Alpha Universe Story Detail
Alpha Universe Story Detail

Bringing Wildlife Closer to You

As a professional photographer and guide, Marlon Du Toit spent well over a decade bringing out the best in wildlife photography across Brazil, India and eight different African countries.

Marlon Du Toit

Marlon Du Toit

Marlon is both director and co-owner at Wild Eye, an outfit specialising in wildlife photography expeditions. Whether he is tracking majestic lions or birds in flight, Marlon brings his skill, passion and lay-of-the-land knowledge to maximum effect. Marlon’s photography and travel experiences have also been featured in several international magazines, including National Geographic. Now, Marlon shares his extensive knowledge and inspiration with Sony Alpha Universe. 

The Perfect Setup for Wildlife Photography

Having the right equipment is an important part of capturing unique and beautiful moments in wildlife photography. In this respect, Marlon has the grounds covered with his complete Sony setup. 

Sony Alpha 9 II

This top-of-the-line Sony mirrorless camera is Marlon’s constant companion. Its extremely fast autofocus (AF) and 20 frames-per-second (fps) speed means that Marlon never misses a shot. Marlon finds the optional vertical grip for the camera useful and comfortable as it provides improved handling and control in the portrait orientation. 

Sony Alpha 7R IV

When Marlon needs the best image quality and resolution, he reaches out for the Sony Alpha 7R IV. It has incredible image resolution at 61 megapixels. Marlon finds it indispensable for animal, environment and landscape shots, as it extracts the most detail out of each scene.

Animal Eye AF

Sony’s Animal Eye Autofocus, standard in the Alpha 9 and Alpha 7 III series, is essential to getting great wildlife photography. Marlon adds that this applies to many big beasts such as elephants, buffalos and lions, just to name a few. In this respect, Sony Alpha 9 and Alpha 7 III mirrorless cameras have got the best Animal Eye AF technology that tracks the eye of the animal to produce tack-sharp eye focus.

Sony FE 600mm F4 G Master

Marlon’s favourite lens for wildlife photography is the FE 600mm F4 G Master. He appreciates it for its corner-to-corner sharpness that is evident during post-processing. The bokeh produced by this G Master lens earns high praise from the wildlife photographer. The background is buttery smooth and the subject truly jumps out of the frame with incredible detail. The colours are also rich and vibrant, requiring little if any post-processing as the colour and contrast are already on point. The FE 600mm F4 G Master lens has fast and decisive AF, thanks to its XD Linear Motor Technology, so tracking moving subjects is a breeze. This makes bird photography that much easier and efficient. At 3.04 kg, it is also the world’s lightest 600 mm super-telephoto lens and combined with well-balanced handling, it is well suited for fast action in the field. 

Sony FE 200-600mm G Lens

The Sony FE 200-600mm G lens is the wildlife photographer’s best friend. It offers versatility thanks to its flexible focal length, and the internal zooming mechanism protects it from moisture and dust. The FE 200-600mm G’s DDSSM (Direct Drive SSM) system is incredibly quiet and remarkably fast, so taking photos of fast-moving birds is easy. Fast reaction to the scene is aided by a light torque ring and short movement between focal lengths. In short, it makes it easy to re-frame a shot as the action unfolds in front of Marlon. Together with the Sony Alpha 9 II camera and FE 200-600mm G in hand, they weigh less than 2.8 kg. That makes hand-holding the camera and lens in the same position for an extended period relatively stress-free. The low-weight setup lets Marlon seize opportunities and react in time without missing the shot. 

High Quality 4K Video

With these Sony cameras and lenses, Marlon has the ability to record high-quality 4K videos with smooth subject tracking and silent autofocusing with minimal vibration. That is the ability to tell compelling wildlife stories in motion.

Batteries, Extenders and Memory Cards

Every trip into the bush brings many photo opportunities, and Marlon is always ready to make the most of the day with Sony accessories. Sony NP-FZ100 batteries are worth their weight in gold with the ability to shoot up to 710 shots, making it a reliable power source in the field. Nevertheless, Marlon always packs extra batteries so he is always ready for extended shoots when the opportunity presents itself.

