Nikon D100, Day Two

After the positive impression of the first day, I'm looking forward for the first photo-trip. But this will happen only within a month, and I can't wait so long; moreover my favourite subjects are birds, and summer is not the best season in the year: so chances are that I'll have to wait a lot of time. But I repeat: I can't wait so long and since I think that I'll need some time to learn about the D100, it's better to find some alternative subject near home.

Usually I hate zoos and similar things: looking at a captive animal just makes me nervous and claustrophobic. But a friend has just talked to me about a kind of wildlife sanctuary for birds in which part of the animals live free (they can actually fly away, if they want). And it's near my working location of these days, so I should be able to pay a two hours visit. I decide to go and try (as a final consideration that I added months after this experience, I will not pay another visit to such a site any longer: to me it is definitely funnier to walk for three hours in the marshes - and perhaps only get a decent photo of a wild dunlin - than having plenty of ready-to-be-shot-at captive birds around).

First I try the AFS 300 f/4, my main wildlife lens. No teleconverters for today, and no tripod: still too hot to carry it around, and I'm in a tight time frame.

AF-S 300 f/4D, 1/500 @ f/4, -1.7 EV on the body, ISO 800

The tucano. The first shoot is a bit tough for the light meter: the bird is in a dark ambient, but the upper part of the bill reflects a lot of light. Actually the Matrix metering is fooled and large areas on the top of the bill and on the face are over-exposed. I've enabled the Image Review on my D100 (CSM #1 ON) so that after each shot the back LCD display shows the photo. The blinking highlights feature proves useful, as burned out areas are quite evident. Today I don't want to try neither centre-weighted nor spot metering, so I follow the "trial-and-error" AF-S 300 f/4D, 1/500 @ f/4, -2.0 EV on the body, ISO 800 approach: I dial a bit of negative EV override until the exposure looks fine. Using -1.7EV is not enough (image on the left). Only at -2.0EV (images on the right) proves to be ok. Wow, that's a bit of override, but after all with high-contrast slides, such as Velvia or - worse - pushed Velvia I experienced similar problems. But with Velvia I had to trash lots of slides and maybe I still missed the shot, while now I can apply changes on the fly. That's already a big point. Yes, the image on the right would benefit from some fill-in flash (as many following photos), but I'm not going to test the flash unit today. One step at a time.

AF-S 300 f/4D, 1/800 @ f/5.6, -1.0 EV on the body, ISO 200

The Egyptian vulture. This pale-grey bird in the full sun against a mostly dark background is another tough test for the Matrix meter of the D100. But a -1.0 EV correction is enough. I must say that looking at the rear display of the D100, the upper part of the bird back looks burned, but this is a "problem" with the LCD display. With current LCD technology, I can't expect the display to be accurate in colour reproduction, also considering that I'm looking at it in the full sun light. So, rather than the direct preview, it's best to trust the "blinking highlights" feature or the histogram. Both are saying there's no clipping and in facts the exposure is correct. Anyway, a good improvement for looking at the LCD is to change its brightness to -2, by means of the on-purpose menu.

PS Sorry to be repetitive and off-topic: but after you watch them in the Pyrenees, seeing a vulture in captivity is a sad experience.

AF-S 300 f/4D, 1/800 @ f/10, -1.7 EV, ISO 200

The spoonbill. Another difficult exposure. This time, the bird is white and the background is completely dark. In facts, the suggested settings burn a lot of highlights in the white plumage. After looking at the histogram, I find that the right correction to dial in is -1.7 EV.

AF-S 300 f/4D, 1/800 @ f/7.1, -1.7 EV, ISO 200

The vulture again. Again a completely dark background, again the -1.7 EV correction.

AF-S 300 f/4D, 1/800 @ f/11, -1.7EV on the body, +1.0EV post-processing, ISO 200

Intimate portrait of a young black-winged stilt. I want to be absolutely sure to get a non-burned image here: I won't find many occasions to get so close to a young black-winged stilt in future, and the details in the plumage are beautiful. I'm a bit worried since the image preview in the LCD appears really burned out. The effect is that I dial -1.7 EV, which will prove excessive when I'll look at this picture on my PC. I will have to apply a +1.0 EV post-processing compensation with Nikon Capture Editor. This experience definitely leads me to not worry about the LCD image preview.

