Before today’s shoot…
The only sport that I shoot on a frequent basis is karate (at the dojo where I train) – usually belt tests (like today) and tournaments. I primarily use a Sony a9 and 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens. That combo really does everything that I need, and it does it spectacularly well.
Today’s experiment is to see what kind of results I can’t get with one of my favorite camera’s – the Panasonic S1R. Of course the Panasonic S1R wasn’t designed for sports, but with 6 FPS (during continuous autofocus), it should be capable enough. Also, with it’s dual card slots, I’ll be shooting RAW to the XQD and JPEGs to the UHS-II SD-Card. I’ve never shot with two card slots on the a9, since only one card slot is UHS-II. Although, now that I think about it, it might be a good idea to shoot RAWs to the UHS-II in the a9 and JPEGs to the regular SD card, but I digress… For focusing with the S1R, I’ll most likely use the face detection mode, but since there will be groups of people, I’ll also use the selective tracking mode.
Going into it, I plan on using settings that I normally use with the a9. 1/500 of a second, f/2.8, and ISO 3200. Also, I’ll be using at least three custom white balances – one for each side of the dojo, and one more for the final portraits. For JPEGs, I’ll most likely be using the Natural preset with the saturation bumped up slightly.
How did it really go (before looking at the images)?
First off, I’d say quite well!
I actually opted for auto white balance for all the action shots, and only manual white balance for the final portraits with the instructors. There’s no way I could ever rely on the a9’s auto white balance – it’s horrendous!
Battery life was great! I shot over a thousand images on one battery.
Regarding picture profiles, I used the Neutral setting without tweaks and it looked just fine.
The memory buffer fills quite fast, and I missed a few shots because of it.
Face detection works moderately well, but defaulted to the body of the person quite often – although it worked good for portraits with one caveat. I had to tap on the subject’s face as it didn’t always start where I wanted (i.e. wrong person).
For action shots like sparring, I used the various groups of points, and that seemed to work much better than either tracking, or face detection.
The tilting vertical mechanism of the screen is very helpful! I wish more camera companies implemented this feature!
One thing that surprised me, is that while I normally shoot at ISO 3200 on the a9, on the S1R with a similar lens and f-stop, I had to shoot around ISO 5000 the majority of the time. I’m not sure if this is the way the sensor is designed, or that the Panasonic 24-70mm f/2.8 doesn’t let in as much light as the Sony GM version does.
I do think while I got some great keepers and the image quality will be noticeably better than the a9, the focus won’t be nearly as precise (face/eyes mainly on the a9). Also, I know I missed some shots where the a9 would have got them (board breaks and pivotal action moments).
The results and final thoughts.
The results are quite nice! I love the fact that the white balance was spot on the majority of the time! Why, oh why can’t the engineers at Sony figure out a way to fix that on the a9 and a7R III?!?! By default, there’s quite a bit of noise reduction applied to the JPEGs, but it works just fine. The RAW photos of course have more detail, and I used Capture One on four RAW photos (the group shots), but the JPEGs are nice enough to deliver right out of camera with good detail and acceptable colors. Although, I think the a9 delivers better results out of camera. Sharper and more detail – probably a combination of better focus and better noise performance.
Would I recommend it for sports? Nope, not at all. Portraits, landscapes, casual shooting – sure. To really get the best out of this camera, you need to shoot at lower ISOs for JPEGs, and if you want great results (like all other cameras), you need to shoot and process RAW. As much as I love the colors and ergonomics of the camera, it’s not designed for sports. The a9 is still the king of that.
Here are the images – straight out of camera, except the large group photos at the end, and the final photo of the three instructors.