D7100 + 200-500 f5.6; not getting results I expected

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I would handle this in exactly the opposite way to you!

First if I used a "Priority" mode it would be Shutter Priority and I would set my S/S to the same number as my focal length (so 1/500 sec. at a minimum with that lens) — and four times that if fast action is involved.

My normal method is to shoot in Manual Mode with Auto ISO and mostly to use my lens fairly wide open.

Next, because I only ever shoot RAW, and because the internal metering on every Nikon that I have ever met systematically under-exposes by 2/3 of a stop, I set my Exposure Meters (via the menus) to plus 0.7 EV. That gets my shadows well away from the left-wall of the histogram and decreases Noise considerably.

Don't worry about the HLs, because you have more headroom than you probably realise; and, on a dreary day with flat lighting, you have very limited DR anyway.

Try doing that and see if it helps.
Which metering mode do you use?
 
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For much general work, I often use Centre Weighted metering with a 12mm centre circle.

However, I would use Spot Metering for a dark subject in front of a brighter background (like some of those heron and eagle images shown in this thread).

The important thing to understand is that the meters calculate and set the exposure to produce a 12% Grey average within the metered area.
 
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The difficulty with Spot Metering is that you need to know enough to apply ±EV if you use Spot because you may not want the focussed object to be rendered a 12% Grey.

For quicker and more automatic metering, I find that Centred produces very acceptable exposures under most circumstances.

Matrix takes the whole frame into account and what is occurring in the corners can affect the main subject matter too much.
 
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Because I frequently want to react instantly to a situation and shoot quickly (and because I only shoot RAW); I normally keep my cameras set on Centred and they deliver entirely usable exposures.
I do make frequent use of my ±EV button for instant over-ride however.

I only turn to Spot for more complicated or critical metering (dark objects against light backgrounds or the opposite).

That just works under most situations and I very seldom need to chimp as I am confident that I am getting good exposures.

For the first 50 years of my career, one couldn't chimp so I had to be sure that I nailed the exposure and I then developed my film to suit the way in which I had exposed it. Polaroids were too expensive (and took too long!) so I only used them for critical work or for client approval during a shoot.

Now we have digital post-processing.

For multiple flash and more complex or demanding photography, I still use my separate Sekonic incident-light meter.
 
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I respectfully suggest a back to basics exercise. I got my first serious camera when I was 18. I am 70 now and I still periodically go back to an exercise I first encountered in Bryan Peterson's excellent book, Understanding Exposure. In essence, it involves picking a few subjects to photograph and then changing the exposure variables while keeping the same "exposure" (the same amount of light on the sensor). I found that this helps my visual memory of what Peterson calls the "creatively correct exposure".
 
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Randy, not sure what you mean by;

"The problem w CW is it doesn’t meter where you focus, like spot does
It always meters the center, useless if you focus somewhere else unless"

Please elaborate.
 
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Randy, not sure what you mean by;

"The problem w CW is it doesn’t meter where you focus, like spot does
It always meters the center, useless if you focus somewhere else unless"

Please elaborate.
CW meters the center of the frame, same place every time. So for example if your shooting a person in the shade and you want them on the left side of the frame and let’s say the rest of the frame is sunny the person will be underexposed, even more than if you had used matrix metering. For me using CW is full of risks w no payback
 
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For that scene you could switch to use Spot; although the shot also presents no difficulty if you use Centered, shoot in Manual Mode, and understand the use of the ±EV button.

You really should be using off-camera fill-flash for a shot like that under those high-contrast conditions anyway — or move in closer!
This is the kind of shot where using an Incident-light meter really pays off.

Matrix and an Auto Mode would be the worst choice here because it would try to average the whole scene and the exposure would be less than optimal everywhere.
Personally, I don't find Matrix metering helpful and Spot can be tricky because your metering point and point of focus are not necessarily in the same place.
 
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CW meters the center of the frame, same place every time. So for example if your shooting a person in the shade and you want them on the left side of the frame and let’s say the rest of the frame is sunny the person will be underexposed, even more than if you had used matrix metering. For me using CW is full of risks w no payback
Thank you Randy for the clarification.
 
