The Greeting Committee of One. And the Skinny on the Nikon 80-400 VR … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

The Greeting Committee of One. And the Skinny on the Nikon 80-400 VR ...


There was an influx of passerines (small perching birds) on Wednesday; I wound up with 32 species total in spite of missing a few easy birds. I had 28 on my Thursday morning walk; the birds that were present in the woods near my home were totally absent this morning …

I am still trying mightily to fill the single slot on the Falklands Land-based IPT (DEC 22, 2018 thru JAN 5, 2019). 🙁 If you missed the details or are interested in a discount offer, please see the blog post here and shoot me an e-mail immediately.

Only two folks are signed up for the Early Winter DeSoto IPT; do consider joining us on that or another IPT. You can see all the current offerings here.

Galapagos Photo-Cruise of a Lifetime/Limit 13/Openings: 4

Right now I have nine folks committed to the 2019 Galapagos Photo Cruise. A friend who had committed to the trip learned that he and his wife might not be able to attend. Thus, I have room for one or two couples, one couple and two singles, or four singles. If the archipelago is on your bucket list, please get in touch via e-mail asap with questions. If you might be registering with a friend or a spouse, do ask about the two at a time discount. See the complete details here.


BIRDS AS ART is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Selling Your Used Photo Gear Through BIRDS AS ART

Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog is a great idea. We charge only a 5% commission. One of the more popular used gear for sale sites charged a minimum of 20%. Plus assorted fees! Yikes. They went out of business. And e-Bay fees are now up to 13%. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please scroll down here or shoot us an e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly — I offer pricing advice to those who agree to the terms — usually sells in no time flat. Over the past year, we have sold many dozens of items. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 100-400, the old 500mm, the EOS-7D and 7D Mark II and the original 400mm DO lens have been dropping steadily. You can always see the current listings by clicking here or on the Used Photo Gear tab on the orange-yellow menu bar near the top of each blog post page.

New Listing

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II Lens

Charlie Curry is offering a Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II lens in like-new condition for a very low $1598.00. The sale includes the front and rear caps, the lens hood, lens pouch/case, a low foot, the original foot, and insured ground shipping via major courier to US addresses only. Your item will not ship until your check clears unless other arrangements are made.

Please contact Charlie via e-mail or by phone at 1-407-448-7797 Eastern time.

Y’all know how much I loved and now miss this amazingly versatile lens. artie

Price Drop!

Canon EF 200-400 f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (with extras!)

Price Reduced $400 on November 8, 2018.

Charlie Curry is offering a Canon EF 200-400 f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender in like-new condition (with extras) for $6,799.00 (was 7,199.00). The sale includes the lens trunk with keys, a RRS LCF-53 lens foot, the front and rear lens caps, and the original lens foot. Also included: the lens manual, the lens strap, and insured ground shipping via FedEx to US addresses only. Cashier’s check only.

Please contact Charlie via e-mail or by phone at 1-407-448-7797 Eastern time.

This is the world’s best lens for a trip to Africa. It kills also in the Galapagos and in South Georgia, the Falklands, and Antarctica. And I used mine a lot at Bosque and other dusty places where the built-in TC helps to keep your sensor clean. And I loved it in the Palouse for its versatility. Last summer, I often found myself wishing that I had taken the 200-400 rather than my 500 II on the Bear Boat Cubs IPT. Many nature photographers use it as their workhorse telephoto lens as it offers 784mm at f/8 with an external 1.4X TC added. The lens sells new at B&H for $10,999.00. You can save a neat $4,200.00 by grabbing Charlie’s like-new lens right now! artie

Money Saving Reminder

If you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H, would enjoy free overnight shipping, and would like a $50 discount on your first purchase, click here to order and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If you are looking to strike a deal on Canon or Nikon gear (including the big telephotos) or on a multiple item order, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell at (479) 381-2592 (Eastern time) and be sure to mention your BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order. Steve currently has several D850s in stock along with a Nikon 600mm f/4 VR. He is taking pre-orders for the new Nikon 500 P and the Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera body.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers 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 Day 1 — October 24, 2018 — of the recently concluded Emperor Penguins of Snow Hill Island expedition via icebreaker. While seated on the snow and ice, I used the hand held Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens (at 400mm) with my back-up Nikon D850. ISO 800. Matrix metering plus about 1 stop: 1/800 sec. at f/8 in Manual mode. Auto 1 WB on a cloudy-bright morning

One AF point up from the center AF point/Single/Shutter button AF as originally framed was active at the moment of exposure.

I kept my 80-400 rig on my shoulder via an RS-7 Curve Breathe Strap so that it was instantly accessible when I was working with the tripod-mounted 500 PF.

Focus peaking AF Fine-tune: +5. See the Nikon AF Fine-tune e-Guide here.

Emperor Penguin/the first head portrait!

