Catching Action With The Fuji X Series

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We have all read how most Mirrorless Cameras just won’t cut it when it comes to shooting action. I have been shooting a Canon 7D with a 70-200mm 2.8 IS for the last four years for all of my action shots. When I have a assignment for Drag Racing, Motorcycle Racing, or High School Sports I always break out my Canon Gear. The DSLR is great for this use, but this stuff is heavy. After carrying this kit around for 8-10 hrs can really make anyone want to stop shooting sports.Try running around in the woods for 10 hrs covering a 50k Ultra or a Hare Scramble race, it is very hard to be as sharp at the end of the day as you are at the beginning of the event.

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About a year and a half ago I bought a Fuji XE-1 with a 18-55mm Lens. I tried to use it when I was shooting Motorcycle races in the summer. I would shoot for a bit but, I would have to break out the DSLR so I would get the shots that I needed to cover the event. Soon after that I sold my Canon 50D, and bought a Fuji XE-2, which has better focus and a better sensor in it than the XE-1. So over the past year I have been trying to get away from my “BIG DSLR” and use my Fuji’s more for everything I shoot.

XE-1 1/125 F20, 50mm, ISO 1000 JPEG
XE-1 1/125 F20, 50mm, ISO 1000 JPEG

Last weekend I went north to Syracuse to cover Super Dirt Week 43. I didn’t get press credentials this year so I went to shoot for my blogs, and to see if I could cover it with my Fuji’s. I rented a 55mm -200mm lens from http://www.lensrental.com for the weekend. Friday I arrived at 8:00am in the morning to try and get a good spot to shoot from. I went into the pits and started shooting behind the scenes, to capture the work that goes on to compete at the highest level in DIRT Modified Racing. I used my XE-1 for these shots. I set my camera up to shoot Black n White JPEGS. These images are wonderful straight out of the camera. Back in the 80’s I shot 35mm film in Black n White so I really enjoy the look of these shots.

XE-1  1/250  F16  ISO 640 JPEG
XE-1 1/250 F16 ISO 640 JPEG

After awhile in the pits some cars started to hit the track for warmups. Without having credentials I had to be creative with where I was going to shoot from. I headed over to turn one and found a hole in the fence that I could stick my 55-200mm through and get some great shots.The lighting was great so that wasn’t a issue for my Fuji. What I would do was pre focus on a spot in the corner and then follow the cars as they came down into turn one. Once they hit my focus point I would grab the shot. I wasn’t just motor driving 20 shots and then picking the few that came out good, This was more like when I was shooting film. Follow the car to a spot, shoot it, and hope you got it. At first I was in aperture priority mode, using high shutter speeds to make sure my images where sharp.

XE-2 1/4000 F4.8 ISO 800 200mm
XE-2 1/4000 F4.8 ISO 800 200mm

We all know that in motorsports using fast shutter speeds makes the cars look like they are parked in the corners. So I move down in between turns one and two, and found a concrete block that I could stand on. This put me above the fence so I could do some panning shots as the cars came racing through the turns.This was awesome I was pumped that I could get some great shots through out the day. I put my camera into shutter priority mode. I set the shutter speed at 1/180 to 1/250, so that I could show some movement. I had my cameras set to single shot mode and center focus point one click up in the view finder.  I would look for the cars to enter the corner, lock on focus and pan with them through out the turn, grab one shot and do it all over again. This was a blast getting that one shot instead of shooting 8fps and hoping for a good one. This way I knew what I wanted to capture, and if I got it great, and if I missed then “oh well” I will try again next time around.

XE-2 1/200 F13 ISO 800
XE-2 1/200 F13 ISO 800

Both cameras worked great with this method. My XE-1 was set to blk n wht JPEG and my XE-2 set on RAW, this way I could do some  post processing in light room later. When I was in shutter priority mode I tried to drop my shutter speed down to 1/60 or 1/100 a couple times. This was a cool effect but very hard to get a semi sharp image. I found that I would get my best shots at around 1/180 to 1/250.  Both of these cameras have a good EVF. I didn’t find it hard to use when panning with the cars. The only thing that was tough to do was, when I took one shot and wanted to recompose and shoot again real fast I missed a few shots. So I would take the shot, and then just aim in the area as the EVF was catching up and shoot again. It worked pretty good once I did it a few times.

