Sony announces a new super tele lens and it looks awesome for bird photography

Fellow Sony bird photographer, Christopher Dodds might agree with me that the newly announced Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens is a real game-changer for bird and wildlife photographers. I wasn’t lucky enough to put my hands on this new and long-awaited lens but based on the first hands-on reviews, it seems to perform superbly.

Amazing features for even faster focusing, like the new Power Focus mode. Image courtesy of Sony

The new Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens was announced today. Image courtesy of Sony

I’ve been shooting with Sony cameras (Sony a7RIII) for a few months now and I love it. I also love the whole concept of Sony how they target larger and larger segments of the market. I had been a Canon photographer before I started to use Sony, and I know what weight of the lens means. I often had to handhold the 500mm and 600mm lenses with a massive camera body and most of the time shooting were restricted to a few seconds only. Sony’s new lens is under 3 kgs (102.2 oz) and having any of the lightweight Sony mirrorless cameras attached would still be a lighter combo than the Canon or Nikon lenses alone. That’s a huge benefit for birds in flight photography.

Another advantage of this lens over the competitors is the autofocus speed thanks to the development of the linear autofocus system. Again, it is a huge benefit for fast moving birds. Tested in the field, it has an incredibly high rate of in-focus photos when shooting high frame rates with the a9. In Gordon Laing‘s preview you can see how perfectly the Sony a9 camera and the new 400mm lens combo is keeping the focus on the cyclists (see video bellow at 6:57 minutes).

The new Function switch allows to set the camera to APS-C crop mode what crops the image by 1.5 times and halves the resolution but on the a7RIII it still produces a 21 megapixel image what is more than enough for publishing purposes.

Yes, It is not cheap… $11,998 is a lot of money and a bit more expensive than the competitors’ similar lenses, but it is a superior lens (based on the previews!!!) what seems to outperform the big brothers in many ways. Eventaully, the price will drop anyway.

European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus argenteus) by Gyorgy Szimuly on

This European Herring Gull was photographed by my Sony a7RIII camera with the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens. More photos in my gallery at © Gyorgy Szimuly



Some thoughts about the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV camera for bird photography

I’ve been using the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 mark IV bridge camera for 4 months now and the more I use, the more I love this powerful camera in a compact house. Key features of the fourth generation RX10 are the 20.1-megapixel ‘one-inch‘ sensor, the super sharp 24-600mm (35mm equivalent) Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f2.4-4.0 zoom lens, 315 point phase-detection autofocus system for amazing movement tracking and 4K video capabilities. All these features are perfect for bird and wildlife photographers but utilising the exceptional lens sharpness, it has also been used for portrait photography by many.

The RX10 IV is my everyday camera for documenting birding for good reasons. I love its capability to track flying birds with the support of the very same processor used in the Sony a9 camera. I had a pretty gloomy and misty morning in the Peak District National Park a few weeks back, where I photographed territorial Eurasian Curlews. The tracking was amazingly accurate and I only lost the birds when I couldn’t manage proper panning. The result was a set of pleasingly sharp photos even at higher ISO. Tracking was tested on more distant subjects as well. The camera found displaying Common Snipes and Eurasian Skylarks high in the sky without any problem.

EurasianCurlew_PeakDistrictNP_June2018_0001_2732px Territorial Eurasian Curlew in the Peak District National Park flying into the mist. The camera managed to keep the focus on the bird perfectly. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

I use the camera in manual mode and shooting uncompressed RAW for higher editing flexibility. With the maximum resolution, the file size is 5472 x 3648 pixels what can give me a lot of cropping flexibility if it’s needed. This way the 600mm focal length can easily be doubled while still leaving a lot of megapixels for the final image. Just for the record, the resolution of my long-serving Canon EOS-1D Mark II N camera was just 8.2 megapixels and still created superb photos. Cropping half the RX10 IV files will preserve more megapixels than my Canon was in full resolution 13 years ago.

