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CAMERA TESTING WITH THE SONY A77 (3 OF 4)

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Part three of my four part write-up on testing the Sony a77 DSLR in various sports setting that I typically shoot  with my job. Please check out the previous post for details on the first test and a bit of an intro to this multi-part project: here

Taking the Sony a77 to the track

This is where I was most curious about the a77 and lenses… the racetrack.

The first chance I had at the track with the Sony system was with the Formula Drift race series. I was in Seattle for one of my larger clients, Falken Tire, who I handle a portion of their motorsports photography for. The first day I arrived earlier than I normally would for a race, which gave me a couple practice sessions to get out and test shoot a bit with the a77. I would be using the 300/2.8 that I brought out with me.

While I was, again, happy with how the lenses performed I was a little bummed with the speed of the focus tracking. I was getting a bit of motion blur even when using faster shutter speeds. But again, this could also have been human error, I won’t deny that either. The 300 & a77 combo gives and effective 450mm/2.8 reach – this is VERY far for Drift and Seattle was a smaller track (proximity of photogs to cars) compared to Atlanta or Jersey.
But more frustrating for me as a sport shooter were the delays of the camera itself. When bursting at 10fps (or just shooting anything in general) the Sony system puts a brief preview of the image you just shot up on the screen or viewfinder – whichever one you’re using at the time. There is no way to turn this off. In the menu you can turn off previews (or set them for 2, 4, etc, seconds). But even after turning my previews to Off, there is still a brief moment the image is on your display. I think this is the camera’s way of telling you “Hey man, I took a shot!” compared with a Canon or Nikon you’ll have that brief moment of black while the mirror and shutter are up to exposure the sensor. So, I am guessing Sony put this there as a way to reassure you the photo was captured.
Note: This is something that I’ve already talked to Sony about to try and clarify, with them, what I mean by the screen pausing. Now I wouldn’t compare the pause to the brief flash of black from a shutter on a Canon or Nikon – that’s too quick to affect your shot. The image pause on the Sony I found distracting enough to screw up my framing. This is something Sony also said they’ll ask about since it’s not a complaint they’ve heard previously.

But I want it turned off – or the ability to turn it off. That fraction of a second that there is an image in your viewfinder of something that JUST happened is long enough for your subject to move a bit and your framing to get messed up. So while it doesn’t affect the AF or anything like that, you might still not-get the shot due to accidentally cropping part of the subject out.
Now, I know that nothing will be as fast/accurate about what’s going on in front of your camera compared to a mirror, but if you’re looking at a screen you’re definitely going to want that screen as close to real-time as possible.

Another issue that I had with this camera in a race setting is the inability to “chimp” efficiently. As much as that term bugs me sometimes, it’s the perfect word to describe the action of “looking down right after a shot to see what it looks like” like a chimp inspecting something in front of them.
We ALL do this at the track CONSTANTLY. This can mean the difference between sorting through 500 photos when you download your card or 800 photos.

Now, I wasn’t using the most expensive SD card out there, so I’m sure there was some margin of error (read: slow) due to a cheaper card. But I don’t own SD cards since all my cameras use CF cards. So I’ll take some blame for the possible slow speed of writing to a less-expensive card I bought to save money.
However the camera seemed to write very very slow despite using a class 10 card as I was told to do. It was so slow, in fact, that I actually gave up trying to look at the photos I just shot because the camera was buffering them slowly. This won’t work for those of us who are used to quickly sorting through photos right after we shoot them, deleting (quickly) the bad/OOF shots, and being ready for when the next cars come by.
Note: After discussing this with Sony as well they pointed out the the horsepower of the a77 and it’s processor can’t compete at a level that’s near the power of the dual processors of the 1D lineup. It’s simply something that you will have to deal with at the price point of the a77. This was something I hadn’t put a lot of consideration to those days at the track because I don’t shoot with a 60D, ever.

