There’s more to Austin, Texas than breakfast tacos, despite its reputation as the most taco crazed city in America. Wandering the streets, you’ll find tattoo parlors camouflaged in street art, delightfully decaying buildings, and live music around every corner. This is met with an earnest local attitude, one that’s a bit rough around the edges, yet more reminiscent of the West Coast, than well, the rest of Texas. The sidewalks are also spacious and the roads are wide, making them perfect for things like protests by Austin’s progressive community of college students and activists.
I spent about two days in Austin with Sony testing their latest camera releases. Here’s what I explored and encountered during my trip.
Packing Your Kit
My kit was comprised of the Sony A99 II, a6500, and RX 100 Mark V, as well as a line up of prime and zoom lenses, including the Sony Zeiss 10-18mm F/4, 16-70mm F/4, 85mm F/1.8, 16-35mm F/2.8, and the Sony FE 70-200. Since this was a press excursion, I had easy access to gear, and wouldn’t normally pack nearly as much in my kit. In terms of lenses, I’d simply recommend the 16-35mm. This gives you a nice wide focal length for landscapes, 35mm for portraits, and an aperture just wide enough to get by at a concert. I’m not a fan of big, long lenses, especially when traveling, and the 16-35mm F/2.8 is sleek, functional, and won’t add much extra weight to your lightweight mirrorless setup. But since this is an A-mount lens, if you want to avoid an adapter for an E-mount body, the 16-70mm F/4 has got you covered in nearly any scenario, unless you’re planning to shoot in a particularly dark environment.
I don’t want to focus too heavily on gear, but here are a few key things I’ll point out for each new system.
This was the main camera I shot with on the trip. Generally speaking, it’s a reliable, compact prosumer grade piece of equipment. Some of its new features compared to its predecessor, the a6300, are body image stabilization (IBIS), touch screen focus, and a faster processor that can shoot 300 JPEG frames in a single burst at 11fps, or 100 if you’re shooting RAW + JPEG. My biggest issue with this camera is the noise level upward of ISO 1000. I typically don’t mind grain, especially for music photography, but if you’re in low-light and exposing for the highlights, the results are a bit underwhelming when you bring up the shadows in post.
As someone who’s predominantly shot mirrorless throughout the past year, I was pleasantly surprised by this beast of a full frame 42.4-megapixel DSLR. Although it’s a bit on the heavier side, it focuses reliably fast and incredibly sharp. When I initially encountered a Dakota Pipeline protest on the streets, I was in the midst of a leisurely walk, and didn’t have my usual flexible point back button AF set up. I don’t think my AF was even set to continuous mode. It was also dusk, so I bumped my ISO, raised my shutter speed to 1/500, and started snapping away. At the time, I had no idea if any of my shots were focused, but once I uploaded my files, I couldn’t have been more impressed with the overall quality and clarity of the images, respectively.
RX 100 V
I typically don’t ever carry a point-and-shoot, but the RX 100 is the first of its class. Some notable features include 24fps burst shooting in JPEG + RAW, 20MP 1″-type stacked BSI-CMOS sensor, 4K video capture, and 24-70mm equivalent F1.8-2.8 zoom lens. For a pocket sized device, this thing is an absolute workhorse, one that’s seemingly unmatched by any other point-and-shoot on the market. However, the one main drawback is the price point of $999.99.
Documentary and Lifestyle
There’s always something interesting happening on the streets of Austin. The downtown area can be explored on foot, which gives way to street art, decrepit alleyways, and street kids acting weird in public. There are pickup trucks and motorcycles parked on nearly every other corner, a perfect backdrop for capturing that classic Texas street scene. I’d recommend starting in the iconic Rainey Street Historic District—which is also a great place to start if you’re into the bar scene—then walking up Congress Ave while exploring the surrounding blocks until you hit the Texas Capitol. This photo walk should take you a little over an hour, depending on how often you stop.
When I first arrived, I walked for about 20 minutes, until I encountered a protest made up of a couple hundred people. Presumably, many of the protestors were college students from the nearby University of Texas and St. Edwards University. By far, these are my favorite image I captured during my trip. It was a real, raw Austin moment, which is always what I look for when I’m traveling.
Action and Sports
If you live on the east coast, you probably remember the BMX scene as a thing of the past, but in Austin, it is still very much alive. The park we visited was East Eiland and Morgan Moss, which is home to fairly large cement bowl, and of course, some stairs sets, handrails, boxes, and more. We shot there in the morning through the early afternoon, which gave us really harsh light and little shade. This is surely a spot best photographed in the golden hour.
If you’re more into traditional sports, the universities in Austin are home to a variety of NCAA teams, and are among the biggest sports schools in the U.S. We stopped into a women’s basketball game at St. Edwards University, and as someone who’s not really into sports, I found myself constantly putting down my camera and getting sucked into the game. In addition, there are a number of other action-related activities in Austin if high-intensity shots are what you’re looking for. For example, we photographed the Austin Disc Dogs catching frisbees, equestrian sports at Wind Song Farms, and witnessed the Austin Rowing Club descend on the Colorado River during sunrise.
Austin a music town to say the least; it’s a place where “I’m going out tonight” is almost always followed by “who are you seeing?” It’s home to a variety of legendary venues and clubs, yet it’s easy witness magic on a typical night by blindly walking into a smaller venue or bar. And of course, there’s the annual SXSW Festival, which turns the entire town into a three-day spectacle that covers the convergence of music and film. During this trip, we photographed Ian Moore, a local blues rock artist, at 3Ten ACL Live. There, we had the guidance of Sony Artisan Chad Wadsworth, an Austin-based music photographer. Check out more of his work here.
Yes, Texas is known for its barbecue, but Austin is also filled with tacos. There are plentiful food trucks and taco stands scattered around the city, and it would be a sin not to try at least one selection of breakfast tacos during your trip. And they’re certainly not difficult to find. Below are a few of the restaurants we visited, all of which I would highly recommend.
Located in Downtown Austin, La Condesa is a bright, sunny Mexican restaurant, named after a bohemian neighborhood in Mexico City. The decor is eclectic, with wooden walls and vibrant greenery, which plays into the theme of its menu—it’s far more diverse and lavish compared to traditional Mexican cuisine. There’s also a tequila tasting room in the basement, which will leave you with pink cheeks as you walk out with a full belly.
Emmer and Rye
This restaurant offers a seasonally styled local cuisine, with a menu that changes daily. You can either dine off the menu or choose from the nightly table-side dishes that circulate around the room. I would highly suggest the pasta, as it’s all freshly made in-house and will appease any savory carb-addict like myself.
The Salt Lick
Though a great spot for catering, The Salt Lick is home to two locations: one in Driftwood, TX and one in Roundrock, TX. With every classic barbecue dish you can think of, from ribs and brisket to sausage and smoked turkey breast, it’s far too easy to eat yourself into a coma, and a solid choice for a taste of Texas barbecue.
See more photos from the Sony Austin Excursion 2016 below: