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.