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Birds in flight with the Nikon D800

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 6
"Birds in flight with the Nikon D800" is by Simon Speich (click on images for larger view):

The Nikon D800 is really a fantastic camera, not only for landscape and architecture. I think it's also a wonderful wildlife or action camera thanks to the super fast and smart autofocus Multi-CAM 3500FX, which gives you sharp results even for flying birds. Paired with a 300mm f/2.8 VR II it makes a great combo to catch birds in flight without a tripod. The low number of frames per second (fps) is unfortunate, but not as problematic as some people say.
When I took the following pictures, the weather wasn't too sunny, which was an advantage in terms of contrast, but forced me to use high ISO settings between 800 and 1250 to get exposure times above 1600 s.

Eurasian Eagle-Owl

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 8

Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo) taking off. Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/2500 s at f/4.5, ISO 800.

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 5

Eurasian Eagle-Owl in Flight (Bubo bubo). Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/2500 s at f/4.5, ISO 800.

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 9

Falconer with a Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo). Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/2500 s at f/4.5, ISO 800.

Griffon Vulture

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 7

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) in flight. Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/3200 s at f/4.5, ISO 800.

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 3

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) in flight. Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/3200 s at f/4.5, ISO 1250.

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800

Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) taking off. Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/3200 s at f/4.5, ISO 800.

Red Kite

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 6

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) in flight. Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/3200 s at f/5, ISO 800.

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 2

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) in flight. Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/3200 s at f/5, ISO 800.

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 4

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) in flight. Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/3200 s at f/4.5, ISO 800.

Birds in flight with the Nikon D800 1

Falconer feeding a Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Nikon D800 with 300mm f/2.8. Exposure 1/3200 s at f/4.5, ISO 800.

The D800 shoots only with a maximum of 4 frames per second (fps) without the battery grip. This is much lower than the 11fps of its sister the D4, but the same as the Nikon F4 from the long gone analog times. But the advantage of the higher resolution sensor outweighs the lower speed IMHO.

All photos are cropped and shot handheld. The exposure was set to manual and to cope with backgrounds changing quickly from bright sky to dark forest behind the moving birds. The location was a bird show given by falconers at the The Eagle Observatory, on the Pfänder in Austria.

You can find more bird photos in my photo database on www.speich.net or read more about bird photography.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • fjfjjj

    Two thirds of these just aren’t sharp.

    • amaas

      I think you mean ‘aren’t oversharpened’. I don’t see an unsharp shot in the lot, although we are looking at web-sized images which don’t tell the full story.

    • AM

      Their beaks are sharp.

      • Morris

        yes but he/she’s not watching the beak!

    • Michael

      Huh? I don’t see a single not-sharp image here. (Although admittedly it’s hard to judge critical sharpness at web-size resolution.)

    • Scott

      Umm, maybe you’re looking at a different post – at the size presented, these are all sharp…

    • Dee Melbihess

      More than sharp enough.

    • lorenzo

      Your ass isn’t on focus, IYKWIM

    • callibrator

      Do teach us about sharpness, girl.

    • marks

      it is sharp in eye and beak… where he likely placed the central AF point.

      For “all” sharp…. he will need F7 – 12, major tripods, lens follow hand motion, and techniques that will have him publishing in national geographic, and not to rants like you.

  • anon

    It appears this D800 works much better than mine.. My wife is using a D800 for wedding photography, and under mediocre light, not even bad light, it has a tremendously hard time attaining focus. It hunts back and forth and just gives up with both a 24-70 and 70-200. I know this happens with all cameras, but it’s 50% of the time at least. Our D300 was never and still isn’t nearly that bad. I’m very much considering dumping the D800 and getting a D4. I’m not saying the D800 is a bad camera. When it does focus correctly the pictures are astounding. Maybe mine just needs an overhaul or the AF system. It really shouldn’t for a 1.5 year old camera. Plus i don’t like seeing the comments that people send their D800 to Nikon to have issues corrected, and it comes back worse. Not really sure what to do with it.

    • AM

      Give it to me. I know what to do with it.

    • Henri De Vreese

      I use the D800e on a daily basis, for all kinds of light…
      Pitch dark (f/2.8, 1/15, iso 12800) and it focuses perfectly (slower, but still accurate). I also use mine for weddings and AF works perfectly. Don’t forget to turn the AF-C delay down to 0, you have to be smart, not the camera.

      • anon

        did that already with the af-c delay.. the delay is off completely. Still hunts everywhere. i’m glad yours works better than mine does.

