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

Previous comments
Spy Black's picture

Well yeah I can see that, due to acutance. Back in the photo-optical days we used to blow stuff up to sizes measured in feet. While you easily the film grain, the acutance allowed for detail to be discerned.

Generally big images look best from a distance, where you can take in the entire image and appreciate the whole image at it's large size. Walking up to a huge print to view minutae, even if has the detail, defeats the whole point of printing big

Tho, with the A7R4 It does give options. You could shoot APS-C crop at 26MP...

Agree 100%. Liberal cropping in post or aps-c mode, or massive size prints is where file sizes like these become important.

jim hughes's picture

And this the bottom line.

I've very rarely sold a print of a bird photo and when I have, it wasn't that big. People don't put 48" prints of birds over their fireplaces - maybe a 10" print in a kitchen. And at that size you don't even need 24mp. Not nearly.

The photos in this post are great, but we don't know the distance to the subject and/or the amount of cropping.

Tom Reichner's picture

Actually, I have sold a couple dozen bird images that were printed at 36" by 24" on metal, two on metal that were 40" by 27", and one that was 48" by 32". Most of them I photographed with my 16 megapixel Canon 1D Mark 4 and my 400mm f2.8 lens.

These large bird prints were all acceptable to the clients who purchased the prints, but personally I am not satisfied with them when I see them displayed. I know that those feathers have a lot more beautiful detail that is not resolved, and could be resolved and seen at those sizes.

Now that I upgraded to a 30 megapixel 5D4, I can make large prints that are more satisfying to me - ones that I would actually want to display in my own place and ones that I can be proud of. I only wish that I would have had a 30, 40, or 60 megapixel camera many years ago, because then all of the best photos I have taken would have more precisely resolved hair and feather detail, and that would be much more satisfying to me.

David Schloss's picture

A lot of these comments seem to be assuming Mark said you could not get good results with other cameras and lenses. That's not the case. The original video was showing the detail and resolving power of the combination of lens and camera he's using.

That doesn't mean a less expensive lens, less expensive camera, shorter focal length lens can't get good detail.

Mark was not arguing that you need to spend $20,000 to take a good photo, and he shoots with all kinds of gear and makes great photos regardless of what he's shooting with.

jim hughes's picture

Right, he's just showing what could be done with gear like this. The need for it depends on how close you think you can get.

Mark is great, isn’t he? Who is going to spot me $13k for this lens? We wealthy folks have to stick with the 200-600.

Gear helps, but it's how you frame/compose the subject and how you use the light, at the end of the day you are shooting light.
Images below "the first three" where taken with D500 and Sigma 500mm f4 sport, all hand held.
You don't need $20K in gear, you need to be out there and shoot as much as possible. The Kingfisher was shot with the D500 and Nikon 200-500mm f5.6. All subjects were shot in their natural habitat "no feeders nearby", and no blinds used.

I have printed fantastic large prints from the D500.
I also shoot with the D850, which gives me a bit more detail when the subject is close enough, but it's not night and day from the D500, all I see today in the digital photo community is about pixel peeping and megapixels, it's not about what really matters, which is not the gear but the subject that is being photographed, and also loving what you do.

Rayann Elzein's picture

What people seem to forget, is that in some conditions, the extra stop or 2 that you get with the f/4 lens compared to cheaper alternatives makes a world of a difference. I shoot a lot in low light conditions, like after sunset or in places where the sun never rises, and f/4 is the bare minimum to have there.