The Greeting Committee of One

It was almost predictable. We were less than 1/3 of the way to the colony when we encountered a single, very friendly adult Emperor Penguin right next to the flagged track. I could not believe our good fortune as the bird was completely accepting of our presence. You might say that it was totally oblivious. While standing, I made a few images to fine-tune my exposure and then sat to get a sky background. I stayed with this bird for about 15 minutes before heading toward the colony. The walk was rather easy but for the fact that I and most everyone was over-dressed and thus over-heated. Perhaps it was the encounter with this gorgeous penguin that made me feel as if I were floating on air rather than walking or trudging. As I walked I was thinking of the too-cute chicks and of getting close enough to some adults to create some Emperor Penguin abstracts.

Having seen many tens of thousands of King Penguins and a few hundred emperors, I raised this question quite often during the trip: Which is the more beautiful species, king or emperor? When comparing similar species, we will often feel that the rarer species is the more beautiful … We will further explore this topic in the future.

The Skinny on the Nikon 80-400 VR …

I love having the Nikon 80-400 VR on my shoulder via an RS-7 Curve Breathe Strap so that it is accessible when I am working with a longer tripod-mounted super-telephoto lens. It is very versatile and comparable in weight to the Canon 100-400 II. At times I find the extra 20mm at the wide end very useful — it was great working at 80mm for the ice patterns, but I do of course miss the close-focusing abilities of the Canon intermediate zoom which focuses down to .98 meters or 3.2 feet. That as compared to 1.75 meters or 5.74 feet.

Like the original Canon 100-400mm lens, there is a strong possibility that the construction of the current Nikon 80-400 VR is somewhat suspect. Why do I say that? When photographing on the DeSoto Fall IPT I had the lens on my shoulder and was using it to create images of flocks of feeding wading birds with marsh grass backgrounds. It was zooming in and out perfectly. I went to the long lens for a minute and when I went to the 80-400mm again it got badly stuck at 200mm; zooming wider than that was difficult at best. I was absolutely sure that I had not banged the lens at all, and could not understand why it got stuck. So I sent my 80-400 VR in to be repaired and got a loaner 80-400 VR for the trip. It was a bit odd that both my 80-400 and the borrowed one needed +5 AFA fine-tune with my backup D850. My 80-400 got back just before I left but to be safe I brought the loaner on the trip. To be honest I was worried about a repeat of the problem. The loaner performed perfectly throughout the voyage.

I was glad that Nikon fixed the lens under warranty and am hoping that the problem does not recur. When I mentioned to friend/client Anita North that I was having trouble zooming wider than 80mm with the 80-400, she said that she was having similar problems. She brought hers on the Emperor Penguin expedition and indeed, hers got stuck at 200mm but not as badly as mine had. If you have had a similar problem with your Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens, please leave a detailed comment.


Fort DeSoto in early winter is rife with tame birds. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Clockwise from upper left to center: Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Caspian Tern, Great Egret, Sandwich Tern with fish, Willet, Black-bellied Plover threat display, Snowy Egret, 2-year old Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron, juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron.

The 2018 Fort DeSoto Early Winter IPT/Thursday December 7 through the morning session on Monday December 10, 2018: 3 1/2 DAYS: $1549. Limit 8/Openings: 6.

Fort DeSoto, located just south of St. Petersburg, FL, is a mecca for migrant shorebirds and terns in early winter. There they join hundreds of egrets, herons, night-herons, and gulls that winter on the T-shaped peninsula. With luck, we may get to photograph two of Florida’s most desirable shorebird species: Marbled Godwit and the spectacular Long-billed Curlew. Black-bellied Plover and Willet are easy, American Oystercatcher almost guaranteed. Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, and White Ibis are easy as well and we will almost surely come up with a tame Yellow-crowned Night-Heron or two. We may very well get to see and photograph the amazing heron/egret hybrid that has been present for three year. And we should get to do some Brown Pelican flight photography. In addition, Royal, Sandwich, Forster’s, and Caspian Terns will likely provide us with some good flight opportunities as well. Though not guaranteed, Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork might well be expected. And we will be on the lookout for a migrant passerine fallout in the event of a thunderstorm or two.

On the IPT you will learn basics and fine points of digital exposure and to get the right exposure every time after making a single test exposure, how to approach free and wild birds without disturbing them, to understand and predict bird behavior, to identify many species of shorebirds, to spot the good situations, to choose the best perspective, to see and understand the light, and to design pleasing images by mastering your camera’s AF system. Most importantly you will surely learn to evaluate wind and sky conditions and understand how they affect bird photography. And you will learn how and why to work in Manual mode (even if you’re scared of it).

There will be a Photoshop/image review session after lunch (included) each day. That will be followed by Instructor Nap Time.

As with the fall IPT, this one will run with only a single registrant. The best airport is Tampa (TPA). Once you register, you will receive an e-mail with the hotel information. Do know that it is always best if IPT folks stay in the same hotel (rather than at home or at a friend’s place).

A $500 deposit is due when you sign up and is payable by credit card. Balances must be paid by check after you register. Your deposit is non-refundable unless the IPT sells out with eight folks so please check your plans carefully before committing. You can register by calling Jim or Jennifer during weekday business hours at 863-692-0906 with a credit card in hand or by sending a check as follows: make the check out to: BIRDS AS ART and send it via US mail here: BIRDS AS ART, PO BOX 7245, Indian Lake Estates, FL 33855. You will receive a confirmation e-mail with detailed instructions, clothing, and gear advice. Please remember that the meet and greet will take place at 7:30 on the evening of Sunday, September 23. Please shoot me an e-mail if you plan to register or if you have any questions.