        • jon

          You will need some light assist to get AF in dim lit wedding parties. You will have to figure how.

    • PistolPete13

      What firmware level are you running? Make sure it’s the latest because it shouldn’t be this bad.

      • anon

        it’s up to date. A:1.01 – B:1.02 – L:1.009.

    • jack the ladd

      I have no problem with either of my D800s ,they focus well across the board and in quite low light ,where I do take issue is the focus tracking , time and time again i find that out of a sequence of shots of “biffs” (maybe 8-12ish) only a handful will have good focus, and my panning is no worse than its ever been ,my older D300 , a dinosaur now compared to the D800 would regularly reel off 12-16 or more shots of a biff, sometimes moving quite fast and with a “busy” backround , and nail the focus on every frame ,I am not getting this on the D800 ,dont get me wrong ,as a D800 owner I am the last to complain ,about its otherwise superb performance , I am scepticla about its ability when tracking moving objects . I would like to see a whole sequence from the OP to see just how many frames were useable . shooting captive birds do not prove too much niether , flight paths are so predictable and totally different in difficulty levels , you usually only get one chance in the wild and you need reliability , and higher frame rate to get more “keepers.

      • John

        Maybe your a1 Custom Setting is on ‘Release’ (the default) rather than ‘Focus’?

    • http://www.davidiam.com/ davidiam photo

      Yea, something just isn’t right there. I use a D800 in those conditions all the time. With my 70-200 in low light, its almost infallible. It doesn’t hunt, or miss, even when the light is really low.

      • nick

        Exactly

  • Anto de Chav

    Great shots… 300mm is awesome.

  • Mansgame

    lol this is just like those reddit picture postings where a hipster takes a subpar picture with their iPhone that they think is the greatest thing in the world and it’s an even bigger ego boost for them because they used the iPhone. Except these were taken by the D800 and they had to mention it was taken with the D800.

    Why mention the D800? Is it to prove to all the “haters” who say the D800 isn’t good for moving wildlife and sports due to having huge files that don’t buffer as fast?

    • Dee Melbihess

      Oh look. The Butthurt Dweller found Nikonrumors.

  • james

    I returned 5 d800′s for the left AF issue until I found a perfect copy. I also noticed all 6 cameras exposed differently as well. I love my d800, but like I said it took 6 of them to find a good one.

    • Dee Melbihess

      Really? Six cameras?

      • Ronan

        Pure bullshit unless he can provide paperwork.

        Heck if it was even remotely true, he would have a blog up blabbering about it with photos and videos. Finally he would probably end up on his local news station.

        • dredlew

          Unfortunately, it’s very likely true and not BS. I went through 5 cameras myself, bought from different vendors. They were refurbished though and most likely returned for the left focus issue. Thinking it was ok to buy refurbished because Nikon would have made sure that everything was fixed before re-selling it. Well, that was a wrong assumption. All the cameras I bought and returned had the left focus issue to varying degrees. When I confronted Nikon why those cameras were not fixed, I was given the runaround and told to just return it (I did, 4 times!), buy a new one at full price or buy a D600 instead (seriously?).

          After the 5th camera I figured that the whole batch (I waited several weeks in between purchases) of refurbished ones were not fixed, so I gave in and wanted to get the one I had to get repaired. Having had already an unpleasant experience with Nikon support, I wanted to get it fixed at a local shop so I wouldn’t have to deal with Nikon again. At the shop I was told, since the camera is under warranty, only Nikon was authorized to perform the repair and that it would normally take 6-10 weeks(!). FML!

          So I had to take it up with Nikon again. After another argument of whether I had provided test-shots (which I did at the beginning of the case), I was finally given clearance that I could send it in. But now, they had the audacity to wanting to charge me for shipping. – Let me get this straight; a refurbished product, that by definition has to be checked, repaired and verified for any defects, is actually not working properly. And that being for the single most issue that this camera became infamous for. Needless to say that said product needs to be repaired by the manufacturer, for free… as in beer. No cost whatsoever. Yet, Nikon Support tried to play hardball over this. It was not until I raised hell and threatened to take this whole case up to both CEOs of Nikon US and Japan, that I was finally sent a prepaid package to send it in. I was asking for 1 week expedited turnaround, it ended up being two weeks after I had called in yet again after the status on the repair was not updated for a week.

          Finally, I did have my camera back, left focus adjusted. Still felt like the right one was a tad sharper but it was acceptable. No acknowledgement or apology from Nikon whatsoever. This whole ordeal took 6 months(!) from the day I bought the first D800 to the day I got a working one back I could use.

