My next camera, stabilization and speed prime considerations

Joined
Dec 29, 2019
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Morning, I’m going to cause a few groans and I understand. I’m new to photography though very much enjoying it, and I can afford good equipment without an unplanned divorce.

Right now shooting a D3400 with the 200-500mm f5.6 Nikkor lens, and it’s a handy setup I’m really enjoying. As a rank amateur I shoot on auto, and expend all the effort finding and getting in photo range of the animals. The only post processing I’ve done is insta and Lightroom mobile but I enjoy it and will get some real software. The examples here I’m including for showing where I work and what I want to do I shared over in the intro forum, and only one is tweaked if memory serves (the Wolf clearly).

I’m an outfitter and bush pilot in British Columbia by the Alaska border, and have been fortunate to build a successful Instagram based on images I’m no longer too fond of (I’m seasonally a big game hunting outfitter / guide) and I’m looking to transition to wildlife photo tours slowly. I’ve said this before here but I hesitate to mention the outfitting as it gets judged without appropriate background explanation of why it’s done, but that is a whole other discussion for another forum. Wildlife photography has captured my imagination and running with it.

As the equipment it is a business expense, and one that pales in comparison to aircraft and boats, I can slide a nice setup under head office / the Mrs’ radar. She’s also supportive of my evolving interest in wildlife. I hate to be that guy with no experience who buys a D850 and really nice lens but frankly the investment is a write off business wise and I have rifles I no longer use worth more I’d happily sell to “trade” for photo gear.

I’m looking for a camera I won’t replace for five years that will see very hard service and very wet conditions (north Pacific rainforest and mountains, on the coast). I also want to find the camera best suited to offhand, extended range wildlife photography. I see the unrealistic challenges posed in that statement, and don’t expect the camera and lens to fix shaky captures. I need the ability to crop rather extremely and maintain as much resolution as possible, as this is something I keep doing with the distances I’m often taking photos of animals at.

Most of my opportunities are highly pressed for time as I cannot shut down clients I’m serving to take over the next half hour to sit silently on the tripod with a remote shutter. It has to be quite point and shoot for the next while to realistically keep me playing, and I’d like to enquire on which combination in a minimum 500mm lens will allow the most stabilized images and quickest auto.

While brand new I do understand I have contradicting aspirations and requirements, and will be fighting my hopes and dreams more than my equipment, even with my current D3400 (which I’ve been very impressed with, for the price). I’m attracted to the Z7, having handled and played with a client’s, as everything has to be in my backpack and the D850 I handled in store for instance was utterly massive in comparison.

I have thick skin and have been new at quite a few things so don’t be afraid to pull no punches in your comments, I’m here to learn and that’s at times an uncomfortable process. If I’m gaining nothing on quickly captured images of fleeting moments with a D850 over a D500, I’d love to know. The price difference between the two really isn’t a worry however and I’m not trying to sound ignorant. I’ve simply spent far more on hobbies and interests that are far less fascinating to me than photography.

Ultimately I expect photography to be a rabbit hole to compare with my other interests, and will be disappointed if it doesn’t. ;) So for a tough, quick, and stable and fast as possible large lensed wildlife setup what would be your suggestions? I appreciate the time and all thoughts, realism, and knowledge.

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Joined
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Honestly, and this is coming from a guy with lots of equipment, quit thinking a different/larger/better/more expensive camera is going to improve your photography. It won't.
It's like sitting down to a gourmet dinner, and asking the chief what kind of pot he uses. It is not the pot.
Learn to shoot with what you have. The 200-500 is a fine lens. You can get great images from the d3400.
Learn post processing. Learn lighting. Get off auto. Take control of your images. Shoot in full manual for a year, you will get better. Understand when you need a faster shutter speed, when you need depth of field. Understand cameras are stupid, you are responsible for everything.
Then you will have to decide what you are going to do with your images. If they are being printed 40x60" you need different equipment than if the images are going on your instagram page.
Once you have all that figured out you will know what you need.
Sometimes the d850 is the best camera for my work, but sometimes it is the d4. Sometimes it is the sony a7riv. Each has different strengths.
If you really want to buy something, buy the d850. There will always be a better camera out in 2 years, but it won't change your photography either.
I have never shot with the Z7, so I can't help there.
Gary
 
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Thank you Gary, frankly this is the sort of realism I’m after and appreciate the been-there/am-there assessment. In a parallel line of thinking I frequently get asked about hunting rifles, and the answer is the same as yours; the operator is 98% of the equation. Ultimately I would like to be able to print in very large format, but recognize I could easily be a decade from that.
 

