How Do the Sony a9 and 400mm f/2.8 Fare Against Canon and Nikon at an NFL Game?

Now that Sony's 400mm f/2.8 lens is here, photographers are starting to pair it with the a9 and take it to professional sporting events. This great video shows how it fares at an NFL game.

Coming to you from Nick Page, this interesting review follows his experience with the Sony a9 and 400mm f/2.8 GM lens at an NFL game. Personally, I thought it was interesting that he saw other shooters with Sony setups at the game. Just a couple years ago, if you looked at the sidelines of any major sporting event, it was a sea of Canon and Nikon cameras and nothing else. When the a9 came out, I had a lot of reserved excitement — excited because I knew the camera was taking direct aim at the Canon 1D X Mark II and the Nikon D5, but reserved because I knew it needed sports lenses paired with it. So, when the Sony 400mm f/2.8 came along, this was the exact sort of review I was anxiously awaiting. The 400mm f/2.8 paired with 20 fps shooting with no viewfinder blackout (and even some occasional Eye AF usage) seems to be an awesome combination, particularly in an application where more fps gives you a better chance of getting the money shot. Check out the video above for Page's full thoughts. 

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Sony has some great features in the bodies and the new motor in the 400 2.8 sounds interesting, but the body size is just awful if you have big hands. If they could put all their tech into a 1dx2 size body it would be great.

The Meike grip solved the pinkie problem on both my a9 using 24-70/2.8 and 100-400.

It does take a little longer to change batteries as you need a coin to unscrew the grip but the added arca swiss plate on the grip definitely makes up for the slight inconvenience.

I LOVE the Arca plate on the grip as I often switch from video to stills for many assignments and being able to place and remove the a9 on a tripod quickly is HUGE! This is way cheaper than Sony Grip($51) and has more functionality.

I do miss the button on the Sony vertical grip but I mostly shoot horizontal.

My first point will be Pro Support.. As a Canon Professional Services (CPS) Platinum user, I have received outstanding support, from very good priced repairs in under 24 hours to borrowing kit at events. Problems will always happen
Secondly Mirrorless are battery eaters, coving festivals where there is a lot of all day shooting and limited and problematic power would do my head in. My 1D X's just keep going..

On a personal note, I hate the layout of the Sony's bodies.

Michael Aubrey's picture

On battery life, the new battery that the A9 uses is really good. Put two in a grip and you have a CIPA rating that's identical to a 1Dx mk2.

So there's that.

But yeah, the pro support is going to be an ongoing issue.

As Michael said, the battery life on the a9 is really a non issue, I average between 2k-3k shots per battery at most sporting events. Furthermore Sony now has "Sony Professional Support" - and as a matter of fact I am the NY area Sr Technical Specialist for it. I'd invite you, and any other pro shooter looking for more info to reach out and see what we have to offer.

David Pavlich's picture

The Sony body is a deal breaker for me. When Canon decided to keep their mirror less body more like their 5D series, I was quite pleased. I'm hoping that the pro bodied R carries on the robust tradition that the 5D and 1D series has established.

michaeljin's picture

Nobody wants a large camera body.... except for everyone that wants a large camera body.

David Pavlich's picture

Makes perfect sense since I'm one of those that likes a camera that feels substantial in hand and balances nicely with a large lens.

michaeljin's picture

Yeah... that's one of my peeves about my Sony. It's great for sticking a small lens on and walking around, but once you start attaching thicker and heavier lenses, the balance gets awkward really quickly. Coming from Nikon, I'm also used to a more substantial grip so it's been a rather rough adjustment period for my hands. :/

David Pavlich's picture

Knowing what I know now and were I starting over, I would most likely be shooting with a D850, the best FF camera on the market as things sit now. For a stills shooter like me, I can count the times I've used my camera(s) for video on one hand, I'm not sure where Nikon can go beyond the 850. Do we really need a more pixel dense sensor? Mine would certainly be grip equipped, so unless you're an avid sports/action shooter, is 9fps all you'll ever need? Terrific focus, a great lens lineup. Pretty compelling to me.

The only other direction I'd consider if I were leaving Canon would be medium format. I really like the form and function of Fuji's GFX50s. One of the most ergonomic grips I've seen. Good stuff!

Jamie Schneider's picture


David Pavlich's picture

Steelers tomorrow. Big test for the Saints' corners.

David Pavlich's picture

And, as good teams do, the Saints found a way to win! Who Dat!

A guy who normally shoots at 5fps and a 3rd party zoom is blown away. Right!

While the A9 will slowly find it's way into pro sports, aside from the 20 fps being a creative feature I don't see much else to switch from a 1DX or D5 body. People act like the viewfinder blackout is such a huge issue, it's not at 14fps while a bit annoying on a 5d4 at 7fps so get the right tool for the job.

Football can be tricky with AF, for example capturing a RB sitting in the endzone is much different than at the line of scrimmage. Tracking the QB and then panning to a WR downfield is very very hard and AF acquisition is critical but so many factors from background, AF points, focal length, stadium lighting, jersey colors that can all spoil the shot. The 1dx/1dx2 acquire AF very fast.

The shots you took do look good, the excellent stadium lighting helps tremendously with AF given the low ISO and high shutter speeds I saw.

Keith Meinhold's picture

Interesting that some really prefer a big heavy camera body and Nikon and Canon fulfill that need. Those that want smaller lighter bodies have to choose Sony. One would think it might be intentional. Perhaps building a camera just like my Canon or Nikon might no be a good business strategy.

Anybody shooting sports with a super-tele is using a mono-pod nearly all the time. IMO the argument with weight is more with the lens, not the bodies.

Rough math shows an A9 + grip & batteries is around 39oz vs a 1dx2 + battery at just under 54oz, I don't see that 15oz gap as a deal breaker.

Bryan Woolston's picture

I'm a Nikon shooter (full-time news and sports) making a slow move to Sony. I'm no fanboy, Sony has room to improve. But, the product is good, very good. The Sony A9 is Pro level, the lenses are razor sharp, the Pro support is robust and company is listening to the working humps and making needed adjustments. I'm not one to ramble on endlessly on these boards, but if you have questions, drop a line...