My Comments on the SONY a7R IV AF for Birds in Flight for Adam Rubinstein & Bill Hill and the rest of the gang … « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

My Comments on the SONY a7R IV AF for Birds in Flight for Adam Rubinstein & Bill Hill and the rest of the gang ...

What’s Up

It is 10:23am Mountain Time and I just began typing. I am at the gate at ABQ headed for Houston Hobby and then Orlando. If all goes perfectly, Jim will be picking me up at MCO at about 7pm. After we stop for dinner we should be home about 9:30pm. I woke early to finish packing and then drove to the refuge for my last 2019 hour at Bosque. There was a nice flourescent orange sunrise despite the almost completely cloudy skies. But the fly-in was not great. On my way to the Crane Pool the colors softened nicely and I made a very sweet Zen-like image of a tree-ful of grackles and blackbirds. The Crane Pool was pretty much a grey dud; blurs only!

This Just In

I just learned via text that Steve Elkins at Bedfords just received three SONY a9II bodies ready to ship free today. Be sure to use the BIRDSASART code at checkout to save $50.00.

My Comments on the SONY a7R IV AF for Birds in Flight

Adam and Bill have been asking me for about two weeeks about a7R IV AF performance for birds in flight.

The short answer is I have no defintive answer at this time but I am sure of this: If you do birds in flight the SONY a9 II has no equal …

I have worked with the Sony Alpha a7R IV Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only) mounted on the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens for birds in flight and have done fairly well on ocassion, even with the Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter. That said, results with the with the Sony FE 1.4x Teleconverter and even with the Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter are surreally oustanding. Again, all of that with the 7R IV on the 600 GM.

Using the two cameras on the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens is somewhat of a different story. Personally, I have not done well at all for flight with the a7R IV and the 200-600. Most images are not sharp. THe factors that play into that are many. Here is what I am thinking:

  • 1- With the high pixel denisty of the a7R IV any salight motion blur or equipment shake are maginified.
  • 2- With birds flying from side to side, the a7R IV focuses on the near wing most of the time when I am using Zone or Wide. It does OK with birds quartering toward or flying directly at me. Yes, just OK.
  • 3- It is possible that Flexible Spot (S, M, or L) might do a much better job of getting on the face, head, or upper breast of birds flying from right too left or left to right …
  • 4- At age 73, with somewhat deteriorating strength, stamina, hand-eye cooordination, and fine motor skills, the a7R IV/200-600 combination is panning smoothly when hand holding is on the difficult side for me. Being on a tripod topped by a FlexShooter Pro or Mini might help there.
  • 5- It is also possible that one of the many tracking AF modes might do a lot better job than anything mentioned above. The problem there is that I do not yet understand the basics of those options … If you have a definitive clue, please do leave a comment.
  • 6- Animal-eye Control seems too work far, far better with a9 II on the 200-600 even with birds in flight. When I use Wide, for example, the moving AF points are always fighting to stay on the bird’s head or upper neck.

AF performance with the a9 II on the 200-600 is however, another story: my results are consistently excellent. Please however do not forget the superb quality of the 61-MP files of the a7R IV.

Money Saving Reminder

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22 comments to My Comments on the SONY a7R IV AF for Birds in Flight for Adam Rubinstein & Bill Hill and the rest of the gang …

  • Arthur, I have read in a few forums, including naturescapes that the A7R4 in crop mode (27 megabytes) works very well but sucks when shooting 61 megapixel BIFs. E.J Peiker makes this point.. and so do others like Ryan Mense. https://fstoppers.com/animal/fstoppers-long-term-review-sony-fe-200-600mm-f56-63-g-oss-lens-492784
    Do you find that to be true as well? Good at crop mode, sucks at 61 megapixels for BIF shots?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Eduardo,

      I have never tried that nor do I intend to. When I am doing flight I go witht he 19 ii exclusively. That said, I have done well with flight phtoography with the a7r iv and the 600 GM even with the 1.4X TC. The problems that I have had have been with the a7r iv/200-600 but oonly for flight. For close work, the 2-6 with the a7r iv is fabuluos.

      a

  • avatar Barry McKenzie

    Hello Artie and BAA fans-

    Hi Barry, Thanks for sharing your ideas with us. With all possible respect, I will respond directly within your comments.

    I recently sprung for the a7Riv + 100-400GM.

    Mazel tov. I hope that you used one of my affiliate links.