          Moral of the story is; Nikon makes great gear but god help you if you have issues with that gear and need support. – Or at least Nikon US Support, which is apparently the worst. I never had issues with gear before, so I wasn’t aware of their reputation. After the first interactions with them though, I googled it and well, maybe you should too. I was seriously concerned of sending that camera in and wanted to avoid it at all cost. There are far worse horror stories out there that have happened with Nikon (US) Support, so be aware.

          • dongs

            Having gotten fixed many items at Nikon Service, my suggestion for stress management is this: (1) have low expectations of getting free warranty if the “claim” requires explanation and debate, and (2) dont expect a quick 1 week turn around.

            • dredlew

              That is a good suggestion and generally, for a warranty repair it is to be expected to pay for shipping. Only companies that really value customer service pay that cost.

              However, in my case, a refurbished product cannot need a repair right out of the box. That’s not what a refurbished product is or it’s false advertising. It would be an open box item, quite different. And it’s not like I didn’t try to get another product so I don’t have to have it repaired. But when 5 products you buy are all defective, I’m forced to having it repaired… an already “repaired” product. In such case, I expect the cost of repair to be paid. It’s false advertising again because it does not include the cost of “needed” repair when you buy it.

              On top of that, Nikon US Support just does not understand what customer support and satisfaction is. I’ve worked in customer support before and had a case of such proportion happened, that company would have not only investigated the whole refurbished issue (which I requested several times) but they would have issued the customer a complete new product as compensation for the troubles. And yes, even a new $3000 product.

            • http://kyleclements.com/ Kyle Clements

              When I had to get my D600 sensor cleaned for the first time (Nov 2012), it took over 2 weeks to get the camera back.

              The second time I sent it in for a mechanical failure, they fixed that, cleaned the sensor, updated the firmware, and had it back to me in 4 days. (Oct. 2013)

              I wouldn’t say service is always slow, just inconsistent – or possibly in the process of being improved.

          • koenshaku

            I thought at the end you were going to tell us you were James with another account heh.

    • umeshrw

      If true it is perfectly possible that all exposed differently. Exposure is linked also to distance and point of focus data.

    • ponder

      by the 6th body, you figured out how to use D800 correctly?

    • Spy Black

      I went through six bottle of rum before I found out I can shoot better straight.

      • twang

        after 6th rum bottle, you went from straight to gay?

        • Spy Black

          No, I went from gay to straight. Can’t you read?

  • whisky

    these are “good enough” for publication, and can certainly be made sharper if necessary. my own experience is that the D800/e is an excellent BIF camera. JMO.

    • Carly Binding

      “BIF camera” ?

      • george

        “Birds In Focus”
        Oh, wait…

        • Greg Stevens

          Georgie, I don’t believe anyone would be interested in the BOOF type photography.

          BIF is a silly term.

        • Carly Binding

          So you need a special camera to shoot the subjects ‘in focus’ ?

          • J R

            BIF usually means Birds In Flight.

            • Carly Binding

              That sounds more like it, thanks.

  • Arthur Tazo

    FAKE. D800 cant do action photography.

    • saywhatuwill

      Just goes to show that some people can do action photography with it and others can’t.

      • koenshaku

        He was being sarcastic, 4 FPS doesn’t allow more room for error as sports shooters do but if you have the good eye you can produce excellent results.

        • callibrator

          No he wasn’t being sarcastic, check his response about cheetah and samsung s4….

          • Arthur Tazo

            Yes, one of the truly great accomplishments in my short but illustrious photography career.

    • Drazen B

      Did you happen to read that somewhere on the internet?
      Thought so.

      • Arthur Tazo

        No. I cant read.

        • Pablo Ricasso

          That explains your idiotic comment, then.
          You are vindicated.

          • Arthur Tazo

            Senor Pablo, looks like logic is something you can never comprehend. *tsk tsk*

            • JakeB

              This coming from the person who seem to be totally devoid of any logic?
              Nice, Arthur…very nice.

            • Arthur Tazo

              Yes, I am a very nice person. Thank you.

    • Mandrake

      Get your head out of your a$s…

      • Arthur Tazo

        Word of advice: it is improper to use “$” symbol in a sentence unless you are talking about monetary figures.

        • saywhatuwill

          Or Micro$oft, like in M$.

          • Arthur Tazo

            $pot on.