Butlerkid

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Gary is right. Get off auto. I know you are rightly concerned about speed, but honestly, once you understand how a camera works you can set you camera up manually for the conditions extremely quickly. Did you realize there are ONLY 3 major settings on a camera (excluding metering mode)? Aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Master those 3 things. After all, the camera on Auto is just setting those 3 things for you. And surely you are smarter than the camera regarding the size and distance of your subject, subject distance to background and the current speed of the subject. The other consideration is how much light it striking your subject. Remember that book by Steve Perry on Exposure and metering? Get it and read it. (Now Steve often gets very, very (did I say VERY! LOL!) technical. Skip that stuff for now. Just get grounded in the basics of aperture, shutter speed, ISO and metering.

You didn't learn to fly without understanding the basics and then building on them. Same with photography - only a whole lot easier and faster learning! LOL!
 
Joined
Dec 29, 2019
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You made that very relatable and I can imagine the broad strokes are simple, and the delicate you never, ever stop learning. Like flying. ;)

Reaffirming for me like every pursuit, if I want it to work out first I have to do the work. Lots of Steve Perry to read.🧐
 
Joined
Oct 9, 2005
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Moscow, Idaho
All my current camera gear, except for my first kit (D100) has been bought using the advice and experiences of Nikon Café members. That's not to say that they all agree with my choices. I've also used their help to grow into my new gear. My current gear works for my current and perceived future needs. I've long been a landscape shooter, with occasional forays into wildlife. As I age (pushing 70) I've branched out and do some travel and urban shooting. I currently shoot with a D850 (200-500 f/5.6; 24-120 f/4; 70-200 f/4; 16-35 f/4, and the only non-VR glass I own, the venerable 50, 1.8G). Perfect for all I do, the D850 is magnificent for landscapes, so great for cropping images when I need to, and easy to use.
But it is heavy.
So, I recently acquired a Z6, 24-70 f/4S and a 50 f/1.8S and I have the FTZ adapter too. Absolutely a delight to use. The Electronic Viewfinder is out of this world. The gear s smaller, lighter, quieter, and just as easy to use as the 850. It has opened up my shooting style and helped teach this old dog new tricks.
The 850 is like rugged and a most competent 4-wheel drive SUV; the Z6 is a sporty all-wheel drive small station wagon.

My gear maximizes my abilities and minimizes my lack of skill. Both cameras have lots of features I don't use or care for (video, auto everything, and in-camera processing, for example) but they provide what I do need (BBF, auto ISO, good low-light capabilities, great image quality, intuitive controls, and so on). They work for me; they work with me (not against me). :D

As with much of what I buy, I figured out the least expensive/simplest/lowest-tier model that met my needs and then bought a model that was 1 or 2 levels above (with all the features I need) so I have some future "insurance".

What will work for you? I certainly don't know.
Gary and Karen (and others) have given you great advise that I whole heartedly endorse. Steve Perry is a gem, study his web site and do buy his e-books.

The folks at: https://photographylife.com can be very helpful, have good and objective articles, and decent and thorough equipment reviews. Avoid all sites with strange looking, gimmicky people, sites offering you THE answer or hawking the BEST whatever.

Above all, continue to take pictures and post, take notes, ask questions and feel free to contact people here who have the kind of shots you aspire to take.

Happy 2020.
 
