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Sony a7R Field Report #2: Sports Action

This is an ongoing report that I started on February 15, 2014 following my purchase of the new full-frame mirrorless 36.4MP Sony Alpha a7R digital camera.
You can view the entire report here.

The other evening I brought my Sony a7R camera to a youth soccer game to see how the camera responds to sports action photography.

It has been a number of years since I photographed any sports action. Being a former photojournalist for 17 years I had the opportunity to photograph countless sporting events from youth to professional sports and everything in between. Being a number of years removed from those days, the rust was evident the other night while shooting as my timing was terrible.

Sony a7R with Metabones adapter and old Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at ISO 10,000 at 1/400s at f3.2

Sony a7R with Metabones adapter and old Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at ISO 10,000 at 1/400s at f3.2

I sold all of my long glass so I had to borrow a friend’s Canon 70-200mm f2.8L lens. The lens was over 15 years old and didn’t play well with the Metabones III adapter. I ended up shooting in full manual mode – manual exposure and manual focus. The old lens just wouldn’t auto focus properly with the Metabones setup.

I noticed right away when I first started shooting that I needed to disable a number of settings. First up was disabling the focus zooming – which is great using on stationary subjects but not moving ones. I then disabled the zebra pattern letting me know about blown highlights. And last I had to turn off the auto review, as following each photo I captured it was showing the review of it in the EVF, preventing me from following the action.

The lighting conditions were typical lousy and I needed to shoot at an ISO of 10,000 to give me a shutter speed of at least 1/400s to freeze the action.

Sony a7R with Metabones adapter and old Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at ISO 10,000 at 1/500s at f3.2

Sony a7R with Metabones adapter and old Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at ISO 10,000 at 1/500s at f3.2

So is the camera good for sports action photography?

In two words, not really.

While I was able to get some useable photographs the shooting experience wasn’t pleasurable at all. There is a rather lengthy shutter blackout when you take a photo, long enough to disrupt following the flow of action. And I did not like the electronic viewfinder (EVF) at all as following live action while looking through the EVF started to make me a little bit motion sick.

I decided not to shoot in continuous shooting mode as the shutter blackout was too long than what I am used to so I treated the camera like I was shooting a game with strobes in the rafters. When I used to shoot Div. 1 basketball games at UCONN with strobes there was a 4 second recycle time, so you had to pick your shots and pull the trigger at peak action. There seemed to be a slight shutter delay too compared to other cameras that are more suited to sports.

Sony a7R with Metabones adapter and old Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at ISO 10,000 at 1/500s at f3.2

Sony a7R with Metabones adapter and old Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L lens at ISO 10,000 at 1/500s at f3.2

Image quality on the other hand was great and even at ISO 10,000 these photos (which were shot in RAW and processed in Capture One Pro) would look great printed in any publication. Having so many megapixels allows for more extreme cropping too which is another bonus.

I would definitely like to test out the camera in a daylight sports event to see if the EVF is any better. It would be interesting to see too how the AF performs on a Sony lens made specifically for this camera. I wonder what type of long glass Sony has planned for this camera.

The Sony a7R has many strengths but I don’t think sports action photography is going to be one of them. It is kinda like using a medium format camera to shoot sports. It’s not ideal and you have to pick your shots and focus carefully, but if you do you might be able to walk away with some keeper shots as long as you can work within the limitations of the camera.

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