Hard-hitting, high-speed: kickboxing reportage with the Canon EOS R3

Photojournalist Nikolai Linares put Canon's latest full-frame mirrorless camera to the test documenting the start of an ambitious boy's sporting journey, both in and out of the gym.
A dark-haired boy wearing kickboxing gloves stands against a black background, his fists raised to his face and chest in a fighting stance.

Canon Ambassador Nikolai Linares used a single Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT to light this image of 12-year-old Musa at his gym in Copenhagen, Denmark. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 59mm, 1/180 sec, f/6.3 and ISO500. © Nikolai Linares

Danish photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Nikolai Linares is renowned for his sports reportage. Several years ago, he shot a celebrated story on kickboxer Youssef Assouik, who had escaped a tough life to become a K-1 fighting world champion. When the pair recently got in touch again, Youssef told him about Musa, a 12-year-old boy who was training at his gym in Copenhagen, Denmark. "He told me that Musa had big dreams – and was also a great talent," he says.

Nikolai decided he also wanted to document Musa's story, and was keen to see how the EOS R3, Canon's high-speed EOS R System flagship camera would cope in this hard-hitting world. It certainly didn't disappoint. "This camera is so fast at detecting and tracking people, even in bad light, that all I had to do was shoot. And that's exactly what you want as a photographer," he says.

A boy flexing his biceps in front of a weights rack. His reflection can be seen in the mirror behind the weights.

The Canon EOS R3 features flicker detection and High Frequency Anti-Flicker detection to prevent problems with colour and exposure that can occur when using an electronic shutter under some types of artificial light. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 58mm, 1/125 sec, f/2.2 and ISO1600. © Nikolai Linares

A boy is caught mid-punch, muscles tensed, as he strikes a yellow punchbag.

The Canon EOS R3 can focus in lighting as low as EV -7.51 and has a new, bright EVF that doesn't slow in low light. These features, combined with the benefits of being able to shoot at 30fps, opened up new levels of creative freedom for Nikolai. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 28mm, 1/800 sec, f/2.2 and ISO4000. © Nikolai Linares

Nikolai arranged to meet with the boy and his father at the gym a week before the shoot. "I went to talk things through with them. They were really friendly and very open, and I knew it was a story I'd be able to cover," he says.

The boy's father used to belong to a gang but has now put that behind him. "He knows that perhaps he hasn't been the father he's trying to be now," says Nikolai. "He's focusing on helping his children with their sports and schoolwork, so they don't end up on the streets like he did."

Nikolai planned to start the two-day shoot at Youssef's gym, where Musa would have a full training session, and then go to the family home. "It was a routine we pretty much stuck with for two days in a row," he says.

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A male boxer wearing training pads on his hands leans down to speak to a boy in a black t-shirt, who is looking up at him.

Musa and his mentor, Youssef. "Musa is at a really interesting age," says Nikolai. "He has big dreams, big hopes, and he's totally focused on his sport." Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 47mm, 1/640 sec, f/2.2 and ISO3200. © Nikolai Linares

A young kickboxer raises his knee towards his trainer, who defends himself with his training pads.

The EOS R3 is the perfect tool for shooting fast-moving sports action, featuring 30fps shooting in RAW and a maximum shutter speed of 1/64000 sec with the electronic shutter. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 70mm, 1/640 sec, f/2.2 and ISO3200. © Nikolai Linares © Nikolai Linares

Making the most of fast lenses and fast focusing

Nikolai explains that he doesn't like to plan shots to any great extent when he's covering a story like Musa's, as he prefers to see what develops naturally. "I knew that I wanted something with his trainer, Youssef, in it," he explains. "Something that showed Youssef as a mentor to look up to instead of being this tough coach. That was the main image I had in my mind before I started shooting. I also wanted something with Musa hanging out with his brothers after the gym, but that's as far as my plans went."

To provide flexibility on the shoot, Nikolai relied on two RF zooms: the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM and the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM. The shorter, slightly faster lens acted as Nikolai's primary. "It might be a little heavy, but the fast maximum aperture means that it's really good in low light," he says. "I'd tend to use a longer lens when I'm photographing a fight, but as I was shooting training sessions, it was possible to go into the ring with the RF 28-70mm F2L USM on the camera."

Nikolai switched to the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM mainly to get some close handheld shots of facial expressions. The IS in the lens combined with the Canon EOS R3's in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) provided up to 7.5-stops of stability, enabling him to capture images free of camera shake, even while moving around.

A young kickboxer stands with his legs apart, one fist extended and the other next to his jaw. Two men sit watching him in the background.

