Ángel Martínez on shooting sports with the EOS-1D X
© Ángel Martínez/Real Madrid
Being the Official Photographer for one of the world’s biggest football clubs – Real Madrid – is an exciting and demanding job. Canon Explorer Ángel Martínez, a lifelong Canon user, has held this role since 2002 and knows all about the pressures of capturing great images of the key action for immediate publication. CPN writer Pablo Carballo spoke to Ángel Martínez about photographing sports with the EOS-1D X DSLR and the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.
CPN: How did it feel to use the Canon EOS-1D X for the very first time?
Ángel Martínez (AM): “My first thought was: 'The whole thing has changed'. I previously used the EOS-1D Mark IV and it was really great; the focusing was good and working at high shooting speeds was easy. I have used Canon cameras all my life and was perfectly happy with my [EOS] 1D Mark IV. But when I grabbed the EOS-1D X… it was different. It has a full-frame, you can work at really high ISOs and surprising shooting speeds. It meant a tremendous change. It felt like entering a different league.”
CPN: That must surely entail changes when it comes to capturing the crucial moments on the pitch. Did using the camera modify your working habits?
AM: “Yes, in a way, because I used to work with two EOS-1D Mark IVs; I would have one of them with an EF400mm lens, and the other one with an EF70-200mm [zoom]. Considering the Mark IV’s multiplying [crop] factor, I would need to make a change sooner to the camera with the zoom lens. With the EOS-1D X, I can hold on to the 400mm lens for a longer time and track the action which is happening closer to me. That means I don’t need to swap cameras so often, and therefore the chance that I miss a good picture is far less likely.
“I remember a particular match, it was Real Madrid versus Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. The first leg of a Copa del Rey fixture - a big match indeed. That was the first time I worked with the EOS-1D X and the new EF400mm lens. There was a move by Cristiano Ronaldo where he began running with the ball on the other side of the pitch from where I was sitting. It was a great run and he ended up scoring. I have a series of 59 images in sharp focus spanning the whole sequence: how he received the ball, how he got past Barcelona’s [Gerard] Piqué twice, how he shot and then celebrated… By that time he was on the other side of the goal, and I was shooting him across the net, and then surrounded by his teammates, but the camera was keeping him in a sharp focus anyway. When I saw the result… I thought: ‘Wow, this is impressive!’.”
CPN: Did you notice this immediately?
AM: “Yes, thanks to the [rear] screen, which I believe is another improvement. I noticed that all the pictures were sharp, and when I checked them on the computer I could see they were absolutely perfect. There is another major change: I am now taking more advantage of focusing points. On previous [camera] models I used to rely only on the central point and I would seldom move to some of the upper ones. Now they are all very reliable and efficient and it is easy to move in any direction with the joystick.”
CPN: What does a sports photographer expect from a good camera?
AM: “Sports photography demands top performance and reliability. First of all, you need it [the camera] to be quick. The quicker, the better. Speed is paramount when it comes to sports. You need a high-speed shooting burst in order to be sure that you capture the right moment. The Servo AF system needs to be very accurate too. And then you have the question of light. I envy our British colleagues, because football games there usually kick off at 3pm or so, whereas here in Spain they tend to be at night. Some stadiums, such as [Real Madrid’s] Bernabeu or Barcelona’s Camp Nou are well lit, but smaller ones have weaker lighting. In those cases, being able to work at ISO 6400 or 10,000 without any problem is an amazing benefit to have. Working at high ISOs without any quality drawbacks is very important.”
CPN: How about working in indoor conditions, such as photographing basketball games?
AM: “In basketball arenas you usually get a type of light that is hard to filter. The light source is usually blinking rather than a fixed beam; in such conditions it is very important to have a good automatic white balance at your disposal. That is for me another achievement of this camera – the auto white balance has improved a great deal. Also, the game [basketball] is quicker and happens closer to the camera, so you need very fast shooting speeds and high ISOs.”
CPN: You’ve highlighted the importance of speed. The EOS-1D X features a 14fps top shooting speed. How does that translate when photographing sports?
AM: “It is very useful in a variety of situations. For instance, I used the camera during the Madrid Open tennis tournament. When I wanted images of the serve, I would lock the focus and shoot a 14fps burst. This helps a lot in order to get the perfect image you are looking for and you can combine this with multi-exposure, which I also tried at that tennis event. The camera allows multi exposure of up to nine frames. I only used three or four, but the point is that they are much closer together thanks to that 14fps burst, so you get a feel of a more continuous movement.”
CPN: What are your preferences in terms of image file formats?
AM: “I usually work with RAW, except for games when I need to have the highest possible burst and to prevent the buffer from pausing the continuous shooting. The JPEG files provide really well-finished images, with nicely balanced colour and contrast thanks to the Auto Lighting Optimizer.”
CPN: Your newest equipment also includes the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens…
AM: “Yes. The EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is, first of all, quicker when focusing. It is also sharper. And then there is a huge advantage: its weight. We usually have to walk around carrying bulky bags filled with equipment, so saving some weight here and there is great. This lens is impressively lighter than the previous one. Add that to its sharpness and speed, and you get a tremendous combination. I usually work at f/3.2, and with this lens I get sharpness on my subject with a very beautiful blur on the background.”
CPN: You previously mentioned the Servo AF of the EOS-1D X. What are your overall impressions of the AF system in this camera?
AM: “In terms of menus, I particularly like how all the settings which relate to the autofocus have been grouped in the same place. That makes browsing the options much easier. By the way, we professional photographers rarely read user’s manuals in-depth. Here, you have a help menu in the software itself, explaining what each setting is expected to do! That is really, really useful. As for the autofocus, the 61-point AF is another great move. For instance, you can lock the focus on the goalkeeper while shooting from the opposite goal, so that focus does not slip away to the banners or the net – the AF system makes it much easier.”
CPN: How do you deal with shooting wider views of stadiums?
AM: “Well, this camera is full-frame, therefore wide angles are more extreme than in my previous [EOS-1D Mark IV] camera. Not having a crop factor means that you get all that a wide-angle lens has to give. The resulting image is now more impressive.”
CPN: Your images have a very immediate use on the Real Madrid website. How do you deal with the demands of live coverage?
AM: “The camera’s WiFi system is very useful – you can check your images and send them over to the ftp [server] at any time. We already had this feature in previous cameras, but the WiFi antenna is smaller and lighter. And I think that the setting is easier too.”
CPN: Finally, do you have any particular favourite player to take pictures of?
AM: “Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously the one with the greatest presence in the media and somehow he deserves to be. He is great to photograph; he is very expressive and provides plenty of good images. He lives the games so intensely, and you can tell. But there are other players that I love to take images of, such as Karim Benzema, because he is so elegant and aesthetic; he reminds me of [Zinedine] Zidane.”
Ángel Martínez’s kitbag
2x EOS-1D Mark IV
EOS-1D Mark III
EOS 5D Mark II
EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF50mm f/1.4 USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Speedlite 580EX II flashgun
Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2
WFT-E2 Wireless File Transmitter
Biography: Ángel Martínez
© Pedro Castillo
Born in Madrid, Spain, Ángel Martínez started working for Spanish newspapers when he was just 18-years-old, covering current affairs. In 2001 he joined Diario AS (one of Spain’s main sports newspapers) as a sports photographer. One year later, in 2002, the iconic Spanish sports club Real Madrid recruited him as its Official Photographer and since then he has mainly specialised on photographing football. He also works as a stringer in Getty Images’ Spanish sports team and as a freelance photographer for other clients including BMW, Adidas and Sony.