I still remember the first photo I ever took with a Sony camera like it was yesterday. It was March 21st, 2014. I was fortunate enough to be in Arctic Norway with Chris Burkard, where we were making a SmugMug Film on his inspiration behind photographing surfers in extremely cold conditions. On our first morning in camp, we were knee-deep in a blizzard of Herculean proportions when pro surfer Brett Barley paused for just a split second while walking to the ocean to catch his breath and survey the surreal and frosted scene that laid in front of him. I put my fresh out of the box Sony A7r to my eye and captured what is still to this day, one of my favorite portraits that I have taken.
And just like that, I was hooked. I slowly started phasing out my Canon 5d Mark III from my photography arsenal. My biggest reason for the switch was the massive dynamic range advantage that Sony had over Canon, which was a savior in my fast moving life as a full-time travel photographer since I didn’t always get the exposure correct. Now, as much as I love the image quality, there are still some things I would like to see improved, like a much more rugged build, but all in all, the Sony A7 series has been my daily camera system for years. So, when I got the email inviting me on a ‘Sony Spring Breakation,’ I was ecstatic.
At first, I thought maybe I was one of the chosen few to get my dirty paws on a pro rugged body, but even if that wasn’t the case, the backdrop they chose for this epic adventure couldn’t have been more perfect. Beautiful Lake Tahoe, California.
Lake Tahoe was my winter home away from home for over 20 years as I lived in the Bay Area. Last year, I moved to Idaho where the winters are exceptional but found myself reminiscing about my early years shredding some of the west coast’s best mountains. So, to be invited to the home of the 1960 Olympics, Squaw Valley, to play with Sony cameras wasn’t something I was about to turn down!
When I arrived, I was slightly disappointed to learn that we did not have a super top-secret rugged body to play with, but I was excited that I was going to each have two of Sony’s newest additions, the a6500 and Rx100 Mark V all weekend. Both of these cameras have been on my wish list for quite some time. As a traveling pro, I have found that my super light weight mirrorless A7 systems are getting heavier by the day as Sony upgrades their lens line to accompany the pros, which is a welcome addition. But the real weight in ‘pro’ gear doesn’t actually come from the camera bodies themselves, but rather the lenses. And we want top of the line, fast lenses, so at the end of the day, my camera bag doesn’t really feel much lighter than my Canon days. But that all changed in Lake Tahoe, as the a6500 and its lenses are significantly lighter than I am used to, since it is an APS-C sensor, as opposed to the full-frame A7 sensors.
And that is what worried me. I am a pixel perfectionist. I haven’t shot with an APS-C in over 8 years. How could the image quality possibly match what I had become used to? Well, to my amazement, they came very close, especially the a6500. I was able to pull a lot of detail out of the shadows in the RAW files, which is something I have become very accustomed to in the last couple of years. Also, it’s high ISO performance far exceeded my expectations, and I was able to shoot handheld in some very low-lit conditions and not see too much noise.
Also, I didn’t know what to expect on a ‘press trip’. I had never really been on one before, and I had heard some make you feel like cattle, being herded in a bus from one place to another with some tour guide telling you pointless information that you don’t really care to know. But this trip turned out to be anything but.
As soon as I arrived in Squaw Valley, I met Nicole Roberts from Sony and Ryan Hayter from Hayter Comm, who was responsible for the weekend’s adventure. Nicole, Ryan and I sat down for lunch at the Dubliner pub in Squaw Valley to talk about the weekend ahead. I could tell that Ryan wasn’t your typical PR guy and I liked that, as I am not your typical journalist. As the hours went by, I kept liking that guy until he stripped down to his board shorts and ran into half frozen Donner Lake and submerged his head under the frigid water. At that moment, I went from liking to loving the guy.
In between sunset swims in frozen lakes, we actually did alot of physical adventuring. A perfect Spring day of strong sun and warm temps made for a very enjoyable 2.5-mile snow show climb that took us up almost 700 feet to overlook the Squaw Valley terrain. And then, for two full days, our team tackled the immensely massive mountain while riding some insanely good demo skis from Line and snowboards from Ride. On our first day, the weather wasn’t the beautiful spring day we had sought, but, Ryan and Jackie from Hayter Comm made us forget that the weather sucked by setting us up with a couple of the world’s best snowboarders, who were at Squaw working with photographer Tim Peare. We spent almost an hour in the half pipe watching these guys go off, which gave me the perfect opportunity to use the super slow motion video recording in the compact RX100.
All in all, recording in super slow motion was maybe the most enjoyable part of my weekend. The camera films up to an unbelievable 960 frames per second, which generates some incredible slow motion. But as with any slow motion, the action has to be moving fast, which luckily came from the skiing and snowboarding which we did under bluebird skies on our final day in Squaw, shortly before I was 20,000 feet in the air returning to my home in Boise.
After using the RX 100 for those days, I will easily recommend it to travelers who want a small and well-built camera that will help them take great photos and video, but also not be tied into a large camera and the interchangeable lenses. This camera should be in almost travel backpack around the world. It is that good.
Lake Tahoe is a beautiful region that has everything that makes California great. Sun, mountains and countless outdoor adventures in both summer and winter make Tahoe the perfect getaway from the bustling San Francisco Bay Area. But, the best part of the weekend was the company I had. I couldn’t have been more comfortable around a group of 13 people I had never met before. We shared plenty of laughs, incredible food, and some of the best views on the West Coast, all while capturing it on two Sony cameras that didn’t break my back and helped me bring the adventure back home with some beautiful photos and video.