Olympic photographer catches balls in the air with the Sony Alpha 1

The Nikon Z9 isn’t the only mirrorless camera that makes it easy to catch fast balls in the air. Lithuanian photographer Vytautas Dranginis captured them at the 2022 Winter Olympics with a Sony Alpha 1.

Dranginis, a sports photographer who covered the Beijing Games for the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee (NOC), captured at least 6 photos containing bullets leaving fired guns during the shooting portion of the biathlon events.

While Nikon’s flagship Z9 can shoot at a staggering 120fps clip for 11-megapixel stills, rival Sony Alpha 1 flagship is no slouch either, capturing 30fps. with the electronic shutter.

“When Sony Alpha 1 came out, I got myself one as fast as I could, mostly for 30fps and 120 autofocus calculations every second,” Dranginis says. PetaPixel. “For a sports photographer like me, precise focus and speed are absolutely necessary.”

Photographer Dranginis Vytautas at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Lithuania has sent five biathlon athletes to the 2022 Games, which feature 11 events in the sport.

Trial and Error for Bullet Photo Camera Settings

“I decided to spend a few days with them and push my Sony Alpha 1 to its limits, to find out if it is fast enough to catch the balls”, says the photographer.

Determining the optimal parameters to maximize the chances of catching a ball was the main challenge.

“At first I was shooting at 1/2000 of a second as usual in daylight, but I was only getting nice smoke coming out of the gun,” says Dranginis. “Shooting at 1/6400 of a second wasn’t enough either.”

Captured at a shutter speed of 1/2000s.
Captured at a shutter speed of 1/2000s.
Captured at a shutter speed of 1/6400s.
Captured at a shutter speed of 1/6400s.

“Although I had some nice shots with flying balls, but they weren’t frozen,” the photographer continues. “Shutter speeds of 1/12800 to 1/25600 of a second gave me better results, but it was only at a shutter speed of 1/32000 of a second that I got what I was looking for.”

Captured at a shutter speed of 1/12800s.
Captured at a shutter speed of 1/16000s.
Captured at a shutter speed of 1/32000s.
Captured at a shutter speed of 1/32000s.
A crop showing closer examination of the bullet captured with a shutter speed of 1/32000 sec.

Shooting in Rhythm with Athletes

“Based on this year’s experience, I’ve found it makes sense to do short intervals instead of letting your camera shoot for more than 5 seconds at 30 frames per second, not only to save ‘space on your cards, but also to not kill your camera’s buffer,’ Dranginis says.

The photographer says he finally figured out how to time his bursts with the cadence of the athletes.

“I jump the first shot [fired by the athlete] and start shooting a second after the first bullet flies, doing short intervals after each shot,” he says. “Basically, there’s more chance of catching the ball when you’re in the rhythm of the athlete. You just need to be a bit faster, have patience and have plenty of flashcards in your pocket.

Dranginis is filming her 4th Olympics since 2016. You can find more of her work on her Facebook and Instagram.

Picture credits: All photographs by Vytautas Dranginis.

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