Zoom vs. Fixed for indoor sports?

Discussion in 'Sports' started by howman, Feb 25, 2009.

  1. Hi,

    My primary lens for my Canon XTi is the Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8. I am looking for more reach in order to photograph my kids in martial arts and dance. Given that these are both low light situations, the F/2.8 has been very helpful. But 50mm isn't getting me close enough.

    Last year I rented the mac daddy Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L for my daughter's dance recital. Wow. Simply amazing. But at $1600+ it's not going to make it into my camera bag on a permanent basis any time soon.

    So my question is, should I be looking at something with more reach but less f-stop such as the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM? Or should I consider a fast prime such as a 100mm or 135mm f/2.0?

    My concern with the prime is that I will not be able to get any wide shots such as group shots. Also, in martial arts the action moves around the ring pretty quickly, usually changing the distance between me and the players. Dance tends to move side to side so the range is usually more consistent.

  2. There are lots of options, third party 70-200 2.8's for under $800, canon 100 2.8 macro, or canon 200 2.8 L (which I use). The main thing is keeping the fast aperture. I think the 28-135 zoom you mention would be a waste of time for indoor action.
    For wider shots, I've used the canon 50 1.8, and sigma 30 1.4. You will just have to change lenses back to your Tamron. Even if you did have the 70-200, it isn't wide enough for group shots, unless you are waaay back.
  3. Try Canon's 85mm f/1.8 prime. I use the Nikon version almost exclusively for basketball.
  4. I use the 135 f2.0L for indoor sports (swimming), and on a crop body, it's simply amazing. If I need more reach, I attach a 1.4x extender, and I have a 200mm f2.8, Which is still great.

    if you know you'll use 200 a lot, the 200mm f2.8L is even cheaper than the 135L, so that might be an option as well.
  5. I shoot a lot of high school and division II sports. My primary lens is the canon 70-200 f2.8L. Yea I know it is costly, but overall the lens has severed my needs very well indoor and out door. I rented many of the lens listed above and they all do a good job. My 70-200 is by far my favorite. Best of luck with your choice I can understand the battle you are going through.
  6. Howie,
    Lots of good information here. I shot an awful lot of indoor H.S. low lights sports as well. I have found that if your distance does not change that much, that a fixed lens would work ok. I could not imagine using a fixed lens for Basketball however. I use the D3 and the 70-200 2.8 and they are perfect on a FX body. On a DX, I think it might be a bit long. I recently shot diving and swimming events and rented the 200 F2 VR, which was simply amazing. In your example, I think the idea of having a fixed lens (I love Nikons 135mm 2.0 and 85 1.4). For Martial arts, if the action ends up coming toward you, you may wish to use a fast zoom. My limited experience has shown that there is simply no substitute for fast glass. No matter where the DSLR technology takes you, fast glass can grow with you:) Canon and Nikon both make outstanding cameras/lenses, so you cant go wrong there.
    Good Luck.
  7. What about the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8? It goes wider which might be useful in this case, and unless you are on bleacher or something similar, especially with the crop, I would think that 150mm would be more then long enough. The lens is supposed to be pretty good quality and it is fairly inexpensive even new compared to most of the options given so far (other then the 85/1.8).
  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "should I be looking at something with more reach but less f-stop such as the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM?"

    IMO no. That would be money wasted.

    "the F/2.8 has been very helpful. . . 50mm isn't getting me close enough. . . . in martial arts the action moves changing the distance . . . Dance the range is usually more consistent. "

    Seems to me the third party F2.8 zooms suggestions fit all your criteria.

    Though not the same subject, below is David's commentary on a similar 3rd Party lens. (Tokina)

    I have used neither the Sigma nor Tokina

  9. Thanks for the great responses!

    Ron, I appreciate your empathy. In my heart I know the 70-200 f2.8L is what I want. And one day, I will have it.

    Matthew, I looked into the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 and comparable Tamron lenses. If I recall correctly many reviewers mentioned slow auto focus and incorrect focus point (front focusing?). I think fast and accurate auto focus is very important for my needs in this situation. (By the way, I did see one very positive reviews that praised the lens' fast auto focus. Go figure.)

    William, I now see that f/3.5-5.6 is not the right choice here. Thanks for confirming. I am not familiar with Tokina but will go research it now. Thanks!

    The next issue I need to explore is how to improve my workflow so that the images I take at the upcoming karate tournament are edited and posted online quickly instead of collecting dust on my hard drive. I'll create a separate post for this.

