Sony a1 Photographing Wolves With The 200-600mm G Lens
I now have been a week with my second shot of the vaccine, and I have been itching to get out and do some photography. I made some calls and arranged for a one-on-one visit to The Wolf Park, about an hour away from where I live. I thought it would be a good place to try out some of the features of the Sony a1 camera and the Sony 200-600mm lens. I could just feel it in the air that it was going to be an incredible afternoon of photography.
The Sony a1
By now, everyone has heard of the Sony a1 and all the hype surrounding it as the flagship camera for Sony. I have had mine for a few weeks. After trading in a lot of Sony gear, I now have less camera gear sitting on the shelf and a very versatile camera kit.
I made a commitment to make Sony my full-frame camera system a couple of years ago. Sony seems to always be pushing the envelope with AF technology, sensor design, and camera performance. Also, over the last few years, Sony has delivered on some very good glass for their cameras that works in tandem with the technology in the cameras.
My Sony kit now is made up of the Sony a7r IV, Sony a1, and Sony a7 III cameras; with 24-105mm, 24-70mm, 16-35mm, 12-24mm, 70-200mm, 100-400mm, 85mm and 135mm lenses. I also have a 14mm manual-focus lens for astrophotography. I also keep a Sony RX100vi, ( Sony RX100vi article on PXL), a6500, and ZV-1 for vlogging and video work.
I am very happy with the above setup, and I have traveled far and wide with this system. The a1 is new though and replaces the a9 in this kit. Essentially I use the a7r IV for landscapes and that sort of work, and I use the Sony a1 as my wildlife camera.
The specs for the a1 are very impressive, with up to 30 fps shooting speed. The AF features that now include birds-eye, animal-eye, and human-eye AF detection are absolutely wild. The first thing I did after receiving the camera is to sit down in my backyard and photograph birds. My normal method is to set the camera for manual with a shutter speed of at least 1/1200th of a second. The f-stop I use is wide open to f/8. ISO is set to auto. I am not afraid of noise with this camera at high ISOs. so I set my auto ISO range from 100 to 20,000 (and I know and have used even higher settings with good results).
I started aiming at the birds, and to my amazement, the eye AF focused on the birds’ eyes. I had the AF set for continuous with small spot and tracking. I did all of this handheld and so as I moved, the focus spot continually tracked the bird’s eye, and I shot bursts at an insane frame rate. To say I was blown away is an understatement. I now need to get out and find some birds in the wild and do more. Maybe a trip to Florida is in order. Just watching through the viewfinder is worth the admission price.
It was time to move on to bigger animals. I could do a trip to the zoo and I may still do that, but I decided I’d try to photograph some wolves at a nearby wolf reserve.
The Sony 200-600mm Lens
I am a strong believer in long focal length zooms. Mainly because in my experience, when I did own the very expensive fixed focal lengths of 400mm and 600mm, I was locked into a specific field of view. I missed a lot of images because if the action came too close, I would miss it as my glass was too long. I learned this specifically while in Svalbard a few years ago, when shooting with the then-new Sony 100-400mm lens on the Sony a9.
I have been wanting a long zoom for a while, and now feel I waited too long to pull the trigger on the 200-600mm lens. This lens is ideal for the kind of traveling I do and has a lot of features to make the purchase worth it, especially for under $2,000. The combo of the 200-600mm and the Sony a1 seemed like a logical match.
Off To Wolf Park
On Friday I headed out to Wolf Park. I had the park to myself, and the park’s photographer Monty Sloan joined me and guided me to the good locations. Monty has been at the park for decades. He would occasionally do a howl, and the wolves would raise their heads and come running.
I had the lens set for full-range AF, and AF for the camera set for animal-AF. Instantly with the first exposure, I was blown away as the camera found the wolf’s eye and snapped right there. Super-fast, and it held the eye as I took dozens of images.
If you see some abnormalities in these images, it is most likely because of shooting through chain-link fences. I was talking to Monty about putting camera ports in the fences, much like those at auto tracks. I am happy to report that I heard back from him, and they would like to install these ports. I just happen to have a son who is a welder, and hopefully, in the near future, he can put this project on his list.
