Shooting professional action sports with the Fuji X system
By photographer Kim Matthäi Leland
With the X-Pro2 (and the soon-to-be-released X-T2), the autofocus of Fujifilm cameras is finally fast enough for shooting sports professionally.
I shoot quite a bit of sports, especially football / soccer. Mostly matches in the primary Danish league (ALKA Superligaen) and also Champions League matches and national matches. My images are sold via the photo agency Gonzales Photo and are used by media in Denmark and abroad.
For about a year, I’ve shot most of my assignments (concerts, photojournalism, portraits etc.) with Fujifilm cameras – but sports I haven’t felt I could do with Fuji due to the autofocus performance. But with the X-Pro2, I finally have a camera with an autofocus snappy enough to shoot professional sports.
It’s not enough to have a camera with fast autofocus – you also need a good lens. First, I used the Fujinon XF 50-140 MM F/2,8 R LM OIS WR (with and without the Fujinon Teleconverter XF1.4X TC WR). It actually works well, especially for boxing etc., but for football, I needed something longer. Preferably something equivalent of at least 400 mm in full frame terms. I was very hesitant about buying the Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR, because it isn’t very fast (aperture-wise), especially at the long end. There were rumours of a fast telephoto prime, but since it – more or less unnoticed – slipped out of Fujifilm’s lens road map, I decided to give the 100-400 a chance. And I must say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Of course f/5.6 isn’t as good as the f/2.8 lenses that most sports photographers use. I have to use a higher ISO and longer shutter speeds than before. For evening matches, I used to go with ISO 3200 back in the DSLR days. Now, I’ve used the X-Pro2 at a few matches, and it’s been set to ISO 4000-6400, depending on the lighting conditions at the particular stadium. Shutter speeds have been 1/800 or 1/1000 – before I would shoot at 1/1250 or 1/1600.
Despite the not so fast aperture of the 100-400 I have at least as many keepers as before. The X-Pro2 handles the ISO noise very well. I do apply a bit of noise reduction in post (about 25 on the Luminance slider in Camera Raw), which is the same as I did with my Canon images.
The X-Pro2 is set to Zone AF mode with either 5×5 or 7×7 focus points. I use continous focus, so I’m able to follow the players, and I’m in 8 fps drive mode (looking forward to the 11 fps of the X-T2!). My contact at the photo agency is quite satisfied – he has chosen 40-50 images per match. Before, I would get maybe 20-30 images approved per match.
I should mention that my old Canon DSLR that I’m comparing with, was a 5D mark III with a Sigma 120-300 mm and a 1.4 extender. Most full time sports photographers shoot with a 1D X or the like and a 400 mm f/2.8. And they will probably continue to do so for a while. But the gap between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is definitely closing, and for me, the Fuji X system is now mature enough for sports.
I’ve sold my Canon DSLR gear and am looking forward to the Fujifilm X-T2 that is supposed to have even better AF performance than the X-Pro2.
Here are some examples of my football images along with comments and EXIF data: