Here's a post I have been looking forward to making since I heard the X-T2 was coming into existence, and boy I was not left disappointed.
In the lead up to the release of the X-T2 there were a few things I was looking forward to seeing improved upon, one being a more competent auto-focus system that followed my instructions a bit better, particularly when shooting my beloved XF56mmF1.2 R. I am well aware that on an ~85mm equivalent lens, AF speed and accuracy at F1.2 is not exactly an easy thing to achieve, and Fujifilm wasn't alone in this department when compared to Canon's 85mm F1.2 L behemoth.
Well, after almost 2 weeks shooting with the X-T2 and my XF56mmF1.2 R on numerous occasions and circumstances I can safely say that Fujifilm have made me a very happy camper. This new pairing is fast, accurate, and surprisingly tracks really well in continuous focus mode. That said, today's post is all about portraiture so you'll just have to wait for another day when I post about the X-T2 and its ability to capture action and fast paced, changing movement.
I had the pleasure of meeting the martial artist, model, actress and generally awesome human, Ann Truong, during some captures at my local Muay Thai gym. We met up in our local neighbourhood one Saturday afternoon recently for some impromptu portraits and I got to put my new camera through its paces, all whilst showing her and another friend some unique parts of the town centre. For this series I used the XF56mmF1.2 R with only a few noted shots on the XF35F2.
You can take a look at full size JPEGs at this link.
Fujifilm have improved their auto-focus system out of sight when comparing the new X-T2 to the X-T1. Yes, I loved my X-T1 (it's moved to a new home now) but at times it was like a disobedient child that you wanted to do one thing and it wanted to do... well, not what you wanted i.e. lock focus on this subject, not that piece of shrub in the background. The immediately noticeable difference is the focus acquisition speed and accuracy when shooting with all of my lenses, particularly the XF56mmF1.2 R @ F1.2. Even when shooting into heavily flared afternoon sunlight behind Ann, the camera and lens combo still hit the mark and didn't go off in the woods hunting! Hallelujah!!!!! In cases where I have shot between near and far subjects, it's quick to find focus and has proven to be a gem at this too during very dim light in my home environment. I will test this more in future though.
So what is there to be mindful of when using this combo?
Fujifilm have a great menu system that can readily be used to access features like face and eye detection. Heck! It can even be setup to choose left or right eye as a priority on the fly. So, if you've got a relatively settled/staged subject this feature is a god send for getting dead set focus on the eyes of your subject. Another thing to be mindful of is that this lens seems to really eat battery power. I am not sure what combo of the lens' motor and camera would cause this but I am certain that the camera would have to work overtime to acquire focus like it does at F1.2. Always pack an extra battery or two, or get the new vertical battery grip.
On a final note, if you're a Canon user and your 85mm 1.2 L is doing your head in with it's heft, awful purple fringing, and slow focus, seriously go and give this combo a test. If you're not this kind of person/user, just go and do it anyway!
Fight sports: One of the fastest growing sports categories in the world, and for good reason!
As a martial artist who's trained a wide variety of different disciplines, I have a tremendous level of respect for the men and women who devote so much of themselves to competing. The hours upon hours of intense training in and out of the gym, the dietary restrictions, and of course, the mental preparation required to step into the ring or cage and engage in an often brutal and satisfying few rounds of high level martial arts expertise are things reserved for a select part of the world's population. Then there's the recovery that comes after the fight...
But enough of the philosophical banter.
As a massive advocate for the capabilities of the FujiFilm XT-1 and its always improving FREE firmware upgrades, the testing of the XF16-55 R LM WR was an itch that was in well need of a scratch. Any extra funds that I can allocate for gear typically go on new prime lenses, because, like Optimus, I am a Prime guy (get it?!).
For this project I hit up the ever awesome Leigh Diprose at FujiFilm Oz and he sent me the XF16-55 for a few weeks along with an X100T for some other projects. I now very much understand why folks have raved about this lens, it is a beast! It's fast, sharp as a tack, and very responsive!
In order to give this lens a fair run for its money I sought to shoot a Muay Thai Fight Night alongside a great friend and amazing photographer, William Luu of W.L Fight Photography. Absolutely massive thanks and appreciation goes to him for helping make this happen and welcoming me into his domain.
For starters I went into the backstage preparation areas to see how the fighters for Warriors Way were looking. The light in there was pretty awful to say the least but the XF16-55 managed to handle itself well, and the XT-1's high ISO capabilities did the shots justice too. The constant F2.8 aperture is brilliant and the lens did not hunt around trying to gain focus using Zone Focusing mode.
Shooting fight nights isn't typically a comfortable affair. I'll take 12 hours at a wedding any day (because I love it!) rather than being stuck on my knees in a space smaller than 1m2. Regardless, I was hooked up with a good fixed position for the night at ringside that yielded some pretty awesome results and a few close calls with fighters almost falling out of the ring.
For most of ring bound action I set my XT-1 up in the following manner:
Normally I shoot RAW or RAW and JPEG small for weddings, because I don't typically shoot using high burst rates. However, given the nature of fight photography I wanted the camera to be as responsive as possible and with the EVF and consistent lighting, I knew I could guarantee my exposure would be on point for the show.
For most shots outside of ring, such as fighter walk-ins, I switched the camera to the following:
Switching between the two modes was an easy process made so by the very well laid out controls and visuals on the XT-1. As you can imagine, the light of stage wasn't always great and it was made even more difficult by visual obstructions like the ring. Again, the XT-1 and XF16-55 hit the mark almost every time in the 3000+ shots that I took throughout the night.
I am a big fan and user of the tilt-screen on the XT-1, and not having it on the new X-Pro2 has been a big reason why I I'll be waiting for the XT-2. Then again, the XT-1 is a formidable camera that is serving all my needs more than adequately so an upgrade may not be necessary unless desire takes over. Back to the tilt-screen.
In the case of this show I found it incredibly useful when keeping myself and the fighters safe because I could keep the angle of the camera where I wanted it under the ropes and easily pull back as fighters came near. It was also very useful for some of the low-angle shots of the fighters in their corners during rounds.
I used one single Sandisk 16gb extreme card for this show since i was shooting in JPEG. For most of the show I shot in CL (Continuous Low) so I could get manageable 3-5 shot bursts, and on occasion for some of the bigger fights I used CH (Continuous High), which you can see some sequenced examples of lower down. Panning and zooming in during bursts in these modes worked brilliantly and I experienced little to no misses and only on 1 occasion did it focus beyond the fighters to the other side of the ring. Honestly, I didn't expect it to respond this good! I can only imagine how much better it'll be with the fast EVF refresh time on the XT-2.
As for battery usage for the ~3700 photos I took, I used just over 2!
I'd imagine that shooting JPEG is much easier for the camera and card to transfer, meaning less processing power is required and thus, greater conservation of battery power. Very impressive!
What can I say that hasn't already been said about this combo?
I had such a great time shooting with it and my expectations were met and then surpassed. I am certainly no pro fight photographer like William Luu, but if I was thrown into the world of fight photography professionally, I would have no qualms shooting with this combination. Alas, my passions in photography lay elsewhere and Will does an outstanding job, living and breathing the fight photography scene down here in Melbourne.
If you've considered this lens for applications like this or otherwise, you'll be hard pressed to find fault with it. It's got a good bit of heft behind it so you could certainly balance it better with a battery pack on your camera body, but it's certainly not uncomfortable. I will soon be writing a follow up post to this where I shot the majority of a rather special wedding using this as my first ever zoom.