We’ve all heard the saying “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
Sports photographer and Nikon Ambassador Andrew Hancock turns it around: The camera he has with him is the best camera; that’s why it’s with him.
The camera is the Z 9, and Andy says it’s “absolutely the best camera I’ve ever held in my hands.” Then he adds, “I ordered six of them.” (Right, six. If you’re not familiar with Andy’s work, he does a fair amount of remote-camera shooting.)
So what makes the Z 9 the best he’s ever worked with? That question can be answered by three photographs.
1. Levels of Difficulty. The first photo is the one Andy calls “the dribble with all the haze.” He’d scouted the location and knew what the light was going to do, and with the basic idea for the photo in mind, decided to add some smoke-machine atmosphere and drama. “It’s a pretty frame, and one I like a lot,” he says of the result, “but what most people aren’t going to know is that from a technology standpoint, it blew me away because it was shot with the 50mm f/1.2 Z lens, wide open, so the margin of error is very slim, and he’s in motion, so you have various levels of difficulty. He started off back at the windows, in full silhouette, with 3D focus tracking locked on his face. I had a mark on the floor, and I’d told him, ‘I want you to dribble up, and when you hit that mark you can go left, you can go right, I don’t care, and you don’t have to tell me. I just want you to give me an abrupt change of direction.’ So he comes up and the camera stays focused on his face, but as soon as he comes closer, to where the fill light is, it goes to his eye, and when he suddenly changes direction it follows him and keeps the focus. Pretty amazing.”
2. Remote Possibilities. The overhead remote shot with the two players is a pre-focus situation. “I set the camera for wide-area AF small, with face detection. I didn’t leave the focus box in the middle of the frame, because if I did, it’s naturally going to focus on the rim, but with wide-area AF small, the box was small enough that I could place it just above the rim. I started remote shooting out of frame, and as the ball handler dribbled into the frame, the focus immediately locked onto his face—and I saw that because for this shoot I had a live view feeding to a recorder. Then, as he got closer, the focus locks right onto his eye and even with the hand in front of his face, it’s still on his eye, and I’m like, I’ve never seen that before!”
3. Point and Shoot. For a series of underwater images, Andy put the Z 9 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 Z lens in a housing he normally uses for his Z 6 or Z 7, which presented a problem. “The LCD screen didn’t line up with the housing port,” he says, “so I wouldn’t be able to view the screen. But my whole thing was, Keep the camera safe in a watertight case, and I’ll find some way to work with it in the water.” On location, though, there were other problems: the pool was in bright sunlight, which made for glare and distortion in the water, and the goggles Andy brought made things even worse. “When I was packing, I grabbed the wrong pair from the pool box: not my daughter’s, which were clear, but mine, which were tinted. So between not having the port line up with the LCD, and it being super bright under there, and me being in dark, tinted goggles, I was essentially going to be shooting blind. So I set the camera for auto-area AF with face detection and just pointed it in the direction of the swimmer and tried to keep the horizon level. And the Z 9 just nailed it. That was astonishing—I could not see and was still able to make pictures by letting the camera do its thing.”
Combine shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 second with the ability to do 20, 30 or 120 fps—for a sports photographer, that’s just phenomenal.
The Rest of the Story
Andy’s confidence in the camera’s capabilities extends beyond the images it will produce. “It’s going to allow me to consider doing things in ways I haven’t done before,” he says. “This camera is going to be a monumental move forward for me: AF at a D6-level or higher. Instantaneous reaction, no delay, no lag, just pull it up to your eye and go to work. The electronic shutter—no blackout. Shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 second—that means the ball on the bat, the ball coming off the bat. That speed is huge for pretty much anything in sports. Combine that with the ability to do 20, 30 or 120 fps—for a sports photographer, that’s just phenomenal.”
Then, because of the role of today’s sports shooter, he adds communication and connectivity to the list. “There’s the ease of getting photos from the camera to my phone, or to an ftp site—simply, the ease and speed of getting images from capture to client. It’ll allowed me to do that in a faster and more efficient way.”
Andy tends to push a camera as far as he can, but he says that with the Z 9 “it’s a situation where a camera can challenge me to operate in different ways, and it will open up new layers of thought and creativity. This camera becomes truly an extension of your eye, practically an extension of your perception.”
So what’s in your camera bag?
Andrew Hancock is an Indiana based photographer working for a diverse base of editorial and advertising clients both in the United States and abroad. He is a contributing photographer to Sports Illustrated magazine and his photos have appeared throughout the entire SI portfolio as well as in other premier magazines and websites. Visit his website www.andrewhancock.com and check out his ambassador page.More articles by this contributor