found myself handholding at much slower speeds than I anticipated. See below. {edit} For Inflight, I usually turn VR off. I have a paranoia that the VR interferes with focus acquisition, and while it might only be a microsecond as the VR settles down, it just might be enough to move the focus from the eye, to a wingtip. Besides for inflight, (regardless of the lens I’m using), I want the fastest shutter speed I can get. Give me 1/8000 please.  No need for VR there.
  12. Lens Hood. Guess what!  100% meets expectations. It fits, it locks, it’s lightweight. And in my world. It goes on the lens, and is never removed. (except to clean the lens). I use a bag that fits the lens with the hood attached. (and its taped in position so doesn’t go wandering off on its own in the field.) That is the way all my lenses are fitted.
  13. What about Teleconverters. Met my expectations 100%, and perhaps exceeded them.
    The results with the TC 1.7, were what I expected. And I won’t be using it again with this lens any time soon, or later.
    Haven’t had a need to try the TC 2.0, but I know it will be slow to focus and that won’t work for me too well.
    With the TC 1.4 I found it needed some focus Fine Tune Adjustment.  Using the D500 in camera, it gave a result of -6.   When I tried it I found the focus position was just not right.  So I played around, and hit on +6. Can’t fault that.
    I often get asked about Teleconverters as if they will help get a pin sharp shot of a duck on the far side of the lake.
    Nope.
    Here are 3 helpful points for that sort of shot. 1/ Learn to Swim, 2/ Buy a kayak, 3 Develop better bush craft.
    TCs are best for giving a little bit of extra magnification closer up, say in the 15-30m range. After that for the birds I work with, both heat haze and tiny size make it impractical.
    Acquisition can be a bit ‘iffy’ in lower light.  And the tendency to hunt is always likely.  But it’s a solid performer once the focus is there. Side by side I doubt I could pick sharp, with and without the TC 1.4

Beginning to sound like a ‘fan boy’, so let’s see if some of this makes sense from my field experience.

This is the first image I made with the lens.
1/320 f5.6 ISO 400
Tai Chi Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Early morning overcast.
1/640 @ f/5/6 ISO 400
Superb Fairywren
Morning Sunshine, near full frame.
1/800 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Black Swan
1/500 @ f/5.6 Just a hint of sunshine coming through the trees.
Eastern Osprey
1/200 @ f/6.3 ISO 400
Eastern Yellow Robin
Late Evening Sunshine
1/2000 @ f/5.6 ISO 800
White-bellied Sea-eagle
1/200 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Tawny Frogmouth
1/400 @ f5.6 ISO 800
Hazy indirect light through overhanging trees
Eastern Spinebill

What about the soft out of focus bits

Late evening. 1/640 @f/5.6.
Creamy out of focus bits.
Juvenile Whiskered Tern
1/1600 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Very late afternoon rich light.
Brown Falcon.
Messy out of focus bits because of messy background
Brown Falcon, messy out of focus bits. This is mostly the result of sesor issues rather than the lens design.

How good is VR. I don’t shoot many in low light but here’s one from the back fence.

Checking VR or Image Stabilisation
1/50 @f/5.6 ISO 400. Handheld.
The sun had set, but there was still light in the sky.

Then off course the always asked question.

Oh, but what about Teleconverters. I’ve got to see it with Teleconverters.  See my point 13 above.

TC 1.4 700mm
1/3200 @f/9.0
Handheld. Bird worked its way toward me on the water line.
Red-kneed Dotterel
TC 1.4 700mm 1/500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
Soft out of focus bits and plenty of detail on WIllies beak whiskers.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/1250 @f/9.0
Handheld, overcast day. Lightened up 1/2 Stop in Lr.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/2500 @f/9.0
Full sun. It is no macro lens, but the detail is certainly there.