    I feel like I can add to this discussion — in particular with regard to the use of BBF and manual focus. It’s taken me about 2 months to feel comfortable with it (and constant tweaking of the settings), but I am finally satisfied with the setup for bird photography.

    First off, there are zero reasons to ever use BBF with SONY as it is counter-productive for both perched birds and for birds in flight.

    Like many, I’ve been a BBF user for years (starting with Canon). It’s hard to undo the muscle memory. On the a7Riv, there is another advantage to BBF that I haven’t seen discussed.

    As far I am concerned there is no advantage to using BBF with SONY. Please let us know what you are referring to.

    Here’s how I set up my a7Riv for birds (all programed into Mode Dial #1):

    1- the AF-ON button is programmed for focus on static birds (flexible spot focus; exposure tracks with the focal point)…pretty standard.

    The above makes no sense … Exposure never tracks “with the focal point.” And Flexible Spot AF do not track with the subject either. Please explain what you mean.

    2- the AEL button is programmed to activate manual focus (with magnified view and focus peaking); flexible spot focus and exposure tracking.

    Again I am totally confused; you state that you are switching to manual focus but then talk about flexible spot focus … Manual focus does not include the use of any type of AF Area … Please also explain what you mean by exposure tracking.

    Allows a very quick change to manual focus simply by moving your thumb to the “other” BBF button…very useful if the AF wants the
    camera to focus on a stick or leaf near the bird’s head. No need to throw the little switch on the lens itself into MF.

    I have never once needed to switch to manual focus when doing birds with SONY … Ever.

    3- the button on the barrel of the lens is programmed to activate “BIF mode” (my quotes): zone focus, exposure compensation +1.7 (for against the sky).

    It sounds as if you are using an automatic exposure mode. Assuming that that is correct, using +1.7 stops EC (against the sky) will sometimes get you a good exposure on cloudy days. But on sunny days all of your images will be grossly over-exposed with un-recoverable highlights.

    The button on the lens requires a simple reach with the Left Thumb and doesn’t impair control or aiming of the lens. It functions like BBF on the camera does.

    Using the button on the lens to do anything is tremendously cumbersome. Not to mention that there is no need to use BBF for birds in flight with SONY.

    With this setup (and just a little practice), you can very quickly capture images of birds in the bush as well as fly-bys. No need to take the camera down and make adjustments to the mode dial or anything else.

    Using the system that Patrick Sparkman developed, and that we teach in the SONY e-Guide, all that we ever need to do to go from birds in flight to perched birds or birds on the ground is to change the shutter speed (always while in Manual exposure mode) and then set the exposure via the Zebras with the ISO on the rear wheel. It is fast and simple and easy.

    As a final tweak, I programed the Mode Dial #3 for BIF specifically. The button on the barrel of the lens remains the same as above (with exp comp at +1.7, for against the sky). The AEL button is programed identically except the exp comp is now zero (for when the bird is soaring against a hillside or other dark background). So if I know I’m shooting BIF, I just turn the Mode Dial to #3 and am ready to go. Can track the bird as it flies against the sky or hillside.

    With the only problem being that you are ignoring the background tonality; this will result in 80-90% of your images being over- or under-exposed …

    Want to go back to standard walk-around birding/photography? That’s Mode Dial #1 as described above.

    My two cents…

    Barry

    Barry, I hope that your system works for you even though I know that that is not possible as you describe things above. Yes, SONY camera bodies have complext menus that can be programmed to do dozens of different things. But what you describing above makes little sense, is cumbersome and complext, and will almost always get you bad exposures. I humbly suggest that you get a copy of the new SONY e-Guide, study it, and start from scratch so that you can simplify things and get the right exposure all the time. With love, artie

  • avatar Bryan

    Thanks Arthur, for posting your observations, they are helping me make sense of what I have been experiencing as well–most of my birds-in-flight (BIF) pictures are out of focus.

    I have the A7R4 and the 200-600mm combo. My shutter-speeds for BIF are always at or faster than 1/1250s, f/8, and I’m tracking relatively slower-moving birds, like seagulls in bright daylight (during my testing). I hold my back-button AF using either AF-Wide or AF-Wide-tracking, (I’ve tried zone, zone tracking as well) and I am consistently getting out of focus shots. I can tell when it’s a motion-blur issue compared to an out-of-focus shot and it’s definitely out-of-focus issues. I’m only getting a 10% in-focus rate. Very disappointing actually. I’ve tried continuous shooting as well as single-shot and there’s no difference either.

