Wildlife and nature with the Nikon Z6

The Nikon Z6 (and its sister Z7) has now been out for just over 10 months and has had one major firmware upgrade in that time, adding functionality and performance enhancements.

For the past two weeks I have been shooting exclusively with the Z6, provided courtesy of Nikon Professional Services.

There are many purely technical reviews available online providing details of the cameras specifications and offering a range of opinions as to its suitability for various tasks. I even started to read one ‘review’ only to discover after a few paragraphs that the writer had not actually handled the camera at all but was basing his opinions solely on the published specifications! IMHO technical reports do little to inform the photographer, it is real world, hands-on use that will inform the most.

Specifications

But, for the sake of clarity, here are the technical specifications, although this article is far more about actually using the camera in a real world situation:

Please note I do not include movie specifications here as they do not form part of this review.

24.5 megapixel CMOS sensor, size full frame (FX)
1 x XQD card slot (support for FastCF cards when released)
12 FPS (at full resolution)
ISO 100 – 51,200 (auto ISO available – see more on this below)
3.2: rear monitor (tilting) with touch sensitivity
OLED electronic viewfinder with 100% coverage and eye sensor to automatically switch between rear monitor and viewfinder
Z Mount for lenses. F mount lenses with adapter
Electronic shutter 1/8000 to 30 sec
Autofocus – Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist – 273 (single-point AF)
AF modes –
Pinpoint, Single-Point, Dynamic-area AF, Wide-area AF (S), Wide-area AF (L), Auto-area AF (Pinpoint and Dynamic-area AF available in photo mode only)
Vibration reduction – built-in with 5-axis sensor shift
Weight 585g

For complete specs including movie go to – https://en.nikon.ca/nikon-products/product/mirrorless-cameras/z-6.html?

Handling

My first impression on unboxing the camera was wow, this is a lightweight piece of gear. It weighs in at a mere 585g compared to the D850, my current workhorse DSLR, that tips the scales at 915g, body only. Once you add the MB-D18 battery grip to get up to 9fps along with an EL-18c battery you are now up to 1,520g.

The majority of my wildlife work tends to be with long telephoto lenses, primarily  the 500mm f4 and 200-400 f4 which are already weighty beasts, so it was a pleasure to be able to reduce the overall weight when walking any distance. However, I did find the lighter weight of the Z6 a real challenge when mounting a super telephoto on my Flexshooter Pro head. It was almost impossible to get a good balance, the rig was constantly forward heavy. Maybe a longer foot on the lens to allow one to shift the balance point farther back would solve this problem.

Hand holding was at first also somewhat challenging. Trying to follow a bird in flight was a very different experience to what I am used to with a heavier DSLR. However, after a couple of days practice I got used to the different balance and by the end of two weeks I was actually getting as many sharp images as with my D50

Which bring us to one of the main questions – is the Z6 good enough all-around as an action camera? My answer is (with some minor reservations), a definitive “YES”. I have read reports that have indicated that the autofocus is lacking on accuracy and slower than in the D5 and D850. This was not my experience once I figured out how to set things up for the optimum performance.

In the review below I have concentrated on using the Z6 along with the FTZ adapter, as currently there are no supertelephoto Z mount lenses available.

Autofocus

The Z6 offers a range of autofocus options. The Z6’s Single AF mode features a choice of Auto-area, Wide-area (with either small or large focusing areas) and Single-point modes. Single point mode can be further refined to offer pinpoint focusing , which as its name suggests uses a tiny area of the available focus points to achieve a sharp image.

I had been experimenting shooting shorebirds with Single AF with auto area with considerably mixed results, some razor sharp others, well, just not acceptably sharp. Then I decided to try pinpoint, which immediately solved the problem. Just about every image was razor sharp (I accept operator rather than camera error in some cases), and I could put the focus spot directly over the eye of the subject. In addition, in this mode the focus spot turns green  when focus is achieved.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) foraging on beach

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 900 (auto ISO), 1/2000th @ f5.6. Exposure +0.7 from metered value. Focusing by pinpoint positioned on eye

That’s all well and good for fairly static subjects but for moving subjects select AF-C to achieve continuous focus. In this mode you again have the choice of single point (but no pinpoint), wide area small, wide area large, and dynamic which continually tracks your subject as it moves around the frame. I tried all these modes on the Z6 and was pleased to find the accuracy and speed of autofocus little different from my DSLRs.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) hovering over a pond

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 360 (auto ISO), 1/2500th @ f6.3 Focusing by wide area small.