EurasianJackdaw_England_June2018_0001_2732px Out the camera, this Western Jackdaw photo was pretty sharp and only slight Lightroom adjustments had to be made. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy SzimulyEuropeanHerringGull_Dorset_0002_2732px A taking off European Herring Gull with a distracting background. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy SzimulyGadwall_England_May2018_0001_2732px A drake Gadwall with a busy background and a beautifully sharp duck. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy SzimulyMeadowPipit_PeakDistrictNP_June2018_0001_2732px I shot this calling Meadow Pipit from my car from a relatively close distance. The shallow depth of field (f/4.0) and the distant background created some very nice bokeh. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy SzimulyEuropeanHerringGull_Dorset_0001_2732px European Herring Gull against a dark background. Some chromatic aberration is visible but it could have been fixed in Lightroom. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy SzimulyCommonBlackbird_England_April2018_0001_2732px Food collecting male Common Blackbird in the local park. Despite distracting foreground elements, the camera tracked the moving bird. Sony RX10 IV © Gyorgy Szimuly

While the camera is capable to shoot at an astounding 24 fps rate, this feature is still to be tested.

The Sony RX10 IV sells for £1,799 in the UK (Wex Photo Video) and $1,698 in the United States (B&H Foto). It’s not the cheapest camera on the market but certainly the most powerful compact of all with professional attributes. Images out from this camera might not appear on the pages of National Geographic but in ideal shooting conditions, it is more than capable to deliver outstanding results. For general web purposes, it’s a simply perfect solution. I highly recommend this camera for every birdwatcher.

More detailed specifications can be found at Sony’s related page.

Preface for testing the Viking Optical flagship spotting scope

Early July I’m heading to southern France with my son, Daniel for various reasons. Obviously, the main attraction beside enjoying the warm and azure Mediterranean Sea, the gentle food and refreshing wines of Provance, will be exploring the birdlife between the famous Camargue Natinal Park and the Provance Alps of Côte d’Azur.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse by Nimit Virdi on

One of the most beautiful of all sandgrouses is the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Photo was legally embedded from the photographer portfolio. © Nimit Virdi

Not surprisingly, there are a few potential life birds for me (a lot more for Dani) from the area and what a great opportunity we got to much easily find and to have splendid views on those life birds. The Britain based Viking Optical has granted us to use their flagship spotting scope during the entire trip. The scope has already been received and we had a short run with it. It is an impressive glass and I’m fully convinced I can easily spot the desired Bonelli’s Eagle or Cinereous Vulture in the sky or the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in the semi desert, just to mention a few.

Viking ED Pro 80mm Spotting Scope. Image courtesy of Viking Optical

During the trip (or shortly after) I will be posting bits and photos including a non-professional review (rather just a personal impression) of the set we will have used. Thanks for Viking Optical for the opportunity to try these products. Should you be at the BirdFair, pop in to Viking Optical stand in the Optics Marquee this August.

Testing my new camera

Today, I got a new megazoom camera for documenting purposes. I have had a lot of instances during my birding career when such a camera could have been helpful in proving my identification of birds. The Sony Cyber-Shot HX400V bridge camera sports a massive 24-1,200mm equivalent zoom range which is more than enough for general birdwatching. The photos are not exceptional but good enough for blogging and other social media purposes. Its price tag is very good and making this camera a great value for the money. I think it will be a great gear for our Scottish birdwatching trip in May.

I share a couple of shots I took this afternoon in a quite overcast, nearly rainy weather at the nearby Mount Farm Lakes. Photos were downloaded from the camera using it as Wi-Fi to my iPad Pro. All photos were slightly sharpened in Snapseed and in a few cases slightly cropped (starlings).