    When I zoom into the focus area using the playback mode of the camera, the focus area sometimes isn’t even on the bird and it is in focus, or sometimes it’s the opposite–focus point is on the bird, and the shot is out of focus. Go figure.

    Stills are no problem–in fact the A7R4/200-600mm produces some incredibly sharp images. I updated recently the firmware from 1.0 to 1.1 and felt that my stills focusing was off afterwards. As another act of desperation, I did a factory reset of the camera, then reconfigured everything again, and the stills focus reliability came back. Unfortunately the BIF shots are still out of focus.

    I think the problem is that the A7R4 just cannot keep up like the A9 or A9II. Thanks for posting your experience with the A9 and the 200-600mm… if not for that I would have thought there was a problem with my 200-600mm lens.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Bryan, YAW. First, you would be better off at f/6.3 with shutter speeds of at least 1/2500 sec. I have been doing tons of eagle flight at 1/3200 sec. And I did make some sharp flight shots on the 24th with the 7r iv and the 2-6… Also, quit using rear button focus. There are no advantages with SONY. None. Do NOT use Tracking Wide. Never ever use S AF for flight. Or anything else in bird photography.

      I do not know the cause …

      with love, artie

      • avatar Bryan

        Hi again Artie, I think you may have misunderstood my use of back button focus — I’m using continuous autofocus and holding the AF button at the same time as pressing the shutter button.

        I understood completely. You should not be pressing the AF-ON button for any reason when properly using SONY to photograph birds in flight.

        Also, I’m using wide-tracking/wide

        Tracking Wide does not work.

        and either using burst shooting or single shooting.

        With the a7r iv you should be in Continuous High (not High +) all the time.

        I would never pre-focus a bird in flight and expect in-focus shots, lol.

        Actually, with lenses that focus manually while AF is active, that is a very good technique. You cannot do that with the 2-6.

        I tested out my 100-400mm lens as well, using the same exact camera settings as before, and my keeper rate rose to around 90%, all in focus. The day was overcast and not in bright sunlight as well… go figure. I still shot at f/8, 1/1250s to minimize variables.

        Life is about choices. I stand by the advice that I gave you above.

        I’m going to try again on a sunny day with the 200-600 again. I’ll try to do some expand flexible spot medium/expand flexible spot medium tracking for testing, although that is way harder to lock on a bird in flight 🙂 Actually, what focus mode do you recommend for birds in flight?

        Wide or Zone only.

        Thanks for the suggestions!


        YAW. Everything you ask about is covered in detail in the new guide that we hope to publish in less than two weeks. I hope that you get a copy.

        • avatar Bryan

          Thanks for clearing things up, Artie. I have one last question,

          What is it about back button AF for Birds in Flight that is broken on a Sony? I’m curious what you have experienced.

          Thanks!

          • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

            Bryan,

            You have a camera that focuses almost across the whole frame with killer AF. Why do two things when you can do one? Rear-button focus offers the advantage of focusing and recomposing. There is no need to ever do that with SONY.

            So nothing is broken with the AF-ON button with SONY, it just makes zero sense to use it.

            with love, artie

  • Has anyone tried the A7R IV in crop sensor mode for BIFs?
    You still get 28 mp files plus extended mm.
    Just wondering if the AF might be better in this mode.

  • avatar Adam

    Hi Artie,

    1) Yes, the high pixel density is a blessing and a curse. Whereas I could easily capture in focus images with my Canon gear of large BIF at TV of 1/1250, the minimum seems to be nearly double that with the A7RIV. I was hoping that the IBIS would assist, but it doesn’t appear to make much of a difference at higher speeds.

    Agree on the faster shutter speeds. What is IBIS?

    2) Yes, Wide/Zone prioritizes the nearest “part” of the bird and that is typically the near wing (according to Mark Galer, Sony Ambassador though I can’t find substantiation in the manual).

    I go by results 🙂

    3) I haven’t tried Flexible spot on its own trying to keep that on the face or breast (don’t know if I could do it?)

    It is difficult …

    4) Though I’m a few years younger, like you I can’t hold the 200-600 for long though it is much lighter than my 500 IS II L and not that much heavier than my 100-400 IS II. With those lenses, I’ve been able to achieve reasonably good results on my 5dmkiv, handheld. I don’t have a foot yet for the 200-600 to mount on my gimbal to see if that improves keepers. Likewise, I haven’t had the opportunity to see if my 500 IS II will work well enough with the adapter to determine whether it is the 200-600 (as you may have suggested) or the a7RIV.

