Nikon Learn & Explore

Using the Plena Lens for Wildlife

Mike Mezeul II photo of an alligator in a swamp, taken with the NIKKOR Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena lens

© Mike Mezeul II

Nikon Z 8, NIKKOR Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena lens, 1/3200 second, f/1.8, ISO 200, manual exposure, Centerweighted metering.

The NIKKOR Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena is an absolutely brilliant lens that has portrait photographers keeping lens cloths handy to wipe their drool off the front element. With an incredible bokeh coming from a minimum aperture of f/1.8, the depth-of-field of the Plena, combined with its edge-to-edge sharpness, makes it a very desirable lens. With that being said I’m not a portrait photographer, so as attractive as the Plena is, I initially jumped to the conclusion that this lens wasn’t for me. But I just couldn’t resist at least putting my hands on it and saying, “Let’s see what we can do.”

During a recent opportunity to explore some remote swamps of Louisiana, I thought the alligator filled waters, where mystery lurked around every corner, was the perfect location to say, “let’s bring a portrait lens and shoot wildlife with it.” And to make sure I did just this, I didn’t even bring my camera bag along for the ride, that way I was forced to think outside the box with just one lens.

As soon as I saw my first alligator my mind immediately went to, “Where’s my NIKKOR Z 100-400mm zoom lens?” But after a few deep breaths, I dialed myself in and started to create with the Plena. I reminded myself of what the Plena was capable of: depth-of-field, sharpness, and reach. Three factors that could indeed make for a compelling wildlife photo.

I saw maybe a dozen gators, even a few raccoons as well, but none of them really gave me the frame that I wanted to create. I wanted an intimate moment. One where my audience would feel both a connection with, but also the intimidation of the alligator. A moment where the lush green vegetation of the swamp hinted at its presence but didn’t deter from the star of the show. During the last few minutes out on the water, the moment came. A single, large male alligator met our boat as we turned a corner. Soft light filtered through the tree canopies, reflecting the golden sunlight and greenery in the water. He was just far enough away, yet close enough, that 135mm was just right. His eyes peeking out just barely above the water, I leaned over the edge of the boat, hovering my Z 8 and the Plena just millimeters above the water to enhance the reflection and make that eye-to-lens connection, and then I pressed the shutter. This was the frame captured. A result of taking a non-wildlife lens, into the wild.

Mike Mezeul II
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Mike Mezeul II is a photographer and photojournalist addicted to storytelling and adventure. He's photographed landscapes, professional sports, natural disasters, concerts, air-to-air aerial photography and more.

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