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Alpha 1: The No Blackout, High-Speed, High-Resolution Grand Prize

Mirrorless technology changed the game for sports and photojournalism by giving pro photographers a true WYSIWYG experience as they were shooting. As the technology advanced, we’ve seen mirrorless cameras that can shoot at fast frame rates without any blackout in the viewfinder. Instead of trying to anticipate the action and not being sure if they got it because of blackout at the time of capture, elite photographers could literally follow the action in the viewfinder as they captured images. The Sony Alpha 1 takes that capability to the next level. The camera can shoot at 30 frames per second with no viewfinder blackout at 50 megapixels. 

Those specs are certainly impressive, but to get a sense of just how big a deal that is, we got some perspective from photographers who earn a living by their ability to get the shot. 

Photographers who earn a living by their ability to get 'the shot' share perspectives on some of the tech in the new Sony Alpha 1 and how it applies to their work.

“If you are able to track any subject as you pan without losing sight of it as you record each frame, you can shoot tighter and take greater risks with the end result of your images,” explains veteran sports photojournalist Patrick Murphy-Racey. “The Alpha 1 will find its way into extreme specialty sports like downhill skiing, speed skating, horse racing, and Moto-GP. It will also be an easy choice for F1 around the world too. Many other sports will benefit from being able to shoot tighter than ever before on a moving target and, with the tracking feature in the camera, even when you are in super tight on the athletes, you will still get face and eye recognition at breakneck speeds.” 

For perspective on how all of this breaks down in a real world situation, Murphy-Racey describes a car race that he shot some years ago. “I was photographing a NASCAR race back in 2014 and I literally could not keep the cars in the frame where I wanted them. One frame was too far left and so I’d correct. The next frame cropped the front of the car off and was deleted. I quickly realized that when I was kneeling behind a concrete wall with cars going by at 130 MPH just four feet away from me, I had to zoom back out and shoot looser to get the image I wanted. When the α9 debuted, I was able to shoot tighter than with the previous generation EVF’s. When I have the Alpha 1, it’s going to be a gas to head to the track this spring and see just how tight I can get!”

Paul Gero is a multi-faceted professional photographer who has shot everything from spot news and features to sports, weddings and portraiture. He describes why he wants to have the advantages of the system like that in the Alpha 1. “Shooting with sports is possible with a lot of cameras, but it’s usually a bit compromised. I can’t use silent shutter to shoot action with many of my cameras simply because the distortion is too apparent. So with my cameras I usually shoot with the camera on manual shutter. While it works okay, it’s not quite the same as being able to use electronic shutter and no blackout. Once you experience the joy of shooting at high speed without viewfinder blackout, it’s tough to go back to any other way of working. With the Alpha 1, shooting at 50 megapixel resolution, 30 frames per second and no blackout almost isn’t even fair. Though I will certainly take EVERY advantage that I can when it comes to my work!” 

It’s fashionable to describe baseball as the slowest major sport in the world that isn’t called Cricket. From her regular spot in the photographers well next to the dugout at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium, pro sports photographer Jean Fruth has a decidedly different perspective. Baseball is stretches of slow-paced strategy punctuated by frantically fast action and it’s in those miliseconds where Fruth’s images stand out. “Blackout-free, ultra-high-res, high-speed shooting is essential for my work,” she says. “As a sports photographer I am expected to document the important plays of a game, capturing the athlete at his or her peak moment and telling the story of that play."

She continues, “A few years ago, I was shooting a major league baseball playoff game and the game ended with a very important play at the plate, followed by incredible reaction from players on the field and then celebration. Continuous shooting was key. After shooting the action with my previous camera system, my camera was buffering and I was unable to shoot. It was the worst feeling I have ever had in my professional career while on an assignment. Having blackout-free, high-speed shooting allows me to spend time on framing and composing knowing the camera is doing its job. Being able to do it with ultra-high-resolution at the same time allows me to shoot anywhere on a field from my position, knowing I can crop in and still have good sized files for any usage.” 

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