Active Insect Macro Technique on Sony A7IV – Continuous Auto-Focus vs. Single Auto-Focus and Magnified View

When I was using the earlier Sony A7 cameras for insect macrophotography it was always a struggle to manage to get good focus on active insects like butterflies and bees.  When magnified view appeared in the A7S (and elsewhere) I started using that to get really close focus on the heads of bees and other small critters.  But the challenge was to perform the magnification button clicks and focusing before the little buggers moved on.  And another complication is that only single auto-focus and manual focus work with magnified view, not continuous auto-focus.

So recently I decided to try using continuous auto-focus instead of magnified view with the active insects.  And I’m satisfied that, all things considered, this is the better technique.  Probably those coming from camera models with a longer history than Sony of competent auto-focus are not surprised by my finding.  After all, continuous auto-focus isn’t a new technology.  But it is to me.  Having competent auto-focus on a Sony A7 camera is a relatively recent phenomenon.

What I think are the big advantages of this technique are really just the lack of the disadvantages that the magnified method has.  With the continuous autofocus method there is no rush to try to restart the magnified view after every capture.  This alone is worth a lot.  Between continuous auto-focus and multiple shooting modes I can take a dozen shots in the three or four seconds it takes to get two shots using magnified view.  And sometimes that is all the chance there is to get the shot.  Looking at the results confirms that the number of keepers is much higher.  Not to mention how much lower the annoyance and frustration levels are when shooting this way.  It makes it easier to keep a handle on the environment and react to the movements of the insects faster.  And this should be obvious.  When in magnified view there’s no way to find the bug when it flies to a new location.  You’re force to take the camera off your eye to find the insect again.  Often, you’ll have to back it out of magnified view and start over once you relocate the target.

So, here’s my restating of the obvious but if it helps anyone else out there in Sony camera world then good.

Macro Autofocusing with the Sony A7 IV.  Some Tests and Thoughts

Lately I’ve been changing the way I take macro shots of active insects like bumble bees.  Previously I have used magnification and single AF.  This works well for slow insects.  But not as well for fast moving butterflies and bees.  So talking to someone who does a lot macro he recommended continuous autofocus.  So I tried it.  One problem is that magnified view doesn’t work during continuous AF.  But what I did find was that the keeper rate did improve greatly for fast movers like bumble bees.

And that got me thinking.  A-mount lenses also don’t have magnified view in AF modes.  So it occurred to me that these lenses would also become more accurate in continuous AF macro shots.  So I tried out the Minolta 200mm f\4 macro lens and it worked quite well on larger insects like bumble bees and dragon flies.  Then I tried it on really tiny flies and this was haphazard.  For these I found throwing it into manual focus and using magnified view was the only way to get really tiny critters in perfect focus.

 

And that is limiting with live creatures in the outside environment where every puff of breeze ruins the focus.  So this leads me to think that the 200 macro will be limited to larger insects.  The Sony e-mount 90mm macro will be much better for the really tiny things.  And for slower insects I’ll use magnified view and single AF.  For faster bugs I’ll go with continuous AF and spray and pray I get the perfect shot.

Guest Contributor – TomD – Sony A7 IV Camera First Impressions

Tom | Flickr

(Editor’s Note – I’ve decided to collect Tom’s observations into a separate post and I’ll update it as they come in.  I’m very interested in these observations as I wait for my A7 IV to wend it’s way through the delivery chain. – photog)

 

The A7IV showed up unexpectedly early last Friday the 24th. Your’s?

Cameras are so complicated these days at configuring one to my preferences is almost like moving to a new house.

Sample below, some of the wife’s yard decoration.

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,,,

 

I haven’t had a chance to wring it out yet. Other than the impression that focus seems to be instant in all circumstances and that the form factor is more comfortable in my hand, I don’t have a lot to report.

To someone who has had a succession of now 8 Sony cameras, the much-ballyhooed new menu system just means that I have to relearn the menu system. The function button above the control wheel thankfully still gives immediate access to 95% of the functions that I use the most. And you also still have 7-8 buttons and controls to which you can assign functions.

I’m looking forward to playing with the face and eye tracking.

Still playing with the camera, it will take a while.

Just learned a couple of things, my camera, at least, does much better images with the exposure dial kept to -.7.

Tried several exposure stacking series and found that, in aperture priority, the camera mostly but not always creates the different exposures by varying the ISO. All the other Sonys have always varied only the shutter speed. One series inexplicably varied both ISO and shutter.

Big disappointment: My LA-EA 4 does not function at all with this camera.

On the other hand, the focus on my 90mm f2.8 macro has always been sluggish and hunting on my other cameras but it is instant and responsive on the A7IV. The eye autofocus is unbreakable on my animals around the house

 

30DEC2021 Update

Here is a a shot of mine wearing a 28-70 f2.8 lens.

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Sony A7 IV – The Unboxinification

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

 

The Eagle has landed.  After a day of doubt and hand-wringing over duplicitous freight and shipping dealings, the package arrived intact and seemingly unharmed.