Accessories.
I was going to really annoy myself and write ‘accessorising’, but restrained. 🙂
I added a B+W UV filter. Not a great believer in UVs as the Sensor already has a UV component, but let’s face it, this an expensive piece of glass.  My first B+W UV was with the Sigma Sport, at first I was hesitant, now, I’m a convert. The B+W shows no visible image degredation, I wish I’d come across them years ago.
Added some Lenscoat to protect the lens, I really like the Kevin Kealty ones from the Wildlife Watching Supplies in the UK, they are a bit thicker and don’t seem to shrink like the US based mob.
Also work with a LensWrap, that I had for the 70-200mm, fits like a glove and gives added security for travelling. Simply velcros off when I’m ready to go in the field.

Conclusions.
I think the price is well justified for the work I am doing. It is indeed my go to lens at the moment.

Alternatives.
The Sigma 150-600 Sport worked well for me. In the end just to heavy for carry around field work. {edit} And, while it was very sharp, the focus was often a little to slow for me for inflight. Once acquired it stayed locked. Even using the Dock to set a faster focus acquire rate, it still left me wishing for a bit more speed.
The Nikon 200-500 Zoom. Is a sharp, well-balanced lens. I would have purchased it if the Sigma had not been on the showroom floor. I do find it a bit bulky to carry as the barrel is nearly twice the diameter of the 500m PF.
The 300mm f/4 PF and a TC 1.4 420mm @/f5.6  EE’s go to lens. Solid performer, I find mine with the TC has a little chromatic aberration in highlights, easy to fix in Lr, but detracts sharpness a little.  It is a lovely walk about for hours lens. Sharpness side by side with the 500mm PF would be hard to pick, and as I’ve used it for over three years, it’s a lens I have a high regard for.

Downsides.
Yes, there are a couple.
I tend to take a lot more pictures as it gives me a chance for good framing for inflight birds.
The lens makes my 300mm f/2.8 look a bit redundant. Not sure what I will do with that.
The 300mm f/4 PF is also going to take a back seat.  It sits in the lens cupboard and like a dog waiting to go “Walkies”, sort of quivers at me when I open the door.  Perhaps a D7200 or D7500 and use it for wider shots from the vehicle. Certainly can’t take both to the field.

And here are two more from a shot this morning.  The White-winged Terns are still around, and I spent the best part of 2 1/2 hours with them, one long session of about 90 minutes.

1/8000@/f5/6 ISO 800
Grab Shot. Got out of vehicle, lens grabbed focus, I framed next. Swamp Harriers do not give second chances.
1/2500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
I was working with these terns for about an hour and half, took several hundred frames. Lens didn’t feel tiring to hold. Had I not run out of time, and the birds out of patience, I could have easily done another hour or so, the lens is unbelievably easy to handhold.

 

So there you go. Thanks for taking the time to read to the end.
It is a keeper for me, and I’ll probably extend myself to get the best from it in the coming weeks.

Keep takin’ pictures we do.

(I’m hoping EE does not read this as I’d hate to have to wait another 5 months for the next lens.:-) )

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Eynesbury Gems: Take #3

Been pondering anew, my approach to Bird Photography, again.  Yes dear reader, tis that time of year again for tinsel, things red and white, muzak that dumbs the mind at the shopping centre and of course my annual “where is my photography going to bend in 2019”. But

Fear not, this is not that blog.
Great gasps of relaxation and sighs of relief heard across the ‘blogosphere’.

 

I really wanted to get the remainder of the shots from our Eynesbury excursions, (incursions?) out.

So rather than belabour, here is the best of the rest sort of feature.
There is still one more chapter to put up, but I’m going to do that as a Snapshots type blog as it concerns our favourite Jackys and their now well fledged young.  Might even get that done the next few days.

Here tis.

After about 20 attempts this is as good as it got. A Tree Martin flying in with food for the young. I think that Tree Martins have multiple families at nest inside the hollows.

 

A very young Black Kite. We sat with the young bird for several hours over three days, but didnot see the adults come to the nest.
However there was a constant overflying as they kept check on the young one for above.

