What Telephoto for Z7 and Wildlife?

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Dec 29, 2019
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I’m a rank amateur with some exceptional opportunities thanks to my job bush flying in the north. Used to guide hunting and now shoot with a Nikon for fun.

Startewith a D3400 a couple years ago, and upgraded to a Z7 in January. Running the FTZ adapter and my old Nikkor 200-500mm F5.6. It is a remarkable lens for the money! This said, I get a good deal of graininess at the long end, and I’m always shooting the long end of the lens offhand. No time or space for a tripod or remote shutter, as I’m always on a 3 min break from work to grab some shots.

I’m starting to look to my lens for an improvement in the resolution, stability, and graininess. I’d really enjoy some aperture range as well compared to my F5.6 200-500. Is there a solution for the Z mount, either with an F mount lens or with a teleconverter and a Z mount? My budget would be $4000US for the lens.

If the chief shortcoming falls with the operator of the shutter don’t be afraid to tell me that, too.
 
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What I’m trying to do, better. And I’ll take every equipment benefit I can get. These are all heavily cropped and run through Lightroom mobile, only the otter was close enough to get what I really want (7-10 yards).

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What iso are you shooting at when you experience "graininess"? That is not usually related to the lens itself. Of coarse the 5.6 does force a higher iso.
To be honest, if you are heavily cropping at 500mm, the only real improvement would be the 600mm f4, and even used that is way more than $4000.
It is also very large and very heavy- don't forget to include that in your decision making process.
Those are great shots! Can you include the metadata- iso, shutterspeed, aperture? We may be able to help some
You actually have pretty good equipment- I'm not sure you are going to see large improvements without significant cash output.
I suspect some improvement in post processing may move you closer to your goal, but we can help more with more data.
gary
 

Commodorefirst

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In addition to Gary’s comments above, To improve with a better aperture and still have a telephoto, I would suggest a 500f4 VR first model, and or 300mm f2.8 VR2 that would fall into your price range. Of course you would have to use the adapter, but both lenses are great sharp lenses.

on both lenses shoot wide open all the time, they are designed for that.
 
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I am not sure there is a lens that will give you equal reach, more light, and be easily hand holdable in the Nikon line-up, regardless of price. If you wanted to think outside of the box, you could look at something like an Olympus (E-M1 Mk II or III) or Panasonic body and the Olympus 300mm F/4 lens. This would give you more light (1 stop), and a bit more range (600mm equiv.), and a compact hand holdable kit, albeit on a m4/3rd's sensor.

Good luck,

--Ken
 
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What I’m trying to do, better. And I’ll take every equipment benefit I can get. These are all heavily cropped and run through Lightroom mobile, only the otter was close enough to get what I really want (7-10 yards).

Heavy crop and high ISO = digital noise
There is no easy solution.

During the daytime with plenty of light, the f/5.6 lens should not be a problem. I shoot daytime softball and baseball with a 300/6.3 lens (600mm FX equiv) all the time. Unless you are shooting into deep shadows.

The less you crop the better.
But that means a LONGER lens, or getting closer.
GOOD long lenses beyond 500mm are difficult to find and EXPENSIVE.
The Nikon 600/4 is $12k, and the Nikon 800/5.6 is $16k​
The standard recommendation to the long lens problem is fieldcraft, and getting closer to the subject. But getting closer is not always possible or practical.

All three lenses are HEAVY and would be difficult to use without a tripod.
You would have to rest it on a beanbag on a support.

