Fujifilm X-T2 Hockey Update

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.

Waxahachie WWII Weekend

A favorite annual event of mine is the Waxahachie WWII Weekend held on the Veteran's Day weekend. This exceptional WWII reenactment event takes over the small town and you'll find Allied and Axis forces roaming about downtown. The main event is a battle reenactment around an old train depot and the crowds assemble to observe the skirmish. The battle is fun to see of course but I'm always more excited about milling around the streets and camps beforehand while I photograph the troops in a photojournalist style.

I'm much more interested in genuine moments than staging my photographs. While I normally shoot with a wide or normal focal length prime lens, I used a 70-200mm equivalent lens for this event. I try to mingle about on the periphery and not attract attention from the reenactors, who are all too willing to strike a pose for the camera. My desire is to catch them in character and isolate them as much as possible from the modern environment. I'm looking for those war faces.

This year I didn't taken many photos during the battle. The dense crowd made it difficult to find a decent vantage point considering movement of the troops and the direction of the afternoon sun. That was OK by me as I had plenty of time to get the kind of photos I prefer before and after the battle demonstration. Here are some of my favorites (click for larger views).

More photos from the event can be found on my gallery page here. All images were taken with a Fujifilm X-T2 and 50-140mm XF lens, Acros film simulation.

Shooting Stars with the Fujifilm X-T2

As of the new hockey season, I'm all in with Fujifilm X series cameras. My Nikon D750 is gone. The only reason I'd kept the D750 around was to shoot hockey games. With the release of the Fujifilm X-T2 I felt like I no longer needed to keep the D750 around. Now that I've gotten a few games covered with the X-T2 I wanted to share my experience. Is the X-T2 a DSLR killer? Read on.

First off, let me say that I am no longer covering hockey as much as I used to in the past. I still work with the Texas Stars. My work situation changed last year though and I decided that I just didn't have the time any longer that sports photography demands for as many games as there are in a hockey season. I'm now on backup status and will be filling in from time to time. This definitely had an influence on my decision to ditch the Nikon gear. I no longer felt I needed specialized gear with sports photography being a major priority. Would I have made the move if I were still "full time" as a hockey photography. I think so. In full disclosure though, I just wanted to put my situation out there. 

Let me cut to the chase. Is the X-T2 a sports camera? In the sense of being purpose built and optimized for that genre of photography - no. Can it handle sports with acceptable results? Yes. I had to adapt my technique to the X-T2's capabilities. When I did, I came away with just as many keepers as I did with my old DSLR rig. What's different? I think the biggest thing is that it just doesn't have that that snappy near instantaneous autofocus that a good DSLR has, especially in continuous mode. With my D750 I could move between subjects and the focus just snapped right in. The X-T2 isn't as responsive. I found that I needed to get on the desired player sooner and give the camera a little time to lock on with its tracking. Once it locks on, I'm good. It requires more anticipation and planning on my part. Skills I need anyway. Once I had that understanding, I was able to get along with the X-T2 fine. 

I've shot with Canon cameras in the past, with my last Canon being the 5D Mark III. The AF continuous tracking configuration in the X-T2 looks a lot like Canon's interface. Enough so that I wonder if some technology was licensed from Canon here. Seeing that was a disappointment to me. The Canon system could be endlessly tweaked. That was never a good thing to me. Maybe hockey is a special case but I never found any measurable benefit to the level of control in Canon's system. Nikon has a simpler system. I'd just set my continuous mode to 3D autofocus and done. It just worked. 

The Fujifilm AF configuration options are sadly reminding me of my Canon days. I tried all the options, giving extra experimentation time to option 5 - Erratically Moving and Accelerating/Decelerating Subjects. That sure sounds like hockey players. Oddly, that setting resulted in the highest miss rates. The default general purpose mode (option 1) produced the best results. I need to get these camera engineers out to a hockey game. Clearly.

