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Date: 28/08/2015 | By: Mathieu

A red kite, a crow and a cat walk into a bar… – Sony A7r II & Sigma 150-600mm Gallery

ILCE-7RM2, 1/2000, f/ 63/10, ISO 160

A red kite, a crow and a cat walk into a bar… – Sony A7r II & Sigma 150-600mm Gallery

There is a farm in Mid-Wales called Gigrin where more than 300 red kites are fed everyday by a member of the family-run business. The birds, with a wingspan of 1.8 metres, battle not only with one another but also against crows, ravens and buzzards for the best pieces of meat. We even saw a cat sneaking onto the field to steal a chunk for dinner. While observing all this (and it is fascinating to watch), we took the opportunity to push the Sony A7r mark II‘s autofocus capabilities to the extreme by mounting the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary (Canon EF mount) and the Metabones Mark IV adapter to take some shots of the birds in action.

Our Sony A7r II coverage:

  1. First Impressions (Sony’s press event)
  2. Lantern Parade (Low-light image gallery)
  3. Bird Photography (with the Sigma 150-600mm EF mount)
  4. Zeiss Milvus (Sample images)
  5. Voigtländer VM lenses (12mm f/5.6 & 21mm f/1.835mm f/1.7)
  6. Complete Autofocus Test (FE, A, EF lenses)
  7. Compressed vs uncompressed RAW
  8. A7r II vs A7s II comparison (with ergonomics/ease of use)
  9. Complete Image Quality test and final conclusion
sony a7r ii sigma lens
The A7r II, Metabones Mark IV adapter and the Sigma 150-600mm C

The feeding happens at 3 p.m. every day (2 p.m. during the winter). We arrived there one hour early to have the time to choose the best spot inside one of the several hides designed for observers. There is even a two-story building for photographers but it is quite expensive to use. As 3 o’clock draws near, the place fills with tourists and holiday-makers eager to watch the show. 10 minutes before supper-time, you start to see the kites flying around the trees while the crows take their place on the ground.

sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/640, f/6.3, ISO 100 – 238mm
The kites are always on time for supper.
sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 160 – 484mm – Slight crop in PP
sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/1000, f/8, ISO 500 – APS-C mode – 600mm
Crows and Ravens wait on the ground.

The farmer arrives at 3 p.m. on the dot with a tractor full of chopped-up meat and flings it onto the ground with the help of large shovel. Once the first pieces of food hit the ground, a small number of daring kites dive down and grab their fill. Most of them, however, wait for the crows to go first, as it is a confirmation that everything is safe. Then the kites start to fly in circles, awaiting their chance to furl their wings, dive in and grab the food.

A7r II, 1/640, f/6.3, ISO 400 – 150mm
Dinner’s ready!
A7r II, 1/640, f/6.3, ISO 400 – 283mm – Slight crop in PP
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 1600 – 516mm – Slight crop in PP
Here the bird is not perfectly in focus but it is the only decent picture of him diving in that I have.
A7r II, 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640 – 435mm – Slight crop in PP
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 800 – 435mm – 20% crop in PP

Yesterday was a mix of intermittent rain and sun. The kites don’t like to fly in the rain, so while they waited for it to stop, they enjoyed a brief respite in the nearby trees. What is interesting is that when this happens, the crows also step back politely and wait on the ground. It almost looks like a gesture of respect towards the kites, as if they are saying, “If you wait, I’ll wait, so that we can have a fair fight for the food.”

A7r II, 1/640, f/8, ISO 800 – 302mm – 20% crop in PP
This kite is eating its food under the rain, but not for long.
A7r II, 1/200, f/8, ISO 800 – 600mm – APS-C mode
They all decided to wait until the rain stops…
A7r II, 1/200, f/8, ISO 500 – 600mm – Slight crop in PP
…and so do the other birds.

As the rain abated, a sneaky black and white cat cautiously walked toward a pile of red meat and grabbed one piece for himself before the birds started to populate the ground again. The cat definitely knows that the feeding happens every day. We noticed him waiting patiently under a bush before the farmer came in.

A7r II, 1/800, f/8, ISO 800 – 600mm
A uninvited guest shows up.