AF 180 f/2.8N, 1/320 @ f/2.8, ISO 400

Only 1.5 Megapixels here. This photo makes me think of a question that, probably, most people don't think of. This is a chick in an incubator, where they use red light for some purposes (perhaps to signal the presence of infrared light). The result is that this photo is a monochromatic, red image. Actually only red sensors in the Bayer array of the D100 are used, while green and blue ones are reading extremely low levels, almost black. This means that indeed the D100 is now behaving as a 1,5 Megapixels body, since this is the number of red photosites in its sensor . Something that happens really seldom, but that you must consider. Obviously, you'll get again those 1,5 Megapixels for a mostly-blue image, and 3 Megapixels for a mostly green image (remember that for each red and blue photosite there are two green photosites). This holds for digital bodies based on Bayer array sensor, which means every digital body today on the market, with the exception of Foveon™ based cameras.

And now let's go with the AF 180 f/2.8N.

AF 180 f/2.8N, 1/320 @ f/2.8, ISO 400.

Colourful ara. This wonderful ara just looks fine with the suggested Matrix metering. No surprise here, it was shot in the shade and there are not bright spots or dramatic contrasts. I don't want to anticipate too much about colours here, but I do need to switch to Color Mode III to properly experience those metallic blue on the birds back and wings.

Another (trivial) thing to add (which is valid for the previous image too): as you can see I switched ISO to 400, since now I'm in the shade. This allowed me to handhold the lens still in compliance with the "shutter = 1 / focal" rule (adjusted for the 1.5x crop factor of the D100). It's such a relief to be able to switch ISO without changing the roll: if you're used to film you have to experience it!

This image is also available in the native .NEF format (about 10 MB).

AF 180 f/2.8N, 1/320 @ f/10, -2.7 EV on the body, +1.0 EV post processing, ISO 200

Back to the spoonbill. That spoonbill is so beautiful that I have to get back to it before leaving. And this time I will use the AF 180 f/2.8N. Again a tricky situation, since the bird is bright white, the background is dark and a sequence of clouds passing over the sun is rapidly changing the light. In the first I get again worried about the image preview, and I dial an excessive -2.7 EV, which will be compensated by a +1.0 EV post-processing the photo.

AF 180 f/2.8N, 1/320 @ f/7.1, -2.0 EV, ISO 200

I shot a second try, this time only -2.0 EV. Later, looking at it on my laptop, this compensation appears insufficient. The bird back appear largely burned out: perhaps this time the image preview was right? Was -2.7 EV the right value to dial in? No: the problem is that the laptop LCD is wrong too. It's a good Compaq laptop, but old (bought in 2000). Its LCD display is not very good in displaying images with wide dynamics: on my Trinitron Sony the photo looks ok. So be careful in selecting and calibrating your viewing equipment before starting your post-processing workflow.

This image is also available in the native .NEF format (about 10 MB).

AF 180 f/2.8N, 1/100 @ f/9, -1.3 EV, ISO 200

Finally, the sun dims a bit and I take the chance to have a final shot with a softer light. This time the required compensation is only -1.3 EV.

Conclusions

This second day has been a delightful experience. Being used to the F80 controls, using the D100 is easy. As expected, I have to learn how to manage images with wild contrast, since a digital sensor does not "forgive" highlights as film - but I already know that I've to be careful with slides.

Matrix metering must be overridden many times, but correction never go beyond 1.7 EV steps, seldom reaching 2.0 EV. No big news for me: for instance, the white egret at the right, shot with an F80 and Sensia 100, required -1.5 EV steps of correction to preserve the bright whites exposed to the sun (the photo required also a big deal of post-processing to reduce the contrast in the shadows).

I've learnt to avoid overdoing that can be induced by looking at the image preview in the LCD screen. The histogram and "blinking highlights" features, instead, proved to be extremely helpful.

Of course, many exposures with bird or bright subject would be better handled by spot metering than by matrix metering; but this is something to test one of the next days.

At last: my 1GB microdrive got full, but I had only to delete a dozen pictures to complete the trip. I did a lot of testing and shot the same subject with different overrides; when I will feel more comfortable with the D100 I would not need it any longer. So, at present time, I still think that 1GB is ok for my habits.

P.S. A final comment: reading many comments before buying the camera, I expected to deal with a lot of underexposure (i.e. images too dark). Indeed up to now I only experienced overexposure (i.e. images too bright), in the usual circumstances where Matrix need some override.