    Thanks again everyone.
  10. Additional question, I hope this is okay.
    Do I need Image Stabilization (IS)?
    From what I have been reading, IS is only good for hand held shots at slow shutter speeds.
    There is a $500 difference between the IS and non-IS version of the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L.
  11. What are the light levels in your venues? Can you share what exposure (ISO, aperture and shutter speed) you've been able to use?
    Many of mine are too low to use f/2.8 unless you are willing to use ISO3200. Even with better light, If you can get 1/350 at f/2.8, you can shoot at 1/750 at f/2, which at least for basketball makes for noticeably better images. So even when I have enough light to use my 180/2.8, I'll still shoot much of the game with an 85/1.8 as it gives me crisper shots if I can get close enough to get them.
    I've shot a lot of basketball and a few karate tournaments and used 85/1.8, 50/1.8, 180/2.8 and 30/1.4 lenses. The 85 does most of the basketball - I think I found the 50 more useful for karate but of course it depends on how close you are. I've used APS-C bodies.
    If I'm asked to shoot a group photo I change lenses or step way back! I have in a hurried situation done a team shot with the 85mm when the camera bag was across the gym and I didn't foresee needing the shot, and the crowd was coming (after a big game) so you're right it can be a hassle, but mostly if you don't have the right lens with you.
    As for workflow, I've been sharing pictures with other parents, and I use picasa to select 30-50 shots from 200-300 shots taken. I primarily just crop and post to the web, having set WB at the venue and usually being happy enough with exposure that I don't have to mess with it in post.
    I don't have any IS lenses (or VR or OS etc.) so obviously I don't think you need one. In fact, for less than the IS price difference, you can buy an 85/1.8! (Can you tell I like that lens?)
  12. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "Do I need Image Stabilization (IS)? From what I have been reading, IS is only good for hand held shots at slow shutter speeds. There is a $500 difference between the IS and non-IS version of the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L."
    The short answer to your specific question is: unlikely for the Karate, more likely for the Dance.
    The answer as to: “is the IS the best lens for you?” is: Probably.
    The long answer is:
    Firstly Image Stabilization assists to reduce the resultant blur created by camera movement relative to the subject / scene. It does not freeze the motion of any subject in the scene.
    So, IMO we need to look at how you are intending to use the lens.
    I have the EF 70 to 200 F2.8L USM and as an example I shoot indoor swimming where this lens gets a lot of use. I use my 70 to 200 lens occasionally at Weddings, but note, I have always suggested, (on the Wedding Forum) if one is going to buy a 70 to 200 for use at Weddings then one should buy the EF 70 to 200 F2.8L IS USM
    So why did I not buy the IS version? Because it is not a “Wedding Lens” for me, nor a “Portrait Lens”, essentially it is used for swimming, (and hockey and football) that’s about it.
    My rationale: I know that the slowest shutter speeds I ever will need to pull, will be indoors at a swimmimg meet.
    l also know what the SS are, to get always clean images for all swimming starts, and for all swimmimg strokes: the slowest SS I can ever drop to is 1/320s and that is at the arch of the Breast-stroke when there is a moment of inertia, (head crowns the water and hands are at the “prayer formation”).
    Therefore, because I am confident that when I ever have to drop to 1/320s (at local pools where the lighting is poor, for example) I can shoot at 1/320s at 200mm on an APS-C body (worst case scenario) and always get over 95% keepers – I therefore knew that the best lens choice for me was to save the money on the IS and I bought the 85/f1.8 with the difference and had some pocket money left over.
    If I ever pull out the 70 - 200 at a Wedding, I use it outside on my 5D - no issue with hand holding because the SS is always over 1/250s and if it is used in low light (inside at the back of a Church for example), I have it on my tripod and use a remote release.
    I also do theatre work, and for that I rarely use the 70 200. It is white. I rather use 135/F2L and the 50/F1.4. to cover that range. (explained in a moment). As you mentioned the movement is across the stage and Prime Lenses suit that. Although the capacity / convenience of a zoom should not be underestimated to isolate one player / dancer and then move to the wider view. I, however, usually always shoot with two cameras - and they are different formats, which, with two fast prime lenses gives me four different FoV (50, 80, 135 & 216 relative to 135 format, in my example above.)
    I mention these as all ideas, for your consideration.
    Your situation might be different:
    1. You might want to have a more expansive use of this lens.
    2. A more important consideration is, there might be low light moments at the dance recital and the dancers are essentially still, where for example, 1/100s will capture them “frozen” but could cause problems for the stability of your hands.
    3. Also, the IS version has a capacity to employ “panning mode” though I do not think you would use panning in Karate or Dance, you might go skiing, or be interested in car racing or the like.
    Regarding workflow:
    A sometimes contentious point is to comment that: “Workflow begins at the shutter end of the production chain.”
    What I mean by that is: reliance upon machine gun mode shooting; arbitrary shutter release timing; AWB; “shoot RAW compensate exposure later” . . . and the like, all have insignificant $ cost (relative to film) to execute with the advent of digital cameras, but such practices sometimes cost a great deal later, in front of the computer.
    This in no way is a comment on your (or others’) capacity, skills or choice of shooting style: merely a generic comment for consideration.
  13. I've experienced this same problem with gymnasium/drill team photos. You definately need a low aperture--2.8 or less. The 3.5-5.6 is a waste of time, really, the photos are too dark...
  14. One point in favor of a zoom lens is that it's inherently risky to change lenses, especially when you're in a hurry, in a low-light situation, and/or in a crowd of other photographers. Lenses get dropped, or stuffed into a pocket with no caps on, etc. Maybe no one else is as klutzy as I can be, but I do try to avoid it if possible. And an unnecessary reminder that probably should still be brought up once in a while, always turn a digital camera OFF before removing the lens. They really are dust magnets when they're powered up.
  15. "it's inherently risky to change lenses" -- I understand what you're saying, but it's also inherently risking to take pictures of sports because you might get tackled by a football player or basketball player who runs out of bounds, or you might stumble into the pool and drown. :) I spent years as a newspaper photographer/reporter in the days before zooms and changing lenses was just part of the game. Sure there were some that nearly got dropped, many that got put away without caps, etc., but that didn't keep any of us from changing lenses. As for IS lenses, for my money a good monopod does more to keep shots steady and allow lower shutter speeds than an IS lens, and for a lot less money.
  16. Lots of great responses. Thanks everyone.
    As another follow up question...
    I usually shoot in aperture priority mode and keep it set to f/2.8. That gives the camera (in this case the XTi) the prerogative to choose the shutter speed. At a recent shoot for a karate demonstration, I noticed a lot of shots were coming out very blurry. The camera was setting the shutter speed to around 1/60. Switching to "Sport" mode on the XTi didn't help. So I tried switching to shutter priority mode and set the speed to 1/125. Most of the blur went away and the aperture stayed at f/2.8.
    So, my question is, did I do the right thing? Is it better to set the shutter speed when shooting fast action shots rather than the aperture?
  17. I'd recommend shooting in M. Also I do a preset WB. That way you get very consistent exposure and color throughout the shoot. Use blinking highlights and histogram display to make sure you're happy with the exposure at the beginning of the event, then shoot away. If light levels change (is there any window light?) you have to watch for that, but in a gym with artificial light the levels are usually more consistent than the fancy camera metering systems.
  18. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "So, my question is, did I do the right thing?"
    IMO, No.

