The third period I was back in a corner and I worked on getting those oncoming shots nailed. I had a little better luck and managed to get a few good keepers of players in close, maybe 10 feet or closer. The key seems to be getting locked on as far out as possible and bursting away as they approac. This is difficult because the EVF looks rather erratic during bursts and keeping my composition was quite tough. This is an area where looking through a DSLR's prism and mirror through the lens is advantageous. Because I was only using the center phase detection zone, my primary subject had to be in there somewhere. That's tough for hockey where an attacking player will often come in with a defenseman right along side. This means I had to frame loosely and crop. With my D750 I can use 3D focus tracking to grab a player and the AF system will keep on him no matter how he moves or how I reframe. For shooting into the goal I found that it was often best to switch to single focus, lock on to the goalie, then recompose to get the action in front of the net in the frame.
So, after shooting a full game (Still can't believe I did that!), what's the verdict? Is the X-T1 a sports camera? Well...no...but it did do better than I expected with the most recent firmwares. In fairness, my D750 really isn't a true sports body either. I use it because it's the best camera in my budget. I'd use a D4s if I could afford it. I don't make my primary living as a sports photographer so I go with "good enough." The question is probably better asked, is the X-T1 a "good enough" camera for sports? Well, maybe. Based on my experience shooting a pro hockey game, arguably one of the most challenging sports to photograph, I'd say the X-T1 would do just fine for a good number of sports events. No it's not a sports camera, as in specifically designed for that purpose. It doesn't cost $6000+ either. For its price point, if you like its feature set and image quality otherwise, it might just be the right camera for you.
The strengths and weakness I found in the X-T1 in my experience are as follows.
- 10 frames/second bursting (more than a lot of mid-range DSLRs.)
- EVF - fast refresh and you see your exposure/white balance in real time.
- EVF - I can chimp a shot without having to look down at the LCD.
- Front switch makes it easy to switch from continuous to single autofocus.
- Good auto white balance. I shot the entire game on AWB. Arena light is a moving target and the X-T1 gets it in the ball park. I'd never use on AWB on my D750 in this environment.
- Much lighter than a comparable DSLR rig with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
- Supports higher speed cards than a lot of DSLRs currently on the market.
- 1 stop less sensitive than my D750 rig (had to be at ISO 3200 at f/2.8, while my D750 could be at 1600 at f/2.8).
- Wide AF tracking isn't fast enough for pro hockey players. Need to use center phase detection points.
- More AF misses than D750, i.e. lower keeper rate. This may improve as I adapt to the quirks of the X-T1 AF system.
- Slower to acquire initial AF lock, especially if changing by a great distance.
Things Fujifilm could improve in future bodies for sports shooters:
- Add more phase detection points for better wide tracking.
- Add a focus range limiter switch to lenses for faster focusing in known ranges (Canon has this on their 70-200mm f/2.8).
- Add a configuration parameter to autofocus menu for adjusting lock sensitivity, i.e. how long to maintain focus lock before switching to a new subject or point. Canon and Nikon have this.
- Add dial based custom user settings. I miss C dial settings like on the DSLRs I've owned.
- Add a second card slot. While I've never lost any shots due to bad cards, I have had them start to flake out before and I disposed of them before it became an unrecoverable problem. As fragile as SD cards are, I'd like to have that peace of mind knowing I've got a backup.
Is the X-T1 the right camera for sports for you? Only you can answer that. Rent or borrow one and find out for yourself. Will it become my sole camera platform as I have hoped? I don't know. I'm encouraged by my experience in this one game but on the whole I still give the nod to the D750. It's got a better AF system and because it is full frame it handles the necessary higher ISOs better. That said, I can't rule out the X-T1 as a "good enough" camera for my needs. The benefits of standardizing on a single platform would be huge. Being able to sell my D750 rig would let me get a second X-T1 body so I'd have identical bodies to work with on the job. That idea is intriguing enough that I just give the X-T1 another go at the next home game in a couple days. I'm not sold yet. That said, I have a glimmer of hope that the X-T1 might just be good enough for my needs. More to come.
If you want to see more all the shots from the game you can find them here.