Incredible Bird Photography With the Sony 600mm f/4 GM and a7R IV

To see birds with detail like you’ve never seen them before in images, it’s hard to beat this camera and lens combination.

In this video, professional bird photographer Mark Smith shares exciting narration and amazing photos and video from some recent outings he’s taken with his brand new Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS lens and a7R IV camera. From ospreys, to loggerhead shrikes, to roseate spoonbills and more, Smith’s home state of Florida is lush with birds brave enough to get their photo taken by the whooping 61-megapixel full-frame sensor and one of the best lenses money can buy.

Photo by Mark Smith.

Photo by Mark Smith.

Photo by Mark Smith.

Photo by Mark Smith.

As shown in the resulting images, every tiny feather and detail is resolved with his Sony kit. The kicker is that it’s all shot with the freedom of handholding the gear. “The 600mm f/4 has opened my eyes to a new level of detail that I didn't know was possible in a telephoto lens and being able to handhold that much resolving power is simply incredible,” Smith told me. “Quite easily the single best investment I have made in photography gear.”

All photos used with permission.

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41 Comments

jason noyes's picture

good photos but dont need to spend all that money on high end gear when i can do the same with mid range gear; everything is all about gear gear gear and not skill now days; well ill save my money and use skill.

Dan Seefeldt's picture

The obvious benefit of the higher end gear is the ability for it to separate the subject from the background and the sharper focus. But yes, for the hobby photographer they would most likely not really need that to have a fulfilling experience.

Tom Reichner's picture

I'm sorry - I replied to the wrong person, by mistake. I re-wrote my comment and re-submitted it to Jason (above).

Tom Reichner's picture

Unfortunately, you can't do the same thing with mid-range gear. Nobody can.

A 20 or 30 megapixel camera simply cannot resolve the same amount of fine detail that a 61 megapixel camera can. And a mid-range lens will not be able to resolve the same amount of fine detail as a world-class lens can resolve.

You could fill the frame the same way with the same light and the same perfect focus, but the 61MP image taken with that caliber of lens will show more of the tiny little filaments on the feathers than any of your mid-range gear will be able to show.

Can you get truly great images with your mid-range gear? Yes, you can! But those images will not have the same degree of fine detail resolution as this set-up, and for some photographers, that ultra-high level of resolved feather and hair detail is what matters most.

jason noyes's picture

shows how wrong you really are; a many of my photos come out looking just as good and some better but at least i know i dont have to spend like the foolish man and rest assured i make good with my photos; then again im not trying to print on a damn billboard either but then again neither are you; also you seem to forget that mp doesnt mean that much all you have to do is go back to the old heads that have done wonderful jobs all these year without all this money eating tech. so yea once again i can prove my point all damn day. period

I like the photo but it clearly doesn't show the same level of detail as the photos in this article.

Corné van Oosterhout's picture

In optimal conditions you can get away with smaller front optics, but not in a forest in early morninglight. I try to save some money by using smaller focal length, getting the subject towards me, I only use a 200-400 on FF, most of my photos are barely cropped.

Mark Rowe's picture

Hi Jason, I agree with the fact that 'gear' isn't always the answer. However, new technology in sensors and lenses does assist. Can I ask what 'mid range' gear you are using? That way, your comment will be justified, rather than coming across as against this new 'gear'.

jason noyes's picture

hi mark; up till this year i have been doing airshow photography for a couple places using only my d5600 and kit 70-300 nikon; now this year i am going with something similar to d850 and just got my first nikon pf lens and sigma telephotos lens; do they make a difference ? yes but did anyone notice that my airshow photos where taken with kit lens ? no; i had several of my photos used for airshow advertisement which goes to show that its more skill than gear for the most part which is something that has been lost in this day and age.

jason noyes's picture

plus this dumb website wont let me post my high meg photos on here; i always have to downsize them to get them to load so that also takes away from my above photo

Rk K's picture

The photos in the article are in a completely different class than what you have here, so you managed to disprove yourself.

Fritz Asuro's picture

In a way, what you say is true. Expensive equipment is not a necessity until it is.
You pay more for reliability, better overall performance, and better image quality.

Ryan Mense is at the top of his game. If he chooses better gear to go even better, more power to him. Ryan: Fantastic images!

Janno Liivak's picture

Well, I have followed Mark Smith on YouTube for a while. There's no way you can get shots he has with your cheaper 24-70mm lens... unless you fly quite close them... with your skills, Mr. Jason ;)

jason noyes's picture

lmao; shows your a keyboard warrior; 24-70; lol wrong; keep trying; with your keyboard skills you might guess lucky; but then again most of you are just that , keyboard warriors; lol

Leigh Miller's picture

Mark turns out amazing work regardless of the camera/lens combo. Just listen to him narrate his videos...that dude breathes wildlife and the outdoors.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I use a D850 with Tamron 150-600 G2 for bird photography and straight out of camera, the Sony combo absolutely smokes the sharpness of my images. However, after applying the PS Shake Reduction filter, I can get get a lot closer but never quite get the detail of the Sony combo. (I know it's a 3rd party 4x zoom.)

Rogier van V's picture

And keep in mind the above combination is a whopping $16,000. The difference in price is quite obvious and so should the difference in IQ be.

I would like to see unstaged and uncropped flight shots taken with the a7R IV.

I have plenty with my a7riv and crummy 200-600. What do you want to know?

Birds "Brave enough to get their pictures taken"?
What a load of horse manure. They are basically tame in an area loaded with photographers and tourists - Bravery is our troops, our parents sacrificing for their kids. Birds have nothing to do with it.

How heavy is the outfit he is "hand holding"?

Lee Christiansen's picture

Now aren't you a little ray of sunshine...

Webster defines bravery as:
"The quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty."

No mention of a requirement to be in a battle zone, or kids.

David Schloss's picture

The a7R IV is 1.47lbs. The 600mm is 6.71lbs. The combined weight is 8.8lbs. Which, for the record, is lighter than my cats, who I handhold all the time.

Seems like you're insinuating that it's not possible to handhold this combination. So here's a photo I took of Tony Nothrup handholding it on the a9 with the grip at a soccer match.

FWIW - Mark wasn't actually insinuating that these birds are heroically rushing into a fire to save children because they were being photographed. He's joking around. /woosh

Great photos for sure. But talent plus almost $20,000 worth of equipment should be expected to produce great photos.

Sony a7Rii Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS... didn't sell the house for a camera setup :-)

jim hughes's picture

These photos definitely have 'pop'. And with the resolving power of a $12K lens I can see the value of 61mp.

Of course you can still do it with a $1K lens and 24mp; you just have to get close.

The 600mm is probably not replaceable but the camera? Depends on how much you have to crop. 61MP cropped to APS-C is 27MP, so almost the same as the average APS-C camera with newer models being in the same range (Fuji 26MP, Canon 30MP).

Printed at normal sizes, like even 30X40 you’re never going to see any difference in detail from a 24mp camera to the 61 mp A7R4 .

Spy Black's picture

I dunno about 30x40, but 16x20 or smaller I would agree.

I’ve seen some amazingly detailed 30-40 prints from even 12mp files.

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