Marlon makes good use of the Sony FE 1.4x and 2x teleconverters to extend the reach of his Sony zoom lenses. They work so well, Marlon is able to get right up close to the action without sacrificing AF speed and image quality.

To complete his arsenal, Marlon recommends the Sony Tough SD cards. He relies on them as he finds them strong and weather-resistant, something that’s needed out in the wilderness. He knows that his images will be safely stored and protected even in inclement conditions.  

  

Insights on Safari Photography from
Marlon Du Toit

The Call of the Wild

We were driving along the Sand River when a herd of wildebeests drinking water got spooked and ran back up the embankment. I had split seconds to react as we drove across the sandy riverbed. I immediately swung my Sony Alpha 9 II and FE 600mm F4 G Master setup up to my eye, aimed at the stampeding wildebeest herd and fired away. The lens and camera combination was so well balanced and light, I was able to lift it quickly and effortlessly to my eye. Coupled with the ultra-fast AF speed and 20fps burst shooting of the Sony Alpha 9 II, I knew I had a winner in the bag. Reviewing the image back in base camp, I marvelled at the image. It was exactly what I had envisaged and the corner-to-corner sharpness took my breath away. It’s a stand out image made in the space of a few milliseconds.

Stampeding herd of wildebeest

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2500 sec | F5 | ISO 320

Pride of Africa

Lions are the heart of any wildlife safari photographic adventure. Their natural habitats range from woodland, open savanna to desert. The great thing about lions is their social nature, and it is not uncommon to find prides of up to twenty lions, lionesses and cubs. However, photographing this particular lioness posed a challenge. She was resting lower down in a riverbed and I tried the best I could to get on eye level. I used the shallow depth of field and stunning bokeh of the FE 600mm F4 G Master lens to soften the background and keep the focus on my subject, and it worked beautifully.

Lioness in the safari

Alpha 7R IV | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F7.1 | ISO 3200

I love getting even lower and the light weight of the Sony setup worked to my advantage. I simply flipped up the swivel screen on my Sony Alpha 9 II and dropped the camera to the ground, almost touching it. This enabled me to create the low angle and to capture a stunning image. Animal Eye AF ensured the eyes of the lioness are pin-sharp, allowing me to concentrate on being creative.

Mountains on the Move

The African bush elephant is a magnificent beast to behold. Weighing up to 7 tonnes and 3.3 m tall at the shoulder, they are the largest land mammal. They can be dangerous, and one needs to read the elephant’s body language. In this photo, the young elephant bull walked towards us and opened his ears – a warning to keep our distance. That was my cue to set up the shot. With the aperture set at F8, I lifted the FE 600mm F4 G Master lens to my eye and captured all the details of the rough-textured skin. The lens and Sony Alpha 7R IV combination really captured the intensity of the eyes gazing into the camera.  The rough, craggy skin was so intricately captured with the corner-to-corner sharpness of the FE 600mm F4 G Master lens. 

African bush elephant in the safari

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/200 sec | F8 | ISO 2000

Grace in Flight

Weighing as much as 3 kg with a wingspan of up to 1.9 m, tawny eagles are loved by just about every photographer. To keep them at ease, I usually don’t get too close, so it’s handy to use the Sony 2x teleconverter to extend the reach of the lenses I use. To successfully capture these large birds in flight, I use the wide focus mode and 20fps burst mode shooting on my Sony Alpha 9 II. Combined with the FE 600 F4 G Master lens’ fast AF & sharpness, you are left with a great photo every single time.

Tawny eagle in flight

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2000 sec | F7.1 | ISO 1600

A Friendly Relationship

The oxpecker birds are often seen on animals such as buffalos, rhinoceroses and many species of antelope. They feed on ticks and parasites and keep the animals clean. Their red eyes and brightly coloured beaks make them stand out in any photo. But being so small, one really needs to use the Sony teleconverters to fill the frame. The well-engineered teleconverter allows me to shoot without sacrificing image quality and AF performance. Just brilliant for bird photography and intimate portraits.

