My First (Bird) Photos with Nikon D800 and 600mm f4

Only few talked about it being good for wildlife, most said it’s only for landscape, architecture or studio. Many would have preferred a lower pixel count and questioned whether it’s going to be of any use. But when shooting birds, especially small song birds, you never get close enough or can have enough pixels. So I didn’t listen, took the risk and pre-ordered mine on the day it was announced, the new Nikon D800.

In the meantime its sensor got tested by DxOMark and became their new king. Two days ago mine came by mail. I took some test shots to see if some of my lenses needed AF fine tuning, already that revealed how good the camera will perform. It also showed what an incredibly sharp lens the 600mm f4 VR is (see photos further down on page). Yesterday and today I went out to test it and came back with a few shots of a male and female Goosander (Mergus merganser). After looking at the results, pixel peeping included,  I am a very, very happy and excited new Nikon D800 owner. But see and peep for yourself:

Photo of a female Goosander (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800

Uncropped photo of Merganser (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4. You have 7360 x 4912 pixels available for cropping!

Photo of a female Goosander (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4

Cropped photo of a female Goosander (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4. Still a lot of pixels available for more cropping!

Photo of a female Goosander (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4

Photo of a female Goosander (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4. Cropped to 100% for pixel peeping! Please note this is ISO 800, f5, 1/400s !

Aren’t the colors and detail amazing? When editing the photos on the computer screen it feels like CSI or 24, where they have some magic image enhancer which generates information out of nothing.

Male Goosander with 100% crops showing the potential of the D800 and 600mm.

Uncropped photo of a yawning male Goosander (original size 7360 x 4912) and two 100% crops for pixel peepers. Note that the focus was set on the eye and not on the spider. Furthermore this is ISO 800 and f5.6. I think this shows how amazing the D800 and the 600mm are.

Photo of a Yawning male Goosander (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800

Crop of the above yawning male Goosander (Mergus merganser) taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4.

Photo of male Goosander (Mergus merganser) sitting on a rock taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4

Crop of a photo of male Goosander (Mergus merganser) sitting on a rock taken with the new Nikon D800 and the 600mm VR f4

For the AF fine tuning tests I used an aluminum ruler taped to a window frame. The tests revealed that the 600mm VR together with the D800 didn’t need any corrections, I was just awed by the results.

Photo of a ruler showing a comparison of a 50mm (full size) with a 600mm lens at pixel level (100%)

The photo above was taken with a 50mm f1.8 The photo below was taken with the 600mm from the same standpoint. The crop to the left is done at 100%. Amazing!

My setup for the above photos was the 600mm VR f4 mounted on a Gitzo GT5541LS. The tripod head is from Dietmar Nil, which I can totally recommend especially for birds in flight. On top of the D800 the di-GPS Pro for geolocation.

Nikon D800 with a 600mm VR f4 mounted on a Gitzo GT5541LS tripod with a Dietmar Nil head.

Nikon D800 with the 600mm VR f4 mounted on a Gitzo GT5541LS tripod. On top a di-GPS Pro.

I will publish more photos as soon as I can. Stay tuned or have a look at my photo database in the meantime.

12 thoughts on “My First (Bird) Photos with Nikon D800 and 600mm f4

  1. Hello Simon,
    Congratulations by the articles!
    Please, what is the head that you are using with your Gitzo?
    Regards
    Carlos

  2. Wonderful Samples-Thank you so much!
    I am desperately wanting a Zoom or farther reacing Tele lens bigger than my 70-200 or 70-300 & I am considering between the 200-400 or the 500mm-do you have a preference? I can not manage the 600mm financially or physcially-LOL!

  3. Thanks very much Simon. This was very important to me to see these crops, as I like you failed to understand why there was so little positive discussion about the ability to crop for birding. I predominantly shoot small garden birds here in the UK (Tits, Nuthatch, Robin etc) and I own a 500mm with a D700 currently and find that I simply am not able to get close enough to obtain a decent sized and in focus image. What you have shown above is that the cropping ability of such a high resolution camera, along with excellent glass and technique, should yield many more opportunities to obtain pictures of a suitable size and quality. Well done. I’m so looking forward to receiving my D800 in a couple of weeks hopefully.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I am sure you will not be disappointed and be able to take great pictures. In my experience it helps to use AF-S instead of AF-C (except for birds in flight or some other fast action). You might miss a couple of shots that way, but you get to set the focus point on the eye and overall sharper results.

  4. Many thanks for sharing these. Photos are amazing, You have cemented my desire to retire my D300s and move to a D800 as fast as i can get my hands on one. Thanks again.

    • As soon as I have more pictures, I will post more examples. Unfortunately I’m very busy at work and I live in a city, where there are not that many (interesting) birds around. It will take a while until my next vacation…

    • AJ,
      Here’s a few notes re my experience of 6 weeks with the D800 in comparison to the D300, based mainly on photographing birds with a Nikon 500 F4 VR on the Isle of Mull in Scotland which is a great place to catch Golden and White Tailed Sea Eagle.

      Focus settings.
      I did some fairly extensive tests on the different focus settings to determine how they impacted the percentage of in-focus shots and I have to say that the results were not totally conclusive. 51 3D; 51 D and Auto focus all yielded similar results, a reasonable percentage in focus but nothing outstanding. The 51 3D on the D800 was not noticeably better than with the D300 on the same setting. The D800 gave its best performance on the dynamic 21 point setting, in terms of % shots in focus but this was marginal which really backs up most users’ observations that focussing on BIF is more an art than an exact science. If it were, then there would be one combination of settings that most users would go for, and consequently far fewer posts on the matter!

      Handling
      I have to say that changing the autofocus settings on the D800 is much more of a bind than on the D300, and with a handheld 500mm attached it is just impossible to do so unless you rest the front of the lens on the ground and use both hands to change settings.

      FX mode
      One thing I found really useful on the D800 was the ability to put it in DX mode but see an FX world through the view finder. This gives a few precious seconds to get the panning correct before the bird entered the DX underworld.

      ISO Performance
      I didn’t get everything right on the D800 – not by a long chalk. I should have upped the shutter speed to at least 1/1500 minimum [I used 1/1000 with Auto ISO] as the ISO performance is truly excellent and I wouldn’t have any worries about going to 3200 on Auto ISO. It’s far better than the D300 where it could disappoint at ISO 800 in the dark areas. Also, because of its resolution you do need all the sharpness you can get, so on shutter speeds think fast with a capital ‘F’ if you require large sized images to look sharp.

      Hope that is of some use but interested in any experience to the contrary.

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