Good Entry Level Camera for sports Photography

Discussion in 'Sports' started by greg_mittelsteadt, Mar 3, 2009.

  1. Having worked as a college sports information director, I consider myself a very novice photographer. But, I am interested delving more deeply into sports photography. What recommendations would you make for me as I look to purchase my first camera and lens?
    I understand that professional camera equipment is expensive but I am not looking for a Cadillac. I am more interested in finding a solid affordable camera and lens that will meet my needs as an entry level photographer. Thanks
  2. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Considering the budget theme to your question, the lens(es) will likely be more a critical selection, than the camera.

    . what sport(s)?

    . what illumination(s)? (day / night / indoor / outdoor)

    . will you have the facility to roam? (i.e. to define / control your subject distance)

  3. I agree with William.
    But with out knowing anything more look at the D200 or newer for Nikon and the 40D or newer for Canon. With the 80-200 f2.8 for Nikon and the 70-200 f2.8 for Canon. And then maybe get a 50mm prime at f1.8 or faster for either system.
    I wouldn't look at anything less. One of the most common posts here are from people wanting to know how to improve images that were shot indoors or at night games because they are simply not happy with the results. Many times they are useing a 70-300 f4-5.6 and a consumer level body. And the answer is simply really nothing. Their equipment isn't ment to handle that type of shooting environment.
    So if you want to get a good system that will last you a long time, look at the equipment I mentioned above. But if you never plan to shoot indoors or at night games then you could go for a less expensive model.
    Also check out B&H Photo and B&H has great prices on new equpment and also deal in used equpment. KEH is mainly used but you can get new. For new equipment got to B&H. There are other great places but I have had absolutly outstanding service from B&H everytime. And many times no one has been able to match their price.
  4. To answer the questions posed, I am looking for something pretty versatile that would be able to shoot a variety of sports indoors and out. At games I have shot in the past, I have always been bale to move fairly freely. Probably interested in marketing to parents and possibly the local newspaper more so than to Sports Illustrated...
  5. I take all my sports pictures with a Canon 400D (XTi). Any modern camera will do (not to say that I wouldn't like a 40D or a 1D3), so invest in fast lenses instead is my suggestion.
  6. The camera body doesn't matter as much as the lenses you use. All recently released DSLR cameras are capable of great results with the right lens and good hand/eye coordination. An indoor basketball game may require a different lens than an outdoor football or soccer game shot in bright sunlight (for optimum results).
    My suggestion is figure out which lens or lenses you need to get the job done and then get the most camera you can with the money you have left.
  7. I understand that professional camera equipment is expensive but I am not looking for a Cadillac.
    Based on that, I assume you have a pretty tight budget. To get the versatility you are looking for, I'd suggest one of the third party 70-200 f2.8 (or one in that range) plus the 50 f1.8...either of which can be found for Nikon or Canon. The 70-200 f2.8 will be around $700-$800 and the Canon or Nikon 50 f1.8 should be under $100. The 70-200 will cover football, baseball, soccer, etc., plus close-ups for basketball. The 50 is mainly for basketball shots from the baseline.
    If you can afford a little more, you can get the sigma 30mm f1.4 (around $400) which does very well indoors in low-light. If you can afford a lot more, go with the name brand 70-200 which has better image quality.
    As others have said, it is more about the lens than the body.
  8. Thank you everyonr for your help.
  9. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you for answering the questions I posed.
    Regarding the camera, I agree with B.J. Sharp a Canon xxxD model, or any modern camera will suffice.
    Looking at the Canon range only: I have also access to a 400D, which I use on occasion. But, I think there are advantages with the Canon xxD series over the Canon xxxD series, for sport.
    When you look for a camera, I think these five features you need should consider closely:
    . Range of lenses available;
    . Fast & accurate Auto Focus ability;
    . Viewfinder Brightness;
    . High ISO capacity (ISO3200 is very useful - 6400 is pretty much gives you a good advantage to get what is largely impossible for many) and;
    . the functionality of the controls.
    (I did not list burst rate – that is because I consider timing the Shutter execusion, more important.)
    It is important to hold and USE one from each series of camera, and different brands, they are quite different. I cannot comment in detail about other brands.
    Do not buy a zoom lens slower than a constant maximum aperture F2.8.
    As you will be working inside an outside (and assuming day and night), you will need (initially), a couple of fast prime lenses.
    It is most likely you will buy an APS-C format body, therefore a 30mm or 35mm and an 85mm, would be a sensible pair of lenses to purchase.
    A "fast prime" is faster than F2, for these FL ranges.
    Although Nikon and Canon both make a inexpensive 50mmF1.8, I have not specifically mentioned that lens: it is not a bad purchase, but I find inside, (B.Ball, V.Ball Gymnastics) etc if you can move around, a 30 or 35 is suitable for close work and an 85 give the reach when needed, I use a 50 very little.
    But on the other hand, considering your tight budget, and the fact you can move around, a 50mm only, might be the best choice for you, but you WILL have you move smartly.
    I work with two cameras, and when inside especially, having two cameras has great advantages: so you should consider that as an option, too.
    IMO it is foolish to believe that an F2.8 zoom (e.g. 17 to 50ish) will suffice for indoor sport, especially in gymnasia and the like, which do not have lighting banks approaching BCast quality / intensity. Therefore I would not be seduced into thinking that a 17 to 50/F2.8 and a 70 to 200/F2.8 will cover everything - you will need fast prime lenses.