Oxpecker bird in the safari

Alpha 7R IV | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F7.1 | ISO 640

Child’s Play

Lion cubs are fantastic fun to shoot as they are so playful, and with the FE 600mm F4 G Master, I can create engaging images. This lion cub running across a shallow stream created a wall of water droplets under him. Instinctively, I tracked it as it ran, and applied a high shutter speed to freeze the cub and the water droplets. The result is a special photograph that is incredibly sharp and well-focused, with the lens extracting incredible amount of detail from the fur and water spray. In my experience, the FE 600mm F4 G Master lens is the sharpest telephoto lens available today. 

Lion cub in shallow water

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F6.3 | ISO 400

Tale Spin

I love unique perspectives on wildlife, close-ups of bits and pieces not often photographed. A leopard’s tail presents me with such an opportunity. This leopard walked by our vehicle within very close proximity. I knew the tail would interest me and took this image with the FE 600mm F4 G Master lens. The bokeh is buttery smooth without jarring highlights and the details on the curved tail tells the story of a great hunter on the move.

Leopard's tail

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2000 sec | F4 | ISO 320

Tree Hugger

Much of wildlife photography requires a respectful distance from the subject. This prevents stress on the animal and gives me the opportunity to capture more natural-looking shots. These leopard cubs, for example, were very shy. Thanks to the Sony 2x teleconverter, I could zoom into the action from where I stood. Despite the low light levels, the AF was decisive and the quality of the final image undiminished. Using the FE 600mm F4 G Master and teleconverters meant I could get the shot I wanted without any disturbance to the animal. The quality of the image produced under low light condition is simply fantastic with the excellent high ISO performance of the Sony Alpha 9 II.

Leopard cub in a tree

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/400 sec | F5.6 | ISO 3200

Keeping One Step Ahead

Lilac-breasted rollers are fast and can move erratically. You need a system capable of keeping up with the bird regardless of the direction it flies into. I select Wide area AF-C mode and keep my finger on the shutter button half-pressed to keep the focus locked on. Once it launches, the DDSSM (Direct Drive SSM) Technology in the Sony FE 200-600mm G lens takes over with its fast AF and silent motor movements. Coupled with the 20fps and zero blackout viewfinder of the Sony Alpha 9 II, I was able to capture hundreds of tack sharp images of the lilac-breasted rollers in flight. Truly exceptional. 

Lilac-breaster roller in flight

Alpha 9 II | FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS | 1/3200 sec | F8 | ISO 1600

The African Tank

African white rhinos are beautiful and fearsome beasts. It is tough to get near and low to photograph them safely and artistically. One solution is to get down low to minimise my visible presence and create intimacy in my pictures. With my lightweight Sony lens and camera setup,  I can get down quickly and effortlessly, putting me in a position to capture a unique image. The bokeh from both FE 600mm F4 G Master and FE 200-600mm G lenses is so smooth and creamy, it truly makes the rhinoceros stand out from its environment.  

African white rhino in the safari

Alpha 7R IV | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/2000 sec | F4 | ISO 1000

You Have a Friend in Me

Images like this are special. The rhino and the oxpecker are like best friends. The rhino has poor eyesight and the oxpecker, when alarmed, will call loudly and then fly off. This alerts the rhino and tells it that danger could be nearby. To capture both in flight with the quality and sharpness from the Sony FE 600mm F4 G Master and the Sony Alpha 9 II, is incredible. Not a moment missed with Sony Alpha 9 II’s 20fps burst mode and zero viewfinder blackout. Coupled with the lens’s creamy bokeh and edge-to-edge sharpness, I have all the right ingredients for a winning image.

Rhino and oxpecker in the safari

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1250 sec | F4 | ISO 800

The majestic sable antelope population is under threat and not often seen on safari. They are prey for lions and often use their horns to defend themselves. To see these special creatures through the viewfinder of the Sony Alpha 9 II was special indeed. Again, an oxpecker was in attendance and the two made for a very interesting image together.

Sable antelope in the safari

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F4 | ISO 400

Colours in the Bush

With its thick bill and colourful plumage, the crested barbet is the photographers’ delight. They are not easy to photograph, as they like to bounce around on the ground and roost in holes in trees. The Sony FE 200-600mm G lens’ fast autofocus is just perfect for the task. Thanks to a short throw between focal lengths I was quick to react and captured stunningly sharp images at 600 mm.