Also another downside to the camera and the digital viewfinder setup was the sensor. On a bright and sunny day we all will put our hands around the LCD when reviewing shots. The light sensor on the back of the a77 always thought I was putting my face back up to the camera and would switch the view mode back to the camera’s viewfinder. This made it impossible at times for me to review photos without turning my entire body away from the sun (and action) to review photos in my own shadow rather than just use my hand.
Note: I discussed this with Sony, also. There are two options to handle this that were pointed out. First is to set the screen option to manual. So, using a button you can switch from viewfinder mode, to LCD, and back again. I personally would not like this option since it involves additional key presses and I’m sure that at some point I would put the viewfinder back to my eye quickly and forget to turn the viewfinder “on” by switching modes. The second option is to un-click the second the hinge of the LCD screen. This would lock the LCD into the “on” mode, however I have a feeling that there would be the same problem with not auto-switching back to the viewfinder when you try to use it again unless you click the LCD all the way back into position. Both of these simply would take practice and getting used to on the part of the photographer – they’re not something I would consider an end-all to using this system by any means.
My experiences with Off Road were similar to that of Formula Drift, so I won’t ramble on too much about it here.
However out at the off road track I tried the focus locking a bit more to see how well it would track a subject.
The way the focus lock works (put most simply) is that it would lock onto whatever was closest to the center and then track it as it moved around. Think of it as facial recognition tracking for large groups – that’s an easy way to describe it.
However when you have a bunch of trucks crossing paths and everything kinda blends together I think the system because overwhelmed. So, instead I stuck with Continuous focus and found that I got a bit better results as long as I kept my subject in the center of my viewfinder.

Overall thoughts on racing photography with the a77: Overall… it’s a very usable system. I think my initial experience shooting Drift with the a77 was hindered by the too-long lens combo on a track that was smaller than I expected. Below you will no photos from Drift, actually, because I’m just simply not happy with any of them.
I had much better luck at the Off Road track during the Lucas Oil Off Road race. The first day I was there was mostly practice which allowed me more time to shoot around and text. The system here, and longer glass worked very well, and with a larger track (both in size and distance) there was more time and flexibility when reviewing photos after shooting them.

Click the break for photos!

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Behind the Scenes on Wildpeak Ad Campaign

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Blazing desert heat, cold streams, and windy mountain roads… all just part of the Falken Tire Wildpeak Off Road ad campaign I shot at the end of 2012.

Among many of the projects I was part of with Falken Tire last year one of the most fun was the Wildpeak Off Road campaign. This was a project that was planned, assembled, and shot all within a very short amount of time compared to other projects I’ve worked with Falken on. Falken’s newest tire line, Wildpeak, needed a variety of images created for upcoming ads and media in 2013. So several days were selected, along with several vehicles, to shoot many different images in different locations. I would be handling a large majority of the shooting alongside the video crew, who would be shooting for commercials at the same time.

The entire first day was spent in the desert, under the hot sun and, at times, very high winds. We had a selection of cars: Ford Raptor, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Toyota 4Runner, and the custom built Falken Jeep JK. We also had a few support vehicles with us, a Chevy Tahoe with 22’s for what would essentially be “beauty shots”, a Toyota Tacoma, our tow vehicle/rig, and a total crew of 10 people. This was not a small job by any means.

The second day was the longest by far. We were in the mountains. All. Day. But we were able to capture a ton of different images varying from water/splash photos to “climbing” photos. The video guys also did the majority of their filming the second day as well.
Day 3 was the shortest, and was cut even shorter after the first location we planned to shoot at didn’t work out.

Click below the break to read on and see over 100 images of what goes into a multi-day photoshoot of this size.

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Monster Energy Supercross w/ Falken Tire

Ok, so this is clearly just me and the Falken girls… but still.

This year I’ve been contracting with Falken Tire for the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series! It’s actually pretty great to once again be out on the track working with a major brand such as Falken. Several months ago I worked with them putting together the 2012 Falken Girls poster and promotional images of the girls. Three of them, Brittney Leigh, Julie Galindo, and Mayra Tinajero in the photo above with me. Now I’m handling a small part of their racing photography as well.
And most of you know that off road race photography is nothing new to me – I used to do a ton of it when I worked for K&N Filters. Working with Falken is very different though. I’m actually just as much a photojournalist for the day as I am a race photographer.

During the race day I spend a lot of my time with the Falken team photographing their fans and guests that come by the trailer to meet the models, enter the prize drawings and get more information about Falken products. I’ll typically make my way out to the track several times during practice to photograph Ryan Villopoto – not only the top racer in the series right now, but also Falken’s sponsored racer.

