Small camera for (family) sports photography

Discussion in 'Sports' started by cjk, Feb 21, 2015.

  1. cjk

    cjk

    So I've been looking for a small camera that I can carry around with me while skiing to take photos and short videos of my kids skiing (downhill).
    Leaving my D-SLR home (no way I would ski with that), I've carried around a small Canon P&S (S95). While the quality of the shots in good light is great for use, using it for action shots requires a lot of patience and repeat shots to get the timing right... The telephoto end of the zoom is also a little bit short (105mm).
    I decided last week to try a Nikon 1 J4, with the monster 70-300mm, drawn by its 20fps and 60fps capabilities.
    I can't say that was a very happy and successful experience. It turns out the 70-300mm is actually too long on the 1" sensor for this particular use but mostly I just cannot get my hands (and head) around its poor handling and user interface (and I am a Nikon D-SLR user).
    Shooting video: the auto-focus very often missed the subject (but maybe I was framing too tight -- mostly because of the choice of lens).
    Shooting photos: while the 20 fps seem very appealing on paper, I was hoping I could use that speed to shoot in burst mode, like I do when shooting DSLR. Alas, as far as I am able to tell, once you press the button, the camera will take the full 20 shots, then black out for a number of seconds while writing to the memory card. And while the manual mentions 5 fps and 10 fps modes, I couldn't find those in the camera...
    Quality-wise, I am underwhelmed by the photos. I don't think they are better than my old Canon S95's. But maybe it's the lens?
    Lastly, I found the body too "slippery" and the reliance on menu-driven choice for pretty much anything a big turn off.
    (sorry if I sound too negative -- I had big hopes). I will be returning the 70-300mm but I am on the fence regarding giving the camera another try, maybe using a 30-110mm...
    Anyone with similar needs can provide some advice, including recommending an alternative? It doesn't have to be Nikon (I actually prefer Canon's small cameras to Nikon's).
    I need decent quality (I guess 1" sensor minimum), good auto-focusing capabilities (so no P&S), good reach (200mm -- 300mm FF equivalent) and ~5-7 fps. And I guess having HD video would be good.
    I would also like a viewfinder, which would allow me much better and stable handling...
    Also: portable and affordable (so no, not a D4!)
    Some things I looked at:
    - Sony: Alpha 6000? 5100? RX100 III?
    - Canon: ?? (I like the G1X II and the G7X but I doubt they'd work for this specific need)
    - Nikon: stick with the J4?
    - Other?
    Thanks!
    (below are a few photos taken with the J4 and a couple with the Canon S95)
    00d8mk-555108584.jpg
     
  2. cjk

    cjk

    Another one with the Nikon 1 J4
    00d8ml-555108684.jpg
     
  3. cjk

    cjk

    With the Canon S95
    00d8mm-555108784.jpg
     
  4. cjk

    cjk

    And another Canon S95
    00d8mn-555108884.jpg
     
  5. I've never tried to shoot downhill skiing so this response is speculation.
    I've carried a film SLR cross country skiing so that I could get in a good position to shoot the ski racers. If my main purpose was to take pictures, I think I could ski conservatively enough to get a DSLR safely down the slope on alpine skis (if I was still downhill skiing). I would want a harness to keep the camera fixed to my body and not swinging around on a strap. I would also be tempted to use one of my hiking poles that can be used as a monopod.
    00d8ns-555110884.jpg
     
  6. cjk

    cjk

    Ron,
    Yes, I would follow your approach (maybe with a small APS-C DSLR) if/when I can carve out time to focus mostly on taking photos, probably when the kids are a couple of years older and more independent.
    At this point I need to have something I can keep with me the whole day and that would be small enough that I can fit into a coat pocket.
    After reading further on the Sony RX 100 III, I am starting to really like it as an all-around compact. But I am afraid the 20-70mm equivalent is too short for this need.
    Maybe I should just stick with the J4 and learn to love it? <sigh>
     
  7. Sports photography is very demanding, and skiing particularly so given the stark white background that makes exposure tricky, the fast motion, the cold, etc. Shooting it with a P&S is asking the camera to do something it's not designed to do and has little chance of doing successfully. If you're looking for skiing pictures like you see from the Olympics, those are all shot with DSLRs and good glass.

