Shooting USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships with the Nikon Z9 camera and Nikkor Z 400mm f/4.5 lens

I am way behind on the [NR] Guest Posts – here is a new guest post on shooting the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships with the Nikon Z9 camera and Nikkor Z 400mm f/4.5 lens by Eddie Clark (website | Instagram):

Just over a week ago I received my Nikkor Z 400mm f4.5VR S lens with my priority request from NPS, and was able to put it through the paces photographing the Dual Slalom and Downhill National Championship races at Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park, Colorado this past week.

A little background about myself; I’m a professional photographer of 15 years out of Boulder, Colorado, and I’ve been exclusively shooting Nikon DSLR bodies and lenses for the past 16 years starting with the D100. I’m also an NPS member of many years, and was one of the lucky ones who received their Z9 on December 24th, 2021. Much of my photography work revolves around bikes and bike racing, and the national championships seemed like the perfect place to put this new lens through the paces. There’s nothing like a trial by fire to learn new gear when you have clients counting on your photos!

All of the photos here were shot in High Efficiency RAW with Picture Control set to Standard. Most of these photos are full-frame and uncropped, and a few were taken in DX crop mode (I have the video record button programmed for switching between FX and DX modes, and use it frequently). VR was set to Sport mode, Focus mode AF-C, Wide S or L Area mode and Detection set People.

Most were taken in Aperture priority with close attention being paid to ISO settings to keep my shutter speeds above 1/1600 due to the speeds of the racers. The dual slalom photos were in bright sunshine, and the downhill photos were taken in stormy weather with rapidly moving clouds yielding highly variable light where ISO ranged from 1200 to 2000. In some very dynamic lighting situations during the dual slalom, I shot in full manual to lock in my desired exposure.

Using Lightroom I imported the RAW files (no DNG conversion) using the camera profile and my own user ‘Z9 standard’ Develop preset which includes: Contrast at +5, Shadows at +15, Whites at +15, Clarity at +20, Vibrance at +12 and Saturation at +8. In most cases, minor additional editing was done in Develop mode.

This lens is replacing my older F-mount Nikkor AF-S 300mm f4E PF VR lens that I was using with a Nikon FTZ adapter. While that 300mm is no slouch, I knew it would go up for sale as soon as something similar was released in the Z mount S series, and that day has come. Having shot a number of really good F mount lense, I think that for my uses the new Z mount S series glass is superior and a whole level above the old glass in nearly all regards.

To those extents, my assumptions about this new Z 400mm f4.5 VR S held true. I found the lens to yield exceptional image quality with an extremely fast and accurate focusing ability. From a use and portability perspective it’s practically the same size and weight as the Z 70-200 f2.8VR S, which is also an exceptional lens. Granted, it is a special lens that requires a lot of room to use it effectively, but it’s one that I’ll certainly get excited to use when the appropriate situation allows. To sum it up, shooting the Z9 and Z 400mm f4.5VR S makes me feel like I’m Thor wielding Mjölnir.

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

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