PLEASE DO READ THE FIRST LINES OF THE REVIEW….
This was the FIRST outing with the Sony, I figured out the problem in the last 15 minutes of the game. They were just posted to show that the camera can keep up with the fast moving action, I mention clearly that the images are soft due to the e-front curtain, but posted them because a lot of people kept asking for them and I knew I did not have time for the next 6-7 weeks to do more sports. So please don’t blame the camera for not being a good sports cam, I was more than happy with it’s performance but the e-front curtain literely destroyed the image sharpness, as soon as I figured that out the images were great. I will do some more sports in the next 1-2 weeks.
Let me start out by saying that the images in this review should actually NOT be considered as “this is what the A99 can do” and in fact the only reason I post this on my blog is because a lot of people have been asking me about it and the next time I will be shooting sports will be at least 2-3 weeks away so I decided to post this small review anyway to let you know what I think of the A99 for sports.
Now let me first clarify why I start the review like this.
I’ve been using the A99 for some time now and I have to say that I really fell in love with the camera and the system, the older Minolta lenses are great and the dynamic range and sharpness of the Sony A99 is just stunning, and as mentioned many times before, when you get used to the EVF it’s very hard to go back to the OVF, every time when I use a Canon/Nikon or my Medium format camera it’s a bit of a “Oh yeah, it’s an OVF story” instead of “Pffff, finally an OVF again” yeah you get used to the EVF very quickly and you will love it (well at least I do).
Now for studio work and street photography this camera ROCKS.
But how does it do sports, according to some the EVF is too slow, so I was very anxious to test it out. Now the last few months (heck the last year) has been incredibly hectic so I was happy to finally find the time to visit my favorite local soccer club Sport Club Emmeloord again last week, and of course when I go there I take the camera (otherwise they probably won’t let me in…. just kidding… I hope).
I already knew the EVF was not a problem with street photography, but I’m glad to add sports to this (well at least soccer), the EVF keeps up with the players and thanks to the fast AF of the Sony A99 and the fast shutter response you can really nail the shot. Is it better than the 5DMKIII, well you have to ask the experts, I’m really sorry but I’m not a sports shooter, I shoot sports as a hobby, but what I can say is that I did not miss one single shot due to camera error, the AF locked on very quickly and kept following the subject that I selected. What I do know is that the A99 is MUCH better than the 5DMKII and probably up to par with the 5DMKIII from what I remembered, but you would have to put them side to side and decide for yourself, however the fact that I really could not tell you is probably a good sign for the A99, because let’s be honest the 5DMKIII is one rocking sports camera.
The burst rate is great, and I know it’s not 15 frames per second but to be honest I don’t need 15 frames, I choose my moments and use the burst to keep the action in the frame and for me the A99 gives me more than enough frames per second to get the shot. Clearing the buffer was also pretty quick. I use the Sandisk 95mb/s cards but I have to note that I did not find much difference from the one step slower Sandisks. I have to add that I shoot everything in RAW, I imaging that if you shoot JPGs for sport (what most will do) you will be in heaven with the speed of the A99, with RAWs it’s fast enough and I actually never really waited for my buffer to clear, the camera was always ready when I was ready.
Image quality and keepers
The AF is rock solid so the amount of keepers was well within the 90% sharpness wise….. but now we get to the remark I made at the start of the review…. I did something very wrong.
The A99 has an option for an electronic first curtain in which you actually have a faster response but the first curtain is done digitally. Now I’m the kind of person that always reads the manual when something happens that goes wrong and in this case after looking at my images during the game I noticed something really weird that I never saw during other shoots, first my eye was caught by an incredibly weird bokeh, it looked like there was an incredibly heat pattern coming from the field and messing up the bokeh like crazy, when I focussed in on the player I captured my heart almost stopped…. on some images they looked like a painting and on some images they were ok but it looked like there was some sort of ghosting behind the player….. now that last one gave it away but not immediately. At first I thought it was the IS that maybe was happy with the high shutter speeds (although it did not make sense), so after trying a few minutes with the IS of it was clear that was not the problem, next was object tracking, focus zones etc. etc. I tried almost everything, in the last 5 minutes of the game somehow it hit me…. why was there ghosting behind my players and why was it worse at higher shutter speeds…… OH MY… NO… how stupid the electronic first curtain is not a real curtain but emulates a first curtain, this gives you some advantages but it also means the sensor is actually not used the same way as you’re used to with a standard DSLR, meaning this COULD cause the problem, so in the last 5 minutes I deselected this option and much to my relieve everything worked fine…. the only problem… nothing interesting happened in the game anymore.
I decided to put my opinion online because in fact in the last 5 minutes of the game the A99 proved to be a rock solid camera for sports also. The image quality is amazing and the high dynamic range makes it the perfect camera for me. In this case there was a terrible lighting situation and I know for a fact that the 5DMKIII would have produced a lot less detail in the images simply put because there was a strong sun behind the players and I needed some Lightroom tweaking to get the images look the way you see on the blog, but…. having said that… the tweaking actually only was raising the shadow slider and lowering the highlight slider, it keeps giving goosebumps when I see how incredibly much detail the Sony sensor keeps in both the highlights and shadows.
Now is the Sony A99 is great sports camera?
Well that depends.
It’s not a secret that I love the camera A LOT for it’s image quality and handling, but there is one problem in my opinion with the Sony system at the moment. There are some good sports lenses but they are incredibly expensive, unless you don’t mind going for the amazing new 70-400 (which I will review soon and probably keep for myself) with it’s 4-5.6 aperture, or add a 1.4 convertor to the 70-200 f2.8 (making it an f4). Now if you’re a pro shooter you can probably overcome this problem and get one of the high-end lenses, but… when something breaks during a game you cannot “borrow” a lens very quickly because I’m afraid most of your colleagues will be using Nikon or Canon gear, also renting will probably be out of the question in most situations. The lens that I fell in love with on the Canon/Nikon/Sigma system and would give the “hobby” “semi-pro” sports shooter a great lens to play with (or keep as backup) is the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 which with it’s “low” price and amazing performance was (for me) the perfect sports lens, but as far as I know now there are no plans to release this lens on the Sony mount (which I think is a mistake, so come on Sigma).
Well for me the 70-400 will do just fine, and I will keep dreaming about the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 for Sony mount, and when I need that fast f2.8 I will use the 70-200 which is a fine lens of course. For hobby and semi-pro shooters I think the Sony A99 can keep up with the competition in sports, when you earn your money with sports only, you could benefit from the EVF (What You See Is What You Get), the speedy AF, the fast shutter and the amazing image quality (especially the dynamic range which will save several shots with dark players in white shirts I think) but you better be sure that you have backup gear, Sony has no pro-service at the moment, meaning if you break something it will probably not be replaced within a day like with Canon and Nikon, renting can be a problem and although the glass is probably amazing, the fast sports lenses are very pricy.
But when you do use the A99 for sports… well you will be amazed by the quality and the speed of the camera, I’m more than happy with my first outing and the A99 did not let me down…. I only let myself down by not reading the manual (the manual clearly states the problem with the electronic first curtain). I promise to update the review as soon as I find the time to visit another game with the correct settings 😀