Extreme Photography

Many would claim that manual focusing has no place in contemporary sports photography. Yet the creative potential of manual photography can also yield excellent results, both ringside and trackside. In this article, two German photographers, Sabine Unterderweide and Bernhard Schuischel, describe their experiences with ZEISS lenses.

Every eye is fixed on the wrestling mat. Under the glare of the spotlight, wrestler Adam Juretzko has just caught his opponent in a final decisive hold to win his last qualifying match to reach the finals of the German wrestling team championship. The spectators jump to their feet, the successful team celebrates, and cameras start to flash from every angle. One is in the hands of press photographer Bernhard Schuischel. He has caught the moment with a Distagon T* 1,4/35. “The angle of view on my EOS 600D is equivalent to a normal focal length of 50 mm, which is ideal for photographing the wrestlers and their surroundings. The high lens speed  allows short exposure times in the mid-ISO range, and the low depth of field blurs out the referee and spectators in a uniform bokeh,” he explains. Schuischel uses exposures of 1/320 or 1/500 sec to freeze the quick movements of the wrestlers. Higher ISO values are out of the question as far as he is concerned – hence his preference for high-speed fixed focal-length  lenses for sports photography.

Short exposure times to capture rapid movements

Photo: Bernhard Schuischel Distagon T* 1,4/35, f/2.2, 1/320 sec, ISO 200.
The winning throw.

His fellow photographer Sabine Unterderweide has photographed the same match with a ZEISS Makro-Planar T* 2/100 on her D700. She is interested in the moods, tensions and emotions of the men on the mat. “I am constantly fascinated by the dexterity and mobility of these wrestlers, even in the weight categories above 84 kg,” she says. To catch their movements on film, she uses a 1/1000 sec exposure.

Photo: Sabine Unterderweide, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 200.
Lightning-fast – catching the magic in a split second.

She uses a flash to reduce the contrast on the brightly lit mat. She keeps the light on the mat as the main light in the image; only the dark edges are brightened. With an aperture of f/2.8, she can work with ISO 200 in spite of the short exposure time.

Photo: Sabine Unterderweide, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 200.
A sculpture of power and dynamism.
Photo: Sabine Unterderweide, Distagon T* 2/28, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600.
Indoor athletics meet in Karlsruhe. The competition for school-age athletes takes place before the national, European and world champions begin competing in the main event.

Precise focusing

Ultra-precise focusing is essential when working with a wide-open aperture and a low depth of field. Yet manual focusing is virtually impossible on lenses designed for autofocus operation. “The helicoid gear on autofocus lenses is often too steep for very precise focus setting. Not being able to get the focus where I wanted it was a constant irritation,” says Unterderweide. She solved this problem by switching to ZEISS lenses. ZEISS lenses have an unusually large rotation angle, enabling high focus precision, even when working close-up with an open aperture. Unterderweide uses the bright viewfinder image to good effect, along with a focusing screen with split-image screen indicator and the setting system fitted in her camera.

Photo: Sabine Unterderweide, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600.
Background as a design feature – a surrounding harmonious bokeh blur is used to highlight the emotions of the athletes.

Opting for a macro lens

Unterderweide enjoys working with a Makro-Planar T* 2/100: “I love it, I never get tired of it. The sharp focus, contrast and detail are amazing. I see the Makro-Planar T* 2/100 as an all-round lens. I use it all the time – not just for close-ups and portraits, but for sports and landscape shots as well. Its main assets for sports photography are its sharp focus and its angular field.”

In this context, a special feature of ZEISS lenses is ideal for her purposes. “Compared to lenses from other manufacturers, I found that my ZEISS Makro-Planar took pictures only up to a scale of 1:2, whereas other macro lenses offered 1:1,” she says. The difference is in the infinity setting. “While the ZEISS Makro-Planar still works perfectly at infinity, macro lenses with a scale of 1:1 give good results only in close-up work. For subjects far away in the distance, I am not able to take any satisfying shots.”

Photo: Sabine Unterderweide, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600.
A low depth of field is used to bring out the image of German runner Arne Gabius, who is on his way to a personal best during a meet in Karlsruhe.
Photo: Bernhard Schuischel, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.2, 1/1250 sec, ISO 800.
Schuischel also appreciates the sharp focus and the angular field of his Makro-Planar T* 2/100 as he takes pictures from high up in the grandstand. “The high lens speed allows short exposure times. On my 600D, I create a 160 mm telephoto focal length setting. That gives me a more closely cropped image.”
Photo: Bernhard Schuischel, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.5, 1/640 sec, ISO 400.
Use of a telephoto focal length to achieve a compressed perspective at the start of a women’s sprint event.

Unnatural look of digital focus

Some photographers do not realize that the electronics in their cameras have some unfortunate effects – on bokeh, for example. Digital cameras are set in the factory to sharpen all photographed images. As Bernhard Schuischel explains: “This ‘calculated’ focus sometimes looks unnatural, and prevents a uniform bokeh. My advice is to disable the camera’s post-focus function. Particularly when working with ZEISS lenses, you then get an optical focus with an amazing bokeh.” On his EOS 600D, he has a zero setting on the scale from 0 to 7. On her full-format DSLR, Sabine Unterderweide mainly uses level 3 on a scale from 0 to 9, and level 1 for portraits.

Photo: Sabine Unterderweide, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600.
Unterderweide photographs sprinters and middle-distance runners starting and finishing their events. She catches the contrast between the pent-up tension at the start of the race and their exhaustion at the finish line. To avoid disrupting the lighting and annoying the athletes, she takes her pictures with no flash and with ISO 1600.
Sabine Unterderweide, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600.
Unterderweide uses a low depth of field to isolate the runners from from the busy background.
Photo: Sabine Unterderweide, Makro-Planar T* 2/100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 1600.
Isolated rays of the afternoon sun falling onto the track create a striking light effect. Unterderweide catches the moment with an exposure of 1/1000 sec.

Uniform color result even after a lens change

When working with fixed focal lengths, it may be necessary to change lenses. In such situations, photographers appreciate the uniformly natural color rendering of all ZEISS lenses. Sabine Unterderweide particularly likes this aspect of the lenses: “You can work with any focal length, without any impact on the colors in the photograph,” she says. Both photographs agree: “There is no doubt about it – ZEISS is at the top of our personal winners’ podium.”

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  1. Maanda Ntsandeni

    Wow beautiful pictures, I have two Carl Zeiss Lenses I never want to put down, a planar 1.4/50 mm and a Distagon 2/35mm. How do I focus on moving subjects with these kind of lenses? I realise its hard to focus but they are very beautiful lenses.


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