this photo was taken at 600mm, and I was quite close to the blackbird.
this photo was taken at 600mm, and I was quite close to the blackbird.
A couple of quick tips have your shadow point at the bird and ideally the wind coming from your back, that way the bird will be facing you, They are not fans of having their feathers blown inside out. The sun at your back also puts the bird in the right light. Always watch your back grounds try and get an even coloured back ground and one that contrasts the subject if possible, you need to be able to isolate your subject, depth of field also helps with isolation.
Already learning so much from you, Glenn. Thank you for the tips and lens recommendation!
Looking around at some of the compatible lenses for the Sony A7s I found one that is on the lower end, but more affordable 70–400 mm F4–5.6 G SSM II lens at $2,199.
The ultimate 500 mm F4 G SSM is super nice, but there is just no way I can drop $12,999.99 on it.
Would buying a used lens be a good option?
A used lens can be a great way to save some money, IF you are able to return the lens if it is not satisfactory, or not performing properly. So, the answer really is, it depends. Buying a sight unseen lens, is an act of faith. It can be helpful if you know the buyer, and trust them.
I agree that 200mm is way too short for birds - LIke others who have ansered, I do have bird images captured with 24-105s and some 70-200s, but MOST wild birds flight radius is such that you just can't get close enough with less than 400mm. My first bird lens 15 years ago was a 300mm f2.8 to take to Bosque, and I was frustrated no end, it was just too short even on a crop body, let alone FF body. As Shay said, a 300mm prime, pairs up with a 1.4 or 2.0X Tele-converter pretty well, but a better solution is to just pony up for the reach you need.
As you discovered a new Sony 500mm f4 is pretty breath taking when you look at the price. But you can find some used Canon 500 F4s for half that I suspect if you are patient.
Tamron makes a pretty nice 150-600mm G2 lens which I have used for thousands of frames. One of my concerns about non-OEM manufacturers lens, is how the iris diaphragms stand up to heavy high-frame rate use for extended periods, and my Tamron had endured thousands and thousands at 14 frames per second on my 1Dx Mk II. It is not as sharp as a Canon 600 f4, but focused carefully and sharpened properly in LR, it gives me pretty credible images, like this one which is about 1/3 of a frame at ISO 12800
The Sigma 150-600s get good reviews too. Canon 400 primes whether glass or DO all seem to be very good, and cost less than the Canon 200-400. One other factor to cosider about lenses is their weight; fast long primes tend to be pretty heavy. There is more than one cost to that large light gathering aperture. Heavy lenses tend to be harder to follow birds with, unless they are on a gimbal on a tripod - even more weight and lack of mobility. I use a gimbel and a tripod when I have to, but some species are very hard to track other than hand held - SE owls do not encourage tripod use, at least in my hands.
I have a couple comments about exposure, and lighting and then I'll stop. When shooting a bird on a stick, it is good to keep in mind that a bird can rotate its head to the right and left, and swing its face from sunlite to shade in an instant, and your exposure will vary by about 3 stops when this happens, which means that you have to pay close attention to the lighting if you choose to shoot in Manual Mode which many bird shooters favor. Shooting most birds in flight, unless the sun is at your back, means the sky is probably brighter than the shaded bird is - you may need 1-2 stops of positive exposure compensation.
I have been using Manual Mode with Auto ISO on my cameras for several years, and I would rec its use with your Sony. This lets me have absolute control of my shutter speed which is very critical with birds in flight, and my aperture is also fixed so that it doesn't alter my DOF, and my ISO is free to roam up and down as needed to achieve the correct exposure. Yes, higher ISOs will bring some noise, but a blurred image is far less appealing than a sharply focused image with a tiny bit of noise, and modern bodies, Lightroom, and NoiseWare can deal with most noise these days. Manual Mode with Auto ISO was recently recommended in the latest issue of Outdoor Photography.
One other point is vantage point. Almost all images of people, children, or animals are usually best when shot near the height of their eyes. If you will look at the images folks have posted on this thread, almost all of these images were captured with the camera very near to the height of the birds eyes. That means many of them were shot from the prone position - like the eagle reflection on the water. I have an aquaintance who is a bird photographer in the UK, and that is the first thing he looks at in almost any animal image he critques - are the eyes clear, sharp, and is the viewer at the animal's eye level? This frequently means that the lens axis is just a few inches above the water level for many waterfowl shots...And height - a tall stand or column - can sometimes help you photograph birds in flight from their level or even from above them which can be interesting, We don't usually get to see the tops/backs of birds in flight from above.