After experimenting over the course of 3 games, my relevant camera settings are as follows:

  • Performance boost enabled.
  • Continuous AF (C on front switch)
  • High speed burst (CH on top dial)
  • Zone AF (mid size area)
  • Focus priority continous AF
  • Pre focus off
  • EVF only
  • Fine JPEG only (STD)

The X-T2 has a faster frame rate than my D750 did and that is even without the battery grip that boosts the frame rate even higher. I got more frames in bursts of action sequences than I ever have before. On my D750 I always used release priority on the continuous AF. On the X-T2, release priority just resulted in lots of out of focus frames. Sometimes it never achieved AF. I got much better results with focus priority. Again, with the X-T2 it is best to get on the subject and track with it, giving the camera as much time as feasible to figure out what you want it to hone in on.

Let's get to some pictures. First, here are some samples of oncoming player tracking. This is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing for any camera to track. Pro hockey players move amazingly fast and there isn't much time to get a lock when they are racing toward the net. 

Lateral movement is the next type of movement to track. It is as much difficult for the photographer as the camera as I have to keep the camera following the player while the camera continues to stay locked on the player in the AF zone without being distracted by high contrast ads on the boards or other players. Here are a few lateral tracking samples.

There are plenty of contrasty things to distract a camera AF system and a good sports camera needs to stay locked on to the desired player. The X-T2 does OK with this. Honestly I don't find it as solid as as the D750 but if I got on the player early the X-T2 did good enough that I didn't lose too many shots. This is one area I need to spend a little more time trying to tweak the tracking lock through the custom settings I think. Here are some samples where the X-T2 had to track a player through potential distractions.

In hockey a lot happens in a split second. This is where the camera's ability to stay locked on with focus while bursting a high frame rate comes into play. Again, I wasn't using the vertical grip. I got some great bursts using the X-T2 as-is and got more frames to choose from than I would have with my D750. In tight action sequences around the goal I think the X-T2 actually did a bit better than my D750 at staying locked in without trying to jump between players. Here are some samples of net action.

I mentioned that I was used Zone mode for continuous AF tracking. Why not the Wide Tracking mode? Because it doesn't work - at least not at the hockey arena. These guys move way too quickly and erratically and the Wide Tracking mode just doesn't seem to be able to deal with it. My miss ration went WAY up when I tried it. Zone mode is the way to go here. I used the mid sized region as a happy medium between the small 3x3 grid and the largest zone setting.

As said previously, I got the best results with the default general purpose (option 1) AF setting. The zone area switching mode is Auto in the setting I used which is supposed to start in the center then move around as needed for tracking. I found that the AF system still seemed to favor front facing (closer) subjects in some scenarios. Picking a player from a crowd, the AF system sometimes decided to snap to a nearby closer subject. The contrasty zebra striped on-ice officials were often preferred targets for the AF system. Take the shot below where I was tracking a player in the center when the AF system decided to jump over to the referee. I also had difficulty isolating players on the bench without switching to single focus mode.

I hope the image samples here illustrate that the X-T2 is certainly capable of getting good sports shots. No, it isn't going to top a more expensive DSLR in the AF department. Still, it is quite good - good enough in fact for this part time hockey photographer. I trust the X-T2 to enable me to deliver quality images to my client. 

I focused a lot (heh, see what I did there) on the AF system. What about other aspects of the camera? There is a lot to like about the X-T2 and a few things that are annoying. Here is a quick list of things that come to mind from my experiences thus far.


  • Dual memory cards - yes!
  • Light weight.
  • Auto white balance is quite good (I still use a custom setting at the hockey arena.)
  • JPEGs are fantastic. I do little more than crop as necessary before delivering my files.
  • Analog controls for shutter, aperture, ISO as it should be.
  • Sensor noise is very low up to ISO 6400. Over the X-T1 I can now shoot up 6400 to get a tighter aperture for greater DoF with little noise introduced.
  • EVF is fantastic. I didn't have any problems with blackouts.