    A 70 to 200F2.8 is a very useful lens outside, and a x1.4 teleconverter would be sensible also. If there is enough light, this lens will be used indoors, too
    A monopod will be your friend.
    The reasons:
    . to have a camera of High quality ISO capacity;
    . to buy only fast lenses and;
    . the need for prime lenses . . .
    are explained in this link: (My post, Mar 03, 2009; 12:51 a.m.)
    There is an example outlining the above points and also a tip that you should learn what shutter speeds are, that you will need to use for each different sport:
  10. One thing that I have seen said here is that any new DSL will do. Bottom line that is correct. But there not all going to have the same image quality at high ISO settings. For instance I have a D100 that works great takes awsome sports pictures. But I open the ISO up to 1600 at a night football game with a Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 and I end up with a bunch of images that have so much noise in them that they are unsellable (even after noise ninja). Then I have my D300. Same ISO settings, same lens, and the noise levels are so much different that I can actually increase the ISO if I need to and still get a good clean shots.
    The point I wanted to make is look at the level of noise the camera will give you at the higher ISO setting and ask yourself if that level of noise is ok with you. And depending on were you are see if there is a place near you that rents camera gear and rent a few times to test out different bodies and lens combos. I know here in CA in LA at Samy's Camera you can rent pretty much anything you like.
  11. David, a D100 is hardly a new DSLR, it's 7 years old. With a `new DSLR', I mean one that's currently available. Even a Canon 1000D will have better high-iso performance than a D100 (I know that my 400D even beats the D200, actually...)
  12. The whole point I was trying to make was that just because the camera can shoot at 1600 ISO or higher doesn't mean the image is going to be of good quality and not full of noise. And to look at each camera's noise levels and see if the levels produced by that camera are acceptable to you. Because what is exceptable to you maybe unacceptable to others. And because not all DSLR bodies handle low light shooting the same no matter what lens you use, but a solid lens does help a lot.
  13. Greg,
    I am currently using a Nikon D3 (also have a D2Hs) and without knowing more about your sports interests (i.e. basketball, football, etc) or venue (i.e. College D1, D2, High School) or environment (i.e. day, night) it is difficult to recommend that "one" package that will serve your needs. I can tell you from my experience the Nikon D3 will afford the most flexibility no matter where or what you are shooting. The D3's ability to shoot in cave-like gyms and get top-quality images continues to amaze me. Yes, you can consider this a "Cadillac" body, but at the end of the day you will not sit back and ask yourself "I wonder what that would have looked like if I had a better camera?"
    Some will argue that lenses are the single most important investment, while others will argue the body is. I elected to go the body route and get the best quality Nikon body available. I spent months reading other people's experiences with their equipment, why they chose what they did, what they shot, what they would do over if they could. After ingesting all this information I considered what I was intending to shoot (Jr. High and High School basketball, football, baseball and swimming - OK so we're a busy family!) and determined I needed 1) high frame rates, 2) ability to shoot high ISO (6400) with low noise and 3) a reasonable amount of megapixels in order to crop as necessary. I made the decision to go with Nikon's D3, although I did look seriously at Canon's equivalent offerings. For me I liked the handling, menu setup and ergonomics of the Nikon product better, but you probably can't go wrong either way.
    While I do own a few lenses I mostly rent what I need. I currently own Nikon's 85mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.4 lenses which are superb for basketball and portraits. I am getting ready to purchase a 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens in order to have a telephoto tool in my bag. With baseball season quickly approaching I am planning on renting a 400mm f/2.8 which will complement the 70-200mm nicely. Renting gives you the ability to evaluate lenses you are interested in without the financial obligation. As an example, I thought Nikon's 24-70mm f/2.8 would be a great lens for basketball; wide enough when I needed it but close for around the basket area. After using it a couple of times in several venues I quickly determined it was not fast enough for the low-level lighting conditions of many of the gyms that my son plays in. End result: Purchased the 85mm and 50mm lenses and haven't looked back.
    If you are like me your "entry-level" aspirations will quickly give way to wanting more professional-like results. Notice I didn't say professional quality results. There is a distinct difference. While pro-like results can be obtained with top level equipment, pro-quality results (i.e. composition, exposure, emotion), will take years to develop. The photos you see in SI and the like come from people making a living out of taking pictures and work extremely hard at it. To improve at anything you need to spend time doing it. The more time you spend behind your camera the more your photography skills will improve. I will sometimes offer to shoot other team's games just to get more experience. This gives me a chance to experiment based on my previous photographic results without jeopardizing the shots I want when my kids are competing.
    MY RECOMMENDATIONS: (Finally - what a wind-bag!)
    1) Buy a professional body
    2) Buy a 85mm or 50mm f/1.8 lens so you have something for general photography use.
    3) Rent your lenses (if you can) to determine what works best for your interests.
    4) Don't be afraid to buy used. Often times you can get lightly-used gear for 80% (or less) of retail.
    5) Take lots of pictures. Don't be afraid of failure. In the end it will only make you better.
    6) Have fun!
    Feel free to take a look at some of what I have photographed at
  14. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I think that both the camera and the lenses are important. I was emphasizing the importance of the speed of the lenses; similarly, later I emphasized the High ISO capacity of the camera.

