Whale Watching With Nikon Z6
We'd like to share our experience of capturing videos and photos of whales in the Saint Lawrence River using the NIKON Z6 and NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8. Over the past few years, we've been on numerous whale watching excursions, but this time we embarked on a two-week journey, spending several days aboard a Zodiak to observe whales in the Saguenay estuary. The estuary is part of the Saguenay St. Lawrence Marine Park, located near Tadoussac. The trip took place in August, 2021. If you are looking for whale video recordings please visit our YouTube channel.
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Comments about Video Recordings
The whale watching excursions were conducted on a small Zodiak boat which could accommodate up to 8 individuals. The captain was experienced and skillful in navigating the vessel to approach the whales without causing any disturbance to their natural behavior. Opting to stay on the Zodiak provided an ideal viewpoint for capturing photos and videos as it was positioned almost at sea level. Our departures were only scheduled on days with low winds, eliminating any concerns about getting my equipment wet. I found that my 70-200mm lens was sufficient and I didn't need a larger lens. In fact, we were able to get so close to the whales that a longer lens may have hindered my opportunities to capture the moment.
Some photography, video recording advices:
- Prevent sliding off at the end. In many cases, while recording, I moved my focus too soon away from the place where a whale just dived, losing a few seconds of video feed of the whirling water surface.
- Focus on one animal while recording. When there have been several whales surfacing around our boat, I used to focus my camera on one whale to another one. This results in short and shaking recordings. Preferable to focus on one animal during the full breathing sequence.
- Keep camera horizontally. I many cases, the camera wasn’t levelled horizontally. It can be fixed in post-production but doing so with video clips is a hassle.
- Watch for reflections. On the water with sunshine, reflections from small drops are frequently. Use exposure correction to reduce burned out spots.
- Check settings Aperture/Shutter Speed/ISO. Conditions frequently changes so I adjusted from time to time aperture to achieve good exposure. Mostly I used f11 aperture and a shutter speed of 1/1600s.
- FX vs DX. Not always possible using FX but whenever the animals are close and frame filling, switching from DX to FX.
Comments about Nikon Z6 w/ NIKKOR 70-200mm
Throughout my whale watching trips, I seldom encountered problems with focusing. My camera and lens combination quickly locked onto any surfacing whale, which was crucial since certain species only appear briefly on the surface. However, I did face a challenging situation when encountering fog, which was quite common during my visit in late August. In such conditions, the camera often struggled to maintain focus and it was particularly challenging to re-establish focus, especially when anticipating the location where the next whale would surface.
Camera Stability / Handheld
When out at sea on a small boat, tripods become impractical. In photography, using a shutter speed of 1/1250s or higher can mitigate the impact of boat movement. However, videography is an entirely different matter. The boat's rapid movement over the waves made it difficult to keep the camera steady and level, requiring extensive post-production editing. My best advice for now is simply to practice, practice, practice.
Sound Recording / Microphone
During my filming, I tried both the camera's internal microphone and an external shotgun microphone. However, recordings with the internal microphone were practically unusable due to the wind and other ambient sounds. On the other hand, the shotgun microphone, specifically the Rode NTG-2, produced much better results when plugged directly into the camera. The only downside was that the mic obstructed my view through the viewfinder. In retrospect, I should have used the microphone with my Zoom H4nPro to avoid this issue.
We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Dany Zbinden, our captain during the whale watching trips and owner of Meriscope, a privately-owned marine research station, for providing us with the opportunity to go on whale watching trips.