Now comes the fun part.  I will start playing around with old lenses and new lenses and settings and adapters and just plain messing around with autofocus and hi ISO picture quality and all manner of to-doings.  I may neglect some of my duties to God and Country today but who could blame me.  This is my kid under the Christmas tree moment.  “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

LA-EA5 Compatibility – The Last Piece of the Puzzle

So recently I’ve been looking at the Sony A7 IV camera as the natural replacement for the my Sony A7 III.  It ticks all the boxes.  It’s got a sensor that is very close to the A7 III great sensor but with a few needed improvements thrown in.  It’s got better autofocus and tracking capability, improved menus, a fully articulated and touch sensitive LED, more megapixels and a better viewfinder.  It’s got a lot of other jazz that’s associated with video but since I don’t do video it’s just noise to me.  That’s everything that I could ask for in a camera.  But the one extra thing I was hoping for was that it would be able to autofocus my old motorless A-mount lenses with the LA-EA5 adapter.  When Sony introduced this adapter they didn’t enable all their cameras to use this feature.  And for me that was a sore point.  I have a couple of A-mount lenses that are extremely good and making them autofocusable would make them much more  useful to me.

So it was with great joy that I saw this link on another photo site.

ILCE-7M4 – Lens|Compatibility Information

The A7 IV will allow me to autofocus these lenses and now I just have to sell a kidney to buy the camera.

Huzzah, huzzah!

 

Sony Unveils the A7 IV Full Frame E-Mount Camera

Sony announced the upcoming A7 IV e-mount full frame camera.  The preview I saw at the B+H Photo site was pretty impressive.  It’s supposedly has most of the autofocus and other upgrades of the A1 top of the line camera in this new standard camera.  It’s even got the reversible LCD screen which people making vlogs really want.  I has bird eye auto focus tracking and all the other stuff that nature and sports shooters want.  They claim tha the AF capability rivals the A1.  That probably will have to be confirmed in the field.  I’ve seen reality sometimes lag behind such claims.  But that being said, I’m sure that the Af on this new camera will blow away what I can do with the A7 III.  I would like to find out if the LA-EA5 will be able to use non-motorized lenses on this camera but that is sort of a minor point that reflects my senitmental attachment to a couple of old A-mount lenses that I own.  The price is $2,600 which I guess is sort of expected.  Ouch!

The release date hasn’t been announced.  But it is fairly certain that I’ll trade in my A7 III for this camera.  It just makes sense.  For you Sony shooters this is an interesting moment.  Do you need the latest and greatest?  Personal choice.

 

Testing the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and Sony 135mm f\1.8 A-Mount Lenses with Sony LA-EA5 Adapter on Sony A7R IV Camera – Part 5 – Conclusions

I’ve long since sent back the Sony LA-EA5 adapter and the Sony A7R IV A camera to Lensrentals.com and I have begun to review all the photos I took for sharpness and other criteria but the information I gleaned from this test are not dependent on the very detailed examination of individual files.

The questions I was trying to answer were:

  • Does the LA-EA5 provide modern autofocus capability to the Minolta and Sony A-mount lenses that do not have motors built in?
  • Will these motorless lenses prove capable of capitalizing on the enhanced autofocus functionality in real world situations?
  • How does the A7R IV A camera compare to the A7 III with respect to tracking autofocus?

So, what did I find?

Well,

  • The LA-EA5 does allow for some of the modern autofocus modes to function with these a-mount lenses. You can run tracking autofocus and you can use eye autofocus and most of the modes that you can use with normal e-mount lenses.  One very disappointing exception is that the magnification setting that I like to use so much while making macro shots is disabled while in autofocus.  It is only available in manual focus.  And with this one exception the usefulness of the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro lens is greatly reduced for me.  I very often like to magnify the head of an insect to get perfect focus on the eye.  Well, forget that.  So, you can see that this first answer has been far less than a complete success.  The lenses will allow me to take advantage of much better autofocus than currently available with the LA-EA4 but a key function is unavailable.
  • So, for the autofocus functions that these lenses are provided with how do they perform in real world conditions? Well, once again, it’s a mixed bag.  For relatively static subjects like a hummingbird hovering around a flower bush the autofocus worked quite well.  With the flexible spot it actually stuck with the bird as it moved around the viewfinder.  It succeeded in maintaining sharp focus on the bird.  With dynamic subjects like bird in flight or, in my case, dog in run, it was a complete failure.  Even if the tracking autofocus kept up with the subject, the lens couldn’t focus and capture the subject successfully.  My keeper rate was zero.  This was not a completely unexpected situation.  I’m actually quite satisfied with the additional capability that the flexible spot and tracking modes provide for much less dynamic subjects.  But I can understand why this will be a disappointment to folks who were hoping to use the old lenses for sports or wildlife.  Of course, I’m sure that for those who possess much better technique in those photographic specialties than I possess there may be some methods of extracting better results than my abysmal record but I wouldn’t want to raise hopes too high about these types of applications.
  • With respect to the comparison of tracking capabilities between the Sony A7 III camera and the Sony A7R IV A, it’s the difference between night and day. Of course, that because the A7 III doesn’t really have tracking.  It has the flexible spot autofocus setting which does allow for the camera to try and follow the subject inside the viewfinder but as noted it’s quite limited to slow moving objects.  The A7R IV A actually does track objects.  From what I understand it’s quite rudimentary compared to cameras like the Sony A9 and Sony A1.  From what I’ve heard these cameras have keeper rates that approach 100% for birds in flight and other very challenging applications.  But the A7R IV A is still orders of magnitude better than my A7 III.  But the disadvantage of the A7R IV A is the much larger file size.  The 24-megapixel files of the A7 III are plenty big enough for most of my uses.  The 60-megapixel sensor in the A7R IV A is a bit much for my tastes.  Of course, your mileage may vary, especially if you specialize in landscape and sport.