    I am able to do well hand holding for static shoots as the OSS is excellent but for flight, the lens gets heavy quickly and I have trouble keeping the bird in the middle of the frame due to the weight … The lighter camera bodies do help. I have zero problems hand holding the SONY 100-400 for flight …

    It could be that the f/6.3 simply doesn’t provide enough aperture (light) to allow for accurate AF with that many MP with the A7RIV?

    Not sure on that. Why, it it were true a9 and a9 II AF would also suffer at f/6.3. I do not think that the larger files of the 7R IV have much if anything too do with the AF accuracy …

    5) I’ve tried all of the tracking modes and unfortunately, they aren’t sticky enough. For BIF, even if I use the Tracking, small spot and land it on the head it typically jumps to the body. In fact, I tried an experiment the other afternoon while shooting some Sandhill Cranes who were grazing from around 20-25 yards away and used Tracking, Flexible small spot locking it onto the birds’ eyes each and every time. It seemed to hold for a second or two and then quickly jumped to the more contrasty body.

    As I said in the blog post, it may or may not be possible to work around this problem with the 7R IV. For me, the a9 II is so superb that I rarely use the 7R IV/200-600 for flight …

    6) Animal-eye control disables tracking on the A7RIV so it is not currently an option. Perhaps that will change with a firmware update?

    Not sure, but that puzzles me as to why it is disabled as you note above …

    Quite frankly, there are many things to like about this body and the detail of the images is simply stunning.

    I agree 100%.

    When I was shooting some mammals in Israel, the resulting images were amazingly detailed and dimensional. Yet my impressions remain that while the AF is fairly good it is by no means spectacular and not really up to BIF (at least in my hands with the 200-600).

    I have zero problems with a7R AF accuracy with static subjects, furry or feathered.

    As I mentioned, the tracking is not sticky even on slowly moving objects and I find the AF has a 7dmkII-like variability. In other words, If I shoot a sequence of a static object without moving the AF point, the AF planes will vary significantly between shots. For example, I shot a handful of images of my cat in plenty of light using the small spot, animal eye control (locked on). Only one of five had critical focus.

    I have not expereienced that at all with static subjects but respect what you are saying.

    with love, artie

    • avatar Adam

      1) IBIS – In-body Image Stabilization

      Thanks — I thought that SONY calls is Optical Stabiilization — or is that in the lens.

      4) What I was referring to regarding the light is perhaps the smaller pixels affect the contrast portion of the af more so than a9? It is my understanding that the system uses both PDAF and contrast detect AF. Alternatively, maybe the greater # of MP requires much more processor power and the af is not as accurate as the a9?

      No clue from me 🙂

      6) I am puzzled by the tracking issue as well and haven’t received an explanation from Sony as to why it is disabled. With respect to AF accuracy when I shoot static or relatively static subjects the AF doesn’t appear reproducible from shot to shot (i.e. there is some degree of variability which reminds me of the old 7dmkii). Perhaps it is slight movement of the hand causing movement of the AF point and I’ll have to explore this further on a tripod.

      Not perhaps … I have mentioned the problem of handholding telephoto lenses and messing up the focus. Speaking of which, how do you focus?

      artie

      • avatar Adam

        1) I don’t know how they coordinate IBIS with lens OS. From Sony: In-body 5-axis image stabilization. The in-body 5-axis image stabilizer algorithm is optimized to maximize high-resolution 61.0-megapixel image sensor performance. This fully supports your handheld shooting for reliability as effective as 5.5-stop higher shutter speed.

        That sounds great but I never look at the hype or the technical stuff; I just make images and see how they turn out …

        6) From Sony-A newly adopted Real-time Tracking algorithm uses color, pattern (brightness), and subject distance (depth) data to process spatial information while AI technology detects a subject’s face and eye in real time.

        That sounds great but I never look at the hype or the technical stuff; I just make images and see how they turn out … 🙂

        I’m not sure why tracking is fairing so poorly for me on animals. In the example I gave with the Sandhill Cranes, the were filling the frame and I was using expandable small spot locked onto the head. It held for about a half of a second and then jumped to the body. Switched off tracking to expanded small spot and manually followed the head. FWIW I use BBF and have disabled focus from the shutter. I’m very cognizant of holding the lens so my hand doesn’t rest on the MF collar resulting in inadvertent focus misadventures.

        One last question on your AF technique (after first assuming that you are using Tracking AF (AF-C) all the time: are you holding in the back button for static subjects or setting focus and then releasing the back button? (I will also assume that for flight and action photography you are holding the button down full time while tracking — please confirm that.

        with love, a

        • avatar Adam

          BBF – exactly as you describe. Hold continuously for BIF and moving subjects, press and release for static.

