IN HAWAII! The Sony A9, A6500, 18-135, RX0 and a Ballistic Missile!

IN HAWAII! The Sony A9, A6500, 18-135, RX0 and a Ballistic Missile!

By Steve Huff

It’s not every day, or even every year or even every ten years that I get asked to go to Hawaii for business. Actually, it’s probably a once in a lifetime thing for me, so when Sony asked a handful of journalists to head to Hawaii to shoot the A9, A6500 and RX0 I could not resist.

Sony wanted some of us to use the gear and give them useful feedback for future improvements in future camera models as well as to use and test the latest lens, the 18-135 and the A9 firmware V2. So away I went, bags packed and headed for Hawaii. I had to pinch myself because I have never been to Hawaii, and to get to go there to do what I love to do, well, once again I felt blessed.

While we were shooting cameras that have been out for a little while now, we were also the first few in the world to use the new 18-135mm lens, for E mount. This is an APS-C lens that comes in at $599 and would make a GREAT kit lens for the A6500. The size, feel and operation is just about perfect for that camera, and while not a fancy exotic lens, it is small, light and delivers performance more than good enough for the hobbyist, traveler or snap shooter.

As I arrived into Honolulu on a Wednesday afternoon, I had the day to myself. I walked around, checked out my surroundings and enjoyed the beach for a bit. The next morning I met up with Sony and the other writers whom I know very well as I have been meeting up with most of them for many years now, testing cameras while on media trips.

Day one was going to be interesting as it was the 20th anniversary of the Sony Open, and we were going to be able to photograph some of it using the A9 already loaded with the latest firmware . We were all given A9’s along with the 100-400 lens (I also borrowed a 24-70 GM) so we could test the new firmware for the A9 that was just released. The main improvements that I were interested in was the improved focus tracking, and honestly, I am not sure what there was to improve as it was amazing as is… but Sony pushed for more I guess, wanting to push the A9 even further with improved tracking. They also added some features that pros have been wanting and asking for.

SONY PRO SUPPORT

Sony recently ramped up their PRO Support and have been doing an amazing job with it. While they are not to the level of say Nikon, they plan to get there, and soon. Currently if you are registered with Sony Pro Support you have options. They now have walk in centers in Los Angeles and New York and if you have to mail in your camera the turn around is just over two days (2.6 to be exact) average to get your camera back. There are many perks, but you can see info here if you are a pro Sony shooter. 

So pros are now using Sony? Yep, in fact we are starting to see more and more A9’s in professional environments for sports, and even the White House. It seems that word is spreading about the A9 and it’s capabilities. No blackout shutter, 20 FPS, amazing “stick like glue” AF Tracking, great DR and IQ and a crystal clear EVF (See my A9 Review HERE). This camera is truly a sports shooters dream, but IMO, it’s a great camera for anything. Even so, since the A7rIII release, that is the model I would recommend today for anyone who does not shoot sports.

When I think about it, and think back to the days of the very first NEX camera…Sony has come a LONG way and FAST. They have gobs of lenses now and the performance they have reached with their recent lineup is astonishing. That’s not hype, it’s reality. Sony cameras perform my friends. They may not be the best looking camera, or have the sleekest menu system but they do perform and get the job done.

So with Sony Pro Support in full swing and improving constantly, and with the A9 showing up in the hands of many sports pros I feel their excitement when they speak of the future for their digital imaging division.

In any case, it was GOLF day and away I went with the A9 lost like a little kid in a mall who walked away from his Mom. I never ever watch golf. I do not play golf. I really, to be honest, have never ever been into golf. So shooting golf, well, I knew my shots would be average at best. Even so, I did not care about the artistry or getting the perfect image, I just wanted to see how the tracking worked and how hard it was to shoot golf as I am always up for a challenge! Lol.

While golfers stand still it doesn’t seem that there really is so much to track but even so when I did use tracking it did indeed stick to the players like glue. Activating eye tracking was amazing as it would lock onto a players eyeball and just sick. Assuring focus on the face, if I wanted it, at all times.

BTW, I shot in JPEG only here..so these are all JPEG!

A few with the A9 and 100-400 GM – You must click on the image to see a larger and better version!

