• Andrew JK Tan

Nikon Z 6 - Does it perform in Winter Wildlife Photography ? Part 1 of 2


I had been anxious & waiting for the opportunity to use the new Nikon mirrorless to photograph wildlife in North Eastern Hokkaido, Japan. Nikon had NOT marketed the Z 6 as an action / wildlife camera.

I had used both the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 to photograph various subjects but I had not really photographed really fast & unpredictable subjects like eagles in extreme environments. From my previous experiences , the new Nikon mirrorless cameras were extremely capable but lacked a little speed in continuous AF tracking if compared to my reference Nikon D850 SLR.

So when I decided to use the Nikon Z 6 as the primary camera , I had my reservations on whether the Z 6 could really track the wildlife and withstand the environment in Hokkaido during winter in January.

CONDITIONS FACED

- temperatures between -2 to -20 DegC

- snow during the photography sessions

- icy conditions

- very strong wind

The pic below shows yours truly in -8 DegC & in snowing conditions on board the Eagle boat. With the wind blowing , it feels more like -10 to -15 DegC.

My standard photography hardware used were the F-mount Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR with FTZ adaptor mounted onto the Nikkor Z 6.

My wardrobe :

- Earmuffs

- Water Resistant Beanie

- -60 DegC water & wind proof gloves (used by local Hokkaido fishermen during winter)

- Base Layer

- Fleece Layer

- Northface winter jacket with integrated Down & Wind resistant outer layer

In "warmer" weather (-2 to -8 DegC) , I would dress down a little more for more comfort and flexibility in movement.

For me , I could do without gloves even when shooting for a good period of time.

You will notice that , I was not using a tripod or a monopod.

For the entire trip , I was shooting hand-held which suited my photography style better.

HARDWARE USED

1. Nikon Z 6 (primary camera for wildlife used with the 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR)

2. Nikon D500 (backup when additional reach was required)

3. Nikon D850 (just in case the Z 6 fails during the trip)

4. Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

5. Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4S

6. Nikkor TC-14EIII (1.4x tele-converter)

7. FTZ adaptor

The GREAT news was that I used the Z 6 for the ENTIRE trip photographing 122GB of images. The D500 was only used to capture 450+ images. Using the Z 6 for the entire trip already sums up my fantastic experience with this camera in a wildlife photography adventure during winter.

Photographing the RED FOXES at NOTSUKE PENINSULA

ISO1250 1/2000s f10.0 700mm focal length (500mm + 1.4x TC)

My Red Fox captures were with the Nikkor TC-14EIII 1.4x TC attached to the Nikkor 200-500mm. Both were then mounted to the Z 6 using the FTZ adaptor and this combo gave me a maximum focal length of 700mm which was needed to capture the very shy & elusive Red Foxes.

1. The setup was light enabling me to hand-hold while photographing & stalking the subject

2. The Z 6 IBIS performed superbly enabling me to capture sharp images

3. Had no problems AF tracking the mobile foxes.

Photographing the EAGLES around FUREN Lake & SHIRETOKO-RAUSU

ISO500 1/2000s f6.3 450mm focal length

ISO400 1/3200s f8.0 480mm focal length

ISO1600 1/1600s f8.0 500mm focal length

This image above shows a pair of White-Tailed Sea Eagles in flight at a great distance. It demonstrates the focus accuracy & details capture capability of the Z 6 with Nikkor 200-500mm combo at the max. focal length range which to me was very impressive.

ISO1600 1/1600s f8.0 500mm focal length

ISO1600 1/1000s f8.0 310mm focal length

ISO400 1/3200s f8.0 480mm focal length

ISO400 1/1600s f8.0 500mm focal length

ISO1600 1/1600s f8.0 300mm focal length

ISO500 1/2500s f6.3 400mm focal length

So as you can see from the Eagle images above , the Z 6 was able to capture the most dynamic action just like I would have if I had used my Nikon D850.

- To be honest I did NOT really miss my D850 but of course the Z 6 was not "perfect" yet

- The Z 6 was less forgiving when I could not place my AF point accurately on the subject

- Would also have liked the AF tracking to be even faster but the Z 6 was capable enough

Photographing the famous BLAKISTON's FISH OWL at SHIRETOKO-RAUSU

ISO6400 1/125s f5.6 450mm to 500mm focal length

ISO6400 1/125s f5.6 450mm to 500mm focal length

ISO6400 1/60s f5.6 450mm to 500mm focal length

I was SO happy to capture this shot of the Owl taking off. You can't see from the image but in real life at the actual scene , I could just make out the owl perched on the branch as it was dark. I pre-focused on the Owl (hoping that it was accurate) and triggered the shutter just before the owl took off. Take note that my shutter speed was only 1/60s and yet I froze the wings reasonably well & action quite nicely, thanks to the Z 6's 12FPS shooting speed and my timing was perfect (lucky in terms of timing)

ISO6400 1/125s f5.6 450mm to 500mm focal length

ISO6400 1/125s f5.6 450mm to 500mm focal length

The Nikon Z 6 performed BRILLIANTLY capturing the Owl action. I had shot this same owl with my Nikon D4 in 2013 and I can say that the Nikon Z 6 outperformed the D4 in all areas. One of the photographers with me on this trip was using a Nikon D500 and he mentioned that my captures had better clarity , focus & sharpness. He was using the same ISO & the same Nikkor lens.

IN SUMMARY (Part 01)

- The AF Tracking was definitely capable even with very fast & unpredicatable motion

- Details & image quality captured were top notch

- I never once had to rely on my D500 or D850 DSLRs & that does say a lot about the Z 6

- Ergonomics of the Z 6 was great

- Low Light / Low contrast AF could still be improved further (to match D850 / D5)

- Continuous AF tracking speed could still be improved further

That's all for Part 01. Do wait for Part 02 where I share more on my AF settings & the Nikon Z 6's performance.

Cheers,

Andrew

#NikonZ6 #Hokkaido #Wildlife #Nikkor200500