Ready for some sports – but not all.
As many of you know I spent a part of July testing out the Sony a77 DSLR camera system and a variety of lenses in various sports environments that I would typically encounter on my job.
I was approached by Sony Digital Imaging about giving feedback on their system and how it handles “doing what I do” for work. Not many people would consider a Sony system for sports shooting when they’re shopping, and I was going to try and get an idea of how well their system worked in various sports environments.
The tricky part of this overall test was going to be time and access for me around my normal schedule of races. It also happened to be during a month that I would be relocating from San Diego back up toward LA.
However, I reached out to a couple friends around the industry for credentials and help with various events, and also several athletes I know to see when and who would be practicing.
As it worked out, I was able to test shoot a bit of skateboarding, the Formula Drift race in Seattle, the Lucas Oil Off Road Race in Glen Helen, the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, and also some BMX in Chino Hills.
Click the break for photos and thoughts after my first test shooting some skateboarding at Black Flys Sunglasses Headquarters.
Focusing, speed and accuracy
My experience with the a77’s focusing system was frustrating – but coming from using Canon 1D systems for sports for many many years, I knew there would be a major change in not only focusing speed and tracking, but details like muscle memory of where buttons are.
I was specifically reminded “Please don’t hold this to the standard of your (Canon) 1D-X, these are two very different cameras.
That’s true. The Sony a77 is what most would call a pro-sumer camera… a camera that is consumer grade/level but features everything a working professional would also want in such a camera. It would also be considered a mid-level camera, the $1,000-2,000 range for the body. This would be putting the camera on par with the Canon 70D system, or the Nikon D300.
For perspective of what I’m used to… I shoot with a Canon 1D-X, the flagship Canon sports camera that many would consider “the” sports camera to own. A system that retails for $7,000 for just the camera body.
With that in mind, and knowing that this camera would not keep up with it’s DSLR cousin that costs SIX times as much, I was still going to push it hard and see how well it would work when asked to shoot what I shoot.
Skateboarding – A nice slow intro to the a77
The first thing I shot with this camera was some skateboarding. Through friends at Black Flys sunglasses in Costa Mesa I was introduced to professional skaters Julz Lynn and Chris Gentry. This was a great little gathering to get some basic testing done and start to familiarize myself with a body that I have zero knowledge of nor any muscle memory with (I can operate any of my four Canon cameras with my eyes closed. You just get used to where all the buttons are after so many years).
Black Flys was having a BBQ and both Julz and Chris were there skating around for fun. I immediately was impressed with the speed of the shutter – 12fps which is faster than my older 1D3. Color was noticeable as well, vibrancy seemed great on the preview screen as I was shooting around.
I immediately was annoyed with the AF knobs. This is a personal annoyance I’ve never liked manual AF selection knobs. This is something I don’t like on Nikon either. While many people probably see it as convenient, I find it annoying. It makes it too easy to accidently roll into a focus mode you don’t want. However the a77 an actual knob compared to the Nikon “switch” which I could imagine would be worse.
Shooting with the 135/1.8 Zeiss though the images were crisp and clear. And when I had my settings dialed correctly, I was very happy with most of the shots. The thing I was lacking was an extreme wide angle/fisheye lens to use for something like skateboarding. However, the original goal was to try this gear with motorsports, so all my lens requests were for long glass.
Overall opinion at the end of the day: Good for skateboarding. Fast shutter, adjustable LCD was handy if you’re into to shooting in a “Live View” mode. Focusing system seemed accurate enough – OOF shots possibly my fault due to unfamiliarity with camera/new setup. The a77 1.5 cropped sensor though, not a good choice for wide shots. Sony’s a99 full frame sensor would be a much better option.
This post could very quickly become extremely photo heavy… and that’s not my goal. However I want to include several shots to give everyone an idea of how the camera performed that afternoon. These were shot with the 135/1.8 Zeiss lens.
Overall sharpness was excellent – if anything I was having trouble getting used to the focusing system.
Chris Gentry stopped by and hit the ramps several times trying several different jumps
This is a 100% crop. All I’ve done is brighten up the crop a bit to level it out. But I wanted you to see a full-res piece of the photo of Chris’ face to get an idea of the tracking and sharpness of the camera itself. This is shot at 70mm, with the 24-70 Zeiss, Continuous tracking, center locked, ISO50, f/2.8
Chris kept throwing the same jump til he was happy with both the setup and his form. It allowed me a bit of time to find an angle I liked and also dial my settings. Shooting with the cropped sensor meant I had to be standing much further back than I’m used to.
They decided why jump the table… jump a bicycle…
At the end of the afternoon I was starting to play with some panning, but Julz called it a day shortly after I got this shot.
Again, for sports this speed the Sony a77 worked just fine and as I expected it to. The speed of the shutter was certainly a huge plus over something like the Canon 60D which, while faster than others, is still slow by comparison to the a77.
I’ve decided to break this write up into FOUR parts… So, check back tomorrow for the second test – BMX.