Monday, September 6, 2010

I had a chance to try the A55 at a ball game

When you pick up the new Sony Alpha A55 digital camera for the first time it doesn't really hit you that the camera's mirror doesn't move and you shoot through the mirror. This is the great new feature about this product... but you don't notice right away.

What you do notice is that you're looking through an "Electronic Viewfinder" instead of an optical path to the subject.

I haven't used an EVF much. It's a bit of an acquired taste. I was working the university football game on Labour Day, not because I'm a great sports photographer, but because it was the long weekend and it was less costly to have me work the game than bring in a full-time staff member and pay them double time and a half. Anyway I decided to try the A55 at the game. I took along the Sony 70-400G lens.

The camera has a number of great features. It's an APS-C size sensor, does 10 frames per second and has great follow-focus. I just haven't had a chance to use it that much... and it's going to take some getting used to. I'm also new to using a zoom lens for football. For years I've shot football with either a 400mm F2.8 or at least a 300mm F2.8. The zoom lens is interesting to work with but I need more practice before I'm ready for prime time.

I started the game with the basic wide focus, but it kept getting fooled by the linesmen when I wanted the quarterback sharp. So I switched to the centre spot focus.... which is the focus mode I use almost all the time.

The camera is nice and small and has no vertical grip so I decided to shoot the game in horizontal instead of vertical like usual. It's just easier on the wrist and shoulder if you don't have a vertical grip on the camera. I used one of the over-priced Gitzo mono-pods you can buy from my mail-order store.

After a while I noticed the subjects were just too low in the frame, so I switched the focus area one more time... to select focus and I moved my focus-square to the top-middle selection. This seemed to put the subject in a nice position.

Since I was shooting for the paper I had no reason to shoot any video, but I did try it for one play. It was the play where the home quarterback bobbled the snap, the opposing linebacker grabbed the ball out of the air and ran it the length of the field for a TD. Great now I have the play of the game on video when I'm hired to do stills. I didn't try it again.

The continuous follow focus I love but I do need more practice with the EVF. I found it worked great until you fired the first frame, then the image you took comes up for an instant and then back to real time. This is hard to get used to and I found my subject running out of the frame while I was trying to re-compose. It's hard to explain, but like I said, I need more work with it. I'll make some "Menu" changes for the next game.

These shots are all from the game, some were on the 10-frame burst mode, but most were on "Aperture Priority". When you use the burst mode on this camera it shoots the lens wide open, drops the ISO as low as it can and keeps the shutter speed just over 1/500. It sets all this it-self and you have little control. On "Aperture Priority" I can set the ISO to 1600, shoot wide open but my shutter speed is over 1/2000. I give up the 10-frame burst mode but can live with the regular high speed continuous of 6 frames per second.

These shots are all cropped, but the quality holds up for a newspaper and the web. The paper used the one of the runningback reaching into the endzone for a TD.
I also supplied a few files for our sister paper, the Waterloo Region Record and they used this one of their receiver coming down with the ball.I didn't get anything outstanding but did end up with one image in each paper. I need to go through the "Menu" again and make a few changes, then try another game. Using the EFV is quite a different experience and will take more practice.... but continuous Auto-focus with 10 frames per second is the reward if you can get it working for you. It's certainly worth a try.

Rob Skeoch


  1. These look great. Could you also share the video ?

    Would love to see how this new camera does shooting basketball.

  2. Great pics, and great camera. Can't wait to try it out myself.