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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”