I consider myself a photographer of many varied interests (Jack of all Trades?), so it's probably not surprising that I enjoy shooting wildlife, both in the wild and in zoos. Afterall, that's the reason I bought the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR. I like to shoot a large variety of animals, from squirrels to elk to grizzly bears to birds. Unfortunately, we don't have to many grizzlies here in Oklahoma, so they'll have to wait for my next trip up north.
When it comes to birds (which are much more plentiful in these parts), I prefer birds such as herons, egrets and pelicans, and when it comes to pelicans, what we have here are American White Pelicans. These pelicans fly in in the fall, stick around for a while, and then head further south, returning when winter's over on their way back north. Luckily for me, they seem to really like Lake Hefner, where it can be quite easy to get excellent access to them.
My intention for these shots was to discover as much more about the Z7ii as I could, while at the same time, finding out how it performs with the 500PF.
Here are some of my rather random observations,* in no particular order:
1. It's so much lighter than my D810 bodies it's not funny. Makes it easier to carry and use, even with the MB-11N battery pack attached.
2. As I said in my last post, I use the User Setting Modes for certain things I shoot a lot which, given the way I shoot, require specific settings. For example, U1 is where I've saved the settings I use for wildlife photography, U2 is set up for portraits shot with speedlights, and since there was a time in my life when I did a lot of work with studio strobes, U3 is set up for that (and that one may change over time, as I don't do much in the studio these days).
While it's true that the User Setting Modes is a huge improvement over the old ABCD menus in Nikon's older menu systems, there are still things that cannot be locked down in these modes. For example, choosing between single frame shooting (which I would use for portraits with speedlights) and any of the 3 Continuous shooting modes (which I would prefer for wildlife) is something that cannot be saved to the User Setting Modes. Changing from one to another must be done manually every time. And this is true for several other things, as well. And needless to say, I forget to change that when I change to a different shooting mode or User Setting.
You can go here or here to learn more about how I use Nikon's menu system and how I'd like to see them improved.
3. It seems the best focus mode to use for these big birds is actually Animal Auto-area AF. Of course, Animal Auto-area AF isn't designed for birds, much less birds that are far away, so it never picked up a face much less an eye. This makes it no different in terms of functionality than regular Auto-area AF. Interestingly though, I never could get Subject-Tracking AF to kick in, regardless of how close the birds were, or how many times I pressed the button. So the question becomes, why use something that wasn’t designed to work on the subject I’m shooting? The answer is pretty simple — just in case.
Since Animal Auto-area AF works just like regular Auto-area AF when there’s no animal eye or face for it to lock on to, it makes sense to me to use the Animal Auto-area AF just in case it does find a face or an eye to latch onto. With this in mind, I'll give the People Auto-area AF a try the next time I go out for a little street photography. We’ll see what happens.
4. I find the camera goes into sleep mode far too quickly. To make matters worse, it seem slow to wake up. I realize all of this is to conserve battery power, but it's a pain in the neck. I have reset this to a 5 minute delay (Custom menu C3 — Standby timer).
5. It does eat batteries, hence the MB-11N battery pack. But not just for added battery power . . .
6. I can’t imagine not having the battery pack attached, as much for ergonomics as anything. Ever since my Nikon FM film cameras, the camera has just felt better in my hand with a grip. Of course, the D2h (and everything in that series since) had an integral battery grip, which of course, just felt right. But the D800 was my first DSLR without a built-in grip, and it wasn’t five minutes after touching it for the first time that I ordered one. Since then, I’ve always ordered the grip at the same time as the camera.
7. So far, I’ve shot with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, and the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR on the Z7ii, and all three produce seemingly sharper images on the Z7ii than those same lenses did on the D810 bodies. Focusing can sometimes seem to be a little slower on the Z7ii, but it is still very sharp, even when I have the AF-S TELECONVERTER TC-14E III on with the 500PF.
Having said that, the 500PF does appear to hunt a little more on the Z7ii than on the D810, and when I aim at something (bird, plane, etc) in the sky, it hunts even more, to the point that it may not actually pick up the object. I find that manually twisting the focus ring to infinity helps the camera find focus. This seems more pronounced when using 500PF with the 1.4X TC.
Having said that, my keeper rate has improved considerably. I still can’t always tell if the image is sharp by looking at the image either on the back of the camera or in the EVF, but when I get them in the computer, things look great.
9. My wife and I had a virtual Christmas with my oldest son and his family, and instead of using the camera built into my laptop, I chose to connect the Z7ii via Nikon’s Webcam Utility app. Very easy to download and install. Using it was easy, too. I did need to reboot my Macbook Pro after installation so the app would see the camera and connect to the social media interface, but it worked like a charm. I used the 24-70mm f/2.8 F-mount lens, and put the camera on a tripod, connecting it to the computer with a USB cable. Using HDMI would allow me to use either the Z7ii’s built in mics or an external mic, but since I did not have the proper HDMI cable, we just used the computer’s mic. When we first logged on, the first thing my son commented on was the great quality of the video. He said it looked like we were on a TV show . . . BTW, when doing this, one must remember to set the Standby Timer to “No Limit” (C3 in the Custom menu settings). 10. Not everything that can be assigned to various buttons can be assigned to any of the buttons. For example, there are certain things that can be assigned to the F1 or F2 buttons, but not to the Sub-Selector Center button, and although I haven't done an extensive check, I'm sure there are things that can be assigned to the Sub-Selector Center button that can't be assigned to the F1 or F2 buttons. Makes so little sense to me.
As I continue to shoot with this amazing new piece of technology, I'll make more notes, and post more observations. I really am happy with this camera, and am looking forward to shooting a lot of amazing photos with it.
* -- I don't consider anything I post along these lines to be true "reviews," because they are so random. Rather, they are just my observations and reflections on the gear, based solely on my many years shooting photos of the things I like to shoot photos of. So don't be surprised when I bounce all over the place.