  • Battery life isn't so great. I went through a battery per period.
  • Too many AF settings that don't help much (at least in hockey).
  • Too many key strokes to format cards. Drill down to one to format then you get popped back to the main menu to drill down again for the second card. NOTE: A Fujifilm representative informed me of a shortcut. Hold down the "trash can" button then press the rear dial. That gets you to the SD slots.
  • Lack of dial based custom settings. I'd love a dial for being able to quickly transition between tracking AF and static single point AF settings. On my old DSLRs it was much faster to change from ice to bench and fan settings (different exposure, single vs continuous focus)

In summary, the X-T2 can serve as a perfectly adequate sports camera. I'm not going to say it's revolutionary, mind blowing, DSLR killing, etc. because it's not in my opinion. It's a camera system that I really enjoy working with and I've preferred X system cameras for everything outside of sports for the past several years. With the X-T2 I feel I no longer need a DSLR in my camera bag. It's not perfect but it's good enough to for me to do my job as a pro hockey photographer.

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 were captured at 4000-6400 ISO. Images are property of the Texas Stars.

Huit Noir

I did some headshots of my good friend Eight for her acting portfolio. After we got done with the standard 8x10 headshot we played around for a bit with some film noir inspired portraits. In about 15 minutes we had several different looks with simple lighting changes and some wardrobe accessories. These were all done with two hot shoe flashes - one Rogue gridded hair light and one key light that was either gridded or shaped with Rogue accessories. The black side of a 5 in 1 reflector served as a backdrop in Eight's small apartment. As usual, my talented model/actress/director friend pulled off some very emotive poses and expressions. Here are 8 shots of Eight in noir style.

Images were taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 50-140mm lens.

Snapshots and Slap Shots - Shooting Hockey with the Fujifilm X-T1

A couple more Texas Stars games have passed since my initial writeup on using the Fujifilm X-T1 as a sports camera for covering pro hockey. I concluded my thoughts on the first experience by saying that the verdict was still out on the X-T1 as a sole camera for a fast paced sport like hockey. The little X-T1 didn't perform terribly by any means that first game and since my Fujifilm rep was kind enough to let me keep a copy of the 50-140mm lens over the holidays, I decided to use it at a couple more games last week.  In total, I have 3 full pro hockey games under my belt using only the X-T1. Here is what I've learned.

I went into this experiment cautiously. The first game I carried my Nikon D750 and 70-200mm lens around with me all game, just in case the X-T1 wasn't getting me the shots I needed. At the second game, I still took the D750 to the arena but I left it in a locker as an emergency backup. By the third game, my confidence in the X-T1 was high enough that I left the D750 at home. It was obvious that I was able to come away with as many keepers as I would have gotten with the D750. After the first game, I checked in with the graphic designer at the Stars since she is my customer and got a thumbs up on image quality. It is important to note that she did notice the same tendency of the X-T1 to smooth skin in unnatural ways at ISO 3200 - not enough to be a problem though. It is still something I wish Fujifilm would address. 

At the second and third games I continued to experiment with the X-T1's settings. In my last article I mentioned that wide tracking continuous autofocus didn't very well for this sport. I gave it one more try for sanity's sake and my opinion hasn't changed. I needed to restrict the focus points to the phase detection areas of the sensor by using the 3x3 zone focus grid. I also tried switching from release priority to focus priority autofocus. While I've always favored release priority on DSLRs that I've used, I was happier with focus priority on the X-T1. Other than that, the only other change I made in my settings from those I listed last time was switching to Provia film simulation from Pro Neg Hi for a bit more color pop.

Here are all the relevant camera settings that I settled on:

  • Continuous autofocus (C on focus selection switch)
  • High speed burst rate (CH on top dial)
  • Zone autofocus area in middle (3x3 grid)
  • Image quality: Fine (Provia film simulation)
  • DR100
  • Autofocus with focus priority
  • Face detection: off
  • Pre Autofocus: off
  • Power Management: High Performance On
  • No image review

My exposure for all shots posted here was 1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 3200.

I can prattle on and on about the X-T1 shooting experience but the proof is in the pictures. There are several key shooting scenarios in hockey game photography and I'll provide some examples of each.

Oncoming Player Movement

Players at the pro level have amazing speed. I've found that oncoming players present the biggest challenge to camera autofocus systems. Even my D750 struggles with this as players get in close. What I found with the X-T1 is that I had to get the autofocus system tracking a player as far out as feasible. The X-T1 is slightly slower to get an initial lock than my D750 but it does a pretty job at staying with the subject once I get it locked on. The X-T1 did quite well at staying on players and not getting distracted by the contrasty ads on the boards. I was able to get some pretty close shots of moving players close in, provided that I got locked on before they were right up on me. 

