Black faced cuckoo shrike

I was a little surprised to learn that a cuckoo shrike is neither a cuckoo, nor a shrike. Maybe they started to run out of names and decided to give this bird a composite name.

Two different views of the same bird below.

The first image was shot at 1/1000 at 288mm, the second at 1/1250 at 302mm, both at 12800 ISO and f/5.6 on the 70-200mm GM II with a 2x teleconverter on the A7RV. I have run these shots through the new Adobe de-noiser to get rid of minor colour noise due to ISO 12800.

Black breasted buzzard in flight

Last time we saw this bird on the ground. I thought I’d prove that she can fly, too.

This was shot at ISO 1000 at f/5.6, 1/2000 at 400mm on the 70-200mm GM II with a 2x teleconverter – wide open and wound all the way out. Shot using bird eye AF on the A7RV.

Basking in the autumn sunshine

Here in Melbourne we can get some lovely weather, even in late autumn. It wasn’t too warm, but there was barely a cloud in the sky. That means hard light and hard shadows. Also means that all the cats at Werribee zoo were basking in the sunshine.

I was happy with this shot with the logs in front of the lioness softly out of focus, and the lioness in sharp focus. So much so that I’ve included a crop of “just” 2500 x 2500 pixels from the shot below – click on the images, then click again to see them even larger.

This image was shot using the Sony 70-200mm GM II (wide open at f/2.8 and wound all the way out to 200mm) on a Sony A7RV in Animal subject recognition mode. I’d say it nailed the eye autofocus in this shot.

Focus on one butterfly, get one free

I was focussing on the lower butterfly, expecting it to take flight. The upper butterfly flew into view, and almost into focus (it’s not quite sharp). It makes a striking image, though.

This was shot with the 70-200mm GM II at 200mm, f/4, 1/2000, ISO 2500 on the Sony A7R5.

You focussed on what?

I am still reviewing the new Sony A7R5 – after all, I bought less than 4 months ago! I’m starting to feel like I understand the new autofocus system, which is simultaneously the most complex autofocus I’ve ever used, and yet the easiest / most natural to use.

This particular situation impressed me. When I looked at the RAW, the foliage nearest to me was even brighter (I have lowered whites and highlights in the image above, and raised the shadows a bit). I might have been able to get an earlier Sony camera to duplicate this autofocus using a small Spot autofocus area, but the A7R5 was set to Zone. I’d expect an earlier Sony to to focus on a tree or the leaves near me in Zone. The A7R5 didn’t hesitate. It picked out the tiger deep in the shadows, and focused on the tiger eye beautifully (check out the second image below to see how accurate that autofocus was).

The other thing that impressed me was that this was shot at ISO 12800, 1/1250, f/4 at 200mm on the Sony 70-200 GM II. A great lens, a great camera, but ISO 12800? I did no noise reduction on this image, other than scaling the crop from 3600 wide to 2500. Click on the images below to see them larger.

Snow Leopard asleep

Snow leopards are one of the most beautiful of cats. This lady looks elegant, even asleep in a dappled autumn sunshine.

This image was shot using the Sony 70-200 GM II lens at 200mm on the Sony A7RV at f/4 1/2000 ISO 6400 (no noise reduction!). I cropped the image a little to get rid of a distraction. I was a bit surprised not to see noise in an image shot at ISO 6400, and I thought you might like to see the result.

A fairy wren out of mating plumage

There are several species of fairy wren in Australia, and I’m not sure which species this one is. It is not in mating plumage – the splendid and superb fairy wren go bright blue for mating, instead of dull brown. No matter their plumage, however, they are rather hard to photograph, because they are forever bouncing around. That’s why I’m rather glad to have a shot of a stationary fairy wren.

There’s another reason. These birds are rather small, so I had the 2x teleconverter on the 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II lens to get this shot. I wasn’t zoomed all the way out to 400mm – the effective focal length is “just” 274mm. But this is a 2505 x 1670 pixel crop from a full frame of 9504 x 6336 – that not bad detail considering the tele converter is involved.

The sun was out, the clouds were negligible, and this was shot at ISO 160, f/5.6, 1/2000. This was using the A7RV Bird subject recognition.

Click on the images below to see them larger. The first is the original full frame, the second the crop.

Black breasted buzzard takes a walk

This bird spends more time on the ground than the other raptors we have been looking at. Here is one going for a brisk walk in the sunshine before a snack.

This was shot at ISO 400 at f/5.6, 1/2000 at 280mm on the 70-200mm GM II with a 1.4x teleconverter. I’m using the A7RV, and loving the powerful auto-focus. I’m processing these image using the most recent update of DxO PhotoLab version 5, but I turned off all the options so you can see the image as shot. This is a serious crop from 9505 x 6336 down to 5100 x 3400.

Gouldian finch

The image above was cropped from a 60Mpixel frame all the way down to just 6Mpixels. It’s quite clear how well the bird eye autofocus is working on the A7RV.

