Before I start guiding 5 nature-loving photographers through Iceland again with Christina on Saturday, I would like to tell you about the last few days. I had the opportunity to visit the offspring of long-eared owls 😊
This was a great little project that has challenged me since Whitsun. I was able to combine it with testing my new camera, the Nikon Z8 - more on that in a moment.
After my very extensive series on the eagle owls in 2021, I can say that the light conditions for the eagle owls are still an absolute luxury in contrast to the long-eared owls. This was partly due to the habitat and partly to the behaviour of the animals. They became active even later than eagle owls and they are moving much more. It is difficult to capture this because of the shutter speeds required.
Nevertheless, I found the animals fascinating and it is always fun to finally dedicate oneself to a new animal species and not always photograph the same thing.
In the following, I will briefly report on my impressions of the Nikon Z8; however, this is not a normal test, but an experience report that might be more interesting for owners of Z-Supertele. For those who are less interested in technology, it is best to scroll down to the picture series.
The Nikon Z8 turned out to be much more interesting than expected: for now, it should mainly serve my trips where I leave my Supertele at home, such as tomorrow's trip to Iceland. Here, the Z9 has always been completely oversized in the last year and a half.
I also needed a second body with very good autofocus and viewfinder (which ruled out the Z6II and Z7II). Two z9 bodies are very difficult to pack, as I found out in March in the Arctic.
So much for the reason for buying.
My first impressions will not be about the image quality or functionality of the Z8 at all. Sorry, but that makes little sense in my eyes with a camera that has the exact same sensor, viewfinder, autofocus and buffers etc etc as the Z9.
Steve Perry, for example, summarised it quite clearly the other day that even the write (buffer) and autofocus speed are exactly the same, see here.
The only thing it doesn't have is the great battery of the Z9, and I don't need the SD card option. All in all, the purchase was quite a nobrainer for me, finally there is the "little Z9". So for now, the z8 was supposed to complement the Z9.
But then came the surprising part for me:
So, since I had the opportunity to photograph long-eared owls for the last two weeks, I took the Z8 for wildlife photography more for testing, together with my Z 600 TC-S.
Now somehow I always assumed that the big Z9 would fit my biggest lens better and that the weight distribution would be more harmonious. This is also a completely common assumption among nature photographers. This assumption is simply wrong if you don't necessarily need the portrait format grip.
To cut to the chase: after just a few hours of photography with the Z8, it was clear to me: the Z9 is out 😵. And a second Z8 in the house. Why?
The handling, the weight distribution of the combo as well as the weight saving are so good that my Z600 feels a whole kilo lighter, in fact it is 460g (incl. the obligatory L-angle for my photography)!
I believe that, in addition to the significant weight saving, the better weight balance also has an effect here: yes, exactly, I wrote BETTER weight balance! Because in the last few weeks I had often read in forums that people feared a worse weight distribution with the small Z8, in my eyes exactly the opposite is the case and I would like to give more reasons for this.
It also depends on the type of hands-free use: when I use the camera hands-free, the front part of my (Kirk) lens foot always rests on the heel of my hand and sideways I hold the lens with my fingers. Many people do this, but there are also other techniques. The weight is almost entirely on the ball of my hand:
I have now explicitly compared it: when I let go of the back (right) hand on the Z8 in this position, the combo still tilts slightly towards the camera, backwards! With the Z9, the whole thing is clearly back-heavy and pulls strongly backwards.
I could place the left hand on the Kirk quite a bit further back and the weight distribution with the Z8 is then perfectly balanced. This point excites me and feels much better when shooting freehand! After the many hours with long exposure times with the owls, I am also very sure that I will be able to hold the camera a little more steadily thanks to the half kilo less.
This thing probably doesn't work with the heavier predecessor models like the 600 FL, but with the TC-S absolutely, probably also with the other Z-Supertele.
In my eyes, a single question remains: do I need the portrait grip? As described in my Z9 review at the time, I came from the d850 myself and got on wonderfully - I owned the BG but hardly used it.
In the last year and a half with the Z9, I have actually never been able to get used to the portrait buttons when panning (rather rarely) and have used the camera like I used my d850 without battery grip for years. But I can imagine that those coming from the D4/D5 have a hard time with this.
I have also drawn in this picture where the centre of gravity is exactly, in this position the combo is exactly balanced on the Flexshooter (with the Kirk-LP 72 on the lens, four Peakdesign clips and the Smallrig L-Bracket on the Z8).
And that changes a lot: suddenly the Z600 is much more usable freehand and the Z400 4.5 is much more harmonious in the combo - something I criticised in my blog entry from December.
By the way, since I was already asked about it: sure, the battery of the Z8 only holds about 40% of the capacity of the Z9 battery and I would prefer a bigger battery. But with a fully charged battery, even with the Z8, I haven't even managed to completely empty the battery during a single photo session (morning or evening, about 2.5 hours) in the 11 photo sessions I've had in the last two weeks. The theoretical net runtime is probably around 2 hours. That's OK for me.
I use a Smallrig again as an L-bracket and am very satisfied. It weighs about 132g, the Z9 angle was another 20g heavier. The Z8 bracket also extends the contact surface of the Z8 for the ball of the hand by about 1 cm. The case of the Z8 is therefore large enough and I am glad that it was not designed smaller, as is usually the case with the competition. A body like that of the Z7II, for example, would not be an option for wildlife photography in my eyes.
Last but not least, the smaller body also has an advantage for me when photographing from the car (from the bean bag), which I do a lot, see also my last blog series. With my d850 I always held the then 600 with my left hand at the narrow beginning of the lens, directly at the bayonet. Right hand on the cam. This no longer worked well with the Z9 due to the bead of the bigger grip. With the Z8 this works again.
Conclusion: not having a portrait grip is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. If you can live without the large chassis, I personally would clearly recommend the Z8, the advantage in handling is significant.
So much for my impressions of the Z8. Attached are a few "test pictures" from the forest; even though the lighting conditions were difficult, it was a lot of fun.
All images were developed and denoised using Lightroom only.
Have fun with the series and I say goodbye to the north for a few days 🖐
I hope you enjoyed the series 🖐