Sunday, 23 June 2019

Comparing the Sony A9 + 400mm f2.8 and the Fujifilm X-T3 + 200mm f2 + 1.4x converter at Le Mans


As a Fujifilm X Photographer working in the field of motor sport I am very proud to help Fujifilm develop new cameras and lenses that helps them produce high quality products.  Since my last blog nearly a year ago, Fujifilm has launched the XF200mm f2 with the matched 1.4x converter, which now gives the X Series a top class fast telephoto prime lens that can compete with the 'big boys' on a level playing field.

I tested the 200mm prior to it's launch and I was the first photographer in the UK to purchase this lens last autumn.  Over the past nine months I have used it extensively, usually on my X-T3, and I haven't once regretted putting my money where my mouth is; it is a superb piece of glass and the best Fujinon XF lens by far!

I am always interested in seeing what the other manufacturers are doing and last year Sony launched the FE 400mm f2.8 G Master lens, the lightest 400mm f2.8 on the market.  Because the Sony system is full frame, the XF200mm f2 fitted with the 1.4x converter, gives a field of view almost identical to the Sony lens (280mm f2.8 = 420mm f2.8 taking the crop factor into account)

At the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans Sony were in the media centre offering a service to the 500 photographers who cover the event.  I was invited to borrow a Sony A9 and 400mm f2.8 and a 1.4x converter, so I was eager to try the camera alongside my X-T3 combo to get a direct side by side comparison on Sunday morning about 18 hours into the 24 hour race.

I need to be clear about a few things before I go any further.

1. I only had a few hours with the Sony and any issues were more likely down to user error than with the camera system.  I didn't like the Sony menu system but that was more down to unfamiliarity with it more than anything.  I am sure with more time I would find my way around the menus effortlessly.  The Sony reps were very helpful and they advised me how to set up the camera before I went out with it.

2. Fujifilm is not better than Sony, Canon, Nikon etc.  Each photographer chooses a system for a myriad of reasons and those reasons might not work for me or the next photographer.  All camera systems on the market are quite capable of producing professional level images, we just choose a system that works best for the user, in the same way we all buy and drive different makes of cars.  Fujifilm just happens to work for me and I can make a living selling images produced with the X series.

3. The images below were taken from the RAW file and processed through Lightroom Classic CC in the same way, altering exposure, clarity and contrast.  Everything else was left unaltered.

Comparing the Sample Images
With that out of the way I can show you three images shot side by side at the final corner of the 13.6km La Sarthe circuit at Le Mans.  I have many more in my files from both cameras but these shots adequately demonstrate the points I wish to make.

The first image of the BMW M8 were shot using the Sony A9 with the 400mm f2.8 and the 1.4x converter, giving a focal length of 560mm f4.  The second shot was taken on the Fujifilm X-T3 with the 200mm f2 fitted with a 2x converter, giving a focal length of 400mm f4, which is the full frame equivalent of 600mm f4 when multiplied by the 1.5x crop factor of the X Trans sensor using in the X Series cameras.

The image size from the A9 is 6000 x 4000 (24mp) while the X-T3 is 6240 x 4160 (26mp).

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Sony A9 + 400mm f2.8 + 1.4x converter

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Fujifilm X-T3 + XF200mm f2 + 2x converter

There is hardly any difference between the two images of the BMW, though, if I was being hyper critical, there is a slight fall off in quality at the edges on the Fujifilm image due to the use of the unmatched 2x converter.

The images of the Kessel Racing and Spirit of Race Ferrari F488 GTEs below were shot on the A9 + 400mm f2.8 (no converter) [Top Image] and the Fujifilm X-T3 + 200mm f2 + 1.4x converter [Bottom Image].

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Sony A9 + 400mm f2.8

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Fujifilm X-T3 + XF200mm f2 + 1.4x converter
If I showed anyone these images and asked them to choose which camera took which shot, they would have a lot of difficulty, there is no real difference between the two shots.  In fact I prefer the Fujifilm shot as the 'Michelin' logo on the left hand side of the car is clearer in the Fujifilm shot.

