Phase One basketball By Andrew Paquette

phaseonebball

Phase One basketball

By Andrew Paquette – See his website HERE!

Three years ago I bumped into an outdoor basketball competition in Rotterdam while testing my new Zeiss 15mm Distagon lens. After getting a lucky shot of the winning basket at the end of the day, one of the organizers invited me to shoot more games the following week in Den Haag. Since then, I’ve been shooting the Netherlands Streetball Masters tour every year. This year I attended games in Amsterdam, Breda, and Weert.

In previous years I had used a Nikon D800 and a Sony A7r for the shoots. The two cameras had a variety of lenses mounted on them, each of which produced at least one decent shot. The most consistent performer was the Zeiss Otus 55mm, used on the majority of keeper shots. The least consistent was the Nikkor 85mm 1.4G, possibly because the Streetball games take place on small half courts, making the 85mm usable only for shots of players at the farthest end of the play area or torso shots. This year, I planned to bring the D800 + 55mm Otus and an A7r with the Zeiss 135mm mounted on them. However, I had some new gear and wanted to give it a stress test. This year I used a Phase One DF+ with an IQ250 back. I had already used it to take some action photos of parkour athletes in Rotterdam, and thought it might work out for outdoor basketball, though I wouldn’t have any control of the players and there would be no do-overs, unlike the Parkour shoot.

One of the reasons I decided to invest in the Phase One system was the high flash sync speeds (up to 1/1600th of a second). To test that, I brought two ProFoto flash heads to the parkour park, hid them from the camera, then tried to get as much frozen mid-air action as possible. It took a couple of hours to coordinate the athletes so that they all were in the right part of the frame at the right time, but it did work. Other shots that did not require the coordination of all four athletes were much easier to manage.

Figure 1 Parkour at Ahoy! Rotterdam, Phase One DF+ IQ250 and SK 28mm LS lens. ISO 200, F/7.1, 1/1600s and 2x ProFoto B1 500w/s flash heads

Parkour

I was a bit worried about using the Phase One kit to shoot the Streetball event because the camera has a much lower framerate than the 35mm cameras (1.2 f/s compared to 4 f/s on D800 and A7r), but I wanted to know what the extra dynamic range of the medium format back would capture. This was related to something that bothered me on previous shoots in Holland where the sky is almost always white or grey due to cloud cover. This has a tendency to result in a lot of clipped highlights unless the camera is pointing below the horizon. In some landscape photos taken with the Phase One, this wasn’t an issue, thus presenting the possibility that the camera could deal with an irritating problem experienced on previous shoots.

Figure 2 Windmills, Phase One DF+ IQ250 and SK 80mm LS lens. ISO 100, F/22, 1/320s

Windmills

I was tempted to take the D800 and a Zeiss Otus 55mm with me as a backup but went without to keep the weight of the kit down. The lens I used the most was the Schneider Kreuznach 80mm leaf shutter lens, but I took a few images with the SK 28mm LS as well. All of the photos were processed in Capture One Pro. I brought one ProFoto B1 flash and a 2’ softbox. The flash was only sometimes useful because I couldn’t guarantee it was always pointing in the right direction as the players ran all over the court. This was expected, but it was still disappointing that the light was only useful if the players were within about two meters of it and on the right side of the court.

I prefer shooting the DF+ to the Nikon or Sony. There are several reasons for this. In no particular order, they are: the extra-large viewfinder, simple menu layout on the IQ250 back, iPad connectivity (the A7r can also do this), and ergonomic design. It is heavier and larger than the other two cameras, but easier to hold and use than the Nikon, even when both have heavy lenses mounted (the 2.2 pound Zeiss Otus on the Nikon and the 2.4 pound SK 28mm LS on the P1). With the D800 + Otus combination, my wrist would consistently start hurting after about three hours of carrying it. I have never experienced any wrist or hand pain when using the DF+, even during an eight-hour shoot day for one of the Streetball games.

Figure 3 Weert 1, SK LS 80mm, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/1600

Weert 1

Figure 4 Weert 2, SK LS 80mm, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/1600

Weert 2

Figure 5 Breda 1, SK LS 28mm, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/1600

Breda 1

Figure 6 Breda 2, SK LS 80mm, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1600

Breda 2

Figure 7 Amsterdam 1, SK LS 80mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/1600

Amsterdam 1

Figure 8 Amsterdam 2, SK LS 80mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1600

Amsterdam 2

Figure 9 Amsterdam 3, SK LS 80mm, ISO 100, f/5, 1/1600

Amsterdam 3

Figure 10 Amsterdam 4, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1600

Amsterdam 4

Figure 11 Amsterdam 5, ISO 200, f/7.1, 1/1600

Amsterdam 5

See more at Andrew’s Website HERE!