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David
First I completely, get off auto and learn, but......
  1. I'm not seeing the EXIF data on the images, what focal length? You're using a crop body, going to an FX body may mean you need a longer lens. Is that 500mm or 500mm equivalent? (Your Nikon 200-500 give you the angle of view of 300-750mm on an FX body.)
  2. You mention hard service and very wet condition, your body and lens are not seal and not up to that task long term. Yes most gear, even not sealed gear, can take a little light rain, but that's pretty far from your description.
  3. The D3400 may not be limiting in many areas, it's also not the easiest to work with in the field. It has limited physical controls, no touch screen to make up for some of the limited controls, and not the greatest AF system for wildlife. So because of the conditions I'd call it not limiting, but also not helpful.
  4. Size is a concern.
I'd probably skip the D850 unless that last shot is actually more what you want to shoot. You commented on the D850 being big, glass to cover the range your current 200-500's covers will make it BIGGER. And while the Z7 is smaller than the D850 it will require the same glass and the adapter. The D850 can be a great wildlife option, but I imagine as the tour guide, extra room and weigh for a 600mm lens would go to your clients first.

I'd probably look at the D500 or D7500 and lean to the D500. Yes the D7500 addresses the sealing, controls, and AF. But the D500 is still better and a notable tougher body with more dedicated controls and the AF is just...... You will give up 4mp, but a quick scan of the images here would show you how much that really matters. For lenses I'd look at the 300mm and 500mm PF lenses, again sealed, size, and weight on that little plane. Sigma and Tamron have a couple of options that are sealed and would cover the range, but I don't really know much about them.

I will throw out another option that would be worth a look. the Olympus OMD E-M1 mark 2 and E-M1x are worth a look. Olympus has a reputation for being rugged and pretty completely weather sealed. And you could easily build a kit with 2 bodies and 4 lenses (covering 14-600mm eq) that would fit into a backpack. No I'm not saying Nikon is bad or you should switch. Just an option for size and conditions. And I will add a negative, they are/can be very complex to configure and use (how many cameras can actually assign the power switch to another button?).

There was a sponsored interview over on DPR that might be an interesting read:
https://www.dpreview.com/interviews...-buddy-eleazer-on-why-he-chose-the-om-d-e-m1x
 
Joined
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Puget Sound
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Ken
I think that your past experiences with other "gear" has tempered you expectations and attitude towards photography well. New or different equipment will offer you options that were previously unavailable to you, but you need to know how and why you would want to use them, and that is why everybody is advising you to get off of the Auto setting. The other thing that you already have a good grasp of is the need to get as close to your subjects as you can. Long lenses and high resolution sensors do offer you some options, but that is not really a substitute for getting as close as you can given your specific situation.

Regarding gear, I would say that a high resolution body like the D850 can be a wonderful choice, but also a stern taskmaster as there is less room for error. Only you know how far up the ladder you will want to climb with regards to your skills and equipment. And like David, I shoot both Nikon and Olympus. Each system has its strengths and if size or weight are critical, then I would concur with his OM-D recommendations. There are trade-offs involved, but it may strike a better compromise for your specific needs. Regardless of what you choose, you may want to consider renting some gear first from some place like Len Rentals - https://www.lensrentals.com/ .

Good luck,

--Ken

P.S. I hate to bring this up, but if you are guiding folks looking to take photos, you are probably going to get asked questions about your gear. Try and keep some images and some neutral responses in hand, as I am sure you will be encountering some loyal gear fans.
 
Joined
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909
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SF Bay Area, California, USA
Exposure modes:
Like many I like gear, but I second the suggestion that rather than buying a new camera, you first take your camera out and learn and try PSAM exposure modes.​
Each has a different reason for being on the dial.​
  • I normally use P.
    • I never use Auto, because in Auto I have no control over where the camera will focus. Many times my subject is NOT the closest object in the screen, but Auto will focus on the 'closest object.'
      • Example1, in the bear shot, the camera might focus on the vegetation between you and the bear, instead of the bear.
      • Example2, At a dinner table shot, the camera would focus on the table, rather than your guests on the other side of the table. This is the one that burned me.
  • S when I want the camera locked to a specific shutter speed.
    • Usually this is a high shutter speed to freeze motion, but sometimes a slow shutter speed to force motion blur.
  • A when I want the lens locked to a specific aperture.
    • For me, this is usually wide open in dim lighting.
  • M when the lighting is too difficult for the meter to handle.
    • In my case, this happens when the background lighting constantly changes, but the light on the subject is stable. The meter is fooled by the changing background light. Or where the background light is so different than the lighting on the subject that the meter is again fooled.
    • I test and determine the exposure, then lock it down in M.
The trick is learning which mode to use when, which isn't hard.​
Just like when do you use 22RF, vs 223 vs 308 vs ?​
IMHO, The people that say you are not a photographer unless you use M, are full of internet BS.​
I grew up in the M world, before anything automatic, and there is nothing glorious about M mode. It can be a lot of work.​
I would not knowingly give away the advantages of PSA modes, and make it harder and slower to shoot. PSA modes make life so much easier.​