Lateral Player Movement

Lateral or side to side movement is a little easier for cameras I've used. The main glitches in this area tend to be when an autofocus system grabs onto the boards when players are close to them or locking onto a different player than I intended. The X-T1 did well on all counts. As long as I got a lock and followed through by panning with the players I didn't have any issues. 

Tight Groups of Players

One area where my D750 can struggle is when players are packed together tightly, as is often the case around the goal. A wide focus point array can lead to the camera hunting too long as it decides what to focus on. I found that the X-T1 did quite well at staying with my intended subject when using the 3x3 zone array. 

Action Sequences

A lot happens in a split second of hockey and the high frame rate helps catch the action and give me more shots to pick from after the game. The X-T1 beats my D750 in this area. I came away from more interesting puck-in-flight shots in the last games than I usually get.

Last time I wrote about the X-T1 at the hockey arena I was undecided. While I got some good shots, I wasn't ready to say it was definitely up to the task. Have my feelings changed? Well, I have to say that after 3 games with the X-T1 and just as many keepers as I normally got with my D750, I guess I can safely say that the X-T1 can absolutely work as a sports camera albeit with certain limitations and with good technique on the part of the photographer.

Stuff I really like about the X-T1:

  • Light weight. My wrists, arms and back are much happier with this rig.
  • Auto focus is solid once locked on. 
  • Fast frame rate.
  • Front switch makes it quick to switch between continuous and single autofocus modes.
  • Great image quality in smaller JPEG files than a lot of DSLRs.*
  • Auto white balance works better with flickering sports lighting than my D750.

Stuff that's annoying about the X-T1:

  • On a DSLR, I configure back button focus and focus continues while the back button is pressed and the shutter button is held down. The X-T1 doesn't do that. If I use a configured back button to focus, it stops focusing when the shutter is pressed. That makes no sense. I had to use shutter half press only for focusing.
  • Only middle points (phase detection spots) are good for fast paced autofocus. This means I sometimes need to shoot loose and crop to get the composition I want. 
  • ISO sensitivity seems to be almost a stop less than my D750. 
  • Can't turn off noise reduction completely (even at -2 there is still odd smoothing of flesh tones at ISO 3200.)
  • Only one SD card slot. Give me two in the next body, please!!!!
  • Takes too long (with the 50-140mm lens) to transition from close to distant focus points. My DSLR is way snappier.
  • Lack of dial based custom settings. It takes too many steps to go from a sports oriented setup to a more static subject setup. It's just a turn of a single dial on my D750.
  • The EVF can flicker or black out during burst shots. I actually haven't found it to be a deal breaker since I've been training myself to keep both eyes open for safety's sake anyway.

There are a lot of negatives about using mirrorless camera like this for sports to be sure. However, I didn't hit anything insurmountable in my tests and at the end of the game I'm getting the shots I need from a camera system that I really like. Am I ready to switch completely to the X-T1 platform? I'm seriously thinking about it. I don't use my D750 for anything except sports anymore and it sure would be nice to have a single platform. I'd buy the 50-140mm and a second X-T1 body so I could have everything from wide to telephoto shots with the same body. That would be most excellent. I've proven to myself that sports photography can be done with the X-T1 and a complete switch is under consideration. I'll let you guys know if I make the leap. Am I crazy? Feel free to weigh in through the comments section.

*Yes, I shoot JPEG only for sports and events the majority of the time. I don't have time to deal with processing raw files when I've got hundreds of images to sift through and deadlines to meet. Fujifilm JPEGs are notoriously good. If the lighting is absurd due to low light or extreme dynamic range, I'll shoot JPEG+raw. 

Is the Fujifilm X-T1 a Viable Sports Camera?

I love my Fujifilm X-T1. So much so that I'd love to be able to use it exclusively for all of my personal and professional photography. While I've found the X-T1 perfectly capable for most purposes, the one area where it has been lacking is sports. For that purpose I use a Nikon D750 equipped with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. When Fujifilm released an equivalent lens, the 50-140mm f/2.8, I was anxious to see if there was a chance that my X-T1 could perform on par with my Nikon rig and possibly replace it. As I wrote in my original testing with the 50-140mm back in February this year, that possibility proved to be a no-go for the main sport I shoot - pro ice hockey. The X-T1's autofocus system, while no slouch by any means, simply wasn't anywhere in the ballpark with the D750. 

