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A Look Back At A Year Of Sports Seen At 20 Frames Per Second

It’s December and it’s cold—11-degrees C below zero cold—and I’m sitting in the snow along the side of the FIS World Cup Alpine Skiing course in Lake Louise, Alberta, waiting for Lindsay Vonn to make her run. With over an hour until race time, I have some time to reflect on 2017. This is my 23rd assignment shot with Sony α9 cameras, and I’m still amazed at what this camera can do.

I’ve never wanted to be a brand switcher, but the α9 wasn't just a better camera, it was significantly better than any DSLR I’ve ever used.

I received an email in March of 2017, asking if I would come to Sony's U.S. Headquarters in San Diego to consult on a new project they were working on. I signed an NDA, and was briefed on the then-secret Sony α9. I’m no stranger to new photo technology or to mirrorless cameras and as the team walked me through the α9, I realized that the camera checked just about all the boxes for photojournalism and sports photography.

The α9 wasn’t a game changer, it was the next evolution in photography.

On that day in March I decided to switch to Sony cameras. It was a significant and emotional decision for me, and for the following weeks I had the opportunity to use the camera prior to its official launch so by its April launch date, I was ready to use it for my actual assignments. The first opportunity came at the Kentucky Derby, and it’s been non-stop action since then. I like to tell people I’m living life at 20fps and seeing the world of sports and photojournalism in a new way, making images I have rarely, if ever, seen before.

Louisville, Kentucky, USA - Thursday, May 4, 2017: The start of the Kentucky Derby at 20 fps. Full-res still photos shot with the Sony α9.
Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens. 1/250-sec., f/7.1, 1600 ISO. The opening concert of rock group U2's global The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada May 12, 2017.
Photo by Nick Didlick.

Now when I pick up a DSLR, it works and feels like old, tired technology. I felt the same way about film photography, when, in 1994, I switched to digital cameras. DSLRs will be around for a few more years to come, but like film, dial-up modems, and the SCSI computer interface, the α9 is a clear signal that the DSLR’s days are coming to an end.

Standing alongside the race course, waiting for Lindsay Vonn, I positioned myself in the same spot where I’ve been many times in years past. I was lucky to get one or two frames in sharp focus using my old DSLRs. I know the camera I’m carrying today will do better.

Sony α9. FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS with a FE 1.4x Teleconverter. 1/2000-sec., f/8, 1600 ISO. Lake Louise, Alberta. Lindsay Vonn stays focused as she flies through the air during the first Women's World Cup Downhill training run here in Lake Louise. Photo by Nick Didlick.

As I review the images of Vonn's run in the EVF counting the pictures that are in focus, I have to yell out at my other photo colleagues covering the race…."22 frames sharp!"

Highlights from my year with the Sony α9

Sony α9. FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens. 1/640-sec., f/5.6, 1600 ISO. Falkland, British Columbia, Canada - Saturday, May 20, 2017: A cowboy prepares his safety gear while a cross dangles on his rope-burned hand at the 99th Annual Falkland Stampede. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens. 1/4000-sec., f/3.2, 400 ISO. Falkland, British Columbia, Canada - Friday, April 21, 2017: A cowboy gets trampled by the bucking Bronco he was riding at the 99th Annual Falkland Stampede. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens. 1/1000-sec., f/5.6, 200 ISO. Erin Hills, Wisconsin – Wednesday, June 14, 2017 – Rickie Fowler hits his ball out of a sand trap during the 117th U.S. Open Golf Championship. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 24-70mm F2.8 G Master lens. 1/2500-sec., f/2.8, 3200 ISO. Las Vegas, Nevada – Friday, July 7, 2017: Tecia Torres keeps her eyes fixed on her opponent Juliana Lima during the UFC's The Ultimate Fighter Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens. 1/2000-sec., f/2.8, 3200 ISO. Las Vegas, Nevada – Friday, July 7, 2017: Tom Gallicchio (L) takes a punch during his TUF Welterweight Match from James Krause (R) at The Ultimate Fighter Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Nick Didlick.

