Sunday, February 12, 2012

F550EXR – Hockey Game between the St. Louis Blues and the Ottawa Senators in the Scotiabank Center – 7 February 2012

I took Karen to see the Blues play the Senators last week and brought the F550EXR just for fun. I like to try to shoot every event I attend, as many people know by now. It’s just fun for me.

I had obtained the seats through a site with special group pricing and I thought we’d try a pair in row H, which is in the very first section next to the ice. But, they were in the corner and that situation is a total unknown to me. Still, it is worth trying seats in various location to see what works for you.

Well, as a photographer, these seats are an extreme challenge – the height from the ice put us just below the glass all around the rink, which means that we saw nothing that was not through plexiglass. And since we were close to one corner, the refraction and distortion of plexiglass made it impossible (literally) to see action in the opposite end of the ice. Which meant looking up to the monitor to watch the game on TV when the action moved there.

So that was interesting … surprisingly, the experience was still a lot of fun. Let’s face it … live games are exciting :-)

So I started shooting during the warmup with the F550EXR set to my S-Prio with auto ISO settings in order to get decent shutter speeds. Things look pretty decent in this view of our seats. The monitor hanging over the ice is perfectly legible, which is pretty cool. But only possible because of the bright lighting of the rink itself, cutting the overall exposure. This shows the challenges of the seats very well …

F550EXR  500iso  f/3.5  1/160  -2/3EV

The view from the seats allowed me a decent view of the action around the net at our end, which allowed me to get some decent isolation shots of the goalie. Here, Elliot is warming up. Many of the images have the supports in them, but I try to crop around as much as possible.

F550EXR  800iso  f/6  1/160  -2/3EV

Toward the very end of the warmup, the alternate goalie gets a short spin in the net. It’s the only action he would see this evening.

F550EXR  640iso  f/5.3  1/160  -2/3EV

Note that I processed these in ACR6 and CS5, and many times I simply processed the JPEG for convenience once I hit 3200ISO when the lights went down and then forgot to lower the ISO again (first two periods.) The F550 shot quite good JPEGs in the arena at 3200ISO as you will see coming up, largely because of the bright lighting.

Anyway, here’s another from RAW during the opening ceremony, this time shot in P mode because of the low light. They allow a pair of young kids to skate around in the Senator’s end with flags while the referees warm up a bit. This is a theme in the league now I think, where young hockey players are treated very specially, no doubt leaving very positive feelings toward the game stuck in their heads.

F550EXR  3200iso  f/5.9  1/35  -2/3EV

Lyndon Slewidge of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been singing the National Anthems for the Senators for years now.

F550EXR  3200ISO  f/6.2  1/40  -2/3EV

Suddenly, the lights come on for the Canadian National Anthem.

F550EXR  3200iso  f/5.3  1/280  -2/3EV

As he finished, they unfurled the Canadian Flag for its trip around the 100 section. It actually passed just above us and made for some cool and rather rare footage shot while in the thick of the action.

And the teams come on and have a final short warmup. For the goalie, this includes preparing the crease surface and stretching.

F550EXR  3200iso  f/5.3  1/480  -2/3ev

With shutter speeds like this, I should have dropped ISO to around 800 for the game. The images would have been cleaner. Brain Fart ™ … but since I present them on the WEB and since they are shot through glass anyway, they came out pretty much ok regardless. The F550EXR really is excellent at higher ISOs as has now been published on

Some random action in the end zone. I am playing with contrast now to see how far down I can push noise in the many shadows I have to deal with in shots like these.

F550EXR  3200iso  f/5.5  1/480  -2/3ev

The fans are happy because a fight breaks out. Although I don’t have a shot of the winning blow, Ottawa wins this one.

f550EXR  3200iso  f/5.2  1/450  -2/3EV

Still wasting a lot of shutter speed. But note the clarity of faces at 3200ISO. Excellent. Noise is prevalent in the shadows here, though, as I allowed a lower contrast for clarity in the audience.

Here’s the same shot straight out of the camera in JPEG. This is where I began speeding up the processing by using the JPEGs. They are surprisingly good, and they do not suffer from the same blue channel issues in shadows as do the RAW images with ACR. So less work. In fact, almost no work.

One thing I noticed was the prevalence of breaks for advertising, since all games are now televised somewhere. They take advantage of that by bringing a bunch of guys out to each end of the ice to reconditioning the ice at the goal. Here, one of the linesmen restores the net to its rightful location.

F550EXR  3200iso  f/5.9  1/550  -2/3EV

A relaxing moment before play resumes.

F550EXR  3200iso  f/6  1/550  -2/3ev

A nice isolation shot of Elliot.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.9  1/680  -2/3ev

Look at the shutter speeds … and I am still merrily snapping away in P mode at 3200ISO … moron :-)

Maybe I was in shock from the quick 2-0 lead the Blues managed to jump into …

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/600  0ev

Note that I changed to 0 compensation there. I must have noticed that my shots were fairly dark.

A problem in the seats in front of us. It appears that there are squatters who cannot read their tickets. So the young lady spends a few minutes straightening them all out. Too much beer make man dumb.

f550exr 3200iso  f/3.5  1/550

Note the massive head in the corner of the frame. This giant of a man sat down right in front of me and stayed all night. Bummer … I shot around him all night.

