Photographing cormorants in flight with Nikon 1

As part of the field work for my review of the Nikon 1 V3 I took some images of birds in flight under rather harsh winter conditions earlier this year. While I did have some success with the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens I wasn’t satisfied that I had given the lens a good test with this subject matter as my goal for the article was more to demonstrate the capability of the V3. I really wanted to try photographing some cormorants but by the time I purchased my copy of the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 in late 2014 most of the cormorants had already migrated south so I missed a good testing opportunity last year.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 211.6mm, ISO 160, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 211.6mm, ISO 160, 1/1600, f/6.3

So, I charged up a few spare batteries, stuffed some SD cards in my jacket pocket, grabbed one of my Nikon 1 V2’s, mounted the CX 70-300, and headed off to Hamilton harbour to see what I could find.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 126.4mm, ISO 320, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 126.4mm, ISO 320, 1/2000, f/5.6

There is a large nesting colony of cormorants adjacent to Eastport Drive and I knew from previous visits that early morning is the best time to try to capture some images as the sun would be at my back.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 159.8mm, ISO 160, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 159.8mm, ISO 160, 1/2000, f/5.6

It was a very windy morning and I felt these conditions would add to my testing as there was some chop on the surface of the water which I thought may confuse the auto-focus on my V2. Birds flying downwind were so fast it was almost like they had been shot out of a cannon making tracking subjects and acquiring focus more challenging. Cormorants flying upwind did so much closer to the surface of the water to try to avoid the brisk winds. This put them closer to the wave chop and made them much more difficult to spot as they were approaching.

The wind was so strong that very few of the cormorants were accessing their nests from the eastern part of the bay which is their normal path. Most were doing fly-bys then executing 180-degree turns and returning to their nests by flying into the wind. That’s the main reason why all of the birds in flight in the images in this article are facing to the left.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 250, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 250, 1/2000, f/5.6

It also occurred to me that this old dog needed to adjust his shooting approach. Previously I had always shot my Nikon 1 V2’s in aperture priority and usually used f/5.6. I had also manually set the ISO no higher than 800 to limit noise from the small CX sensor, and let my shutter speed fall where it may. Given the excellent noise reduction of the PRIME function in OpticsPro 10 that I’ve been experiencing I decided there was no need to be afraid to shoot at higher ISOs (I now regularly shoot my Nikon 1 V2s at ISO-1600 and ISO-3200).

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 109.8mm, ISO 220, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 109.8mm, ISO 220, 1/2000, f/5.6

This time out I set my camera to manual and used auto-ISO instead of setting it manually. I used a shutter speed of either 1/1600 or 1/2000 and an aperture of either f/5.6 or f/6.3. It was a bright morning so I never bothered to check my resulting ISOs until I returned home.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 175.3mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 175.3mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6

The birds are in nest-building mode right now so there are many opportunities to capture images of cormorants flying with nesting material in their beaks. Some, like the individual in the image above, seem to be eternal optimists carrying branches much longer than their bodies.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 146.8mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 146.8mm, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6

I usually shoot birds-in-flight in single frames only, but decided to shoot primarily in AF-C at 15 fps using subject tracking as I thought the majority of Nikon 1 owners would likely shoot in this manner.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 254.1mm, ISO 640, 1/2000, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 254.1mm, ISO 640, 1/2000, f/6.3

I found that it was very easy to burn through a lot of memory cards shooting like this…which reminded me why I hate shooting in AF-C at 15 fps…culling through thousands of images from one morning of shooting was a real pain!

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 560, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 560, 1/1600, f/6.3

All kidding aside, the AF-C on my Nikon 1 V2 worked very well, even with the cormorants flying low to the water and close to the wave chop.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 254.1mm, ISO 500, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 254.1mm, ISO 500, 1/2000, f/5.6

It can be a challenge to find your subject when shooting with the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 as the equivalent field-of-view on the long end of the zoom is 810mm.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 560, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 560, 1/1600, f/6.3

I found it was much easier to locate my subject by setting the zoom at about 125mm, then zooming in tighter with a quick roll of my wrist.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 261mm, ISO 400, 1/1600, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 261mm, ISO 400, 1/1600, f/5.6