Camera:
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF):​
I think the Electronic Viewfinder of the Z7 or other mirrorless camera will help a lot.​
What an EVF allows you to do is to adjust your exposure BEFORE you press the shutter. This really helps in difficult lighting, With my dSLR I have to shoot, check the screen, adjust, then keep repeating until I get the exposure right. With the EVF I can dial the exposure adjustment as I am looking through the EVF. Much easier and faster.​
Example1 Wolf on snow, the camera would underexpose, trying to reduce the brightness of the snow. But then the snow would be gray and the wolf darker that he should be.​
My experience with my dSLR in bright sunlight is, trying to look at the back screen can be difficult to impossible. There can be too much sun glare off the screen to see anything. The EVF eliminates that problem, because I don't have to use the back screen.​
Power:​
My experience has been that a mirrorless camera has a MUCH shorter battery run time, than a dSLR. I can shoot an entire weekend with my D7200, but my Olympus EM1-mk1 will only run 4 hours continuous. I knew the run time was going to be shorter than a dSLR, but it was still a surprise to me. That means carrying a bunch more batteries for the mirrorless camera than a dSLR. I don't know what the run time of the Z7 is.​
Some batteries have a USB charger so that you can charge the battery from a power pack. Some do not, and you are limited to 110vac to plug the charger into.​
Option:​
If your subjects are FAR out, I suggest you take a look at the Olympus EM1-mk2 (or the larger EM1X). The reason is the crop factor. A 300mm lens on a m4/3 camera like the EM1 is a 12x lens. A 300mm lens on a Z7 is a 6x lens. You would need a bigger/heavier 600mm lens on the Z7 to give you 12x magnification.​
So with a m4/3 camera, you have more magnification in a smaller package, without cropping into the image. Though with the resolution of the Z7, you could probably crop into the image and get a similar result.​
What I don't know is if there are any weather sealed LONG zooms for m4/3. Olympus is coming out with a 150-400 pro zoom (6-16x) this year or next, and that may be the lens you want. But no one knows the price, just that it will be expensive.​
 

Butlerkid

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I agree with all the above.

Only one more technical thought.......In low light conditions such as you frequently face in BC and Alaska, with most of the upper end Nikon camera bodies, you can engage "Auto" ISO. Then in manual mode, YOU select the aperture and Shutter speed, and the camera selects the ISO. AND you can even use exposure compensation feature to adjust for tricky lighting. Before learning this technique, I would shoot in shutter or aperture modes, but without being able to use the Auto ISO feature. For me, when photographing in locations like Africa or Alaska, being able to use the Auto ISO feature was a game changer.

Regardless of the brand you eventually select, look to see if they offer Auto ISO. If so, does Auto ISO work with exposure compensation? If Olympus and other brands offer this feature, so much the better. More choices!
I have "heard" that focus acquistion and tracking are not as fast on mirrorless and m 4/3s cameras as full frame and APC cameras. But they are improving all the time.
 
Joined
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Messages
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Northern VA suburb of Washington, DC
I can afford good equipment without an unplanned divorce.

The important question is whether you can afford good equipment with a planned divorce. :D

Seriously, I'll just reiterate what Gary mentioned by clarifying it: master your current camera body for at least about 80% of the photography that you do most often. Once you've done that, you'll be considerably farther along making an informed decision about your next camera body. Mastering the camera body includes mastering the related stuff that makes your photos excel including post-processing, understanding light, composition and the like.
 
Last edited:
Joined
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With regard to the question of whether to go fully manual or partially manual such as including Auto ISO or Shutter or Aperture priority, I disagree with those that suggest doing it a particular way. That's because all of us learn differently. Use the method(s) that help you learn so long as you stop using fully Auto. As an example, I've never shot fully manual outdoors in my nearly 40 years of photography and I really can't imagine having suffered because of it or that I would have suffered if I had tried using it.
 