    • works

      D800 works perfectly for ice-hockey as well. Game is fast, and lit with basic garage mercury vapor lamps (i.e. not bright sunlight)

      Cant do action is arm-chair myth.

      • Arthur Tazo

        I once took a series of photos of cheetahs sprinting at full speed in nothing but moonlight using my Samsung Galaxy S4.

    • Global

      ^Funny, why the down votes (they didn’t realize its just a joke)? I was thinking the same thing — “finally, someone who knows how to take sharp pictures of moving objects with a D800″… seems it can be done! Good inspiration. =)

    • Paddy

      Doofus

    • BARBU

      ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY does exist only with DIGITAL CAMERA with many frame/second. FAKE ! ! ! Look on sports ( action ) photography from ’60, ’70, ’80. Maybe you are very young. ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY is here from very first CAMERA.

      • Arthur Tazo

        Barbu, Caps Lock key have been around for a very long time as well. Time to invest in one.

    • Francesc Genové

      Then, let’s do the impossible: http://500px.com/photo/48409530
      I’m glad I’ve started shooting on the film days! :P

  • BackdoorHippie

    I love mine for birds in flight. Being close enough to birds like this isn’t a regular occurrence, so I find that even with a 150-500mm I need to crop. It’s nice to be able to have 16MP’s in a DX crop if I need to, both because of the resolution and because it saves on file sizes. I was tempted to grab a D7100 but opted for the D800 when I realized that I’d be choking on the buffer even quicker than I did with my D7000. Sure, I’d love another fps or two, but I don’t really “need” it.

    • Ernesto Quintero

      You nailed it of the D7100′s major flaw, tiny buffer. Who’s the marketing genius at Nikon made that stupid decision ? Anyhow I will soon acquire a D800/e(haven’t yet decided which version) after I sell my D300s and D700 plus DX lenses and matching accesories. Only thing holding me back was my iMac’s hardware, I finally got latest MacBook Pro to deal with mega files.

  • Ak8518

    Owning both D4 and D800E and 300/2.8VR, 400/2.8VR lenses D4 is usually my choice for everything that moves fast. AF operation is more reliable, D800E isnt that accurately focusing even when MB-D12 is attached. When there is good light and time enough to learn right values of the AF fine tune the D800E can also produce brilliant results. But anyway D4 is far more reliable in terms of AF operation.

    • Brian

      I find my 800 focuses faster then my D4 on the 800 F/5.6 but it could just be I’m used to it more.

    • D Rouleau

      I’m on my second D800E now, and I find the AF basically sucks on it. My D3s, however, is rock solid. Nikon took a huge step backward in the AF department with the D800 series in my experience with 4 different cameras. Basically, I won’t use my D800E for 1) anything that moves, and 2) anything where I can’t afford to miss a shot. My first hint should’ve been the fact that all my Nikon lenses required AF Fine Tune (my D3s doesn’t require any fine tuning and everything is tack sharp). The D800/800E sensor is amazing, though.

  • Chris

    Nice work, fine Images…
    I have the D800 too, and I´m interested how others set Focus and exposure for their work (mode (s/c), menue-details if something special, Auto/single-point/…, exposure, ..) for their work – do you mind sharing with me/us? Many thanks in advance, Chris

  • peterw

    Anyone ever doupted that a D800 can do this? It is the upgrade of D300/D700 which were perfect for this. This was possible with a D200, Especially in these controlled conditions of bird in capture, when you know when and where the bird flies. And, with the ultimately perfect lens for this kind of photography.
    I do not like the idea of photographing captured wild life since it seems to be a growing industry. That’s personal.

    • knows it

      But, porn needs D800 36mp…

      • peterw

        Unfortunately, that is a kind of photography for which I don’t dare to look for cooperative models. In bird photography problem is that birds are shy, instead of me. I’d love to, of course.

  • Pat Mann

    Captive large birds. Not really a stress test for this camera-lens combo on birds in flight. Not the combo I would choose (400mm min DX, 500mm min FX, faster cameras), unless all my bird photography was in a blind or of tame birds.

    • Spy Black

      So let’s see what you got.

      • Pat Mann

        I’ve done all my shooting of wild birds with a 70-300 and D300s, which is one reason I think 400 is a good minimum for birds with DX. I have a few good shots, and this setup is fine for bird identification, but the 70-300 is not the f/2.8 prime, the D800 puts a few more pixels on the bird than the D300s does at 300mm, and wild birds are harder to get close to. I may be able to afford the 80-400 this year, but would prefer a 400 f/5.6 prime. I’m a budget birder, this setup is well beyond my price range, but I think the D400 with the 80-400 may fill the bill. I’ll let you know when I get there.

