Lens for Low-Light Sports

Discussion in 'Sports' started by leroy_photography, Jul 8, 2008.

  1. I'm not a professional; I shoot high school sports as a hobby. I sell the photos, but all profits are donated to our
    school's athletic program. I prefer shooting baseball, but would like to try some indoor sports like volleyball.
    Football season is around the corner and I need help on "possibly" purchasing another lens. All games are shot in
    the evening under not-so-good lighting conditions. I shot the games last year using a nikkor AF-S VR 70-300 f/4.5-
    5.6 G IF ED (weight 725g). Needless the say, lighting was atrocious. I made a lot of camera adjustments and did a
    lot of post-processing to make the photos work (and I only did this because it was my son's senior year).

    I'd like to purchase a better lens, but money is a BIG factor. The Nikon AF-S VR 70-200mm F2.8 G is costly
    ($1,625; weight 1470g). The Sigma 70-200 1:2.8 EX DG Apo Macro HSM II is in my price range ($800; weight
    1390g). I don't want to purchase the Sigma and regret it. I found a comparison at DP Review. The biggest
    difference seems to be in image stabilization: Nikon has 3 stops, auto panning detection, and active mode; Sigma
    has None.

    Here is the comparison: http://www.dpreview.com/news/0805/08050201nikon70200review.asp.

    Now that I've explained my desires (and limitations), can someone give me some advice? Will a 70-200 be sufficient
    to shoot football (and baseball)? Will the weight require use of a monopod? If so, does the "VR" work well with a
    monopod? Would it be better to invest in the Nikon or will the Sigma get the job done? Or should I stay home and
    bake cookies?
  2. For indoor sports, or at night under the lights, you need f/2.8 or faster. Image stabilization for sports is not needed,
    for the shutter speeds needed for action are fast enough to negate the benefit of IS.

    For football the Sigma 70-200 2.8 is a good lens. The Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 is better -- not for the quality but for the
    added reach. You can handhold the 70-200, but it will work on a monopod if you prefer that.

    Volleyball, you'll want something along the line of a 85 f/1.8 or 135 f/2 (not sure if Nikon has the same). The 70-200
    f/2.8 may not be fast enough to capture the high speed action of volleyball. If the gym has decent lighting you may
    get away with it.
  3. Relating what little experience I have with sports shooting, but a fair amount of indoor shooting I would recommend 1
    or 2 primes for the indoor sports and a zoom or prime or two for the outdoor sports.

    I am not terribly conversant on Nikon's line-up, but a 50 f/1.4 and an 85/1.8 or 100/105 f/2 would would be a good pair
    of lenses for indoor sports shooting such as basketball or volleyball. The distances aren't all that great, unless you
    are looking for a really tight shot of a person, then 135mm or under should work just fine with a 1.5x sensor factor
    (and 135mm with a 1.5x factor should manage a fairly tight shot if you are near the court and the action is close to

    For outdoor sports if you are near the sidelines a 70-200 f/2.8 should be able to handle things pretty well so long as
    the action is on the near side, if it is say a football game or baseball game and you are on the far side of the field
    from the action it isn't going to be long enough, but if you are fairly close to the action it will be just fine. Of course a
    300 f/2.8 would be better in some ways, but no zooming which can be useful if you can't run up and down the
    sidelines unless you want to tote a second camera with another lens on it for closer shots.
  4. Which camera are you using? The answer will depend to some degree on the camera's AF capability and its performance at high ISO as well as the sensor size.
  5. I checked the EXIF on some of your shots and see it's the D50 which is the most sport friendly of Nikon's cheaper bodies in that ISO performance at 1600 is useable (especially with a clean up from a noise reduction program) and it has an AF motor in the body that will allow you to work with e.g. a 50mm f/1.8 for basketball/volleyball - a rather cheaper option than the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM that you'd probably need on a D40 or D60.

    If you have any exposure information on the shots you took last year we could work out the best compromise between focal length and aperture for you evening football given the lighting you have to work with. In general, sport work shouldn't need VR lenses since you are usually trying to get a motion freezing shutter speed that also freezes out camera shake.

    Sometimes lighting (especially for school games) can be so poor that it is barely worth the effort to shoot in it, even with the best of professional lenses and cameras. If you have any sample images or comment about particular problems you may have encountered that could help narrow down the advice.
  6. Thanks Mark. I used a Nikon D50 last year and made exposure adjustments. I usually shot at ISO 800 simply because 1600 was too grainy. I adjusted the exposure down to -2.0 or -2.3, which made it really dark, but could catch the action better. I still had a lot of blurry photos that were thrown out. I purchased a Nikon D80 late in our baseball season this year, so I'll have a few more options with the ISO this year. I'll post 3 pictures from last season. All are dark, which is why I'm looking for another lens. I appreciate your help.
  7. Mark, I'm not at home, so I don't have access to all of the photos or their settings. These photos are from our last night game. By the time I took these photos, I had made many adjustments throughout the season and thought I had refined it as best I could. Thanks again.
  8. Thanks Dave and Matthew. I purchased a Nikon 85mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens last year and it sounds like it will be just what I need to shoot volleyball. Thanks again for all your help.
  9. The 85mm will be perfect for volleyball. It may work for football if you are patient and wait for the action to come to you, but preferably a 135mm f/2 or 180mm f/2.8 would be a much better choice if finances are an issue. If you plan to drop $1500 on a 70-200 zoom, consider the older but fantastic AIS 200mm f/2 or 300mm f/2.8 manual focus big primes. The produce a look that the shorter focal lengths can't match.

    For basketball, depending upon any restrictions, I use a 35mm or 50mm f/1.4 range glass.

    One tip... try to prefocus on the rim or a another desired spot and let the action come to you. Sometimes hit or miss but so is alot of sports photography.
  10. Another great lens to consider is the Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 ED AF-D . No VR and much cheaper. At B&H its $890 for the import http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/124669-GREY/Nikon_1986_80_200mm_f_2_8_ED_AF_D.html .
  11. Thanks Leo. I think this is EXACTLY what I want. All the reviews sound good, from both professionals and hobbyists, and it's in my price-range. I have a couple non-Nikon lenses and they always leave me disappointed--the colors are drab and the photos look like there's a fog over them--I get the feeling my camera has cataracts. Why settle for a zirconium when you can have a diamond!
  12. For basketball i shoot with a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and it works ok. The zoom ability is much better then a fixed focus for obvious reasons. I also try my 50mm fixed 1.8 and it works ok but its focus doesnt seem to be as fast as the sigma so i get a lot of out of focus (not motion blurred) images. Neither one is perfect and sometimes one lense works better then another in certain gyms. I take more shots than when i shot other sports because my keeper ratio is lower. Thats the biggest tip i can offer for low light and night shoots, keep shooting. The more you take the more keepers there will be.

    Its hard with a D50 because of the lack of ISO steps between 800 and 1600. I started with a d50 and upgraded to a d200 which has iso steps 1000 and 1250, so that helps a lot.

    For night football there is no perfect lens. The 70-200 2.8 is usually a little too slow and not enough zoom. Everything will look a lot better with some work in photoshop after, and a good noise reduction plugin (noise ninja works great and is affordable for hobbyists).

    If night and low light photography were easy, we would have a lot more competition. The best way to think of it is: be glad its difficult and you fight with it, or else you would have 15 more photographers standing on the same sideline as you.

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