Joined
May 3, 2007
Messages
6,840
Location
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Exposure modes:
Like many I like gear, but I second the suggestion that rather than buying a new camera, you first take your camera out and learn and try PSAM exposure modes.​
Each has a different reason for being on the dial.​

  • I normally use P.
    • I never use Auto, because in Auto I have no control over where the camera will focus. Many times my subject is NOT the closest object in the screen, but Auto will focus on the 'closest object.'
      • Example1, in the bear shot, the camera might focus on the vegetation between you and the bear, instead of the bear.
      • Example2, At a dinner table shot, the camera would focus on the table, rather than your guests on the other side of the table. This is the one that burned me.
  • S when I want the camera locked to a specific shutter speed.
    • Usually this is a high shutter speed to freeze motion, but sometimes a slow shutter speed to force motion blur.
  • A when I want the lens locked to a specific aperture.
    • For me, this is usually wide open in dim lighting.
  • M when the lighting is too difficult for the meter to handle.
    • In my case, this happens when the background lighting constantly changes, but the light on the subject is stable. The meter is fooled by the changing background light. Or where the background light is so different than the lighting on the subject that the meter is again fooled.
    • I test and determine the exposure, then lock it down in M.
The trick is learning which mode to use when, which isn't hard.​
Just like when do you use 22RF, vs 223 vs 308 vs ?​
IMHO, The people that say you are not a photographer unless you use M, are full of internet BS.​
I grew up in the M world, before anything automatic, and there is nothing glorious about M mode. It can be a lot of work.​
I would not knowingly give away the advantages of PSA modes, and make it harder and slower to shoot. PSA modes make life so much easier.​

Camera:
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF):​
I think the Electronic Viewfinder of the Z7 or other mirrorless camera will help a lot.​
What an EVF allows you to do is to adjust your exposure BEFORE you press the shutter. This really helps in difficult lighting, With my dSLR I have to shoot, check the screen, adjust, then keep repeating until I get the exposure right. With the EVF I can dial the exposure adjustment as I am looking through the EVF. Much easier and faster.​
Example1 Wolf on snow, the camera would underexpose, trying to reduce the brightness of the snow. But then the snow would be gray and the wolf darker that he should be.​
My experience with my dSLR in bright sunlight is, trying to look at the back screen can be difficult to impossible. There can be too much sun glare off the screen to see anything. The EVF eliminates that problem, because I don't have to use the back screen.​
Power:​
My experience has been that a mirrorless camera has a MUCH shorter battery run time, than a dSLR. I can shoot an entire weekend with my D7200, but my Olympus EM1-mk1 will only run 4 hours continuous. I knew the run time was going to be shorter than a dSLR, but it was still a surprise to me. That means carrying a bunch more batteries for the mirrorless camera than a dSLR. I don't know what the run time of the Z7 is.​
Some batteries have a USB charger so that you can charge the battery from a power pack. Some do not, and you are limited to 110vac to plug the charger into.​
Option:​
If your subjects are FAR out, I suggest you take a look at the Olympus EM1-mk2 (or the larger EM1X). The reason is the crop factor. A 300mm lens on a m4/3 camera like the EM1 is a 12x lens. A 300mm lens on a Z7 is a 6x lens. You would need a bigger/heavier 600mm lens on the Z7 to give you 12x magnification.​
So with a m4/3 camera, you have more magnification in a smaller package, without cropping into the image. Though with the resolution of the Z7, you could probably crop into the image and get a similar result.​
What I don't know is if there are any weather sealed LONG zooms for m4/3. Olympus is coming out with a 150-400 pro zoom (6-16x) this year or next, and that may be the lens you want. But no one knows the price, just that it will be expensive.​
I have owned both the OM-D EM1 MK1 and Mk2. Great camera bodies stunted by a small sensor and mediocre (at best) low light capabilities. Since the OP lives in higher latitudes, light will be an issue. My bias would be toward a FF sensor with the best low light performance possible. Also, as you note, for everything but fast moving wildlife (think birds) an EVF can be your friend. In low light, it can be a difference maker. The only fly in that ointment is lag and blackout, again for fast moving critters. A Z6 or Z7 would be the ideal choice, IMO, with the caveat that BIF may be an issue (see lag and blackout above).