This is contrary to some other online reports I have read, but, when delving deeper into the negative reports they often share one feature. The tests were done with non-Nikon glass, i.e. independent brand lenses. Does this shed some light on the problem?

My menu settings for the Z6 for autofocus are the same as for my DSLR’s.

AF-S priority set to focus
AF-C priority set to release
Autofocus activation set to AF-ON only (I prefer to have the shutter button take the photo and focus with the AF-ON button on the rear of the camera.)

Auto Exposure

Exposure is one of the things that sets a mirrorless camera apart from its DSLR cousins. With the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) what you see is what you get. In other words as you alter exposure parameters the EVF adjusts to a good approximation of how the final image will be exposed. In addition, you can also set up to see a histogram displayed in the EVF further aiding in exposure.

For much of my photography I am now taking advantage of Auto ISO. With the latest generation of cameras, the Z6 included, high ISO images are not a problem. I have no hesitation up to ISO 1600 where necessary with little or no post-production noise reduction required. Even at 3200 and 6400 an acceptable image can still be produced, albeit with a bit of tweaking in post. I use Capture One 12 for the majority of  my post production work.

Auto ISO allows you to set both the desired aperture and shutter speed, and the camera will set an appropriate ISO setting. To achieve this I shoot almost all my wildlife images in manual mode, use the auto ISO setting to select the ISO, and use exposure compensation if necessary to achieve the correct exposure. The beauty of the Z6 is that as you adjust the exposure compensation you can see the effect on the exposure in the EVF.

Shortcomings of the EVF

Whilst on the subject of the EVF and its advantages, this also highlighted my one main reservation with this camera. That was the slight lag for the EVF to turn on as you raised the camera to your eye. For the majority of shooting this was not a problem, but there was more than one occasion when a bird in flight appeared suddenly, and I missed the first, and often critical, opportunity as the bird flew by waiting for the fraction of a second for the EVF to light up.

Once I got the focus point on the subject in the viewfinder the focus tracking locked on with great accuracy, but using the EVF certainly does take a bit of getting used to.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 500 (auto ISO), 1/1000th @ f5.6 Focusing by wide area small.

Battery Life

Nikon gives a rating of 340 shots per full charge of the EN-EL 15b battery. I found this to be a gross underestimate of the actual capacity. Most days I shot well over 300 images and still had at least 50% battery remaining. This in spite of the fact that I used the EVF 100% of the time I was shooting, which should, in theory, have more battery drain.

Incidentally, you can use previous versions of the  EN-EL battery but these will not charge in-camera via the USB cord.

The single card slot debate

Okay, no review can be complete without mention of the contentious debate around the single XQD card slot. Here is my take – get over it! For the last 10 years I have had Nikon DSLRs with two card slots. In the early days I used the second slot as an overflow, simply because the available cards at that time were low capacity compared to today. Since larger cards became available, I have rarely put a card in the second slot.

How many images have I lost due to this reckless behaviour? Precisely none. I have never had a card fail in camera. Maybe I have just been lucky. I have left cards in pockets that have gone through washing machine cycles, I have left cards in press offices that have ‘disappeared’ when covering major sports, and have lost more than one when out in the wilds, but I re-iterate, I have never had a card fail in camera. Incidentally I use only Lexar and Sandisk CF cards.

There are two slots available in my Nikon D850, one XQD and one SD. I do not even own a suitable SD card for this camera. I again rely on well-known brands for my cards, for XQD I use Sony and Delkin cards.

Image Quality

In short, image quality is outstanding. After all’s said and done, whatever the tech specs of the camera you are using it is the final output that matters. Fine detail is well preserved, even at higher ISOs, with great dynamic range. Colours are accurate (assuming good exposure) which means far less post-production work. However, I did find the Z6 a little less tolerant of exposure mistakes. Making a large exposure correction results in more noise than a similar exposure correction with an image from the D850.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
100% unsharpened crop of original

Nikon Z6, Nikon 500mm f4 with TC14 converter (effective focal length 700mm) mounted with FTZ adaptor, ISO 2200 (auto ISO), 1/2500th @ f5.6. Exposure +0.3 from metered value. As you can see even at ISO 

All images are shot as raw 14 bit.