When the rain stopped, the crows were on the ground again and soon enough, the kites slowly left the tree for a second round. This whole process of eating/waiting/eating again happened a few times due to the bands of rain that continued to pass over the farm. Around 4 o’clock, most visitors that had come to watch the feeding had left, thinking that the larger birds wouldn’t bother anymore. But there was still a lot of meat on the ground. Heather, myself and another photographer in the photographer’s hide opted to stay and wait patiently. At 4.30 p.m., the final round began and the 300 kites dove in for the last morsels of food. Once they were gone, the crows and ravens cleaned up what was left and flew away as well.

A7r II, 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800 – 374mm – Slight crop in PP
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 1000 – 562mm – 30% crop in PP
sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 400 – 361mm – 30% Crop
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/800, f/8, ISO 800 – 361mm – Slight crop in PP
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 250 – 388mm – 20% crop in PP

I have very little experience photographing birds and of course I found it quite difficult at the beginning. The best way is to follow a single kite instead of trying to randomly capture them when they grab the meat on the ground. Their movements are so fast, which is fascinating to watch but extremely difficult to photograph. Also, when it is cloudy and rainy, you have to raise the ISO to 800 to maintain a decent shutter speed. (Even 1/1000s is not enough to be safe from motion blur.) From the hides, 300mm or 400mm can be enough to catch a good photo and the Sigma lens gave me lots of versatility. However, being inexperienced meant that I felt the need to use a shorter focal length many times to be able to effectively follow the birds. For this reason, I cropped some of the shots you see here (it’s indicated in the caption when applicable).

sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/1000, f/8, ISO 800 – 600mm – Slight crop in PP

Today we came back to Gigrin Farm to photograph the event a second time. Knowing exactly what was going to happen this time around gave me more reassurance. What’s more, there was more sunlight which made it easier to deal with the exposure. I actually raised the Auto ISO to a limit of 1600 and used a faster shutter speed to reduce the chance of motion blur.

Now how about the A7r II’s performance? All things considered: it is excellent.

There is of course much more testing to be done to discover whether this camera performs well with every DSLR lens out there. After all, there are so many variables (the camera, the lens specs and the adapter) that can affect your results. There is also another factor to consider, which is the real-world relevance of adapting lenses. Personally, I am interested in adapting lenses that a) aren’t overly disproportionate to the size of the camera, or B) give me something that the native Sony FE lenses don’t yet (like a 150-600mm zoom).

sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/800, f/8, ISO 400 – 468mm
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640 – 600mm – Slight crop in PP
At the end of the almost two hours dinner, some kites become lazy and stays on the ground for the last bits.

When using non-Sony lenses, there are a few settings that are not available including Zone AF and Lock-On AF (3D Tracking). The best setting I found for this kind of photography was Continuous AF and either the largest Flexible AF point or the Wide AF mode. One thing I noticed with the Flexible AF point is that it works really well as long as you keep it at the centre of the frame. If you move it to the left or right, even within the phase detection area (you can activate the guidelines to see it on the display), the camera will have a hard time focusing and will keep moving the lens elements back and forth.



With Wide AF the camera detects and tracks the birds very well and has a vaster range of AF points available than just the limited area of the Single point. The tracking capabilities are stunning – only a few times did the camera focus on the trees in the background instead of the birds. Perhaps the best example is this picture below: the bird is far off in the background, yet the camera kept tracking it. The small and copious phase detection points (399 in total) are very effective. However, keep in mind that in this article I am showing my best shots; many of them were slightly out of focus so it is not always accurate.

sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/1000, f/8, ISO 800 – 484mm

It is also important to choose Phase Detection AF instead of Contrast AF in the Menu (this option is available with all non-native FE lenses). Also, be sure to set Focus priority to AF instead of Speed or Emphasis to ensure constant results. The A7r II can shoot at a maximum of 5fps (also in C-AF) but I admit the burst can be limiting for this kind of photography. It is not just a matter of how many frames per second you can capture – since the burst affects the view in the EVF, the delay makes it more difficult to keep track the bird while shooting. 8 or 9fps would definitely improve this. I wish you could select a lower resolution for both Raw and JPG formats and increase the shooting speed (the APS-C crop mode only goes up to 5fps).

sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/2000, f/6.3 – ISO 400 – 293mm

The EVF itself is not bad. Its large size and 0.78x magnification help a lot and the time lag is reasonable. For the best performance you need to set it to “high performance”.

