Shooting Portraits With a 200mm f/2 lens and High-Speed Sync

FUJIFILM just sent over their $6,000 200mm f/2 lens. I was planning to shoot a sporting event with it, but I decided to do something a little different. 

The FUJINON 200mm f/2 lens is a super-specialized piece of kit. Only a select group of sports or wildlife photographers would even dream of buying it. It's large, it doesn't zoom, and it's incredibly expensive. But, it takes amazing-looking shallow depth of field photos. 

Keep in mind that this lens is designed for APS-C (cropped sensor FUJIFILM cameras). This means that it will act like a 300mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame camera. For this shoot, I was shooting with the FUJIFILM X-T3. Together, this lens and camera were able to autofocus with impressive accuracy and produce razor-sharp images even with quick-moving subjects. 

The Concept

Originally, I was planning to shoot a live sporting event with this lens, but I realized it would be hard to produce a complete tutorial video without more control over the scene. I decided instead to shoot a single football player at an "empty" football field and incorporate high-speed sync to strobe outside while continuing to shoot at f/2. 

What Is High-Speed Sync? 

A camera's maximum sync speed is the fastest shutter speed where the film or sensor is entirely open to exposure without being partially blocked by the shutter. As a camera's shutter speed gets faster, the shutter will become a small slit that slides across the film or sensor. Shooting above your camera's maximum sync speed will work with constant lighting, but not with strobe lighting, because the blades of the shutter will cast a shadow on a portion of the image. 

Some strobes are able to switch into "high-speed sync" mode, and instead of producing one powerful flash, they produce multiple strobes (too quick for the human eye to perceive). By pulsing, the strobe light is acting as a constant light, and you will be able to shoot, with a flash, beyond the camera's maximum sync speed. 

Shooting in high-speed sync mode will allow you to capture images with shallower depth of field in bright environments, but it will also cause you to lose flash power. In our tests, we were losing around two stops of light. This wasn't an issue for us, because I was shooting with bare bulb lights that were relatively close to our subject. 

The Shoot

We went out to a local football field to photograph Steve, a recent high school graduate. I decided to shoot some senior portrait style images of Steve in action as well as standard some portraits. Obviously, I wasn't going to stop down on a f/2 lens, so I knew I would be shooting wide open for this entire shoot. The incredibly shallow depth of field made it pretty difficult to find a background that both looked interesting and was an even exposure with a strobed subject, but I settled on shooting with some industrial stands in the background. 

Alienskin has been sponsoring a lot of our videos recently and I wanted to teach a few things that I hadn't before. Obviously, I was pretty heavy-handed on post-production, but, hopefully, I was able to show a few new features of Exposure X4

Obviously, the gear used for this shoot is overkill for senior style portraits, but it's always a treat to use such an expensive and specialized lens. I'm excited to use the 200mm f/2 again in future for a more serious shoot. I may try to shoot wildlife with it. 


Big thanks to all of our sponsors for making this video possible.

Fujinon 200mm f/2
Fujifilm X-T3
Manfrotto 190
Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Air-55
Profoto B10
Profoto Air Remote for Fujifilm
Alienskin Exposure X4 (Use code "FSTOPPERS" to save 10%)

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Andrew Eaton's picture

Hss mode absolutely sucks battery power, I normally shoot with leaf shutter lenses and don't use it, but in a recent shoot I had to use it for the camera I was using and my B1x's had about half the normal battery performance as well as less flash power and longer recycle times.

Brook Brown's picture

I'm sure you know that portrait photographers have been shooting full frame 200mm f/2 lenses with HSS strobes for a long time now (Keydrin Franklin comes immediately to mind).

You think you got shallow DOF!

Eric Salas's picture

My thoughts exactly when I saw the title

Patrick Hall's picture

Yeah we did a whole tutorial with Dylan Patrick on this with headshots. It’s a very useful technique.

Brook Brown's picture

That technique doesn't require such a fast lens, though. I believe Patrick uses a 70-200mm f/2.8 and has to stop it down to get enough of the face in focus.

Patrick Hall's picture

Dylan uses the 70-200 so he has some flexibility when shooting but does usually shoot wide open at 2.8. The dof for headshots at 2.8 is still around 2-3” which is enough to get a headshot in focus. You could def use the 200mm f/2.0 for that effect too and get an even blurrier background. The DOF on the subject won’t change that much at such a long focal length but it will change a bit on a background that is positioned far away.

Edit, just did the calculations on a DOF calculator and at 200mm and your subject about 10-12 feet away, the dof at 2.8 is about 2 inches and at 2.0 it’s about 1.4 inches. It’s not a huge difference and if you focus on the eyes you will get that shallow dof look that people like in most stylized headshots.

Christian Berens's picture

Keydrin is the one that convinced me to go for the 200ƒ/2 i talked to him about it for a week straight trying to convince myself :P

LA M's picture

Canon EF 135L at F2...on a crop body like the 7D MKII, Canon EF 200L...on anything

Uneternal Van de Dood's picture

It's 300mm f/3.0 equivalent on a full frame for $5999.
I'd rather spend a fraction of the price for a Canon 200mm 2.8 L or a Sigma Art 135mm f/1.8 which should give you similar bokeh and also less flat looking images.

super steel_'s picture

shet, I thought it was the canon 200 lens. as soon as I saw the fuji logo, stopped video.

Jim Bolen's picture

Geez, could you be any more closed-minded? I don't shoot Fuji, and probably never will, but it sure is nice to know what other companies are producing.

super steel_'s picture

nah, I dont give a rats asz what companies who have a 5% market share do.

Robert Altman's picture

Personally I think that these sorts of posed sports images cry out for a bit more dramatic lighting- brightly cross-lit with a darker background. A bit surreal/hyper real. Something to differentiate them from the look of an in-game image. Creating both bleach-bypass and black and white versions can further highlight the muscle/ definition of an athlete. Also- a magnum reflector can be great for these shoots- throwing a more concentrated (& therefor more powerful) spotlight on the model. Just my preference- clearly an artistic choice - no right or wrong! An example of 1 strobe with a magnum reflector and the sun as my 2nd light - (always nice to have the sun out!)

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

When I saw 200mm F2, I was envisioning creamy dreamy out of focus areas. And, for 6k, expecting see tons of sharpness and detail. But, I dunno. For 6K, looks pretty underwhelming, especially the first 2. Who knows, it could be the filters or using Alienskin to process the raw files instead of Capture One or Lightroom.

S M's picture

What's up with the bleachers as a backdrop and not goal posts? He's playing football, not cheerleading!

Christian Berens's picture

i shoot HSS and nikkor 200ƒ/2