I’ll save all the rambling I could post and just put up some images… they’re more interesting anyway. haha!

Let’s start with the San Diego, Qualcomm Stadium race for Round 6..

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New Off Road Section added! Racing section redone.

I decided that I needed a completely new section added to my portfolio to help organize (and separate) the many off road photos I’ve shot this year.
For those who aren’t aware, I handled all photography for both K&N Filters and AEM Induction Systems for the majority of this year, 2009. Doing so meant that I covered nearly the entire Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, and many other sports like AMA Supercross, AMA Quadcross, AMA Motocross, dirt track racing, etc.

I decided that completely separate Off Road section and a Track sections are now pretty much required due to the large amount of images from each type of racing I have to share. The Track section was previously just called “Racing”. I think the two sections will help quite a bit for those looking for only one side of the sport.

Next up I will be doing another large update to my Wedding section. But that will be later this week.

In the mean time, check out the 30 new images in my Off Road section!

Enjoy everyone!

Try not to miss the shot…

Try not to miss shots… like this guy did today at the track.

I’m currently shooting the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series – this is the second of four times I’ll be shooting this series. We’re currently racing at Lake Elsinore, Calif. Last time I covered this event was the season opener in Primm, Nev.

This track is intense! Short course is definitely exciting, and when you have extremely powerful trucks – and some slightly wild drivers – anything can happen.

I have nearly the entire series of this accident… Unforunately, from a photographic standpoint, I was at a poor location for many of the accidents today. Most where on turn four – I was shooting at turn five.
But at least I’m not that guy on the hill who, while is the best possible location, was looking the completely wrong direction.

I was, however, in the perfect location for when Robby Woods rolled his truck. He was actually the first rolling of the day (there were a total of six that I counted).
Sadly, for me, I was checking exposure levels while getting my setting dialed in for the day… Again, this was like the second lap of the morning… I was one of the few photographers out on the track at that point. Robby immediately climbed out, threw a thumbs up, and once they rolled his truck back over he climbed in and kept going.

I actually really love this shot of Alan Pflueger I took today. Alan, in addition to being a really great guy, is an incredible driver… Many of you probably already know who he is, so I won’t go into that.
I took this shot though because I wanted to see at what point I could hand-hold at longer focal lengths with very low shutter speeds for a lot of motion blur.

This is a handheld shot, pretty much straight out of camera, at 1/80 of a second at 130mm. ISO 200
Admit it, you’re impressed. Haha.

I have two more days of racing to cover. I’m actually looking forward to putting my 5D Mark II that I use in the studio to the test out in the field. And I’m sure the video will be pretty bitchin’ if I decide to test that out too.
But ultimately I’m looking forward to being able to experiment a bit with my photography since I got pretty much all the shots I needed today..

Check back this weekend for further updates. And you can follow me on Twitter (@johnremus) to keep up with me on the racetrack.

Night all!

Lucas Oil Off Road Races, Primm, Nevada

I spent Friday and Saturday in Nevada covering two different racing events. The first one, not shown, was the NHRA Drag Races at the Las Vegas Speedway. The whole day ended up being a huge pain because the weather kept the races from staying on schedule – and eventually shut things down completely.

The next day I spent in Primm at the Lucas Oil Off Road races, shown above. Check the image of Dempsey racing the number 5 car in the Super Lites class… this was shot at 1/100 of a second, hand held… so it produced some really gorgeous motion blur. And you have to admit that pretty damn good for hand held panning, right?

I had an incredible time, and met some other really nice photographers. One thing about standing out in the middle of the track… you get a front row seat to everything – and I mean everything…

It’s one thing to be standing front row for these trucks spinning out and nearly hitting everything nearby on the track…

And it’s something else when the drivers decide to drive right through the photographer/media area on the track. Haha… Man, you just gotta stay on your toes, and have eyes in the back of your head.

Wearing my jacket all day in the desert sun was honestly the best idea I had all day. No joke. I’m going to go buy a scarf for this weekend when I’m in Long Beach shooting Formula Drift. However it looks like it may be raining at that event.

I also have Drag Racing photos to possibly upload… and I never did upload images from King of the Hammers to my portfolio either… yikes.
I’ve been way too busy recently.

Oh well, busy is a good thing. Just means less time for updates.

Good night everyone, check back later this week for more images.