The problem with Tony and Chelsea’s sports test

I saw a video by Tony and Chelsea entitled “What’s the best mirrorless camera for shooting sports”. I guess what annoyed me about the video is that it seemed like the usual bloggers excuse to get as many mirrorless cameras into a single video, with links of course to purchase them via an affiliate link.

Commercial interests aside, what also concerned me about the article was the value of one piece of functionality over another. There are four things that typically differentiate a camera for sports: autofocus, high ISO capability frame rate and buffer. It’s not to say they are the most important for everyone, but every sports camera has had these over other non-sports orientated models.

So let’s address some of the concerns with Tony and Chelsea’s review:

Problem 1 – Why is the A7riii ranked higher than the A7iii?

This is the first problem I see with the shootout. Given the two have the same frame rate with liveview, there are two key areas why the A7iii should outrank the A7riii, low light, autofocus and buffer. So lets run through them:

  1. The A7iii has a far better AF system with wider coverage giving it a substantial advantage in the sports realm. That is one of the most important aspects because shots in focus matter.
  2. The second issue is low light. Sports requires keeping the shutter speed up, and as a result, pushing the ISO higher to maintain the shutter speed, particularly indoors. The A7iii has better low light.
  3. The final item is buffer, so whilst both have good buffers, the A7iii outranks the A7riii on the buffer front and if you are shooting lengthy sequences one after the other, buffers can fill quickly.

Why any level of preference is given to crop is an absolute mystery to me. I don’t know of any sports shooter to date who ranks “cropping” high on the abilities of his/her sports camera.

Problem 2 – Why is the X-T3 ranked higher than the A7iii

My first issue with the ranking is that it becomes clear that the way the cameras were tested were different. If you are planning to test the sports capability of each camera, I would expect them to be tested in the same environment but the video samples of each test scenario seem to indicate otherwise.

For example, the footage shown of the X-T3 seems to indicate that the skateboarding was the testing method, whilst the video footage of the A7iii seems to indicate the testing method was a football game and indoor boxing, two complete different scenarios. Accuracy of frames will depend for any given scenario. This would raise concerns for the testing method and given they haven’t provided samples to back it up other than their sales pitch, it’s hard to establish that.

That aside, assuming they tested them the same way, here are my issues with what they are saying:

  1. Usable frame rate for sports is actually 5.6fps on the X-T3 and 8fps on the Sony A7iii and A7Riii. Why? Because you lose liveview on cameras. That means if you are tracking sports, you lose the ability to keep your subject in frame the moment you hold down the shutter because you get a slideshow effect. How do I know this? Because the same problem existed on the X-T2 and X-H1 over 5fps which I used for sports, and I very quickly became aware that I simply could not shoot at a rate higher than the liveview rate. The same problem exists on the A7iii although it’s 8fps. You have to keep the frame rate below that rate for tracking sports because, it becomes impossible to track moving targets effective sports is all about moving targets.  If you drop both cameras to usable frame rates, the amount of frames in focus would give the A7iii a big advantage because it has more frames to get it right. The simple test is getting someone to run past you with the frame filled, then start shooting at 8fps and try to keep them completely in frame. It’s basically impossible because you will see the action with a short delay so any change in speed of the object or movement will be impossible to cater for because by the time you’ve seen it move, it’s already out of frame.
  2. Very little attention is paid again to buffer, which is nearly half on the X-T3…about 45 (difficult to confirm specifications) vs 75 on the A7iii. Again, 45 may seem good but it’s not about the ability to write them in a single sequence, you shoot 10 shots, 10 again, and after doing that a few times the buffer hasn’t had a chance to empty before you start the next one so it progressively builds up until you hit the wall and have to wait for it to empty.
  3. High ISO – Yes, again a big priority given the requirement to keep shutter speed up and as a result, one stop can make a huge difference. With the X-T3 the ISO difference is about 1.5 to 1.75 stops, all of which makes a big difference for sports when it comes to maintaining the shutter speed. Shooting a skateboard is perfect light is great.

What could they have done better?

I think if they wanted to make this valuable to viewers there are a couple of big changes:

  1. High ISO testing
  2. Low light AF testing
  3. Sub tracking for multiple sports. A particular AF system may excel in one but not the other. As an example, the 1D series was known to have issues with a person travelling towards the camera, but was incredible in other areas.
  4. Listing AF settings of each cameras for each test  – Both Sony and Fujifilm have a variety of settings that have a huge impact on AF. As an example, Sony has the option to adjust the ability to ignore obstacles, like Fujifilm does. Was this switched on? There is no way to know. Was zone used on one and wide on another?

I think it’s important to note that this is not a knock against Fujifilm. What frustrates me with these kinds of reviews is that they simply set the wrong expectation of a camera. The X-T3 is a great camera, but like many other cameras including the A7iii, it’s an all-rounder and in the context of the way they are testing, the results are wrong because of the flawed criteria.

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