When Nikon in South Africa approached me in September 2015 to test out the Nikon D810 and the new lightweight Nikkor 400mm f2.8E FL VR lens I was relishing the opportunity – you see, I was heading to the Mara Triangle in Kenya (part of the Maasai Mara ecosystem) to host a photographic safari in the Maasai Mara for the Great Migration for Wild Eye.
I was looking forward to putting this camera–and–lens combo through its paces in an environment where anything can happen at any distance from the vehicle.
The in-camera crop factor (Image Area option) of the Nikon professional FX series provides a great option to extend the effective focal length of the lens.
First off – the D810 is an amazing camera. I was blown away by its dynamic range and amazing image resolving capabilities. The D810 was improved. Dynamic range and low light image quality (high ISO in other words), while offering a higher frame-rate for on demand shooting with an increased buffer capacity. The quiet shutter, intuitive feels and excellent build quality of the D810 makes it a joy to use.
Now for the lens! I have just traded in my Nikkor 500mm f/4 for the previous version of the 400mm 2.8 – so knowing what that beast weighs, the first time I picked up the new 400mm f/2.8 from its case which also looks quite different than previous Nikkor super telephoto lens cases, I was flabbergasted by just how light it really is. At first touch, it feels only slightly heavier than a 300mm f/4 would feel. It is as sharp as you can imagine and the focus acquisition is snappy and responsive, making the lens a real pleasure to work with in the field.
Coupling them and knowing how and when to use the aforementioned in-camera crop modes (“Image Area”) you can really utilise this combo for a great range of scenarios. If you leave the 400mm f/2.8 on the camera without adding a physical teleconverter, you can achieve the effective focal length of 480mm f/2.8 at 25 megapixels on the 1.2x crop setting. If you go to the DX crop setting you can get an effective 600mm f/12.8 at roughly +- 15.4 megapixels. Some folks will say they’d rather crop in processing and you can – but what makes it a tempting option is that your continuous frame rate for action sequences increases from 5fps to 6fps in these crop modes. If you use the MB-D12 battery grip (also compatible with the D800/D800E), you gain another boost to 7fps in the crop modes.
I always shoot my Nikon cameras in manual mode with auto ISO enabled. This allows me to select the shutter speed and aperture that I feel would contribute to the kind of image I am looking to create, while allowing the camera to select the ISO automatically (hinged to my selected exposure bias). I know I can implicitly trust my cameras to perform up to very high ISO and the D810 was no exception. Of course, having the option to go to an aperture of 2.8 when using varying shutter speeds helps! Read more on my preferred setup using auto ISO in THIS blog post.
I would highly recommend this combination to wildlife and sports photographers. Given the fact that the D810 is the perfect landscape and portrait camera already, the added benefits of using it like I did for wildlife, pretty much makes it one of the best all-round combinations I have ever had the pleasure to use. The lens is a dream. If the older 400mm f/2.8 always felt a tad heavy to you and that was the only thing holding you back – you need to get this lens in your hand and feel the weight difference. It is a strong selling point!
Until next time, keep clicking!
Since picking up a DSLR camera for the first time, a little over 3 years ago, Morkel has been invigorated with an unbridled passion for the photographic art form. He has grown at a tremendous pace and put immense energy into the creation of his images. He absolutely loves spending time in the wild places of his native Southern Africa. From a young age he has been visiting legendary wildlife and outdoor locations, including the Kruger Park National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains, with his family. Now that he has found a way to share the natural beauty of his homeland with the rest of the world he is regularly out on photography trips. An Industrial Engineer by profession, and an accomplished artist in genres like music and poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect "marriage" between his engineering brain and artistic soul. "I hope that in some way I can raise awareness through my imagery of the plight of not only our wildlife but also the fragility of the last remaining wilderness areas that they call home.” Morkel was recently honoured for his commitment to his craft by receiving a "Highly Commended" for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. He is based in Mpumalanga, South Africa and even though he prefers going on safari with his family and friends, Morkel also leads the odd photographic safari and has recently begun presenting workshops in post-processing techniques.