Photographing Tigers with the Nikon Z9

Photographing Tigers with the Z9 by Des Ong (website | Facebook | Instagram, see also his previous guest posts):

I must confess that I did not practice what I regularly preach to my guests, to not bring an unfamiliar camera to a long-haul trip. I received my Z9 late last year and I hadn’t used it much other than doing some hide/blind sessions at the farm where I conduct workshops.

Fast forward to early January, it was time to head to India with a group of guests. Within 20 minutes of the very first session, we came across a beautiful Indian Leopard relaxing on a tree branch. Luckily for me, she was sedentary and thus did not pose much of a challenge. I took a good number of shots and refocused every time I recomposed.

I learned a trick whereby you set one of the buttons to zoom in 100% for a more accurate focus. I did this a few times to make sure that I was on point. In doing so I also noticed that the camera was not always on the money. If I hadn’t checked, I would probably end up with a good number of out-of-focus shots. I was using wide-area autofocus with animal eye tracking at this stage.

A little while later, we encountered our first Bengal Tiger. I continued to use this mode on the moving target and had very mixed results. I was a little surprised at the inconsistent focus considering that the subject was slow-moving and was relatively large in the frame.

On the next day, I decided to try 3D with the animal eye focus. This gave me a much higher keep rate. I also found that it worked particularly well when the tigers were moving towards me. I would say that the keep rate was close to 90%.

I was using the 400mm f/2.8E FL VR with an FTZII converter, as well as teleconverters on occasion. Nikon UK was not able to get the Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S to me in time before I departed. Still, I am very grateful for them to loan me the former on short notice.

I noticed that the VR was a little jumpy when used handheld and I am fairly convinced that it does not focus as fast and as accurately as even my Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S. This of course is just my observation in that particular situation. I suspect that the native Z 400mm f/2.8 would perform a lot better with the Z9.

One of the features that I was most looking forward to when I switched from a DSLR, was the silent shutter in mirrorless. I just love the idea of being able to work closely with wildlife without disturbing them. However, I found that it is very easy to unconsciously take more frames than intended. Also, I have set the maximum frame rate of the Z9 to 10 fps. I have found that this was plenty fast enough for most of my applications.

Over the period of our stay, I tried a variety of settings and learned a lot about the characteristics of this new camera. It is so very different from the old DSLR that I had and it will take some time before I fully understand how best to use it.

My first field experience is from a very short trip and any shortcomings were probably down to my unfamiliarity with the new body. I have been a lifelong Nikon digital shooter and my first impression is that the Z9 is a complex marvel of a machine. It is very responsive and I look forward to mastering it in the coming years for my work.

Shooting wildlife with an ancient DSLR camera – by Des Ong

My experience of using “consumer” optics, professionally

From snowy mountains to tropical rainforest (part 1)

From Snowy Mountains to Tropical Rainforest (part 2)

Using the Nikon D810 for wildlife photography

Wildlife photography: from Coolpix 4200 to Nikon D3s and every camera in between

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