Lens for MMA

Discussion in 'Sports' started by steve_vh, Oct 14, 2009.

  1. Recently I have been photographing MMA events and training, and as is the case for most beginners my lens is too slow (18-55mm VR kit lens).
    I have been upping the ISO to 1600 to enable faster shutter speeds (at least 1/250sec), however most of the time in training situations I have to use the built in flash which limits me to 1/200.
    I am on a serious budget, so I was wondering if I purchased the 35mm f1.8 DX lens would it be worthwhile, as I cannot afford a 17-55 f2.8 zoom (not even a used one) right now? Are there any other techniques I could use to enable me to keep using the 18-55 zoom lens with higher shutter speeds?
  2. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    For training on mats in the gym, a fixed focal length lens will be useable, for fights in the cage, it will leave you with very few shots that work in the frame. The regulation UFC cage is 30 feet across, amateur cages tend to be somewhat smaller. That's a lot of room for people to get far from you. I'd recommend renting a fast short zoom (24-70/2.8) and see what you can get, then figure out how to pay for it...
  3. I don't know enough about MMA to be able to rule out a 35 1.8, but I do know it is an excellent lens that will allow you to avoid ISO 1600 because of it's bright f1.8 max aperture.
    But if you must have a zoom, the Tamron 17-50 2.8 is a very good lens as is the Sigma 18-50 2.8. And since you probably need the longer end of the zoom more than the wide, you might try to find a used Tamron 28-75 2.8.
    Good luck.
  4. @Jeff: Thanks for the advice, maybe I should rent a lens. What ISO and shutter speed do you normally use for MMA events when they have bright lights, e.g. UFC?
    @Markus: I live in South Africa and we cannot get the Tamron lens locally (at least I haven't found it), however they do sell the Sigma 18-50 2.8. I'm a bit worried to get a 28-75 as the fighters get really close up when you're next to the cage, but it might be worth exploring. Thanks I'll check these out.
  5. Hi, Steve!
    Erm, you are using Nikon gear, right? Personally, I'd love to have a 28-70/2.8 AFS lens for shooting that sort of thing (I do mostly boxing myself), although for MMA I'd probably want to bring along something wider, too, for occasional use. But I get by pretty well with an old 35-70/2.8. The lens is very sharp, I love the speed of the push/pull zooming for shooting fights, and it autofocuses pretty quickly on my D300. The only problem is that it does flare pretty badly if you point it at the ring lights, so I have to be careful about that.
    Obviously, the lens has a flaw in that it isn't really wide enough for when the fighters are right on top of you. But in most other ways, it is very well suited for shooting fight sports. One of the nicest characteristics is you should be able to find one quite cheap for the quality it can deliver.
    To freeze action on punches, you'll need something around 1/500 at a very minimum. You could get by with a lower shutter speed during some of the grappling action.
    (You could see some of my boxing/MMA stuff at www.presquevu.com/fights.htm if you wish to judge the value of my advice, lol.)
  6. Thanks Bernard, yes I do use Nikon. I'll look around for that lens, but its probably going to be manual focus as I have a D5000 (damn! wish I had bought a D90).
    BTW, you have some excellent photos on your site!
  7. Hi Steven, I have shot some MMA and Muay Thai Kick Boxing. Both were in a traditional ring and not an octagon or cage. I use a Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 on a Nikon D3 body with great results. I'll shoot some Maunual and some Aperture Priority just to mix it up a bit. I'm always ring side with my elbows on the mat in one of the comeptitor's corners. As Bernard says renting is great because you get to use high end gear without buying it.
    And one more thing... bring a towel and don't wear white! You'll know why if you sit ring side.
    Good luck, cheers, Dave.
  8. Hey Steven,
    I'm a MMA photgrapher and I was actually just looking around this forum hoping to find some MMA-related topics to discuss. I shoot through both rings and cages and use three different lenses depending on the lighting and/or my distance from the cage/ring. I use a Nikon D300 as my primary DSLR.
    When I first started, I used a Nikon 50mm F/1.8 because it was cheap, but it was hard when the fighters moved too close. I currently use the 50mm, a Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8, and the Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 and all three work well. The 17-50mm is great when the lighting is decent, but I usually have to use the 50mm because most small regional promotions don't spend the money for good overhead lighting.
    If you look at pictures from UFC, WEC, or Strikeforce events, you'll notice that the lighting is great, allowing the photographers to use fast zoom lenses, lower iso, and higher shutter speeds. I'm typically limited to ISO 800, F/2.8 or F/1.8 depending on the lens, and a shutter speed from 200-600. There's lots of blur between 200-320, but a little bit of motion blur is better than complete darkness or noticable grain in combat sports, in my opinion.
    Grappling and karate is much easier. I use the 28-75mm at F/4, ISO 400, and a shutter speed between 125-200 to allow only minor motion blur. Grappling tends to be slower and more methodic, so you can anticipate the movement and compensate throughout the bout. MMA is hectic and all over the place. :)
  9. Another helpful thing to remember is when preparing to shoot a fight taking place in an octagon, always ask if you can shoot from one of the ladders set up at the corners of the octagon. That way you don't have to worry about shooting through the cage because you'll be above it.
  10. Hey Brandt, thanks for the tips. I might try a 50mm f1.4 prime (manual) at the next training session. I'm sure the manual focus will be a challenge with MMA... :) How long have you been shooting MMA/Martial Arts?
    Thanks Dave, I'll try my luck next time there is an event and ask if I can use a ladder. The last event I went to had an official photographer, but I just asked if I could sit closer to take photos. I was super surprised that I was allowed to sit next to the cage to photograph... its amazing where a camera can get you! They were recording for TV so they had guys on the ladders already.
