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Sony A9II sample photo

The Sony A9II is Sony’s flagship camera and seen by many as a DSLR killer.  The spec’s on this camera are pretty impressive for any camera mirrorless or DSLR.  But how does this camera work in the field and how does it handle for birders and wildlife photographers?

I recently had the opportunity (the day after release) to try out the Sony A9II and the Sony A7RIV in a controlled setting to shoot birds and owls.  Now this was less than ideal and not a real world field test but nonetheless it was enough time to get a feeling for how these cameras could work when shooting birds or any wildlife. 

Bird photography with the Sony A9II

So what make a camera like the Sony A9II the  best bird photography camera or is it more the photographers skill.  I’ve often wondered this as I test out new gear and restrain from jumping right in to purchase a new camera or lens.  There is no doubt that the Sony A9 II is a great camera but when it comes to bird photography what things should you look at in order to say any camera is ideal for birding.

The Sony A9II had no issue focusing on the birds (owls) during my test and although not an ideal situation, the results were impressive.  Below are some sample photos from the Sony A9II and show just how amazing this camera is. For me the real test is out in the wild where things are unpredictable and never ideal.  I’ve always had an issue with mirrorless cameras and their ability to keep up with the demands of fast moving subjects like birds or even horses. So time will tell if this camera is really a DSLR killer as so many say it is.

Sony wildlife and bird photography lenses

During my short time with the SonyA9II I was fortunate to test out the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens and the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens.  Both lenses are amazing and honestly not for everyone. I also tested out the Sony A7R IV with these lenses and the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens.  More on that test later.

One thing I did notice about the Sony A9II and lens combo was just how close you can get.  Now that seems obvious but when you’re shooting close ups of wild animals at 600mm slight movements are amplified and can quickly cause you to miss the shot.  I can’t imagine how easy it would be to track a bird flying toward you with one of these lenses. Again a field test is needed for this. So here are some Sony A9II sample images.

Sony A9II sample picture
Sample photo from the Sony A9II

Sony a9 (or Sony A9II) for wildlife photography

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Sony A9 setup for bird photography

I wasn’t too successful in using the Sony A9ii for birds in flight. Now I’ll be honest this has more to do with my limited time using this camera than the camera itself.  So I’ll leave this as a question mark at this point until I get some more time with this camera in the field. In the meantime here are some common settings for the Sony A9 bird settings and I’m sure they’ll equally apply to the Sony A9II.

Camera settings for bird photography with the Sony A9 and Sony A9ii

Shutter speed – Most common shutter speed settings are between 1/1000 – 1/3000.  You can obviously go faster or slower just keep in mind this will change the overall exposure and sharpness of the image.  I recommend for beginners to shoot at 1/1000 and get a feel for how your camera performs.

Aperture – Often people shoot at the widest aperture say f/2.8.  This works for many photos however keep in mind the depth of field at f/2.8.  You may only have a portion of the bird in focus because of this. If you shoot at f-stops around f/4 for example you will most likely have to change the ISO and or the shutter speed to expose correctly.

ISO – Like with so many other types of photos the lower the ISO the better.  ISO ranges between 100-800 generally work well for all cameras and some can push upwards of ISO 12,000

Frame rate – Burst mode or high frame rate is generally perfect for birding.  Keep in mind that many cameras will slow down as you shoot large burst rates of images.  The internal camera image buffer simply can’t keep up. So plan your shot a little and start snapping when you feel you’ll get the image you want.  This will also reduce post review of hundreds of images.Image stabilization – This is always a tricky one.  I often turn lens stabilization off when shooting about 1/1250.  Many cameras will actually end up blurring the shot if you’re shooting that high with image stabilization on.

Sony A9II sample image
Sony A9 II sample image

If you’re looking for general tips for taking better bird photos check out my blog for ongoing tips and techniques for capturing birds and wildlife.

How does Sony a9II compare to other cameras?

Well that’s a tough question really. I know the spec nerds out there will say this brand over that and this sensor over that. But when you boil it all down it comes to field testing. Take for example the Olympus OM-D E-M1X for bird photography. In my test(s) I found that this micro for thirds camera had some serious advantages. The small sensor wasn’t something to ignore and dismiss. Same as the Canon 1DX a workhorse camera. So, when it comes down to what is the best camera for birding or any other fast moving subject (like sports) it’s a very difficult question to answer. All the top brands including Sony now have great cameras to offer. Sony does have a limited lens offering however they are starting to make a serious push in this area.

Sony A9II Specifications



Imaging


Lens Mount

Sony E

Camera Format

Full-Frame (1x Crop Factor)

Pixels

Actual: 28.3 Megapixel

Effective: 24.2 Megapixel

Maximum Resolution

6000 x 4000

Aspect Ratio

1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9


Sensor Type

CMOS

Sensor Size

35.6 x 23.8 mm

Image File Format

JPEG, RAW

Bit Depth

14-Bit

Image Stabilization

Sensor-Shift, 5-Axis

Exposure Control


ISO Sensitivity

Auto, 100 to 51200 (Extended: 50 to 204800)

Shutter Speed

Mechanical Shutter

1/8000 to 30 Seconds

Bulb Mode

Electronic Shutter

1/32000 to 30 Seconds

Bulb Mode

Metering Method

Center-Weighted Average, Highlight Weighted, Multi-Zone, Spot

Exposure Modes

Aperture Priority, Manual, Program, Shutter Priority

Exposure Compensation

-5 to +5 EV (1/3, 1/2 EV Steps)

Metering Range

-3 to 20 EV

White Balance

Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature, Custom, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent (Cool White), Fluorescent (Day White), Fluorescent (Daylight), Fluorescent (Warm White), Incandescent, Shade, Underwater

Continuous Shooting

Up to 20 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 239 Exposures (Raw)

Up to 20 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 361 Exposures (JPEG)

Up to 10 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 239 Exposures (Raw)

Up to 10 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 361 Exposures (JPEG)

Interval Recording

Yes

Self-Timer

2/5/10-Second Delay

Focus


Focus Type

Auto and Manual Focus

Focus Mode

Continuous-Servo AF (C), Direct Manual Focus (DMF), Manual Focus (M), Single-Servo AF (S)

Autofocus Points

Phase Detection: 693

Contrast Detection: 425

Autofocus Sensitivity

-3 to +20 EV

Viewfinder and Monitor


Viewfinder Type

Electronic (OLED)

Viewfinder Size

0.5"

Viewfinder Resolution

3,686,400 Dot

Viewfinder Eye Point

23 mm

Viewfinder Coverage

100%

Viewfinder Magnification

Approx. 0.78x

Diopter Adjustment

-4 to +3

Monitor Size

3"

Monitor Resolution

1,440,000 Dot

Monitor Type

Tilting Touchscreen LCD

Weight

1.49 lb / 678 g (Body with Battery and Memory)

Questions about the Sony a9ii mirrorless camera?

Do you have any questions about this camera? Would you use it for sports or wildlife photography?

I’d like to hear from you about your experience with Sony cameras for birding. Please leave a comment below!

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