Sony Cyber-Shot HX400V bridge camera on my coffee table. It’s a great gift. © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Starling. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly


European Starling. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly


Greylag Goose. 1/250, f6.3, ISO200, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Canada Goose. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 500, 1,194mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Heron. 1/250, f5.6, ISO 320, 480mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Grey Heron. close up with nice bokeh. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 320, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f5.6, ISO 400, 379mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Getting closer to the subject brings very nice smooth bokeh. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 400, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f5.6, ISO 250, 647mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Greylag Goose close-up shot. It’s a bit noisy but acceptable. 1/250, f6.3, ISO 500, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

1/250, f6.3, ISO 400, 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Zoom test on the local church in Central Milton Keynes. Unedited photos straight out of the camera. 24mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly


Zoom test on the local church in Central Milton Keynes. Unedited photos straight out of the camera. 1,200mm. © Gyorgy Szimuly


Brand new birding toy: Nikon CoolPix P900 megazoom

The Nikon CoolPix P900 has not only have a list of extraordinary features but is looking impressive. Image courtesy of Nikon Rumors

The mega zoom war has been up and running For a while and we, birdwatchers, are very happy about it. There are a couple of decent competitors in the market but the newly announced Nikon CoolPix P900 bridge camera is beating all of them in terms of focal length. It has a 83x optical zoom equivalent of 2,000mm focal length, but with the Dynamic Fine Zoom system it can be doubled to 4,000mm (166x zoom). If this is still not enough the digital zoom doubles the already extended focal length once again to an insane 8,000mm.

While no pictures are expected to appear on the covers of National Geographic taken by a P900, it could be a great gear supporting everyday birding or travels. On a £499/$599 price tag it is much affordable than any DSRL system. It doesn’t offer RAW editing yet JPEGs can still be widely used. It could be ideal for bloggers as files can easily be transferred to mobile devices via the built-in WiFi. A tripod is always useful for such a massive focal length, but the Dual Detect Optical VR system enables taking unblurred images while handholding. To mention one interesting area of use for birdwatchers and researchers is documenting leg flag or neck band codes on birds.

More info on Nikon’s website.

I’ll give it a go.

Perfect travel companion: thoughts on Opticron’s MM3 50 ED travelscope

Opticron MM3 50 ED travelscope.

Opticron MM3 50 ED travelscope.

Just before the World Shorebirds Day I got a package from Opticron with the new MM3 50 ED travel scope in it. Prior to it Chris Galvin introduced me this tiny but very promising optics at the Opticron Day at the nearby College Lake.

The World Shorebirds Day was a good chance for me to test this optics in wide variety of light conditions. While I didn’t do any hardcore lab test for a sophisticated review, I still have a few thoughts probably worth to share.

It is extremely portable and tiny.

It is extremely portable and tiny.

The MM3 50 ED

The MM3 50 ED was a perfect companion for shorebird counting.

Tiny, yet powerful. This palm sized spotting scope is an ideal companion for a traveling birdwatcher. We all know the feeling when packing for a long-haul trip and we have yo make compromises to find places for important stuff in our luggage. Many times we end up leaving the heavy and large spotting scope at home hoping we don’t really need it. With the MM50 we don’t need to make such compromises. It just a bit longer than a toothbrush and fits easily in any pocket. Suspicious minds would think that poor optical performance comes with such tiny dimensions. Well, I first tried the MM3 50 ED from the Parrinder Hide of Titchwell RSPB Reserve in Norfolk. I arrived in complete darkness and enjoyed being alone surrounded by the mix of shorebird calls. Well before sunrise I spotted a Little Stint in the south west corner of the freshwater marsh. It was feeding with Dunlins in subdued lights but this tiny scope managed to provide enough details for positive identification. As lights improved it became more powerful with surprising clearness and sharpness.

The MM3 50 ED travelscope is incredibly small and lightweight.

The MM3 50 ED travelscope is incredibly small and lightweight.

Tripodless. It is hard to believe that the MM3 50 ED can be held in hand while observing. With a little practice and breath control it can be held steady. The close focus feature definitely widens the target groups in terms of sales. Back in the College Lake, Chris pointed to a nice moth inside the hide and asked me to try close focus. I held the scope in my hand just 2.5 meters from the moth and I could focus on it! It could be a brilliant solution to butterfly lovers.

