Nikon D6 Review and Scottish Ospreys

My website Blog has been somewhat neglected recently, mainly down to me updating my Social media pages with my photographic comings and goings. So in an effort to really kick it off in style, for this post I will be reviewing the Nikon D6 that I was recently fortunate enough to be given to trial for a while.

Before I start, my sincere thanks go to Sarah Jones at Cambrian Photographic in Colwyn Bay, who has been a great support to me over recent years and who arranged with Nikon for them to send me one of their new flagship Pro cameras the D6. I was asked by Sarah in June when I would like to have the camera, and there seemed no better opportunity to really test it, than my upcoming trip to The Cairngorms to photograph diving Ospreys.

Those that know me or have followed my work will know by now that Ospreys are the one bird that I am totally passionate about, especially photographing them in and around water when they are diving for fish, and I have been doing so for many years now. I have photographed them in England, Wales and their spiritual home in Scotland, a place I just adore visiting every year to see these amazing birds.

For all my Photographic life I have used Nikon cameras and lenses and have never felt the need to change, others have chopped and changed as fashions and opinions change, but for me there is no better kit for photographing wildlife. Over the last year I have been sent kit by Olympus and Sony to test, and I must admit is was exciting to try it out and see what all the fuss was about. I did enjoy the reduction in weight, as I get older and the body creaks a little more every year it would have been ideal. I’m not going to use this post to say negative things about the kit, I have many friends using it successfully and it would be disrespectful, everyone is different and what suits one person doesn’t for the next. The parameters I set myself when trialing this kit was I would not accept any drop in the quality of my images, and it would have to be comfortable to use, it’s my job, I rely on it day in day out. The end result is I am still with Nikon, and have no intention of changing.

For the last few years I have been using what was Nikons flagship DSLR, the D5, in my opinion by far the best camera for photographing Wildlife, and until the D6 was released nothing had changed that opinion, so I was hugely excited to see how the D6 compared to it. Would there be much change? Were all the so called ‘experts’ right in saying it didn’t amount to much more than a D5s? Had they actually got it in their hands to try, or were their reviews from the spec alone?

So when the parcel arrived from Nikon a few days before I headed off to the Cairngorms I opened it up with super excitement, and knowing that the following morning I was heading out at 4am to photograph my beloved Ospreys at their nest up at my local Llyn Brenig, I couldn’t wait to get going with it.

Taking the camera out of the box excitedly it was hugely encouraging to see that the layout and feel of the camera was ever so familiar, the biggest issue I had with the other manufacturers I had tested was the issue of muscle memory, so to have the D6 in my hand that felt ever so familiar was a huge comfort. The set up of the camera took a few minutes as the menus and button placement are almost identical to the D5. I have had my D5 set up the same way since I started using it 4 years ago, how does the old saying go, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, so I set it up exactly the same.

It was bed early for the 3.30am alarm, and before I knew it I was in my little temporary hide close to the Osprey nest on the shore of Llyn Brenig    ( under Schedule 1 License) my 500mm lens was securely locked into my Indura Stealth tripod and Benro G2 gimbal head, and the D6 locked onto the lens. The view from my little hide is really restricted as I am so close to the nest, but the biggest challenge is that my field of view is extremely limited and I have a couple of seconds from seeing the birds flying in, to landing on the nest. This is where I was really hoping that the additional 2 frames per second of the D6 would make a massive difference, the D5 shoots at 12 fps, the D6 at 14fps. It is in those couple of seconds that I am trying to get images of the Ospreys flying into the nest with a fish, nesting material etc.

As mentioned the set up of the D6 mirrored that of my D5…. why? well it works so well why change, it was the additional frame rate that excited me, I knew from the D5 that the Group focus points would lock onto the subject immediately, and despite the D6 having 17 customizable group-area AF groupings, for now I stuck with what I knew would work.

It was time to sit back and wait for the morning light to arrive, and watch, concentrate and be ready for an Osprey flying in…. and so it happened and the camera locked on instantly and the 14fps purred into action and below is one of the shots of the female Osprey landing on the nest with a half eaten fish for the juvenile.

Over the course of the next few hours time and again the camera was awesome, locking on to the birds lightening quick, and the 14fps grabbing all the action over that couple of seconds I could see the birds coming in.

         

Returning home later that morning after 5 hours in the hide I was hugely impressed and was super excited about taking the D6 with me for the ultimate challenge of photographing Ospreys diving for fish up in the Cairngorms.

I have been photographing Ospreys for many years now, and every year I so look forward to returning to the Cairngorms National Park. Ospreys were on the brink of extinction in the UK by the 1950’s, victims of human persecution for Centuries, the few remaining UK birds were in the Cairngorms area of the Highlands, and their recovery started here with human protection, fast forward to today where we now have Ospreys throughout Scotland, England and Wales. But for me their spiritual home will always remain in The Cairngorms, and it is such a thrill to return each year to photograph them there.

Ospreys are birds that exclusively feed on fish, caught by diving from height at great speed into the water to catch fish swimming close to the surface, this they do on the rivers and lochs in Scotland. To be able to photograph them diving in these areas requires a huge amount of luck to be in the right area and close to a diving bird. For many years Rothiemurchas Fishery just outside of Aviemore has had Ospreys visiting the fishery taking trout from their fishery pools, and rather than discourage the birds they constructed a purpose built pool for the Ospreys to take fish, and installed low level hides to assist in photographing them. Likewise, the small Lochan in Aviemore owned by my good friend Gordon McLeod has become ever increasingly more popular for visiting Ospreys, and Gordon has installed some hides that give amazing opportunities to photograph the birds diving at water level.