 

Another from the Black Kite at Play series

 

Another from the Black Kite at Play series. It is coming out of a turn and heading into the wind using all the speed it gained on the run with the wind

 

Black-faced Cuckooshrike

 

Overenthusiastic young one just about unperches the adult. I love the look on the adutls face.

 

This looks like family fun, however food is involved and when the adult arrived to feed the lower bird, the upper one flew in. Then to get in a better position to be fed, it ‘stepped’ over its rival.
The adult sovled the problem by flying off the end of the branch, circling and landing nearer the lower bird. It’s not always the loudest and largest beak that gets filled.

 

Little Eagle. Eynesbury has a resident pair of Little Eagle. I suspect, from the calls, that there is a nest located on the western side of the forest, but have to say I’ve been out of luck locating it.

 

And of course Jacky Winter

Watching Jacky feed is quite interesting. The young don’t cry out for food. Most times they don’t even respond to Mum or Dad arriving. Then there must be a quiet call, and they quickly pop up, the food is delivered and they both settle straight down. It’s also not unusual for the adult to spend a few minutes alongside the nest making sure all is well before flying off.

 

Messing with Themes again

1703-07_DWJ_5370

Well, you could just put it down to raining, and too much time on my hands.

But,

I’ve taken to change the theme for Birdsaspoetry.

What I liked about the old theme is better expressed in the new.  It makes the photos the hero, the text is supportive, and as I think I’m going to discover the text will be less obtrusive as I try to make the stories carry with the photos alone.   We’ll see.
What the theme does give me is the chance to clean up all the old material that is pretty much not used and give nice clean feel to the front page.

So, here is a happy looking Australian Hobby  who obviously enjoyed the challenge of change.

 

Off to a Flying Start

Haven’t been in the doldrums.  It’s just that there is so many things happening.
Been enjoying Mike over at The Online Photographer  See here for “When things Go Wrong”. http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2016/12/things-go-wrong.html
Go on, have a look, you deserve a smile. Especially the comment on alarm clocks that don’t turn off!

Been meandering through Julieanne Kost’s “Passenger Seat” folio book. Julieanne is a product evangelist for Adobe Lightroom, (and having been one of them product evangellies in me time, I am a bit sympathetic to start with),
But Julieanne is quite a creative, and very visually expressive photographer.   As she says in the introduction, “meeting with others continually opens my eyes to what’s possible.” and that is why we share stuff I guess.

A wonderful blend of grey and ginger
A wonderful blend of grey and ginger

Continue reading “Off to a Flying Start”

An easy day out

Friend of mine once said in conversation as we chatted about my time in the bush,  “Bird photography is pretty easy, you just sit in a deckchair and photograph any birds that happen to come by.”  And today, for once, he was right. Thanks for the advice John.

Mr An Onymous had looked at the weather maps, the weather forecasts, the icon ladies and I guess in the end, just plain looked out the window, and declared we should take a trip to Point Cook Coastal Park on Friday.  Sounded good as we’d not been out that way since the end of the Flame Robin season, most of the birds were well on their way back by mid of September.

Meet you down there, and so we did.

dwj_2872

Continue reading “An easy day out”

What a Difference some Sunshine Makes

Been beavering away here at the Website trying to find ways to improve the overall look and experience of visiting, and trying to give expression visually to the site’s dedicated title. “Birds as Poetry”.

Sometimes its easy to find clever words to describe a moment in time with the birds, or to cover over the fact it was just another day on the job making images of very fine birds. But that is not the visual feel.  And above all I guess my main goal for the web pages.

Been doing as you’ve probably gathered a bit of introspection on what the bird stories should show, how relevant that is to those who have graciously signed up to follow along here and at the same time not making it so esoteric that even I find it hard to reach those heights of expression.

And at another level, the pure old photographic know how and application needs to still satisfy both viewer and creator.  And of course in this day and age wrestling with the ever-advancing technology that so readily leads us onward with banners waving from one vantage point to the next, without even taking the time to notice the journey across the plain.