Finally, for some shots, especially the one of the birds in the sky, I took advantage of the APS-C crop mode. It gives you an 18MP Raw file which is still a more-than-decent resolution and you get that extra reach.

sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640 – APS-C mode

About the adapters

I’ve used two adapters with this lens so far. The first was the Fotodiox Pro at the Race the Train marathon. The number of in-focus images I achieved was surprisingly high but the adapter has lots of bugs and issues. It causes the camera to unexpectedly quit the menu or a setting you are trying to change despite not pressing a button. In manual mode, it can change the exposure without you altering the shutter speed or aperture, and other times the shutter will remain closed and you have to turn the camera off and on again to get it to work. In a few words, it can’t be trusted despite the fact that you can take good shots with it. I get the feeling that it is just a matter of updating the adapter for the A7r II but unfortunately Fotodiox hasn’t firmware updates for its products.

sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 200 – With Fotodiox Adapter

On the other hand, the Metabones Mark IV allows for firmware updates (it has a USB port). When I received the sample, the lens autofocus wasn’t working but it was just a matter of updating the adapter to the latest version. The only issue I found with this lens is that if you activate the optical stabilisation (1 or 2) the camera switches to Manual Focus after a few seconds. The only way to go back to AF is to turn off the camera and the OS on the lens. It is also very expensive and doesn’t work with all Sigma lenses. However, many Sigma lenses also come in an A-mount version. These would be my first choice to use on the A7r II with the LA-EA3 adapter.

 

What about the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary lens?

sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II. 1/800, f/8, ISO 100 – 484mm
Click on the image to open the full res version.

I find it really excellent. Of course I’ve never tried it on a Canon or Nikon DSLR so I can’t compare the performance but seeing what I got with the A7r mark II, I think it is a great investment especially considering the reasonable price. The sharpness is good at 600mm and f/6.3 (with a little bit of vignetting) and it is a great lens to begin with before considering larger, more expensive offerings. Note that there is also a version of this lens called Sport. It is larger, heavier with a stronger and weather sealed built and of course more expensive.

Photographing kites was probably the toughest test I could have given the A7r II but it performed beyond my expectations, and I couldn’t be more excited to test it with even more non-native lenses.

Make sure to follow us for more galleries and articles about the Sony A7r II! In the meantime, you can also check out our low light gallery with images taken at the Lantern Festival.

sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/100, f/8, ISO 250 – 283mm – 20% Crop
sony a7r ii sample images
A7r II, 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640 – 361mm
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 1000 – 562mm – 20% crop in PP
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 640 – 435mm – Slight crop in PP
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 800 – 435mm – 20% Crop
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 320 – 600mm
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 320 – 484mm – Slight crop
sony a7r ii sigma lenses
A7r II, 1/1000, f/8, ISO 250 – 484mm
Click for the full size version

Our Sony A7r II coverage:

  1. First Impressions (Sony’s press event)
  2. Lantern Parade (Low-light image gallery)
  3. Bird Photography (with the Sigma 150-600mm EF mount)
  4. Zeiss Milvus (Sample images)
  5. Voigtländer VM lenses (12mm f/5.6 & 21mm f/1.835mm f/1.7)
  6. Complete Autofocus Test (FE, A, EF lenses)
  7. Compressed vs uncompressed RAW
  8. A7r II vs A7s II comparison (with ergonomics/ease of use)
  9. Complete Image Quality test and final conclusion

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Seree Woradechjamroen

    Hi Mathieu,

    Thanks for promptly response! :)

    I’ve just emailed my issue to Metabones support which I hope they will solve it for me soon.

    Now I’m also waiting for Sigma MC-11 to available in Thailand too. Should be great to see your test result! :)

    PS.Tomorrow I’ll go to local store to try a new copy of Metabones if it makes different or not. Will keep updated here until I solve the problem so your readers can benefits from my case too.