A few weeks ago I ran into the Fujifilm reps at a camera expo in Austin and we got to talking about my prior tests. They asked if I would be interested in trying again with the latest firmware. I was skeptical but agreed to give it another go. I had resigned to the fact that there is an ideal tool for every task and the X-T1 just wasn't the best choice for fast paced sports. Horses for courses as they say. The Fujifilm folks flashed my X-T1 to the latest firmware (4.10) and I received a demo 50-140mm lens (firmware 1.10) a couple weeks later. 

The Texas Stars had a home game last night so I brought the X-T1 and the 50-140mm along. My plan was to just shoot warm-ups with the X-T1 and use the D750 for the game as usual. My first shots in warm-ups weren't encouraging. I tried the wide tracking autofocus option and it just wasn't staying locked on. I tend to use the D750's 3D tracking mode quite a bit and I was hoping the wide tracking mode on the X-T1 would be similar. Nope - at least not with pro hockey players. These guys move way too fast and since the X-T1 has to switch to contrast detection at the wide points, it just isn't able to keep up. After some playing around with the autofocus settings I settled on the zone focus option. I opted to use only a 3x3 center focus area figuring that should use the phase detection points only. This worked the best, although I found that I had to get onto the subject and follow longer than I'm accustomed to for the AF system to lock on. Here are the settings I ended up using:

  • Continuous autofocus (C on focus selection switch)
  • High speed burst rate (CH on top dial)
  • Zone autofocus area in middle (3x3 grid)
  • Image quality: Fine (Pro Neg film simulation)
  • DR100
  • Autofocus with release priority
  • Face detection: off
  • Pre Autofocus: off
  • Power Management: High Performance On
  • No image review

Here are a few shots from warm up (click for larger views):

The X-T1 wasn't as responsive as my D750 and the number of keepers wasn't as high as I would have liked. However, I was getting enough acceptable shots that I decided to start the game coverage with the X-T1. After all, I really couldn't get an accurate feel for how it handled a game without shooting actual play. The only thing that really bothered about using the X-T1 for game play initially is that I feared image quality might be an issue since I shoot for the Stars' graphics department. My images need to be sharp and clean. Now, I have no problem with the X-T1's image quality for most things but when people are in my shots I like to be no higher than ISO 1600. In order to get the shutter speed I needed (1/1000), I had to crank the ISO up to 3200 even shooting at f/2.8. That's the point where Fujifilm's algorithms tend to muck up flesh tones a bit. It's really annoying. I push my D750 to ISO 3200 to get to f/4 for more depth of field. The higher ISO on that full frame sensor is no problem. Since I was shooting a game and not portraits, I forged ahead with ISO 3200.

It took me a while to settle in with the X-T1 once the game started. There were some misses of shots I'd really like to have nailed - one save in particular that got away - Argh!!! I resisted the temptation to bag the X-T1 and kept at it. My efforts were rewarded and the keeper rate climbed slowly. Basically, I had to get on the player as soon as possible and allow the X-T1 the little bit of extra time it seems to need to lock on. I started by using back button focus like I do on my D750. It doesn't seem to work the same way on the X-T1. It either stops the continuous focus when the shutter button is hit while the back button focus is pressed or it slows way down. I'm not certain which - I'll have to play with that some more. Bottom line, using the shutter half-press to focus while tracking worked best for me. 

Here are a few shots from the first period:

I learned a few things after the first period. The X-T1 did pretty well tracking approaching players at a distance. As they got closer, within 20 feet or less, the AF system had a real hard time staying locked on. To be fair, my D750 struggles with that too. The fast, erratic movement of the players is a real challenge especially up close. One thing the X-T1 seemed to do better than the D750 is that on shots all the way across the ice (goal to goal) the X-T1 did a great job at locking onto players instead of getting fooled by the contrasty ads on the boards. On the other hand, players skating in the path of the subject I was tracking would throw the AF system off easily. The X-T1 did do a good job at staying locked onto to a subject, like the goalie, when there was activity immediately on either side. Initial focus lock on when changing distance by a large amount was sluggish. I didn't get that snap I get from the DSLR rig. I really liked the 10 frame a second rate of the X-T1. A lot happens in a second of hockey play and my D750 only shoots 6 per second.

