Trying to Explain … This One Works for Me: Nikon D-850/200-500 for Flight. « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Trying to Explain ... This One Works for Me: Nikon D-850/200-500 for Flight.


The pelican photography was very good on Tuesday morning for about an hour. Then we did lots of gorgeous Western Gulls. Then we made a wiggle and spent more than an hour with the nesting Brandt’s Cormorants. We abandoned Rubio’s for lunch for a day and tried a Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The burgers were great and all the toppings are free at this chain. We headed to my favorite afternoon low tide beach and did very well with the Marbled Godwits. Lee Sommie went off by himself and spent a lot of time with a tame Whimbrel that I had pointed out. We are headed back to the cliffs in hope of lots of pelicans in flight photography.

There are two openings on the spoonbill IPT. Click here for complete info. If anyone would like to join me shooting spoonbills for 1 1/2 days, February 19 (full day) and February 20 (morning session only), please get in touch via e-mail.

Nikon Part Help Needed

If you can find me one of these in stock anywhere: Nikon BL-5 Battery Chamber Cover for MB-D12 Battery Pack, please contact me via e-mail immediately.

The Streak

Today makes one hundred eighty-three days in a row with a new educational blog post! This one took about an hour to prepare. With all of my upcoming free time (or not …), the plan right now is to break the current record streak of 480 … Good health and good internet connections and my continuing insanity willing.


Booking.Com came through for me twice again recently with both the DeSoto Fall IPT and next July’s UK Puffins, Gannets, and Bempton Pre-trip room reservations. And all the rates were great. If you’d like to give Booking.Com a shot, click here and you will earn a $25 reward. Thanks to the many who have already tried and used this great service.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of folks whom I see in the field, and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created on January 28 at La Jolla, CA with the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens (at 300mm) and the mega mega-pixel Nikon D850 DSLR.. ISO 400. Matrix metering probably -1/3 stop as framed: 1/2500 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode was about a 1/2 stop underexposure. AWB at 7:45am in early morning light.

Center Group/Shutter Button AF. Click on the image to enjoy a larger version.

Brown Pelican, Pacific race, on final approach

Trying to Explain …

I shared today’s featured image with skilled flight photographer Arash Hazeghi, one of our crack Avian Moderators on BirdPhotographers.Net. He responded, “Looks good but I can’t believe you couldn’t get that with Canon. With all due respect, a pelican is no challenge for yours truly; try an incoming peregrine or kestrel.”

Arash is 100% correct. I could have gotten today’s featured image with Canon gear. Could have. And Arash and Patrick Sparkman and other top bird photographers would have nailed sharp focus on this one with any halfway decent camera body because of their superior skills, strength, hand-eye coordination, and stamina. But for me, I might or might not have gotten this one sharp with my Canon gear. How do I know? Because that is the reality I experienced for the past two decades when my success rate in simple situations like this was from 20-40%. With my new Nikon gear my success rate in these situations has risen to well more than 90%.

Now don’t get too, too excited. As I wrote in response to a comment yesterday, there are more than a few things that I hate about Nikon camera bodies. I will be sharing them with y’all here fairly soon.

This One Works for Me: Nikon D-850/200-500 for Flight

I love this image because the bird is gorgeous, the pose with the fully extended wings is quite nice, and the underwings are evenly lit but for the shadow of the body on the base of the far wing. That was caused by being the light was a bit from my right at the moment the image was captured. This was one of six perfectly sharp on the eye frames.

I am getting more more comfortable using the D-850 for flight with my 200-500 but I still feel a bit more comfortable with the D5 and its blazing 12 fps. Right now I am leaning toward keeping both the D5 and the D-850. Tomorrow I will share a single flight image that explains perfectly why I switched … The good news is that my brain is getting used to zooming the 2-5 in and out. I am not fully there yet, but am improving. I am using my esti-zoom technique more and more with success; I start at 500mm and then zoom out quickly to an approximated focal length as the bird approaches, re-acquire focus, and resume firing.

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To show your appreciation for my continuing efforts here, we ask, as always, that you get in the habit of using my B&H affiliate links on the right side of the blog for all of your photo and electronics purchases. Please check the availability of all photographic accessories in the New BIRDS AS ART Online Store, especially the Mongoose M3.6 tripod head, Wimberley lens plates, Delkin flash cards and accessories, and LensCoat stuff.

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32 comments to Trying to Explain … This One Works for Me: Nikon D-850/200-500 for Flight.

