Sports shooting- cost effective options?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by zaniix, Apr 29, 2013.

  1. zaniix macrumors newbie

    Apr 29, 2013
    Let me start by saying I am an amateur, I do not plan to make money with photography. I take photos because I love doing it and it makes me happy.
    I do not plan to ever spend $7000 on a camera body $1500 is more my max, this is a hobby.

    I love taking sports shots of my son playing soccer, currently I just use a sony NEX-F3. Its my learning tool, with a small pancake lens its point and shoot size and with a 55-210 I can grab some nice shots on the soccer field.

    I am looking to take my first step into the world of DSLR, but I have learned I need a few things and they can get expensive. I know I can not afford 15 frames a second, but I also know I can live with 4-5fps if positions myself correctly and anticipate the shot I want. I have also learned that focus speed is super important, nothing worse to me than missing a shot because my camera was struggling to find focus at distance.

    So I still have to decide if I was an APS-c or full frame, but what I am really trying to figure out is what camera is going to give me the best bang for the buck if I need fast focusing and a good zoom lens.

    Does it matter if the focus motor is in the camera body or the lens?

    I thought the Nikon D5200 brought some pretty nice focus speeds for a decent price, but I liked using the Canon T4 better.

    Does the camera body really matte much in this respect or will a great lens focus really fast regardless?

    I do not feel like I know enough to make this decision, I do not understand enough about what makes a DSLR able to focus quickly and I want to find the most cost effective combo to get what I am looking for. One of the Moms uses a Canon 5D Mark III with some 100-400 lens and gets amazing photos, but I am not looking to spend that much.
  2. JDDavis macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    I'm no expert sports photographer but I play one at my daughter's gymnastics meets. :rolleyes: I can't help with the Canon vs Nikon question. I'm a Nikon user but I think that comes down to what feels best in your hands. If you're like me and decide to stay in the non-pro glass and crop sensor camera area (like the Nikon 5200 you mentioned) then I would consider each cameras ability to produce good shots at higher ISO settings. Without full frame and fast (f1.8) pro lens you'll always be battling image blur from slow shutter speeds. A camera with a decent FPS (most DLSRs) and good image quality at like maybe ISO 1200 will help you keep the shutter speeds up so you get sharp images of action when you don't have great light or really fast glass. I've found that's the most technically challenging thing for the non pro sports shooter.

    What's working decently for me lately for indoor sports (where lighting stinks) is my D90 at ISO 800 to 1200, the new 18-300 lens and Aperture plus the Nik add-ins Dfine (noise reduction), and Viveza (brigtening, tone). The 5200 would be an improvement over my D90 and the 18-300, while not a pro lens by any means, takes great pics and the zoom range offers a lot of versatility. The software helps clean up the underexposure and any noise from the high ISO. Focus speed has not been a problem with my setup. I usually keep the camera in manual (exposure settings) and center focused, that way it doesn't "hunt" alot. Obviously a D800 and a 70-200 or a 400mm would blow my setup away but I think for quite a bit less money I'm getting pics I'm happy with.

    Hope that helps some. A Nikon 5200 with a 18-300 lens will run you about $1600 (the lens was just on sale but it looks like that's over). You'd get better images out of primes for less $ like the 35mm and 50mm but you can't always zoom with your feet at a sporting event. I'm not sure what an equivelant suggestion would be on the Canon side of the fence.
  3. zaniix thread starter macrumors newbie

    Apr 29, 2013
    JDDavis, thanks for the reply. I hope to find other like you that have some experience in these situations.

    With Soccer I am outdoors and often have pretty good light. I have been shooting in Shutter Priority set at 1/2500. I am wondering if letting the camera decide the ISO may have been a mistake. On a cloudy day it set to ISO 640 and I did get some good shots, but overall they were a bit too soft.

    One of my issues is that I want to get a shallower Depth of field so I can isolate my targets, but I do not have much choice of lens. The other issue is I still have not figured out the best choice for autofocus with my camera. People say use continuous focus for sports, but my camera spends too much time hunting around in that mode and I miss pictures. If I pick single point focus and single shot focus, but continuous shooting mode I can snap 3 - 5 shots in a row and usually end up with at least one that is what I wanted and is in focus.

    I am trying to spend less time depending on my camera to do something and more time making sure what I want is going to be there in frame when I press the button.