This palm sized spotting scope easily fits in any size of travel bags.

This palm sized spotting scope easily fits in any size of travel bags.

I finished the Global Shorebird Counting Program on the World Shorebirds Day at the River Blyth Estuary in Suffolk and stayed until dusk. Hundreds of shorebirds were present and I didn’t have to leave because the travel scope wasn’t capable to handle decreasing lights despite having a 50mm front lens. This product is highly recommended not only for traveling birders but every bird enthusiast. The amazingly low £299 (body only) and £199 (HDF zoom eyepiece) price tag makes it an affordable spotting scope.

Huge thanks to Opticron for letting me using this product on the World Shorebirds Day and many weeks after.

Second flagship Zeiss binoculars unveiled

The Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 is claimed as the world's best binoculars. Photo courtesy of Zeiss.

The Zeiss Victory SF 10×42 is claimed as the world’s best binoculars. Photo courtesy of Zeiss.

2014 seems to be the ‘Big Zeiss Year‘. Since the beginning of this year, the Germany based company, Carl Zeiss is continuously updating its nature observation product line. In January the Conquest HD family was extended by the 8x, 10x and 15×56 models, mainly targeting the hunters. In early March the 8×54 and 10×54 models were added to the flagship Victory HT binoculars line. A few days ago another best was unveiled in the historic town of Wetzlar, Germany.

The brand new Zeiss Victory SF binocular line contains two models. The 8×42 model comes with a wide field of view while the 10×42 model offers incredibly bright image and excellent ergonomics. Some lucky Facebook friends were invited to the introduction event in Wetzlar, and all of them has been more than impressed by the quality and performance of these bins, even if they are a slightly biased.

Here are the main features of the Victory SF:

Triple-link bridge – the focusing mechanism extends above the focusing wheel, which resulting a more convenient and fast focusing;
Anti-slip focusing wheel – improves the grip and reduces slipping in wet conditions;
Smart Focus Concept – only 1.8 rotations needed from the closest focusing point to the greatest resulting a very fast reaction;
World class close focus – the closest focusing distance is just 1.5 meters;
Ergobalance – the focal point of the lens was shifted further back towards the eyepiece allowing a much comfortable viewing for a lengthy observation;
Large field of view – Class leading 148m field of view for the 8×42 models nearly matching the 150m FOV of the legendary ZEISS 7×42 Dialyt.
Light weight – by the use of lightweight materials, the Victory SF binoculars are the lightest in its class;
New Ultra-FL lens – The high quality and newly developed Schott glass allows 92% light transmission. The all new eyepiece with seven lens elements features field flattener, which creates sharp images to the edges without the ‘globe-effect’.

Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 binoculars. Image courtesy of Zeiss.

Zeiss Victory SF 10×42 binoculars. Image courtesy of Zeiss.

Technical data for the 8×42 / 10×42 models:

Magnification: 8x / 10x
Effective lens diameter: 42mm
Exit pupil diameter: 5.3mm / 4.2mm
Twilight factor: 18.3 / 20.5
Field of view: 148 m@1000m 64° (wide angle) / 120 m@1000m 65° (wide angle)
Close focus: 1.5m
Diopter adjustment range: +/- 4 dpt
Eye relief: 18mm
Prism system: Schmidt-Pechan 
Height: 173mm
Width at an eye width of 65mm: 125mm
Weight: 780g

Price incl. 19% VAT. GER: €2.385 / €2.435

I am a proud user of a pair of Zeiss Victory HT 10×42 binoculars, what I think is going to be one of the very best glasses in the market for many years to come. It is unlikely that I sell my HT to replace it with the SF, but I always wanted to have a 8×42 binoculars more suitable for raptor watching. What else could it be than the Victory SF 8×32?