I tried to shoot in short bursts of 8-10 images but it was very easy to rip off 30 images or more then be forced to wait until the buffer cleared.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 240.6mm, ISO 560, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 240.6mm, ISO 560, 1/1600, f/6.3

I did miss a few AF-C runs but that was likely due more to ‘operator error’ than the fault of the lens or the V2. Many of them were trying to capture birds zipping by when flying downwind.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 500, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKKOR CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 500, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 240.6mm, ISO 450, 1/1600, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 240.6mm, ISO 450, 1/1600, f/5.6

The runs that the V2 nailed worked out well, giving me more than enough selection, tired eyes, and special ‘high user’ status with the makers of Visine.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 228.9mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 228.9mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/6.3

Given that my Nikon 1 V2 has a 14MP sensor it did take some discipline to not fire off my AF-C bursts too early which would have resulted in more aggressive crops with my final images.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 186.1mm, ISO 400, 1/1600, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 186.1mm, ISO 400, 1/1600, f/5.6

I hope you haven’t been bored with the number of bird-in-flight cormorant images in this article. In general, mirror-less cameras are not known for their bird-in-flight image capturing capability so I wanted to include a decent selection to give you a good idea of what the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR can do with this subject matter.

Here are a few additional images I captured during the same morning shoot.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 118.4mm, ISO 220, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 118.4mm, ISO 220, 1/1600, f/6.3

The strength of the wind was such that all a gull had to do was spread its wings in order to hover motionless in the air, like the one in the image above. This one obviously thought I was much too close to its hatchlings as it screeched incessantly at me while it hovered above my head.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234.5mm, ISO 320, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234.5mm, ISO 320, 1/1600, f/6.3

Regardless of our objective when we’re out shooting, nature has a way of presenting other opportunities to us like the gull fishing in the above image.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/5.6

Or these two goslings forming a mirror image and acting like poster children for DoubleMint gum.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 450, 1/1600, f/6.3
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 450, 1/1600, f/6.3

And finally taking to the water to allow for this image.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250.2mm, ISO 450, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250.2mm, ISO 450, 1/2000, f/5.6

The cormorant colony at Hamilton harbour has a lot of potential to capture a range of perched bird, and bird-in-nest images.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 228.9mm, ISO 250, 1/1600, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 228.9mm, ISO 250, 1/1600, f/5.6

While the bird-in-flight shooting capability of the Nikon 1 system may not be as good as a DSLR in terms of shooting in a wider range of lighting conditions, I think that very respectable results can be achieved with the Nikon 1 system, especially when the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR zoom lens is used. The more I use it, the more I love it!

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 280, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 280, 1/2000, f/5.6

Technical Note:
All images were captured hand-held using a Nikon 1 V2 and 1 Nikon CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR lens. Images in this article were created from RAW files processed through DxO OpticsPro 10 including PRIME noise reduction. A DNG file was then exported and additional adjustments were made in CS6 and Nik Suite as required.

NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 287.2mm, ISO 360, 1/2000, f/5.6
NIKON 1 V2 + 1 NIKON CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 287.2mm, ISO 360, 1/2000, f/5.6

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7 thoughts on “Photographing cormorants in flight with Nikon 1”

  1. Tom again your BIF images are just spectacular! Love the shots with the twigs and branches and such. Shows how busy they are!

    Question on focus – are you using single point? Sorry I think you have answered my focus questions before…

    In fact it would be good to get your whole tutorial on BIF and settings and recommendations. 🙂 You do such an amazing job with this…

    Thanks again!

    Mike

    1. Hi Mike,
      Glad you enjoyed the images! When shooting BIF I use the ‘subject tracking’ AF setting. I’ve recently switched from shooting in aperture priority to manual with auto-ISO.
      Tom

      1. Thanks Tom. That is what I have been using too.

        I am intrigued by the switch to manual? I have been doing shutter priority to keep the speed up but I like the idea of manual where ISO is the only change with me controlling both. Hmmmm You have me thinking…

        1. Hi Mike,
          Give it a try to see how it works for you. I know that you use OpticsPro 10 and the PRIME noise reduction function. I likely would not have made the switch to manual settings and letting ISO ‘float’ if it wasn’t for OpticsPro.
          Tom

  2. Hi Tom
    Great shots, excellent shots…! you are showing us perfectly what can be achhieved with this small sensor camera.
    regards

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