        • Spy Black

          Well, let’s see what you got.

  • Maji

    Sharp images. It is all about anticipation and timing more than just spray and pray. Thank you for sharing the images and your experience.

  • dbettenw

    Really nice pictures! With a D7000 and a 70-300mm AF-S I made some similar. As I took them I thought that it was no big deal.

  • AlphaTed

    BIC (Birds In Captivity), are great way to practice skills in wildlife BIF. Raymond Barlow do these kind of workshops a lot.
    High frame rates is really a must to capture that perfect wing position or head turn.

    • peterw

      I do not agree with the second point.
      rapid action of the mirror gets in the way of the time the camera can aquire focus. Perfect wing position with the big ones is a matter of proper timing. I put my D300 (with power pack) at 5 bps to get to this one: http://500px.com/photo/56333342
      your first point – exercise – is vallid. Still, I rather try with gulls at a harbour or pigeons in a park, These birds are willing to cooperate by their own choice.

      • AlphaTed

        I agree, that sometimes at 8fps the D300 has problems establishing the proper focus, happens to me often. But that happens mostly if there’s not enough light. You’re sample image is awesome. But it’s gliding … a 3fps setting can do that job. High frame rate may not be a must, but your chances to get THE shot increases.

  • Global

    Beautiful birds. Too bad about the human environment backgrounds. But very crisp shots (and I only take animal pics at the zoo, haha..)! Thanks for sharing!

    • phosgene

      I felt the same way. The photos where the birds are isolated on a blank background are the best.

  • Brian

    I have been shooting the D800 on my nature from day one. I love it.

    http://kushnerphoto.com

  • http://www.naturalvolo.it/ michele perillo

    If the subjects of the pictures were not ensnared birds under the sad pretenses of the falconers to be seen as wildlife conservation supporter, I would have appreciated more the post

  • Richard

    I specialise in bird flight photography and have been lucky enough to win some competitions in the UK.

    Using both the D800 and D4 for the above, I can only speak of my experiences, of which the D4 takes it.

    Resolution is one thing, but the significantly better ISO, frames per second, buffer and autofocus has to give the D4 the edge.

    For general ‘slow’ stuff’ I would not hesitate to use the D800.

    Nice images posted here…great stuff.

    Would always prefer wild birds, not controlled subjects however.

    This would have made the test more worthy?

    http://www.richardbedfordbirdphotography.co.uk

    • peterw

      Your picture of an incoming Eurasian Wigeon is really showing what a fast frame rate and ultimate autofocus are needed for.
      Great!
      quite different

  • http://www.povazanphotography.com/ Jozef Povazan

    With 300 f2.8 this should be simply a joy, even D90 would pull this, and btw all the above shots were taken with f4.5 or smaller so even if the camera did not catch the right part of the bird as focusing point the DOF larger then with f2.8 helped it a bit. It is not a camera but the photographer who makes the difference :)

  • waterengineer

    Excellent set of photos of captive birds. Nice work and congrats. However, this is a highly different working environment than a wild environment. With captive birds you (I) can ask for another fly by to get the shot. In a wild environment I would rather have a D4 because I only get one chance. Again, nice work. Thanks.

  • Nicu

    Because good WB and good color is too mainstream !

  • Tondu

    Not bad…but my D600 it is a lot better for this purpose. The vulture is very god but the Eagle Owl is not sharp enough…Owls are not fast and you can get them crisp and sharp even with a D800…I know from a friend, that the D800 is god enough for very good BIF pictures, but the pictures in the article above are not really a good example for the qualitys of the D800…

    • Aldo

      I have the d600… had the d800… even the non E version is a lot sharper than the d600.. even in dx mode

  • Aldo

    Proof that a good photographer doesn’t need a machine gun to capture action.

  • Taildraggin

    6D is ~$1300 on ebay now, new, if you shop hard. 6D and 5D3 fit much better in the hand, more like a D3/4 and Canon has marginally better 24-70 and 70-200, as well as more top quality lenses. Check Amazon Best Sellers for DSLRs to see how badly Nikon cams are being crushed. 5D3 makes the top ten and the 3200 is only Nikon in it. Nikon, you should have updated the D700. You lost me.

  • Toon

    ” high ISO settings between 800 and 1250″

    if this is your idea of high ISO, you’d get a stroke if you ever go above 2000..

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