    Perhaps my opening comment gave a slant to the thread: that was unintended. It is just I have seen many folk buy slow lenses (especially varying maximum aperture zoom lenses), and become bitterly disappointed, very quickly. On the other hand many (most?) of the newer mid priced DSLR models have reasonable capacity at ISO3200.

    So it has been my experience that a lot of emphasis is placed on the camera, and the lenses (especially the len’s speed) are not given adequate consideration.

    I think Mark Wagner's comments balance mine, in this regard.

    I also find it interesting that we both particularly mentioned frame rate – but we each have differing emphasizes on this function. It is important that Greg decides if this factor is important to him (e.g. I am very happy shooting sport with a 5D – 3fps, which I hardly use anyway).

    The most interesting point I have taken from this discussion is: “a reasonable amount of megapixels in order to crop as necessary.”

    I have never really been “lens limited”: so I have never looked at this particular aspect of being on a budget. I think this is a very valuable point; kinda adding to my previous point that it might make sense to strategically think the lenses – particular the primes – maybe like a 35 and an 85, and not a 50, for example.

  15. I think we need to revisit Greg's initial post and reconsider some of the advice given. By his own words, Greg is "very novice" and looking to buy his "first" camera and lens... and furthermore is "not looking for a Cadillac" . Given this, I think its a little much to suggest he get the $5,000 Nikon D3... don't you?
    If the words "budget, beginner, and sports" are spoken in the same breath then I would suggest the following...
    Get a used Nikon D2H, you can pick one up easy for $300 or less nowadays. Pick-up a used 70-210mm F4 AFS lens for outdoor activities... you can pick one up easy for $150 or less. Then pick-up either a 50mm or 85mm f1.4 (or both for that matter) for indoor basketball and volleyball.
    This would be an adequate, yet economical, system that allows you to capture shots your local paper will accept and quality 4x6 prints that parents would be willing to buy while you learn and improve the techniques required for good action photography. As your skills grow you will have saved enough to make the upgrades to the D300, 70-200mm F2.8 VR and 300mm F4 AFS without feeling such a pinch in the pocket book.
  16. I use a Canon Rebel XTi and a old 80-200mm lens. I get a lot of good photos, but if you have the money, there are tons of good set-ups you could buy.
  17. Frame rate is important for sports - so, I wouldn't nessarily go with the entry level bodies. The 40D/50D go 6+ frames/sec. Best bang for the buck in my opinion. That's one of the reasons that I bought the 40D over the Rebel bodies. Good luck with your purchase.
  18. You can looked at an used D2h at 4.2mb raw images( even tho I use the 2mb JPG FINE) for like $600 or a NEW D200 for the same price. The D2H has a larger buffer and can shoot 40 jpgs in 5 or 6 seconds before the buffer is full and at 8fps whiel the D200 can handle 24-30 JPGS before the buffer slows down at 5fps....just make sure the light meter had been replaces in the D2H( early problem and still a free fix from NIKON)
    The most important piece of equipment is the glass and what you are intending to shoot. If at all possible, get f2.8 constant MINIMUM aperture at all focal lenghts. Yes,,,they are expensive but you can tell the big difference between using a $200 camera and $1000 lens compared with a $1000 camera and $200 lens.