Second period:

For the second period, I moved to the media box between the team benches. This is an unobscured area (no protective glass!) that puts the photographer in the middle of the action. Shooting from the corners as I did in the first period (through a cut out hole in the glass) involves a lot of oncoming shots of players. Shooting from the bench is more lateral moving shots and into the goal. This demands that the camera be able to track focus from side to side and be able to maintain focus where I want when shooting into layers of players around the goal. The X-T1 didn't too terrible at lateral tracking but it could have been better. Again, I used only the phase detection area so I was pretty much locking on with the center focus area and panning with the player. My D750 is stronger here with more phase detection points across the frame. The X-T1 did better on shooting into the goal, possibly even better than my D750 does when aimed into a dense crowd in the goal crease. It tends to have trouble settling down on a focus point while the X-T1 was locking on to the right places.

Third period:

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.

Checking Out the Fujifilm XF 50-140mm F/2.8 Lens - A Brief Review

I've said before on this blog that I'm not much of a camera gear head and I'm not one to begin salivating every time a new lens comes on the market. However, I do believe that it is important to have a camera and lens(es) that you connect with and feel comfortable using. That's what I feel with my Fujifilm X-T1 and the handful of lenses I have for it. I love shooting with that camera and anything else in the digital realm just doesn't do it for me. Is it a perfect camera? No, not at all. In fact, it downright fails at one of my primary photography jobs - covering pro hockey games for the Texas Stars. I have a Nikon based DSLR rig for that. Now, I do like my Nikon gear. I don't love it though and if only my X-T1 could keep up with the task of reliably maintaining autofocus on fast moving hockey players I'd ditch my Nikon gear without a second thought. Sadly, this hasn't been the case and I continue to lug my D750 around with a 70-200mm f/2.8 attached to catch the action on the ice. My beloved X-T1 is relegated to capturing candids, wide angles, and other more static photo ops at the games. 

To be fair, I'd never had a comparable lens on the X-T1 to pit against my DSLR rig in an apples to apples comparison. I'd played with my XF 55-200mm but it was much too slow. I'd also experimented with my XF 23mm and 35mm lenses. They showed a glimmer of promise but the focal lengths weren't really that great for hockey rinks. Most of my shots are toward the long end of 70-200mm so I really needed that range to judge whether the X-T1 was up to the task. Well, Fujifilm finally came out with the 70-200mm equivalent 50-140mm lens late last year. Since then I have been bugging my Fujifilm rep for an eval copy and he finally got one in my hands last week. The Texas Stars only had one game at home before hitting the road for a 2 week road trip so I eagerly headed to the rink to see what the X-T1 could do with the 50-140mm attached. 

This lens is by mirror-less camera standards a beast. It's smaller and lighter than a DSLR equivalent but not as much as you might think. This lens feels like a hefty hunk of metal in my hands. It feels solid and the build quality is reassuring. Fujifilm really outdid themselves on this thing. With the lens hood attached it looks massive. With the small X-T1 attached this rig is decidedly front heavy. You don't get the sense of balance that you would feel with a comparable DSLR rig. When I switched on the camera I immediately noticed a hum from the lens. Kind of sounded like a small fan actually. Ah, I thought, the image stabilization is on - that's what it is. I turned off the IS switch but the sound remained. If I put the camera in image playback mode the sound would go away. As soon as I was back to shooting mode the sound was back. As heavy as this lens is I'm sure there are some large glass elements inside and I'm guessing there is some sort of active dampening on at all times. I was left wondering what that does to the already not-so-great battery life of my X-T1.

Before I attempted to use my X-T1 and the 50-140mm lens to shoot incredibly fast athletes, I configured the camera with every optimization I could find in my research online. The following settings were configured.