    "Is it better to set the shutter speed when shooting fast action shots rather than the aperture?"
    IMO, No, but Yes, sometimes.

    My guess is, specific to the Karate example 1/125s was about the slowest shutter speed permisible for most for the shots (well it was OK for the shots where there was no blur, obviously).

    Those shots were most likely 1 stop under exposed, (assuming even lighting and you did not change the ISO). I guess you were using the Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8, so whatever faster shutter speed than 1/60 you choose and whatever Aperture the camera WANTED to select it cannot open that lens wider than F2.8.

    What I would have done (if I were in Av and wanted to continue shooting Av) would be firstly to increase the ISO.

    If you were already maxed at the ISO, (Is it ISO1600 with the XTi?), then simply you did not have a fast enough lens. If this were the case then I would have shot 1 stop underexposed, or even 2 stops underexposed captured in RAW and done the best I could in Post Production. Most likely looking to B&W results.

    But the major comment I make:

    IMO, Your methodology is not premised on the most important factor. You firstly must know (or find out) what the general minimum shutter speed is, for the sport you are shooting, and then know what the minor nuances of that sport which might allow you to shoot at a slower shutter speed.

    My guess is for kids the permissible minimum shutter speeds might be a tad longer than for Professional Kickboxing, Boxing, Karate etc. But also my guess is that you might really need a bit faster than 1/125s for most of the kicks and punches, but perhaps 1/125s will be suitable for grapples, or if you nail a kick or a punch at the extension (when there is little movement).

