One of the world’s best sports photographers, Bob Martin, gives his thoughts on the new Sony FE 600mm f/4 and FE 135mm f/1.8 G Master lenses
From World Cups to World Championships, and even elephant polo matches, there are few sports on the planet that Bob Martin hasn’t photographed. In his long career as a sports photographer he has captured the world’s leading athletes competing at the pinnacle of their careers.
Having switched from using a DSLR back in 2017, Bob now relies on the Sony α9 and α9 II as his main cameras, and now enjoys pairing them with the FE 600mm f/4 GM and the 135mm f/1.8 GM lenses.
The FE 600mm f/4 G Master lens pairs perfectly with the Sony α9 series,” Bob enthuses. “It is both the sharpest and fastest focusing 600mm lens that I have ever used. Shooting at 20fps, the lens can keep up with the autofocus speed of the camera – it’s a sports photographer’s dream.
One thing that is often repeated by people unfamiliar with the Sony system is that there isn’t the lens line-up for professional photographers, but that simply isn’t the case.
Bob continues: “with the new FE 600mm f/4 G Master lens I can now shoot focal lengths from 12mm all the way to 600mm. And if I use the 1.4x or 2x teleconverters I can go to 840mm or 1200mm. With my old DSLR I never really used my teleconverter because it wasn’t able to match the lens and there was a drop off in quality. However, when you pair the Sony telephoto lenses with the 1.4x or 2x teleconverters both work fantastically together.”
Sony’s 400mm f/2.8 GM lens has been around for over a year, and has received excellent reviews from professionals and amateurs alike, so why the need for a 600mm f/4 lens ?
“A 600mm is a big event lens” Bob explains. “At huge sporting events in big stadiums you can get pushed further and further away from the action. You have to keep putting on longer and longer lenses, sometimes you’ll even need a 1.4x or 2x converter when shooting indoors, just to be closer than everyone else.”
Whilst image quality and autofocus speed may be the most important factors; the size, weight, and most importantly the balance, of a lens is critical for sports photographers.
“There is nothing worse than using a camera and lens on a monopod and having to fight it from leaning back or forth the whole time” Bob goes on to explain. “Thankfully the 600mm has a lot of the weight towards the back and middle, so it is perfectly balanced.”
Although the 600mm f/4 lens made a lot of headlines, the recent announcement of the FE 135mm f/1.8 lens has also made Bob a happy man. When most of us think of a 135mm f/1.8 lens we initially think of portrait images, but for a sports photographer it is an ideal focal length for sports where you are close to the action.
I will nearly always shoot with a lens wide open. It gives you that sliver of focus which makes your subject stand out. You could use a 70-200mm f/2.8, but you just don’t get that same sliver of a very shallow depth of field, like you do with 135mm f/1.8. All of these Sony G Master lenses are designed to be shot wide open, which is perfect as if I have an f/1.8 lens I want to shoot at f/1.8.
The coming year is a huge year for sport and with such a huge lens line-up Bob will have all he needs to accompany the blistering 20fps shooting rate and AF speed of the Sony α9 and α9 II.
“Both the Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 and the FE 600mm f/4 GM lenses have come along at just the right time,” Bob concludes. “Next year I will be in Tokyo for the biggest sporting event on the planet and the lenses will both be coming along with me. I can’t wait to see what images they help me get.”
"Sony α9 - silent, Eye AF and live viewfinder is a game changer for me!"