I firmly believe that mirrorless cameras are the future of photography and that we will see huge progress in the near future. I don’t think I’ll ever be buying another DSLR, although I am not yet ready to completely ditch my D850.

The Nikon Z6 will prove to be the perfect second camera for my day-to-day outfit, and, when I want to go lightweight, would be my first choice of body.

Disclaimer

I am not directly connected, nor employed, by Nikon. I am a long-time Nikon user (35years+) and a member of NPS (Nikon Professional Services)

 

 

 

Making travel just a bit easier

In recent years travelling with camera gear has been an increasing problem as carry-on requirements become more restrictive, and actual application of weight limits more regularly applied. Indeed, when travelling to Turkmenistan on Tukish Airlines they were actually asking me to buy an extra seat if I wanted to take my Thinktank Roller as cabin baggage. After much argument and telling them I would prefer to return home they finally relented and allowed me on board but it was certainly a touch and go situation. (On the return journey I wore my photo vest to get on the plane and loaded it up with cameras and lenses to educe the weight of my rolling bag to below the limit, and, of course my bag was not weighed)

One of the problems is that in addition to the weight of the gear itself, there is the added weight of the bag or box that it is in. My Pelican hard case shipping box weighs 17.6lbs, before I put anything in it. That’s already a fair percentage of the 50lbs per bag limit. My Thinktank Airport International rolling bag that I use for all International flights as my carry-on weighs 11.5 lbs empty. Weight restrictions for carry-on varies tremendously between airlines (check yours before you go) but some restrict to around 20lbs – that means my empty bag accounts for half of that.

I was therefore very interested to read the announcement by Thinktank Photo that they have a new version of the rolling bag for International travel that weighs in at just 7.5 lbs yet still offers Thinktanks superb protection of your valuable equipment.

Specifications

Interior Dimensions:
13.3” W x 18” H x 6.5–7.5” D (33.8 x 45.7 x 16.5–19.1 cm)
Exterior Dimensions:
14” W x 21” H x 8” D (35.6 x 53.3 x 20.3 cm)
Laptop Compartment:
13.8” x 17.3” x 2” (35 x 44 x 5 cm)
Tablet Compartment:
10” x 10” x 1.6” (25.4 x 25.4 x 4 cm)
Weight:
7–7.8 lbs. (3.18–3.59 kg)

As I move toward smaller and lighter DSLR’s (I will travel with my D850 without the additional grip) and mirrorless bodies that are of course considerably lighter than their DSLR counterparts, I hope this will make future travel a less stressful and more pleasurable experience.

Get your new Airport Advantage XT by clicking here and get free shipping and an additional free gift from Thinktank.

 

Photographing Shorebirds

As we move into September the Southern migration of shorebirds is in full swing. The main way station beaches are full of life as these long distance travellers rest and fuel up for their long journeys, in some cases thousands of miles well into South America, but photographing shorebirds can present some challenges.


Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) foraging on beach Cherry Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/800th sec, @ f7.1 with aperture priority mode with ISO 400, + 1.3 stops exposure compensation

It can be difficult to get frame filling shots, even with the longest of lenses as the majority of shorebirds tend to be nervous, quick movers and relatively small. Maybe this is in part due to their habit of wanting to use the same beaches popular with humans, resulting in constant disturbance from their feeding areas, and, not least by dog owners who find great amusement in allowing their pets to chase the birds.

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) foraging along shoreline, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/800 sec, @ f5.6 manual mode with Auto ISO active at ISO 500 with + 1.3 stops exposure compensation from metered value

To stay away from the crowds I get out early and late, coinciding with the best light of the day. The other thing I check out is the state of the tides. High tide tends to be poor as there is little sand and mud for the birds to feed on. Low tide is much more productive and the best of all is when the incoming tide coincides with the early or late period.

 

Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) foraging along shoreline, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/2500th sec, @ f5.6 manual mode with Auto ISO active at ISO 400

The reason for this is it’s the easiest way to get close action. By getting in position well back from the flocks of feeding birds and getting low to the ground the birds will totally ignore me. Then I just let the incoming tide bring my subjects to me until I am forced to move.