So there you have it.  I am actually looking forward to having the LA-EA5 available to me on the next Sony camera I own which I hope will be the A7 IV.  Of course if Sony decides not to allow the A7 IV to autofocus motorless A-mount lenses with the LA-EA5 I will give up photography and take up Chinese calligraphy instead.  But that’s just me.

Testing the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and Sony 135mm f\1.8 A-Mount Lenses with Sony LA-EA5 Adapter on  Sony A7R IV Camera – Part 4 – The Verdict on Tracking

This will be a short post.  I just want to put this question behind us.  I’ll summarize my observations.

The tracking and eye tracking does work on the A-mount motor-less lenses.  But the autofocus on these lenses cannot keep up with an even moderately fast moving object.  Even a person walking toward the camera will have a very low keeper rate.  With a rapidly moving animal like a dog running it’s hopeless.  The software is doing its part but the mechanics of the autofocus system is just too slow to keep up.

Now I happen to want to use it for something much less demanding.  For butterflies, bees and hummingbirds the animal is hovering or flitting inside a very small area and this allows the lens to reacquire focus quickly enough to be useful.  But this is a much less demanding application of the tracking program.  It is sort of the exception to the failure of these lenses to track.

I’ll be performing more tests once the weather over here improves on hummingbirds and butterflies with the tracking program.  But I felt it was important enough to break this information out separately.

Testing the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and Sony 135mm f\1.8 A-Mount Lenses with Sony LA-EA5 Adapter on  Sony A7R IV Camera – Part 3 – Tracking

These are still just early results but I am happy to say that the tracking and eye autofocus does work with the motorless A-Mount lenses.  The limitations of these lenses is the speed of the autofocus.  In other words for a slow moving target like a walking human or a relatively slow moving target like a hummingbird moving in a small area around a food source like a feeder or a flower bush the camera will track the target quite well.

But when I had Camera Girl throw a ball to Larold across the lawn I couldn’t even come close to keeping him in the viewfinder.  That of course is my own fault.  I lack the tracking skill to keep the running dog in front of me.  He’s just too damn fast for me.

But I’ll think up some better scenario to test the tracking algorithm.  The other part of the test is to see whether the lens could autofocus fast enough to keep the target in focus.  This has yet to be answered.  I’ll look at the results today and see what I find.

Testing the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and Sony 135mm f\1.8 A-Mount Lenses with Sony LA-EA5 Adapter on  Sony A7R IV Camera – Part 2 – First Impressions

I took the camera out yesterday and played around with the 200mm macro.  The A7R IVA has a very nice viewfinder but what I doscovered was that A-mount lenses on the LA-EA5 are not considered eligible lenses to use a feature called “AF in Focus Mag.”  This feature allows you to autofocus while in a magnified view and it is a fantastic feature for doing macro work.  Not having this feature with the 200mm macro is a sore disappointment.  I didn’t anticipate this exclusion.  Damn you Sony!  But that being said, I am going to see if I can use animal eye AF to compensate for this.

With respect to general performance the autofocus speed is acceptable.  And in the short time I’ve tested it, the accuracy of the focus seems quite good.  The A7R IVA camera is relatively close to my A7 III in action and function so there aren’t too many things to get used to.  Today, if the weather holds out, I want to try a running dog focus tracking experiment.  Harry (or Larold as he’s been nicknamed by my oldest grandson) is our younger pointer and he is incredibly fast.  I’m going to try and track him as he sprints across the front lawn.  I think I read that tracking doesn’t work with Animal EYE AF.  This seems strane so I’ll try it both ways, animal and human eye AF.  But even if the tracking is just on his head I think it will be an interesting experiment.

I also want to try out eye AF on insects and hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds will especially benefit from the tracking function.  Losing focus on a hummingbird with a macro lens and its very long focus windup usually means a costly time delay in getting the set up again.  And believe it or not I’ve never used tracking on hummingbirds before with my normal lenses and camera even though they are available.  When you’re set in your ways you can miss a lot of useful opportunities.  I’ve been reminded of that recently but this one really got me thinking.  I have to go over the A7 III’s capabilities and see what else I’m missing out on.

 

Stay tuned.  Much work to do.