There are lots of exciting cameras around at the moment but after shooting with it in a boxing gym when it was announced, the Sony A9 has really grabbed my attention. Naturally it was therefore high on my wish list of cameras to take on a trip to Northumberland and a prime candidate to take on a boat trip to photograph wild birds. So as you might imagine, I was delighted to be able to get hold of a sample from Hireacamera in time for my trip.
Unfortunately Sony doesn’t yet have much in the way of long fast telephoto FE mount lenses and the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS wasn’t available. However, I had the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens along with a Metabones EF to FE Mark III adaptor.
As I boarded Billy Sheils’ Glad Tidings IV in Seahouses harbour I could see that I was amongst seasoned bird photographers with several toting 500mm and 600mm lenses on their Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
As we disembarked at Inner Farne Island the frequent visitors made a beeline for the best vantage points and I kept an eye on their direction to follow suit. I don’t photograph birds on reserves very often and I was amazed at how close we could get to puffins, shags, guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills.
Using the Metabones adaptor I mounted the Canon 100-400mm lens on the A9 and got to work. I found that I occasionally needed to use the lens’ manual focus ring to get the focus in the right zone before the camera would take over the focus drive and get the subject sharp. In some instances it was able to the keep a moving subject sharp but that lens and adaptor combination is best suited to use with stationary or slow moving subjects.
As I made my way back to the boat ready to depart, I and just about every other photographer on the island spotted a couple of puffins sat obligingly close to the path, each with a beak full of sand eels. They behaved like perfect models and were still in the same position as we set-off for Staple Island. With the 100-400mm lens I was able to get some nice tight shots.
After docking at Staple Island and running the gauntlet of the diving-bombing terns I found a superb location looking along one of the cliffs. The wind was blowing in the same direction as my gaze and as a result I was looking towards a regular flow of puffins coming inland with beaks stuffed with sand eels.
Mounting the Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS, I initially shot using Zone Focus Area mode with the AF Tracking sensitivity set to the Standard (3) setting – between Responsive (5) and Locked-On (1).
The viewfinder frame rate was set to high, but as the birds came towards me they looked as if they had several wings flapping rather than two. However, I was more interested in the fact that I could see green squares illuminating over them to indicate that the focus system was doing its job.
I found the A9 was capable to identifying the subject and latching on to it almost as soon as a puffin (or any other bird) entered the active area. It only lost focus when the bird left the active zone. Consequently I shifted to Wide Area AF mode, giving the camera full rein to decide which AF point to use.
I was amazed by the results. The A9 seemed to have an almost telepathic understanding of what my intended subject was whether I was panning with a bird flying passed me or photographing a bird coming towards me.
I moved to another area where I could shoot birds against a busier background and incredibly the camera again performed superbly, focusing on the target and keeping it sharp in the vast majority of occasions.
With a 70-200mm lens mounted the puffins weren’t huge in the frame but a few flew pretty close and directly overhead so they look large enough in the frame. However, their relatively small size means they were a good test of the autofocus system and not too demanding of my rusty framing and panning capabilities.
With a maximum shooting rate of 20fps (frames per second) it doesn’t take long to fill a 32GB or 64GB card and I was glad to have a WD My Passport Wireless Pro (review coming soon) with me to store images and allow me to reuse the cards.
Sony A9 vs Puffin Images
This gallery shows a small selection of the images I have of puffins in flight direct from the camera. As I said, I’m not a regular bird photographer and the Sony A9 enabled me to get a far higher hit rate than I would normally achieve – it was streets ahead of the Canon 77D I also took with me (more on this soon).
The Sony A9 made photographing birds so easy it felt almost like cheating and it was definitely the victor in this Sony A9 vs Puffin contest. If we could just have some longer lenses please Sony…
Follow this link to browse and download full resolution images from our Sony A9 vs Puffin Flickr album.