Another image from the Tamron 150-600 G2 taken during daylight at ISO 1000, 1/1600th, f8
@Vilen The 400 would be the mimimum I'd recomend, it will get you a lot closer than the 200mm, sigma make 150 to 600 in Sony mounts, still well under the 500mm, Canons 500 and 600 primes are both well up there in price but oneday the 600 prime wil be where I'm at, just not this year, gives me somethign to work towards for now. Heres a link to a review of a 600mm on a sony. One thing to worry about it weight, these long lenses weigh a ton, so if that will be a factor and you pay for agiant lens and then the weight restricts you from using it, then is there any point? You need to have toys that you are comportable to use to get the most out of it, otherwise its a lot of money to sit on a shelf. So something to consider. @ScottBourne uses the Olympus micro 4/3s for his birding shots now and they have equivelent lenses, being micro 4/3 they are a lot smaller and lighter so if your looking at a complete new kit worth a look. if you already have the Sony you'll get great shots with the 400mm but I'm guessing after a year and if you get right into birding you'll be looking for a longer lens down the track so you ay want to think hard on this one before you go and get a lens, if you cna borrow one for a weekend maybe have a try with the 400mm, my local camera shop here borrows lenses and if you buy the cost of the retal comes of the price, so somethig to consider before you fork out the hard earned dollars. Remeber even with a 600mm lens and relatively close to the subject you'll be cropping your image, for this image I was about 5 meters away (15 foot) from a relatively small bird, the full size image is 5472 x 3648 the image was cropped to 2966 x 1977. So even at 600mm I still crop into the image to get a decent sized subject in the final image. You'll soon learn you can never have a long enough lens, but need to play that off against weight and cost, if its to heavey you'll never use it and if its to expensive well you may go hungy for a while.
also, if you get a long prime lens , you need a good tripod with a new head and a sidekick or similar. Factor that into the cost of buying and lugging around , an expensive prime lens. Pathfinder said it already and I’ve seen the photos he takes with such a setup, but it wouldn’t be suitable for a walk / hike
Link below to review of the sidekick, which will support up to a 500mm lens
@Glenn_Smith says you can never have enough length and I generally agree.
I even have an old Sigma 300-800 - no IS, but on a tripod not really a deal killer and it actually is pretty sharp. But the real downside is that it is heavy, not hand holdable in any way, so as Shay mentioned, that means a large heavier tripod and a Wimberley head to use it.
The Wimberley Sidekick is fine for 400-500 mm lenses but not a 300-800. One reason my Canon 400 DO gets some love.
There have been rumors that Canon has a 600mm DO coming soon - I would love a 600mm DO simply because it would be so much lighter and smaller to handle and carry. For those who aren't familiar- "DO" is Canon's term for Diffractive Optics which replaces some of the large heavy portions of a telephoto lens with smaller, much lighter flat diffractive panels that results in a much lighter ( ~50% ) and smaller telephoto lens.
I own a 400mm f2.8 refractive telephoto and a 400mm f4.0 DO. The f2.8 is a bit sharper and a full stop faster ( that one stop really matters at sunset and helps with autofocus lock ) , and significantly more expensive, but I find myself grabbing my 400 DO often simply because it is so much smaller, lighter and more hand holdable that I'll trade off its one stop of lesser light gathering. It also focuses a bit closer too, if that matters. It does sometimes.
If you can rent the lens you are considering, I would strongly suggest it before purchasing - there are so many factors to consider, that may not be apparent to you until you have used the lens in the field a bit, that rental is a good thing to consider so that when you purchase a lens, you know exactly what you are buying.
So even though, longer is always better, it really isn't......🙀.
Weight matters, size matters, ease of handling matters, and speed of autofocus aquisition matters, - you have to find the compromises that work best for you. Especially if you anticipate travel - you can carry large heavy gear in your car or truck without too much concern, other than security. But with air travel, weight, size and security are much bigger concerns.
My Sigma 300-800 will never see an airplane. Even a 500 f4 is a major challenge to travel with.
For air travel I pretty much limit myself to a Canon 100-400v2, or the Tamron 150-600, or a 400 f4 DO. The 100-400 is very sharp, but I don't prefer its background bokeh at times, nor that of the 150-600. Despite what you might read about the 400 DO I find it a very useful lens that accepts a 1.4 TC rather nicely, but it is larger in diameter than the 150-600.
So many choices, so little time.....
Another trick for timing of bird photography is to know where the birds are going to be. So if you know where there favourite food source or perment water is hand around there and wait, they will eventualy show up, you can be all set up exposure wise focus etc. and then wait for something to happen, In cases like that I use a remote shutter release, usualy an infrared trigger, or I can use a mobile app on my phone to trigger my canon cameras, control the focus point and set apature and shutter speed all from the phone and also trigger the shutter, so I can be further away from the subject with out scaring it. This one was with the remote trigger the bird and flower are in the local botanic gardens and these one (Noisy Miners) are certainly not shy. Knowing where there food is certainly helps.