I was shooting RAW compressed format and using the newest 160 GB CFexpress Type A cards in slots 1 and 2. The first thing I worried about was the number of images I was taking. At 30 fps you can tally up a lot of exposures in a short time. Nevertheless, I was having a blast.
One of the big challenges was in many places I had to shoot through a chain-link fence. I knew at wider open f-stops, I could possibly get away with this, but I wasn’t sure if the AF could do it. It ended up not being an issue, as the lens focused fine. Occasionally a branch from a bush or a tree might confuse the tracking, but when that happened I just released the AF button and reacquired the wolf in the AF spot zone, and the camera once again locked right onto the eyes.
I had a great afternoon. I learned a lot about wolves, but more than anything else I learned a lot about the Sony a1 and 200-600mm lens. My confidence in the setup now is extremely high – It just works.
What I Did With All the Images
Luckily for me, Capture One just released a new version of Capture One 21. The update added the Sony a1, which was fortunate for me. I did learn the hard way that at this time, the Lossless Compression RAWs were unreadable. So I just chose to use compressed RAW instead. I understand that they will add Lossless Compressed RAW files in a future update.
Also, Capture One now has a quick pre-edit feature where I could go through and cull the images I wanted prior to downloading from the card. It was super fast and easy and uses keyboard commands. Scrolling, selection and previewing were excellent. For those of you that are familiar with Photo Mechanic, it was kind of like that.
Once I got the images into Capture One I did a second edit. Here I could do deep-focus checks. Capture One now has an incredible zoom-in range for focus checking. I’ll cover more about Capture One in a separate article. Capture One has done a lot to make speed editing from import to adjustments a priority with the last couple of releases.
Added in the newest version of Capture One are also adjustment brushes. These adjustment brushes change everything; I can go in and darken, lighten and adjust areas for color, saturation, and a lot more. Every time I selected a new brush, it created its own layer. It made the whole editing process so quick. These new features in C1 couldn’t have come at a better time.
Final Words For Now
The new Sony a1 is quite an impressive beast – it does things so well in so many ways. I haven’t even touched on the video specs but Michael Durr, our video producer, can’t wait to try out doing some 8K videos. I opted to add the vertical grip to my camera. I have big hands and I find it makes hand-holding the camera with big lenses a lot easier. It also holds two batteries to extend shooting times. Speaking of batteries. I shot all afternoon and still had 1/3 of my first battery left. I didn’t even cut into the second battery.
The controls are all on top of the camera and make changing settings very fast. I also customized the quick menu (FN) for the items I would need to access the most. Finally, Sony has listened and there is a new menu system. If anyone experienced the old menu system, you know how painful it could be. Not a lot of things made sense. Now it is very easy and intuitive to make setting changes on the camera.
For the first time in my 50-plus year photography career, I feel like I have my dream camera and setup. The lenses, cameras, and systems I now have will allow me to tackle almost every task that I do. The only thing missing is a macro setup. The 90mm Sony Macro lens (that I once owned) is one of the sharpest lenses I ever used. It may be I have one more investment to make.
This is not an inexpensive camera, at $6,500.00 USD. It’s Sony’s flagship camera, and it comes in at around the same prices as Canon’s and Nikon’s flagship cameras. It’s meant to be a workhorse camera, and I assure you as we come out of the pandemic, I fully intend to make this camera work for me.
For now, I am just plain excited. I can begin to think about travel again. I have a long list of places to go. I am looking forward to tulip season in Michigan. I have a number of domestic trips I am ready for. And when it is safe to travel again internationally, I’ll be off to a number of locations, running workshops and shooting with friends. The Sony cameras will be there with me.
Please stay safe, get your vaccine, and with some hope and a little bit of time, maybe our paths will cross. I can’t wait.
Here are some more images.
Photography is my passion and has been for 50 plus years. My career in photography has allowed me to travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people on the planet and see things I could never have dreamed of. My goal is to share the passion of picture taking through photographs and teaching with as many people as I can, hoping it brings them as much joy and happiness as it has me. I do this through photoPXL.com, this site, as well as Rockhopper Workshops, and other projects, as well as teaching as Artist In Residence at the Indianapolis Art Center.