    Another thought I was having... this is w.r.t the technique you use to shoot MMA. Do you spray and pray (let the fps do most of the work), or do you try and anticipate the action? Actually I suppose this goes for most sports.
  11. Hey Steven,
    I have been photographing MMA cageside for a little over a year now in NJ/PA for promotions like Ring of Combat, Kings Promotions, and Central PA Warrior Challenge.
    I actually missed your first question about the 35mm f/1.8 lens...that would be pretty decent for MMA...you'll have some trouble when the fighters move closer, but it will be great elsewhere. I got my Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 used in nearly perfect condition for $300...you just need to scour craigslist and photo message boards for a little while. I let other photographers borrow lenses if they're nearby...you may find others in your area who will let you trade lenses for a weekend.
    Your pic that you uploaded is good although it is a little dark on my work monitor (might be my monitor)...you can simply lighten it just a tad and share it with the fighters...they are usually really happy to see the pics from their fights, even if they are not perfect.
    I rarely shoot fast continuous unless the fight turns into a slugfest...then I have pics that resemble animated gifs when I go back to review them, haha. You can anticipate many of the punch combos and kicks as the fighters step into them...I've been a MMA nerd for a few years now, so I watch for certain movement and then click away!
    You'll always be at the mercy of the cage lighting (when they use lights that sit above the top of the cage) unless you can be above the cage and nearly at the same height...which is tough at local shows that put 25 video cameras up. A lot of the images in my gallery from Central PA Warrior Challenge tend to be darker because the lighting is nothing more than chandeliers hanging from a ceiling...yeah, far from good professional lighting. My pics are up at MMAPrints.com along with images from other MMA phtographers.
  12. Yeah, my pic is a bit dark... straight out the camera. :)
    I had a look at mmaprints.com, there are some excellent pics there! Thanks, I'll definitely be going through the site when I get time. I noticed not all the pics have model releases on them. Do you get the fighters permission to sell these, and do you have to also get permission from the organisers/promoters?
    We've got another tournament coming up in December so hopefully I'll be able to sit next to the cage again. I'm thinking of contacting the promoters before the event to enquire about officially taking photos, not sure what their response is going to be though?
  13. Thanks! Some are mine and some are others...some are just too dark because of the lighting, but we do what we can.
    The promoters take care of all the paperwork when they give us the press pass access. Fighters general enjoy getting photographed when fighting so they can look back, evaluate their performance, show their friends/family, etc. Never met a fighter who didn't want pics of the fight online...yet. :)
  14. Hi Steven, that's a great shot and a little dark on my monitor as well, but easily brightened. I once shot a Muay Thai Kick Boxing tournament with over head florescent lights as the only source of light... brutal! I ended up asking the ref if I could used heavily diffused flash and he said no problem. Still tough shooting.
    I didn't notice but are you shooting for a media publication? I shoot in Canada and always shoot for 3 local, weekly newspapers so model releases aren't really necessary in that instance. As Brandt says, the fighters are always really happy to get shots of themselves. I'll chat with the fighters after the bout and they are always happy to talk about photos.
    I sometimes go to the clubs where the fighters train, show them a contact sheet and then sell them prints.
    As for the promoters, chat with them at the event if you can (later in the eveing is better as they aren't so busy), get to know them and they will usually remember you at future events and cut you some slack.
    As an aside, Pres. Obama came to Canada last February, prior to his visit I got to know the guy who gives out press passes and on the day of the visit I went from a guy hanging around with a camera and no press pass to having full access to all of Obama's movements for my meager little weekly tabloids. Security was tight to say the least but it worked out.
    And you're right having a high end camera is a passport to all kinds of places and people. I remember shooting a grade school football game and the mother of one of the players approached me and said, do you do boudoire photography? Yikes!
  15. Further to my previous response, I hope I take photographs better than I use this forum, duh! Here is one of my Obama shots. In spite of your politics I call this the million dollar smile. Cheers, Dave.
  16. I have made a cd of the pics that I liked from the last event, and I have been giving them to the trainers of the fighters and some of the fighters that I know. I have also been organising to photograph training sessions at the different gyms. I have done one so far and am trying to get to another next week so we'll see what happens. I have already had a request from a few guys for small pics for facebook, they want to show themselves off hitting a punching bag... :)
    No, I'm not currently shooting for a media publication. I'm hoping to get some sports work in the not too distant future though. I have contacted the promoters (we only have one major promoter in SA, FightForce) for the next MMA event in December to request a press pass. I'm holding thumbs!
    Nice shot of the president Dave! That's a genuine smile.
    BTW... did you say yes to the boudoire photography session... ;-)
  17. Hi Steven, thanks for the kind words re: the Obama shot and, no, I did not do the boudoire shoot. I don't have the gear or the studio. I have to say though, I hear it is a very popular thing. I have a buddy who says he can't keep up with demand... nice problem to have if you make your living at taking photographs.
    Cheers, Dave.
  18. Don't forget to photograph the Ring Girls!

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