I've got a few more games under my belt since I last wrote about my experience using a Fujifilm X-T2 as a dedicated sports camera for covering pro level hockey games. It has taken me a while to get things dialed in and I'm happy with the results I have been getting. As I've said before, the X-T2 is not a purpose-built sports camera. However, for my use in covering games for the AHL Texas Stars hockey team, it is working well enough that I no longer own a DSLR.
My hockey gear kit now consists of the X-T2 with the XF 50-140mm lens mounted. I also carry my old X-T1 for use with either the XF 16mm or the 35mm. lenses. That's it. This all fits in a small Billingham bag. I'm digging that. Shooting with the X-T2 exclusively for game play has required some adjustments to my technique and it has taken some time to get the autofocus system dialed in. I've said before that the continuous AF system looks a lot like Canon's AF configuration menu and I wonder if some technology was licensed here. Truthfully, if that is the case, I'd rather Fujifilm have used Nikon as a model. Having shot both Canon and Nikon at the rink, I found the Nikon system much more accurate. While it's not a perfectly tuned AF system for fast action sports, I've managed to make the X-T2 work for me.
There are a number of settings that can be configured in the X-T2's AF menu. None of the canned AF scenarios really worked extremely well and I was frustrated at first. Having spent some time tweaking things, here is what I find works best for me.
- AF Mode: Zone (3x3)
- AF-C Custom Settings
- Tracking sensitivity: 2
- Speed tracking sensitivity: 1
- Zone area switching: front
- Pre-AF: OFF
- Performance: Boost
- Focus priority AF
- EVF view only
The zone area switching set to front seemed to help my keepers go up. I'd tried auto but the AF system would hunt too much trying to decide what to lock onto in situations with players packed tightly together. I found this also helped AF be a little snappier in locking onto close moving subjects. The real key to success with the X-T2's focus tracking is to get on the subject as soon as possible and follow for a moment before blasting away with the shutter. The DSLRs I have used in the past were more snappy in acquiring subjects quickly and I could bounce from player to player without much lag. The X-T2 demands a more calculated approach. There is more effort on my part to anticipate player movement and strategy. That's probably not a bad thing.
I'm not sure why but I seem to have better results using the shutter button for AF in addition to firing the shutter. I've always used back button focus with DSLRs and configured the shutter button for its sole purpose. For whatever reason I get more keepers with the shutter button handling AF on my X-T2. I'm wondering if AF on the back button cuts out when the shutter is firing.
At the end of the day, no matter what gear you use all that matters is that you are getting the shots you need. I can honestly say that I don't feel like I'm missing anything having switched exclusively to the Fujifilm cameras. The real measure of a camera system is in the images it produces so here are some favorite shots from the last couple of games.
First, here are a few 3 shot action sequences to give an idea of how the X-T2 tracks in game play. The frame rate of the X-T2 lets me easily fire 5-6 shot bursts with no lag. In the last 3 images of this group you can see how the AF holds on a fast moving subject up close. That's the lens cutout in the glass you can see as I'm continuing to shoot while backing up to avoid getting my lens broken!
Below are some single frames of key action moments. Some of these are from a burst sequence but several are more reactionary captures of something quickly happening. The X-T2 isn't as adept as a high end DSLR for those "in the blink of an eye" grabs but as you can see it can deliver. I included some scenes with potential distractions like other players at different distances in the focus zone. Those zebra stripes of on-ice officials can really be an attention grabber for AF systems. I'm impressed with the way the X-T2 usually ignores them to stay on target. Changing zone area switching from auto to front seemed to help with that.
All shots in this post were taken with the Fujifilm X-T2 and the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 lens with the latest firmwares at the time. The standard (Provia) film simulation was used and all images are camera JPEGs with light post processing in Adobe Lightroom for cropping and slight exposure adjustment as needed. Images are property of the Texas Stars.