Found My Ultimate Flight Rig

Beech 18 captured by Z 8 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x

My evolution in rigs for photographing flight has taken many forms over the decades. It started with a F3HP with a 400f5.6 EDIF w/TC-14 on a gunstock moving other lenses like the 80-400VR, 200-400 and then the spectacular 180-400VR. While all these rigs produced images I still love and cherish, they all but the first have one trait I did not enjoy. They are heavy. At the end of the day photographing birds on the wing or aircraft overhead, my arm and back are tired. That just goes with the joys of making images. Recently I made a huge change in large part because, I’m tired of tired arm and back. I was sad to see the 180-400vR go but man, I am one happy camper now at the end of a shoot and not just because of the images!

I’ve spent nearly an entire month shooting just the Z 8 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x photographing birds and aircraft on the wing and my arm and back have never felt better nor my images making me more happy! More importantly my precentage of keepers has creeped up while my creativity went up a notch. The sharpness with this combo is off the charts but I already knew that. Why I think my creativity went up a notch is because I simplified my shooting by removing the zoom element. I spent some time looking at older images and I found a pattern where I wasn’t as tight on a subject as I might have been able to be as I was zoomed “back” rather than all the way out. Perhaps I didn’t want to commit, couldn’t zoom fast enough, combination of both, whatever it was is seemed to hold me back. Removing the zoom option, the light weight package, the blistering sharpness makes the Z 8 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x my ultimate flight rig!

14k Images, 10 Days Later – Z 8 1st Thoughts

Kodiak Brown Bear captured by Z 8 / Z600f4 @840mm

The Z 8 is a delightful, powerful, fun camera that I really have enjoyed getting to know this past two weeks. When I get any new piece of gear, I wed myself to it for the first couple of weeks to get to know all it has to offer and problems it solves in my visual storytelling. I got the Z 8 for one main task, wed to the Z400f4.5 for bird photography. As it turned out the first ten days, the Z 8 has spent 90% of its time attached to the Z600f4. But no matter what it’s attached to, the Z 8 performs beautifully. In fact, there is only one thing I’m not thrilled with. And that is it being called the Z 9‘s “little brother.” Being a little brother, I think the Z 8 is better than that!

Getting right to my thoughts, how does the Z 8 stack up against the Z 9? That’s the biggest question I had from the start. What is “given up” in the smaller, lighter Z 8 (compared to Z 9)? In all reality, the loss of GPS and smaller battery (which video does inhale) is basically it. Yes, there are some features added, one card slot is now a SD rather than CFexpress and one Fn button has been moved but other than that, the Z 8 is not a little brother but a stand alone mini giant! All that I have come to expect from the Z 9 I found in the Z 8. The AF performance, frames per second, programmable everything, killer EVF performance and most importantly, file quality are in the Z 8 as delivered by the Z 9. The only one feature I miss is the loss of the vertical firing button found on the taller, heaver Z 9. I think that’s the big attribute of the Z 8 that some of missed, its smaller and weight less than the Z 9 but with all the performance of the Z 9!

Many have asked if I “like” the Z 8. That’s a resounding YES! Some of asked if the “reduced” weather sealing is an issue? I had it out in the Alaskan rain getting nice and wet and it just kept clicking. So from that anecdotal evidence, I’d say no. One person asked what I feel is the most important question about the Z 8. What’s the shooting experience like? That’s very important to me and I was so pleased with the fun the Z 8 includes in its performance. Like I mentioned, the majority of the time it was connect to the Z600f4 while I was with the Kodiak Brown Bears. It made it easy to keep my attention on the bears, the story and not it. I need gear that doesn’t require my attention, just does it job and does it well. The one thing that took a little while to wrap my head around was the battery use shooting video. In that department, the Z 8 does not perform like the Z 9 but it shouldn’t. The Z 8’s battery is much smaller while producing the same video as the Z 9. I was disappointed in myself as it would seem that I didn’t take good care of my older ENEL15 batteries. They work just fine in the Z 8 but I had just left them in an uncharged state for the past year or more. They don’t want to hold a charge so I picked up new EN-EL15c and all is well.

Picking up the Z 8 and shooting with it was seamless as it is just a more compact, lighter Z 9. This includes its setting which for the most part are the same as those in the Z 9. I was actually not planning on doing any kind of video or field report since in my mind, the Z 8 is already proven as it is basically a Z 9. I’ll be honest with you, the interest in the Z 8 really has overwhelmed my inbox so I felt I needed to put some words to my thoughts. I can answer the #1 question now that I’ve been asked about the Z 8. Do I recommend the Z 8 or the Z 9? You want to save money, weight and size, the Z 8 rocks! You want all the bells and whistle and sex appeal, the Z 9 is your camera! I can tell ya that after this short time of 14k images, 10 days of intense shooting with the Z 8, my first thoughts are, this is one sweet camera that I’m so glad is now part of my kit.

And with that, I’m off for an air-to-air tonight with, yep, you guessed it, the Z 8!

Benro Mammoth & Wildlife Head – The Cadillac of Support!

