Most of what you’re likely to read about the Z 9 will be concerned with the extraordinary capabilities of its AF system, the accuracy of Eye AF, the fact that it can shoot 8K video—you know, all the nearly-magical stuff. We’ll get to the role those features play in Kristi Odom’s wildlife video, and still photography, in a moment, but we want to start with a feature that’s rather uniquely suited to her mission to create and foster an emotional connection between viewers of her photography and the subjects she photographs.
That feature is slow-motion video.
At 120 frames per second and 4K resolution, the resulting videos reveal details we couldn’t otherwise see, and they give us time to contemplate and appreciate what we’re seeing. “Slow motion shows us more of the nuances of behavior,” Kristi says. “It helps us explore and learn in a different way.”
Slow motion at 4K: greater detail, greater appreciation, greater connection.
The Z 9 really opens the door for us to connect with nature on a deeper level.
Kristi finds the capabilities of the Z 9 especially important. “I’m usually a solo show,” she says, “and most of the scenes in my Z 9 video, with the exception of the time-lapses, were hand-held. That’s possible because the camera has such amazing in-camera stabilization, plus the lenses have Vibration Reduction.”
The Z 9 doesn’t just put filming in the realm of solo control, it also makes video editing easier and smoother. As you might have guessed, Kristi flies solo for editing as well, and she finds the Z 9’s Picture Controls can help optimize scenes. Recording at 10-bit color depth—“at 120 fps and 4K, it was awesome”—means more color to work with for slicker scene transitions. And of course, video with a mirrorless camera means you see in real time what the colors in the scene will be, which can simplify post-production color matching, or in some cases make it unnecessary. “If color matching is needed at all in post,” Kristi says, “I spend minimal time on it.”
Editing sound with slow-motion footage is a bit trickier, but not complicated. “I get the sound at 120 frames per second,” Kristi explains, “which would sound weird played back at 24 or 30 fps, the speed of most video playback. So, I separate the video and audio files, and in post play back the audio in real time, the video in slow motion. Most of the time with wildlife, it looks like it syncs. The thing is, you can’t mic wildlife as you can people, and on windy days, it’s very hard to get good sound at all.” In those cases, she’ll license sound that she was unable to record or sync and add it in post.
Going solo means you’re in charge of the process, start to finish, and best of all, Kristi says, “you don’t need massive production teams or lots of gear.”
The gear she used for her video included the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S micro lens, the new NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S and the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. “I also filmed with one of my favorite lenses, the F-mount 500mm f/5.6 [AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR] and the 600mm f/4 [AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR], both with the new FTZ II adapter.”
The Fast and the Furryous
The big difference the Z 9 brings to Kristi’s still and video photography is the speed, accuracy and persistence of its Eye AF and focus tracking. For example, how it picked up and locked onto the eyes of the pika in Kristi’s video.
A pika is a mountain-dwelling mammal that somewhat resembles its close relative, the rabbit—except for its ears, that is. “A pika is the size of a russet potato,” Kristi says, which it also sort of resembles. Size is a key factor here: the Z 9 locked on to the tiny creature’s tiny eye and would not let go. You can see in the video, starting at 00:20: a pika, a marmot, a bighorn and an elk turn, each making eye contact. At each turn, the Z 9’s Eye AF was locked on and tracking, even though the system isn't designed for those animals' eyes.
“I feel that the images are more powerful when you can connect with your subject,” Kristi says, “and if there’s a technology barrier, if you have to think about settings and focus, it makes that connection harder. The Z 9 really opens the door for us to connect with nature on a deeper level.”
But as she says in the behind-the-scenes video, the camera and its advanced technology does even more: it takes her work to an entirely different level. “My video looks like a pretty solid level [of professional work], like somebody with a bigger team, a bigger production, a bigger budget, even somebody at a higher level of professionalism, greater capability and potential.”
When we got to asking Kristi if there were any instances of the Z 9 helping her get pictures she couldn’t previously get, it turned out that “capability” and “potential” were major players in the story she told us.
“I just finished doing a digital story for National Geographic on pikas. I spent a lot of time with pikas in the tundra. They have a major predator—the weasel. A weasel will pop its head up and run right off—it’ll give you half a second.” She’d tried for a long time to get that moment—the pop-up into the run-off—with no great success. “But while I was doing this video project, photographing the pikas, a weasel popped up. I pivoted, and in the half-second it gave me the camera got the eye locked in and the autofocus got it sharp. I got four frames. Never been able to do that before. That camera took the technology to a level that when I pivoted, it locked in. I got a great portrait of a weasel—which is not my normal connective photo that I can take when I spend some time with an animal, but it was kind of a personal triumph.”
Respect and Concern
When you view these videos and see Kristi’s connective photographs at her website, kristiodomfineart.com, she would like you to know that all of her images, still and motion, are created with consideration and respect for her wildlife subjects.
“I had a wildlife biologist with us the whole time on the video to make sure there was no effect on the wildlife, that we were not disturbing or changing any behavior. That’s something very important to me.”
She doesn’t move to attract a subject’s attention. There are never calls or noises. In the video, the animals’ turns toward the camera were part of their natural behavior. “They’re hyper-aware because they have predators,” she says. They noticed her, but they went back to their business right away, not disturbed or distracted by what they saw.
“I want people to share passion for the planet,” Kristi says, “and I want to teach photographers how to get stunning photos and videos of wildlife so more people can be that passionate. But I need to make sure as an educator that I do that in an ethical way.” To that end, she regularly works with non-profits and local conservation organizations to be sure she is teaching people to respect their wildlife subjects while they are creating their visuals.