Along with photography, poor writing and a love of Russel Coight’s All Australian Adventure tv shows (skits please), I also offer Tai Chi as another of my dizzying weaknessess.  What I like most about this ancient (art) is the definiteness of purpose and deliberateness of movement. And in that is the edge of my photography with the birds, and hence the constant need to find expression of Birds  as  Poetry.

Continue reading “What a Difference some Sunshine Makes”

Blogging 101 Day 2

A Chip of the old block

Been holding off on this series as I was hoping for a few better days. But, no, seems to fit in here now.
The past few months at The Office a pair of Brown Falcons have been at work on their nest and resulting offspring.
You’ll have met Bernie before on here or Flickr. I only ever see or find the female occasionally. She is a much lighter colour, and I named her Bernice, – easy ah?

We were going in to look for the young Black-shoudlered Kites and found the two young falcons hunting of the fence line near the road.  Only got a brief look and some pretty average pictures, too far away and too much heat haze.
Then the other morning we found one of them on the same fence. But the light was better.
So here is Chip. (as in off the old block).

It has certainly inherited Bernie’s distinguished, handsome looks.  We stayed in the car, didn’t want to frighten it, and in the end, it just lifted off the fence and floated away to hunt in the long grass.

This is how its done.  That really distinctive pose from the tree top vantage point
This is how its done. That really distinctive pose from the tree top vantage point
Bernice in flight
Bernice in flight
Bernie in the sunshine. Rich browns and gold
Bernie in the sunshine.
Rich browns and gold
On a mission.
On a mission.
First sighting of "Chip"
First sighting of “Chip”
Hello Chip.  Just like your father.
Hello Chip. Just like your father.
Simply stepping out in the breeze.
Simply stepping out in the breeze.

 

 

 

 

Day two Blogging 101

What is the Title and Tagline saying?

When I set up Birds as Poetry on WordPress I bought along with it some already set ideas.  One was the title.  And I’m still happy with that. Says it all.

The small tagline I added I have to confess simply because in the setup page there was a blank box to be filled in.  And its stayed that way till now.
Today’s challenge was to make it part of the blog and help readers gain a snapshot of the blog in 30 words or less.

Well, in reality, I don’t think anyone coming to the sight is going to be affected one way or the other.  Let’s face it, you log on, look at the pics, cursorily scan the text,”Maybe this time he said something worthwhile, (we all live in hopes!)”. See a shot or two of some -interesting- birds, and get on with the amazing thing called life.

So I decided seeing as how change is in the air, that I’d update it.  First time round a small piece of Haiku from a Chinese master.

Was going to ramble on about a factoid, but decided that “Chip” was the ideal model.  What a great looking bird.

 

Where’s the SITE. What happened to Birds as Poetry???????

No, you’ve not missed something.
Change is as they say in the wind.

I’ve had to abandon the old (outdated, outmoded), template that I’ve been using since way back before when.

And pick a new one.
Several hours and I’ve managed to get this far. But,  it didn’t take to kindly to all my side bar side shows and has unceremoniously dumped them all down rather inelegantly at the bottom of the page.

So more work for the poor old site operator. (me!)

In the meantime you get slightly bigger images and not so much junk to wade through and somewhere all the header are a lurking.  We’ll find them.

So don’t despair.

Enjoy.

The Birds of Kangaroo Island A Photographic Field Guide.

A little bit chuffed with myself.

This lovely book turned up in the mail today.

A beautifully laid out book, with each bird to a spread and a page of photos.

The Text from Chris Baxter shows a labour of love and really interesting insights into each bird.

I’m pretty excited as several of my shots are used to illustrate the birds. My real pride and joy of course is the Southern Boobook which was on Flickr in October 2014.

It’s a good field guide to many other areas and will be get lots of use when we are working with waders.

Book Detail.
ATF Press Adelaide   See Website Here

There is also a radio interview with Chris Baxter on the site as well.
Radio interview with Chris Baxter by Ian Henschke of the ‘Morning Program’  on Adelaide ABC Local Radio 891, Friday 15 May 2015.

Birds of Kangaroo Island A Photographic Field Guide