Shooting baskets in Amsterdam with Sony and Nikon
By Andrew Paquette
About a month ago I received an email from a basketball organization asking if I would be interested in shooting an event for them. This is the first time anyone had offered to hire me as a photographer and the event itself sounded like a lot of fun to shoot, so of course I accepted. The reason they sent the email is because I had shot a preliminary event last year and sent them some of the photos, which they liked. Now I actually had a job as a photographer to do the same thing during my summer holiday from working as a university lecturer. Was I looking forward to this? You bet!
The event was the Streetball Master 2014 semi-finals and finals, held in Amsterdam at the Olympic Stadium. At least, it was on the first day. Due to rain, the second day was held indoors at a large basketball complex. Streetball is a half court three—on—three competition. It is very fast and very close. Last year I got knocked over a couple times by players because I had to sit near the foul lines to get my photos. This year would be different—I thought—because it was at the Olympic stadium. Every stadium I’d ever been to, even basketball courts, have a substantial buffer zone around the play area. This meant to me that I should get a longer lens than I usually used, a Sony/Zeiss ZA 135mm 1.8 to mount on my A7r. I also decided to bring my Nikkor 85mm 1.4G to mount on a D800, and then tossed a Zeiss Otus 55mm in my bag in case I had any decent portrait opportunities. My primary concern was getting the best action shots, which meant fast auto-focus (AF). I shot some of the basketball shots with a 35mm AF lens the previous year, but half of the shots were taken with a 15mm Distagon at extremely close range (almost touching the foul line under the basket). This year I wanted to use AF for pretty much everything and that meant the 135mm and 85mm were going to do all the heavy lifting, then the 55mm Otus might get pulled out at the end for a couple of portraits. Is this what happened? Not even close!
When I got to the Olympic Stadium, I found that the venue was in a plaza outside of the stadium, not inside the stadium. What did this mean? No buffer zone, exactly like the previous year. Because of the way it was set up, I could shoot from within a few inches of the foul line to not more than about two feet from the foul line. Any further away and I’d have to shoot through the crowd of spectators. As it was, I more than once wanted to get in front of the referee, who kept standing right in front of my camera. Trying to get AF to work in such a tight space, with players constantly zipping in front of or behind each other was very difficult. The 135mm got a few nice head and shoulders shots, but the difficulty of using the AF made me holster the camera after about an hour. The 85mm was worse. While the 135mm did occasionally get things in focus the way I wanted, the 85mm almost never did. The couple of times it worked, the subject was standing still for a portrait shot. In those situations it worked perfectly. So the 85mm went back in my bag for the rest of the weekend. For the first day, I used the only other lens I had left, the Otus, and it worked beautifully.
Sometime during the afternoon, another photographer came up to me and we talked a bit about the event. I said I was disappointed with the results I was getting with my long AF lenses, so I was going to switch to MF wide-angle lenses the next day. He looked horrified. “But we only care about the action, and that all happens in the arms. I don’t care about the legs, you can just cut those off and I don’t care”. The 135mm that I had on the camera during the conversation was the right lens for the event, he said. He was using a Canon 70mm-200mm for his shots. I figured he had more experience shooting like that, but I liked to see the legs in a shot also because they can be very dynamic. With some reservations, I decided to follow through with my plan of using wide-angle lenses the next day.
On Sunday, I took my 55mm Otus, a 35mm Summilux ASPH, a 15mm Distagon, and the Nikkor 85mm 1,4G. I used the 85 about three times (and got one good portrait shot out of it). Everything else was shot with the other lenses. The day before, the Otus was the workhorse lens. The same was true of Sunday, though the Summilux handled the low light in the gymnasium better than the Otus. I don’t understand why that happened because they both have the same aperture, but the Summilux shots were all brighter at the same shutter/aperture/ISO than the Otus. This meant I could shoot at lower ISO and a higher shutter speed than the Otus, which was a real advantage. I assumed this was a matter of the difference between the displays of the D800 and the A7r, but during processing, the difference in exposure remained. In the end, almost all of the best shots were taken with MF lenses. The wide angle shots, including the ultra-wide angle 15mm, yielded some interesting pictures, the advice I received to the contrary notwithstanding. Below are some selections from the shoot.