This was shot at ISO 4000 at f/4 at 200mm, 1/2000 using the 70-200mm GM II, without a teleconverter. I’m processing these images using the most recent update of DxO PhotoLab version 5, but the only modification I did was use DeepPrime processing to reduce some noise in the background. I was in an aviary with some light, but not a lot; that is what drove the ISO up to 4000.

You can see why these are also known as rainbow finches.

Wedge tail eagle in flight

Another image shot at Healesville Sanctuary, using the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II lens on a 1.4x teleconverter on a Sony A7RV. Last one was the smallest Australian raptor, so let’s jump up to the largest. The last image was heavily cropped, this one is barely cropped: this is a crop from 9504 pixels wide to 8000. One thing the two images do share is the excellent focus achieved by the A7RV.

This was shot at ISO 1000 at f/5.6 at 280mm (full zoom on the lens x 1.4x TC), 1/2000. I’m processing these images using the most recent update of DxO PhotoLab version 5, which is the first to support the A7RV, although I am using none of the corrections that PhotoLab provides.

Nankeen kestrel in flight

This bird in flight was captured at Healesville Sanctuary, using the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II lens on a 1.4x teleconverter on a Sony A7RV. I have shown you other birds captured using this combination, but this shot is exceptional.

The A7RV is using a much slower sensor than the A1. The A1 sensor captures an entire frame in 1/260 of a second, courtesy of its stacked design. The A7RV sensor takes about 1/10 of a second to capture an entire frame, and the A7RV is doing a lot more with the data to be able to do its subject recognition.

So clearly it is completely unreasonable to expect the A7RV to do eye auto-focus on the tiniest raptor in Australia (this is a 140g bird), moving erratically at high speed. especially when the bird is tiny in the frame – correct? Er, no… What?? I won’t tell you that every shot is like this, because they aren’t. But the fact that this camera can pull this off at all is really impressive, and this wasn’t the only one.

I cropped this image from the full 9504×6336 all the way down to 2500×1666 – I am showing you the actual pixels captured around Rusty the kestrel. I’ll show you the full frame and this massive crop below. Click on the gallery to see the images larger. Please

This was shot at ISO 640 at f/5.6 at 280mm (full zoom on the lens x 1.4x TC), 1/2000. I have done minimal editing on the image. I want you to see what I saw when I zoomed in on this.

Osprey in flight

This bird in flight was captured at Healesville Sanctuary, using the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II lens on a 1.4x teleconverter on a Sony A7RV. The lens was at f/8, and this was shot at 1/2000, ISO 800. I am still learning how to use the A7RV to photograph birds in flight – I wonder if the A1 has made my skills rusty? The A7RV’s new AF isn’t as fast as the A1, but given a little time, can be more accurate.

I cropped this image from the full 9504×6336 down to 6000×4000 (keeping 24 megapixels from the original 60). I’ll show you the full frame below. Click on the gallery to see the images larger.

Kangaroo goes “hmm”

This was taken at Healesville Sanctuary, using the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II lens wide open at 192mm on a Sony A7RV at 1/2000, ISO 800. I used the new Animal / Bird AF and I’m quite happy with the accuracy of the focus and the level of detail picked up. This image is slightly cropped.

This kangaroo seems to be thinking deep thoughts.

Focus on Flowers

The State Rose Garden is maintained by a group of hard-working volunteers.

I am working out the strengths and weaknesses of the new auto-focus on the Sony A7RV. It’s extraordinary when it recognises subjects, but what about when it doesn’t? I headed to the Rose Garden with two objectives: to try out Insect AF on bees, and to try the AF on flowers without bees – the list of subjects recognised by the A7RV does not include flowers. Perhaps Sony felt that flowers aren’t too difficult to photograph using old-fashioned techniques, or perhaps Sony’s monster AF training system had trouble locating the eyes on flowers?

These images were all shot with the A7RV set to Insect Subject Recognition (and mostly defaulting to a more normal auto-focus when it didn’t find an insect). The lens was the 70-200 f/2.8 GM II, set to f/8. ISO was on Auto, and shutter speed was mostly 1/2000. Most of the images have been cropped to around 5000 pixels wide (they vary from 2500 up to 6500 pixels wide).

Let’s start with the one flower that I found with a bee (click on the gallery to see the images larger):

I was wondering about the blur over the middle leg until I realised that the bee’s wings were buzzing because it was about to take off.

And now some bee-free flowers. Click on the gallery to see the images larger.

I think I may well leave subject recognition turned on most of the time, because it does not appear to impede auto focus on subjects which are not recognised. Would be worth turning it off if taking, for example, crowd photos that are not meant to be focussed on an individual.

Butterflies in focus

If you wanted to test insect eye auto-focus, represented in the A7RV’s menus by a butterfly, how could you resist visiting the Butterfly House at Melbourne Zoo? (Well, if you live thousands of kilometres from Melbourne, I guess you have an excellent excuse!)

Not all of these images were focussed on the butterfly’s eyes, but the AF picked up the butterflies in every case, putting a box around the butterfly, and in some cases refining that focus to the head of the butterfly.

These images were shot on the A7RV using the Sony 70-200 GM II, at f/4. I had the minimum shutter speed set to 1/2000, but only until the auto-ISO got up to 12800.

