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Technique

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October 2011

I only got the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens a week or two before I came out [to cover the Rugby World Cup]. I'd shot a little bit of football beforehand but really it's mostly been used here in New Zealand, so the majority of it has been shooting the rugby. It's a cracking lens actually — I'm pretty impressed with it.

© Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The Fiji team performs the Cibi prior to kickoff of the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between South Africa and Fiji at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, 17 September 2011. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the exposure was 1/800sec at f/3.5, ISO 1250.

I was in Germany quite recently shooting the women's World Cup soccer and for some reason the sharpness had gone on my previous 400mm lens, so I got Canon in Germany to look at it. They matched [calibrated] it up to the body I was using and it was working really well — it was pretty sharp.

Then the new 400mm came along and I picked that up and started using it — it's definitely a lot sharper than the old [400mm] lens. I may still need to get it calibrated and married up more to the [EOS-1D Mark IV] body I use. Literally, out of the box, it's pretty spot on. It's sharper and it seems a lot quicker for tracking — the only thing is it seems to be a little too lively; it's really trying hard, but maybe I can slow that down a little bit (*1). There's a lot of speed in there for tracking.

The lightness of the lens is unbelievable — it feels like there's nothing in it. It's made a massive difference; you can feel it — as soon as you pick it up you think 'my word'. Because I travel around a lot on planes going to events I don't like putting my 400mm [lens] in the hold, so I always carry it onboard with me as hand luggage. So, obviously carrying it around with me all of the time it [the weight reduction] makes a massive difference day-to-day. Once you get it on the monopod it takes the weight anyway but having it over your shoulder or carrying it around is now miles easier, and you can handhold it as well, which is a lot easier [than before].

© Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Francois Hougaard of South Africa dives over the line to score his team's second try during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between South Africa and Wales in Wellington, New Zealand, 11 September 2011. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the exposure was 1/800sec at f/2.8, ISO 1250.

I shoot with a couple of EOS-1D Mark IVs and the latest 70-200mm [the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM] lens as well, which has been working really well together with the 1D Mark IV. I've also got the Mark III EF1.4x converter and using that with the new lens doing daytime rugby out here has been absolutely spot on — I can't believe how good it is with the converter.

Until the latest 70-200mm lens came out I was using other lenses, like the 135mm, but the 70-200mm is now as good as its ever been so that's my kit. A lot of the time I'm on the 70-200mm and the 400mm — that's my set-up. I've got the 16-35mm and the 24-70mm and I've brought an old 200mm f/1.8 from a while back, which is still absolutely razor sharp. I have other lenses — like a 300mm, tilt and shift lenses, and the 135mm — which are back at home.

For daytime matches obviously I've got a lot more light, so the combination of the 400mm and the 1.4x converter gives me a longer reach to get in where the action is going on. Rather than waiting for action to come to me I can get into the middle of the park and fill the frame a lot more. At night you've got the problem with trying to ramp up the ISO to try and use the 400mm at f/4, which is what [aperture] it gives you with the converter on, so I've just been using it in the daytime matches to get into the thick of it. I can't remember using a converter before with a 400mm lens that's given that sort of sharpness and tracking — I don't think I've ever come across it [before].

© Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Australia's Kurtley Beale breaks past Tal Enosa (USA) during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Australia v USA match at Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, 23 September 2011. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, the exposure was 1/800sec at f/2.8, ISO 1250.

The Mark II converter was pretty good with the old 400mm lens. Generally you'd use it more on static stuff or you'd 'fluke' a few pictures in action, but I can shoot a whole match on this [400mm and the EF1.4x III] and the majority of it is pretty good. I'd rather use a 1.4x converter and crop it up in the frame.

I always use the back button (*2) as that's the way I'm more comfortable shooting. I feel like I've got more control over it, because I feel like the camera's doing too much if I've got it on the front button and it's literally pointing and aiming. With the back button I feel like I've got a lot more control to 'let it go', especially if something comes across my frame. For instance, with rugby if a player bursts through to score a try between the posts it wouldn't lock on to the post pad. I can let go of the back button and then lock on again as the player goes through the middle of it [the posts], so I don't lose tracking on it. It's just a preference so I feel like I'm more in control of it.

