The Sony a6500 for Trail Running

The Sony a6500

In the last months, there has been a resurgence of the age old question asked of successful photographers, “What camera do you use?” While this question used to annoy me, and I wanted to scream, “It does not matter!” Now, it actually does matter. But for reasons less about quality, and more about size. For me, and the work I am doing a lot of right now, size matters.

Today we have more options than ever for camera gear, and with those options comes opportunity. Depending on what you shoot, the size and weight of your camera gear can make a huge difference to how you work. If you’re pulling up to a shoot location and walking 100 meters, a heavy camera is fine. But no one wants extra weight for a 30km run through the Alps with 2000+ meters of gain. Our team at ALPSinsight is not only producing trail running photos, we’re doing the runs as the athletes, carrying our own gear. Gear choice has become critical.

Some years back, when Sony started to come on strong, I switched to the a7 series. My reasons: they were much lighter, less bulky, and I felt the quality was better. I never looked back. The Canon gear, which I had amassed a ton of in my 15 years of shooting professionally, got dustier and dustier until one day it all ended up dumped on the counter of a second hand camera shop, along with a whole lot of other photographer’s Canon gear. I wasn’t the only one to make the switch.

As a back up to the a7’s, I got an a6300, which I promptly fell in love with. Later, when the a6500 launched, I had my dream camera. The a6500 is a camera I can take running, climbing, and ski touring. Given that that is about all I do, it has become my go to camera. I now save the a7 for photoshoots where we are shooting more static subjects, when speed is not important, and when we don’t have to carry it.

If you follow along here, you know we’ve been doing a huge amount of real trips. I cannot imagine having to carry anything heavier than the a6500 when we did our Nepal 3 Passes run, the Glacier Haute Route, or all the many Way Ups. I’ve already written about our switch to Sony, and how I use Sony for all our work. Now, with the a6500, I have been able to run with my camera gear and shoot with zero concern of compromising quality for carriability. Our entire Run the Alps Switzerland book, and Elevation : The Alps Trail & Peak Running Resource site are 100% Sony RX100 or a6500 images. Ditto for our Trail Runner magazine features and covers, Runner’s World features, Black Diamond, Dynafit, Osprey, and Camelbak advertising shoots, and a Swiss Tourism campaign.

For me, the only thing more dreamy would be for the RX100 to suddenly work for all my needs. Wait a minute… the RX100 VI is out, and while it won’t replace the a6500, I’m certainly going to have a look.

So, we’ve covered what camera we use for trail running… Don’t forget to ask the almost more critical question, “What lenses do you use?”

For 98% of the trail running images, it’s the Sony E 16-70mm f4 ZA OSS Zeiss Vario-Tessar E-Mount or the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 Lens. That’s it! Everything else is too heavy.

By Dan Patitucci

All the Clips below were shot with the Sony a6500. Clearly, it works for publication, so… why are you carrying extra weight?


Comments 16

  1. Love your work and you inspired me to switch to sony for my outdoor skitouring and trail running etc. One thing that has been bothering me a bit though, is thinking about if the running with the camera in hand, or in the backpack, will shake things so much it damages the camera body or lenses. What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever had any issues with something like this? I have the A7ii and the a6300. Trying to decide which one to keep. Thanks so much again and happy “gun and run”!

  2. Thanks for the review !
    Did you have any issues with the 16-70 ? It looks like an awesome piece of glass but there are so many negative reviews (mostly great mechanical quality but very bad optical results). But your pictures look really sharp to me. Any thoughts ?
    Thanks, and great blog as always.

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      Hi Arno, My go to lens has been the Zeiss 16-70 on the a6500 for most all our running and ski tours, and I have had zero problems with the exception of some maintenance for the focusing ring, which was due to taking a beating in my packs. So for us, all good, we have two of them for each of our a6500 bodies. For us the problems were with the Zeiss 24-70 f4.0…

  3. Great article! I’d like to ask how you carry your a6500 while running. I carry my small RX100 in the shoulder pouch of my vest or backpack, and I could get a Peak Designs clip for the a6500, but I’m concerned the additional weight of the a6500 and 16-70mm would bounce around too much on the shoulder strap. Thanks!

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      Hi Ken, I just carry my a6500 with 16-70 inside my pack, either in a tight fitting case or in a beanie. It’s got some bulk and weight, but not so bad. However, more and more, I am only carrying a RX100 the same as you, it’s so easy and light!

  4. Hi Dan, thanks for the reply. Yeah having to drop my pack to take out the camera is slow, and saps energy. The RX100 on the shoulder works, has publishable quality, but I miss having an ultra wide option. I did find a workaround by using my phone camera with an add on lens, like the Moment Superfish, but the results, while good enough for instagram and social media, aren’t really publishable. All the best!

  5. I’m late to this blog post, but wanted to chime in.. Really appreciated the insights offered here. I have an a6000, and I’m looking to rent or buy lenses to take on a special run into some mountains. I really wanna come home with great photos.
    Are you still recommending the above lenses? I’m seeing some serious criticism of that 16-70 Zeiss, and wondered if I should still grab that one or if you recommend something else?
    Greatly appreciated this post!

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      Hi Frank,
      I have been using the a6500 with a Zeiss 16-70 for all kinds of commercial work in the last few years, with no problems. The lens is reliable and sharp, but you do have to find the right aperture for your set up. For me, I find 5.6 is best. 4 can be much less sharp.
      But what about the new RX100’s with the 24-200 lens? I am also using these more and more now for running with great results. With most everything going online only these days, this camera is plenty. And, you can simply keep it in the pack’s front pockets so you shoot more. More than any camera quality benefit, this is most important – you are more likely to shoot.

      1. I’ll have to explore the RX100, tho I’d prefer to save my pennies for an a7. Not sure how a point and shooter would provide the nice blurred foregrounds/backgrounds. But I haven’t used the camera so I’ll have to figure that out as an option. Friends are telling me just get a Moment setup for my iPhone 8+, but I’m not sure that’s gonna be good enough quality.-

      2. One more question, and I’ll leave you alone. How are you carrying the a6500 on longer outings? Is there a pack mount or are you just putting it in the pack w a beanie and taking it out when you want it?
        I’m really leaning toward taking my a6000 and getting the lenses you recommend. Thanks!

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  6. Hi Frank, your concerns are the same as mine, and it is possible to render foreground/background blur with the RX100, but compared to full-frame, you need to get much closer to the foreground to render it blur with a sharp subject in the distance, or much closer to your subject to render the background out of focus. I have all the setups that you are considering. The biggest differences moving down from full-frame a7 (I have the a7riii) to RX100 (I have the mkV) to iPhone with Moment lens, is that image noise increases (max usable ISO gets lower), it gets less sharp, and more distorted. I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with an RX100 IV and V and an iPhone 7+ with a Moment Superfish lens, and if you are interested, you can see the images I got with that setup here: https://youtu.be/0_YWahJZ1gU

    1. Thanks, Ken, Thank you for sharing that. Gorgeous images you got.
      You’ve given me a lot to think about!

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