Reader Questions Answered

“What’s too rainy for the Nikon mirrorless cameras?”

I first saw this question pop up in a dpreview forum, then got several email queries asking the same thing. My answer is “it depends.”

Let’s start with the Z9, Nikon’s top camera. I’ve used the Z9 in absolutely torrential conditions multiple times with no or minimal protection and have encountered no issues. I know of other pros reporting the same thing. However, I have a few caveats: (1) you must have a hot shoe protector mounted; (2) the rubber flaps covering connectors must be securely closed; (3) your card door must be closed and tight fitting (I’ve seen some warp over time; the door is user-replaceable, so if that happens you need to replace it); and (4) you need to be using weather-sealed lenses, particularly ones with the extra gasket at the lens mount. 

My rule of thumb with the Nikon pro bodies has always been this: if you’re having trouble keeping your eyepiece or front lens element clear, the weather’s too severe to not be using full rain protection. Also, you never rub the camera dry with a towel as you’ll just push water into the camera; you use dabbing and let the towel suck up the water. 

The Z9 is well-sealed for the most part, but I also tend to use a rain cover (or have one handy) if I’m going to be in the rain for very long. Also: never change cards in the rain: the card slots are soldered to the main electronics board and a weak point in the weather-sealing if you’re changing them in wet conditions. 

The Z5/Z6/Z7 models are a somewhat different case. While they’re also reasonably weather-sealed, it’s easier for water to ingress to where it doesn’t belong, which will destroy the camera eventually. I’ve seen these models splashed with water that the Z9 shrugs off that eventually exhibit a problem that can’t be fixed. 

My rule of thumb with the smaller bodies is this: light mist for short periods is fine. The heavier and longer the precipitation, the more you need to use a rain cover of some sort. Even a simple plastic bag helps, particularly if it covers the lens mount, connector area, hot shoe, and card slot door. Again, sealed lenses are what you want to be using, and you must use a hot shoe protector. 

Personally, I consider the Z30, Z50, and Zfc to be “disposable” cameras. By that I mean that if the potential image is worth it, I don’t mind risking the camera. These DX cameras tend to have less dedicated weather-sealing components than the FX bodies, and rely far more on plastic overlap to hold off water than rubber gaskets. That means that they don’t do nearly as well in heavy rain or direct splashes. You really want to “bag them” in any substantive wet condition. 

Note that there are some simple “underwater housing” bags that protect the camera quite well while still leaving it usable (you’re moving buttons and controls through a clear rubber-like layer). However, the problem I find with those is keeping their front “lens dome” free from water droplets; you’d really need to “shade the dome” to be able to freely photograph in the rain with one. 

Decent casual water protection for your camera isn’t particularly expensive, and packs very small into your bag. I’d carry at least something like the proper size Op-tech rainsleeve for my camera/lens (it comes in three sizes). B&H carries very nice, inexpensive Ruggard covers that a step up from the Op-tech. But remember, you’ll still probably need to dry your gear at some point, so you also need a portable towel that you can keep dry, too. And the front element of your lens may need cleaning from time to time. 

“Which teleconverter (TC) should I use, the 1.4x or the 2x?”

The fact that this question is being asked is indicative of the fact that you understand that there are tradeoffs. The problem is, you don’t know what the tradeoffs actually are.

The real problem is that variability comes into play. I’ve seen lens/TC combos that are remarkably good—my 100-400mm f/4-5.6 VR S with my 1.4x, for instance—and I’ve seen others that are clearly deficient. Note I used “my” in my interior comment: I can’t guarantee that your lens and TC sample will perform the same. Whichever TC you pick up will not have been tested with your sample of the lens, thus sample variation of lens and TC can be a bit of a dice roll. The Z-mount seems better in this regard than the F-mount was, but I’ve still seen just enough variation to suggest that you pay attention and look for it.

One way I tend to look at lens/TC combos that work well together is this: it’s like you’ve asked for more diffraction. The combo will produce less edge acuity than the lens itself. That looks a bit like diffraction (it’s not the same, but visually similar in impact). How much less acuity? That’s the primary variability I tend to see. (You’ll also get a bit less contrast due to the additional air/glass surfaces.) 