    You question indicates that there was still motion blur in some shots, even at 1/125s. I think 1/320s to 1/400s as a minimum would be more in the ballpark for Karate Kids, though this sport is not an area of my particular expertise . . .
    As a practical example, I shoot a lot of swimming. I know that I need >1/1000s most of the time for comfort, but I also know that I can, with accuracy and timing, nail a Backstroke start with 1/640s – but that is the absolute slowest I can ever go, for a Backstroke start: if I cannot pull 1/640s then I cannot get (a reasonable) shot. This type of knowledge (of the particular sport) is integral to shooting the sport.
    So at a recent Competition, because of a Lighting circuit breaker tripping, I had light which gave me 1/640s @ F2.8 @ ISO1600, I was looking through my 70 to 200F2.8L and I needed to get a particular Backstroke Swimmer. The only solution I had was to select my 85/F1.8, bump to ISO3200 and pull 1/800s and ask the Judge of Turns if I could kneel in front of him, just for the Start (to get as close as possible).
    I decided that it was better to pre-focus and pull 1/800s with the lens wide open than to drop to 1/640s and have a slightly sharper image with slightly greater DoF. I decide that because I knew this particular girl is quite explosive; her trajectory and speed needed 1/800s, rather than 1/640s to be safe. Even then there is a blur in her hands. (Top Image Lane 6. 85mm: F1.8 @ 1/800s @ ISO3200)
    Fortunately, (by luck) I had a second shot at this swimmer, as she made the Finals, and the pool’s floodlights were repaired. (Bottom Image, Lane 3, 70 to 200L: F4.5 @ 1/1250s ISO 1600)
    I mostly shoot all my sport in “M” (Manual Mode).
    So going back to your original question, it seems that F2.8 might not be fast enough some of the time?
    Of course that comment / question is dependent upon the ISO you were using at the Karate competition.
    The bottom line is:
    Lens Speed (Maximum Aperture) will always be the defining exposure element which will render a shot “possible” or “impossible” when the available light pushes the exposure to the limit of the film (or camera’s sensor).

    This is especially true in Sports Photography, hence the abundant use of Fast, Prime Lenses, as my example below, illustrates.

  19. This is the reason I'm where I am in photograpy today. I consider myself an advanced, internet educated, self-taught, photography junkie (does that translate to enthusiastic hobbyist?). My primary subjects are fast action (dance teams) in poorly lit high school gymnasiums (sodium lighting I think). I have two of the lenses (Nikkor) mentioned several times by previous contributors, the 70-200mm f/2.8 and the 85mm f/1.4, and both have been great. However, the overall quality of my results is better with 85mm but there have been a few compositions that I've missed because I was either too close (especially the group shots) or not close enough.
    Since quantity of light is always an issue for these conditions and I want to freeze the action, I have found that I get overall better and more consistant results when I shoot Manual, open the aperture as wide as it will go, set the shutter speed to about 1/250s (there's still some occasional blurring of the hands) and then let the ISO go on auto.
  20. I have been going through this with shooting gymnastics-no flash, bad lighting. The answer to your question is "Yes" use both zoom and fixed focus. In gymnastics some events, bar, beam and vault the athlete is always the same distance away from you and a fixed focus lens will do the best job since they are usually faster. Floor, on the other hand, is very different with the athlete either very close or quite some distance away so zoom gives you better results.
    You want to use a lens that requires the least amount of cropping to get the final composition you want. You will be shooting at high ISO in most cases and the more you crop, the more noise you will see. I prefer some of the shots that are so tight that the athlete is out of the frame, gives a good sense of movement.
    Lastly, the hard lesson I have learned is you must have your exposure as close to perfect as you can, any over/under exposure really shows noise when you repair it in post production. If it all possible avoid Noise Ninja and like, they are time consuming and only do a good job in a handful of cases.
    I use all of them Nikon D90, Nikkor 50mm 1.8, 85mm 1.8, 80-200 2.8 and Sigma 30 1.4. Depending on my position, I usually don't have to switch until the team is done on the event so it isn't so bad.
  21. unless you have a 300mm or larger lens or are shooting at 1/less than focal length (I.E. 200mm lens shutter at 1/125) hand held, IS will not help you at all. IS is designed to allow you to handhold your lens at lower shutter speeds than you should normally. On a APS digital sensor, if you have a 100mm lens, under normal shooting conditions, 1/160th is the shutter speed that most people would be able to handhold the camera and get a sharp image. Some with practice may be able to drop down to 1/125 or even 1/90th. But with IS with a 100mm lens, you can get down to 1/60th or lower with practice. But that does nothing for you with action since it is not freezing the image, just reducing shake in the camera. (IS is great on super telephotos because, even on tripods at 1/1000+ movement is amplified and IS will really come in handy).
    My suggestions on your shooting would be pricey to a lot more pricey to astronomical NASA costs...The 135 2.0 is a great lens. Good length, and it makes for a great portrait lens too. It is priced pretty well for a fast short zoom. A better choice would be the old Canon 200 1.8 lens. Fantastic gymnastics and theater lens. Great reach, super fast, and, under $4K if you can find one. But it is still pretty pricey. Lastly, its replacement, the 200 2.0 IS (or 200 2.0 VR for Nikon). Not as fast as the 1.8, but still one heck of a lens. It better be for over $5K.
    Another lens that I have used for cheer competitions is the Sigma 120-300 2.8. I have seen older models go for $1500 and it is, for its price, the best 300 2.8 you can find and a zoom to boot.

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