Obviously folks attending the IPT will be out in the field early and stay late to take advantage of sunrise and sunset colors. The good news is that the days are relatively short in late September. Click on the composite to enjoy a larger version.

Clockwise from upper left to center: Long-billed Curlew, juvenile Tricolored Heron, Marbled Godwits, Great Blue Heron, juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, Wood Stork, smiling Sea Scallop, Ruddy Turnstone scavenging needlefish, Great Blue Heron sunset silhouette at my secret spot, and southbound migrant tern flock blur.

Early and Late

Getting up early and staying out late is pretty much a staple on all BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tours; on this particular trip we will get lots of sleep as the days are short. Being in the field well before the sun comes up and staying out until sunset will often present unique photographic opportunities, opportunities that will be missed by those who need their beauty rest. I really love it when I am leaving the beach on a sunny morning after a great session just as a carful or two of well-rested photographers arrive.

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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.

As always, we sell only what I have used, have tested, and can depend on. We will not sell you junk. We know what you need to make creating great images easy and fun. And please remember that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail.

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10 comments to The Greeting Committee of One. And the Skinny on the Nikon 80-400 VR …

  • Frank Sheets

    Tempting Artie. Prob is I already spent my children’s inheritance and pawned off my wife and still have nothing left.

  • David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. I love your question about which species–king or emperor–is more beautiful. I’ve never seen an emperor in person but kings are gorgeous, and like emperors, especially on snow. I love this image of yours, and if emperors aren’t as beautiful as kings, they must be close. I think for sure that emperor chicks are the cutest of all penguin chicks. Your comment about rarity reminds me of something I’ve said often: If the beautiful greenhead duck (mallard drake) were rare, people would spend big money to get an opportunity to photograph one.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Agree on Mallard. I think that kings might be the more beautiful and emperors the more elegant …

      with love, artie

  • Good morning Guru. Hope you are fine.

    Wonderful image. Although I’m a Canon user however, I borrowed my friend’s Nikon system for a while last year with this lens (80-400mm). I found it really great. It produced some really sharp images.

    FYI, I was about the abandon Canon for Sony mirrorless. But after discovering Canon’s new technology “Dual Pixel AF” on my Canon EOS 70D; I gave up the idea and stayed with Canon. This technology is performing wonders for me as now I can capture lot of shots that were previously unattainable. Moreover, I love Canon’s color science.

    Another point Guru, can you contemplate visiting this part of the world (South Asia) at a convenient time of yours? If so, kindly do inform me as I will feel honored to organize necessary logistics for you. I’m a Bangladeshi (free thinker in mind i.e., don’t believe in religions) and now planning to visit Nepal end of this month (90 minutes flight from my country). I’m sure you know Nepal is one of the Himalayan countries. I’m going there both for birding and watching the Great Himalayas. It’s a Birder’s paradise with species like Sarus Crane, Great Hornbill, Himalayan Monal and many others. Moreover, there are some exotic mammals like the Bengal Tiger, One-horn Rhino and Asian Elephant. Kindly remember, winter is our birding season.

    Thank you with regards.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Quazi,

      Thanks for the invite. I am pretty sure that I will not be there this week …

      You are the first person who ever had anything good to say about the Canon dual pixel stuff. I and everyone else who tried it for nature thought that it was a sham. Please feel free to share examples and info with me via e-mail.

      with love, artie

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Hi Guys, One thing that we forget when viewing images online is that everyone has a different monitor and that most vary significantly in brightness … With my Macbook Pro with Retina Display the last three or four dark boxes on the Monitor Calibration Strip at the bottom of each BPN page blend together with the brightness maxxed out … Since my monitor is a bit on the dark side I try to process a bit on the light side.

    As I view today’s featured image I am pleased with the separation between the bird’s chest and the sky. At some point I might do one where all the WHITEs on the bird match the sky leaving only the darker marking of the bird.

    with love, artie

    ps to Frank: you should sell your house and your children and take the last spot on the Falklands trip!

    • Amazing Shots. I hope to photograph this species some day.

      I have been hearing about this conversation of Monitors quite lot in the BPN website. I have 3 monitors. Once is my Mac Pro, Another is BenQ and other at office which is Dell.

      Using BPN strip is very nice way to ensure that Brightness is good. I forget to check that sometimes…

      Thanks for info.

      • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

        Hey Krishna,

        Many thanks. It was a huge thrill getting there and making images 🙂

        Are you able to p the brightness on your Mac laptop so that you can differentiate the various dark shades on the left?

        with love, artie

  • Ed Dow

    Great Start! The lack of seperation with the background is what makes the shot for me. Different strokes…

  • Frank Sheets

    Love the image Artie. I have a soft spot for high key photos. However, I would prefer just a tad more separation between the bird’s breast and the background. Just me. 🙂 Sounds like you guys had a wonderful trip. Have a great day! Frank