Bird Videos with Nikon 1 CX 70-300

During my recent trip to Cuba I had the opportunity to try out my Nikon 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 lens shooting some hand-held video of various birds that were in the small wetland area that was adjacent to the hotel.

NOTE: click on images to enlarge

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

Typically when shooting video outdoors with my Nikon D800 I would have used a variable neutral density filter to help get correct exposures, a solid tripod, a fluid video head, and a shotgun microphone. Since I packed light for my holiday I didn’t bother bringing a tripod or video head and shot hand-held with my Nikon 1 V2 and CX 70-300 instead.

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

I did bring a variable neutral density filter with me but I ended up not using it. I found that my Nikon 1 V2 was having a difficult time acquiring and holding AF-F (Full-time AF) when I had to cut 3 stops of light from the scenes with my neutral density filter to get reasonable exposures. In addition when using the filter-darkened EVF to shoot hand-held video it was quite challenging to assess whether the subjects I was videoing were actually in focus.

NIKON 1 V2 + NIKON 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6, f/5.6, 1/640, 300mm
NIKON 1 V2 + NIKON 1 CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6, f/5.6, ISO-400, 1/640, 300mm

Since I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in post-production with any of my holiday video clips I changed some of the settings I would typically use. Here are a series of screen shots showing the settings that I used:

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I shot the video in 1080 HD at 30 fps.

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I used Manual exposure settings so I could control all aspects of the exposure. To get natural looking motion at 30 fps it is important to shoot at 1/60th shutter speed. I also kept ISO set at 160 to help keep exposures close to where they needed to be.

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Since I was shooting in a range of lighting conditions I used Auto White Balance.

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I set vibration control for ‘Normal’ as I found that ‘Active’ caused too much internal lens movement and made the footage look a little jumpy.

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I would typically do quite a bit of colour grading in post with client productions and as a result set Picture Control to ‘Neutral’ to give me flat looking base footage. Since I considered this footage as ‘holiday clips’ only I wanted to spend as little time in post as possible so I used the ‘Standard’ setting instead.

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After trying various metering modes I determined that Matrix seemed to work best for these quick, hand-held video clips.

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Since I was anticipating doing a lot of panning of birds swimming or moving around the surface of the water I used AF-F, Full time Auto Focus. This worked reasonably well and as long as my AF-F focus point didn’t get confused with plants or branches in the scene my Nikon 1 V2 seemed to hold focus with a decent level of consistency. It did lose focus from time to time but seemed to pick it back up again without too much hesitation.

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And, finally to allow for subject movement towards and away from the camera I set my Nikon 1 V2 for subject tracking.

I shot a few video clips using my Nikon ME-1 shotgun microphone to try to get some useable background nature sounds for the Blue-Winged Teal production that I did for this article.

The majority of my video footage was shot with my Nikon 1 CX 70-300 fully extended to 300mm. This made hand-holding a challenge as even the slightest camera movement with static subjects was quite noticeable, and in my view made most of the clips of static subjects I shot unusable. I was hoping for better but without a tripod and fluid video head these types of captures were generally beyond my hand-held skill level when shooting the CX 70-300 fully extended to 300mm.

Shooting birds swimming or wading in the water did work better as the subject movement tended to mask the unavoidable camera movement.

Since I couldn’t use my neutral density filter for the reasons mentioned earlier, I had to stop the Nikon 1 CX 70-300 down to try to achieve proper exposures. As a result many of the individual video clips were shot at f/16. While this aperture setting for still images would have produced soft images due to severe diffraction, the motion in the video clips helped to hide the lack of sharpness to a degree.

Overall, the shots panning with swimming or moving birds seemed to work out the best. If I was going to try more nature video I would definitely purchase the tripod foot for the CX 70-300 and use a tripod and fluid video head to capture footage of static subjects. I think hand-holding, even at 300mm, with this lens can produce acceptable footage of moving subjects, but it does take some practice, coupled with some patience.

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Article, images and video are Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation is allowed without written permission.

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