This is the second part of a series of articles on upgrading camera equipment on a budget. Part 1 can be found here.
I’ll deal with the Sigma adapter first because I got that to work with just one lens – my Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens – Contemporary lens.
The Sigma MC-11 comes in two different versions:
- Sigma SA mount to Sony FE
- Canon EF mount to Sony FE
Obviously as I own Canon EF mount lenses this is about the EF version. Sigma state that their adapter is for use with their Global Vision lenses which comprises of three lens lines:
As of the time of writing there are 44 Sigma lenses that are compatible with the adapter and these allow users to access all the auto focus modes on Sony E mount cameras. This is important to me as I want to be able to use the 150-600 for bird photography.
The first thing you notice when you pick up the MC-11 is that it is very solid and well made. The body is of metal construction and the lens mounts are chromium plated brass. Disappointingly there are no weather seals. On the body is a USB port behind a soft plastic flap and on the opposite side is the lens release button. Just by that is a tiny LED light which is very hard to see when it is off. The purpose of the light is to inform you about how well the lens attached will work it does this through one of four states:
- Constant green – the lens is compatible
- Flashing green – you need to update the lens firmware
- Flashing orange – the adapter firmware needs updating
- No light – the lens isn’t compatible
The light only comes on for 2-3 seconds when you switch on the camera.
Speaking of firmware updates to do this you will need to download the Sigma Optimization Pro software from Sigma’s website. To update the adapter just needs a USB cable, for lenses you will need the Sigma Dock UD-01. I find it somewhat frustrating that you can’t update the lens firmware through the MC-11 adapter. The dock isn’t expensive to buy although in Australia the retail price varies between $80 to $120 AUD so it pays to shop around. Luckily there seem to be plenty for sale second hand on EBay for about $40. I ended up updating both the adapter and lens firmware and the whole process was very straightforward.
Before I updated the firmware I found that there was difficulty in acquiring focus when shooting in low light, backlit situations and with subjects in undergrowth. Once upgraded things worked a lot better. I experimented with the settings on the camera by setting up two custom modes. Custom mode 1 was in shutter priority with the shutter speed set at 1/500 sec, Auto ISO, Auto Focus Continuous, Lock on AF with a medium sized flexible spot and the frame rate was set to low speed continuous. Custom mode 2 was in shutter priority with the shutter speed set at 1/2000, Auto ISO, Auto Focus Continuous, lock on flexible spot large and high speed continuous drive. Both modes had the following parameters set:
- Phase Detect Area – on
- Pre AF – off
- Priority set in AFC – balanced emphasis
- AF with shutter – on
- AF drive speed – fast
- AF tracking sensitivity – high
With birds in trees that weren’t moving too quickly I found that I was getting a hit rate of around 90%. With more erratic moving birds my hit rate dropped to 36% when I was using my custom mode 2. When I switched to mode 1 the hit rate improved to 85%. Photographing my dog running towards me both custom modes acquired focus very quickly, but the results from custom mode two weren’t very consistent fluctuating between 60 to 85%. In custom mode 1 I got very consistent results at 85%. When shooting birds in flight I found that I didn’t get a single shot with critical focus which was disappointing to say the least.
The video performance of the A7r II and the Sigma 150-600 was surprising. Shooting wide open at the short end AF performance is good, it is quick and confident. At the long end the AF is a bit slower but it does acquire focus and lock on. What is very apparent is the noise of the lens motor, it is quite loud and would mean that any sound would have to be recorded using an external microphone.
In practice it would certainly seem that shooting at higher frame rates the autofocus struggles to keep up and dropping the frame rate improves the hit rate considerably. Whether using this combination is a good idea depends very much on your expectations and what you want. If you want the performance of a Sony native lens then you are better off getting that. But if you already have the lens and want to change from a Canon DSLR to a Sony full frame mirrorless camera and you are shooting birds in trees, scrub, on the ground or on water then this works very well. For birds in flight you’ll want either a full Sony set up or a full Canon set up.