The EOS R3 features Eye Control AF, which makes it possible to switch between subjects just by looking where you want to focus in the viewfinder. Eye Control AF works with any of the AF point selection modes but is most useful when used in conjunction with Subject Tracking. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 45mm, 1/500 sec, f/2 and ISO2500. © Nikolai Linares

The low-light, fast-paced action sequences of Musa sparring with Youssef were a test for the Canon EOS R3's AF tracking and its low-light AF brightness range, which extends down to EV -7.51. "Without a doubt, it was fast," says Nikolai. "The lighting wasn't the best in the gym, and there were lots of things in the background of shots. But the EOS R3's autofocus picked out the faces and did what it was supposed to do. You really only have to think about framing and shooting and don't have to do much more.

"It's very satisfying to sit down afterwards and look at the images, and you can see that the camera has done well. I have tried shooting again with an older generation of camera and it just wasn't fast enough, which is really annoying when you shoot the way I do. I'm constantly on the move when I'm covering a story like this, so I need the camera to be fast – and it was."

A red rally car captured at speed, kicking up a cloud of dust behind it.

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The Canon EOS R3's ability to shoot at 30fps with AE and AF tracking gave Nikolai an edge during the training sessions, too. "I didn't need to shoot at this speed the whole time, but when Musa was doing something where I felt it would be hard to capture the right moment, such as when he was hitting a punchbag, I pushed the camera to its limits."

A family relax on two sofas around a coffee table.

The silent shutter and face-tracking capabilities of the Canon EOS R3 enabled Nikolai to take candid shots of Musa and his family at their home in Copenhagen. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 28mm, 1/125 sec, f/4 and ISO4000. © Nikolai Linares

Three boys play football on grass outside an apartment block.

Nikolai used the Canon EOS R3's vari-angle touchscreen to frame up low-level shots such as this image of Musa playing football with his brothers. "Of course, I could just have easily laid down, but then I wouldn't have been able to move around," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 28mm, 1/1250 sec, f/4 and ISO250. © Nikolai Linares

Capturing candid moments with the EOS R3's silent shutter

Following each day's gym session, Nikolai travelled to Musa's home in the suburbs of Copenhagen to capture the family relaxing together.

To make sure that he could achieve natural-looking 'fly-on-the-wall' shots, the photographer took advantage of the Canon EOS R3's silent shutter function. A new customisation option enables the camera to be instantly set to silent shooting with a flick of the Live View shooting/Movie shooting switch, and there's even a new shutter volume function that lets you adjust the sound of the electronic shutter on the occasions when you need it to be audible.

"Normally, I do like a little bit of sound," explains Nikolai. "Even when you're shooting a portrait in a quiet environment, I like the people who I'm photographing to be able to tell when I've taken the picture."

The Canon EOS R3's improved Dual Pixel CMOS AF II didn't hesitate in picking out the faces of the family when they were all together. "The face detection would highlight all of the faces in the viewfinder and let me quickly cycle through them to choose the one that I wanted to follow," he says.

A portrait of a young kickboxer standing against a dark background and lit with a flash. The boy's gloved fists are pushed together, and he is looking down at his hands.

The sensor technology in the EOS R3 enables photographers to use flash with the electronic shutter – a first for Canon cameras. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 29mm, 1/250 sec, f/5 and ISO500. © Nikolai Linares

The autofocus also proved useful when Nikolai was photographing Musa with his brothers, enjoying a lively game of football. Nikolai took advantage of the vari-angle screen here, to get some dynamic low-level views. The EOS R3's screen and new EVF, which maintains a constant speed even in low light, are both higher resolution than on the Canon EOS R5 that Nikolai is used to, and the camera itself is more substantial, too.

"Before the Canon EOS R5, I spent at least 10 years shooting with Canon EOS 5D bodies. But even though the EOS R3 is the largest camera I've used, it felt really good in the hand. The battery life was better than what I've grown accustomed to as well." A longer battery life will certainly come in handy for Nikolai's long-form picture essays.

So, how long does he see himself following Musa's story? "It's difficult to say when a story is complete, but I don't feel that this one is done yet," he suggests. "I haven't had the chance to be at a real fight with Musa, for example, and I think that needs to be part of his story as well. This is a young guy with great potential, and in time we'll all know how far his journey takes him – we just don't know it yet."

Marcus Hawkins

1 When used with an f/1.2 lens (except lenses with a Defocus Smoothing (DS) coating), centre point AF, one shot mode at room temperature at ISO100.

Nikolai Linares’ kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

A Canon EOS R3 and a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens on the yellow floor of a boxing ring


Canon EOS R3

The Canon EOS R3 is a high-performance, high-speed full frame mirrorless camera that marks a new era for sports, wildlife and news photography.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "The 5D is a workhorse, it just keeps on going,” says Nikolai. “It just does what I want it to do. I trust it. It's the same model that I've had for 12 years."


Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

Capture the world with outstanding flexibility and quality with a super compact f/2.8 telephoto zoom that incorporates a 5-stop Image Stabilizer to ensure great handheld results, closer focusing down to 0.7m and fastest-ever AF.


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