  • avatar Mark Terpstra

    Equipment, Equipment, Equipment…… Nikon/Canon/Sony/Olympus/Fuji, which lens, which body, what settings… Oh My! It’s interesting to note that famed Nat’l Geographic photographer, Jim Brandenburg, shot a hugely successful, (and stunningly beautiful), nature book, “Chased by the Light” with a point and shoot camera with the film processed at a local drug store. Famed Nat’l Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones, continues to bring incredible images/art to the world everyday shot mostly with an iphone and sometimes an Olympus micro 4/3. And, I’ll also mention another tremendously talented National Georgraphic photographer, Jim Richardson, who shot an entire Nat’l Geo story on Scotland with an iphone! It’s 2018 and there are fabulous images captured by people every day, who, “out of ignorance” are probably using the wrong gear, (maybe even a lens that is a “piece of crap”, or improper technique as well. But, isn’t it all about being out there with a vision and seeing and feeling and capturing the moment? Mr. Morris, you’ve captured some incredible bird images over the years and provided a tremendous amount of education to us all, but IMHO, brand and lens quality debates take too much time and energy away from simply being creative. Thank you for your time.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for commenting Mark. For me, I need to be using the best tools available so that I can execute my vision. I am pretty sure that switching to Nikon gear will not stifle my creativity. And I did not spend any time debating gear. When I tried the Nikon stuff it took me five seconds to decide. And there is no debate here. I have simply been sharing what gear I am using now and how it works for me.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Bill Eaton commented that you had even light on both wings which certainly helps in getting a nice sharp image.

  • Hi Artie,
    Pelican in flight is easy for any camera, even with a manual focus lens. Peregrine Falcon in flight is also easy with the D850, even with a slow zoom-lens like 150-600mm f/5-6.3!
    Check out my Peregrine Falcon shots here with the D850, under extreme conditions at times (up to 12800 ISO!!!):
    The D850 simply is an amazing camera for BIF.

    Best Regards,
    Sar NOP

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Duh, that is what I have been saying 🙂 As for your manual focus statement, that is ridiculous 🙂

      with love, artie

  • avatar Johann Mey

    Two comments:
    1. Any new toy for us boys will make us love it and due to adrenaline we will make the best of it and will get good results initially. How we perform over a period of time with the toy will be the test.
    2. Weight difference and weight difference to similar Canon body/lens combination?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      #1: You are wrong but only 100% wrong 🙂

      #2: 200-500 is about one pound heavier than the Canon 100-400II. About the same as the 400 DO II.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Bruce Martin

    Camera comparison is a waste of time and energy…there both good and leave it at that. Frankly, I’m taken back with your new reporting knowing how good Canon treated you over the years. Wonder how good Nikon will support you equally?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Bruce, I am quite confused by what you wrote: “Frankly, I’m taken back with your new reporting knowing how good Canon treated you over the years.” I’d be glad to respond if you make it understandable.

      with love, artie

      ps; I made the switch because for me the AF for birds in flight is far better. I have not received anything from Nikon nor do I ever expect to.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Artie: I completely agree with Arash. Pelicans (and cranes) are easy, no sweat for any reasonable DSLR. I used to get tack sharp flight images of pelicans from my boat! But if your new Nikon gear works for you, then great. And it is a lovely image.

    • avatar David Policansky

      Artie: I don’t mean to say your image didn’t require a lot of skill and experience; it did. Great composition, light, timing, and exposure combine to make a compelling image. Not anyone could have done that. But purely in terms of AF, it would have been easy with Canon equipment. Come photograph least terns in flight with me using your new equipment. I find them devilishly difficult and consider a keeper rate (all things considered) of 5% to be outstanding.

  • avatar Tony Botelho

    I understand what Bill is saying about this Canon vs Nikon debate, but at this point find it interesting learning what Artie thinks about his new equipment. Being primarily a landscape photographer Canon has served me well all these years but still find it interesting learning what works for other photographers. As we all know its more about the skill of the person behind the camera than the system itself.

  • avatar Jeff Friedhoffer

    As usual a beautiful picture. Have a question about the picture captions. Why are you now writing “Matrix metering probably -1/3 stop as framed: 1/2500 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode”? The word “probably” did not occur in captions of Canon pix. What is the significance of “probably” is this context.


  • avatar Ruth Schueler

    One thing I don’t understand…..why do I have to buy new gear all the time? I found what I am comfortable with and stick with it, is that wrong? Besides I just cannot afford to replace it constantly.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Who said that you have to buy new gear all the time? If what you have works for you and you like your images then keep on keeping on. To do anything else would be el stupido 🙂

      with love, arite

  • avatar Anthony Sakal

    BTW what software does Arash plan to use to process raw images taken with Nikon cameras?

