The 2013 Arctic Cross season ended this past weekend at Goose Lake Park here in Anchorage, Alaska. Having shot the previous five races with different gear and photographic styles, I went into Saturday’s race with a totally new approach: No DSLR. Just the Fujifilm XE-1 with a fixed XF 14mm f/2.8 lens and The X20. What? No big camera? No fast telephoto lens? I thought that mirrorless cameras just weren’t up to the task of shooting fast action?
Well, you know me. I always like to throw myself a challenge, and after having using my Fuji X cameras as backups in for a number of different shoots, I figured it was time to put them in the game for real and see what they could do.
Also, just make it interesting, I put another spin on things. I shot both cameras in square JPEG format, with black and white mode on the XE-1 and the “miniature” tilt-shift style setting on the X20. That took all of the variation away and just limited my creativity to one “look” for each camera.
Here’s how it went.
The XE-1: Black and White
I love how down and dirty cyclocross is. As far as bike racing goes, it can be full-on combat. It usually involves a tight course where there’s lots of passing in areas where there’s little room to pass, just enough obstacles and sharp turns so to prevent you from getting any real speed for more than a few seconds, roots, rocks, singletrack, trees, wet grass and enough mud, dirt and sand to pack up your derailleurs like concrete by the end of the race.
What better way to capture the grit and intensity of the sport than with black and white? I love the BW film simulations on the Fuji X cameras and have been shooting much more BW ever since I got them.
Exposure: My exposure mode on all of these is Aperture Priority, which meant that I made all adjustments by turning the aperture ring on the lens. Just like the old days before command dials and um… sub-command dials. Exposures were anywhere from 1/30 to 1/1400 sec, and I shot in both single frame mode, and 6 fps continuous mode.
Lens: As a big wide angle guy, I totally dig the look of the XF 14mm f/2.8 lens, it gives in a effective 21mm view, and since it’s fast and has a very wide depth of field, it legs me get really close to my subjects, just like I do with my Nikon wide angles. Shooting with this setup feels just like my style, with the only difference is that I’m using the LCD screen instead of the EVF for most shots. As good as the XE-1′s EVF is, I just can’t get used to shooting this way with any camera.
Autofocus: I used the mode where you get to choose your focus zone in the viewfinder, and I’d say that overall, it did pretty good. It does has limitations, some of which might very well be operator error. It didn’t lock on for some subjects and I definitely missed some shots, but when it did lock correctly, I nailed it. When it’s sharp, it’s really sharp.
Also, sometimes, it grabbed an element of the scene that turned out to be tack sharp, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be sharp. Like maybe it locked onto the riders shirt or handlebars, when I was trying to grab the face. Again, I was shooting right in the middle of the action, just like I would with my DSLR, and that doesn’t always get it perfect either. With sports and that kind of speed, you never do; that’s why you shoot tons of frames.
For all the shooting I’ve done with the Fuji XE-1, this was the most action sports shooting task I’d given it, and in the end, I was very impressed. In my book, it passed the sports test with flying colors. Even at cropped 1:1 mode, the 3,264 x3,264 look great when blown up to full size.
Of course, that’s in addition to the fact that I just love holding the XE-1. It feels like a camera is supposed to feel in your hands, which brings a real pleasure element to the picture taking process. This is supposed to be fun, right, so why not use a tool that really brings out your fun factor.
The X20: Miniature Mode
I have photographed action with the X20. I’ve used it for everything, and I find it to be an incredible versatile little camera. It even has an optical viewfinder, which I love way more than any EVF, so I actually shoot quit a bit while actually looking through the camera. I don’t need to gush about it here, you already know how much I love this little camera.
For this race, I used the same type of autofocus setting like I did on the XE-1. However, while I often shot in continuous on the XE-1, Miniature mode only lets you take one shot, since it takes a few seconds to process the image.
This meant one frame per scene, which isn’t a bad thing when shootings sports; it actually forces you to be more exact with your timing. Since shutter lagis pretty much non existent on these little cameras, you can still grab the frame you want, as long as you can press the shutter at the right moment.
Quality on the X20 obviously isn’t as high as it is on the XE-1, especially when shooting a special filter mode like this. As with most X20 subjects, though, if the light is good and your subject is moderately close, it produces a sharp image with little noise. Add darker midtones and busy, detailed subjects in the background, and you’ll start to see more noise. Less so if you’re shooting in RAW
Overall, I had lots of fun shooting this race. Especially whenever the guy in the viking costume rode by. Both X cameras held their own, they were really fun to use, and I’m super happy with the feel and mood of my photographs; I think they tell a great story of what happened over at Goose Lake last Saturday afternoon, and that fact shouldn’t be camera dependent.
Remember, photography isn’t about which camera you use to shoot which subject. You want to make it as transparent as possible. Your approach and your style should translate to whatever camera you’re using.
As for me, I’m a little bummed that the Alaska season is over already, ours goes pretty early. That said, cyclocross season is still very much underway down in the rest of the country. Maybe I’ll have to go look for more races this fall.
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