So, let’s say you’re standing in front of a lion (not recommended) and an 800mm lens would fully frame him, but all you have is a 400mm lens. Your choices are:

  • Use 400mm and crop. The edge acuity and contrast will be as good as you can get from the lens.
  • Use the 400mm with the 1.4x TC and crop. You’ll lose some edge acuity and contrast. 
  • Use the 400mm with the 2x TC. You’ll lose more edge acuity and contrast.

You noticed the word “crop” in two of the bullets, right? That’s taking whatever acuity you had and blowing it up. Some lenses don’t do so well with that. For instance, the old 80-400mm f/4-5.6 F-mount lens was weak in acuity at 400mm. Thus, when you cropped, you were exposing that lack of acuity more in your final image (assuming same sized print viewed at same distance; the usual “all else equal” caveats). 

I can’t really answer the question definitively for you, both because I don’t know your tolerance for sharpness as well as what your samples of the lens and TC might produce. I do try to develop my comments about lenses and TCs from multiple samples over time, though. My initial reviews are generally based on single samples, but because I teach workshops and work with other photographers, I can look at their samples and compare results over time. I’ll adjust my review comments a bit if I start seeing significant sample variation.

So I’m going to answer the question in a hierarchy of how to approach the problem. In order of preference:

  1. Use the right lens and subject distance. Right place with right lens should always be your ultimate preference. 
  2. If conditions fit the dynamic range properly, use the DX image area. You’re losing effective dynamic range, but if your subject and exposure still fit within the range left after the stop you lost, this is your next best choice. I now have my Z9’s Fn1 button programmed to FX/DX switch for this very reason.
  3. If your lens has a built-in TC, use it. In theory, this is the best choice as the lens and TC passed a level of quality testing together at the factory and the TC doesn’t introduce another mount into the equation. 
  4. Add a 1.4x TC to the lens. This can sometimes be as good or nearly as good as #2 or #3 if your samples align perfectly and the lens is good to start with. But that’s not guaranteed, and thus falls down the priority list.
  5. Add a 2x TC to the lens. This is never going to be as good at the pixel peeping level as any of the above. 

Which brings me to this: note the “pixel peeping” comment. Too many folk are trying to make decisions without considering both input and output resolutions. In the full frame Z world right now where most of the TC questions arise, we have 24mp and 45mp image sensors. That’s the input, and that means you’ll end up with 6000 or 8256 pixels across the long axis. 

What’s the long axis of your desired output? 

    INPUT - CROP > OUTPUT

That’s your goal: input minus the crop needs to have more pixels left than your output requires. 

If we’re talking Web output, generally FullHD is the reference point, which means 1920 pixels. Let’s round that to 2000. You can crop the 24mp sensor by 2/3rds on the long axis and still be fine for (current) Internet use. If you’re already doing that and still need a TC then I’d just say you’re a dreamer. You’re simply not close enough to your subject to render the subject well. So much so that I’d tend to recommend that you buy and master a Coolpix P950 or P1000, because you simply need way more lens than anything else.

You might be starting to get the idea that I’m not a fan of TCs. That’s correct. I try to avoid them as much as possible. The only ones that I use are ones that I confirm can come close to equalling #2, above. Which means I’m only using 1.4x TCs, and only on lenses that tolerate them particularly well. 

Disclaimer: I’ve published images on this site that were taken with the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S and the 2x TC. Mainly because even after I got the pre-production Z9 to test, Nikon didn't yet have any longer Z-mount lens, and I was trying to avoid adding the FTZ adapter into the mix until I could establish how well the Z9 focus worked with native lenses. I found the results quite tolerable, but not optimal. 

The bottom line is “your mileage may vary.” I will say that the Z TCs tend to be better than the F-mount TCs in preserving more of the lens’ resolving capability. So if you were happy with F-mount TCs, you’ll be very happy with Z-mount ones. 

“What do I do if I lose the plastic cap that came with my battery?” 

The caps came with the battery to remove legal liability, for the most part. If certain pins get connected accidentally, the battery can react in ways that would cause it to overheat and possibly cause fires. 

The good news is that for some time now Nikon has been not exposing the connection pins on the high capacity batteries (EN-EL15 and EN-EL18). They’re recessed in the case between protective ribs that make short circuiting highly unlikely. If you’re truly worried about accidentally creating a connection across pins, you should use the supplied plastic cap when the battery is not in the camera (where pin short circuits would also be protected against). If you lose that cap, you should buy a simple battery carrying case that encloses the battery, such as the ThinkTank Battery Case.

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