A Day at the Zoo with the FE 100-400mm GM

In preparation for our upcoming trip to the Antarctic, I wanted to test out my new FE 100-400mm GM lens on some real wildlife. As I needed a dependable source of subjects, we headed to the San Francisco Zoo and spent a few hours visiting most of the exhibits.

The FE 100-400mm GM was mounted on an A9. I also brought along the FE 24-70mm GM on an A7RIV, but I almost never used it. I had figured as much, but since these are the two setups I’m planning to bring on the real trip, I wanted to see how walking around with both of them for a few hours might feel. Answer: with both holstered onto my Spider belt, it didn’t feel bad at all.

African Savanna

Right by the zoo entrance is the African Savanna, where we saw some of the biggest animals of the zoo. As soon as I got my first few shots of the Greater Kudus, I was immediately glad that I got the FE 100-400mm GM; I had considered getting a 70-200mm for the Antarctic, but even with the full-size giraffes, I frequently needed the full reach of 400mm. I would probably find 200mm lacking.

Penguin Island

Located near the center of the park, the penguin colony is one of the zoo’s most popular sights. Of course, the Magellanic Penguins here would be my best trial subjects, and they didn’t disappoint. They were swimming, sunbathing, napping, playing—being penguins. The A9’s autofocus kept up with their playfulness, and I was happy with the reach at 400mm. I can probably still use a teleconverter, but I feel that 400mm may be okay.

Well, seeing the penguins at the zoo is certainly easier (and cheaper) than flying to see them in Antarctica!

Cat Kingdom

The big cats were mostly in hiding today, and the only ones we saw were a Sumatran Tiger and a Snow Leopard.

Australian WalkAbout

Only a few kangaroos were out today, and they weren’t particularly photogenic. But just around the corner, we would see the cutest Koala resting on a tree, basking in the sun.

Exploration Zone

Our final stop would be the Exploration Zone, where we found a Red Panda napping in a treehouse. Nearby, a colony of (very) active Meerkats gave the A9’s autofocus a good run for its money. The A9’s Eye AF is only supposed to work for dogs and cats, so I was surprised that it found the eyes of many of these funny little creatures.


After spending a half-day at the zoo with the A9 and the FE 100-400mm GM, I was quite happy with the setup. The reach of the 100-400mm for the zoo environment was almost perfect, though I could certainly use a bit more reach in some places.

I did most shots wide open (mostly at f/5.6), and even with the shallow depth-of-field, the A9’s autofocus was able to keep most eyes sharp. I had autofocus set to Continuous, Tracking with Expandable Spot, and Animal subject detection. Even though animal eye AF is supposed to work only for dogs and cats, the A9 was able to find eyes on some of the zoo’s animals, and tracked them quite accurately.

In total, I took 256 shots and used 38% of one battery. That would translate to 673 for a full charge, right on par with the A9’s CIPA spec of 650.