    Right now I am thinking that no matter what body I get if I spend the money on a really nice zoom lens with a large aperture I can get what I want.
  4. /"\/oo\/"\ macrumors regular

    Jan 7, 2007
    Little bit of a chicken/egg situation- standard advice is to bias your spending towards better glass and upgrade your body as features trickle down and costs drop over time. Sports and action photography tilts that advice a little since it's the one place where the latest, greatest AF system and burst rates makes a tangible difference in getting keepers. Large aperture telephoto primes and zooms will certainly get you greater depth of field, but those lenses are generally going to cost a mint. Most of the lenses I'm guessing fall into your price range will have a variable max aperture of 4-5.6, which is plenty for background separation if you're spending most of your time on the long end.

    With $1500 being your max, is that for just the body or body and lens? Speaking from the Canon side of things (opposite of JDDavis, nothing against Nikon, I just use Canon), the 7D is pretty much tailor-made for the use you're describing. B&H has used 7Ds in stock for under $1000. With that body, take your pick of zooms in the 200-300mm range (the 70-300mm comes to mind at $500 new) and you'd have plenty of reach, speed and a great AF system.

    Definitely spend a little time and money renting gear from both Canon and Nikon to see which suits you better. Like I said, I don't particularly have anything against Nikon, but when I was first rooting myself into a brand, I used both and the Nikon handling and UI just did not get along with me at all. May be the other way around for you.
  5. Bear macrumors G3

    Jul 23, 2002
    Sol III - Terra
    On less expensive bodies a lens with a built in focus motor will be faster at focusing than a lens that is focused from via an in camera focus motor.

    The camera body will affect focusing speed to some extent, the rest of it is the lens.

    As for Nikon vs Canon, whichever you feel more comfortable using as long as it meets your needs. I prefer Nikon, others prefer Canon.

    Do note that you would probably do better with getting a pair of lens like an 18-55(or 70 or so) and a 70ish to 300.
  6. JDDavis macrumors 65816


    Jan 16, 2009
    To your first point, if you haven't already noticed, you'd be surprised how quickly an overcast day can bring your shutter speed down to the point that fast action is hard to capture. This being in the realm of non-pro glass. As far as your settings go it's just about finding an exposure method that works for you. I set aperture and shutter manually as well as ISO. I just feel more comfortable making all those decision especially when the conditions aren't perfect. If you select aperture or shutter priority the camera will compensate with the other setting and ISO. I like to use the histogram to test shoot until I find the lowest possible ISO that will work with the best possible shutter and aperture. With non-pro glass like the 18-300 you are pretty limited with aperture anyway especially at long focal lengths. Best to concentrate on shutter and ISO. 1/2500 is great, especially if you need it on a super bright day, but you still have a lot of room for capturing action there so I'd rather have like an ISO of 200 and except a lower shutter speed.

    If you want to really control DOF at all focal lengths then pro glass is your only option. You're probably looking at $2k + for a lens of that quality with either Canon or Nikon. Long distances on standard glass will work some too and there are options in post to help isolate your subject.

    Nikon has some decent focusing options for sports photography. Ones that will track your subject through the frame. I still just use the center focus and focus and reframe quickly if I want the subject in a third or something. Works faster for me. A lot of my sports shots I just frame the subject in the center anyway since I know I'll be cropping a lot of them and in general non-pro glass is softer on the edges.

    Great discussion. Good luck making a decision.
  7. twitch31, Apr 29, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2013

    twitch31 macrumors regular

    Feb 12, 2013
    Good sports cameras must have a body with excellent AF, and a lens long enough for sports and with a fast ring motor. None of this comes very cheap but here's the best budget combo I can think of, how about this:

    Body: Canon 7D for $850? (cheaper second hand) . Anything less in canon range does not have good AF for sports. You would not choose this body for landscapes or travel duties, but you said sport OK ;)

    Lens: Canon 70-200 f/4 USM (non IS is ~$700 new). Unbelievable value IMHO. Non IS is OK for sports as you are shooting 1/500 or faster at which point IS is not that useful.

    You will not find a faster focusing camera and lens combo at this price level, perfect sports camera combo.

    Nikon bodies don't have decent AF until D7100 (not D7000) or the D700. Problem is that would burn most of your budget. Then their 70-200/4 is twice price of Canon's. The 70-300 would be "OK" but still over budget by a fair bit.

    I'm a Pentax shooter btw, but no way am I going to recommend a Pentax cam for primarily sports duties.
  8. fireman32 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 30, 2010
    Raleigh, NC
    Spend the money on some fast glass. Good glass will last a long time. You can buy a good used body for cheaper from your local camera shop and then put the extra money in a good fast lens. As far as Nikon or Canon go with what feels good in your hands. Good luck!
  9. ChrisA, Apr 29, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2013

    ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    OKa $1,500 budget. This will be easy

    Buy a used Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 AF lens. If will cost you about $900 but I've seen them as low as $650. But figure on $900

    Buy a used Nikon D200 body. This thing has a fast 5FPS burst rate and VERY importently it has an in-body focus motor which is needed to drive the older version of the 80-200 lens. Expect to pay about $275 for the body.

