A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos

Started Jan 12, 2012 | Discussions
toucan
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A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
Jan 12, 2012

After seeking advice from forums on reseting camera to recognise my lens I headed off on holidays to Galapagos Islands to take bird photos.

Some obversations....

1.Registering lens with camera was not easy as sharpest shots were at zero if using numbers as the test object whilst +5 was the sharpest setting for general objects with distinct lines. In between settings were surprisingly not as sharp.

2.Lens had problems on auto focus when trying to focus on birds in flight and was way to slow in most situations. Also, the focus tracking button is all but useless unless confined to pedestrian situations.

3. tried many combinations of settings modes and speeds and whilst the lens is reasonable it is definitely not sharp enough for bird/animal photography.

4. Lens is good for landscapes, portraits etc but subjects that are judged by their infinite detail such as birds, is lacking and requires some help from Photoshop.

5.Advertised minimum shooting distance is not correct and the camera frequently freezes/blurs at around 2 metres.

6. Very sensitive to minute changes to light requiring monotinous changes to settings and missed shots whilst my friend continued to snap away on her Canon.

My travelling friend who runs a high end Canon with F2.8 lens with built in anti vibration, also tried the set up with all combinations of settings but could not produce any sharper images than I could. Needless to say, her shots with the Canon were extremely sharp (even tried the Sony on a tripod and remote shutter against the Canon hand held but could still not come close). To be fair, she is using $9K of equipment compared with my $3K so my point and summary is.... whilst I like my Sony camera and zoom lens, dont believe all the hype. Yyou only get what you pay for and some digital processing is required to achieve sharp shots. Best use is for slower action and regular use shots.Buy a better quality combo for the rest.

finno

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toucan

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Lineypi
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 12, 2012

I'd really like to see some of your shots. Personally I find the a77 + 70-400 a great combo, but I'm shooting horse sports rather than itty bitty birds. I get the impression that when it comes to bird shooting it's 90% photographer skill and 10% camera. I know I'm nowhere near patient enough.

I'll be honest though, I don't really get why you're comparing a $3000 setup to a $9000 one.

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Kenneth Daves
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 12, 2012

I like it, but what do I know

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framework
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 12, 2012

A77/70-400G, every one, straight out of the camera -- lets see some of the 9K Canon shots, straight, untouched. And yours also.
Mike V.

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laguire
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In reply to toucan, Jan 12, 2012

based on your fairly recent questions about the camera, it seems that you have not had much time to learn the camera and were starting from a fairly limited familiarity of its use. (did you ever get the focus adjustment done properly? did you figure out the concept of field of view/digital cropping in camera?). Also asking someone with a different brand camera, no matter how expensinve their equipment to try your camera that they are probably not familar with, can often be not very helpful. While there are certainly some limitations to your equipment (the aperture of the zoom is 5.6 at the long end compared to say a 400/2.8 lens that costs multiple times more and weighs many times more as well; and the 70-400 is known to be a slower focusing lens), I suspect that with much more experience/familiarity with your equipment, you will be getting much better results.

Getting new equipment for a trip without spending a lot of time getting familiar with it can make the photographic results less than optimal (especially for something as challenging as wildlife). And getting more expensive equipment would likely have resulted in even worse photos as the more expensive equipment often require even more of a learning curve (which of the dozens of focus setting parameters to set, how to properly support a huge lens) Rather than getting frustrated with your equipment, if you you post some photos and ask the experienced wildlife photographers to give you advice on how to get better results within the constraints of your equipment, you will probably get better results quickly.

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Amateur Sony Shooter
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 12, 2012

1.Registering lens with camera was not easy as sharpest shots were at zero if using numbers as the test object whilst +5 was the sharpest setting for general objects with distinct lines. In between settings were surprisingly not as sharp.

You don't need to change the AF adjustment setting unless you are sure your lens is out of focus. You need to go through proper process to achieve the correct setting. If you shoot birds at distance, you need to calibrate your lens/camera focus in daylight at similar distance.

2.Lens had problems on auto focus when trying to focus on birds in flight and was way to slow in most situations. Also, the focus tracking button is all but useless unless confined to pedestrian situations.

What AF point did you use? I use centre point on A55, i get about 50% keeper rate, that's not too bad considering the EVF lag and "slide show" effects of A55's EVF. While 70-400G is not super fast, but once you set limiter from 3m-oo, it shouldn't be too slow.

3. tried many combinations of settings modes and speeds and whilst the lens is reasonable it is definitely not sharp enough for bird/animal photography.

