Are My Digiscoping Days Numbered? - 05 Sep 2019

This past June Sony announced the Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens along with its big brother the 600mm f/4. At $2000 the 200-600mm is aimed at sports and wildlife photographers who can't afford the much more expensive ($14,000) prime. At f/5.6 - 6.3 (let's just call it f/6.3) the lens is not considered a bokeh buster. However, it did get rave reviews for autofocus speed and sharpness. So, knowing that it would go quick (when released early August) I put one on pre-order with B&H Photo.

Naturally, August came around and I got the first of many "sorry, its still on backorder" emails. The most recent came on Thursday before Labor Day. Then, minutes later, I got notice that the lens had shipped! It will be here Tuesday.

The first thing I did was to see how its 840mm focal length (w/ the 1.4TC) compared to the digiscoping rig at 875mm (Swarovski STX85+Sony a7III+Zeiss 35/2.8 @ 25X).

Sony a9+200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 @ 840mm
Digiscoped @ 875mm
Sony a9+200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 @ 1260mm
With the 1.4TC on the 200-600mm lens I have an effective focal length of 840mm. This is just lower than the 875mm I get with the digiscoping rig. Edge-to-edge sharpness is clearly superior in this case, and, if I hit the 1.5X crop mode (APS-C button) on the Sony a9 I can bump my image size to 1260mm! I wasn't only impressed by the new lens, but actually how good my digiscoping rig is compared to it.

Next, a House Finch on the thistle feeder. Despite the pink-eye, for which the bird appears to be recovering from, the image quality from both systems is very impressive. Advantage to the Sony, of course, for having extremely fast AF capabilities while I need to focus-peak manually using the scope in order to get the equally-sharp image from the digiscoping rig.

Digiscoped House Finch
Sony 200-600mm House Finch
At f/9.0 the Sony 200-600mm will not give the background separation that its larger brother the 600/4 will give but its a sacrifice I'm willing offer for being able to autofocus while hand-holding a much lighter system.

I had no problem acquiring focus-tracking with the lens on this Chimney Swift that flew over the deck. Despite its erratic flight path I was able to keep it in my viewfinder for dozens of sharp images.

Even the male Ruby-throated Hummingbird gave me a chance to test the AF capabilities of the lens. Very sharp! I did quickly have to learn the three focus-distance modes on the new lens: Full, 10m - 2.4m, and Infinity - 10m. Leaving the camera on Full with give the widest range, but the AF is not snappy and the camera will hunt. So, I make sure to pre-focus at an object / distance in the same range as my intended subject to the AF will snap-in much faster.

All in all, this new Sony 200-600mm f/5-6.3 is making me seriously contemplate the need for the 100-400mm f/5.6 lens that is now tucked back into the cabinet.

Will it be the death of my digiscoping days? Not hardly. Yes, it allows me much more versatility in the field for capturing those avian moments, but I won't stop carrying my scope in the field, and digiscoping is just too much of a challenge to give up. After all, I feel much more comfortable photographing the moon and Jupiter using the scope than I do trying to do so with a telephoto lens.

Bring on the hawks!


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