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.

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11 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 …

  • 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 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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