Shooting Golf was fun but challenging for sure. I tried to find different shots, like some of the crowd or some scenic shots as well..

As always the A9 was rock solid and if I were a more capable Golf shooter I would have been able to get better shots as the camera in this situations was much better than myself! We did get to meet with some experienced golf shooters (PGA and Olympic shooters) who showed us the ropes, and helped us out a bit with a crash course in Golf photography. They all have switched to the A9 and were already pretty experienced with the camera in these situations. Overall if I were a pro Golf shooter? I would use the A9 without question and the reason why is simple. THE SILENT SHUTTER. In the past, shooters had to wait until the club made contact with the ball to fire a shutter due to the noise associated with mechanical shutters (like those of a DSLR). With the Sony A9 one can start shooting at 20FPS as the golfer starts his swing, or anytime, as no one will hear a peep. THIS OPENS UP SO MUCH to the Golf shooter. As one pro said, that alone is bigger than even going from film to digital. Imaging how much harder it would be to get “the shot” while having to wait until AFTER the swing compared to being able to fire away anytime you like. With the no blackout EVF, you never miss a thing. Pretty amazing really. The A9 and Golf go together VERY well.

TIME TO SHOOT SOME STREET WITH THE A6500 AND NEW 18-135 LENS

After a few hours out in the sun shooting golf it was time to head in and get ready for the next day which would involve shooting street in Chinatown with the A6500 and new 18-135 Lens. I never officially reviewed the A6500, and I am not sure why as when I used it over these past couple of days I was thinking “Wow, this is a solid, fast, and pretty slick camera” and while it has some weaknesses like the 1/4000s max shutter speed, the camera is small, feels like a solid build, is sleek, and is. fast. With the 18-135 lens on, it felt like a perfect combo, and almost like a PERFECT match. Bringing in around a 28-200 equivalent FOV, this lens gives reach and versatility for $599.

But usually these kind of lenses are “OK” in real word use with some softness and distortions. I will say up front that this lens has distortions…if you shoot RAW and do not apply corrections, you will get some barrel distortion that is pretty severe. But shoot JPEG and the camera fixes these distortions perfectly. Add the profile to the RAW file and it will also fit it, so these days, it is perfectly OK for a lower cost lens to do this as MANY do in camera corrections. Especially at this price point and with this kind or zoom range.

Video below featuring the 18-135 Shots!

Specs of the new 18-135…

  • E-Mount Lens/APS-C Format
  • Aperture Range: f/3.5 to f/36
  • 27-202.5mm (35mm Equivalent)
  • Maximum Aperture Range: f/3.5-5.6
  • Two ED Elements & One Aspherical Element
  • Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization
  • Linear AF Motor
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 1.5′
  • Seven-Blade Circular Diaphragm

With that out-of-the-way, the lens has fantastic color, contrast and is pretty sharp. In fact, it’s a great lens for $599 and if I owned an A6500 I would be tempted to pair it with this lens, especially after seeing the shots I managed to snap with it. Also, this lens has built-in optical image stabilization, which when combined with the internal 5 Axis IS of the A6500 creates an even better handheld experience.

All shots with the A6500 and new 18-135 OSS Lens – You Must click them for larger and crisper versions!

Walking the streets of Chinatown in Hawaii was awesome. Sights, Sounds, Colors and smells were abound and it was fantastic. I have not shot street in YEARS but I was enjoying it for sure!

The A6500 with the 18-135 was quick, snappy, and fun. Very fun. Having such a zoom range on the street is very useful actually. Imagine 28-200, with a nice snappy and contrasty performance. Files look great in color or B&W and the combo is very quick to work with, as in, responsive. I felt that this lens, at $599 was a great buy/investment for any A6000 series owner. It is scheduled to ship mid February 2018. You can pre order it at B&H Photo HERE for $599.

After we shot some on the street it was time for lunch and I remembered I had the little RX0 on me. You know, the Sony that looks like it wanted to take on the GoPro line? Well, after using the RX0 I came to appreciate it for what it is, and while it has a few things I feel should be improved upon as is, the camera is really very cool, and VERY fun. I wrote a piece on it HERE over the weekend.

