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Shooting Indoor Sports with the Fujinon XF90mm f/2

· 10.May.2019

This past winter saw me switching camera systems from my beloved Canon gear of 40 or so years to Fujifilm. I have been a devout Canon user and a Canon Professional Services member since it’s inception. As a photojournalist this was the go to camera system for photojournalists. I loved it until age caught up with me. I used to shoot football with a 300 f 2.8 and a massive Canon 1D MK2 attached and then later on a 7D MK2. Then I dropped even further to shooting with the 70-200 2.8 and a tele extender with the 7D MK2. After shooting fall sports last year with this rig I decided it was time for a change. And that change was not to Sony but to Fujifilm. Size, weight, and cost were the determining factors.

One of the biggest challenges was shooting in jpg for speed. I normally have an hour and a half turn around per game for the next days paper. The Fuji jpg’s are unbelievable. I was shooting at an ISO of 4000 to 6400 on a regular basis with no noise to speak of which made things real easy.

Rockport’s Gavyn Hillier goes after a rebound with Swampscott’s Jackson Byrne during the final game of the Rockport Holiday basketball tournament on Saturday evening. KIRK R. WILLIAMSON/ photo. 12/29/18

I was facing a real problem as indoor sports requires fast medium telephoto glass. So it was a tough choice after buying the Fujifilm X-T3 and battery grip. What was I going to shoot hockey and basketball with? I would normally use the Canon 70-200 f 2.8 for both. Money was tight so I was not going to be able to find a Fujifilm 50-140 used for a price I could afford. That got me thinking about the Fujinon XF90mm f/2. Fast quad motors and an f/2 aperture sounded like just the ticket. A 135 mm f/2 after considering the crop factor seemed like a good choice. I was able to find one used for around $650 which fit my finances just right. I was a little apprehensive since this lens is more known for being a portrait or landscape lens. But f/2.0 is hard to beat for indoor sports in the poorly lit high school gyms.

Swampscott’s Max Pegnato tries to grab the ball during a scramble with Rockport’s Kyle Beal during the final game of the Rockport Holiday basketball tournament on Saturday evening. KIRK R. WILLIAMSON/ photo. 12/29/18

I tried shooting a little with the “kit lens” just to see what would happen and I actually got a decent photo or two shooting at 1/500s at f/4. But focusing clearly is what I needed help with. I dug into Google and the manual for the X-T3 and tried to figure out what would be the best settings for shooting basketball and hockey. The answer was that they are very different sports and required some different settings. For basketball the ball moves from player to player rapidly and constantly so locking on is totally useless. So I made up my own setting in AF-C Custom Settings #6 Tracking Sensitivity set to 1 and Speed Tracking set to 0. Zone Area Switching was set to auto but I used Single point instead of Zone for my focus area. This seemed to work pretty well but i was still having a little trouble. I tried setting up back button focus but the Fuji buttons are not well placed for my hand and not raised enough so it did not work well. I went back to using the shutter button for AF. I really don’t like using it this way but when I discovered that the half press works really well  I was sold.

Gloucester’s Marc Smith is fouled on his way to the basket during Gloucester’s Div. 2 North Quarterfinal game with Reading on Sunday. KIRK R. WILLIAMSON/ photo. 3/3/19

The next step was to try and use the electronic shutter at 10 frames a sec. utilizing the 1.25 crop which would give me an effective focal length of around 168mm which is pretty good for basketball. It took me awhile to get used to following the action and not seeing the shutter go off while shooting. Black out is really cool as you can see everything. My issue was shooting to many frames. So I was following the action with the camera focusing constantly and then laying on the shutter when I felt the action warranted. This worked really well until I got to the point of shooting to many frames near the end of the season so I went to a zone approach 3×3 grid set on auto and half pressing the shutter to keep the focus close. When I felt the action warranted I mashed the shutter. This seemed to work ok but there were issues with missed shots as the camera focused on other players. I also tried using the mechanical shutter as well and got mixed results.

Gloucester’s Ruby Melvin flies over fallen Salem player Debra Dominguez while chasing after a lose ball during their game Friday. KIRK R. WILLIAMSON/ photo. 1/18/19

Hockey was the next challenge. I normally like to shoot hockey above the glass and near center ice that way I can get both teams. Shooting with the 90 mm did not allow this because even at 168 mm in crop mode or sports finder mode it’s to far away. So I was stuck shooting through the glass near the end of the rink. I used a different approach with hockey. The players move so much faster so I went with the mechanical shutter making sure there was no distorted players using the electronic shutter with a rolling shutter. Frankly I only saw one instance of rolling shutter and it was not real bad at all. So my setup for hockey was to shoot in Mechanical Shutter with the AF-C on #3 or #4 and tapped the shutter button to follow the action and mashed it when I wanted the shot. I used Zone focusing set at 3×3 which seemed to work pretty well. I went back and forth using #6 which I had set up as before and moved the zone to center not auto.

Gloucester’s Jack Costanzo gets off a shot while being tripped by Revere’s Rickie Briana during third period action of Gloucester’s 7-2 win over Revere Saturday. KIRK R. WILLIAMSON/ photo. 1/26/19

Overall the new system worked really well. It’s not like shooting the pros, everything is moving much slower at the high school level. I got some great images but next year I hope to have the 50-140 which will give me some more options. But who knows I still might shoot with the Fujinon XF90 since the whole rig weighs almost nothing compared to the Canon 7D mk2 and the 70-200 f 2.8.

Rockport’s A.J. Cururu stick handles past a Minuteman Regional defenseman during first period action Saturday. KIRK R. WILLIAMSON/ photo. 1/26/19

Rockport’s John Andrew knocks the puck down before sliding it between Minuteman’s regional’s goalie Edward Hassler for Rockport’s first goal during first period action Saturday. KIRK R. WILLIAMSON/ photo. 1/26/19

Kirk Williamson

Kirk Williamson

Kirk Williamson is a photojournalist of over 40 years specializing in editorial photography for newspapers and magazines with his work being published worldwide. He currently shoots for daily publications in the New England area of the United States and is an adjunct photography professor. He also runs photography workshops with his company Cape Ann Photo Tours.

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