Sports equipment for hobbyist ready for upgrade

Discussion in 'Sports' started by terri_m, Nov 10, 2013.

  1. I have the opportunity to shoot field D1 mens athletics for no pay. I've been ready for a camera upgrade for awhile. I currently own a D90 and it has never been a pleasure to use. I have managed with acceptable images but I don't get the critical shot due to the frustrating focus on the D90. I use the 70-300 lens.
    Knowing this will be a temporary requirement I'm trying to get the best equipment for the job. It doesn't hurt that I love shooting sports. My other photo goals are social events, portraits, stills-macro.
    It makes sense to stay with APS-C sensors for the crop factor but I want the best focus system I can find with high ISO capabilities. I'm really nervous about Nikon and thinking about switching to Canon. I don't have a lot invested in lenses and plan to purchase better glass so it is the right time to consider Canon over Nikon.
    Sports photography for me will certainly be a compromise in equipment. Can someone help me figure out the best compromise?
    I'm willing to wait for a camera body and just purchase glass but then I will be tied to Nikon.
    Nikon choices are DX - D7100,
    FX - D610, D800, D4 being way too pro for someone not getting paid for their work.
    Canon choices: CMOS - 7D, 70D
    FF - 6D, 5D MKIII
    Then the compromise on lenses.
    The obvious choice for crop sensor body is the 70-200 f2.8 for either brand with an extender but I've heard mixed opinions on using an extender.
    Some lens parameters for consideration:
    Sigma 120-300, Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6, Sigma 100-300 f4
    This is not easy to resolve. Anyone have a hobbyist set up that has worked for outdoor big field sports?
    Hope to hear some success stories.
  2. I'd get a used Nikon D7000 or D7100 and use your existing 70-300 lens. Get a monopod and practice. Once you have mastered the 70-300 THEN look to get new glass.
    Take a look at KEH for used gear.
  3. Terri I'm probably the only one who will say this but after shooting many hundreds of sports events, autofocus nearly always gets in my way. Go find yourself some of the very good Nikon manual focus stuff that people like KEH are almost giving away and learn to focus on your own. It isn't hard even with the small viewfinders prevalent today. I promise you can do it with some practice. My bag right this minute only carries 19-35 and 28-75 AF lenses. The 80-200/4 and 300/4.5 are manual focus and razor sharp with wonderful color and these are older Nikkors. I also cart around a very old 85-250/4 manual Nikkor zoom that gives results unlike anything I've ever found, interesting focus and perspective that I don't find in other glass. You might consider moving up to a D300 or 7100 depending on what feels better in your hands but AF is truly one of the most overrated features in modern photo equipment. Others here will strongly disagree with me on this but I stand by my own results. Don't get me wrong, there are some truly wonderful lenses being made today but a super fast auto-everything zoom with a range from super wide to super long that also makes coffee and checks e-mail just isn't the solution a lot of people want to think it is.
    Rick H.
  4. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Like most pros I have worked around and talked to shooting sports, fast autofocus and accurate tracking is essential. I would look at faster lenses without extenders unless you're getting a high end body, focusing becomes more difficult as the aperture shrinks. I've used the 5DMkiii and the 7D for professional shooting, both have accurate and fast focusing, but the 5DMkiii has a much wider range for focus tracking.
    You can see some of my sports photography here. All of it was done with a 1DMkiii and 24-70 (you don't need long lenses for fights) with af tracking.
  5. Thanks for the replies.
    I must say I am surprised at Rick's technique. I'll have to try that but I'm shooting lacrosse at college level. I've been slammed by them at least once and let me tell you I need to watch myself on the sidelines. They are fast and strong. But, I am going to try it, you never know. It seems to be quite an accomplishment to speedily manual focus while these kids are running toward you. Amazing that you can do this.
  6. Watching yourself on the sidelines is a skill you need to aquire for certain. My rule of thumb is if they are coming at me faster than I can zoom and focus, it's time to get out of the way. So far, no sideline injuries. I started shooting Division I football in 1976 when I was 16 and AF was a curiosity that didn't work very well. I've covered high school through professional league football, basketball, soccer, NASCAR and others. So many people now have grown up with AF that doing it manually seems crazy. Trust me it ain't that hard. It will take some practice and you'll get annoyed at first but it will get easier quickly. I hope I am succesful in attaching an example shot on I think a D2X with a manual focus 300/2.8 Nikkor.
  7. Interesting thread.
    Rich, I'm curious, what AF cameras were available in 1976? I didn't think AF appeared until the Konica C35 AF in 1977. I doubt you were using that for sports photography.