Getting low also gives a much more natural perspective, in fact a birds eye view!

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) Cherry Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/640th sec, @ f8, ISO 800, aperture priority mode, + 2/3 stop exposure compensation from metered value off wet sand

Identification of shorebirds can be a real challenge, especially at this time of year when breeding plumage is being shed for their winter look, many of the birds now looking incredibly similar. One should make a habit of making a note of behaviour of each of your subjects as you shoot them, especially when working with mixed flocks. The relative size of each species is much easier to determine when they are stood close rather than in trying to determine the size of a single bird in a photo. I highly recommend ‘The Shorebird Guide by O’Brian, Crossley and Karlson’ for help in identifications as this book attempts to provide details on each different plumage and between the sexes.

Birds in flight

For shorebirds in flight I have given up trying to work from a tripod. They move so fast that it’s almost impossible to keep them individual birds in the frame, although much easier when shooting the vast flocks that can form.

Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), in flight, Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 500mm f4 lens + TC14 (700mm), 1/1250 sec, @ f8, ISO 400, aperture priority mode, + 1/3 stop exposure compensation from metered exposure off sea

I handhold the Nikon 500mm, both with and without the TC-14 converter. The Nikon D850 bodies I am now using are remarkably accurate at locking on to these fast moving subjects and retaining focus. Use a fast shutter speed, keep your vibration reduction turned on, and swing the lens rapidly with the subject, ensuring you keep the lens moving the whole time you are shooting.

For fast moving birds in flight I keep a minimum shutter speed of 1/2000th second, stop down to f5.6 to give a little extra depth of field and use auto ISO in manual mode to ensure my shutter speed does not drop. In fact, I am finding myself using auto ISO more and more.

Mixed flock of shorebirds in flight Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikon 500mm f4 lens, 1/1600th sec, @ f5.6 manual mode with Auto ISO active at ISO 200

When setting out to the beach for shorebirds you need to be ready for other subjects that may suddenly present themselves  a couple of days ago I was heading over the stone berm leading to Cherry Hill Beach when a sudden flurry of movement in the water attracted my attention. This turned out to be a Blue Shark in the surf right up by the beach. You just never know what might turn up!

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) in surf close to beach, Cherry Hill Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3, Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lens, at 200mm, 1/1000th @ f5, ISO 800, aperture priority automatic

Workshop news

I will soon be announcing the first workshop series since I have arrived in Nova Scotia. These will include classroom workshops for post-production work using Lightroom, Capture One and Photoshop and the always popular  ‘digital workflow’ where you will learn the complete process involved for every one of my images from camera to final archive. Spring 2020 will see several practical ‘in the field’ workshops learning a variety of photography techniques.

 

To see a wider selection of new photos go to the Recent Images gallery. This is updated regularly.

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Nikon D3 for sale – SOLD

This item is sold – there will be another available soon

I have one of my Nikon D3’s for sale.

Body only (no lens) in excellent condition. No dings, or scratches other than a couple of small wear marks on top of pentaprism. Regularly serviced by Nikon. Sold complete with two EN-EL4a batteries, charger and Sandisk Extreme Pro 16GB compact flash card.

If interested please send me an email at peter@peterllewellyn.com

 

Sharpness issues

I have recently been having real difficulties with getting really sharp images with my 500mm f4 lens. I have tried different camera bodies and re-calibrated the lens using Lens align with Focaltune software, with each of them, both with and without the TC-14 teleconverter I regularly use, with no real sense of the problem.

Then I spent a couple of hours on Cherry Beach shooting shorebirds, both foraging along the tide line and birds in flight at varying distances. On examining the images in Photomechanic the light suddenly went on! All the images shot at closer distances were sharp, most of those beyond about 40 feet were decidedly not, yet occasionally even an image further out would be sharp as a pin.

 

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) grabs a worm while foraging on beach, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3s, Nikon 500mm f4, Gitzo tripod with Flexshooter head. 1/1250th @ f5.6, ISO 400

Obviously the issue was not with the camera bodies but decidedly funky behaviour form the lens, so it’s on it’s way to Nikon service in Toronto.