XE-2 1/200 F10 ISO 500 81mm
XE-2 1/200 F10 ISO 500 81mm

This was one of those times it worked. This car blew tire coming into the corner, and spun out. I got the spin but then I wanted to get the impact against the wall. So I just followed the car to the wall and pushed the shutter. BAM there it was, I don’t think any of the other shooters standing on the corner grabbed this shot, or I haven’t seen one yet. This was becoming fun, when I got the shot I felt like that is what I was looking for. Instead of going home and uploading 1000 images and using 300 of them, I shot 300 images and kept 125 of them. It made me slow down from how I normally shoot with my DSLR.

On Saturday I did the same thing, I shot in the pits and then went to the first turn to get some action shots. Saturday there were more races and a lot more people on the fairgrounds. I noticed that some of the green vest shooters ( with credentials) brought a ladder and leaned it up against the fence to shoot like I was.  The last few years I had credentials and shot out on the track, which is very cool getting down low to catch the action at 120mph.

Canon 7d 70-200mm 1/200 ISO 400 FLASH
Canon 7d 70-200mm 1/200 ISO 400 FLASH

The above image was shot with my Canon and a flash. I plan on using my XE-2 to capture the same kind of image soon. I will use a flash, and do the same thing I did this year. Get one shot at a time. I’m sure it will take some getting used to, but I know It will work.

Sunday was the last day of SDW 43, the NAPA 200 was the big race of the weekend. I arrived early so I could capture all of the teams getting ready for the days big event. When I entered the pit area all of the participants were moving their equipment to pit road. They all had to make a pit stop during the race for fuel, so this added to the excitement of the race. I walked around for a while talking to some of the teams to see if they where ready for the race.

XE-1 JPEG
XE-1 JPEG

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They ran a couple other races in the morning so I went over to turn one again to get my spot on the concrete block. When I walked over there somebody had chained two ladders to the fence on the block, I wasn’t happy. I’m like crap now what? I looked around for another spot to shoot from, and I was lucky enough to find another block down toward turn two more. This block was set back father from the fence than I would have liked, but it would have to work. I shot some images of the races in the morning to see if this spot would work for the 200.

Fuji XE-1
Fuji XE-1

It was a good spot to shoot from, and different from what I got on Friday and Saturday. It was 11:00 am and the big race didn’t start until 2:30 pm. I did not dare move from this block or I could lose it, and not get any keepers for the rest of the day. After the two races were done I walked over to the food stand and grabbed some food and water for the day. I went back to my spot and it was still empty. The sun was shining and the temps were perfect for shooting a race. When the pre race ceremonies began I noticed the owner of the two ladders on the other block arrived. He removed the one ladder and put it up against the fence down aways and left the other one on the block.  Now if you are going to use a ladder you don’t need to be up on the block. Its crap that people do that. He didn’t use that block all day. Some other guy came over and stood on it to watch the race. Plus the photographer had credentials as well as two ladders. I’m just saying it’s not right.

XE-2 1/2000
XE-2 1/2000

It all worked out fine, I captured some great shots from my position, and learned how to use these wonderful Fuji’s for action shots. So the bottom line is if you are sick of carting around 30lbs of gear with you for ten hours, get a mirrorless system. There are a lot of good one to choose from. Rent one some time and leave your DSLR home, so that  you have to make the mirrorless work. It will slow you down by making you think about the shot you want to capture. My DSLR stuff is going up on EBAY soon I’m done with it.

XE-2 1/400 F9 200mm ISO 800
XE-2 1/400 F9 200mm ISO 800
XE-2 1/2000 F4.4 ISO 400
XE-2 1/2000 F4.4 ISO 400

I hope you enjoyed this article, and it helped you with your action shots. If you have any questions visit me at http://johnzacharyphotography.com and check out some of my other action shots. Please subscribe to this blog and like me on Facebook.

Take care

John

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