  • Continuous autofocus (C on focus selection switch)
  • High speed burst rate (CH on dial)
  • Single autofocus area in middle (various sizes tried)
  • Image quality: F
  • DR100
  • Autofocus release priority - both release and focus tried (I use release on my DSLR)
  • Autofocus mode: area (set to center)
  • Face detection: off
  • Pre Autofocus - tried both off and on
  • Power Management: High Performance On
  • No image review

At the rink I shoot at ice level either from a hole in the glass or from the player bench. I don't shoot through the glass at games. Yes, I have been hit with pucks, sticks, players. Don't worry, no Fujifilm products have been harmed. While I'd hoped to get some initial time working with the lens at a practice or morning skate prior to a game, a delivery snafu resulted in me not getting it in time. The best I could do was to see how the X-T1 and 50-140mm lens fared in the brief warmup period before the game.

When I shoot hockey, I track players while trying to lock the autofocus on their jersey logos. I keep the subject under the AF point (center only in the case of the X-T1). If the players are moving, every shot is burst of at least 2-3 frames. During warmup I was able to get a feel for how well this Fujifilm combination could keep up with the players moving laterally and towards me. Rapidly approaching players racing to the net or to touch up a dumped puck are the most challenging shots even for my DSLR rig.

How did it go? Well, I'll cut to the chase and say that the X-T1 and the 50-140mm won't be replacing my Nikon rig for hockey. Realistically I didn't think it would but I wasn't going to write off the possibility without at least trying as close of a match in lenses as I could. I love my X-T1 and I so wanted it to work, at least well enough to get an acceptable number of keepers. So what went wrong? The biggest problem I saw was with initial focus lock. The X-T1 just wasn't able to acquire focus quickly enough for oncoming players. These players move quickly and erractically and when they are charging toward the net or boards split seconds count. I have to get my shot and get my camera out of the hole before it meets its demise. It simply took too long for the X-T1 to get that initial focus on fast approaching players. If I started to focus at the blue line, they would be right up on me before the X-T1 could get a lock and produce sharp shots. Side to side movements were a little better, although the X-T1 would stutter with obstacles like other players briefly passing through. Movement of hands and sticks seemed to easily distract the X-T1 from the jersey logos as well. The X-T1 did hold on to the main player relatively well when other players were in close proximity. I didn't have too much trouble with it jumping to the high contrast board ads (something that can sometimes be a problem on a DSLR with expanded autofocus points), as long as I did my part to keep the focus point over the subject.

Some samples from warmup are below. These are all camera JPEGs that I brightened just slightly in post as needed. No other modifications were made. On the static shots, the lens was tack sharp wide open. On action shots, the sharpness was often lacking because the focus just wasn't nailed. Shooting at f/2.8 by necessity, there isn't a lot of room for error. I was bursting the shots on all of these where the players were in motion, capturing 3-5 frames on each typically. These are the best of the burst sequences. I expect some frames to be out of focus when shooting with release priority. However, I was doing good to get one acceptable frame per burst. Setting to the autofocus priority to focus didn't help much because it took too long to lock on. This wasn't encouraging since the players weren't moving at full throttle in warmups. Click for larger versions.

One interesting item of note - my typical exposure with my Nikon rig at the Cedar Park Center where the Stars play is F/3.2, 1/1000, ISO 2500. The 1/1000 shutter speed is about as slow as you want to go with pro hockey players. I had to set my X-T1 to F/2.8, 1/1000, ISO 3200 with the 50-140mm lens and the exposure was still just a tad bit darker than I'd like it to be (easy enough to bump up 1/3 to 1/2 stop in post.) Every lens varies a bit in my experience and my X-T1 seems to generally be about 1/3 stop down from my D750. In combination with the 50-140mm lens I was a bit over 2/3 stops down. I don't like taking the X-T1 above ISO 3200 and this put me right at the edge.

On the Canon and Nikon DSLR platforms I have used there is more control over continuous autofocus. You can typically adjust the "strength" of autofocus lock before the camera tries to focus on something else. The X-T1 doesn't have this ability that I can tell. You can usually adjust the number of points around the primary focus point of a DSLR where the camera will use the peripheral points to track a moving subject. Again, the X-T1 doesn't offer this level of fine control. The DSLR 70-200mm lenses usually have a focus limiter to minimize seeking through the entire range when the subject is further away. I use this quite a bit at the rink and the 50-140mm doesn't have this feature. It did seem like some of the slowness was rooted in the fact that those heavy elements were being pushed and pulled through a large range.