  8. Ron Nikon had an AF rig that attached to the F2S. It worked with two special lenses. It was a great big clumsy looking thing that I thought was an interesting excersise but didn't have a lot of practical application. I say it was out in '76 but I could be incorrect about that. It was part of the F2 system though.
    Rick H.
  9. One other thing Terri. I think you'll find the 80-200 just barely long enough and often too short even on a DX camera. You should really consider a 300, which you already have as a minimum for the outdoor sports. Just to demonstrate how opinions vary on this stuff, I was covering the state high school basketball championships one year in Birmingham. Seated right next to me was a B'ham News photographer I've known since college. I was shooting with a 17-55/2.8 while he was shooting an 80-200 and a 300. We were both getting what we wanted but using totally opposite methods. Go figure.

    Rick H.
  10. I can relate to your story. I shoot with a mom who gets paid for her work. She has a 40Dx (?) and borrowed one of my broken lenses and she gets sharper images even after cropping. "Go figure" is right!
    Thanks for the help. I think I'll visit a camera store and try out the various choice bodies and see if I can make progress that way.
  11. I've been using a D300 and D300S for past few yrs. I would suggest giving a try for a used Nikon D3S or a D2x, as mentioned above. You'll get fast focusing bodies and great high ISO performance, esp with the D3S.
    And for full size fields the 100 0r 120 -300 Sigmas is the way to go. The 70-200 is just too short for many shots. that's what I have as well a 300 f/4.
  12. Hi Steve: I came to the conclusion that in Nikon brand the D3s was the best for right now. It is only 12mp and from what I hear very heavy. I will go to the store and hold the D4 and see if it bothers me but I was at a wedding recently and the female photographer had a D4 and she showed no sign of fatigue. Of course she was younger than me:)
    It is really hard to find a D3s! I'm looking on ebay but hate buying expensive camera equipment from them. I tried KEH already. They have a really beat up one.
    Do you think I will regret the 12mp? We do have very rare occasion to make poster size prints for the team. I will most likely not be able to upgrade once I drop this much cash on the D3s which I found to be in the $3500-$5800 range depending on the actuations. I read that this camera has 300,000 actuations. If that's true I will have many years with the camera.
    I need to look into the D300/s. I crossed if off my list but can't remember why.
    Thanks for the help!
  13. Way late but here is a little input.
    Have you tried to figure out what the issues with your D90 actually are? I shot soccer successfully with (much) less sophisticated Nikons, and shot basketball reasonably well with a D90 for a season. Limiting factor was not the D90 AF but was ISO needs in horrible basketball lighting. ISO 6400 is not really enough with FX cameras today.
    I am not sure exactly which 70-300 you have, but my friend has the more expensive 70-300AFS, and I have not been impressed by the lens the couple of times I have borrowed and evaluated it. His 70-300 is ok stopped down but not at all good open.
    I used a 300/4 AFS for soccer and got great results with a poor by today's standards D2Hs (4mp). Results were even better in daylight with the D200 I used. Your D90 would outperform either of those old cameras.
    The D90 can be made to work reasonably well. The D300 is a little better, but not that much, really. About the same sensor as your D90 with a little better AF system.
    What AF settings are you using? What techniques? I had no problems shooting soccer with ancient D1h and D1x cameras, with a slow focusing 80-400. Anticipation of the shot and camera setup were more important than lens AF speed.
    Of course, newer Nikon (or Canon) bodies have more capability, but not if they are not used optimally.
    If I were shooting soccer tomorrow with a Nikon, I would probably want to use a D7100, but I am sure I could get great images with a D90 or D300 with a good lens (300/4, 300/2.8, or longer) Two bodies with a 70-200 on the other body would be best.
    Seems to me that Nikon has an edge with crop body cameras, and high value FX full frame cameras. I am sure that my D600 is a much better sports shooter than the Canon 6D. Will admit that I would like for Nikon to make an equivalent to a Canon 5DIII, but that is another story, and the 5DIII is not an optimal sports shooter, anyway.
    Look at (1) the camera settings (2) the lens you are using. One thing to keep in mind with either Canon or Nikon, a good lens will always hold value. Cameras are disposable now.
    Last thought. I had a D3s for a year. Great camera, but I think overpriced in today's market, especially for "field daylight" sports. Maybe close to a D4 for basketball under the lights, though. I can make my D600 do well for a lot less money.
  14. Hi Robert:
    I have tried to figure out what it is. It has been my experience that it doesn't start focusing the first shot. When I start shooting the first shot is never in focus. I select AF-C then move the focus point because for some reason it is always focusing on the wrong player.
