Colorado native, Dan Bailey, has been a full time adventure sports and outdoor photographer since 1996. His own passion for adventure often places him right alongside his subjects as he documents the unfolding scene and searches for the perfect image. In that way, his photography has become a vehicle for a life of exploration as he works to photograph expeditions, cultures and landscapes around the world. His shooting style can be defined as a cross between the raw immersion of first person photojournalism and the focused creativity of high-end commercial photography. Dan’s assignment and stock clients list includes Alaska Airlines, Holland America Line, Fidelity Investments, Thales Navigation, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, Backpacker Magazine, Outside, Salsa Cycles and Coleman.
With strong technical expertise, a tremendous level of energy and a true dedication to his craft, Dan works hard to create the most dynamic images possible. We are honored to have Dan as a Keynote Speaker at our PhotoExpo in Little Rock, Arkansas August 19-20. Here is a glimpse into what Dan can do and a sneak peek at the soon to be released Fujifilm X-T2:
Shooting High Speed Action with the Fujifilm XT-2 by Dan Bailey
As an action adventure photographer, I love the challenge of trying to capture human-powered subjects that move very quickly. The faster the better, as far as I’m concerned. For this reason, it’s imperative that my cameras have quick, responsive and accurate autofocus systems. Since dumping my heavy DLSRs and moving to a much lighter weight Fujifilm camera system during the past few years, I’ve been waiting for mirrorless autofocus technology to catch up with DSLRs, which have enjoyed a 35-year head start.
That’s why I was so excited to test out the new Fujifilm X-T2. Promising a vastly upgraded AF system over their previous flagship camera, the X-T1, the X-T2 features 325 AF points, 169 of which are the faster phase detect AF points, as well as a new set of predictive tracking algorithms, which are driven by a more powerful image processor. Also, AF selection is now made via the new joystick lever.
In addition, where the X-T1 (and many cameras) place the fastest AF points near the center of the frame, the phase detect array on the X-T2 covers the entire frame from top to bottom, and about 40% of the frame from side to side. This means you have much greater flexibility for composing your subject matter and tracking moving subjects across the frame.
I got my hands on a pre-release version of the X-T2 back in May, and quickly lined up some biking photo shoots to test it out. I wanted to see just how fast it could track, and how well it would acquire and stay with a moving subject, even at 11 frames per second.
First thing I did was hit the trails with my friend Josh. He’s always good for big air, so we pedaled around Kincaid Park here in Anchorage looking for the biggest jumps. Since tracking motion that’s moving directly toward or away from you is the biggest challenge for any autofocus system, I positioned myself so that Josh would be jumping straight towards the camera. To obtain maximum performance on the X-T2, I used the new dedicated Boost/Battery grip, which not only allows you to shoot at the highest possible frame rate, it also give you a bump in EVF refresh rate and AF speed as well.
Setting the camera to AF-C mode in Zone AF, with a shutter speed of 1/2,000 second using my XF50-140mm f/2.8 lens, I shouted my “Go” command and waited for Josh to rip around the corner and hit the jump. We did two or three passes, and as soon as he was in the air, I fired off an 8-frame burst at 11 fps. The system was able to nail focus on just about every single frame. Although a couple of the shots in this series were a little soft, the AF picked him right back up again and kept going. That’s the real test of a good AF system. You may not nail every single frame every single time, but if the camera can reacquire the lock, that’s what counts.
So far, so good. We kept these shenanigans up for a couple hours before coming across the biggest jump of the day. By then, the light was getting even better, as was our fun factor. I knew this would be the winning shot of the day if I could nail it- I loved the blue sky background, so, again, I positioned myself where I’d catch him flying right towards me and fired away.
The first frame in my 8-shot series was a tiny bit soft, but that’s when Josh first appeared in the frame- pretty much out of nowhere as far as the camera was concerned. It took a fraction of a second to get the lock, but all of the other frames in this series were dead sharp.
I could have tweaked AF-C Custom Settings Menu, which is a new feature on the X-T2. It allows you to adjust the tracking and zone handoff sensitivity based on the specific way your subject is moving. For example, you have one setting for subject that are moving at a consistent rate, one for subjects that are moving erratically, or if they’re accelerating or decelerating towards or away from you. There’s even a setting for subjects that appear suddenly in the frame, which might have worked a little better in this situation. Overall, there are 5 presets built into the camera, and can also tweak and save one slot to your own custom preset.
For my last test, I wanted to see how well the X-T2 would track across the frame. Shooting a road bike crit race, using the XF100-400mm lens in Zone AF and AF-C mode, the X-T2 was able to keep up like a champ, even with the very long focal length. As you can see, I was able to track the rider all the way across the image area, with no loss in focus- the camera held the lock, even when the subject moved far outside the center.
I just stayed with the stock settings for these shoots, and they seemed to work amazingly well. I’ll test some of the other AF-C Custom Settings more thoroughly in the coming weeks, but right off the bat, I’m highly impressed with the new AF system on the X-T2. It’s light years ahead of where the X Series was even just 12 months ago and it represents a powerful evolution to the system.
This is what I’ve been waiting for.