Wildlife at 20,000 ISO!

high iso Venice
25,600 iso 60mm D700

My favourite Nikon body for shooting late night city and documentary style images is the D700. It’s a full frame low mega pixel camera which means that the pixels it contains have a large surface area that can gather lots of light. The shortfall is that the camera is a few years old so the processing of the images isn’t that great. For my black and white work this is actually perfect as it gives the images an almost grainy film like feel which is perfect.

Mara Kenya high iso
Mara, Kenya. 12,800 iso D700

When shooting wildlife if I want this same look I turn to the D700. However, if I want a cleaner non monochrome image I like to use the newer D810, the pixels are of course much smaller with 36.3 million packed into the same full frame size chip.

On a recent safari I was heading back to the camp after a few sunset shots and came across a leopard on the prowl for some wildebeests. It was almost impossible to actually see it without using the camera and checking the screen (I’m not a fan of ghostly IR type images) Shooting with the 200-400 f4 meant that I had to keep the shutter speed up at least around the 1/300 mark, I shot a few frames at 12,800 iso which is the D810 standard max.

Mara Kenya Leopard
Mara Kenya, 12,800 iso D810 400mm f4 1/800

Any remaining afterglow in the sky was now gone, it was virtually pitch black. The D810 has an extended iso of 25,600 and 51,000 the end mark is incredibly grainy so I thought id go with the lower setting. The leopard is a very muscular cat, watching it move was quite incredible as she was able to keep her whole body less than an inch from the ground as she stealthy moved toward her prey (which I now couldn’t see at all) Eventually she disappeared into total darkness.

Mara Kenya Leopard 2
D810 20,000 iso 380mm f4 1/500

The results might not be publishing quality but given the near zero light levels I think the chip performed very well. I do not like to use inbuilt camera noise reduction so the file received some curve and post reduction work in lightroom CC.

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