Digital SLR for martial arts

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by paul_hawkes, Jul 19, 2009.

  1. I run a martial arts school and would really like to take more photo's and of a better standard / quality.
    Currently I have a Nikon coolpix p1 which is not really upto the job. By the time I've taken the photo the subjects are in a totally different position or the photo's are too dark / grainy.

    I have to confess to be fairly useless as a photographer although I'm interested in improving.

    Advice concerning a suitable camera around the £500 mark would be really appreciated.

    The martial arts school has a very high ceiling and pretty good natural light, trouble is most classes are the evening and it being England nights draw in pretty fast and so will be taking shots while fluorescent tubes supply most of the light. They are the white, slightly more natural light ones but still not fantastic.

    Most of the shots will be of people moving, particularly a pair training together although some will be the whole class or of just one student.

    The photo's will mainly be used for web sites but also A4 - A1 posters and occasional 15ft x 4ft banners.

    I slightly more idiot proof camera would be ideal although I would like to develop more skill with it so can take photo's that create emotion.

    I hope this is not too basic a question and look forward to some words of wisdom.

    Best wishes,

  2. While most, if not all, up-to-date bodies should have the features you need (10+MP, high ISO (say 6400, coolpix has 400 max.), fast shutter, no delay), a critical point in your situation is the lens. You will want one with as large an aperture as possible. The coolpix maximum aperture is f/2.7-7.6, which means as soon as you start to zoom in things get dim. Very dim. DSLR zoom lenses go dim as well, but not that much. In case you're on a budget a prime focus lenses should be your best option, e.g. 50mm f/1.4 lenses are usually not too expensive. That's already 2 stops better, plus 4 stops from the ISO should bring you where you want.
    On a typical DSLR not having a full-frame sensor this is a good focal length for portraits, or full body when you're a bit farther away. If your location does not have enough space for that focal length, I would go for a 35mm or 24mm, again f/1.4, but these might be more expensive.
    PS: About no delay: In case there still would be with your DSLR, switch off the autofocus, and prefocus manually. Then there'll be really none.
  3. As above plus -
    1. White balnce may be tricky.
    2. Fluorescent lights flicker at twice the power line frequency. Here in the US, that's 120 Hz. If you pick a shutter speed faster than 1/120th you may catch it during a bright or a dark instant. If you shoot at 1/120th, then you would average out to one exact pulse. (Same for multiples, i.e. 1/60th, 1/30th, 1/15th, etc.) If you determine the flourescent ballasts are electronic, as are most new ones, then this does not apply as they cycle at 10-30 KHz.
    If you can use flash(es) you might have more stable results but with additional complications. Nothing's free.
  4. I took a fair number of Tae Kwon Do photos over the last few years, so I'll chime in with my experience. To take good pictures, first you need good light. If your school has relatively low, white (or off-white) ceilings, a good flash with bounce capability will be enough. If you train in a big hall with a bloack ceiling, you will need a more elaborate solution. If you have big windows and train/teach during the day, dayllight may work as well, but I don't like to rely on it. The easiest way to use a flash is to put it on a DSLR, at least a midrange one.
    A fast lens is not a requirement. You will want to be at f/4 or so to keep the whole subject reasonably sharp; occasionally you may use f/2.8 but I could live without it. Depending on the kind of martial art and particular action you want to photograph, you may or may not need a mid-telephoto zoom; I usually end up using either my 50mm prime or the 100mm prime on a full-frame body (but would prefer a 35-135 zoom if I could get one). If you end up buying a midrange crop-sensor camera, a 24-70 or similar range zoom lens may be all you ever need. You need a lens that can focus quickly and accurately; ultimate sharpness isn't all that important for this application IMHO. Likewise, number of megapixels is not the most important quality for a camera for this purpose; fast and accurate focus and short shutter lag as well as a good and flexible flash system are more important.
    I personally use a Canon 5D (a bit of an overkill resolution-wise, but the AF could be better) with a 550 EX flash (most important) and 50mm and 100mm primes. Some of my pictures are up at .
  5. At the martial arts school I used to attend, there was some discussion about photographing some of the activities. It was a no-win, as the need for lights conflicted with the need for the sparring to roam around.
    And like the OP's situation, the ceiling was tall (clearance for martial arts weapons in full swing) and while the space was lighted well enough for practice, it was poorly lighted for photography.
    Flash is about the only solution. And I would really recommend a second flash.
  6. I agree with Thomas. You'll need flash, probably bounced off of wall or ceiling, to illuminate the space.
    A camera with a larger sensor will help a lot (you don't need more resolution, you need larger photo sites that will gather in more light). And almost any DSLR will be better than dealing with p&s shutter lag.
    Fluorescent lighting is a problem. It's difficult to get natural colors because the light emitted does not behave like a black body radiator. Proper white balance helps, but it can't change the nature of the light.
    You really do need to buy a DSLR. In addition, try to shoot during the day when possible. The natural light splling in will give you better colors and you'll be able to shoot at higher shutter speeds and lower ISO.

Share This Page