Nikon 400mm f/2.8 at Flamingo Gardens
David Kipper loaned me his Nikon 400mm f/2.8 AF-S ED lens quite a few weeks ago. I've been trying to find an excuse to get out and use it, but have been really busy. When I wasn't busy, that good 'ol Florida summer rain came to wash away any hope of a shoot. Well, the skies cleared, the sun came out, and Andre and I went 'a shootin'. We met up at the shop to throw some gear together and head over to Flamingo Gardens .
We packed up the 400 first, then figured we'd bring a few other goodies as well. Along came the Nikon 200mm f/2 VR, which is a great lens in its own right, the 1.4x, 1.7x, and the 2.0x Nikon teleconverters. We also figured that even though this was a Nikon long glass shoot, any day worth shooting is worth shooting Leica. We threw in the R9/DMR, the incomparable Leica 180 f/2 APO, the 70-180 APO, and the 100 f/2.8 APO Macro, along with the 2.0x APO extender. It was an APO kinda day, what can I say?
After grabbing a Gitzo 1327 Mountaineer with my favorite head, the Gitzo 1376M Offset ballhead and the daddy of all monopods, the Gitzo 1588, we were off to shoot. Luckily, we packed everything in a Delsey Pro trolley (wheels are nice).
First stop was the flamingo area. I started shooting the Leica 180 APO. Because of the quirky v1.2 firmware (I forgot to reinstall v1.1 before we left), I found my exposures were a bit wonky. I switched to manual and became good at guessing (didn't bring my meter with me). Andre set up the tripod and started with the 400 on the D2X. We had planned to meet up with Dennis Paul a.k.a. Nikon Denny, and sure enough, there he was on the other side of the pond. He was shooting with his D200 and 300 f/4 ED, a very underrated lens in my opinion. A minute later Jon Graham came by donning his M7. We officially had a convention.
After shooting a few with the Leica, I traded off and took my turn with the D2X. Out on the flamingos' island, about 50 feet away, we spotted a serious looking iguana. I threw the 2x teleconverter on for an 800mm f/5.6 combo (1200mm equiv. on D2X). This is one sweet lens. It whips into focus instantly, despite its 10lbs size. The viewfinder image was crisp and stunning, even at 5.6. Even with about 13lbs on it, the offset ball held its own. I like to keep the pan control totally loose and the ball just tight enough to stabilize the camera. Smooth and steady. Who said you need a fluid head to hold the big stuff? At under $300, this head rocks. Oh yeah, and the iguana pics turned out pretty damn decent. The 2.0x took a bit of edge off the 400, but not much.
We got our shots and moved on to a swampy, large pond area with trees all around. It was like a little piece of the Everglades. One thing I learned quick. Shooting at a 1200mm equiv, you have to keep your shutter speed up. I have lots of soft images shot around 350th and 500th of a sec. What works for a 300 doesn't for this guy. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for "real" wildlife photographers. Tracking birds in flight with a setup like this is not an easy task. Waiting for them to give you the proper expression is even more demanding. Andre and I both realized we just don't have the patience for this kind of thing. Fun occasionally, yes, professionally, no.
An ibis (I'm told...not so good with birding) landed on the coin-op feed dispenser at the railing of the shooting platform. We figured he had positive results from this tactic before. For a subject five feet in front of me, the Nikon was way too long. I switched off back to the Leica DMR and the 180 APO. Shooting handheld, and loving shooting wide open at f/2, I got up close and personal with our feathered friend. I do love how the DMR holds the highlights. Of the cameras I've used, the Leica has the best whites I've seen. Really nice, clean whites with lots of detail and almost no blow out, even in high contrast lighting like we had.
Deciding not to be dinner in addition to lunch for a bunch of hungry mosquitos hanging around the pond, we trekked on. While I shot some action shots of giant tortises, Andre got some killer shots of a large lizard on an elevated shots with the Leica.
We headed to the aviary, where it was feeding time. This is not a good time to shoot. All the birds are all thinking about one thing, and it wasn't posing for us hot and weary photogs. After we checked out the bald eagles, we checked out. Four hours in mid-90's temperatures carting around entirely too much gear, we sought out more air conditioned pastures. So we gave up early, but we did live to tell the tale and shoot another (hopefully cooler) day. Looking at the pictures, you may realize I shot everything, Nikon and Leica both, wide-open. Why wouldn't I? Leica lenses are designed with full aperature shooting in mind, and I'd hope an $8,000+ Nikon lens designed for sports and wildlife would hold its own at 2.8. I was not disappointed.