"Best mirrorless cameras for birds in flight" website

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lokatz Veteran Member • Posts: 4,412
"Best mirrorless cameras for birds in flight" website

Many of you probably stumbled over Mathieu Gasquet’s “The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Birds in Flight” list at some point or other. Some of our frequent posters on this forum (you know who you are) refer to it in their MFT posts every so often, seemingly considering it the holy grail of camera comparisons for bird shooters. I recently had an exchange with one of our ‘veterans’ who apparently has no first-hand bird shooting experience but took the site’s information as THE ANSWER. Being the rather critical type, I feel compelled to rain on his parade.

Make no mistake: I like Mathieu’s work and find some of his YouTube videos, while a bit winded, useful and informative. His “birders best camera” chart list, however, always left me wanting to know more. It presents evaluations of individual cameras and shows this summary (excerpt):

The green fields show the percentage of images Mathieu considered to be perfectly sharp, the blue ones those he found to be acceptably sharp. While these categories seem, and indeed are, highly subjective, the sheer number of shots he (and/or others? The site keeps mum about who is actually contributing) accumulated takes out much of that subjectivity: at more than 15,000 shots taken with some of these bodies, the law of averages should make these numbers fairly comparable.

So, is all good? Well, no.

For instance, Mathieu tells us where these shots were taken (two places in Wales), which subjects were shot (always Red Kites), and in which general settings they were taken (against the sky, along the water, etc.). Of these three, the ‘settings’ category worries me the most, since the information provided is vague at best. When shooting birds, it can make a day-and-night difference whether your subject is clearly visible against the sky, a scenario which almost any decent body will capture well, delivering good though somewhat boring pictures, versus when a bird flies along a forest or otherwise busy background. Worse, there may be trees between you and the bird that obscur it every so often, which makes the challenge of keeping the bird in focus a whole different ballgame, both for the camera and the photographer.

The site gives no idea of the mix between easy- and hard-to-get shots. Lumping the non-challenge together with the true challenge, but not telling us how much of one or the other was involved, makes these results nearly useless, I am afraid.

With relatively large and slow-flying birds, which Red Kites are, many bodies deliver strong tracking performance, especially when shooting against a clear background. It’s just not that hard. Even cameras that have no Bird ID, let alone Bird Eye ID, can do a decent job in this category. For crying out loud, some consumer grade DSLRs did fairly well with these kinds of subjects. How does a body perform when “the going gets tough”, however? The site doesn’t tell us anything about that.

What Matthieu also does not tell us, at least unless we dig deeper, is equally worrisome. For example, he lists the Nikon Z7II at 91% perfect and 98 percent near-perfect, which would make it a solid performer and good recommendation for birders. Problem is, I used to own and shoot with that very body. Its performance is nowhere near as good as what the site’s numbers indicate, which is why I changed brands and eventually sold my Nikon gear after 20+ years of shooting Nikon only. Look closely, and you’ll find a hint that Mathieu’s 91/98% numbers were determined while shooting at 5.5fps, the Z7II’s ho-hum nominal fps rate. Set it to its maximum rate of 10fps, which makes the viewfinder look like a 1920’s Silent Movie, and the rates drop down to 77/91%, which I find to be closer to my own experience, though still somewhat euphemistic. Based on my many shooting sessions with this body, I guess those numbers still mostly represent against-the-sky shooting. My Z7II regularly struggled when trying to acquire focus with birds flying in front of busier backgrounds. Occasionally, it even had to give up in situations where I wondered what made them difficult in the first place. The site doesn’t give us specifics about any of this, so how well the Z7II really performs is entirely left to speculation.

Worse, what I know FOR A FACT is that some of Mathieu’s comparisons couldn’t be much farther from the truth. Canon’s R5, for example, which Matthieu ranks one position BEHIND the Z7II, in actuality runs circles around the latter, AF wise. I’ve shot with both bodies (Z7II + Nikon 500 PF, R5 + Canon RF 100-500) long enough to be sure. The R5 is WAY better at acquiring focus on fast birds with unpredictable flight patterns, and WAY better at keeping track of these in cluttered settings. I got shots with my R5, which eventually replaced the Z7II, that I previously could only have dreamed of. The OM-1 and G9II, both of which I now primarily use, are quite good from an AF perspective. (The G9II looks to be the better one of the two, though I haven’t completed my testing of it just yet.) But neither is as good for bird shooting as the R5 is. Yet, Mathieu ranks the OM-1 higher than the R5. Go figure.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but notice that even the lowest performer on the list, the Panasonic G9, often criticized for its poor tracking performance, receives plenty of praise from Mathieu. This gives me the nagging feeling that he does not want to get in trouble with any potential sponsor. Understandable, but unfortunate for those looking for data to base a buying decision on.

None of this makes this site particularly valuable, to put it mildly. As a result, assuming that a body that ranks higher on this list will indeed serve you better for bird shooting strikes me as rather foolish. Take the site only for what it’s worth: one ‘data’ point among (hopefully) many more you’ll consider before making any buying decisions.

Here are my recommendations for Mathieu: give us an idea of the kinds of backgrounds your shots were taken against, including the percentages of each, and also shoot subjects that are smaller than Red Kites. You may be surprised about how different the comparison looks when shooting a Red Kite against a clean background versus shooting a swallow or sparrow against a cluttered one. A Nikon Z7II may be doing a decent job with the former. But it sucks when used for the latter.

Alternatively, rename the site to something like “Best mirrorless cameras for slow-flying birds in flight when shot against a clean background”.

 lokatz's gear list:lokatz's gear list
Sony RX100 VII Canon EOS R5 OM-1 Panasonic Lumix G9 II Olympus Zuiko Digital 1.4x Teleconverter EC-14 +32 more
Canon EOS R5 Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
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