    Best regards,
    Seree

  • Seree Woradechjamroen

    Hi Mathieu,

    Thanks for promptly response! :)

    I’ve just emailed my issue to Metabones support which I hope they will solve it for me soon.

    Now I’m also waiting for Sigma MC-11 to available in Thailand too. Should be great to see your test result! :)

    PS.Tomorrow I’ll go to local store to try a new copy of Metabones if it makes different or not. Will keep updated here until I solve the problem so your readers can benefits from my case too.

    Best regards,
    Seree

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Hi Seree, sorry to hear about the front focus problem. Unfortunately you can’t adjust that it in the camera’s menu, that option is limited to A-mount lenses used with the LA-EA4 or EA2 adapters.
    I guess the only thing is to wait and see if metabones releases a new firmware update.
    I will use this lens on the A7r II again to test the new MC-11 adapter from Sigma, I’ll let you know how it performs.

  • Seree Woradechjamroen

    Hello Mathieu,

    Thanks for the post that inspired me to bought Sigma 150-600C + Metabones IV to use with my Sony A7Rii. (and A6300)

    From what I’ve tried with this combination, I found that I got a problem on AF. It’s always front focus in every focal lengths of the Sigma.

    Both A7Rii and A6300 got the same front focus but when I borrow my friend’s Canon body I found that the lens is perfectly focus. No front/back focus at all.

    But when I plug the lens to metabones IV with both Sony bodies, it front focus!

    Both of my bodies are perfectly focus on Sony FE lens as well.

    I’ve updated both metabones IV and Sigma lens to the latest version.

    I even bought Sigma USB Dock to fine tune my lens to +20. (move the focus point back as much as it allow) but it still front focus.

    So, I think the problem is on my metabones IV. Do you have any suggestion for me to test? :)

    Good news is that both A7Rii and A6300 can focus quickly with this combination. (even though not equal to the native speed with Canon body but it’s quite good and enough for my style of birding)

    Now just need to figure out how can I make this combination to focus perfectly and this combination would be a killer!

    Thanks,
    Seree

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Haha, I’ll try :)

  • juju

    Mathieu, it would be great if you could test the e-m1+metabones+sigma150-600 combo 😉

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Yes I saw the news too but I was pretty sure they would release a firmware update for the A7r II. I wasn’t expecting the will make it work also with the E-M1. They really seem to know what they are doing :)

  • Willie Huang

    The Metabones just got a firmware update! My EF 50mm f1.4 lens can now focus and I someone posted on dpreview forum that the sigma 150-600 AFs much better after the adapter update.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    It’s hard to find it, at least here in the UK.

  • Willie Huang

    I’ve seen several people talk about the TechArt adapter but it seems like few if anyone actually own it currently. I did come across a thread where someone else was planning on trying out the TechArt + (Sigma or Tamron) combo. It’ll be interesting to see how the TechArt adapter performs. I’ll be sure to tune into your findings 😉

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Hopefully yes. I am also hoping to get my hands on that TechArt adapter that has been updated for the A7r II.

  • Willie Huang

    Thanks Mathieu! Hopefully the stabilization with AF issue will be resolved in the future with a Metabones firmware update.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Hi Willie. I couldn’t activate or deactivate the IBIS: the camera was giving me a message saying that I had to use the switch on the lens itself. However I was able to input the focal length manually, so it seems to work but it would definitely be more effective if I could use the OIS in addition to the IBIS. That’s where the Tamron 150-600mm A-mount version with the LA-EA3 adapter could work better (I hope to try that as well).

  • Willie Huang

    I noticed you mentioned the need to switch off the optical IS on the lens in order for AF to work properly. Were you able to keep the IBIS on and use that as stabilization or could you not have stabilization at all for AF to work? I’m quite interested in getting a 150-600mm lens and have been waiting to see which lens would work best with my a7rii. From your pictures, it seems the Sigma performance is quite impressive as you were able to get birds in flight in focus!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I would love to try the Tamron and see if it is any better with the LA-EA3.

  • Sean T

    Next shoot – LAEA3 adapter with the Tamron 150-600? Quasi-native mount and smaller. I hope it looks horrible so maybe my GAS will pass!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Thanks Sean. I haven’t print yet but I might order a couple to see how the result is. But I think that as long as you look at the print at the right distance (depending on how large it is), it should be fine.