    If you want serious pictures, my recommendation is take the DSLR out on the slope and take the time for concentrate on shooting pictures. You're a skier, so use your skiing ability and knowledge of the sport to get to places a non-skier couldn't get to and to anticipate what the subject will be doing in the picture. But don't try to ski and shoot at the same time.

    If you just want some nice snapshots of your kids on the slopes, take the P&S camera but stop and set up a few posed pictures. The P&S just isn't going to have much luck with real action shots.

    For video you might get away with a P&S since the timing isn't as critical -- you're shooting continuously. You might want to consider a GoPro -- they are very popular for all sorts of action video.

    As far as 20fps or 60fps, that's what we call "spray and pray" -- you shoot a ton and hope something comes out. Sometimes it comes down to that, but it's not the best approach.
     
  8. cjk

    cjk

    Craig,
    thanks for your comments. Yes, if I can dedicate an outing to shooting photos, then your approach makes perfect sense. But even with a focused approach and careful skiing, I would still need something a little bit more practical on the trails than my D810 and its attached 70-200 f/2.8.
    Maybe a D7100 (which I don't have) with a 70-300 (which I have), so an expenditure of about $1,000.
    For that cost, I was hoping I could something small and pocketable that I could lug with me all the time (or almost).
     
  9. "I would still need something a little bit more practical on the trails than my D810 and its attached 70-200 f/2.8. Maybe a D7100 (which I don't have) with a 70-300 (which I have), so an expenditure of about $1,000."

    Cesar -- You're a skiier and I'm not, so you know what it's like out there better than I do in terms of how much you can carry. But a D810 and the 70-200 are exactly what you should be using for ski pictures. IMHO, they're not that big or heavy but that's just my opinion. A D7100 and a 70-300 might save you a few ounces, but not enough IMHO to make it worth what you would be giving up or the expense. Keep in mind that the 70-300 has a maximum aperture of 4-5.6 and therefore can't autofocus as fast at the 70-200 2.8. AF speed is crucial in fast sports like skiing, so I would question whether that lens would make the cut.
     
  10. cjk

    cjk

    Craig - good point about the focusing speed of the 70-300. I've used it for soccer when I didn't want to carry the 70-200 f/2.8 with somewhat ok results, but skiing is way faster. And I did miss shots in soccer because of slow focus.
    Argh. D810 + 70-200 f/2.8: that's over $6,000 on my back, at the whim of a patch of ice (and I don't get me started on some of the crazy people on the trails!)...
     
  11. Page 79 in the user manual explains how to select different frame rates in the 1 J4.
     
  12. cjk

    cjk

    Ilkka - you are correct.
    I had seen how to set a different frame rate. What I hadn't realized -- despite reading the manual and working the menus -- is that the icon with NO number actually means 5 fps... I only realized this re-reading the page following you post above.
    Meanwhile, I have already returned the camera so it's a bit too late for me. Still hoping to find the magic solution... (which might end up being close to Craig's recommendation: probably a D7200 with a long-ish zoom, taken on an outing mostly dedicated to photography). <sigh>
     
  13. Argh. D810 + 70-200 f/2.8: that's over $6,000 on my back, at the whim of a patch of ice (and I don't get me started on some of the crazy people on the trails!)...​
    1st: I'd worry most about your back! - Maybe you are lucky to find a crash friendly backpack in a motorcyclists' shop? - How impossible is it to pad the gear inside sufficiently? - I recall: UPS call any parcel unable to survive desk to floor drop "packed insufficiently". - I am trying to say: a cardboard box full of bubble wrap / styrofoam inside a spine protective backpack might give the gear a chance during a crash.
    I am not skiing, just falling off bikes.
     

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