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Zoofari

by Mark Alberhasky, August 11, 2013

MTA_130810_3737_blogWith just over 4 weeks until the next IMAGEMA photo safari to Kenya it’s time to be seriously thinking about  camera equipment. Two of my clients live in Atlanta and so I had the opportunity to give them a glimpse into their upcoming experience. Camera gear in tow we headed to the zoo. As is often the case, some safari participants are unfamiliar with super telephoto lenses that deliver impact with wildlife. Many photographers own a 70-200mm lens, but hands on with a Nikon 200-400 f/4 is new ground for most people. It’s valuable for the first time you face off with animals in the wild to also not be your first time handling a relatively large lens. Add to that unfamiliarity  a new DSLR body and the challenge increases exponentially. A prudent rule of thumb is never use new, untested equipment in a situation where the result is important. For that matter it was also a good time to break in new hiking shoes they’d bought for the trip!

As you’d expect, when encountering the first few subjects there were bumps in the road. But by the time we got to the primate area in the zoo we’d made good progress. Enough so that I took the opportunity to shoot some myself. Ironically, the subject I trained my lens on won’t even be on the list where we visit Kenya, so it was exciting to photograph my first silverback gorilla. While a bit reserved as he sat some thirty yards away behind a stand of bushes, he was in great light against a dark background and gave us some good variations as he kept tabs on both the crowd and the other gorillas in his habitat.

Yesterday as I was browsing one of my favorite resource photo websites, www.dpreview.com, I came upon a thread of comments disparaging Nikon System 1 in general, and the V2 camera specifically. It was clear from reading the remarks that most of the editorial chatter was from photographers who have never even shot the camera. Based on specifications online, they’ve concluded Nikon’s choice to use a 1″ CX sensor doomed the camera to irrelevance. Many also love to bash the V2’s body design. I really think they’re missing the boat. I’ve intentionally put up quite a large file on this post so when you click on the image you’ll get a dose of what V2 output can be  (still not a full resolution file BTW). No, it’s not the ‘bottomless’ detail of a D800, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) it cost a third of the price of that DSLR and works with lenses that offer a huge range of choices to a photographer at any level. The kit lenses are downright inexpensive by equipment standards but produce surprising quality, especially some of the newer designs (see previous posts). Using the FT-1 adaptor allows you access to many Nikon DSLR lenses and the 2.7x conversion factor turns their effective focal length into an entirely new perspective for most shooters: super telephoto. Personal taste aside (though I find the V2’s cosmetics very cool), the ergonomics of this camera make it a pleasure to shoot. The robust finger grip and light weight, even with the FT-1 and a DSLR lens, make it eminently hand holdable. The image above proves a number of these points. Consider the metadata:

Nikon V2 body, Nikon 70-200 VR f/4 lens on FT-1 adaptor, ISO 800, 1/100th of a second handheld at f/4

Because I was leaning on the rail surrounding the habitat, I was pretty confident I could minimize camera shake. Although the shutter speed breaks every rule for a focal length of 540mm and the lens was shot wide open, the result is still pretty damn sharp. The depth of field is beautiful as it separates the silver back from the foreground bushes and the distant background. And here’s my favorite point about System 1… compare my full image perspective to the D800 shooter at my shoulder with a Nikon 200-400 f/4.

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His was made with $10,000  of equipment and about 10 lbs of weight supported on a monopod. Yet the perspective my V2 and 70-200 rendered trumped his capture (540mm vs 400mm). Yes, it’s true the D800 file has enough quality to crop to the same perspective, but that’s missing some of the points, like dollars saved and energy not spent carrying ‘professional’ weight equipment. I recently consulted with two photographers this week leaving soon for Africa to visit gorillas in the wild. We discussed equipment options because the man and his wife have long, arduous hikes in store to reach their photographic quarry. For exactly the reasons illustrated in this post, System 1 and the V2 are a great choice for a Nikon DSLR shooter (or any photo enthusiast) in this setting. The naysayers can stick to their guns and insist on larger sensors, but larger sensors mean larger lenses and decreasing effective focal length. Sometimes those advantages simply outweigh the benefits (pun intended). It also needn’t be an either or choice. The D800 or other Nikon DSLR owner can also simply think of the V2 body simply as the most unique teleconverter in their camera bag. Lightweight and with no loss in lens speed, it can nearly triple the effective focal length of their Nikon glass. They can then have the best of both worlds: DSLR quality when they want it and surprising quality and extreme focal length when they need it. And there will be days, every serious photographer has them, where the V2 and a diminutive kit lens is all they really want to carry.

OK, time to get off the soapbox. With my Atlanta ‘Zoofari’ shoot behind me I’m ready to prepare for one of the ultimate safari destinations: Kenya.

 

Mark Alberhasky is a Nikon Mentor for the Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks.

Join him as he travels and share his enthusiasm for photography and learning.