23 Comments

  1. Very nice shots, but they don’t look that extraordinary really. If you listed your equipment roster as a APS-C DSLR or mirrorless camera using high speed sync fill flash it would easily be believable. The results do show that a good photographer can shoot action with most any kit and especially one that would normally not be considered ideal sports action photography.

  2. I appreciate the composition on the windmill shot. It seems to me you used the base of the mill to block the sun and improve Dynamic Range by shooting from the shadow. Also using the proximity of the windmill to create a sense of immensity to the tiny mills in the background is quite clever. Also I enjoyed the seeming contrast of all the lines and how my eye was drawn through the image. It gives you something to consider instead of just a shot of one windmill. Nice work.

  3. Great post… Amazing detail and color tones. While 35mm is getting better, the same improvements go into the medium format sensors also. just like micro 4/3 cameras are getting better and better, but can’t catch up to full frame, in my view medium format to 35mm is even bigger difference. Just wish I could offord one!

    • My DF+ was ‘free’ as was the 80mm SK lens that went with it (sort of). They were part of a package deal based on the price of the IQ250, probably to make room for the new DX camera and IQ350 backs. Refurbished, the price would have been even less.

      AP

      • very cool, i’ve invested a bit in my leica digital/film set up on top of a full nikon set up… but i would love to add mf at some point. the beauty of digital, is that the old models collapse in price when something new and marginally better appears. glad you found what you were looking for and are enjoying the equipment.

  4. To me, this is a bit nutty, for the amount of money spent and for the unsuitability of the camera for action photography. To me, it’s a studio or landscape camera, unwieldy, slow frame rate and when you are looking at sports shots who on earth cares about dynamic range or shadow detail? You have demonstrated it can be done but why? What matters surely is that the image captures the moment, is focussed and sharp and for that nothing beats a Dslr. The new Canon 7D ii at a fraction of the cost would have been much more suitable in my view, or a Nikon equivalent if you prefer.

    As for the shots, the first one is interesting and clever. The windmill shot doesn’t look too sharp and the composition seems wrong with the nearest wind turbine smack in the middle. The basketball shots are tilted slightly but are ok, but again, the camera wasn’t the best choice IMHO for the job.

    You seem to revel in making life difficult for yourself, I mean, even pairing up the Nikon D800 with the Zeiss Otus and ‘almost’ bringing it along as backup, a fast Nikon AF lens would have been cheaper, lighter and better, for sports anyway. Again, IMHO

    By the way, I like your paintings.

    • i think the point of the post was he was doing this for fun and to challenge himself. You can see in the background there were plenty of other shooters there with more typical sports dslr gear. Every once in awhile i’ll leave my nikon set up at home and go shoot my kids sports with my Leica and a 135mm 2.8 just to have fun and challenge myself.

      • Hi David H, thanks for your comments on my observations, but, come on, spending upwards of 50000 bucks on a highly professional outfit to produce work like this just to have a bit of fun? I know this is a gear site but what does this post prove?, that Andrew has more money than me, which is obviously true. To me it proves that money and photographic creativity or results don’t necessarily go together.

        In the article he also states that he didn’t use his Nikon D800 with 85mm F1.4 as he was too close to the action to get anything other that head shots. I guess a solution to that would be to have invested in a ladder to get further away at a more suitable viewpoint and shoot over the crowd’s heads, but ladders don’t satisfy GAS do they?

        Andrew is a good artist with an obvious eye for composition, I hope we can see some stunning landscapes shots with this wonderful equipment of his rather than the stuff he’s used it for here.

        • It looks like my earlier comments didn’t get through for some reason, so I’ll try again.

          To Chris, thanks for your comments.
          On the subject of “making life difficult [for myself]”, I definitely do that in many aspects of my art. I choose complex and challenging subjects on purpose because it makes them more fun (for me anyway). This is why my site has a lot of very complex pen and ink life drawings, two meter wide plein air acrylic landscapes, and watercolors painted in 100+ degree heat during windstorms of 60+MPH. The way I look at it, I do what it takes to get what I want, regardless of how inconvenient it might be. If something easier can be done instead I’ll do it, but only if it doesn’t sacrifice some quality I want to see in the image. To me being an artist is at least partly about working hard to get exactly what you want–without compromise.

          On the subject of ladders: I don’t have a car, so carrying a ladder on my bicycle to the train station, then on a train and after that on a tram would be logistically difficult. If I had a car it would be easier, but then I wouldn’t have any cameras. That’s the tradeoff I made. It might not be what someone else would have done, but we each have our priorities.

