The Odd Couple - Sony A6400 and 135mm GM

The Odd Couple - Sony A6400 and 135mm GM

I read somewhere that the new Sony FE 1.8/135mm GM lens is not just great for portraits, but also good for sports photography. I also read that the new Sony A6400 has ‘pretty much the same Autofocus as the A9, particularly eye AF.’ So I bought the pair and decided to try them out.

(Note: this is not a review of the A6400. It’s also not a review of the Sony FE 1.8/135. It’s a first impression of how these two pieces fit together.)

Firstly, placing a 135mm lens on a crop camera such as the A6400 is essentially the same as a 200mm f/1.8 on a full frame camera (read more about full frame vs crop, here). So that gives you a LOT of reach for things like sports and also for candid street photography, which is one of the reasons I went for this lens because I plan to use it for a project in Afghanistan later this summer.


Landscapes

This is one of my favorite shots - the Fauntleroy ferry pulling into Vashon Island on a clear day, with our favorite mountain on display. The focus was on the foreground at 1.8. I was impressed with the sharpness of the capture.

Landscapes? Sure. Hand-held, ISO 100, 1/4000 at 1.8,

Eye Tracking

This was totally unscientific but my only available model was Mochi. As she approached me, the lock stayed on her eyes. Or left eye, as it were.

Bokeh and DOF? Check.

Close Focus

The 135mm GM delightfully focuses down to 2 feet (0.7m) which, on the A6400, gives nice macro qualities. Notice also the creamy background. Click to pixel peep and you’ll see that horizontal “sharp” line representing the precise point of focus.

The lens has an aperture ring which is particularly helpful on the A6400 because it has only one control wheel. Note to self: When using the 135mm GM with the A6400, switch the control wheel setting to Exposure Compensation instead.

Close focus? Two feet.

Critical DOF

This next photo of Henny Penny is an example of how critical - or shallow - the depth of field is at f/1.8. Julio, our rooster, was just one foot behind her. He’s rarely further.

Critical DOF means, get the focus right.

Just for Fun

I put my Nikon 300mm f/4 PF on the camera and followed Julio around the school yard (ok, it’s a farm but hey). Shooting a rooster with an effective full-frame equivalent of 450mm hand-held will not give you a lot of keepers. Still, you only need one, right?

Henny Penny & Julio. f/2.2, 1.500 sec, ISO 200.

Low ISO

This is entirely unscientific, as is most of my work. But here’s a photo taken at ISO 6400, hand-held.

1/160 sec. f/3.2, ISO 6400, hand-held. Un-retouched.

Getting to the Game

I actually had to shoot a high school lacrosse playoff game in the early evening, and was curious to see how the Odd Couple would work together - especially in tandem with my normal ultralight setup: a Sony A7Riii paired with the Nikon 300mm f/4 PF. The addition of the Odd Couple would give me the flexibility an effective 200mm f/1.8 which I could pull out when the action drew close to me. Most of these photos are with the Odd Couple (A6400 with FE 135 GM) but I’ve dropped in one or two with the A7R3 + Nikon, for comparison.

I had about an hour to spend with the camera and lens taking photos of kittens and chickens before the game, so basically I was shooting ‘out of the the box’. I did make a few adjustments:

Sports Settings

This is pretty much de regeuer but for those interested, here are my action sports settings and they worked pretty well on the A6400:

  • Shooting Priority: Aperture

  • Focus Mode: AF-A

  • Focus Area: Tracking Flexible Spot M

  • Face/Eye Focus: On

  • ISO: Auto

  • ISO Minimum SS: 500

Handy Settings (Function button)

I like to keep these handy in the Function box, so I can make quick changes.

  • Silent Shooting Off/On

  • File Format

  • ISO Minimum SS

  • Drive Mode

Logistics

I usually run up and down the field, staying basically lateral to the action. With one light camera/lens combination, that’s easy. With two, it was a bit more complicated. I ended up with the main setup around my neck and dropped the Odd Couple into a comfortable sling bag that I could run with. By sliding it around to my front, I could grab the A6400 and be shooting with it in just a few seconds. Much easier, more fashionable, and less geeky than one of those holster setups. Overall about 2/3 of my photos were with the main setup and 1/3 with the Odd Couple.

Moving Focus

The lock-on AF worked great - sometimes. Where it failed was at the Draw, which is how they start the play after one team scores. Things move pretty quickly and it’s hard to follow the action. Luckily the 135mm GM has a dedicated focus hold button so I can toggle between AFC and AFS.

ON the field the camera also sometimes lost the subject it was meant to be tracking, which is okay because so did I, as other players are constantly moving into and out of the line of sight. I was looking for the setting that I have on my A7Riii that allows me select how long it keeps the focus tracking on a subject, but could not find it.

Glacier Peak High School. What a view.

Crop-able, but barely

The Higher resolution of my A7Riii with 43 megapixels has made me lazy: I can, and expect to, crop many of my photos in Lightroom. With the smaller resolution of the A6400 (“only” 24 megapixels), you pretty much have to nail the photo. Still, the 135mm GM lens is sharp enough that some cropping is possible. Click to compare.

Also in the “fun with Lightroom” category, you can get rid of ugly lighting towers in the background, but sometimes it creates a double mountain peak. Oh well.

A6400 with FE 135mm GM

A7Riii with Nikon 300 PF

In Summary

I bought the 135mm GM for my full frame camera but I bought the A6400 partly for the 135. I’ll be using the Odd Couple frequently both in sports and for travel landscapes.

Focus is very fast and the tracking is excellent as long as the subject is not blocked by others. I would probably shoot at 2.2-ish rather than down at 1.8, unless lower light required it.

Taken with Sony A7Riii and Batis 1.8/85