Again, you need to make sure your subject is in perfect focus.

4. Lens is good for landscapes, portraits etc but subjects that are judged by their infinite detail such as birds, is lacking and requires some help from Photoshop.

Once in perfect focus, 70-400G is one of the sharpest lens on market, any brand.

6. Very sensitive to minute changes to light requiring monotonous changes to settings and missed shots whilst my friend continued to snap away on her Canon.

If shoot RAW and set auto ISO and auto white balance, you should be OK most of time.

My travelling friend who runs a high end Canon with F2.8 lens with built in anti vibration, also tried the set up with all combinations of settings but could not produce any sharper images than I could. Needless to say, her shots with the Canon were extremely sharp (even tried the Sony on a tripod and remote shutter against the Canon hand held but could still not come close). To be fair, she is using $9K of equipment compared with my $3K so my point and summary is.... whilst I like my Sony camera and zoom lens, dont believe all the hype. Yyou only get what you pay for and some digital processing is required to achieve sharp shots. Best use is for slower action and regular use shots.Buy a better quality combo for the rest.

Your friend's setup may have nicer soft background, faster auto focus, or longer reach when adding Extender (teleconverter) but your 70-400G should stood up well in sharpness, contrast, colour saturation and CA control. Plus its a relative lightweight zoom lens so you can handhold it much easier than big, heavy white prime lens. I used this lens for about a year, it was absolutely a wonderful lens to me. Some birding samples from this lens:

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Steve-S
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 12, 2012

1. You may have a bad copy of the lens; your reports of "softness" and suggestions that it's inadequate for wildlife don't match my own experience, or that of many others. I've seen several comments that this lens is up to par with -- even a tad better than -- the very best of (similar-spec) lenses from Canon or Nikon.

2. It's not a FAST (large-aperture) lens. It struggles to lock AF in low or moderate light. The f/2.8 lenses will be MUCH better in this regard. In bright light (full sun, light haze) it's as fast-focus as you should be able to use.

3. As already suggested, it takes some time to get to know new gear; the a77 is more-complex than most in this regard. Your results may improve with practice. I wouldn't expect another non-SLT shooter to do much better in this regard, even if they are "experienced" 'togs in other formats.

4. If you want to see some great work, look up recent stuff from Gustav Kiburg, he just got an a77 and LOVES it for his birds/wildlfe shooting...

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kevroc
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 13, 2012

That's what happens when you take a knife to a gun fight...

Comparing focus ability on a 70-400 lens (probably not 2.8, like a 4.5 to 5.6?) against a 2.8 lens is just not fair. I'm sure the Canon is good, but it's got a lot more light to work with as well.

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EvilOne
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to kevroc, Jan 13, 2012

I have a Tamron 18-250 ( all three on) the long end.

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toucan
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to EvilOne, Jan 21, 2012

Just returned from my Galapagos/Ecuador bird photo trip to read responses to my initial experience with the A77-70-400 zoom lens combo.

Seems some are a tad sensitive to my experience with the A77-70400 set up and whilst I tried to explain that I liked my combo, I am still of the overall view that you do get what you pay for and that it has limitations. That was my point. I have looked at the photos posted by some and yes they are good and some of mine are also as good, but the ratio of keepers to deletes is much lower than compared to my friends set up. I cant blame my lack of knowledge/experience on the comparison as my friend used my set up and I used hers to conclude that her Canon D7 and f2.8 200 lens with 2x converter is sharper, much quicker to focus and too my surprise no heavier than my set up.

I found the Canon auto focus very good at finding birds in forest/bush situations whereas my Sony set up could not distinguish the target from surrounds in most cases leading me to use manual focus in enclosed situations which is far too slow in other than occasions where the bird is perching/motionless.

Hundreds of hummingbird photos later and the number of keepers saw my combo severely outclassed.

The Sony did produce sharp images in very bright light but sharpness dropped off noticably in less than perfect light as did the auto focus speed and let's face it, less than perfect light is usually the norm when taking bird photos across a range of environments.

It was mentioned that I should not be comparing my rig to a much more expensive one, but I was simply making the point that for consistent high quality, sharp bird photos, taken in less than perfect light conditions, I think the A77, 7-400 combo may not the be answer. However I will persevere and no doubt improve my technique over time to try and make the most of my setup's capability.

Cheers

toucan

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Harry Behret
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In reply to toucan, Jan 21, 2012

I don't shoot Sony but your experience mirrors my own when I was using the nikon 80-400. The Sigma 70-400 is a better lens but anytime you are using a lens with that range of focal length there are compromises. When I started using the 300mm f/4, the 200-400 and the 500 f/4 I got much better results but at a much higher price.

