big cat running through scrubland in the serengeti

Speed and Agility

Chris Schmid

My name is Chris Schmid and I’m a Swiss photographer, National Geographic Explorer, filmmaker and cinematographer specialising in natural history in remote locations, mainly focused on big cats. My main objective is always the same: to approach nature right at its heart in order to raise awareness around the fragility of our earth and inspire actions to be taken to preserve it.

I’m deeply committed to wildlife conservation and work closely with WildAid, an environmental organisation based in San Francisco with the aim of reducing demand for illegal wildlife products. In 2019, I launched Stay·Wild – an online jewellery shop, where 50% of the profits generated are donated to non-profit organisations to support wildlife conservation projects.

You were one of the first professional photographer to test the Sony Alpha 1 – what were your first impressions and stand-out features for you?  

The first time I learned about this camera, I was impressed to have finally the option to shoot at high speed (up to 30 fps) and in high resolution (50MP) at the same time – it is the best of both worlds. With the Alpha 1, I can finally have a camera that can do everything without sacrificing one aspect over the other. When I go out on a shoot, I can’t go back to my vehicle all the time or carry two cameras in certain situations – it is a big improvement to be able to use the same camera for all the different types of shots I do. Another improvement for me is the improved autofocus system. It is already good on other camera but on this one – it is amazingly fast, especially the Eye-AF tracking on big cats which is much better than anything I’ve used until today. On the video side, the features look amazing which is also important for my filmmaking work.

big cat sitting on a rock gazing outward

© Chris Schmid | Sony α1 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/800s @ f/4.5, ISO 500

How do you think these technological improvements help your workflow and creativity?

As I said, with speed and resolution in the same camera – it makes it a lot easier for me when preparing for a shoot. I know that with the Alpha 1 I’ll have the speed to capture a unique moment, but also enough resolution to crop in the image if needed. It’s very important for me especially during the hunting scenes, where everything is going so fast and you never really know which way the hunt will go.

The dynamic range of the sensor is also very good to maintain as much detail in my frame as possible, even in difficult light situations. A good example would be backlit images; I really love to create images backlit with a lot of contrast, but it requires a good dynamic range in order to retain details in the shadows or highlights, and the Alpha 1 performs admirably in that regard.

lioness hunting in long grass

© Chris Schmid | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x teleconverter | 1/640s @ f/4.0, ISO 1000

What other features stand out for you and in which scenario?

I was very curious to test the new autofocus system, especially the Animal Eye-AF. I wasn’t totally convinced when I tested it before, but on this camera I was blown away with the improvements, and now it’s something I can totally rely on. I’ve been in many situations where a lion, for example, is walking in the long grass. With previous Alpha cameras, I found the autofocus would sometimes hunt slightly, and jump to a blade of grass in front of the animal in these situations. With the Alpha 1, the AF stuck to the eyes of the animal perfectly, which was amazing to see in action.

leopard on a rock showing his teeth

© Chris Schmid | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x teleconverter | 1/800s @ f/5.0, ISO 640

Lenses/accessories are another core component of photography and filmmaking  – What lenses and accessories did you use for your initial test and why?

For the shooting I was using the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 GM. I think 70% of my shots are produced with this lens. Sometimes I added a 1.4x converter for extra reach if needed for which I didn’t see any sign of lost in sharpness or AF speed. I love the Sony 400mm because I can keep a distance from the animals, let them keep their natural behaviour, but it also allows me to include the environment in my pictures. On top of this lens, I was using the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM and the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM as well. These two lenses allow me to shoot a bit wider and include even more of the environment. I was also using an FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM; I would say that less than 5% of my shots are made with a wideangle lens, but when you need it, you really need it and it gives always something amazing.

baby leopard walking through long grass

© Chris Schmid | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x teleconverter | 1/1000s @ f/4.0, ISO 640

What advice would you give aspiring photographers that want to follow your steps?  

If I had one tip to give, and maybe the most important, it would be to think before pressing the shutter. Think about what you want to create and achieve with what you have in front of. Be selective in your work and if you don’t feel the emotion, then maybe it’s better to keep this moment just for you. Don’t create pictures because it’s just beautiful, create pictures to share a message and an emotion you want to share. ⁠

a group of young lions sitting on a rock

© Chris Schmid | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS + 1.4x teleconverter | 1/640s @ f/5.0, ISO 1250

Any last words – thank you or last advice for our readers

Be yourself, develop your own style and vision of the world. Each of us has a different vision of what we see, and your photography must be a representation on how you see the world, not from someone else.

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Chris Schmid

Chris Schmid | Switzerland

"Imagery is powerful. A single shot can capture an emotion or trigger a feeling within"

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