          • As I suspected: pressing and releasing while hand holding will cause many unsharp movements as the lens moves imperceptibly when you breathe (and live). With virtually full AF coverage you should be placing Flexible Spot small on the face or eye and keeping AF active. Do note that I abandoned back button focus about six years ago …

            with love, artie

          • avatar Adam

            By static objects, I mean static and not perched/grazing birds. In the later cases I use continuous BBF. You mentioned that you relinquished that technique years ago, how do you find it working with the Sony cameras?

            Full-time shutter button AF works just fine with both of my bodies and worked just fine with the a9 and the a7R III.

            The reason that I ask is that compared to Canon, the Sony shutter release button is smaller profile and much more sensitive.

            All shutter buttons are slightly different. I get used to them quickly.

            I don’t think it would be easy to perform a 1/2 shutter press to activate AF without pressing all of the way (then again, I haven’t tried it).

            Regards.

            I had no problem doing that even with the gloves one. On a single moorning I had a problem pressing the shutter button due to the leather tips on three fingers of my fabulous heated gloves. More on those soon.

            with love, a

        • avatar Lori

          Art, Thank you for sharing this great info! I am so disappointed in the a7RIV for the reasons you’ve mentioned, as 99.5% of my shooting is with the 2-600 G OSS lens and 80% birds including BIF. I regret this purchase wholeheartedly. Especially since I’ve waited years to purchase what I expected to be the best on the market under 10G. Now an added issue is my VF and screen both show 2 framed focus points appearing simultaneously. 1 stationary in center position and the other I can manipulate and reposition. I wish I had read your experience before my purchase. I would have chosen the a9II.
          Thank you again, at least I know I’m not imagining these issues.

          • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

            Hi Lori, You are welcome. While I agree that the a7r iv is not as good as the a9 ii for birds in flight when paired with the 200-600, you are missing some important things. For stationary subjects, the a7r iv with the 200-600 is a superb combination. It seems that you are new to the blog. If you go back over the past year, you will see many very fine images made with that combo, especially cranes and pelicans. Some at shutter speeds as low as 1/250 sec. If you have trouble making sharp images in the range of 1/250 to 1/500 sec, get yourself an Induro tripod and a FlexShooter Mini. You should be able to make sharp portraits at higher shutter speeds.

            I am not familiar with the AF point issues that you mention. Note that if you have your camera’s AF stuff set up as we describe in the SONY e-Guide and Videos, you should be fine.

            It always pays to subscribe to the blog :). Do consider a used a9 ii if you do lots of birds in flight. IAC, Ian glad that you found us.

            with love, artie

  • avatar Anthony Ardito

    I agree on your initial assessment Artie. My a9 (original) with 200-600 is so much better at AF than my a7rIV with the same lens. The AF of the a9 can’t be beat. I suspect the a9II is the same if not slightly better. It’s a world of difference in my opinion. The a9 AF responds like a pro body and is much better than my previous Canon 1Dx II, and way better than my previous Nikon D850.

    What I had to get used to with the a9 is to keep AF active, once acquired, at all times, even after a nice burst, because the camera just keeps tracking, no matter what. I was used to letting up on the button and reacquiring focus intentionally with the Canon and Nikon to get a better chance of perfect sharpness. Not anymore, but it takes training to keep your finger on the button.

    I like “Tracking: Expand Flexible Spot”, or “Tracking: Flexible Spot M or L. Flexible Spot S seems intuitive to get “in there” to the spot desired, however it doesn’t seem to be as forgiving if your technique is ever so slightly off. That being said, I get almost all my a9 images in focus. Not exaggerating either. It’s quite a pain to cull through a thousand images that are in focus. I mainly select images for composition now, rather than focus, as I’m pretty confident the image will be sharp with the a9.

    I use the a7rIV for general photography, stills, portraits, and mainly a superb walk around body. I recently acquired the 24-70GM and 135GM and results are quite mind-blowing for stills and slow moving work that fills the frame.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Anthony. I hope that you have been using my links :). I agree with everything above except for the fact that AF with the a9 II is considerably more incredible than AF with the a9: super sharp flight images with the 600 GM and the 2X TC! And much better Animal Eye AF on swimming ducks — the little box gets on the eye and does not let go. Of 300 wigeon image 299 were razor laser sharp on the eye …

      with love, a

      ps: I still love my a7R IV for general bird photography …

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