Crested barbet in the safari

Alpha 9 II | FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS | 1/1600 sec | F7.1 | ISO 1250

A Special Relationship

The African buffalo are strong animals that will charge when provoked. We always keep a safe distance and shoot from within the safety of the vehicle.  They carry their scars proudly and one can often hear them hiss and stamp their feet. The FE 200-600mm G lens is perfect for the job. I chose a smaller aperture that brought out the detail of the gnarly horns and weathered skin. Again, the ever-present oxpecker adds some flavour to an otherwise colourless scene.

African buffalo and oxpecker in the safari

Alpha 7R IV | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/500 sec | F10 | ISO 2000

Kings of the Night

Photographing at night presents several challenges, the biggest being much less light to work with and lower shutter speeds. Even with the vehicle’s headlight switched on, it takes the fastest zooms to make good images. For best results, I use the FE 600mm F4 G Master as the fast F4 aperture allows higher shutter speeds to be used. Coupled with the lens’ edge-to-edge sharpness, the images of the male lion are incredibly detailed. The Sony Alpha 9 II’s amazing high ISO performance was put to good use too.

Male lion in the safari at night

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/250 sec | F4 | ISO 5000

One of the unique advantages of the FE 600mm F4 G Master's large F4 aperture is the beautiful bokeh it makes. With a little help from the vehicle headlights, it’s a great opportunity for creative animal portraits.

Leopard in the safari at night

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/160 sec | F4 | ISO 3200

For this shot, I used the spotlight from another vehicle to create a dramatic looking rim light. I was on foot photographing this scene and the lower angle creates more tension in the frame. I was happy with the detail and composition of the image. All thanks to the highly mobile FE 600mm F4 G Master and the Sony Alpha 9 II combination, I can put the quick AF and high ISO performance to good use.

Rim light in the safari at night

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/400 sec | F4 | ISO 8000

King of His Perch

This stunning pied kingfisher is commonly seen on safari yet often overlooked. I love this image because the black and white plumage stands out so well against the green background, and the bokeh from the FE 600mm G Master just melts the background away and emphasises the in-focus bird.

Pied kingfisher in the safari

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F5.6 | ISO 2000

Playtime

Lions are great subjects but adults are often sleepy and not great to photograph. The cubs, however, are more active and often present you with photo opportunities such as this. The older cubs often bully their younger siblings and this is shown perfectly in this image. The morning was cloudy and the light was very low, yet the FE 600mm F4 G Master lens captured the moment perfectly.

Lion cubs playing in the safari

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/800 sec | F5.6 | ISO 5000

On the Prowl

This massive male leopard came walking right towards us at eye level. I had the vehicle parked in such a way so that we could be a little lower and at eye level, and the result is stunning. The Sony FE 600mm F4 G Master lens captured the cat in glorious detail and with the soft out-of-focus background makes the leopard jump out of the scene. A stunning shot, certainly a favourite.

Male leopard in the safari

Alpha 9 II | FE 600mm F4 GM OSS | 1/1000 sec | F4 | ISO 640

Complete. Integrated. Perfect Imagery Every Time.

Sony FE 600mm F4 G Master and FE 200-600mm G lenses work flawlessly in unison with Sony mirrorless cameras, for the best autofocus experience and imaging quality. Marlon chooses Sony as he can confidently capture elusive wildlife moments in high quality. Coupled with the extensive range of accessories, the Sony mirrorless system is the obvious and indispensable choice for wildlife photographers.

Marlon's Gear

ILCE-9M2

Alpha 9 II

ILCE-9M2

ILCE-7RM4

Alpha 7R IV

ILCE-7RM4

SEL600F40GM

FE 600mm F4 GM OSS

SEL600F40GM

SEL200600G

FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS

SEL200600G

SEL20TC

2x Teleconverter

SEL20TC

SEL14TC

1.4x Teleconverter

SEL14TC

SF-G SERIES (T)

SF-G series TOUGH specification memory card

SF-G SERIES (T)