Best approach to get sharp cycling shots with Sony NEX 7?

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OhPinchy
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Best approach to get sharp cycling shots with Sony NEX 7?
3 months ago

I have a Sony NEX 7 and love it, particularly with the Zeiss 24mm prime lens – the sharpness of many of my photos is great and leaves people pleasantly surprised at the results that can come from such a small package.

However, I also do plenty of cycling trips and end up being the group photographer, or loaning my camera to a support driver who then takes the shots. I’ve been pretty disappointed with many of the results, moreso when others are taking the photos, but even when it’s myself and I know how to use the camera, I’m still struggling. I know high-speed cycling shots will require top-end gear to get top notch results, but what I’m most interested in is getting good shots of cyclists on the way up mountains, so they’re not moving that fast.

What I’m aiming for is a shot that has nice sharpness on at least the riders face, ideally the rider & their bike would be quite sharp and then have good separation between the rider and the background. Background doesn’t need to be sharp, they’re generally stunning landscapes but doesn’t matter if the background is soft as long as the rider is sharp.

My gear list is in my signature. I started using the SEL55-210 and found it really poor, autofocus was slow enough to give me trouble and other users had low success with it. I then got an LA-EA4 adapter and went with the Sigma 70-300 with OSS. It’s a little better but for both these lenses, the F6.3 aperture at the long end is quite restrictive and limits ability to keep shutter speed fast to get sharp pics. Plus, I don’t really like the bokeh on either, it’s particularly non-buttery on the Sigma in my view. I have the SAL70-300 but plan to sell it as the lack of stabilisation with this camera makes it a non-runner for cycling.

So I’ve now started using mainly the Zeiss 24mm or the SEL50F18 for my cycling pics and the results are better but I still get many out of focus duds. These lenses limit the scenes I can take to fairly close up shots, but that’s ok as I can generally crop them to what I want, which is generally aiming to show a portrait of the rider plus give a feel for the background. Scenario is generally me uphill of the rider shooting across the road at them as they climb the mountain with the scenery in the background.

First question is, what aperture should I be aiming for to get rider’s face and ideally bike in focus?

I’ve generally been using F2.2 or thereabouts and when it works well on the face, it looks great, but depending on the angle, the front or back of the bike might be a little soft. Background is soft but not bokeh, it’s recognisable what it is, which is what I’m aiming for.

Next question, should I be using autofocus or manual focus for this scenario?

It’s quite hard to keep redoing manual focus in the couple of seconds I have for each rider, so when I try manual, I set it and then hold the shutter down for a few shots and hope I get a hit.

Last question is what’s the best technique & settings for maximising the percentage of shots that are in focus the way I want?

I’ve tried Continuous Shooting mode which seems to take several shots with the focus set based on the first shot. I have autofocus set to Spot mode but sometimes it picks up a foreground or background object, with the rider out of focus. But this combo does tend to at least deliver a few good hits amongst the duds. There’s another continuous shooting mode which I think tries to reset focus each time, but I haven’t really tried it or the object tracking mode as I’d read they were too slow to bother trying.

While I love the NEX 7, I’m conscious that I’ll probably end up upgrading to full-frame at some point but would hope to be able to reuse my lenses. If there’s another (not all that much bigger) Sony camera I’d get sharper cycling/sports results from with this collection of lenses, I’d be tempted to go for it now and then replace/add lenses from that camera’s format over time.

Thanks for any help you may be able to offer!

 OhPinchy's gear list:OhPinchy's gear list
Sony Alpha NEX-7 Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS Sony 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G SSM Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG OS Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA +4 more
Sony Alpha NEX-7
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