There are many uses for the RX0. Hollywood has even used it in a new film for chase scenes, and some video pros are using the RX0 in ways that a GoPro can not even begin to think about trying. Remember the movie the Matrix? Get a few RX0’s and control boxes and you can shoot yourself in bullet time. NO idea how they do that but it’s cool as heck to see.

See the video below from Sony to see what the RX0 can do in capable hands who know how to REALLY dig in and use it.

MY USE WITH THE RX0

For me, I wanted to see how the RX0 would work as a walk around camera for mainly video, and maybe a few photos as well. It houses the same sensor as the RX100 MKIV but it is “cropped” to 15MP as only the center of the sensor is used, so technically…it’s not really using all of that 1” sensor. Hmmm.

Even so, the build on the RX0 is ASTOUNDING. It feels like a solid block of metal, and is constructed very nicely. Smaller than any GoPro that ever existed, and built better the RX0 is a hybrid camera that can shoot video, 1080 at 60 FPS and if you want to use an external recorder, even 4K. While I feel it should have 4K built in (RX0 II maybe?) I personally never shoot 4K but I know many who do, and want it so probably should be there.

I LOVED using the RX0 but the LCD screen is tiny, hence making the RX100 style menus impossible for me to read. See, when you get into your 40’s (I am now 48) your close up vision starts to go. The menus are so small on such a small screen, it was next to impossible for me to see anything without using reader glasses (of which I did not have with me). The good news is that for my use, I did not need to dig in the menus as I just wanted to shoot some 1080 HD video, and maybe snap a picture or two.

The RX0 has a Zeiss lens with an equivalent FOV of 24mm. I wish the lens was more like an 18 or 20mm as 24 was just a little tight for Vlogging, of which Sony may not have even thought about for this camera but I think many who shoot on YouTube (of which there are a gazillion) were hoping it would be a fantastic blogging solution. Small, take anywhere, great video quality, superb built in ic (unlike the GoPro) and bulletproof construction that is shockproof, waterproof and crushproof.

The RX0 to me was a hit and a little miss. I found the low light performance decent, the built in mic to be robust and full sounding (best in class for sure) and the form factor fantastic. I kept it on my belt buckle via a hook screwed into the tripod mount and had it with me at all times, ready to shoot. Power up is fast and it is ready to shoot probably quicker than I was.

What I would love to see in a RX0 II is a wider lens that is also faster, maybe even f/2.8 if f/2 is not possible in that size or form. Id love to see an all new MENU for the RX0 that is simple, easy to navigate and easier to read. Id love to see two buttons on top, one for photo and one for video because as is, you have to press a menu button, go in and switch to photo if you want to take a photo. THAT was a problem for me, so I rarely used it for photos.

The battery life was fantastic, giving me a full day and still had half of my battery left but I am a slow paced shooter, for you a spare battery or three may be useful.

Could this be used as a vlog camera? Sure, but for that I would recommend waiting for a VII. For pro use, and studio use and the uses Sony intended it for then it is great as is really. It can deliver astounding results with IQ, and even has slow motion features like the RX100 series does. If you missed my little fun vlog test with the camera, as well as the water dunk test, see that below…

 

BTW, the RX0 also has a mic input if you want to add a mic, UNLIKE the RX100! IMO, he camera did well for Vlogging and due to the size and convenience, I have some interest in it myself as a 2nd camera to my Canon M6 and 11-22 that I am also testing for Vlog use. Smaller is good when it comes to these kind of “on the go” things.

In any case, I had a blast for three days in Hawaii with Sony, camera friends and getting to do what I love.

No tripod, so I set the A6500 and 18-135 on my bag and set it for 10 seconds at ISO 100. Caught some blur in the buildings but nice color and pop here!

A WRAP UP

The A9 is stellar, as I have said in my review that you can see HERE.

The A6500 impressed me with its size, sleekness and feel. The new 18-135, while no G Master, it was not designed to be one. Instead it was designed to be a vacation/travel/every day kind of lens for the amateur or hobbyist. AF is quick with the lens BTW, even for video. It offers a nice punchy look to video as well.

You can pre order the 18-135 HERE and check out more on the A6500 HERE.