This left me with a problem as I have been waiting several days watching a nearby Osprey nest as the youngsters were obviously very close to taking their first flights. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity yesterday I grabbed the 200-400mm f4 zoom with the 1.4 converter and hoped that I would have enough reach if there was any action.

Sure enough almost as soon as I arrived I could see the two youngsters were testing their flight skills, launching themselves a few feet above the nest and hovering on outstretched wings before landing neatly back on the nest. By adding the TC-14 converter, zooming in to the 400mm setting I was able to get a focal length of 560mm and by stopping down to f8 to give me a little more depth of field and sharpness came away with a good set of usable images.

Young Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) tests it’s wings while learning to fly at nest on artificial nesting perch, Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D3s, Nikon 200-400 f4 zoom + TC-14 converter (effective focal length 560mm), Gitzo Tripod with Flexshooter head, 1/1600th @ f8, ISO 320

To see a wider selection of new photos go to the Recent Images gallery. This is updated regularly.

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Nova Scotia Wildlife photography

Back to Canada

Nova Scotia Wildlife photography
An Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) which is Nova Scotia’s provincial bird, sittiing on a nest, Hydro power station, Annapolis River, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada,

As many will know my wife and I have spent the last 20 months living in Mexico but, for a variety of reasons, have now returned to Canada. I am now based in Nova Scotia and will be concentrating on the local wildlife scene and also getting back to running a series of workshops and field trips, more on that to follow soon.

Nova Scotia Wildlife photography
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) perched in tree, Annapolis Royal Marsh, French Basin trail, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada
Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 lens +tc 14 converter, 1/1600th @ f8, ISO 800

Although currently in temporary accommodation on the North shore of Nova Scotia near Annapolis Royal, I am beginning to get out and doing a bit of shooting. Regular posts will once again start appearing on Instagram @peterllewellynphoto and you can also keep up to date with more images by regularly checking the Latest images gallery.

Nova Scotia Wildlife photography
A young North America porcupine, (Erethizon dorsatum), Upper Clements, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada
Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 lens TC 14 converter, 1/250th @ f5.6, ISO 1250

At the end of the May I will be moving to my new home on the South shore of Nova Scotia where there is a wealth of wildlife and nature opportunities, along with some amazing scenery, and UNESCO world heritage sites.

Nova Scotia Wildlife photography
Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) towing a fresh catkin to it’s lodge, Annapolis Royal Marsh, French Basin trail, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada
Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 lens, 1/1000th @ f8, ISO 1000

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Photo Mechanic 6

The long awaited Photo Mechanic 6 has now been released and I have been using it extensively for the past week. As many will know, Photo Mechanic is an essential part of my workflow for all my images, both sport and wildlife and is my program for culling outtakes and captioning every image that I shoot.

The new version is a big step forward, primarily in speed with a few added functions.

Incidentally all settings from Photo Mechanic 5 will be automatically ported across into the new version.

Get a free 30 day trial of the new version, click here

 

What’s new in Photo Mechanic 6

  • 64-bit, Photo Mechanic is now a 64-bit application, which allows more and better caching of images to keep you working at your fastest (no more annoying messsage that Photomechanic will no longer be compatible with future versions of Mac OS)
  • Faster viewing – image caching improvements increases thumbnail / preview generation speed by approximately 2-3x. Instantly start working on images even when a large card is still ingesting.
  • Copy only the images you need from your memory card to your hard drive
  • Fullscreen support on macOS and Windows for both the Contact Sheet and Preview windows (including both at same time on different monitors)
  • Better cropping – A new grid helps you crop to your best composition, then press ‘p’ to preview a crop quickly. (I never use the crop tool in Photomechanic)
  • Better slide shows: Now with multiple transitions including crossfade and add Tag, Color Class or Star Ratings during a Slide Show
  • Hot codes – I regularly use code replacements at major sports events to automatically insert the correct players just by inserting their player number – for a full explanation go here

Photo Mechanic Plus

Photo Mechanic Plus is due for beta release on April 22. This eagerly awaited add-on to the basic Photo Mechanic functions will provide catalog functionality for large numbers of images across multiple locations. If this is as speedy as I hope this maywell indicate a fundamental change in my workflow as I have always been less than happy with the cataloging ability of both Lightroom and Capture One.