    The D200 is a 10MP "DX" frame body that is built very stong with a metal body. The 80-200 AF is built like a tank. It is a full-on pro lens, one of the best ever made.

    You can get the same setup from Canon. But check who has the best AFORDABLE 80-200 (or 70-200) f/2.8 lens. YES you want the f/2.8, not the f/4 or certainly not the f/5.6 Shop for the LENS FIRST then buy whatever body you need to go with the LENS with whatever budget you have left over. On the Nikon side you may find a lower priced lens because there is a lens compatibilty issue that keeps the price down on the older "AF" type lenses.

    Just do NOT "cheap out" on the optics
  10. twitch31, Apr 29, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2013

    twitch31 macrumors regular

    Feb 12, 2013
    Shooting outdoor soccer does not require f/2.8, it requires reach and a fast ring motor. F/4 is more than enough for the purpose and allows budget for a body with good AF tracking IMHO
  11. someoldguy macrumors 68000

    Aug 2, 2009
    The most important thing is how the camera feels in your hands . If you find it's clumsy you're not gonna use it . I've got no experience with Nikon DSLR's , but with Canon , the 60D might be an alternative to the T4i if you've got big hands . It doesn't have the build quality of the 7D but new ones are <700US ( see the B&H website) . The 70-200 is just a gem of a lens . My experience is with the IS version , but never heard anything bad said about the non IS version . See about an 18-55 IS for general shooting , and you'll be set. If you're really on a budget T3i's are still around new, less bells and whistles than the T4i . Whatever you do , remember that good glass is forever (relatively speaking) while camera bodies come and go.
  12. Keleko macrumors 68000

    Mar 26, 2008
    You don't really need to go above 1/1000 shutter speed. That's usually the desired shutter speed for pro football photography. I guarantee they're going faster than your son's soccer teams. That should help with the ISO on overcast days, too.

    I'll echo the recommendation for the Canon 70-200 f/4 because it is so good for the price. However, the benefit of f/2.8 is that it blurs the background more than f/4, which is important for sports shooting. Since you're not doing college or pro level sports, it isn't as important for you, but that is a factor to consider.
  13. ctyhntr macrumors 6502


    Jul 21, 2010
    For me, the key to sports photography is shutter speed. I like to keep mine at least 1/250-1/500 to freeze the action. I've used the kit zoom lens (55-250mm) successfully in bright sunny days. As others point out, the larger aperture zoom lens will give you more margin to work in lower light/indoors.

    Are you shooting outdoors, at night, or indoors?
  14. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    Even if you shoot stopped down to f/4 with an f/2.8 lens it is still best to use the f/2.8 lens if you can afford it.

    The view in the viewfinder is brighter by but also the AF works better with the f/2.8 lens because the DOF is smaller. The AF system can track focus best with a fast lens. Nikon does not have an f/4 version of the f/2.8 70-200 and Canon does. But on the other hand the very old Nikon f/2.8 lens still work with new Nikon bodies so you can find an older f/2.8 lens for cheap. As an example Adorama has one for $424 right now. Newer versions are under $900.

    The Canon f/4 lens is very good too.
  15. MCH-1138 macrumors 6502


    Jan 31, 2013
  16. coachingguy macrumors 6502a


    Feb 7, 2003
    The Great White, Albeit Frozen North
    I've been taking High School sports pictures for 20 years for both yearbooks and local newspapers. If you're going to shoot indoors, you need a body with good ISO range and as fast glass as you can afford. If your shooting outdoors during the day, I'd recommend a 18-270 lens... I use a Canon 50d and the lens I use the most is Sigma 18-270. I've learned to adapt to the light. Action requires you shoot at a faster shutter speed, depending upon the sport of course.

    In my experience, most schools won't allow Flash Photography indoors due to the safety and distraction factor for the athletes. So, I shoot HS Volleyball, Basketball and Wrestling at ISO 1600-2000 depending upon the light in the gymnasium. If you try to shoot at anything 80 or below for shutter speed, you'll end up with Blur you can't edit out.

    Outdoors is a different animal as far as the light goes, unless your shooting at night under stadium lights...

    Also, plan to have to edit.

    Buy what you can afford, and just play. I'd also recommend getting a FAST card either SD or CDMA depending upon what the needs are for your body.

    Good Luck and Have Fun!


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