Elliot handles the puck when play resumes.

f550exr  3200iso  f/6  1/340

At 0EV, I am getting better exposures. Slightly better noise performance too.

Ottawa gets a bit of pressure now and again after the first two goals. But we’re not really getting great chances. This was a close in opportunity that came to naught.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.7  1/450 

I forget why Michalek ended up carrying his helmet around the ice on the end of his stick, but there were quite a few small altercations along the way as the Senators were naturally frustrated.

f550exr  3200iso  f/6.1  1/220

Another chance, another missed shot.

f550exr  3200iso  f/6  1/350

We win a face-off …

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/280

At the intermission, they let a couple of teams of tiny tots (called TimBits in Canadian) play a mini game the full length of the ice. They are still at the age where most of them just follow the puck around in a cluster. Just like when Jon played soccer at 5 and 6 years old. Cute as hell …

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.2  1/420

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/480

So cute. In fact, I felt the need to shoot a bit of video. Here you can really see the distortion we contended with to watch the game.

The lone goaltended at our end. Note that his head does not reach the bar.

f550exr  3200iso  f/6.1  1/350

And finally, the Zambonis get to come out and clean things up. If you look closely here, you can see that each Zamboni has a child riding in a seat to the driver’s right. They get to ride and wave while the driver does his thing. They have seat belts in case you are wondering. More cuteness form the Senators.

f550exr  3200iso  f/3.5  1/640

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.9  1/320

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1'/220

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/210

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/210

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.4  1/320

Second period starts and the Senators are defending at our end.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/250

I think this is the Blues’ third goal. If you look closely, you can see the puck in the air in the net. This is the one advantage of these shutter speeds … even the puck gets stopped (mostly.)

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.4  1/320s

Ok … here I switch to Lightroom 4 Beta 1 and all of these are from RAW. Lightroom handles the F550 very nicely with its new processing engine. And the steps are far fewer. I struggled a bit with white balance as I got used to LR, so some of these might look a bit wonky. None of these are further augmented in CS5.

A little stretch break for Auld.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/250s  (Lightroom 4 Beta 1 from here on)

This is the other shot that might have been the third goal. They were peppering the Sens with the puck in this period.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.8  1/320

During one of the breaks, healthy snacks are offered for sale.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.8  1/280

We got a lot of power plays this night … but that did not help, unfortunately.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.9  1/280

Second intermission has a few games for charity followed by the Zambonis again. Reflections from the plexiglass continue to plague me.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/200

Note that Lightroom handles saturation more comfortably in the new engine. The skin tones don’t go as wonky, so I am able to push it more than I was. This application has managed to steal my affections within a few hours. I will publish come comparisons later.

f550exr  3200iso  f/5.3  1/140

f550exr  1600iso (!!!)  f/5.3  1/75

And there you have it … I finally woke up and dropped ISO to 1600, which on this sensor is very clean.

The net is pushed level with the circles to make room for cleanup of the ice at the goal. Someone baby sits it in case it make a break for it.

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/125

This was really weird. Some sort of strange procession of Men in Black.

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.5  1/180  -1/3EV

Note the return of some exposure compensation. I can’t remember my reasoning, but I think the images seemed to be too bright. In retrospect, they were perfectly fine, so I would suggest shooting a hockey game at 0EV. It might have been a bit to get slightly higher shutter speeds at the risk of slightly higher noise.

Perhaps there was a heart transplant going on somewhere in the building …

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/180  -1/3EV

Shiny ice and shiny referees …

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/250s  -1/3ev

The blues are back in net on this end of the ice. Elliot warms up.

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/220  -1/3ev

We did get more pressure on Elliot …

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.7  1/240  -1/3ev

I enjoyed watching this guy try to follow the action through a hole in the plexiglass. Seems to be a Canon (silver lens of course) and he’s using a Pocket Wizard Multi Max Transceiver to drive the flashes in the building. I had been wondering what these strange ultra bright flashes were in the arena, and of course it is set up for media to get great shots.

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/210  -1/3ev

Interesting that the subject is very dark there and Lightroom left quite a bit of blue channel noise just under the threshold of visibility. I cannot really see it on my Dell IPS panel, but on my acer TN panel, it shows up. This shot would work better in B&W. Or better yet, a second shot I took at the same time.

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/210  -1/3ev

If you click through on that shot and look closely, you can see that he used gaff tape to keep the transceiver solidly attached.

At some point, I noticed that one of the camera men was shooting the mascot with a serviceman and his family. Very nice.

f550exr  1600iso  f/4.5  1/70  -1/3ev

Right behind them was a young boy who brought posters to hold up …

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/50  0ev

Again, I switched off compensation to get this shot a tad brighter. As the game wound down, I got a few really nice shots of Elliot.

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/160

f550exr  1600iso  f/5.3  1/200

A save near the end …

f550exr  1600iso  f/6  1/180

We left with about 5 minutes left in the game. A 2 goal deficit with an announced attendance of 18,900 made the choice pretty easy. And the Sens did not get one back, so it ended 3-1 for the Blues.