Photographing pelicans with Nikon 1

During a recent trip to South Carolina I had the opportunity to photograph pelicans with my Nikon 1 gear.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 70mm, efov 189mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 70mm, efov 189mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-320

The number of birds was significantly reduced from our last visit in 2015, likely due to us visiting South Carolina much earlier this year. Even though I had far fewer image opportunities than in 2015 my Nikon 1 gear proved very reliable and I was able to capture a reasonable number of acceptable images.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234mm, efov 633mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-220
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234mm, efov 633mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-220

I made a number of visits to the Murrells Inlet area to create the images in this article. All were captured hand-held using a Nikon 1 V2 along with the 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-360
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-360

Since I was much more familiar with my 1 Nikon CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 lens than I was during our last visit in 2015, I was better able to capitalize on the image opportunities afforded to me by these magnificent birds.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 3004mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-250
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-250

Due to the reduced number of birds I had far fewer chances to capture images of pelicans in flight. The reliability and speed of my Nikon 1 V2 when shooting in AF-C with subject tracking at 15fps did not let me down.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-720
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-720

Late one afternoon there were only a few pelicans in the area. They were flying low past various harbour posts and moored fishing boats. I was surprised that I was able to capture some usable images as the pelicans quickly appeared from behind posts, then disappeared just as rapidly.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-640
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-640

One afternoon a pelican surprised me by dropping straight down from the top of a harbour pole, making a huge splash in the water beneath it. Although I missed it catching a fish it did stay around long enough for me to capture an image of it swallowing its prize.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234mm, efov 633mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-250
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234mm, efov 633mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-250
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234mm, efov 633mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234mm, efov 633mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-320

As I was photographing one pelican at 15fps in AF-C using subject tracking it kept flying straight towards me and I ended up capturing the frames above with the bird more than filling the frame. Luckily I had my 1 Nikon CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 set at “full” so the lens was still able to focus at the shorter distance.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-500
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-500

Sometimes pelicans don’t have to be airborne to make interesting images. The bird above was slapping its wings against the surface of the water creating quite a scene. The photo above is one from a nice AF-C run that I was able to capture.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-360
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-360

I also enjoy capturing images of stationary pelicans, either full body or profile images. I love the prehistoric look of these wonderful birds.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 254mm, efov 686mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-360
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 254mm, efov 686mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-360
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-720
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-720

Like most photographers I usually avoid taking photos of birds flying away from me.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-1100

The pelican in the image above was flying up from the surface of the water to land on a railing and I couldn’t help grabbing a quick AF-C run, yielding the image above with its interesting wing positions.

The final three images that I’d like to share with you are from the same AF-C run shot at 15fps with subject tracking. They are consecutive captures as the pelican was taking off. You will notice a slight change in ISO in the EXIF data, caused by shooting with an Auto-ISO setting.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 138mm, efov 373mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-500
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 138mm, efov 373mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-500
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 138mm, efov 373mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 138mm, efov 373mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 138mm, efov 373mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-560
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 138mm, efov 373mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-560

I certainly appreciate that professional wildlife photographers would prefer to shoot with larger sensor cameras and fast, long focal length telephoto prime lenses.

Having said that, I do think that the Nikon 1 system is capable of producing acceptable quality images for many hobbyists and enthusiasts. Especially when used in good lighting.

The Nikon 1 V2 that I used to capture these images was purchased as a used camera (along with a 10-30mm non-PD lens) and cost me less than $350. The 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 is currently the most expensive Nikon 1 lens and sells for about $1,100 in Canada. This is not an inconsequential investment but given the capability it delivers, it is a lot of fun for the money!

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Article and all images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication of any kind, or adaptation is allowed without written consent.

21 thoughts on “Photographing pelicans with Nikon 1”

  1. Tom, these are wonderful pelican photos and I love the photo of the one from the back — the color and pattern of the feathers are wonderful. Have you ever been to any of the swamps in Louisiana?

