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Auto-Focus/Stabilization Issues? (a6600 + E 70–350mm)


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I've had this setup for a little over a year now, almost exclusively for bird photography (purely a hobbyist). I am definitely more of a birder than a photographer, so apologies in advance for stupid questions or general cluelessness.

In recent months, I have gotten the impression that the auto-focus performance on my camera/lens has gotten worse. Even at high shutter speeds and in good lighting, I am having a harder time getting birds in focus. Even when it appears that I have gotten the subject in focus in the viewfinder, I find that more of my images are coming out with this hazy blur around the subject upon opening them up on the computer. I fear I may have caused some damage to the camera when I tried to clean the sensor a few months ago. I had some stubborn sensor spots, so I used a cleaning kit and made sure to be very careful. However, I did not realize that I was apparently supposed to enter cleaning mode beforehand and leave the camera on to lock the in-body image stabilization. Could this have caused damage that would explain my possible image quality issues?

Unrelated to the sensor cleaning, but I have also noticed that I am experiencing some unusual resistance when extending the lens from 70mm to 350mm and back. I have never dropped the lens or banged it up to my knowledge. Don't know what the deal is there or how concerned I should be, just figured I'd mention it.

I've included an example image from today, significantly cropped and resized to meet the max upload limit. Also included a zoomed in section to show the type of blur I find myself experiencing more and more. Image details: ISO 125, 1/1000s, f/6.3. This was not intended to be a "good shot," just intended as a test of my auto-focus with a relatively close and slow-moving bird.

I am feeling like I should probably take my setup to a shop for closer inspection, but any advice here would still be appreciated. Even if the advice is that I don't know what I am doing and just need to adjust some settings.

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