    In a burst of shots (about 5) the camera really struggles. I use a monopod.
    Not sure if that makes any sense.
    I must be doing something wrong because the D90 works great for stills. If anything moves I have very few sharp images.
    I used the 50mm 1.8 for portraits a week ago. If anyone moved I lost focus. I wish I didn't have to think about it so much. I rather focus on the subject and exposure.
    Thanks for your input.
  15. Hi Terri,
    Hmm, not sure what the issue is, but I can see how your AF issues would be frustrating. Maybe you should do a hard reset of the camera to get back to factory defaults and adjust from there.
    It sounds like the setting "focus tracking with lock on" is set too short. I think most people run this setting in the middle which is the factory setting. This setting controls how long the AF system "waits" until it finds a new subject to lock on to if it looses the first subject. This, in turn, allows a subject to move from one AF sensor to another, during which time the camera AF won't jump to the background.
    Also, you have to give a camera a little time to get into focus before the first shot is taken. In continuous AF, the camera is (generally) set up to shoot whether or not the subject is in focus. You have to start the AF system tracking your subject with enough time for the camera to lock on. The time needed is short, but it is not instantaneous. So, learn to anticipate a little before action will peak, half press the shutter button to start AF so it can acquire and track, then take the pic at the peak of action.
    Another good technique is to pre-focus the camera where action is going to happen. I keep my camera already focused about where I think a shot will occur. That way, it is "ready" much faster. These techniques generate more in focus shots even when using a camera with a very fast AF system, such as a D3s.
    I shot several seasons of soccer with a D200 which had the same AF system (I think) as a D90. Had good success with it, coupled with a 300/4AFS which only has a medium fast AF system, probably about the same as your 70-300.
    And, by the way, another guy I work with just got the 70-300AFS DX lens. Not sure how fast the AF is, but his 70-300 is very sharp and contrasty wide open. Maybe my other friends 70-300 just is not the best example, genrally people like those lenses.
    Lastly, newer Nikons do offer advantages over over the D90. The D7100 offers a tremendous amount of camera for the money. I upgraded my D90 to a D300 for not a lot of money difference a while back. Image quality is the same, but the D300 is a much faster camera with AF fine tune and manual lens support. The D3s is pretty expensive even used, but worth it if you shoot a lot of sports under artificial lighting. Used to have one.. A refirb D600 is my choice for shooting sports under the lights, and everything else except for daylight field sports (would use D300). And, there are good deals to be found on used D3 cameras, which often can be had for less than a D700.
  16. I looked for a D3s. The only ones I can find are on ebay and for that kind of cash I think it's extremely risky.
    I will certainly give your suggestion a try. I do like my lens. It's fine for my application. Yet, I am aiming for better results. I'm not satisfied with mediocre images. Right now I'm aiming for sharp images even if they aren't the most interesting.
    I wish Nikon would provide a crop sensor camera that has ISO performance of the better cameras. I wonder if discounting the D7100 is wise on my part? I've read about focus issues and small buffer. I'm sure it's a great DSLR but perhaps not the best for fast action.
    Thanks again for the helpful information. I can at least relax a bit knowing I need to achieve focus first and it's not unusual for the AF system to not catch the first shot.
  17. A lot of people use the D7100 for action. It probably has the best AF system of any Nikon right now (maybe the D4 would be better). High ISO ought to be good to at least ISO3200, or probably 2 stops better than your camera or a D300. Buffer? If you shoot JPGs, doubt you would fill it up with peak of sports action shots. I rarely shoot more than a 5 shot burst. A fast card should help, also.
    Check out the refirb price at Adorama right now. One of the sellers (can't remember who) extends the refirb warranty to 1 year.
    One other thing to keep in mind. The crop sensor cameras need less expensive lenses, in general. And, as you know, you get more telephoto effect (1.5x vs. full frame) for a given lens length. There are advantages to a full frame system, but it winds up being a pretty expensive upgrade. Very poor lighting in my son's gym basically forced me to full frame cameras. I need at least ISO 6400 there, higher on the dark end of the court.
    Had the D7100 been around two or three years ago, I would have tried it out before buying an expensive FF camera. The D90/D300 sensor just can't make good (enough) images at ISO6400. They are great in daylight, though.
  18. I will second the suggestion to review what auto-focus/tracking methods (Center point only, etc) are available on your camera and play with them. And what ISO/Shutter speeds are you using?
    You should be at 800+ ISO and over 1/500-1/2000th of a second for the sharpest shots , even outdoors. Shoot RAW to get the best results, especially if the lighting conditions are iffy.
    Using a monopod will help also, but will limit your flexibility somewhat.

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