Sigma has some good lenses for wildlife shooting particularly the 120-300 2.8 which of course have a higher price tag.

Harry
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davemj98
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In reply to Harry Behret, Jan 21, 2012

Long time no see here Harry, hello! No doubt about it, I use the 70-200 2.8 whenever possible, and only go for the 400 if I cant do the job with 2.8. Good luck with your new combo!
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JusLookN
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Re: Wow
In reply to davemj98, Jan 22, 2012

I have neither the A-77 nor the 70-400, but I have to agree with the OP as to him getting outclassed shooting birds. His point being that he was trying to make do with a good combo as compared to a combo from another brand that was designed to do exactly what he was trying to do. I'm not saying that he couldn't match some of the shots. But, the Canon 7D is a sports camera and there are several combinations of getting the autofocus aligned with several sensors to make it do exactly what his friend was expecting. She obviously had the upper hand in this situation until he improves his technique. Maybe he should have his 70-400 checked and recalibrated. Just an unbiased opinion.
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Lucas_
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Re: Wow
In reply to JusLookN, Jan 22, 2012

JusLookN wrote:

I have neither the A-77 nor the 70-400, but I have to agree with the OP as to him getting outclassed shooting birds. His point being that he was trying to make do with a good combo as compared to a combo from another brand that was designed to do exactly what he was trying to do. I'm not saying that he couldn't match some of the shots. But, the Canon 7D is a sports camera and there are several combinations of getting the autofocus aligned with several sensors to make it do exactly what his friend was expecting. She obviously had the upper hand in this situation until he improves his technique. Maybe he should have his 70-400 checked and recalibrated. Just an unbiased opinion.

....

IMHO the OP has an excellent combo for many types of shooting, but the Sony 70-400, although tack sharp is not a fast lens, either optically or mechanically, to be the ideal lens for bif. Let alone when the shooter is not very familiar with the lens and camera!

A faster lens like a 300 or 400/2.8 would have helped him greatly. I'm sure when he completelly dominates his "combo" it will please him much more.

... Lucas

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travelshots_dpr
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 22, 2012

toucan wrote:

1.Registering lens with camera was not easy as sharpest shots were at zero if using numbers as the test object whilst +5 was the sharpest setting for general objects with distinct lines. In between settings were surprisingly not as sharp.

Maybe your microadjust technique needs improvement concerning the test object, the procedure, the camera mount, in switching off the SSS or something else. This is a tricky subject.

2.Lens had problems on auto focus when trying to focus on birds in flight and was way to slow in most situations. Also, the focus tracking button is all but useless unless confined to pedestrian situations.

Birds in flight are the most critical subject and require superb AF and a lot of experience of the shooter. This experience includes to find out how to get best results with your camera and which are the best AF settings for this purpose. While on the ground central spot or any other local point will usually give you the best results, in flight the central goup might be the better choice. I have had not enough opportunity to verify this finally for my A77 and 70-400G.

The AF of the 70-400G is known to be not the fastest at long focal lenghts (400mm), but it is fast at 200mm and below.

I agree that the focus tracking button is nearly useless. The tracking even loses a single duck swimming on a pond.

For shooting birds in flight, set AF to AF-C and activate the cental AF sensor group. Maybe you have to half press the shutter button frequently to let the AF detect the moving subject. That is the way it worked with the A700, although I have the impression that the A77 has overcome these difficulties.

3. tried many combinations of settings modes and speeds and whilst the lens is reasonable it is definitely not sharp enough for bird/animal photography.

There is no other lens in the 70-400mm range in the premium f 5.6 league of any manufacturer that is sharper than the 70-400G. So the not sharp images must have other reasons than the lens sharpness. This could be to long shutter speeds (which shutter speeds did you use?) or bad focussing, for example caused by shooting in shutter priority (stop it!) and not in AF priority. At long focal lenghts like 400mm the in lens stabilser of other brands might be more efficent than the Sony's in body stabilisation (it is the opposite at short focal lenghts). For serious shooting at 400mm you should use at least a monopod. This will increase the amount of keepers significantly.

4. Lens is good for landscapes, portraits etc but subjects that are judged by their infinite detail such as birds, is lacking and requires some help from Photoshop.

See above. I got very good bird shots with my 70-400G.

5.Advertised minimum shooting distance is not correct and the camera frequently freezes/blurs at around 2 metres.

