14.05.2018 Heinz Zak

Fly Free – Free Ski and Snowboard World Class Athletes

Heinz Zak

Heinz Zak (born in 1958 in Wörgl, Austria), has lived in Scharnitz, a town located on the foot of the Karwendel, for more than 30 years. He has been heading up into “his” mountains any time of the day throughout the seasons for just as long; time and again.
Not only is this renaissance man an author and photographer; Heinz Zak also facilitates periodic photography courses, works as a mountain exploration guide and hosts outdoor seminars as well as mountain climbing. His presentations are attended by thousands of enthusiastic participants year after year, while his photographs are published in magazines, books and calendars.

When I was asked by FUJIFILM to create a video about the brand new FUJIFILM X-H1, I really felt honored. That time nobody in Europe had worked with the camera. As one of the new main features of the camera was video in slow motion – 120 frames per second – I decided to choose some fast action for making my video. Also, this feature of the camera was what I was most looking forward to for my own needs in outdoor photo and film productions. I had desperately been waiting for a camera that serves all my needs at the same time – still photography, stabilised video in 4K as well as slow motion in HD quality.

Originally I had planned to shoot freeriders on steep mountain slopes. But luckily I had heard about a freeski event on the Stubai Glacier. The world’s best freeskiers and snowboarders were supposed to compete in the Prime Park Sessions as well as in the Stubai Zoo Snowpark.
On assignments we love to plan shootings as precisely as possible. Indoors – in a studio – setting our own light helps a lot. Outdoors – especially when the sky is big in the picture – we may plan whatever we want – if the light is not right, we rather wait for another day!
I was incredibly lucky in several ways: first of all, the best athletes were totally motivated to perform their most difficult jumps, second as the snow conditions on the Stubai Glacier were perfect and third and most important….there were these incredible clouds painting structures in a clear blue sky. Last but not least I was really lucky to be accompanied by my assistants Stefan Fritsche and Tobi Margreiter.

We permanently coordinated shutter speeds, ISO levels and F-stops in the cameras. Here – in the bright light of the glacier – the advantage of the Fujifilm concept of distinctive wheels on top of the camera helped so much! Incredibly fast we could change all that we needed and for myself it was fast and easy to control my assistant’s camera settings.
First of all we needed to get used to this high speed action. When standing as close to the athletes you can hardly follow the speed with your eyes through the camera. As the action was so fast we decided to neglect a neutral density filter and rather use a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second as well as F-stops between F8 and F11 go get sharp images. Exposure times were always set manually and coordinated with three cameras.
One of the crucial points also was to set the focus manually. There was no way to trust any autofocus in the world to keep track with that speed, especially as there was a lot of blue sky and the full sun in the picture. A big help for setting the focus in the right distance was the possibility to immediately switch to an enlargement of the picture by simply pressing the right wheel. In the bright light, the tool of showing the focus points in high red also helped a lot!
To get the right sequences of each jump from three different angles at the same time, it was crucial to choose the right position for all of us as well as choosing the right lenses to give the same feeling of distance. As we were very limited in the places where to stand I really appreciated using the FUJINON zoom lens XF10-24mmF4 as well as the FUJINON XF16-55mmF2.8. For the shots from the distance, we were using the zoom lenses XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6, the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 as well as the XF50-140mmF2.8.
Also, what we really appreciated to follow the action and still have a solid grip on to the body of the camera was the ergonomic shape of it. As the temperature was pretty low and sometimes a chilly wind was blowing, I once again appreciated the wheels on top of the camera. Even with our gloves on we could easily change shutter speeds and ISO levels.

Separately from the filming, I was also shooting stills. Here I was totally impressed by the high speed drive supported by the Power Booster managing 11fps. For the stills I sometimes was closing the F-stop down to F16 to even get a brighter star of the sun. As always, I rather trusted manual focus as well as manual exposure, shooting at 1/2000 to 1/4000 of a second.
Still, first of all I was really happy about the great stabilizing performance of the X-H1. And honestly, I was surprised how long the batteries would last compared to the work they had to manage.

For me, the X-H1 is a camera that helps me fulfill my dreams – there is no doubt about it that I really need it!