I predict that the Zeiss booth will be invaded during the British Birdwatching Fair in August, where visitors can try and test these new benchmark models. I will definitely be there! With the entry of the Victory SF line, Zeiss is unprecedentedly offering another premium product line beside the Victory HTs family. The company wants future premium binoculars buyers to choose between Zeiss and Zeiss binoculars, not between Zeiss or products of another brand. This interesting marketing concept might generate a product boom in the nature observation optics industry in the coming months and years.

What could be the next update by Zeiss? Birders are eagerly waiting for the update of the spotting scope family equipped with the perfect Schott HT glass. The Victory DiaScope was introduced a bit more than 4 years ago, so it could probably the best time for an upgrade for the coming holiday season. Another long desired release could be the x32 models, both for the Victory HT and SF product line. I think with these additions we could see other market leading features.

It is time to arrange a joint birding with Alan McBride for a day long field and comparison test. 😉

It is worth visiting the Zeiss Birding Facebook Page or the official Zeiss Nature Observation website for more details.

Swarovski vs. Zeiss – 1:1

No, this post is not about a battle between the two top optical brands, nor a side by side sophisticated review. This post simply reflects my actual personal preference of the desired ultimate optical products for my needs. Last year, at the British BridFair, I could enjoy my time with the magical Swarovski ATX 30-70×95 modular scope. That was a kind of love at first sight.

What I believe to be the best spotting scope in the market: the Swarovski ATX 30-70x95 Modular Scope. Photo by Swarovski Optik

What I believe to be the best spotting scope in the market: the Swarovski ATX 30-70×95 Modular Scope. Photo by Swarovski Optik

Besides looking through probably the best equipment for my shorebird watching/counting needs, I came across another optical masterpiece, the Zeiss Victory HT x42 binoculars. Just a couple of minutes were enough to fall in love again. No, I am not cheating… I want them both. ‘Sadly’, money talks, so those extraordinary pair of binoculars is coming sooner than the modular scope, but they are coming for sure.

Zeiss Victory HT x42 binoculars. Photo by Carl Zeiss

Zeiss Victory HT x42 binoculars. Photo by Carl Zeiss

Beutiful design, extraordinary optical performance and joy of use feature the Zeiss Victory HT x42 binoculars. Photo by Carl Zeiss

Beutiful design, extraordinary optical performance and joy of use feature the Zeiss Victory HT x42 binoculars. Photo by Carl Zeiss

While I had a very very poor and careless customer care experience with one of the branches of the InFocus group, I tried to enjoy my time with a pair of Zeiss Victory HT 10×42 binoculars.

The brightness of those lenses was simply mind blowing. I have never ever experienced such a great light transmission capability than that of the Victory HT binoculars have. Zeiss says:

A revolution with up to more than 95% light transmission.

Indeed the feeding birds in the dark tree looked way brighter than I could see them with naked eyes. The sharpness is literally edge-to-edge, the balance and feel excellent and the close focus is brilliant. The focusing wheel is dreamy smooth. I have spent enough time in tough light conditions at the Old Lake of Tata with one of my best friends, László Musicz, while searching and counting night roosting wild geese before they blasted off by a hunting White-tailed Eagle. By using poor optical equipments we simply should not have had a chance to get even an estimate of the numbers if they left the lake at dawn.

At the moment the only hesitation is whether I should buy the 8x or 10x model. I tend to vote for the wider field of view than the larger magnification though I have never used an 8x model.

I remember, a binoculars with a much wider field of view would have helped a lot when I tried to find the Des Murs’s Wiretail in Chile in a dark forest. Photo by Birding Chile

Spring is at the corner in the Great Linford Wood

After a long period without birding I finally forced myself to go out for a short walk to see the apparently improving spring. While the nights are still frosty the daytimes are warmer and sometimes sunny. The Great Linford Wood is a nice escape of the over developed Milton Keynes. Vegetation still sleeping although the hazel has been blooming as usual.

There were no any special bird present in the woods but it was very birdy and noisy. Many birds started singing including the characteristic Song Thrush. Green Woodpeckers called from 3 different places and I heard a Eurasian Treecreeper singing for the very first time in my life. That is such a sweet song. Many pairs of Common Magpie started to build their nest while Common Wood Pigeons were mating or chasing each others.