          AP

        • Hello Chris,

          On the subject of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS), a subject that appears frequently on any photography website, there is a companion syndrome that appears almost as often. I’m not sure what to call it, but it has to do with gear, the cost of gear, and how that gear is used by enthusiasts. It reminds me of the horror a NASCAR driver might feel when witnessing Britney Spears purchasing a professional racing car, then entering it in a race. Would she survive? That would be a legitimate question in such a scenario. On the other hand, when Paul Newman does the same thing, it works out because he has a feel for racing. It might not be evident right away, but eventually he gets it. With cameras, it is a little different because the experience level of posters is often unclear. To make it more complex, the potential of any given poster is also unclear, thus making comments on the appropriate use of any given piece of equipment somewhat suspect.

          For instance, at the time I bought an SGI workstation in 1993 or 1994, my 3D art skills were nascent at best. I was working in the games industry, but got into that industry on the basis of my 2D skills. However, within about 6 months of buying the SGI I had doubled my salary by switching to the feature film special effects industry. If someone had looked at what I made in the first month after buying the SGI, they might have wondered if it would have been better to buy a house instead (not a down payment, but the whole house). Six months later, its value was obvious. The trick to making comments like yours is in knowing the difference between a Britney Spears and a Paul Newman. Some people are serious about learning a craft but others aren’t. In my case, I have worked as a professional in several industries (all related to making images, but very different methods) and the learning curve is always the same. The first step of course, is to invest in the new skill, make no compromise, and develop it. A key element to development is to listen to feedback. This is one of the reasons I have posted on this site a few times.

          To date I have received useful feedback on every article I’ve written for this site. The feedback isn’t always written in the friendliest way, and sometimes it appears to have been written on purpose to be either offensive or discouraging. Comments about equipment cost however, are always completely useless. They say nothing about the images, and the images are the only thing that matters. How they are made is not a concern of the customer or the viewer.

          When I shoot an MF camera (that is less expensive than you think btw) at a basketball game, I get a richer tonal range and better color than I am used to getting. More importantly, it gives me a chance to see what happens when I try it in a scenario that is supposed to be verboten to MF shooters. I like doing things like that–even if some might find it a silly exercise–because they are learning opportunities. Is the conventional wisdom right? Or is it wrong? Does the CW apply to some situations but not others? With basketball, I have seen a lot of conventional images that are excellent but that do not have the personal quality that can be had with wide angle close range full figure shots.

          AP

  5. “In previous years I had used a Nikon D800 and a Sony A7r for the shoots. The two cameras had a variety of lenses mounted on them, each of which produced at least one decent shot.”

    Why do I find this hard to believe?

    • I replied to this yesterday along with a few other replies to this site, but they didn’t get posted so I’m going to do it again at the risk of repeating myself.

      It looks like your comment is intended to be amusing and somewhat sarcastic, but it gives me an opportunity to clarify a point. The lenses I have used are all excellent, so the problem with the 85mm as far as I am concerned has nothing to do with quality. Rather, it is lens length. My understanding is that the focal length range of 85mm to 200mm is common in basketball, hence the popularity of the 70-200 Nikkor zoom, but for streetball and the way I see the game, I prefer shorter lenses. 35mm-55mm is the sweet spot for me, and is where most of my keepers come from.

      AP

  6. Man I’m not being funny or anything but did you need that kit you invested so much in for these sports snaps sync or no sync ?

    • “Need” is the wrong word and the wrong question. I could have made a drawing in pencil if I had felt like it, but I didn’t want to make a sketch in pencil. I could have used an old Polaroid camera if all I wanted to do was capture the action, but I wanted to do more than that. What I needed to accomplish what I wanted was the Phase One.

      Ultimately none of us “needs” anything outside of the basic necessities of life, not even the computers we use to communicate on this forum. Some might say “don’t be ridiculous, I need it for my job!” But do you need the job? Why not live as a penitent in a monastery instead? What we want is the issue, not what we need. Once that is established, then we have needs, though they are artificial in the sense that they are connected to voluntary ‘wants’.

      AP

  7. Excellent article Andrew!
    Though I’m certainly no sports photographer, I do have about 30 years in photography, and am impressed by the Image Quality you display here. That said, I never equated the likes of medium format to action photography, but now with the upcoming Sony a7RII, I wonder how much of a meaningful difference there would be between it and your Phase One system. I’d wager a guess that the differences would be minimal, although the handling of the a7RII should be far “superior” for action work (especially with a grip)! Thanks again sir.

      • What do you mean? Are you commenting on the 1/1600s limit? I’ve used 1/1600 sync with them no problem. At least, I didn’t see a problem. Are you saying that in your experience they do not sync as advertised at that speed?

        AP

    • Thanks for the kind words! Have you ever seen the work of Tim Kemple? He does a lot of action photographer with the same rig I used here. You can find his work at kemplemedia.com. For me, the quality of color on MF cameras is noticeably better than 35mm cameras, regardless of resolution. With 50MP 35mm cameras coming out, this was a concern I had about the Phase One system, but with the larger sensor size (on a per pixel basis) and the high sync speed, I figured it would last a few years before 35mm caught up–if at all.

      AP

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