I’m a career photojournalist and used to shooting with pro-level DSLR bodies like my Nikon D4s. These flagship bodies get the job done with ease in skilled hands. However, with years of practice, a photographer can make use of pretty much any camera and come away with great images.
So in that vain, I ordered a Sony a6000 and Sony A7s and thought I’d see how they’d fare in the biggest game of the year for football in Utah, the state high school football championship.
My new Sony mirrorless bodies along with a Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 and Sony 55mm f/1.8 lens arrived just a day before the big game held at the University of Utah. I wouldn’t have much time to get to know these cameras so off to YouTube I went. I found a great tutorial of settings to use by photojournalist Patrick Murphy-Racey. Patrick, like my friend Paul Gero, are in Sony’s “Artisans of Imagery” program. So they know their stuff. If they have recommendations, they’re good as gold in my book.
With no games to practice on before the big game just a day away, it was going to be trial by fire. That’s cool. As a photojournalist we’re used to being thrown into a situation and making it work. So no worries.
I arrived at the University of Utah about 3:30 pm and it was well into the 2nd quarter. That’s fine. I don’t need the whole game to shoot. I begin shooting with the tiny, $550, point-and-shoot looking Sony a6000 attached to the much bigger Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 and nearly instantly see the sideways glances as my fellow newspaper shooters , wire service guys and parent photographers wonder if I’ve lost my mind (that happened long ago by the way). It was pretty comical, and I got a whole lot of ribbing, but I wish you could’ve seen their jaws drop when they saw my images.
With this inexpensive, tiny mirrorless body I got images pretty darn close to what I could’ve shot with my Nikon D4s; a body nearly 12 times the cost! Now keep in mind that this was the very first time I had used this body for football and had barely had it for all of one day. With more time behind this body I’ll do a better job of it.
If you have a look at the photos in this post, you’ll have to agree that the Sony a6000 is CLEARLY capable of handling sports. This was a late afternoon/early evening game, but my buddy Paul Gero and others have proven that the a6000 easily handles night games as well. Watch for a future post of mine where I shot high school basketball with this tiny mirrorless camera.
Watch for my upcoming full review of the Sony a6000, but what I’ll share with you now is that while this little camera isn’t as awesome as it could be, it’s quite capable of tracking action and keeping up with a pro sports photographer. There were times where I wished it was more responsive from a processing aspect as it slowly wrote the images to the SD card, but I know that will improve with future iterations of this wonderful little camera. Ergonomically it’s lacking as it’s a tiny form factor and I have ginormous hands, but that’s ok. It wasn’t too bad and I got used to it.
This camera is a speed demon! It’s hard to believe that a $550 camera can shoot 11 fps. My Nikon D4s shoots at 12 fps. Not only does the a6000 shoot as quick as a pro DSLR, the autofocus tracking is stunningly accurate. In fact, in my own tests and in all the tests I’ve seen online, the a6000 bests most of them. It locks on to a subject and just does not want to let go. For sports, that’s incredibly useful. I didn’t have a problem acquiring focus nor maintaining it. I was quite impressed. I kept telling myself that an inexpensive camera just wasn’t possible of doing that, yet it was and did so with ease.
The jury is in…it can be done! Is it perfect? No. But mirrorless is getting closer to the abilities of DSLR bodies with every update. The writing is on the wall. Mirrorless cameras are catching up to DSLRs and that’s a great thing. The progress we’ve seen with mirrorless cameras benefits all of us. I suspect that Canon and Nikon will be forced to introduce serious, competitive mirrorless bodies at some point. All their current lenses will work with and consumers will benefit from the technology afforded when a mirror doesn’t need to be in the body.
With electronic viewfinders (EVFs) becoming incredibly responsive and speeds improving in mirrorless bodies, there’s going to come a time where they’re at parity with the DSLR. It’s at that point you’ll see the mirror removed from the DSLR. Trust me, you won’t miss it. It’s perplexing to see people freak out about this in online forums. You won’t be forced to use a substandard camera body. It just won’t have a mirror. Why are they so in love with the mirror? It makes no sense. Without a mirror, amazing things can happen. Being able to see your exposure BEFORE you press the button is a big time saver. No more chimping after the shot as you’ll know before you even press the shutter button if your exposure was correct or not. And autofocus is vastly faster when you don’t have a mirror slapping away in front of the sensor.
The Sony a6000 with their 70-200mm f/4 lens was fun to shoot with. It handled shooting football just fine and I suspect that come next football season when I get more time behind the body, it’ll be even better. I wouldn’t at all doubt that we’ll see a Sony a6000 Mark II (if they don’t call it the a7000).
As for the Sony A7s, sports is not its strong suit. At all. It’s abysmal at shooting sports as it has a completely different autofocus system and isn’t meant to be a sports body. The A7s is meant for shooting in extremely low light and where it really shines is in shooting video. Knowing this, and for giggles, I shot the tail end of the game with the A7s.
The A7s had a difficult time acquiring focus and tracking moving subjects, but I managed to get a handful of keepers; the photo at left being one of them.
You certainly wouldn’t want to buy this body if you mostly shoot sports and you’ll be very disappointed. It’s just not designed for sports. Now if the Mark II version of this body gets the AF system the a6000 has in it…watch out! Being able to shoot at ridiculously high ISOs like 56,000 would be amazing! Things are definitely heading that direction, but time will tell if Sony adds blazingly fast AF to the A7s line. I’m crossing my fingers as that would be a killer!
At the rate Sony keeps releasing camera bodies, in an apparent effort at gaining market share from the DSLR makers, you’re going to see a dizzying number of improvements as these mirrorless bodies mature. It’s a great time to be a photographer.
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Here are some additional photos from that state championship game. All photos on this page are clickable and enlarge.