Gear

Bird Photography With The Sony A7ii And 70-200 f4

So far, my tests with the Sony A7ii and animals has focussed more on pets and larger animals. Today, I thought I’d try something different and went in search of some shy little birds to use at test subjects for the 70-200 f4.

This area just east of Elgin has quite a lot of agriculture and is near the coast, so we see a lot of crows and seagulls. I also wanted to find some smaller targets to test autofocus with the 70-200 in a difficult situation. With that in mind, I set off on a little photo walk around the surrounding lanes to see what I could find.

The Test Environment

This afternoon was very overcast and grey. If you’re wondering how grey, check out my photo of the sun below. Yup, not much in the way of natural light! This is good though, because it gives the camera a thorough test in non-ideal situations.

Grey Skies in Scotland
Grey Skies in Scotland

I tested with the Sony A7ii and Sony 70-200mm f4 hand held. I left image stabilisation switched on and set the camera in shutter priority mode at 1/500 sec initially. I let the camera pick its own ISO setting.

I should mention that I’ve set “Flexible Spot S” focus on the A7ii. This lets me pick a point in the image I want to focus on and uses the smallest area so I can help ensure focus is on what I want.

Test 1 – Tiny Birds At A Distance

If you’ve photographed wild birds before, you’ll know they can be incredibly shy and timid. The slightest sound or movement and they’ll often fly off. Given I was walking around to find the birds, this did not make my job any easier!

As I wandered down one of the single-lane roads, I noticed some movement in the bushes. Here’s what I saw. This is SOOC at 200mm with autofocus enabled (you can click to see the full size jpg).

SOOC Blue Tit at 200mm
SOOC Blue Tit at 200mm

Now obviously, at this point I started to miss my old 100-400mm Canon lens on a 1.6 crop factor. I’d have been able to get a much larger shot of the bird with that setup. That said, the clarity and focussing speed of the 70-200mm at this range surprised me. The lens isn’t the fastest to focus, but in this case, it was certainly fast enough.

With quite a significant amount of cropping and some noise reduction, you can end up with a fairly decent image of the blue tit. Note this is just a quick edit for demo purposes:

Blue Tit - Cropped
Blue Tit – Cropped

We’ve lost some detail due to the noise at ISO 500. The noise is all the more obvious when you crop to this small an area, so that had to be fixed in post. You’ll notice though that the lens has focussed on the bird, which is no small feat given its tiny size and all the distractions both in front of and behind it.

Given the tough test subject and difficult lighting, I’d say the camera and lens easily pass this test.

 

Test 2 – Birds in Flight

Photographing birds in flight is always tricky. Sometimes you want the underside lit, but that can over expose the sky. Other times, you want a silhouette. Regardless of the exposure, you want the bird to be sharp, and the Sony did a great job at providing crisp silhouettes of birds in flight.

For this test I kept my small centre focus point so I could easily track my subjects and move with them. I did NOT put the camera in continuous focus for this test as the birds were unexpected. However, I was able to manually track them once focus was kept and the camera/lens combo did a great job at capturing their silhouettes. Focus speed was reasonably fast. In some cases the birds were easy to focus on. Other times, the lens was too slow and the shot was missed. This could well be user error as I’m still getting used to this lens (I’ve been using the Zeiss 16-35 more since the switch). I’ll keep testing these scenarios when I get the opportunity and report back.

Here is an example image for this test. The only edit here is a slight crop so you can clearly see the wing tips:

 

Test 3 – Blackbird

The final bird I saw on my short photo walk today was a blackbird. This one proved a tough test because it was perched on top of a hedge and I could not get a clear shot of the entire bird. However, once again, the lens did a great shot at focussing on the point I wanted (the bird’s eye) and wasn’t distracted by the various leaves and twigs.

Here’s a cropped example image:

Blackbird (Cropped)
Blackbird (Cropped)

 

Bonus Test Coming Soon – Video!

A few people have asked me what video is like on the A7ii. I am no videographer and tend to focus on still images, but I am up for the challenge of giving it a test. The blackbird above stayed sat just long enough for me to get a short video of it. It even gave us a little chirp (towards the end) so we can see how well the audio was captured.

Since this is only a tiny amount of footage, I’m going to collect a few more samples and then I’ll put together a quick video review of…video! Stay tuned!

 

Summary

The A7ii and 70-200 seem to cope well with bird photography, although I’m definitely missing the range of my old gear. I’m still hoping for an updated 70-200 (f2.8? Please!) which I could comfortably pop a 2x extender on. For now though, the 70-200 f4 seems good enough. I’ll keep testing and will share more images as I have them.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, do let me know in the comments below! And as always, if there’s something specific you’d like me to test or give more detail on, I’d love to know!