After leading multiple bird photography workshops as well as jungle wildlife trips shooting over 80,000 images in the Z9, I’m starting to get a feel for the incredible performance of this camera. I practically wept when I sold my D6…could the Z9 be that good? Yes, and then some. I just spent hours on my Memorial Day photographing swallows flying along a river with the Z9, and let’s just say I was getting images I would have missed using any other camera I’ve shot, including the D6.
If you have ever watched swallow buzz down a creek, you know how fast and erratic they are. By the time the fly past it seems they are going 35 MPH and just whiz by the camera. So I mounted my Z9/ 400mm F2.8 Z on my RRS gimbal, and decided to see if the Z9 could keep up.
I tried 3D…didn’t work, subject too small and moving way too fast. I tried wide area large with animal eye detect…better results for sure, especially if you can pan and keep the square on the bird. But I couldn’t keep the square on the bird all the time.
But what blew me away was how good Auto-Area AF worked. When the swallows got about 50 feet away, I hit the back button focus and let the camera do the work. I was amazed at how in the blink of an eye the green square locked onto the swallow. Auto-Area AF worked great along the water, and even when the bird was against grassy and busy backgrounds. I did notice the mode worked really well as the bird got closer…swallows are really small. A duck flew down the creek and Auto-Area AF just tracked it the whole way…larger target. The image at top is one from many sharp images of swallows blasting past my position…I could barely keep up…but as long as the bird was in the viewfinder I was good to go.
I also think some of this incredible performance was related to using the new 400 F2.8 Z lens with the new motors driving the autofocus. Fastest big prime I have ever used…At just over six pounds with a built in 1.4x converter, this is hand holdable and very useful…two lens in one…400mm F2.8 and 560mm F4. And by the way, I shots thousands of images at 560mm and they are tack sharp. Price…ouch…but sometimes you just hit the ‘by now’ button.
Did the Z9 miss some frames? Sure, like any camera would. But the snappy performance photographing one of the most difficult birds in flight (at least I think so…) just blew me away. Technology is taking photography to new limits. I’m headed to Nome, Alaska to lead a bird photography workshop, and I can’t wait to pan with those Aleutian Terns!