    Youy don't have to buy genuine NIKKOR or Canon lens that are fast since now TOKINA and SIGMA are making outstanding fast glass for about 1/2 the price. And perhaps, you can sell that equipment and get Nikon/Canon lenses later once you se what fast glass can do for you. Unlike many people, I do not recommend getting the Nikon F1,8 50mm lens. yes, its inexpensive but you are extremely limited in what you can do with it. I rather get a Tamron 16-50mm F2.8 if I was on a budget and used older 80-200mm Nikon F2.8.........After a few years, I found that my personal use of lenses was limited to maybe 135mm totla focal lenght( DX)and that monster $1700 70-200mm VR I had sitting the bag was used twice in a year as was the 12-24mm f4 Nikkor...I now have a 17-55mm F2.8 and 50-150mm F2.8 Sigma plus a kenko PRO tele converter if I need more focal lenght. There are times I need a longer and wider lens and i will spend $15-25 and RENT the lens for the weekend.
    Dont stress over memory card speeds 60x and 100x and 133x and 266x speed CF cards are all bascially the same and just as fast as my slowest rated card. And I shoot 99% JPG since I shoot a lot and dont have time to edits to 500-1500 RAW images when my JPGS are cheap and easy and as good as my edited raw files unless i am shooting portraits or landscapes , which I rarely do.
    last but not least, always remember the rules in purchasing photo gear.
    get the fastest and best you can afford, if you sell later you will always get what you paid...Buy cheap and sometimes, you have to give it away.
    good luck
  19. I'll give you two setups, based on budget. And a few reasons for each one.
    - Canon 20D Body
    - Canon 70-200 F4L
    - Canon 300 F4L
    - Canon 40D Body
    - Canon 70-200 F2.8L
    - Canon 100-400 L
    The Budget system will get you very good shots of any outdoor sports, but only mediocre pictures for indoor sports. That's because of the lenses. F4 lenses cost less than half of F2.8 lenses. They work fine for stuff like football or baseball, or soccer and stuff like that (obviously the 2.8 is better, but you get what you pay for). For indoor sports it'll all depend on the facility. I've used a 70-200 F4 in volleyball games and gotten acceptable results. If you're going to do a lot of basketball, also consider the 85 F1.8 and 100 F2. With regard to the body, I wouldn't even consider anything but a 20D or better if you're serious about sports. The Digital Rebel line just isn't good enough, in my opinion. You can get a 20D used on for 400 dollars. Given that it's still a great camera, I don't see any reason to dip below that in terms of body.
    The Optimal setup is a bit misnamed, because the optimal setup is a wide array of lenses and multiple Canon 1-D Mark II or III bodies. But you don't necessarily need that stuff to take great pictures. The Canon 40D is one of the best cameras Canon makes. It has a fast frame rate, a great sensor, and it's got a fast image processor. Really sweet. The Canon 70-200 F2.8L lens is probably the most versatile lens in the lineup, so you can use it for basically everything. As far as a secondary lens, I think the 100-400 is a great choice. Other options to consider are the 24-70 F2.8, 300 F2.8 (if you have a huge budget), or just a 1.4x converter for the 70-200. If you're going to do a lot of basketball, also consider the 85 F1.8 and 100 F2.

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