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The super blood wolf moon 2019

Last night I spent several hours photographing the 2019 super blood wolf moon. I was lucky to have perfectly clear skies and a warm evening to shoot this amazing phenomenon.

Your camera needs to be locked down on a very sturdy tripod and head as the slightest shake will result in a blurred image due to the huge distance you are shooting over – Some 238,900 miles! Either lock up the mirror on your camera and use the self timer, or use an electronic cable release, or even both.

I started with the full moon around 9.30 pm. Focus on the moon, take a couple of shots to check your focus is spot on and then turn autofocus off , you don’t want the camera to be trying to re-focus for each shot.

Shooting a full moon in a black sky can often completely fool your cameras meter into overexposing the image rendering the moon as a bright white blob in the sky. You can get away with surprisingly high shutter speeds. I start with a test exposure of  1/100th @ f8, ISO 400 – and after a couple of tests just upped the ISO to 500 and felt I was spot on. I set this manually on the camera.

Lunar eclipse, leading to the super blood wolf moon 2019

I continued to shoot an image every 10 minutes each time checking my exposure. As the moon moved into the earth’s shadow it darkened, meaning I had to continually adjust the manual exposure set on the camera. First I lengthened the shutter speed, then opened the aperture, and finally as the moon moved into the red phase I also upped the ISO.

I didn’t worry too much about exactly where the moon was in my frame as my intention was to crop each image to make the sequence shot found at the end of this post.

The image below was shot at 1/320 sec. @ f8 at ISO 800

Lunar eclipse, leading to the super blood wolf moon 2019

As the eclipse begins to turn into the blood moon I need to continue to increase my exposure. For the next image I am at 0.2 sec, f8 ISO 1600

The super blood wolf moon 2019

Finally for the full blood moon my exposure has become 1/4 sec, f 4.5 ISO 2500

The super blood wolf moon 2019

All images were shot with a Nikon 500mm f4 lens on a Gitzo tripod and Arca Swiss ball head.

Finally, for a bit of fun, here is a full sequence of 20 images stitched together in Photoshop representing a time frame of three hours

Multiple images showing the lunar eclipse and The super blood wolf moon 2019

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Photoshop v Lightroom v Capture One as primary editor

First, let’s be clear, I no longer use Lightroom. ( See https://peterllewellyn.com/new-workflow/)

However, I did use Lightroom for many years and, as it’s still the most popular program for handling RAW files, I include it here for comparison

Imaging software 2018, what each program does.

Photoshop

Photoshop has been around as long as digital photography has existed and is the best known of all digital image manipulation programs. Indeed the very word ‘Photoshopped’ has entered the vocabulary to mean a digitally altered photo, even if Photoshop itself was not even involved.

Adobe Photoshop has greatly expanded from it’s original target of photographers and is now used by, graphic designers, publisher, architects and animation studies to name but a few.

Basically, for photographers, Photoshop is a high-end, pixel level editor, and is still often the primary editor used. Indeed many photographers still only use Photoshop for digital editing.

Lightroom

Lightroom, or to give it it’s latest name, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC, is both an image editor, and a digital management system. The very fact that Photoshop is now included in the naming convention is a strong clue that many of Photoshop’s primary functions are included in Lightroom.

As far as digital editing is concerned Lightroom is a non-destructive editor, meaning that no pixel level changes are made to your actual files, changes being stored as simple, editable text files (sidecar files) alongside each image, whereas Photoshop is a pixel based editor where changes are embedded in the file as soon as you hit ‘save’. In fact Lightroom has no save button at all. Edits are kept automatically as you make them.

Capture One 11

Capture One is Phase One’s answer to Lightroom. In the early days of digital I was a user of Apple Aperture. When this was discontinued I was forced to adopt Lightroom as, at the time, there was no real alternative.

Lightroom and Capture One offer many of the same tools. The two programs differ mainly in the user interface and some of the more advanced features.

Frankly it is the initial processing of RAW files that I personally find superior to Lightroom that is the main reason I use Capture One. This is followed by the interface which is more akin to the Aperture look. I dislike Lightroom modular approach and find switching form one module to another in the middle of working to be  drag. Now, in Capture One 11 we have layers, even less images go to Photoshop.