And for this trip these are the two locations that I would be using to put the D6 through its paces, a week on my own and then 5 days with a group of clients on my Osprey Photography Workshop. Ospreys are active from first light, and during the breeding season the male birds are out early catching fish to return to the nest. This can be a real issue when photographing them as the lack of early morning light will have a real impact on the settings of the camera, to successful capture and freeze all of the action of a diving Osprey, high shutter speeds are required, and in low light conditions it is difficult to achieve this without really pushing the ISO level high.

Over the course of ten early mornings photographing the Ospreys, I have returned home with some real special images, which was even more pleasing given that the conditions the majority of the time were far from ideal ranging from cloudy mornings, foggy mornings and downright wet mornings, so if ever there was a challenge for the D6 this was it.

For every session the camera was set up exactly the same way, Auto Focus Continuous, my favourite Group Focus Points was used to really lock onto the birds as they dived at great speed, and CH Continuous firing, letting the D6 rip at 14 frames per second.

Below are some of the images taken over the course of the 10 days, and I will start with the image that I was really proud of achieving…

In all the time I have been photographing Ospreys, the one shot I am trying to achieve is the Osprey in the final micro second of its dive, when its talons are pushed forward and wings are swept back, just as its talons are hitting the water. Incredibly difficult to achieve bearing in mind the speed that the bird is travelling, maintaining contact with the bird and keeping the focus points central over its face, and even more tricky when the bird is diving straight towards the camera. But with this image I knew I had something special before I looked at the back of the camera, I had picked the bird up in the viewfinder up in the sky as it dropped its wings to dive locked the focus points on instantly and had tracked it all the way in, firing at 14fps throughout the whole sequence, with the bird staying completely in focus in the viewfinder I was confident of some special images. Flicking through the images I was getting more excited as I neared the moment of it hitting the water, and was beyond thrilled to see it had captured that micro second of action just as the bird was about to hit the water.

The settings for this image were ISO 5000  f/4  1/2500 and shot at 500mm.

These were the 2 frames before as the bird approached..

    

Below is a selection of different images from the trip that will hopefully show the different conditions the camera needed to cope with, with the settings for each image.

      ISO 4000    f/4   1/2500    500mm

   ISO 3200     f/4     1/1600    500mm

    ISO 4000     f/4     1/2500     500mm

     ISO 3200   f/4    1/2500    500mm

      ISO 800   f/6.3    1/3200   300mm

      ISO 800   f/6.3    1/3200   300mm

     ISO 800    f/6.3   1/3200   300mm

    ISO 800   f/6.3   1/3200   300mm   50% crop

Many more of the images that were taken over the course of my sessions photographing the Ospreys can be seen in the Birds of Prey folder here on my website, or on my social media pages.

Whilst up in the Cairngorms and during some Osprey downtime I took the opportunity to head up into the mountains of Strathdearn to photograph Mountain Hares, that live high up on the mountain sides. I guess this is where other manufacturers such as Olympus and Sony have a key selling feature, portability and weight of kit can be a real factor when heading up high, the lighter the kit the less weight you are having to carry. But again for me its all about quality, and I am prepared to take on the extra weight knowing that when I need it the Nikon kit will deliver. So my set up for the Hares is my 500mm F4 again mounted on a Benro gimbal head, but this time on a beefy Manfrotto monopod, rather than the extra weight of a tripod, I find the monopod a bit less laborious but easier to move with on the mountain slopes.

Below are some of the images taken that afternoon with the D6, and are without doubt some of my finest Mountain Hare images to date, everything just worked so well together, the Hares, the light, the Heather coming in to bloom etc. All these images were shot on auto ISO as the sun was in and out so vary from 250 up to 2000, with an aperture of around f/8 to give enough depth of field making sure all the Hare was in focus, and shutter speed at around 1/1000 in case the Hare took off running.

 

In Summary

As I mentioned at the beginning it was a real thrill to be given the opportunity to test out the D6 and my sincere thanks go to the guys at Nikon for allowing me the opportunity, and it was with a real heavy heart packing it up to return to them BUT… I hope soon I will have one in my hands again

WHY?

  1. The new Auto Focus system is a step up from the D5, and I thought that was red hot… for the Wildlife Photographer trying to capture moving subjects, it locks on the second you ask it and doesn’t let go, you miss a shot its your own poor technique.
  2. An increase of 2 frames per second from the 12 of the D5 to 14 on the D6 might not sound a lot, but again for the serious photographer tracking moving subjects the 2 extra frames really do count.
  3. sounds like a trivial point, but I shoot in low light a lot, and more buttons illuminating on the back of the camera is an absolute joy.
  4. built in Wi-fi, it wasn’t on the D5, but with the D6 it was fantastic to be able to download images to my smartphone directly after taking them, and great for instant updating on social media.

Just a few big positives for me from the short period I had the camera for, I have since been back out with my D5 to the Ospreys at Llyn Brenig, and did I notice the difference going back to the D5, hell yes!

Once again, many thanks to Nikon for the loan of the camera, I loved every second of having it, many thanks again to Sarah Jones at Cambrian Photography in Colwyn Bay… the best Camera Shop out there.

You can keep up to date with all my work through my website here, and I am on all the main social media platforms.

Many thanks

Gary

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