It’s that time of the year in Austin, TX. The weather is getting a bit cooler and so it is time to Fest. First up on the fall schedule is the iconic Austin City Limits Festival. Inspired by the PBS concert series of the same name, the festival is in its fourteenth year of existence and I was in attendance to cover for my tenth straight year.
Heavy metal and glass is still the status quo in the photo pits. SLRs and big zooms dominate but the writing is on the wall. This was the first year where I had to use more than one hand to count the number of mirrorless shooters, and respected colleagues were full of questions about the mirrorless switch.
In comparison to the heavy haulers, my small Domke bag was loaded with just the a7R II, the Zeiss Batis 85/1.8, an adapted Zeiss 45/2 Planar for Contax G and the RX100IV, two extra batteries for each camera, earplugs, a microfiber cloth and a cell phone charger. On Saturday and Sunday I adjusted and was down to only the a7R II with the Batis and the RX1. This was the first year I didn’t need to immediately book a massage following the festival.
What was sacrificed? Nothing. 135mm is an ideal length for the larger stages and with the a7R II’s plentiful pixels, cropping the Batis to 135mm is an easy option. For most shots though, 85mm was the standard and the 45mm, RX1 or the RX100IV at 24mm handled the wider shots.
The a7R II/Batis combination was simply praise worthy – it focused quickly and accurately, producing razor sharp images with pleasing bokeh. Low light performance was outstanding – the improvement made in high ISO over the last few years is really a game changer for concert photographers. There were no surprises or gotchas. Battery life was much higher than the advertised spec – two batteries per day on the a7R II for approximately 1000 images per day. The RX100IV made it the whole day on one battery but it didn’t get used as frequently as the other cameras, while the RX1 required two. This battery performance included the use of wifi to deliver images to clients in near real time from the festival grounds – a feature I once detested but now can’t live without. Please Sony, let’s see an RX2 with wifi soon, ok? Thanks!
I also really enjoyed shooting the adapted, Zeiss 45/2 Planar – see my review here – there is a special character to this lens that keeps me reaching for it. It lost a spot in the bag on days two and three in order to simplify even more and eliminate lens swapping in the field. In the end, smaller, faster, lighter ruled the weekend but if I could pick only one lens to shoot on the a7R II, this legacy lens might be it.
Highlights of the festival included some on-stage live shots with Austin’s own Shakey Graves and iconic rock photographer Danny Clinch, as well as performances from Run The Jewels, Tame Impala, Sturgill Simpson, Sylvan Esso, The Weekend and Houston TX up and comers, my friends, The Suffers.
Next up in early November is my favorite Austin event, Fun Fun Fun Fest. I’ll be shooting for the festival team and will be back with another post featuring the new a7S II. Check back and check out the ACL highlights in the gallery below.