  • avatar Anthony Sakal

    I’d like to see Art or Arash (probably Arash) compare the D500, the D5 and the D850 on a peregrine falcon shoot with all cameras using the prime 600 lens and a 2X converter. This is about erratic BIF at a distance and I bet the D5 outperforms the others with the D500 coming in second and the D850 coming in last but I might be surprised; the differences may not be so great or they may be. And I may be wrong. This is asking for a lot but the results would clarify a lot of suppositions. On the Canon side it became apparent that the 20 megapixel, 14 shot/second, 1DX II outperformed everything else Canon had to offer and, I believe, by a wide margin. Now we know that the D5 and Nikon lens will outperform the best that Canon has to offer when it comes to BIF but how much better is it than other Nikon bodies?

    • avatar John Murry

      Arash has compared the D5 to the 1DXII for flight shots & found the Canon to have better af & had more keepers –

      • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        While I did not follow the link do understand that Arash never owned a D5 until yesterday. He has switched.


        • avatar Anthony Sakal

          Yes, Arash has switched but, based on his comment on the Mirada site, why did he considering his admission that the 1DXII does a better job for the type of BIF shots he likes to take? It’s puzzling. Notice his concerns using the extenders. On his site, his recent post suggests that he was missing 5% of his falcon shots using the 1DXII and, consequently, switched to Nikon. This post was later than the one posted on the Mirada site. Did he change his mind twice? It would be nice see an update.

  • avatar Bill Reichert

    Too much equipment talk.
    Need to stop this Nikon….Canon talk.
    Back to photography.

  • avatar Adam

    ” my success rate in simple situations like this (Canon) was from 20-40%. With my new Nikon gear my success rate in these situations has risen to well more than 90%”

    That’s pretty telling and is a big confidence booster for me and other photographers interested in BIF. When I look back at some of my images shot years ago with gear such as a 1dmkii or 1dmkiii with a 400 f/5.6 the percentage of in focused images seems higher than those I shoot today with bodies such as the 7dmkii, 5dmkiv, and more advanced lenses. On the surface how does one explain that? One plausible explanation emerged when I looked at the images with those earlier systems as they were all shot in better light because of the ISO limitations of those earlier bodies. There is little question in my mind that the modern systems are more complex and offer greater utility and possibilities as well as frustration which come with the endless array of potential adjustments. I’m glad you are enjoying your new found success and look forward to hearing more about the journey.

  • avatar Doug Jackson

    I have hope that Canon will unveil the EF 600mm F4 DO during CES in March. If it is as sharp and fast as the EF 400mm DO ll, the 600mm DO will be the bomb for BIF. Art may have to hold another auction!

  • avatar byron prinzmetal

    This is a hard message for me to write. But, here goes. I am a little older than you (I think), diabetic and I exercise everyday (hiking). But, I can say my physical skills such as hand eye coordination, steadiness of hands or in my case getting a little shaky and all the rest of getting more mature affects what I can do with my photography. I have adjusted what type of cameras and lenses I carry when hiking to smaller and lighter as I cannot carry for much distance things like full frame great lenses such as 100-400, but instead s55-250 and now even smaller m18-200. So I found I can still take great images “for me” with equipment that allows me to capture things I might not be able to if I used heavier equipment. So, my point, I have adjusted my camera equipment to things that work for me because of my reduced physical capacities because I am simply getting older and physically I have less capabilities compared to what I had say 10 short years ago.

    I don’t know if this applies to you, but certainly it applies to me.


  • Canon / Nikon, who cares! Use what you have and what works for you!
    Artie, I’ve learned so much from you regarding what makes a good photo, and how to try and capture that. The photography methods you teach can be used on any equipment. You have also been helpful for using specific gear with some of your e-books, but most of what you teach is not equipment specific. You explain how you do things using the equipment you are using, and there is a need for me to figure out how to try something similar on whatever I have, because I never have the exact same setup you have. So, I just keep learning more!
    Thank You Again Artie!!

  • avatar Joel Eade

    I can understand the switch: as a professional you need the tools that work best in your hands regardless of what works for others. I am a bit surprised you didn’t hang to some of your Canon gear for a while at least to be sure the Nikon 600 + 2X TC will be comparable to the Canon or have you already had some hands on experience with it?

  • Hey Artie…Why did you change to Nikon? IAN