Yes that’s right folks, I am a Nikon guy. I have been Nikon my entire professional life and rely on their gear to react as fast as I do and keep going despite the punishment dished out upon it.
Whilst I do have friends at Nikon and history with them and their pro department I have no actual ties to them behind the scenes and regularly evaluate the equipment landscape from all other companies. Each and every time I do I am firmly reminded of why I chose them in the first place and remain very pleased with their current digital line up.
Simply put it lets me get my job done and that is what counts in my book.
The mini speed machine. Fresh out of the Nikon labs this camera released in mid 2016 took a few by surprise. In the same style as the D300 before it, this camera offers a DX (crop) sensor in a smaller body with a huge chunk of the speed and power offered by the larger D5 series cameras.
Featuring a plentiful 21 megapixels this camera really does deliver on all fronts. Powering through shots with a 200 (yes 200) frame raw buffer when using the ultra zippy XQD cards at a great 10 frames per second with full autofocus and metering. Even more impressively this camera offers the exact same 153 point auto focus system found on it’s bigger brother the Nikon D5, including the new dedicated AF processing chip.
Whilst smaller than the D5 range of cameras, the body is tough, weather sealed and great in the hand. The built in flash has been removed for extra robustness.
My first shoot with the D500 was a roaring success with Little Owls in Wiltshire. They are super fast, tiny rockets and to capture them reliably in flight is a real challenge for both the photographer and camera. The new AF was every bit impressive as the results I achieved with the Nikon D5. Tracking was the joint best I have seen (alongside that D5) and sharp, sharp, sharp even on the unforgiving longer 400mm and 800mm lenses.
Image quality is top notch, taking may queues from the slower D7200 which features a much simpler body and slower speed but wonderful image quality. With the D500 I get all the best bits from the D5 in a smaller body as well as that crop factor to get me a little closer to the action. The low light, high iso images are great and not too far behind the full frame D5. Certainly useable (professionally, I have to sell buy images) in pretty much any lighting condition. Dynamic range is also top notch, boosting shadows reveals little to no noise.
The D500 is in my opinion, as of the moment the best all round wildlife camera. The only times I leave it in the bag are when use of my ultra wide lenses are called for (the 14-24 for example). A full frame sensor will make for a much more dramatic image thanks to the lack of crop factor from the 35mm format. Other than that though I often grab this one out before the bigger D4/5 bodies if I am using a long lens. It’s that good.
Nikon D3 & D4S
The speed demons. The D3 was the last camera in recent memory to push well ahead of the pack at the time and truly ushered in the new era of low light photography that we all currently enjoy today. The D2X was by no means a slouch but the D3 really kicked it into high gear trouncing all others significantly and brought full frame (35mm) sensors to the Nikon range for the first time. The fact I still use it (and have images from it accepted by my demanding agents) is a testament to the longevity of their pro gear.
Whilst the playing field has since levelled a little, the D4(s) continues this tradition. The near unlimited raw shooting buffer as well as a slew of other smaller changes really ups the game at the pro end of the DSLR spectrum. For me the D4S is the best all rounder for wildlife photography bar none although the Nikon D5 has just been announced so we shall see.
The D# series is aimed at photographers who have to react to rather than arrange their subjects and they do this very well. The larger integrated grip body alongside the lightning fast AF, shutter and response really does a fantastic job of making the photographer the weakest link in the chain. Fully weather sealed, my D# bodies have been dropped, rolled, soaked, bitten, pooped on and generally abused and have never let me down.
If you are not a mega pixel peeping obsessed forum junkie (and you shouldn’t be), then this camera offers everything you can get from a camera (and even still, 16mp is actually a lot of resolution in practical terms). If I absolutely have to get the shot on pain of death, I will always reach for a D# series camera. Cheap they aren’t but they last (my D3 is still doing sterling work for me alongside the newer D4S). If you do have a penchant for pixels however, that leads me to my next camera in the bag…
Smaller and slower than the D4S but packing one hell of a wallop.
The whopping 36 megapixel sensor broke ground again, pushing 35mm DSLR resolution into medium format territory. When announced it was widely thought that the non resolution aspects of the image quality (iso performance, dynamic range etc) would be severely hampered. This proved not to be the case and even to this day it remains top of the pile for image quality and with the recent revision in the form of the D810 sits top of the pile for technical image quality.
When super quick-fire gunning of the shutter is not required I reach for the D800. I am not a megapixel junkie but there is no denying that if you can nab those pixels for a shot, then all the better.
The superb dynamic range (Nikons really work well when boosting the shadows in the raw files) and colour reproduction is amazing. The increased resolution gives me more room to crop. This eliminates the need for me to fiddle with annoying teleconverters that slow the AF down and soften the image.
Build quality is great as usual with weather sealing and a metal structure underneath. Focus is quick and accurate although you need to take a little more care with your technique as 36 megapixels really shows up any flaws. Top quality glass is also a must to get the most from this camera.
Sure the file sizes are huge, but hard drives and memory cards are cheap nowadays and if you need to push files out in a great hurry (photojournalists, sports shooters and the like) this isn’t the choice of camera for you. However alongside the D# series it make a fantastic addition to my kit. The default go to for landscapes without question and if the situation isn’t high tension trigger finger kind of stuff, this camera will likely be in my hand.
The little action camera that has slowly been taking over the world.
Often a fun way to capture interesting angles in situations that most cameras dare to tread. I initially purchased one for use on a small remote controlled car to get up close and personal with some Lions in preparation for a bigger project I am hoping to start in 2016. I was keen to see how the Lions (especially the juveniles) would react. The result was hilarious involving an hour and a half chase to retrieve the camera back from the cheeky swine that nicked it!
Young Lion running off with a GoPro camera in its mouth
They are tough, small, come with great mounts for cars and other contraptions and deliver great stills (albeit in jpeg) and video.
I have also seen these used by many productions and conservation teams to track and film animals in ways that traditional methods just couldn’t achieve in the wild. A Fantastic and fun little bit of kit.