A9: Ready, Set, Action!
The buzz is that the A9 is great for action. At 20 fps, I should hope so. And with a quiet shutter, it's also good for theater and weddings. I rented one from my local pro shop, Glazers, and spent 12 hours with it on a hot Saturday shooting high school lacrosse. For those of you who don't know, lacrosse is called "the fastest sport on two feet." It's also one of the few team sports where you have to use an implement to score. That implement is a stick with a net at one end of it. Shots often exceed 100 mph, but at a distance to the goal much closer than a pitcher's mound, and without the benefit of a windup. Indeed, the objective is to not telegraph your shot; a good player will hear the ball swish into the back of the net before a good goalie even sees it coming. That's what makes the sport fun to watch. That's also what makes it difficult to photograph. It demands a quick focus and, because it's a fluid sport, it pretty much demands that you follow the action up and down the field. According to my pedometer, that's about 5 miles of running during the course of a two-hour game. Sure, it's easier to just park yourself on one of the four corners of the field, pick off a few good shots, and call it a day. But that takes all the 'fun' out of it. And there is plenty of fun in-between the shots and the scoring.
But let's get to the action, shall we? Unfortunately, Sony does not yet make any prime telephotos for their A series E-mount cameras, so I had to use a few offered by the competition. I rented a Canon and used a Nikon, both 300mm lenses - my favorite distance for field sports because it give you just enough reach while allowing for portability to move up and down the field.
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
This was the big honker. Big and heavy, but fast and sharp. However it would frequently 'hunt' for the right focus (when the Nikon didn't need to). Also, the Metabones IV adaptor kept freezing at all the wrong times, like just before an anticipated shot. So I finally gave up on it. But not before capturing a few shots.
A few notes about the A9. It can capture 20 frames per second with a Sony lens, which is faster than some movie cameras. With 3rd party lenses, that 'drops' to 10 fps but even that is wicked fast. And it will fill up your memory card if you sneeze. The other great thing about this camera is the joy-stick pointer, for moving the focus spot around in the viewfinder. It is small but works very well and is easy to 'locate' with your thumb. This is handy if you need to line up a shot with the player on one end of the frame (because you know he is going to shoot towards the other end). Most DSLR's have this but it's a first for Sony's A series.
I tried two focus settings: AF-C with focus lock (tracking), and AF-C manual. Manual worked much better for me as I prefer to track the movement myself by panning the camera. I also found that the in-lens stabilization on the Canon seemed to slow the time-to-focus, so I just upped the ISO instead and shot around 1/4000 sec, hand-held or with a small monopod attached which I used for shooting 'from the ground', a preferred technique for minimizing glare and also catching the crowd in the background.
AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4E PF ED VR
Anyone else notice how geeky these names are?
The Nikon 300 PF is my favorite field sports (aka lacrosse) lens because it's tiny and lightweight, but still it's a prime, which trumps most zooms. I used it all season long on my D800. I also use it regularly on my A7Rii with a Vello adaptor but not for action sports because it tends to freeze.
When the Metabones adaptor on my Canon started acting up, I switched to the Nikon/Vello and had no problems at all. Actually, focus was faster and snappier than the Canon, and I even forgot that I was using a 3rd party lens on the A9. Maybe not quite as sharp as the f/2.8. Or is it?
Issues common to both lenses
I found that the further I moved the focus point from the center of the screen the more it hunted for the focus. Not great.
You can change the sensitivity of focus lock tracking on the A9 but it's buried deep in the menu system. I didn't have time to create any macros or shortcuts and it is not a menu item option for the Fn menu.
Would a native Sony lens be better? Yes. Faster? Yes. All I can say is, I can't wait. But until then, I'm extremely happy with the Nikon/Vello combination for AF-C and for manual focus of static objects.
Oh. One last thing. It takes a decent night shot too. Here, on my way back home after a day in the sun. Batis85.