The RX0 is the one thing that has stayed on my mind since I left Hawaii. As I sit and write this on an airplane headed back home to Phoenix AZ I am 50/50 on buying one for that 2nd camera for video use. I can have all kinds of fun with this thing…and having busted a couple of GoPros last year, losing $700 in the process, it may even save me some money as these would be VERY hard to break. The RX0 is TOUGH.

If you want to see more on the RX0 or order it, it comes in at $699 and you can do so HERE.

Thanks for reading about my Hawaii trip and shooting these cameras and lenses. Had a GREAT time and even though I woke up on my last day to an ALERT on my phone saying a ballistic missile was on the way to Hawaii and to seek a bomb shelter, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Thank God that bomb scare was a mistake but even so, at the time, I thought I was a goner. When reality hits you like that, it can really effect you. Imagine waking up to your phone buzzing with an OFFICIAL ALERT saying a Nuclear bomb is headed your way, and you have 15 minutes to find shelter.

Crazy, but all part of the adventure I guess. I can laugh about it now of course. Until next time my friends, keep shooting!

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12 Comments

  1. Oh my, what a frightening experience it must have been to get an alert message like that.
    Even here in Europe it gave me the shivers because we all know what the consequences might have been.
    There are just too many buttons to push in this world and I wish they were all Sony buttons to play with.
    But anyway tnx. for the review and information, the pics from that new Sony 18-135 lens look very good to me.
    Would have been nice to have made it a full frame lens, I would have used it on the A6300 anyway.
    I am still hoping that Sony would consider a full frame more or less budget line and as far as I am concerned they could use the first A7/A7R body for that with only a few minor upgrades like a stronger mount.
    But the form factor of the first generation, for me and for many others I hear it from, is still the best one ever, small and lightweight, just like the whole system was ment to be in the first place.
    I am very glad for Sony that they are getting a position in the pro world but for me, and for many others I suppose, will not lightly spent 3500 USD or more on a camera body that is growing to fat for me anyway.
    So I will keep on using my A7R original, which is still a very good camera, till the right new one for me comes along.
    I use it mainly with the lightweight lenses like the 35 mm 2.8 and the 28 mm 2.0 and some Leica glass and I have no interest in the big and heavy G-master lenses at all, no matter how good they are, I just like to keep the system lightweight and compact.

    And finally, what ever happened to the new Wotancraft bag you mentioned the other day? I will be happy to hear more about it.

    Well keep up the good work and best regards, John

    • Honestly it was tough to tell with Golf. I would have had to try it with something moving faster ; ) But it stuck like glue to whatever I tracked. The A9 was already a phenomenal tracker, so if it is even 1% better it’s quite phenomenal IMO.

  2. Hi, I shot the local golf team all fall with the A9 and 100-400 . The silent shutter, no blackout and 20 fps was unbealievably fun to use.
    Thanks sony.!

  3. As a working professional, the A9 with the newly acquired 24 to 105 lens is a super combination for my events with lower light, various angles and subject movement….
    My main concern with photo equipment has often been directed to post production.
    Most cameras make good images with proper use, but in the darkroom (lightroom) any time spent there is difficult to rationalize to customers ($$)…. so the less time needed to clean up the final presentation of an image, the more time to do photo things instead of post production things. The A9 is producing the cleanest images under these circumstances that I have experienced with a minimum of adjustments. The face-focus is extremely accurate and lightning fast and stays with the subject. Where there may be several faces in a scene, the ‘hold’ button on the 24 – 105 lens is the perfect solution, locking in just the right person and avoiding others. It is much easier to have the button on the lens rather than combined with the camera shutter release. Color balance and dynamic range allow shots with excellent tonality and accurate rendering.

  4. Steve, I think I speak for all of us when I say I’m very glad you didn’t perish in a mushroom cloud along with the rest of the island. Thank you for all of your great reviews!

  5. I wondered at the time why you didn’t do an official review of the A6500. So now I wait for some comparisons of the 18-105 and 18 – 135 at 18 🙂 I wonder if it’s faster to focus as well?

  6. Thanks again for your fantastic review, and happy that you’re okay. I was thinking about you when I heard about the alert. When you read about it in the news it’s so hard to imagine how terrifying it must have been! Keep on the good work!

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