The first gallery is of butterflies perched, although some were still moving their wings. Click on the gallery to see the images larger.

And now something I was not expecting to work! I tried tracking a pair of butterflies in flight. That’s a lot harder than tracking birds in flight, because butterflies do not fly smoothly – they flap wings that are far larger than their bodies.

These images were all shot at f/4 1/2000 and ISO 5000 or 6400. I’ve cropped them to remove distractions (in one image down to 3500×3500). You can see that in some of the images one butterfly is more sharply in focus than the other; I was not running tracking, just AF-C with Subject Recognition set to Insect.

Click on the gallery to see the images larger.

An ibis coming in to land

I am trying out the auto-focus in the new Sony A7RV, and finding it very good. These two images were shot when I was walking through Melbourne Zoo, and happening to look up. There are a number of ibis nesting in the palm trees in the Zoo (they are not officially part of the Zoo, more interlopers!). To be honest, ibis don’t get a lot of respect in Melbourne because they have a reputation for collecting food from rubbish bins, earning themselves the name “bin chickens”.

I am showing two images, and the original frames from which they were taken. You may not be able to tell, but both images are focussed on the bird’s eye (black eye on a black head), made a little easier because the bird was slowing down to land in the palm tree.

These images were shot on the A7RV using the Sony 70-200 GM II, at ISO 100, f/4, 1/2500s. The detail images are 4500 x 3000 crops from the 9504 x 6336 original frames, so they are cropped by a little over half in width and height. Click on the gallery to see the images larger.

Cats’ eyes

To give you a bit more of a taste of the results from the new Sony A7RV I thought I’d start with one of my favourite subjects: cats. I no longer have a pet cat, so you have to settle for photographs of other cats, but they are pretty cats.

All of these were shot with the A7RV set to Animal / Bird subject recognition. Although I haven’t included any examples, I did try photographing an occasional bird in flight, and the camera showed no hesitation in switching subjects.


The servals at Werribee Zoo are shy, and we can only see them for a brief period once a day. They are not large cats, but they have long legs and use them to jump. All the shots below were taken with the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM II lens, wide open at f/2.8. Some are shown full-size, others are cropped to show the level of detail in the images.

The top left image in the gallery was snapped as Nunki entered the area, and the new AF found her eye without being confused by the dark shadows over her eyes and the long grass between us (you can see the grass indistinctly in the foreground). I have shown shots of servals jumping before, but I couldn’t resist showing you some more.

Lions and tigers and a snow leopard, oh, my!

Now a selection of other images, some taken with the 70-200 GM II, and some with the 200-600 G. One thing they share is that every one of them was shot with the lens wide open.

The first image was taken with the 200-600 G + 2x teleconverter at 486mm (243mm on the lens), with the lens wide open at f/11. This image is not cropped.

A different day, and we see a lioness enjoying a cooling block of ice with meat frozen in it. This was shot using the 70-200 GM II at 182mm, wide open at f/2.8 (the difference in bokeh is obvious). The eye is razor sharp despite her being in deep shade, with a much brighter background. This is a 6000×4000 crop from the original 9504×6336.

The male tiger at Melbourne Zoo, taken with the 200-600mm G, this time without a teleconverter, wide open at f/6.3, at 360mm. This is a heavy crop from a landscape shot into a portrait image, but there’s plenty of detail visible. I should point out that this was taken in fairly heavy shadow (the Brightness Value in the EXIF data was 0.19, far lower than the other images), with the ISO racking up to 12800, and the shutter speed dropping to 1/125 – suggesting that maybe I was finally giving the new IBIS a little bit of work.

Staying with Melbourne Zoo, but now the female tiger, female snow leopard, and one of the bachelor lions, all shot with the 70-200mm GM II wide open at f/2.8 at 200mm. Only the snow leopard shot is cropped, because she was right up the back of her enclosure (you can see the pipe behind her which provides a cooling mist when it’s too hot for her).

To be honest, I could probably have taken these images with the A1 or the A7R4, but the A7R5 makes it easier with its superb animal recognition and eye AF.

Shooting through glass with the sun at a low angle in the sky

Kulinda the cheetah, prowling in the early sunshine. She helps me demonstrate one of the problems with shooting into morning sunshine through glass. No, she wasn’t being showered in rays of light by Hollywood SFX – that’s flare compounded by shooting through thick glass.

You can see where the sun was, and how low it was, by looking at her shadow.

This isn’t a great photo, but I thought it was a good example of the problems we can face when the sun is low in the sky and we’re forced to shoot through glass into it. At the same time, I was quite happy with how sharp the image came out, and I rather like rim lighting.

This image was shot at ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/1000 on the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II at 72mm.

Hippos playing follow-the-leader

Three hippos leave their night quarters, plunge into cold water, and head out for a spot of quiet grazing. Given that it’s before breakfast, two of them are not particularly interested in thinking about where they are going, so they just follow in single file. You can see the shine of their wet hides.

This image was shot at ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/1000 on the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM II at 200mm.