Shooting Serena and Sharapova at the Sony Open

Sony Open TennisLast week, I dropped by the Sony Open to photograph some tennis, catch up with a couple old friends and try out two of Sony’s new telephoto lenses: the Sony 500mm/F4 G and Sony 300mm/F2.8 G II. Since these two lenses together retail for a bit north of twenty grand, BIG thanks to Sony’s Kenta Honjo for lending me the lenses so I could put them through their paces.

I started out as a sports photographer before moving onto portrait photography, so it was fun to get back out on the court and photograph Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova who I’ve photographed since each were teenagers. It was also a lot of fun to try out this new Sony glass with my Sony a99.

Sony 500mm/F4 G is Sony’s new flagship telephoto tipping the scales a relatively light 7.63 lbs and a not so light $13,000. Like all Sony ‘G’ glass the lens is completely hand-assembled and if you want one tomorrow – you better find a dealer who has one in stock, because like a Bentley the take a couple months to build. Fortunately, like all the Sony gear listed here, it’s available for rental from BorrowLenses.com

Serena Williams Wins Sony Open Tennis 2013Maria Sharapova at Sony Open Tennis Maria Sharapova at Sony Open Tennis

Sony 300mm/F2.8 G II updates Sony previous version with faster focusing + better lens coatings and improved weather sealing around the focus ring and the front & back of the lens. Great balance so that even for a relatively big, fast lens, it’s comfortable to shoot.
Maria Sharapova at Sony Open Tennis

I’ve been shooting portraits with Sony’s a99 fullframe camera since December, but I discovered it’s a really nice camera for sports. Because of it’s fixed mirror the other photographers noticed about it is that a burst of the motor drive is about half as loud as the other cameras. It’s “sneaky quiet” according to one of them. On a sport like tennis, that allows you to shoot with less chance of disturbing the players as they’re serving – so I’ll take “sneaky quiet” any day.
Serena Williams at Sony Open Tennis 2013

The a99 is also much better at high ISO than it’s predecessor. At ISOs of 3200 and up, it reminds me a lot of the grain of color neg. Here’s Serena at 1/800 at 2.8 at ISO 3200 from her evening semi-final match under stadium lights.
Serena Williams at Sony Open Tennis 2013 Serena Williams at Sony Open Tennis 2013

Sony’s Compact fixed-lens fullframe compact RX1 is perfect whenever you want a really q-u-i-e-t camera – turn off the fake camera sound in the menu settings and the RX1 is virtually silent outdoors. It may seem an odd choice for sports photography, but a small lightweight camera with a wide-angle lens is actually really handy when shooting sports.
Sony Open Tennis

The latest Sony cameras include a picture effect setting called “Miniature” that allows you to select an area of sharp focus while the rest of the image is thrown out of focus much like the effect you get when tilting the lens on a view camera or tilt/shift lens. I like to call it the ‘Dave Burnett look.’
Sony Open Tennis

My thanks to Sony Mobile’s Giancarlo Bernini for the hospitality and for letting me test out one of the very sweeeet Sony Xperia Z phones with it’s HiRes 13mp camera and to Sony Artisans director Kayla Lindquist for somehow working out all the details from Mick Jagger’s private island…

PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR:

Sony a99 camera
Sony a77 camera
Sony 500mm/F4 G
Sony 300mm/F2.8 G II
Sony 70-200mm/F2.8 G
Sony CZ 24-70/2.8
Sony RX1 camera
Sony 32GB SDHC UHS-1 Memory Cards

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12 thoughts on “Shooting Serena and Sharapova at the Sony Open”

  1. Thanks for the nice write up. I have been shooting A99 since December for pro sports. I am also tempted by the 500mm or maybe one of the old Minolta 600mm.

    I shoot mainly soccer and Ice hockey. Any suggestions ? I own already the 70-200f2.8 and the 40-400g 4-5.6

    1. Thanks Klaus. For hockey the 300/2.8 is probably good, but for soccer, I suspect that something linger is better. In additions to Sony’s new 500/4, Minolta 600/4s do pop up on eBay quite a bit, plus there are always 3rd party lenses like Sigma. Most of the new Sigma glass is SLT compatible – but be careful about used as some of the older Sigma lenses have to be updated to conform with the Sony SLT bodies. I’m not certain, but I think Sigma is offering the update free or cheap – but with new lenses that should not be an issue

  2. Thanks Brian, Yes the 300 for hockey would be enough. for soccer it is on the short side. I would love to get the Sigma 120-300 f2.8.
    My reservations about the old Minolta or Sigma is that they would not support AF-D (I really love that mode)

  3. Very nice images Brian. I recently purchased the A99. I have shot with the A900 for a couple of years now and I have always loved it. Shooting Wildlife, the A99’s advances over the 900 are very helpful. Were you able to use the AF tracking? I have for a long time wanted that 300mm 2.8 and the 500 F4 is so out of reach right now I just have the 500mm Reflex F8. Thank you for sharing

    1. Thanks Mark, I was using the a900 before as well. This was my first time shooting action with the a99. Maybe it’s just me, but I found the AF more accurate by turning AF Tracking OFF. Maybe other have a different experience, but that’s how it was for me. The 500 Reflex will save you a lot of size and weight…and money…I’d guess that it’s smaller than the hood for the 500/4.

  4. Maria Sharapova is really fantastic player. She is great and I think that with her retirement the sports will only miss. Her star will shine more after her retirement.

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