Benro Mammoth TMTH44C with Wildlife Head with Z 9 / Z600f4 attached

My drive to find better, lighter gear brought me to my friends at Bedford Camera for their advice. Their recommendation, the Benro Mammoth TMTH44C with Wildlife Head was right on. Simply put, the Benro Mammoth TMTH44C with Wildlife Head is the finest tripod and head I have ever had the fun to take to the field, ever! I was needing a physically lighter and yet still solid platform for the Z 9 / Z600f4 that fits in my luggage, goes to my height, and is stable and smooth enough for stills and video panning. The pros and Bedfords said this would be the one and they are soooo right!

Benro Mammoth TMTH44C with Wildlife Head with Z 9 / Z600f4 attached

I’ll be honest, I will do a video to explain all the Cadillac performance this rig provides. It starts with its all-new carbon fiber legs. A tripod collar with 3/8″ attach points with a smaller quad while bringing the stability required for a big rig. The smoothness of the head, when you pan with its fluid design, is spectacular. Once set, you can leave the pan tension as you like and use a separate lever to tighten them down when you want to move. The list of innovations with this rig goes on and on but here’s one thing you’ll truly love. The price for this tripod and head is less than the price of most heads, alone! You’ll be hearing more from me about this amazing tripod and head, the amazing Benro Mammoth TMTH44C with Wildlife Head!

Z 8 Settings

Z 8 / Z14-24f2.8

I’m still taken aback with the power and performance of the Z 9 “sized down” into the package we now know at the Z 8! Having now shot a little with it, I find it just to be a lighter Z 9 which is a cool thing. When I went through the settings, I found few changes making the Z 8 incredibly familiar from the start. mtc

The Beauty & Ease of B&W

F4 Phantom captured by Z 6 / Z85f1.8

Black & White photography caught my imagine and ignited my romance from the very start of my photography in high school. My love for its power and inspiration has never wavered but sure has been challenged in the digital age. The Z changed all of that making it literally a simple click from vision to image. Many ask about it, some have really complicated ways to get to it and for a lot, it’s too scary to even attempt. I’d like to help on all accounts.

Here is a simple PDF on how I approach B&W. It has all my camera setting all the way through finishing in ACR. It’s all here step by step and for free! Photography is all about grabbing heart strings and nothing is more romantic than a well done B&W photograph. My hope is simple, you go out and tug at someone’s heart with your visual storytelling. The world needs more romance!

Yosemite Falls captured by Z 7 / Z24-70f4

MacBook Pro Max – Luxurious Speed!

The 16″ MacBook Pro Max

Updating computers to me is traumatic for the simple reason I come to thing of them as dear friends. My MacBook 2019 had served me very well and gone on many adventure saving my butt more times than I can count. But it’s time had come to be replaced. Whatever I got had big shoes to fill and so I went searching for info and advice. I decided to wait to the very last minute to pull the trigger and got the 16″ MacBook Pro Max with the M2 chip. It is simply spectacular and by far the best Mac I’ve ever owned and already have saved the day!

Why the Pro Max? I have the M1 iMac and really have enjoyed its performance so there was no hesitation to go M2. I went with the Pro Max for a couple of reasons. The biggest was speed when working with video editing with Premier when away from the office. Next was dealing with big uploads / ingests. For example last week in FL & LA with Snail Kites and airshow, 24:33 for 9096 Nefs. Then filing them to external 8TB SSD drive, with 40MPBs cable, blistering speed. This is the only way I know I can buy time and time is as essential to me. What’s loaded in the Pro Max?

• 2TB SSD storage
• 96GB unified memory
• Apple M2 Max with 12-core CPU, 38-core GPU,
16-core Neural Engine
• 140W USB-C Power Adapter
• Three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC card slot, headphone jack, MagSafe 3 port
• Accessory Kit
• 16-inch Liquid Retina XDR display

I went with the 2TB rather then all the way with 4TB to save a little coin but more importantly, it’s all the space I figured I would need. The size SSD permits me to shoot for a day, ingest all those images and then if the worse happens, have enough to rescue a card. Well, that exact thing basically happened. On my last day of my Snail Kite shoot, the external SSD crashed during the backup. I had the backup from the day before so nothing was lost but I had to “rescue” the shoot from the current day (using ProGrade Recovery Pro) and edit the days shoot again. The Pro Max did a killer job and no images were lost. Phew!

The Pro Max is a tad heavier and a tad thicker but it no biggie. I didn’t have to buy any new accessories which was nice. I did get a Mag Cable for on the road and so happy Apple has gone back to that for power. I have gone through all my cables to make sure I have nothing but 40MPBs speed. I’ve gotten the latest ProGrade CFexpress cards reader for max speed ingesting and with that, I’m all set for speed. And with that, I have a new best friend and travel companion that I really enjoy!

Note: I did do a complete clean install of all apps rather than using the very convenient and effective “move” that copies old Macs to new. The reason … this was my 5th MacBook and thought it was time to do a clean install. It was real simple so glad I did it!

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