Explore the Biathlon World Cup with the Leica SL Leica Akademie Instructor Oliver Vogler shares his experience

Oliver Vogler, a long time contributor to Leica and professional sports and events photographer, shares his experience with the Leica SL under harsh, fast-paced situations. With a specific approach to testing the autofocus (AF) on this camera body, Vogler also offers his perspective as a Leica Akademie instructor.

Please share a bit of your professional background and your work with Leica.

After Highschool I completed an apprenticeship as a repro-photographer and worked over 22 years in the repro industry. In 2010, I joined Leica in the Customer Care department. In 2012 I moved to product management for the Leica S-System and finally joining the Leica Akademie as an instructor.

I’ve been a photographer since school. Since the mid-1990s I worked in the field of digital photography and in 2005 I accepted an offer by the Gießener Allgemeine Zeitung (newspaper) to join them as an active sports photographer. Since 2007, I’ve also been active for various national sports agencies, here in particular for national and international sports events including football (soccer), handball, basketball, ice hockey, volleyball, boxing, winter sports, table tennis, tennis, motorsports and many more…

You documented the Biathlon World Cup, can you please share what was the scope of the project, objectives and results?

The main goal was to take pictures, as we’d like to offer workshops for the Leica Akademie in the sports field in the coming years. At the same time it was very important for me to see how the Autofocus behaves in sports. Thanks to the fast AF system, our Leica SL system now offers the possibility to shoot sports action. So it was immensely important for me to get 5 days of testing the AF system. Likewise, I wanted to know how reliable the SL system works in adverse weather conditions (cold to –15° C degrees over several hours, heavy snowfall, wetness…). Lastly, it was very important for me to see how the results would  compare with the results of other colleagues with different equipment.

You used the Leica SL for this project. Undoubtedly, the SL offers a ton of versatility for fast-paced actions such as sports. What’s your perception on this equipment and its performance?

Certainly the SL system has been developed not only for sports. However, it was a surprise for me to see how well the autofocus works in these areas, once you have time for yourself to work and understand how the system is running. Of course, the existing focal lengths for the SL system also play an important role. Especially the 90-280 mm lens is predestined to record the Biathlon, since you are very close to the athletes, but at the same time also has the possibility to capture more distant scenes.

The 24-90 mm lens could also perfectly capture all the overview scenes, so that the range of 24-280 mm could be perfectly covered. One of the most important considerations to use the Leica SL was the very high image quality offered by the Leica systems. In particular, the high image quality of the Leica SL. Here I knew from other events (concerts, receptions etc.) that the image quality and the precision of the autofocus of the Leica SL will be great. The SL-System offers up to 11 images / sec for the fast, high-speed images required in sports. A completely sufficient speed – you will not be slower when compared with other systems.

The AF: compared to other equipment, the Leica SL delivers a very fast autofocus. What are your thoughts towards this?

I was surprised how well the AF worked in the cold and snow. Especially in snow the yield was immensely perfect, a lot of colleagues with other systems had far more problems here, since the AF responded too much to the snowflakes and thus often lost the athletes in the focus and the snowflakes was focused. The SL-System remained with the focus on the athletes and did not focus on the snowflakes…

What lenses did you use and why?

Exclusively the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90 mm f/2.8–4 ASPH. and the Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90–280 mm f/2.8–4 lenses. In Biathlon events, the photographer is directly on the track, the athletes are often only 2-3 meters away from the photographer. Longer focal lengths are not necessary for this. At the shooting range you get up to 2-3 meters to the athletes (at the closest athlete). Here also the 90-280mm lens is perfect. You can decide if you want to include the whole athlete or just a section.

Did you do any processing to the images or any particular treatment?

The images were processed using the familiar Leica workflow with Adobe Lightroom. The advantage is that I did not have to work on a new workflow, but the usual editing method could be maintained.

As a Leica Akademie instructor, what would you say are your biggest challenges, for instance, when you teach and talk about using a specific camera (e.g. the Leica SL) for a project?

The biggest challenge is to communicate the handling of the camera, so that the user can handle the camera as quickly and as well as possible. Especially in sports photography, it is immensely important that you blindly master your camera in order to react quickly and efficiently to changing conditions! The Leica SL -System offers an enormous advantage here – I can customize the control buttons so that I can access and change all the most important parameters very quickly with just one click.

On that same note, would you share three tips for up-and-coming photographers who want to delve into sports photography?

  1. Do not just concentrate on the action – The key for expressive images are emotions. Who was the big winner, who was the loser? Cheering, joy, relief on the one hand, disappointment, anger and despair on the other, are moments which, in more or less pronounced form, accompany almost every sporting event. Whoever manages to hold on to it has already won half. Emotions are often only a brief outburst, which is why it requires particular concentration and prudence.
  2. No less important than emotions is action. Fierce duels, spectacular moves and unique scenes captured in a fraction of a second are eye-catchers as well as great emotions. Ideally, you can create the combination of both: emotions and action. For the beginning it is completely sufficient to capture  the quite “ordinary” action. In the ideal case, you should hold decisive moments in the course of the game or the sport. Many moments that one can seldom foresee require constant concentration, quick reaction and blind mastery of the technique.
  3. Do not forget to show “features” – When it comes to sports photography, it means that one should look, not solely concentrate on duel  and jubilant pictures, but photographing what others overlook. Are there details on the field, on the grandstand, generally around the event, which show a different angle of view on the sport? Motifs that are less concrete journalism, but almost art? Pictures that can illustrate a sport and everything related to it, from the fan to the greenkeeper. The view for the unusual and special, for details next to the event and the courage to miss a few scenes to create a unique picture; this distinguishes the really good sports photographer. The preparation for a sporting event is therefore a condition for successful shots. Prepare yourself for the event, read reports from the last days to get background information on the respective clubs / sports. You can also use sports magazines and daily local press reports!

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with the community or talk about other projects you might be working on?

For the future, I would like to continue to develop my craft. This should be the goal of every photographer! You have to train as a photographer just like the athletes … practice, practice, practice! My dreams are to accompany the Olympic Games (summer or winter, I do not care) and a Formula 1 Grand Prix, preferably in Monaco as a photographer.

Thank you Oliver!

To know more about Oliver Vogler, please visit his official website.

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