What I am trying to demonstrate with this post is there are still a lot of people out there saying mirrorless cameras can't compete with Nikon and Canon for sports photography.  I have been showing for the past five years that the Fujifilm X Series is capable of shooting various sports and now, with the X-T3 and XF200mm f2, we have the next generation of fast mirrorless cameras.

At the same time Sony have been working extremely hard and have also produced a full frame mirrorless system that can also shoot fast action sports as good as the established DSLR systems on the market.  Canon and Nikon have recently entered the full frame mirrorless market to mixed reviews.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Sony A9 + 400mm f2.8 + 1.4x converter

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Fujifilm X-T3 + XF200mm f2 + 2x converter

Other comparisons between the A9 and XT3
Build quality - both are well built and I am confident that the A9 would stand up to the 'rough and tumble' of working as a sports photographer.  I have been using the X-T3 for over a year and I am 100% confident in its ability to stand up to anything I could throw at it.

AF Speed - both systems tracked a speeding car across the frame, coming towards the camera and going away from the camera without any issues.  Again the X-T3 AF is the best I have used on any camera.

Size of the Equipment
Full frame systems do have some advantages - shallower Depth of Field when shooting wide open with fast prime lenses close up and better control of noise at high ISOs are two obvious examples, but these advantages are not as big as some 'internet gurus' would have you believe!

However when I compared the A9 and 400mm f2.8 and the X-T3 and 200mm f2 there were some glaring advantages to the X Series.

While the A9 is only slightly bigger in size than the X-T3 (both with grips fitted), it is the size of the lens that is one area the XF 200mm wins, even when fitted with the 1.4 and 2x converters.  The Sony 400mm is a stunning lens and thanks to its unique internal construction, the lens is lighter than its rivals and very well balanced, making it a doddle to shoot handheld.  However physically it is a much bigger lens than the 200mm Fujinon.

Filters
The 400mm does have a 40.5mm slot in filter holder  at the back of the lens making the use of polarisers cheaper and a lot easier to use in the field. The Fujinon needs a 105mm 'dinner plate' on the front element, which is a real pain when working trackside and something that Fujifilm should really have thought more carefully about when they built the otherwise flawless 200mm f2.

Cost Comparison
The other advantages that the X Series has is 'bang-for-buck'.  As you can see there is hardly any difference between the two sets of images but the Sony A9 + battery grip + 400mm f2.8 + 1.4x converter comes out at £14,729 here in the UK.  You will find it cheaper than that online, but that is the RRP price on the Sony UK website.

The Fujifilm X-T3 + battery grip + 200mm f2 (inc 1.4x converter which comes bundled with the lens) + 2x converter is over £7000 cheaper at £7446 as listed on the Fujifilm UK website and this is before any of the regular cash back offers and discounts are applied.  In fact you can almost buy the Fujifilm system twice for the same price of the Sony.

Is the Sony twice as good as the Fujifilm?  I don't think the most rampant 'fanboy' could make that claim and as the shots above demonstrate; any differences are hardly noticeable and, arguably, in my opinion, the shot of the Ferrari taken on the X-T3 is slightly better.

Conclusion
The Sony full frame mirrorless system is superb and I am very grateful for Sony for giving me the opportunity to test the A9 and 400mm trackside at Le Mans during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  If I was new into the mirrorless market I would certainly have to consider the Sony A9 and the A7III, as they are fantastic image making machines with a great line up of fast zooms and primes, including the new 600mm f4, which Fujifilm don't currently have an equivalent (yet!).

However I can get the same quality with my X Series for less than half the price and, when you are a working photographer, the cost of equipment is a huge consideration, not only for the initial outlay but also for the cost of insurance each year.

My X Series camera bodies and lenses hold their own against any image taken on any other camera system and shooting with it has become second nature for me, like breathing or steering a car.  I don't think about it, I just do it.

So to all of those wannabe photographers who say mirrorless still can't shoot sport, think again as there are now plenty of options in the professional market.

Finally a little quiz, what camera was the shot of the LMGTE Am World Championship winning Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR at the top of the page taken on?  Answers in the comment below.

A gallery of images from the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans have been posted HERE on the MacLean Photographic website


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