  • Sean T

    Delightful images. Wow. So many beautiful raptors all in one place. I had such a good time with just two in my backyard a while ago (juvenile hanging out while parent kept bringing big bugs for a meal), I don’t know what I’d do with that many! Have you printed any? I’m curious how the softness I can see when I REALLY pixel peep might affect a print.

  • bwana

    The rumor mill says the end of the year?… BUT it would still need fantastic specs to make me consider an upgrade. All the things I can think off, i.e.: A7R -> A7R II, wouldn’t be enough.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Yes I used C-AF most of the time.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Well I’m pretty sure that an A7s mark II is on the way 😀

  • bwana

    Are you using AF-C for fast moving “things”? I find it works nicely for wildlife…

  • bwana

    I’ll agree regarding the A7R and A7/A7 II… BUT the A7S still has the edge as a “low light monster”. Once you get into the realm of ISO 12800 and higher the A7S runs away with the prize.

    Up to ISO 12800+/- the A7R II wins if you consider image quality a function of resolution, dynamic range and low noise. On noise alone, the cross-over point is probably closer to ISO 6400. If you downscale an A7R II (or A7R) image to 12 MPixel, even at higher ISO’s it performs nicely. And since I don’t generate huge prints or present images at a huge scale I do gain from downsizing.

    However, if I didn’t already have four A7 series bodies and someone gave me the option of picking just one, I’d definitely go with the A7R II. :)

    I should mention both my A7S and A7R are full spectrum modified for astro/nightscape/IR photography, so the A7R won’t be going in the junk basket any time soon and the A7S will stay around until something total fantastic arrives to replace it, and at the moment I can’t even envision what that might be?

    bwa

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I agree, the A7r II is the best for autofocus but I also think it’s the best of all the A7 series :)

  • bwana

    I own the A7S, A7R, A7 II and now the A7R II. The A7R II is light-years ahead of the other A7 series cameras WRT autofocus. My Sigma 150-500, Tamron lenses and all my Canon lenses are now quite usable! Loving it!

    Not quite the same speed as mounted on my Canon bodies BUT the image quality (resolution and dynamic range) is better and the autofocus speed is not all that much slower!

    Plus I get to use all my Canon FD (been on a shelf for a couple of decades), Pentax (from the mid-70’s 35mm film days), Sigma, Tamron, M42 & T2 mount lenses on one camera! And they all work at least, if not better than they did on OEM bodies. I’m a happy puppy!

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    P.S.: I started to get better results with the motorbike race once the focus priority was set to AF instead of emphasis. The latter tends to lock the AF on the first frame.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Not yet, I only took some marathon shots with the FE 55mm in APS-C mode. But I am pretty sure that the FE lens give the best performance. As for the two Sigma lenses, as you said they are different focal lengths and all things considered I still find quite stunning that this camera can perform as well with a lens designed for another system even when used at 500/600mm.

  • bwana

    Have you tried a native lens like the FE 70-200 or FE 24-240 is a similar situation? How does/would it perform in comparison? I have both of the above and they do appear to have excellent autofocus speed. They feel faster than the adapted Sigma 150-500, BUT then again I’m comparing quite different focal length lenses…

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I shot in different spots along the circuit. Where it had more trouble was where I was closer to the track and so the focus distance would be shorter. The bikes were coming from the left, take the bend and then accelerate. They were obviously very fast and the camera couldn’t keep with that speed. When I was more distant it had less trouble probably because the changes in focus distance were less pronounced.

  • bwana

    Interesting! I’ve found birds-on-wing a pretty good test for any autofocus system… How close were you to the riders? I guess that would make a significant difference?

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    I know what you mean. The Metabones is the only one that can be trusted for most applications. And I am sure they will release other firmware updates.
    Today I tested the same gear with motorbike races. The AF this time struggled more with the fast riders :)

  • bwana

    A great batch of birds!

    I use the Sigma 150-500mm, Metabones III/IV and A7R II; works very nicely. I also have Commlite, Fotodiox and King adapters. None of these work nearly as well; hangs, jitters, lost connections, etc.

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