London, England - Saturday, August 5, 2017: A pile of Sony gear on the finish line of the IAAF World Track and Field Championships. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens. 1/1600-sec., f/2.8, 1600 ISO. London, England - Sunday, August 6, 2017: Tori Bowie of the USA (C) show great form 10 meters out during the Women's 100 Meter Final which she won at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in London. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. 200-400mm f/4 lens with internal 1.4x Extender and E-mount lens adapter. 1/250-sec., f/5.6, 1600 ISO. London, England - Monday, August 7, 2017: Yohan Blake of Jamaica prepares for his 200m heat at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in London. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9 remote camera. FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens. 1/1250-sec., f/2.8, 2000 ISO. London, England - Saturday, August 12, 2017: Usain Bolt rolls in his lane after pulling muscle during the Men's 4x100 Meter Relay Final at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in London. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. Sony 500mm f/4 G lens (A Mount) with a LA-EA3 Adapter. 1/1000-sec., f/4, 3200 ISO. London, England - Saturday, August 12, 2017: Usain Bolt is comforted by his teammates after pulling a muscle during the Men's 4x100 Meter Relay Final at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships in London. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens with a FE 2.0x Teleconverter. 1/200-sec., f/11, 100 ISO. Woodburn, Oregon - Monday, August 21, 2017: The Total Solar Eclipse of the Sun. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens with a FE 2.0x Teleconverter. 1/200-sec., f/11, 100 ISO Woodburn, Oregon - Monday, August 21, 2017: A close-up showing a close-up of the Sun from behind the Moon ringed with Solar Flares. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. Sony 500mm f/4 G lens (A Mount) with a LA-EA3 Adapter. 1/500-sec., f/4.5, 3200 ISO. Flushing Meadows, New York – Tuesday, September 5, 2017: Venus Williams prepares to serve to Petra to Petra Kvitova at the U.S. Open in New York. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens. 1/12000-sec., f/2.8, 3200 ISO. Flushing Meadows, New York – Wednesday, September 6, 2017: Venus Williams dives to return a shot from Petra Kvitova at the U.S. Open in New York. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens. 1/2000-sec., f/2.8, 3200 ISO. Flushing Meadows, New York – Wednesday, September 6, 2017: Rafael Nadal reaches to return a shot from Andrey Rublev during their match at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. Sony 500mm f/4 G lens (A Mount) with a LA-EA3 Adapter. 1/1000-sec., f/4.5, 3200 ISO. Flushing Meadows, New York – Friday, September 8, 2017: Sloane Stephens of the USA screams as she beats Venus Williams to advance into the Women's Final of the 2017 U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. Sony 500mm f/4 G lens (A Mount) with a LA-EA3 Adapter. 1/640-sec., f/4, 1600 ISO. Flushing Meadows, New York – Saturday, September 9, 2017: Sloane Stephens holds up the Women's Singles U.S. Open Tennis Championship Trophy only to have the top fly off after she beat Madison Keys. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9, FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens. 1/2000-sec., f/2.8, 3200 ISO. Montreal, Quebec – Tuesday, October 3, 2017: Amy Tinkler of Great Britain surrounded by a cloud of chalk during the World Gymnastics Championships. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens. 1/12000-sec., f/2.8, 3200 ISO.Montreal, Quebec – Tuesday, October 3, 2017: Claudia Fragapane on the Balance Beam during the World Gymnastics Championships. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. Sony 500mm f/4 G lens (A Mount) with a LA-EA3 Adapter. 1/1250-sec., f/4, 3200 ISO. Montreal, Quebec – Friday, October 6, 2017: Mai Murakami of Japan is clearly focused on the bar during the World Gymnastics Championships in Montreal. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. Sony 300mm f2.8 G SSM II lens (A Mount) with a LA-EA3 Adapter. 1/2000-sec., f/2.8, 3200 ISO. Montreal, Quebec – Friday, October 8, 2017: Canada's Brooklyn Moors flies through the air during the World Gymnastics Championships in Montreal. Photo by Nick Didlick.

Sony α9. FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master OSS lens. 1/5000-sec., f/5.6, 800 ISO. Lake Louise, Alberta – Saturday, December 2, 2017: Lindsay Vonn looks up at the time clock during the 2nd Women's World Cup Downhill here in Lake Louise. Photo by Nick Didlick. 

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