With all the great wildlife at hand while at work, I would probably opt for a Z6 with a D500 as a suitable alternative that has the benefit of no EVF lag or blackout and superior AF for BIF.
 
Joined
Dec 29, 2019
Messages
43
I’m in the cockpit as we speak, landed mind you, and have to just comment this is a gold mine of info already and really appreciate it. Will respond more appropriately when I have more time, but there’s a lot of great insight here. I bought one of Steve Perry’s ebooks will download later.

Angus
 
Joined
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David
What I don't know is if there are any weather sealed LONG zooms for m4/3. Olympus is coming out with a 150-400 pro zoom (6-16x) this year or next, and that may be the lens you want. But no one knows the price, just that it will be expensive.
Simple question to answer: All Olympus Pro glass is sealed. All the Panasonic m4/3 longer telephotos (the current versions) are also sealed. But the lens to body sealing between Panasonic bodies and Olympus lenses or Olympus bodies and Panasonic lenses is not as good as when you match like and like. And in this case (as this would be one of the reasons to go m4/3) I would recommend all Olympus.
 
Joined
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David
....Regardless of the brand you eventually select, look to see if they offer Auto ISO. If so, does Auto ISO work with exposure compensation? If Olympus and other brands offer this feature, so much the better. More choices!
I have "heard" that focus acquistion and tracking are not as fast on mirrorless and m 4/3s cameras as full frame and APC cameras. But they are improving all the time.
another simple question to answer: The E-M1.2 and E-M1x both offer Auto ISO in every mode.
I have owned both the OM-D EM1 MK1 and Mk2. Great camera bodies stunted by a small sensor and mediocre (at best) low light capabilities. Since the OP lives in higher latitudes, light will be an issue. My bias would be toward a FF sensor with the best low light performance possible. Also, as you note, for everything but fast moving wildlife (think birds) an EVF can be your friend. In low light, it can be a difference maker. The only fly in that ointment is lag and blackout, again for fast moving critters. A Z6 or Z7 would be the ideal choice, IMO, with the caveat that BIF may be an issue (see lag and blackout above).

With all the great wildlife at hand while at work, I would probably opt for a Z6 with a D500 as a suitable alternative that has the benefit of no EVF lag or blackout and superior AF for BIF.
I completely agree, an FX body will have the advantage of ISO. Again, the only reasons for the suggestion are size, weight, and sealing.
 
With regard to the question of whether to go fully manual or partially manual such as including Auto ISO or Shutter or Aperture priority, I disagree with those that suggest doing it a particular way. That's because all of us learn differently. Use the method(s) that help you learn so long as you stop using fully Auto. As an example, I've never shot fully manual outdoors in my nearly 40 years of photography and I really can't imagine having suffered because of it or that I would have suffered if I had tried using it.

I suspect that for some strange reason, some younger people think that there is some important and significant cachet in announcing that they shoot in manual only..... Well, Big Whoop! Those of us who started out in photography shooting in manual-only many, many years ago did so, well, because there was no other option, we had few other ways to compose, meter, adjust our settings and do things differently. We worked with what we had then. We also were excited with the arrival of autofocus. We were really thrilled with the opportunities to try out new things as technology steadily progressed. Eventually metering was no longer the big issue it had been and for many photographers there was no longer a need to carry a separate device to measure light levels and such. Wow..... (Often, though, studio work and other situations still require an external meter, though.) We have so much flexibility today in how we approach achieving our final goal, an image with which we are pleased.....

Definitely, today in 2020, the here-and-now, there are various options available and in conjunction with that, what works best for anyone's learning style is simply trying and doing what is needed to eventually get the job done.
 

Butlerkid

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It is, I don't shoot fully manual that much anymore, but it can be handy.

I used it a lot for event work with flash, but I'm not shooting events these days so I tend to be more in "A".
Excellent! My comments here have been addressing the OPs stated subjects and environment.....wildlife in very low light, rainy, harsh conditions. I don't use Auto ISO for landscapes, architecture,table top photos, etc...... but I often shoot in conditions similar to the OPs. My Alaskan bear gallery was shot with heavy clouds and light rain.
 

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