Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No sports zone

As everyone who has ever touched a rangefinder camera has heard from several sources, you cannot shoot sports with a rangefinder. A big DSLR with a long tele or a zoom lens is indeed the usual weapon of choice in sports photography even for rangefinder users like myself. For sports, you often want to use long lenses as it is otherwise difficult or even impossible to get close enough to the action, and you want to have quick autofocus and a high frame rate to track your subjects and not miss the action.

With all that in mind I went and shot some sports equipped with a Leica M8 and a Voigtländer 50/1.1 Nokton lens. And I made things worse by using the lens mostly wide open. Number of shots missed due to shortish focal length? Probably about a zillion, give or take two. My approach however is not thinking in terms of what cannot be done; always think what can be done and have some fun instead. (And I had a DSLR with a tele lens with me, too, which really makes this a moot point to begin with.) Number of shots missed due to manual focusing at f/1.1? Basically zero. One was clearly off but useable, and a few others missed the critical focus by a small margin. The AF on my Canon failed much more than that.

Let's see some pictures then

The event is the Disc Golf European Open 2011, held in Nokia, Finland. This is the first round of the tournament, with scenes from three holes featuring Nikko Locastro and Jeremy Koling of U.S., Ilari Tuoma of Finland, and Mats Strömgren of Sweden. Locastro entered the tournament as number one in the world; see the PDGA World Ranking System here.

European Open 2011 - Leica M8, 1/1000, f/1.1, ISO 160

European Open 2011 - Leica M8, 1/180, ISO 160

European Open 2011 - Leica M8, 1/360, ISO 320

European Open 2011 - Leica M8, 1/180, f/1.1, ISO 160

European Open 2011 - Leica M8, 1/360, f/1.1, ISO 160

European Open 2011 - Leica M8, 1/500, f/1.1, ISO 160

European Open 2011 - Leica M8, 1/3000, f/1.1, ISO 160

Back to camera talk

High frame rate is close to mandatory — while good timing really is mandatory — in sports photography. With a measly 2-fps rate the M8 sure is lacking in the frame-rate department. This is not necessarily a problem in all sports, but for disc golf the rate is clearly too low. The throwing action is quick, and two consecutive frames at 2 fps fail to catch the visually most interesting moments around the release of the disc. Sure, with good timing you can capture one of these moments, but you miss two or three equally interesting frames. In terms of focal length, you probably want to be at least around a 100-mm equivalent to shoot the action, preferably between 150 and 500 mm. A big lens on a big camera makes certain things much easier.

The moral of the story however is that you can shoot sports with pretty much any camera, you only need to adapt your style to the equipment and the environment. With a relatively short lens, you either need to get closer or you end up with pictures of tiny people in distance (see above for a couple of examples). Just think what you want to achieve. Turns out I liked many of the Leica shots for their mood much better than the closer and more action-oriented DSLR images from this outing. Perhaps I need to post a few of those for comparison.