Tips for Filming Wildlife With Sony Alpha Cameras

If you’re trying to shoot more wildlife video with a Sony Alpha, camera while you’re out in the field, you’ll need some helpful tips to ensure that you get the best shot. The following was written with the Sony a7R III and a9 which was mainly used for this article.

Due note that if you own a newer model camera than this will probably fit in just as well, however in older models or the crop-sensor bodies there may be conflicting with what’s possible.

If you want to start shooting more wildlife video with Sony Alpha cameras while you’re out in the field, here are some helpful tips to get started.

Clear Image Zoom

This isn’t your ordinary digital zoom. Clear Image Zoom is Sony’s algorithm-enhanced version of digital zoom that uses “By Pixel Super Resolution Technology.” This enables you to punch in an additional 2x or 1.5x depending on your camera or video resolution. Using it in 4k produces results that I can’t tell the difference with but shooting close with 1080 to the native base ISO, it can also look quite good.

The Clear Image Zoom is really good for wildlife video, especially if it’s not easy or safe to get close to your subjects. The zoom can also be compounded with crop mode on Sony Alpha full-frame cameras, meaning 1.5x there and up to 2x more with Clear Image Zoom.

To set this up, while in movie mode head to the menu and find Zoom Setting. Change this to “Clear Image Zoom.” For easy access, customize a button to “Zoom” to change its magnification.

Touchscreen Utilization

Tips for Filming Wildlife With Sony Alpha Cameras
image by Fstoppers.com

The a7S III is the start of a new era for Sony Alpha camera, who’ve previously have had poor touchscreen implementation. Touchscreen does come in handy especially with shooting video. While you’re in manual focus mode, double-tapping the LCD screen can enlarge the picture allowing you to more accurately focus on subjects.

This also works with using autofocus, you can quickly hit your focus mark by tapping the screen to enable Touch Focus, or with the Sony a9 you can even utilize Touch Tracking which will automatically begin following your subject manually doing anything. It’s not always a home run, as there are circumstances where the system of the Sony focus-by-wire lenses become too much.

Custom Buttons

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There many way to setup a Sony Alpha camera, we’ll offer two recommendations for wildlife video shooters.

First is the use of tripod shooting. With your right hand on the pan bar ready to adjust framing for a shot, that leaves your left hand free most of the time, which can be used to press buttons on the camera. Though unfortunately, both regular methods for starting and stopping video are on the right side of the camera. Meaning that you’ll be reaching over the LCD screen, which means that it will block your access to the buttons. A recommendation is to program it to another button in the custom key options.

The next custom button is more of an enhancement to the plain Focus Hold Function which is found on the lens buttons. Focus Hold is useful for autofocus, but it can be made even better by replacing it with the “AF/MF Control Hold.” It will serve the same exact purpose of holding autofocus, but it will also give you the added benefit of putting the camera temporarily in manual focus mode. Meaning important features like focus peaking will activate, and the focus ring will now be adjustable for fine-tuning focus.

Registered Dial Settings

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This has always been an obvious way for me to use the C1, C2, and C3 camera modes on the top dial, and maybe you’ll agree. It’s quite simple: C1 is FHD 120p, C2 is FHD 60p, and C1 is 4K 24p or 30p. Depending on what I need from the scene developing in front of me, these three can easily be switched to.

As registered settings, that means it can also simplify initialization when switching frame rates as the shutter speed can be individualized to the mode. Honouring the 180-degree shutter rule, your C1 can be FHD 120p with 1/250s shutter speed ready to go with it. Turn the dial to C3, and 4K 30p will now also change to 1/60s shutter speed.

The important step here is to register these customizable dial modes while first in the Movie mode. If you register while in a stills mode like M, S, or A, the screen isn’t going to be previewing 16:9 and when you press to record the camera has to take the time to flip over to movie mode before starting. This is in contrast to registering while in Movie mode on the top dial where it’s going to work smoothly as a straight-up custom video mode.

Other Settings

Some other quick tips for wildlife video with Sony Alpha cameras are going to be using Sunny Weather monitor brightness and turning SteadyShot off while on the tripod. First, it’s fair to say most of us are going to be filming our wildlife outdoors. Sunny Weather monitoring may not have been something you paid attention to with stills shooting, but it’s going to be helpful with video to see anything on the back LCD screen. You can find the option in the Setup tab under Monitor Brightness. Select Brightness Setup and toggle this to Sunny Weather. I recommend adding Monitor Brightness to My Menu for easier access.

Finally, if you’re shooting off a tripod with SteadyShot active, you’re going to notice if you look closely, especially near the edges of the frame, that the picture jiggles like jello for an extended period of time after you move the camera at all. It can take around 5 seconds for it settle down after you’ve already locked off a shot, and by then your subject could have already done something wonderful. It becomes more and more noticeable with greater focal lengths and cropping. Take care to turn off image stabilization when working off a tripod to avoid this.

These tips will ensure that the next your out and about in the wild with your Sony Alpha camera, trying to shoot wildlife will be much easier.

Have more tips to add? Leave them in the comments below.

Looking for a Sony camera then you can find one at Cameraland Sandton.

Original article: fstoppers.com (Ryan Mense)