  2. These images look very nice. Having said that, I have a V3 and the CX 70-300 – and while I can sometimes get lucky, I find my keeper rate yo be about 20% that of my other Nikon dslr rigs. I’ve also found the quality to just be unacceptable for my tastes.

    Trust me, I really wanted to love this set-up. I used it exclusively for almost 8 months in an effort to find a lighter kit, but it just didn’t produce the results I was looking for. For a light kit, I’ve found a D7200 (soon to be replaced with the D500) with the new 300 f/4 F4 and a 1.4 teleconverter to be far superior in every way and only slightly more expensive, heavier and larger. I found the trade-off to be well worth it for me. The effective focal length is shorter, but even after cropping you end up with a far superior image and the keeper rate due to the superior autofocus system is much higher. You can even get away with the 1.7 converter in good light.

    1. Hi Chris,
      The most important thing is that each of us finds gear that works for us. Since your DSLR gear is doing a much better job for you than did your V3 and CX 70-300 then you should absolutely go with it. From what I’ve heard about the D500 it should be an outstanding camera and do a great job with your 300mm f/4.
      Tom

  3. Once again, you prove to be a Master of Conjecture, meaning that all the Big Boys with their master of the universe expensive DSLR’s , boom, boom telephotos, back injury inducing stabilizers, tripods, mono pods and enough gear to raise circumspection from even the most accommodating TSA agents, while you vaunt through with nary a raised eye brow, and sweep the poker table, with sheer expertise, and acumen. It is always an inspiring sight to behold.

  4. Tom:
    Welcome back to Southern Ontario. I trust you had a very relaxing vacation. There is great detail in these pictures. The colours are really outstanding. You and your camera are a super team!

  5. I love the CX 70-300! And compared with my full sized DSLR lenses it is a featherweight! You call it heavy? Great lens! Now, I wish Nikon would make another zoom a little longer. I don’t want much! LOL

    1. Hi Vern,

      ‘Heavy’ relative to other Nikon 1 lenses…I love to call the CX 70-300 the ‘mighty mouse’ of super telephoto zooms! I would love to see Nikon develop a 300-600 for the Nikon 1. Heck, I’d settle for a 200-500mm based on the Nikkor FX lens of the same focal length. And…if we both dream big…why not a 300-750mm!!!

      Tom

  6. Hi Thomas,

    Great shots and article.
    Using the tracking mode depends on the surroundings. If the light change from sky to mountain background it’s not useful. The light source must be the same during the tracking.
    As you write it’s fun to use and you can walk around with the gear. It’s so versatile.
    Last year I went to Burma. We spent 2 days on a lake in small pencil boats. The V1 and CX 70-300mm couldn’t be a better choice.

    1. Hi Steen,

      Thanks for your positive comment – much appreciated!

      I haven’t noticed an issue with the subject tracking not being effective when the subject is against a busy background when shooting with my V2’s. As long as I lock on when the subject is a decent size in the frame my V2’s track very well. I don’t know if this could be a difference between the V1 and V2.

      I never use the ‘floating’ subject tracking AF-C point though which may be an issue for other types of lighting and background.

      Tom

      1. I now use the V3 for birding. I only use the AF-C. No need to track this camera focus very fast.
        Technical there is a big difference between the V1 and V2.
        It’s not possible to get a V2 here in Hong Kong however the V3 is cheaper now.
        Now you have many visitors on your site I could suggest that you can mention the issue about the weight of the CX70-300mm. I have a strap screwed into the lens. The camera can’t support the weight from the lens when it’s attached and you carry the camera around the neck. You need to have a shorter strap to hold the lens.

        1. Hi Steen,
          Both the CX 70-300 and the 10-100 PD zooms are fairly heavy lenses and both could use some additional support. When out shooting with the CX 70-300 I typically use a small holster bag but a strap attached to the tripod foot would also be effective.
          Tom

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