Capture One now offers layers

However, both programs still do a fine job of processing RAW images. (You are using RAW as your format I hope!) It is really a matter of personal preference. As a matter of interest opening a RAW image in Photoshop or Lightroom uses the same engine, Adobe Camera Raw.

Which Program to use when

If you shoot RAW format images then I highly recommend you use Lightroom or Capture One as your primary editor. In fact many of my edits are done solely in Capture One and never get opened in Photoshop. You gain the advantage of non-destructive editing and photo organization at the same time. Lightroom is relatively easy to learn, Capture one a little steeper learning curve, and to use the full feature set of Photoshop plan on spending a lot of time in front of the screen.

However Photoshop does offer numerous features not available in Lightroom or Capture one (yet!)

Advanced retouching is more effectively achieved in Photoshop than either LR or C1. Both offer the ability to output an editable image as a TIFF or PSD to be manipulated in PS then, as soon as you hit save, that new version is imported back into the LR or C1 catalog. In fact, removing blemishes, massive amounts or sensor dust and the like is my main use for Photoshop.

Before Photoshop
Before Photoshop

After Photoshop
After Photoshop

 

It would be impossible to effectively remove the small branches between the Vermillion Flycatcher and the Hummingbird using Lightroom or Capture One. If you are into compositing images, producing HDR, or Panoramas then Photoshop is still the best tool for the job.

My personal workflow

All my images go through the same process:

  • Download into Photomechanic for initial sorting, captioning, keywording and renaming
  • Images are moved to primary storage drive
  • Images are imported into Capture One 11 and processed
  • Final images are output for intended use

As promised in an earlier blog I will detail my Photomechanic process shortly. I am waiting for the new 64bit version, Photomechanic 6, to appear, which is promised by the end of the year. This will bring databasing to Photomechanic which may well change my workflow.

Giant Mesquite Bug

What is the ‘best’ lens

People regularly ask me what is my favourite lens, and what lens do I use for this or that subject? The answer may not be a simple one. While the ‘best’ lens for a close-up or macro photo would undoubtedly be my Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f2.8. Yet, it’s entirely the wrong lens if it’s sitting at home in the equipment cupboard when I suddenly come across a macro-type subject.

This is precisely what happened a couple of days ago when I went for a hike up in the Sierra de San Juan Cosala above my home in Jalisco Mexico. At this time of year the region is beginning to see the return of the migratory bird species. So there I am, out with my 500mm AF-S ED VR f4, a tripod, and a couple of converters in my pocket and not much else .

Setting up to photograph an Ash-throated Flycatcher I was standing in some small acacia trees when I noticed a large bug at the top of the bush that I had never seen before. So suddenly the ‘best’ lens to get a shot turned out to be the only lens I had with me.

Ash-throated Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) perched in a tree, San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D4s, 500mm AF-S ED VR f4 +TC-14 converter, (effective 700mm), 1/1000th at f8 ISO 800

Solving the problem

The minimum focussing distance of this lens is 4m not ideal for the subject but, what many don’t realize is, that by adding a converter you will increase the size of the subject (by the magnification factor of the converter) but the minimum focussing distance does not alter. You do however suffer a bit of light loss, 1 full stop with the TC-14 and 1 and a third with the TC-17.  In this case I added the TC-17, increasing the focal length of the 500mm to  850mm. This gave me a plenty of a large enough view of the bugs which were around 1.5in in length.

Giant Mesquite Bug
Giant Mesquite Bug (Thasus gigas) on an acacia bush, San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D4s, 500mm AF-S ED VR f4 +TC-17 converter, (effective 850mm), 1/500th at f8 ISO 800

Isubsequently found a pair of the bugs, which I identified later as Giant Mesquite Bugs mating at the top of another acacia bush.

Two Giant Mesquite Bugs
Two Giant Mesquite Bugs (Thasus gigas) mating on an acacia bush, San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico

Nikon D4s, 500mm AF-S ED VR f4 +TC-17 converter, (effective 850mm), 1/500th at f8 ISO 800

I would have also been well served to have had a set of extension tubes with me which would have allowed me to substantially decrease the minimum focussing distance but they too were in the equipment cupboard.

So – the lesson is the best lens for a shot is the one you have with you, just find a way to make it work.

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