Unfortunately, my experimentation in a game warmup didn't give me the confidence to use it on my X-T1 during the game. The keeper rate was abysmal compared to my Nikon rig and I just couldn't risk blowing critical shots in game play. No hard feelings on my part. It was worth a shot.

Let me be clear at this point. I'm not knocking the X-T1 or the new lens at all. I love my X-T1 and I was attempting to push it into an area of photography that it simply isn't designed to excel at. So the X-T1 and the 50-140mm aren't the optimal sports rig. That's probably not going to surprise many people. What about other shooting other stuff? Well, first of all as I said before this is an amazingly sharp lens - even wide open. Are you the portrait guy who loves to shoot at F/2.8? This lens will do for you just fine. It's damn sharp. I think it's sharper than my Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8 VR II. It's certainly right up there. It's also just as sharp as my XF prime lenses. See for yourself below. I couldn't get a model other than Chloe the poodle on short notice but her fur serves to help illustrate what you get at F/2.8. Camera JPEG, no post production sharpening at all. Note: I do always keep my in-camera sharpening at +1.

52mm, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO 200

100% crop for pixel peepers

My sample lens arrived at an awkward time for me in the middle of a busy week. I'd hoped to get a portrait session together in addition to the hockey test but on short notice that didn't work out. I decided to take it on a short photo walk instead. As luck (or the lack of) would have it, the weather wasn't very cooperative and it was a blustery, rainy afternoon when I had the opportunity to take it out. It's a weather resistant lens though and a bit of drizzle didn't seem to bother it at all.  Here are a few shots from my little walkabout. All are camera JPEGs with the Classic Chrome film simulation, slightly adjusted for contrast in Lightroom.

The 50-140mm was already sharp wide open and it of course didn't disappoint when I stopped down to mid-range apertures of F/5.6 or F/8. I made use of the image stabilization feature and that seemed to work well. While I didn't test to see how slow of a shutter speed I could get, it did enable me to handhold at 1/60 and get sharp images at the longer focal lengths. It seemed to settle fairly quickly with a stable image in my viewfinder.

I didn't get to walk very far, maybe 30 minutes before I decided it was too cold to remain outdoors. My time was sufficient to decide that the 50-140mm is an exceptional lens in the image quality department. My only issue with it on a photo walk is its weight. It was heavy on my shoulder in my Maxpedition bag with a generously padded shoulder strap and the weight was quite evident while shooting. It is also big and conspicuous, which is probably not a huge issue in Austin where you can't throw a rock and not hit a photographer. If you are looking for a discrete package for shooting on the streets, this won't be the ideal choice. 

While this Fujifilm lens is a formidable, perhaps even optically superior alternative to the workhorse 70-200mm F/2.8 of the DSLR world, I'm not sure it will find a place in my camera bag - at least not right now. If it could work for my sports shooting, I'd be all over it. As it stands, I see it as more of a studio lens. Part of what I really enjoy about my X-T1 and my XF prime lens set is the amazing quality in a diminutive size. I do have a XF 55-200mm that gets use at certain outdoor events and some portraits. Whenever possible though, I prefer to travel light. The 50-140mm lens is the first XF lens that gives me pause because it is really starting to get a little too close to that DSLR lens size and weight. If you got into mirror-less cameras to lose a bit of gear weight, this sizable lens may be off-putting.

Fujifilm is doing great things with their products. They listen to their customers, they fix bugs that arise - heck they even add new features to their cameras via firmware. What other camera company continues to add value to the product after they have your money? They have an incredible piece of glass here that will hold its own against the DSLR equivalents. If you need that 70-200mm F2.8 experience for your X camera, this is a no-brainer in most situations. If you're shooting action stuff like me, it looks like we're going to have wait a little longer for better autofocus performance in Fujifilm cameras - assuming they decide to seriously pursue that area. I can only hope they will.