Could it be 3 metres? Than you have engaged the focus limiter (switch on the lens) that stops the lens focussing on distances below 3m. If not, your lens is faulty.

6. Very sensitive to minute changes to light requiring monotinous changes to settings and missed shots whilst my friend continued to snap away on her Canon.

Sorry, I do not understand that sentence (English is not my native language)

My travelling friend who runs a high end Canon with F2.8 lens with built in anti vibration, also tried the set up with all combinations of settings but could not produce any sharper images than I could. Needless to say, her shots with the Canon were extremely sharp (even tried the Sony on a tripod and remote shutter against the Canon hand held but could still not come close). To be fair, she is using $9K of equipment compared with my $3K so my point and summary is.... whilst I like my Sony camera and zoom lens, dont believe all the hype. Yyou only get what you pay for and some digital processing is required to achieve sharp shots. Best use is for slower action and regular use shots.Buy a better quality combo for the rest.

Sony has made significant improvements with AF in the recent cameras, especially A77. Anyway, Canon and Nikon still seem to be superior in this category, especially if you compare the 1200$ A77 to the much more expensive bodies of other brands.

Like someone already wrote, you can not compare the AF with a good f2.8 lens to a f5.6 lens. I own a Minolta f2.8 / 200mm APO HS G prime lens and with this lens the AF is super fast (it proves that AF speed has nothing to do with SSM or not SSM).

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toucan
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to travelshots_dpr, Jan 23, 2012

Thanks Travelshots.

Appreciate your comments and advice. My comment regarding the light issue, was moving between a very bright area and and lower light area e.g. blue sky down to a cliff face. The A77 seems to have some difficulty adjustingto the light change when in auto mode, sports action mode. Perhaps I am expecting too much from it.
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Steve Paradise
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 23, 2012

Over the years I have owned a Nikon 500mm F4, Canon 400mm F4 DO, Sigma 120-300mm 2.8 and the Nikon and Canon equivalent of the Sony 70-400mm. Prior to deciding to go lighter my most recent body was the Canon 1D Mark IV .

I can tell you the Sony zoom is much better than it's Canon and Nikon counterpart in every way.

My initial Sony lens purchase was the Sony 70-300mm SSM along with an a-77 and was pleasantly surprised at my bif results. I then decided I would pick up the Sony 70-400 and it definitely focuses faster and at least as accurately as the 70-300.

I am assuming for bif you are using the focus limiter as this would make a difference. In low light the 2.8 will win every time.

I have only had the 70-400 for a week so haven't shot bif yet but here are a few samples with the Sony 70-300 ssm.

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garyknrd
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Re: A77 and 70-400 zoomlens for bird photos
In reply to toucan, Jan 23, 2012

I shoot birds and only birds. I have only seen the combo once when out and shooting. It was on another body. If birding with Sony I would get the Sigma 500mm f4.5. But it is expensive as h'll.. I hope they get the Sony 500mm out soon. But that thing is going to be over the top for me.

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gil
gil
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Good look but the Egret is a slow bird and the hummingbird hovers. Both...(m)
In reply to Steve Paradise, Jan 23, 2012

could be taken even with a manual focus lens or a P&S by an experienced BIF shooter, big grin here :). For my kind of BIF (reactive type and on faster fliers like small ducks -Teals and Wigeons), the SONY 70-400mm I tried (my observation is limited to the copy I tried) was slow but a bit sharper than my Bigma (Sigma 50-500mm) DG workhorse. In my particular Sigma 50-500mm DG copy, I have done head-to-head shots with friends having Canon 500mm and Nikon 600mm primes and results were not too bad especially on BIFs. In short, getting and enjoying usable BIFs is a combination of gears, experience, the right attitude and sometimes luck (I benefit from it from time to time).
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Steve Paradise
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Re: Good look but the Egret is a slow bird and the hummingbird hovers. Both...(m)
In reply to gil, Jan 23, 2012

gil wrote:

could be taken even with a manual focus lens or a P&S by an experienced BIF shooter, big grin here :). For my kind of BIF (reactive type and on faster fliers like small ducks -Teals and Wigeons)

The hummingbirds in my territory don't hover. Fact is the a77 70-300mm ssm produced more in focus shots than my Mark IV with a 70-300mm L combo. My initial observations on the 70-400 is that the AF is a little better than the 70-300 ssm.

I am sure someone with your talent could manually focus on a slow moving bullet but I for one don't have that kind of skill. I have owned both bigmas and hated them. Hunted a lot and soft at the long end. We respectfully disagree.

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