I was quite surprised that they've got the buttons on the neck of the 400mm lens as well as the barrel of it, but I've only had the lens for a short space of time so I haven't used all the buttons yet. I shoot a lot of football and rugby so the 400mm is my main lens. After that I'll use a shorter lens for shooting tries or goalmouth action, that sort of thing.

It's cabled shooting at this World Cup — we've got special cables that have been installed and we've got an editor who works in the press room of the stadium, so all the photographers working for Getty at the game are literally downloading all the files as the game goes on; straight down the cable in to him. He then edits and gets the pictures out to the newspapers, and clients, and so on.

With the 400mm there's a real edge to everything; a definite edge that there wasn't with previous 400mm lenses. I wouldn't say it's locking on 100% in that you don't miss a thing, simply because I don't believe that would exist. You can get a bit carried away with autofocus thinking it can just do your job for you but it's not going to — it does a certain percentage brilliantly. Especially nowadays trying to manually focus an autofocus lens you'd miss a lot more than the camera does — the camera does a great job. But from an absolute sharpness point of view I think it [the 400mm] just gives a real, clean edge to everything that I don't remember getting before. When it kicks in it's very sharp. The detail on shirts and things like that never seemed to be there before.

I've been shooting a little bit of training and press conferences and stuff like that, but that was more in the build up to the start [of the tournament]. Once the pool stages have finished we go into the quarters, the semis, and then the final, there's a week in between those knockout stages so we'll be doing training and press conferences in those weeks. I'm based in Wellington for the majority of the tournament, until after the quarter-finals, and then I'll be going to Auckland for the last two weeks. 

Editor's notes:

(*1) Tracking sensitivity — Custom Function III -2 on the EOS-1D Mark IV is for tracking sensitivity in AI Servo AF mode. It offers five levels of sensitivity - Standard (0), Slow (-2), Moderately slow (-1), Moderately fast (+1) and Fast (+2). Basically if set towards 'Slow' interruptions by any subjects/obstacles coming into frame will be less disruptive. If set towards 'Fast' it is easier to focus on any subject which suddenly enters the frame from the side. Slower settings would be used if you wanted to track the same subject (perhaps a bird in flight) whereas faster settings would be used if you wanted to quickly track changing subjects (good for shooting sports action).

(*2) Back button focusing — sports photographers often set back button focusing as it allows them to shoot static and moving subjects without having to change the AF mode. With the EOS-1D Mark IV choose Custom Function IV -1. The default setting is 0: Metering + AF start. Here the shutter button and AF-ON buttons both activate metering and start AF functions. Setting 1 is: Metering + AF start/AF stop. This causes the shutter button to start metering and AF operation, while the AF-ON button acts as an AF Stop to pause AF operation. There are two main choices for back button focus: Setting 2: Metering start/Meter + AF start. Holding down the AF-ON button activates AF, but exposure is set by the shutter button at the moment the picture is taken. Setting 3: AE lock/Metering + AF start. Hold down the shutter button halfway for AE lock and control the autofocus with AF-ON. Setting 4: Metering + AF start/Disable. This disables the AF-ON button and makes the shutter button start both metering and autofocus. With the EOS-1D Mark III generation of DSLRs, Canon added the AF-ON button. If you are used to using the AE lock button to control focus, the functions of the two buttons can be switched via Custom Function IV -2.

Biographie: Alex Livesey

Alex  Livesey

Top sports photographer Alex Livesey studied photography at Stockport College, England, and then documentary photography at Newport College in Wales. After working for a sports agency in London for five years in 1997 he joined Allsport/Getty Images as a staff sports photographer. He has won a number of awards including a World Press Photo Award for Sports Action in 2007, the SJA Sports News Picture of the Year 2006 and the Barclays Premier League Football Picture of the Season 2005/6. He has covered sporting events around the world including FIFA World Cups, Grand Slam tennis tournaments, and the Tour de France. He also shoots high profile athletes and sports stars in the studio and on location with a client base that includes Nike, Adidas, Umbro, Reebok and Pepsi.



Vitrine

PJ Van Lill of Nambia is wrapped up by the Fiji defence during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between Fiji and Namibia at Rotorua International Stadium in Rotorua, New Zealand, 10 September 2011. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens fitted with an EF1.4x III extender, the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/5.6, ISO 640.