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.