For comparision:
  • lens = image magnification, weight, cost
  • 500/4 = 10x, 7 pounds, $10k
  • 600/4 = 12x, 8 pounds, $12k
  • 800/5.6 = 16x, 10 pounds, $16k

Here is an alternative from the past, a Nikon 1000mm reflex lens.
https://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/nikon/nikkoresources/reflex/1000mm.htm

But, there are issues with a reflex lens:
  • Aperture is FIXED at f/11.
    • With digital cameras, this is not the issue it used to be with film cameras. You can easlily adjust the ISO.
  • The lens is slow at f/11 (2-stops slower than your 200-500/5.6).
    • At ISO 1,000, a full daylight exposure is 1/1000 sec at f/16, or 1/2000 at f/11. I would consider that perfectly adequate, for a daytime lens.
    • However, shooting into deep shadows would be a problem, and in the winter when the light level is lower. Then you would have to raise the ISO level.
  • It is a manually focused lens, no autofocus.
  • There is no optical VR, so your only IS is the IBIS of the Z7.
  • Mirror lenses have a reputation of having less contrast than refractor lenses.
  • It is an OLD lens, so you have to be careful (for lens condition) when you shop.
    • And it should be serviced to clean and re-grease the focusing threads/mechanism, for sub-freezing temp.
The plus
  • At 1,000mm, it's focal length is longer than any of the current Nikon lenses.
  • You can find used ones for less than $3k.
  • It is shorter and lighter than the refractors above.

Another alternative for reach, is to switch to Micro 4/3, like an Olympus EM1-mk3 or EM1X.
  • A 400mm lens on a m4/3 camera will give you the same 16x image magnification as an 800mm lens on a FX camera, in a smaller/lighter package.
  • But Nikon lenses loose all automation on a m4/3 camera. IOW the lens is fully manual. And you cannot even manually focus an AF-P lens (which is a focus by wire lens).
    • I think Canon lenses with the correct adapter retain their automation.
  • I occassionally use a Nikon 500/8 reflex on my m4/3 camera. That gives me a 20x image magnification, similar to using a 1,000mm lens on a FX camera.
    • The Olympus m4/3 cameras have IBIS, so the 500/8 reflex is stabilized.
  • If you used a 1,000mm reflex on the m4/3 camera, you would have 40x image magnification. :D
 
Joined
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Well it depends on how much patience you have. The Nikon Lens Roadmap shows an S line 400, 600,
100-400, and 200-600 but we don't know particulars of apertures or (gulp) cost or if any of them will take the TCZ1.4 . . . Given the quality of the Z lenses, one would guess that these long lenses should be state of the art.

The 500PF is in your price range and the samples I've seen from it put it a good notch above the 200-500 (which is no slouch for a 'consumer' level zoom).

Personally, I think you could do a lot with post processing. I downloaded the cat image and put it through some light Topaz sharpen AI and it looks much better. I hesitate to repost it without permission.
 
Joined
Dec 29, 2019
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There’s a wealth of excellent posts here! Will come back and reply appropriately after the work day and share the settings I’ve been using. Really appreciate all the input folks, and waiting on the S line and learning more in the meantime is likely the smartest path for me.
 
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thoughts on a teleconverter for the 200-500 5.6?
We really need to see your camera settings- including your shooting iso. Losing another stop of light MAY be worse than cropping.
Let us see where you really are before you go changing/buying anything.
There are a lot of very good photographers here that can help guide you- but they need more info.
gary
 
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Since you have the 200-500 in your kit, waiting a little might be wise. The upcoming long telephoto zooms in Z-mount might provide some good options. Nikon is certainly eyeing the Olympics as a deadline to release some optics to round out the long end of their Z lens lineup. And the Z-mount TC-1.4x has been praised as a significant improvement over the F-mount TC-14 (which is already quite good).
 
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Dec 29, 2019
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This seems the easiest way to add the metadata, hopefully it’s enough. The wolves were taken at 800 which likely wasn’t great, but there was a fair bit I would have done differently there if given that opportunity again. I moose called the pack back for one more chance to get a photo that wasn’t their south ends headed north, and it was fleeting. Had the VR turned off too on the lens, it likely would have helped a smidge, was quite rushed.

The Otter photo metadata is the black frame.
 

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Joined
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The wolves were taken at 800 which likely wasn’t great
The photo of the wolves has been cropped quite a bit. For an image captured on a D3400 at ISO800, that's two significant factors working against you. I think your Z 7 with those same settings in that situation would have yielded a noticeably better result, even with the additional cropping required.