I was also enjoying eBirding in the field. When I finished birding I submitted my data still in the field with the iOS BirdsEye BirdLog World app. I found this app very useful and easy to use. Read some reviews here.


Great Tit was quite abundant in the forest. © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Robin. © Gyorgy Szimuly

European Robin. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Common Buzzard 1
Common Wood-Pigeon 19
Great Spotted Woodpecker 4
Green Woodpecker 4 (heard only)
Common Magpie 18
Eurasian Jackdaw 4
Carrion Crow 19
Great Tit 31
Blue Tit 25
Long-tailed Tit 8
Eurasian Nuthatch 3
Eurasian Treecreeper 2
Eurasian Wren 7
Goldcrest 1
European Robin 17
Eurasian Blackbird 14
Redwing 42
Song Thrush 3
Eurasian Siskin 10

I was a bit surprised by the lack of Common Chaffinches. In Hungary they are already singing this time of the year. Is the whole UK population wintering outside the British island?

Birding journaling by the Day One app

I have some difficulties to write, even on my native language but I love to write! I am not sure how many people is interested what I have been writing but I always loved to write. Writing is an expression for me, often works better than talking. However my writing is rather restricted to a single topic what is always around birds. I learned from my ‘teachers’ that making notes on birding observations is important and could be beneficial for birds. They were right. I have been keeping bird records more or less for about 30 years.

In these days entering simple numbers next to a bird name in a birding app isn’t really satisfies me. I need to add some personal feelings, sometimes could be personal and private. Those I don’t share with the public but I keep them for myself for future. It is good to look back and see what and why I thought this and that.

hero-dayone-iconI found an app which is not only easy to use and having a lovely interface but offered exactly what I needed for keeping my public or private saying. I have been using the Day One app for a while and I love it. It is available for both a desktop computer and mobile devices. The feature list impressed me even for the earlier versions but the Version 1.9.x for iOS contains a bunch of new features which encourages me to use it more often.

Image courtesy of Bloom Built, LLC

Image courtesy of Bloom Built, LLC

Just to list some of the key features which I love from the birding notes making point of view:

  • Map function with the current location service integrated – I love mapping and love to see my records on the map. Especially upon sharing it could be a useful feature.
  • Fancy text editing options (bold, italic, list etc.)
  • Easy date and time changing option – by default it adds the current date so I don’t need to bother remembering the dates and times as I am normally start using the app in the field.
  • Integrated weather information – when entering location information weather info for the actual location and date is automatically added.
  • Option to add or take image directly in the app – weak point for me is that I can add only one image per post but I can live with that bottleneck.
  • Tags – I extensively use tags for my posts for easier search.
  • Synching – I prefer my iCloud service over Dropbox but that is a personal taste. Both are available for backing up the whole content. Synching is rather fast and works properly.
  • While sharing is not the feature what I have utilized but it has Twitter and Foursquare integration. Facebook is yet missing.
  • Keeping it private – You can use pass lock against lurkers.

As a birder I love to start making filed notes while in the field. While earlier I entered manually every bird names and numbers to Day One, recently I use the eBird BirdLog app to keep and submit my records. This way my records are used for good purposes. When the record is submitted to eBird I copy the checklist and paste it into actual entry in the Day One app where I can easily add additional and personal comments.

The desktop version should have had a way more potential for additional features but interestingly it is weaker than the mobile version. I miss the location service a lot. If I make my note in the desktop version I always go to the iOS version to edit it and add the location info manually. I hope it will be improved by time.

Here are some features I would love to see in future updates:

  • Capability to add GPS info to off-road locations
  • Multiply image uploading per post
  • Direct publishing option to major blogger sites like WordPress
  • Facebook integration
  • Map view of all the entries by tags

I highly recommend this app for anyone likes to record the happenings of life. Last but not least Day One app was awarded by Apple as the 2012 Mac App of the Year!