I wanted to get a good wildlife setup, but I didn’t really know which one to go for. There’s one million different options and none of them is perfect. So I chose to create my own mixture of camera gear and lens to get out in nature and take beautiful and sharp pictures of wild animals (birds in flight included). I specifically write “my own mixture” because I’ve seen no one use this setup on the vastness of the internetz. Sadly, I must say…I wish someone had reviewed this before me. It would have made my choice easier. So I was like “Hey, let me spend some crazy amount of money and test it out myself” xD
As I said above, no system is perfect. The most perfect one for image quality should be a full frame DSLR with insanly expensive lenses ranging up to 15.000 EUR. The downside is the, for me unacceptable, crazy weight of that stuff (and of course the price). I switched from a 5D Mark III to a Sony A7 because of the bulk and weight. There’s so much to take into consideration when choosing a wildlife setup:
– How much is your budget?
– How much bulk and weight do you want to carry around?
– How much is image quality important to you?
– Crop sensor or not?
– Do you shoot BIFs (birds in flight)? Then you need a very (very) good AF
– Which brand/system are you already using?
– Etc. etc.
Here’s what I personally wanted for my wildlife setup:
1. Image quality always comes first to me. So I chose a little wonder of a sensor which is still cropped, to get that extra 1.5x range. I thought about getting an EM1 with the Panasonic 100-300, but I know the output of that sensor, and I find the image quality starting at ISO 800 unacceptable for my personal taste.
2. I didn’t want to have to carry around a lot of weight, so a mirrorless body would be my choice. (The choice should be the EM1 or A6000)
3. I’d need fast burst rates to get a higher % of keepers of fast moving animals.
4. I’d need a very fast and accurate AF that continuously tracks subjects in-between the individual frames.
5. I’d need a really good lens with a minimum of 300mm (450mm effective range on the A6000). The lens should perform well and not un-well. Something I always disliked on the 100-300 is the pretty heavy chromatic aberration. It can in some cases completely ruin a picture, that you’d need to heavily crop (which is very common in wildlife photography).
6. I would of course prefer stabilization, which can make a huge difference in sharpness and overall image quality.
The ruggedness of the camera body (like a DSLR or the EM1) did not interest me at all. I prefer better images over a body that lasts. Weather sealing does not interest me either. My A7 is weather sealed, though I had to send it in after using it for 20 minutes on a teeny tiny minor rainy day. (I’ve had to send it in a few days before the internet got aware of that “non-issue of a light/water leak”).
Well then, with what did I end up with? The A6000 is an almost perfect (almost, because it is not as tough as an Olympus EM1) body with a phenomenal crop sensor at an amazing price. After having bought all that gear, I directly went out test-shooting with my 4-year-old son and tried out if I could track him running towards me (which is one of the worst case scenarios for an Af: a fast moving subject running/flying towards the cam). First off, the LA-EA4 adapter does not sit very tightly on the cam, neither does it on the lens. There’s some room to make it turn a tiny little to the left and right. The adapter is well-built, but not perfectly well. (It’s an OK plastic). I think if, over time, you do not handle it well (hold the lens instead of holding the camera), it could damage your gear. The lens is heavy, so you better balance the weight of the lens in your hand. I do not suggest holding only the camera. When using a tripod I suggest using the tripod mount on the adapter and not the one on the camera to prevent any possible damage.
Secondly, I had to find it out the hard way…meaning, I had to find it out after spending 2.000 EUR: The super duper AF of the A6000 is being completely ignored when using the LA-EA4… (I could have found it out on the internet, yes…but I just didn’t think of researching that specific particularity about the AF). You get an “ok fast” in-adapter focusing system with just a few AF points, which are pretty much only in the middle. Focus tracking works, though.
Also, you lose about 1/2 stop of light using the adapter.
So, to get back to my son running towards me: The focus tracked my son, yes. But not very well…just for a couple of frames, and at a far-off distance. The closer he came, the worse it got. You won’t get a bird flying towards you, in most cases…so that should be fine. And, you will not get a bird flying towards you up to a 3m distance. either..so that should be fine, too.
As I mentioned above, the adapter does not fit very tightly on the lens and camera, so I think that, for such a heavy lens, it’s not really meant to be used like that. All in all it feels a tiny little cheap, and as if it’s gonna break one day or another.
I also find that, because of the adapter, the lens does not fit in one’s hand very well, and it is a little uncomfortable to use ((it’s hard to turn the zoom ring, because your hand cannot rest on the lens itself, but half of it rests on the the adapter and the other half (of the hand) rests on the lens)).
Turning from 70mm to 300mm takes longer than turning a similar focal length on a real mirrorless lens. I find it about 30% too long.
All in all it feels decently compact, even with that big of a lens on it. But I must admit that the lens hood makes it bigger than it actually is. I used to leave lens hoods an filters off of my camera, but now I’m back to using lens hoods. It adds that 2% of image quality ((better contrast, colors and saturation in bright sun, less particles on the lens (dust, sea, salt, water droplets etc.), elimination of lens flare…)).
So, what about lens stabilization? Well…well…
Clearly, I have none in this setup, because A mount lenses are being stabilized by Sony’s camera bodies. Do I regret it? I don’t know, yet. (As I have this setup for 2 days now).
It is known to human kind, that the Canon 400mm f5.6 L USM lens is one of the sharpest beasts around in wildlife photography…and it has no IS. So I thought “if the best lens has none, then my choice of a lens needs none either”. So applying the well-known rule of thumb: use 1/focal length you’re using I should be using at least 1/300 sec at 300mm. BUT I have a cropped sensor making it a 450 equivalent, meaning, it should at least be 1/450 sec. But I gotta say you have to get used to that and it’s not as easy as it sounds. I’m clearly not used to having no stabilizer in my lens. When I’m shooting at 1/500 sec then, in all honesty, my images still suck 😀
Just like the featured image of this post. It looks kinda okay like that, but do not zoom in, because it simply lacks that tack sharply detailed awesomeness.
But I gotta say that, in wildlife photography, one needs a lot of knowledge of the surrounding animals, have specific photographing skills and a lot of patience. I probably have the most complete lack of patience of all human kind, so that doesn’t help. Gear is not everything!
Here’s a quote from Nature Photographers Online Magazine on the subject Digital Myths and Reality:
“A Stock Agent’s Perspective
My stock agencies love the quality of digital camera files, they love digital delivery, and e-commerce, and they love not handling irreplaceable original slides, but ask them if digital cameras have improved the creativity of shooters and the answer they give may surprise you. In a recent newsletter from one of my agents, the photo editors were lamenting the overall decline of the photographic content of submissions received. It seems that when photographers were shooting with film they sent in tightly edited submissions that had high impact and strong content. Now, shooters are just sending in CD’s or DVD’s loaded with every digital photo they have ever taken and saved. There seems to be very little editing or thought put into their submissions – just “here is my stuff – everything, good, bad, or otherwise – you pick what you want”. According to this particular agent, digital photography has simply amplified mediocrity.”
That being said, a Canon 1Dx with a nice high end telephoto lens should still perform awesomely well and actually help the photographer in his task. I am sure that I will still find a way to make this still great setup work for wildlife photography, because on paper, this is hell of a setup: great sensor, great fps, decent AF with a decent reach. And I gotta say, I only have it for 2 days.
What do you think!?
This article was meant be open for discussion, suggestions and comments! So I’ll be eagerly waiting for your comments right here on the site or on the forums.
See you soon and thanks for reading! 🙂