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I have the same set up. I am set up on aperture priority and center weighted metering. I will adjust ISO and aperture using the dials. There are times when this produces bad results, especially in difficult lighting situations. But it also produces a lot of good results too.
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Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher (D7A_5885)
 
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Thank you for all the advice!
Here are a few more just for giggles, at the Conowingo Dam that same day. These are a little more forgiving as the subject is way above water with a decent background...

1.
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These were shot in Manual mode,
1/800 shutter, 2000 ISO, f5.6, 0.0 EV, 500mm with 1.3x crop

I actually had Matrix Metering on...now have switched to Spot metering. We’ll see what happens on the next run.
I will definitely try shooting at 1/500 shutter speed on the next go-around as well.
 
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I'm new to the café, and have been reading with interest your progression. It looks to me like you're closing in on better results. Here's my two cents (take it with a grain of salt - I am not an expert with birds, but the following is generally good advice, IMO):

1. Once you're happy with the exposure in the lighting conditions, shooting all manual (as you did with the bald eagle) will give you consistent results. At a minimum, it makes life easier in post processing, since you can correct exposure and WB on one image and sync those changes to the other images from the session.
2. Looks like ISO 2000 is slightly beyond the limit where you are forced to choose between noise and detail. If you can tolerate a slower shutter speed, a little less noise can go a long way in improving the final result.
3. Unless you're taking a hit with frame rate or filling your buffer too quickly, consider shooting NEF and not cropping in-camera. This leaves all your options open in post processing.
 
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If you are setting Spot on a white object, you will under-expose the image it by 3.6 stops!

Nikon's Spot Meter reading produces 12% Grey in the final image so it is essential to compensate the meter-reading to the result which you actually wish to achieve.

Setting Spot Metering on a Bald Eagle's white head means that the shadows, including his dark body feathers, will be badly unexposed. Trying to extract detail from them during processing will simply fill them with noise.
 

JLH

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Jan 28, 2019
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I have the same issues with my new 200-500. I have not used it extensively yet as the weather has prevented me having a good day to really get some good samples. I have not given up on my lens, I just realize the first thing I must do is improve the photographer behind the camera!
I see some great suggestions here and will follow some of the advice given as it makes great sense.
 
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Generally I live and die with Auto-ISO, but there are times when it can be detrimental to your efforts. Using Auto-ISO with an auto adjustment exposure mode like aperture priority or shutter priority adds complexity that generally isn't needed and takes away your control and consistency. Shooting images where the light level on the subject(s) is relatively consistent and the background changes drastically is generally not a good time to use Auto-ISO.

This B&H OPTIC video with Sigma Pro Roman Kurywczak, is about using a Sigma 150-600 super zoom lens, not the Nikon 200-500, but the presenter is a well established bird shooter who has some excellent tips on shooting and exposure metering. The metering info is 24 minutes into the video.
He recommends a process that I have used for years in these conditions. Turn off Auto-ISO and spot meter off of a white card or subject, then shift the indicated exposure by 1-1/2 ~ 1-2/3 stops. If the ambient light changes noticeably, re-meter off of the white card. I usually set the white card against a close object away from me at MFD, so that I can point at it later and re-meter if necessary as the light changes. Manual mode for shutter and aperture.

In this OPTIC 2017 video "Charles Glatzer: Yellowstone in Winter", Mr Glatzer also suggests using a fixed ISO and manual mode. He also meters for white and adjusts for the correct current ambient light setting. At 5:30 in the video he discusses metering for the subject and sticking with that setting no matter the change in background reflectivity. He too uses fully manual mode. He repeats throughout the video that if the basic ambient light remains the same, the exposure for the subject should remain the same too, whether the background is dark forest or bright white snow.

Note that both Professionals have a similar approach to photography, metering, and exposure, in significantly different environments. Each limits the auto capability of the camera in order to fully control the results.
 

JLH

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Jan 28, 2019
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After reading some of the great suggestions here I went out to put in practice what you all have suggested. We finally got a nice sunny day this past Saturday and I got some very nice photos. What is interesting is the OP's first posted pictures of the Cardinal. I did the exact same shots, in the same sort of vegetation. Using the tips and tricks from this thread I got some very good shots. My wife the bird lover was impressed and wanted me to do some prints of them. (That is how you know you got it right at my house!).

Thanks to all who took time to make positive suggestions, they really helped.
 
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