kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV a kingfisher sitting alone on a branch

Light as a Feather

Kaisa Lappalainen

For wildlife specialist Kaisa Lappalainen, it was a trip of nice surprises. “I’d never shot wildlife in the Danube Delta before,” she explains, “so it was really interesting to see it with my own eyes. It’s very much like the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and because you have to travel in a boat, and because so many of the bird species were the same, it actually felt like I was back in Africa.”

kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV a red legged bird carefully walks through the shallows on a lake © Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony RX10 IV | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 400
Sony RX10IV side on

Usually a Sony α9 user, this time she shot exclusively with the RX10 IV. “It was fantastic,” she tells us, “it’s so light, it’s silent, and whatever conditions or light I shot in, it did the job really well. It’s an excellent package for bird photography.”

kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV a pair of kingfishers relaxing on a tree branch © Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony RX10 IV | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 250

So what took her on the trip to Romania? “In Spring, the Danube Delta is an important stopping point for migrating birds,” explains Kaisa, “we saw about 115 species during the week I was there. Some of the birds will just have a stopover and then continue into the rest of Europe, but some of them will stay and nest. It’s amazing to realise that there is this kind of wilderness in Europe, so close to big cities, but also so wild.”

kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV 2 hawks fighting over a fish they've just caught © Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony RX10 IV | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 500

Fieldcraft skills are incredibly important in Kaisa’s work, and although she’s an accomplished safari tour leader, it was also crucial that she enlisted the help of a local guide who knows when and where species are to be found. “Without a local guide,” she says, “you can easily miss opportunities. So for instance we were lucky to get an amazing sunset one night, and a misty, colourful sunrise the next morning. We knew we had to make the most of it, and the guide put me in the right place at the right time.”

Being at the right place at the right time is all well and good, but she still needed the right gear to make the most of it.

kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV a kingfisher just about to take flight © Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony RX10 IV | 1/2000s @ f/4.0, ISO 250

The all-in-one versatility of the RX10 IV’s 24-600mm zoom lens really helped with these shots, letting Kaisa shoot wider for a more environmental feel. “It can be easy to gravitate to the RX10 IV’s huge magnification at 600mm,” she explains, “but for this shoot I wanted to look for subjects in the landscape, too. At 24mm that’s easy, and I was also able to react quickly when I needed to change composition. With the RX10 IV I can get landscapes, portraits and action shots, all with the same small camera, rather than having to switch bodies and lenses. It’s a huge weight saving for me!”

kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV a flock of birds rests on a log in the water at dawn © Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony RX10 IV | 1/3200s @ f/5.6, ISO 400

Size and weight is a huge concern for Kaisa, and knowing she can get pro-quality shots from such a small camera has opened up all sorts of possibilities. “Airline weight limits can of course be quite strict,” she explains, “especially on smaller flights which go to the wild places I do. With my full gear, sometimes they won’t even let me in the plane! And lightness means you can walk or bike further, too. Even when I’m not going out specifically to work I can take the RX10 IV, and if there’s an opportunity I’ve got a 600mm lens in my pocket!”

When it does come to shooting at the long end, the RX10 IV has all the reach you’re likely to need, says Kaisa, as well as built-in image stabilisation to shoot with confidence at those huge magnifications, so you can expect every feather to be perfection.

kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV a kingfisher watches his mate fly away from a branch © Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony RX10 IV | 1/800s @ f/4.0, ISO 160
I was really surprised at the incredible detail,” she confesses, “it really blew my mind that you can get these kinds of closeups with such a small and affordable camera.

As a regular user of Sony’s α9, Kaisa is used to high performance and speed, so how does the RX10 IV compare? “The images were pin sharp,” she laughs. “With birds taking off and doing quick turns you can always tell the worth of a camera, and the focus stayed right on them. I was using pretty much the same AF setup as I use on my α9, so for moving subjects, or shooting from a boat, it’s continuous tracking all the way,” she explains, “but when waiting in a hide for the kingfishers to land on a branch, it’s more about prefocusing. With a frame rate of 24fps, I can track a bird as it takes off and flies, and know I can pick the best moment.”

kaisa lappalainen sony rx10IV a bird taking off over water with its legs dragging the surface © Kaisa Lappalainen | Sony RX10 IV | 1/1600s @ f/4.0, ISO 200

While the fieldcraft of lying in wait for hours in the rain, or crouching in a ghillie suit to remain undetected can put a strain on your body, says Kaisa, the RX10 IV coped perfectly with the conditions. “At this time of year in the Danube Delta it’s supposed be maybe 20˚C, but when we got there it was raining and snowing,” she chuckles, “but the RX10 IV is weather sealed. In the beginning I wondered if it could cope with the harsh conditions, but it stood up to whatever I threw at it!”

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