About the Photographer
With the quality of cameras these days, most brands have great offerings that are capable of taking great images. I choose Nikon professional DSLRs, because they have defined excellence in sports & wildlife photography for decades—not to mention photojournalism. No “one” camera excels at everything. Therefore, my implementation of the cameras below depends, basically, on my goal of retaining the best dynamic range (DR) possible, based on lighting conditions, and therefore ISO performance:
The Premier Choice when it comes to action and low light. The Nikon D5 is actually a niche camera; it is not for everyone. Basically, when lighting conditions are poor (especially when there’s movement), this is when the D5 truly shines. This means the moment I am shooting over ISO 2500 (which happens when shooting “long glass” in early morning, at dusk, or at night, etc.). Even with the recent brand updates (Canon 1Dx Mk III, Nikon D6, Sony A7R2), the Nikon D5 outperforms them all, past ISO 2500. With superb AF acquisition, the Nikon D5 remains the benchmark for allowing me to make the most out of the opportunities I have under challenging lighting conditions.
See @ Nikon: Nikon D5
The Nikon D850 was the first DSLR of any kind to receive a perfect 100 DxO Mark, offering the finest base ISO performance of any camera available, surpassing even medium format at its lowest ISO setting. Although the D850 is fully-capable of capturing wildlife images, where it remains peerless is for landscape, portraiture, and artistic macro imagery at base ISO. With stunning dynamic range and incredible color fidelity, the D850 remains “The Standard for Image Quality” within the industry, so long as I have a tripod and can keep my ISO down.
See @ Nikon: Nikon D850
While APS-C cameras are sometimes looked down upon as wildlife cameras, the D500 is actually pretty hard to beat. When I need the reach (meaning if I am going to crop-in), the D500 actually produces better Dynamic Range than every FF camera made, when in DX mode, up to ISO 2000, where only the D5 and A9 catch-up. The truth is, the D500’s combination of reach (1.5x crop factor), top image quality within its class, all add-up to make the D500 a great choice for wildlife. Only cameras 4x the price can touch it, and then only under dark conditions. Quite simply, the D500 is the best DX (APS-C) camera ever made. So any time I need reach, and have decent light, the D500 is my preferred wildlife action camera.
See @ Nikon: Nikon D500
I have not really gotten into mirrorless cameras, until recently. The one’s I’d tried previously (Sony, etc.) felt like non-ergonomic, cheap-feeling “toys,” compared to Nikon professional tools. While you can “upgrade” some of their features, you can’t really ‘upgrade’ important structural deficiencies “with downloads.” In other words, your camera either has a solid fit & finish (and rugged durability)—or it does not. These new Nikon Z cameras have both. They are rugged & built-to-last and they are also ergonomically-excellent in the hand.
The other key to Nikon’s Z-Mount is its 16mm flange distance, mated with its 55mm throat width, means Nikon’s Z-Mount lenses will always have engineering advantages over what is available from other systems. Even better, If another brand comes out with a great lens, the Z-Mount can be adapted to implement any other lens, from any other manufacturer,. while no other system can be adapted to Nikon’s Z-mount ‘S’ lenses. This makes Nikon’s Z-Mount cameras the most flexible and capable option, which is what I want as a professional.
The Z7 is essentially a mirrorless counterpart to the D850. It has the same beautiful, Base ISO color and dynamic range. Having owned the Z7 for nearly 2 years, and after the recent firmware updates, I find that it is superior to the D850 in these 5 important ways:
1) It has Eye AF, which makes it great for human portraits (pets also!);
2) The Z7’s “In-Body Image Stabilization” (IBIS) significantly amplifies the effectiveness of any MF lens, as well as any quality AF lens without VR (I have many stellar lenses of both types);
3) It has a class-leading EVF, which enhances my ability to see critical detail;
4) Its ability to focus-peak, when hand-holding, is another enhancement no DSLR can do;
5) Finally, in addition to the above, its Z-Mount also allows me to use the best lenses from any other brand (like Leica’s finest optics), which is another huge plus for me, as a connoisseur of fine glass.
All-in-all, I now opt to use my Z7, almost exclusively, for most non-action nature work. In optimal light, and with my finest non-VR glass, where absolute image quality is my goal, especially when I need to hand-hold, the Z7 is the premier option over any brand. (For tripod work, using F-Mount glass, I still prefer my D850.)
See @ Nikon: Nikon Z7
The Nikon Z6 is essentially identical to the Nikon Z7, enjoying every single advantage enumerated above. However, it enjoys 3 additional, significant advantages for certain types of shooting:
1) Its smaller sensor size (24.5 MP, rather than 45.7 MP), and
2) Its superior low-light capability;
3) Because it’s mirrorless, I can use 2x TCs with my 800mm f/5.6 lens.
While the Z7 has big beautiful files, that’s not what I always want or need. For instance, when I shoot birds and butterflies, I don’t necessarily want hundreds of massive files, fired-off rapidly, taking up space on my hard drives. Smaller is better and more manageable.
Also, and more importantly, while the Z7 is like the D850 (operating best at Base ISO), the Z6 has almost the same High-ISO ability of Sony’s A92! (It’s not quite as good as the D5, but it’s close!)
Finally, as a mirrorless camera, the Z6 also has an advantage over any DSLR, because it retains auto-focus ability on my 800mm f/5.6 lens, while using the 2x Extender. No DSLR can retain AF w/ a 2x Ext., on my 800mm, while the Z-Mount cameras can. This means, for long-distance bird portraiture, even in low light, I can deploy a 1600mm f/11 optic and retain AF, while enjoying nearly-equal image quality to the D5! This is a huge bonus for me as an avid bird photography enthusiast 🙂