In the photo of the bobcats, it looks like the AF target was on the rear animal. Also, a slightly faster shutter speed will help sharpen things up when handholding at 480mm.
 
Joined
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I see you are shooting your z7 at very low iso, 100-160. Certainly any "graininess" you are seeing is not coming from there. Massive cropping can enlarge the grain. Grain can also be exposed in post- if you have to boost exposure especially blacks and shadows.
Confirm your exposures are right on the money. I certainly have no way to tell about your light, but if shooting the sunny 16 rule, 1/800 at iso 100 f7.1 is underexposed a stop or so.
Even with vr, these are slow shutter speeds, especially hand held.
Focus is off, as noted above, in at least one of the examples.
Practice on some easy stuff. I suspect with improvement in technique and post you can get closer to your goal without buying anything.
And this is coming from a guy that has way toooooo much equipment.
You may want more reach, but that comes with its own issues- cost, weight, atmospheric distortion, needing perfect technique, etc.
Maximize what you have now, then move up a step.
gary
 
Joined
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I just wanted to encourage you on a couple of accounts. I think the framing and composition of these are all really good - yes I realize these are crops but I'm saying you have a good sense of how to structure an image. I've honestly seen (and taken) worse zoo photos.

We've all seen just stunning wildlife images that folks post on-line. What we don't see are the thousands of compositionally mediocre or technically flawed images that aren't posted. We all have hard drives full of those. I once read that the difference between a great photographer and just a good one is that the great photographer never shows you his 'only good' images. With practice and advice you'll work out these technical problems and learn the limits of your equipment.
 
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Based on the metadata and your comments:
  • FASTER shutter speed, let the ISO go up to give you the shutter speed you need to use. Better to have a noisy sharp image, than a noise-free blury image.
  • With the D3400m you are shooting an APS-C camera, so at 500mm, you are shooting at 15x magnification. I would definitely shoot with VR on. Even with VR, I would try to shoot at 1/1000 sec, and if I feel unstable (like being blown by the wind), I would crank it up faster.
    With the FF/FX Z7, the lens magnification drops down to 10x. I would still shoot at 1/1000, even with IBIS. I want the odds in my favor.
  • VR. I don't know how the Z7 handles dual IS, IBIS + VR. But, in general, I take ALL the technical help that I can get, especially with a LONG lens. So if the Z7 can work IBIS + VR, I would do that.
  • I don't know which AF mode you are using, but I would use a FIXED AF point, so that I can select exactly what I want the camera to focus on. Example, the camera could select to focus on the brush between you and the animals. My experience with zone/area focus has been, that about half the time, the camera will focus on something other than MY subject. So, except in rare instances, I want to select what to focus on, not the camera.
  • Try to be precise about what you focus on.
    • As was mentioned the rear cat seems to be what was focused on, not the more visible front cat.
    • The pack of wolves is a problem. There is significant front to back depth, which the lens at f/5.6 does not have enough DoF to handle. So you have to select which wolf you want in focus and let the rest go OOF, or decrease the aperture, to get more DoF. In the case of a group of animals, you may want to shift from f/5.6 to f/11, to get more DoF, at the cost of higher ISO.
    • If you are cropping deep into the image, it may be hard to precisely position the AF point when you shoot. But try. As @gchappel said, practice, you WILL get better.
Other notes:
  • IBIS and VR will compensate for your movement, not the subject's movement, so for wildlife, I would not drop the shutter speed much. Although in these cases at 1/800 sec, I don't think subject movement is an issue.
  • With the Z7, you can preview the exposure in the EVF, so take advantage of that.
    • Don't underexpose the subject in the shade. You many have to let the bright snow blow out. Recovery of underexposed images results in noise/grain, and lack of contrast. Learning to use the EVF takes a bit of practice.
    • If you can set the EVF to display highlights, you can see what will blow out. That makes it easier to see how much you can push the exposure, and when you have to back off.
 

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