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Old Jul 31, 2007, 11:43 AM   #1
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Hi all,

I'm a long time lurker, first time poster. I recently made the dive into the DSLR realm. Up to this point, I've done a lot of point and shoot photos, so I'm still learning the whole exposureversus sensitivityversus focal length thing. I plan to use the DSLR for all around shooting, but one of my primary goals in upgrading is to improve the photos I take of my kids in band. I purchased a Sony alpha on a sale where I got the kit 18-70MM lens along with a 75-300MM/F4.5-5.6 lens.

My problem has always been the fine line between speed and light. This is due to the fact that most shows are after dark, under the lights at a football field, but I need speed to capture the movement. From what I've been able to shoot so far, I get pretty decent pictures at show time with my smaller lense, but I can't zoom much with that lens. The longer lens seemed a good bit darker, even during the day, so I honestly have not taken the chance to play with it during a show.

Most of my shooting so far has been in auto mode or the sport scenemode, because it was more important to me at the time to get decent shots, than play with the other settings. I'll be getting into more play situations this fall, but I'm wondering what my expectations should be. I'm sure learning more about controlling the camera will help, but I'm also wondering if I'm working with a severe limitation with my choice of lenses at this point.

My main question to you all, is what should I be digging into at this point? Do I just need to take the time to learn more about settings? Or are there lenses out there that will make my job easier? Or is it a combo of both. For those of you who shoot similar situations, are there lens recommendations you would make?

Thanks for your time,

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Old Jul 31, 2007, 2:03 PM   #2
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My problem has always been the fine line between speed and light. This is due to the fact that most shows are after dark, under the lights at a football field, but I need speed to capture the movement.
3 main factors govern the shutter speeds you can use for proper exposure of an image:

1. ISO Speed. This is how sensitive the the CCD (or film) is to light. Each time you double the ISO speed, the camera can use shutter speeds twice as fast for the same aperture and lighting.

2. Light levels. "Under the lights" on a football field is low light to a camera, even though the human eye adjusts well to it. ;-)

3. Aperture. The aperture iris in a camera's lens works similar to the way the pupils in your eyes do. When it's opened up wider, that lets the camera "expose" the film or sensor image faster. Note that larger available apertures are represented by smaller f/stop numbers (since it's a ratio between the focal length of the lens and the area of the aperture iris opening).

Lenses with larger available apertures (smaller f/stop numbers) are larger, heavier and more expensive (they have to be larger, in order to let in more light for a given focal length, and that costs more to manufacturer, especially if you maintain decent optical quality).

The aperture scale (in one stop increments) goes f/1.0, f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0, f/11, f/16, f/22, etc. With each one stop move to a smaller aperture (represented by higher f/stop numbers), you will need shutter speeds twice as long for proper exposure for the same lighting and ISO speed.

You can get a better idea of this relationship if you look at this exposure calculator. Note that film speed in the calculator is the same thing as ISO speed:


The lenses you have are just not suitable for that kind of photography if you want a high percentage of keepers, especially if your subjects are moving any.

They are very dim lenses if you zoom in much with them (they are both down to around f/5.6 for their widest available aperture when zoomed in). That's OK for daylight. But, it's not OK for photos under the lights at a stadium (because your shutter speeds would be too slow, resulting in motion blur, or even blur from camera shake if shutter speeds get too slow and you're not using a monopod or tripod.

This also impacts Autofocus speed and reliability (because a brighter lens allows the Autofocus sensors to see better).

Note that stabilization only works so far, and even a tripod won't help with blur from subject movement if your shutter speeds drop too much.

We have a couple of sports shooters here that both use a Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 AF lens for sports like Football on a Canon. But, this lens runs around $2,600 discounted, and it's not available in Sony/KM mount (at least not yet).


A popular budget lens for sports is the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX AF lens. It's usually around $850 in popular camera mounts. But, it's pretty hard to find one in Maxxum/Alpha mount right now (for one thing, they don't yet have the latest DG version of it available in Maxxum/Alpha), and you may find that it's not really as long as desired unless you can shoot from the sidelines.

But, non-DG versions of it have been made in the past by Sigma and you still see one new from time to time in Maxxum mount at dealers.

Sony has a nice lens in this same focal range that's probably better in many ways compared to the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 for use on a Maxxum mount camera, since it's also got SSM (Supersonic Motor) focusing, and Sigma doesn't offer HSM (Hypersonic Motor) focusing in Maxxum mount lenses yet. This Sony lens was carried over from the Minolta lineup. But, it's not a cheap lens:

Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 APO G SSM Aufofocus Lens at B&H for $2,299.95

But, you may find that it's not long enough, depending on your vantage point, and if you add a TC (teleconverter), you'll lose light. For example, a 1.4x TC to make it work like a lens that's 40% longer would cost you approximately 1 stop of light. So, it would be like using an f/4 lens with a TC on it (you'd need shutter speeds twice as long as an f/2.8 lens without a TC like this). That's still a stop brighter than what you've got though (f/4 is twice as bright as f/5.6, where you'd be at zoomed in with your existing 75-300mm).

Minolta also made some non-SSM (Supersonic Motor) lenses with around this same focal range. For example, the Minolta 80-200mm f/2.8 HS APO G and 80-200mm f/2.8 APO.

The HS is for "High Speed" as it was geared for faster focusing speed. These pop up on the used market from time to time (but, they are not cheap lenses). If you're a real good shopper, I have seen the non HS version sell for under $1000 from time to time (but, one wouldn't stay listed for long, so you have to grab a bargain while it's there if one pops up on the used market at a good price).

In addition to Sigma, some of the other manufacturers (i.e., Tamron, Tokina) also made some zooms in this focal range.

But, make sure you read through user reviews for lenses you consider, as some are not as sharp as others at wider apertures (i.e., trying to use one with the aperture wide open at f/2.8 ). Most lenses are their sharpest when the aperture is two or three stops down from wide open (a luxury you don't have when shooting in low light).

You can find some user reviews for lenses at Dyxum (click on either zoom, macro or fixed focal length of pages of lenses, and you'll see links to user reviews for many of them):


The next step up in the Sony lineup in a brighter and longer lens would be this one (and it's also a carry over from the same lens in Minolta Brand):

Sony 300mm f/2.8 APO G SSM Autofocus Lens at B&H for $5,699.95

Note that it's a non-zoom lens (300mm fixed focal length).

For that kind of lighting, your best bet is going to be a lens that can maintain f/2.8 at any focal length you use one at. Again, that adds size, weight and cost to a lens. Note that f/2.8 is exactly 4 times as bright as f/5.6 (which is where you'd be at with most entry level zooms by the time you zoom in any with them). So, you'd be able get shutter speeds 4 times as fast for any given ISO speed compared to your existing lenses.

Now, if you can catch your subjects when they are relatively still, you may be able to get by with a lens that's not as bright.

It's all a matter of perspective, what the photos will be used for (viewing/print sizes, etc.) and the percentage of keepers desired.

One weak area with the Alpha is noise at higher ISO speeds (and you'd normally want to shoot at ISO 1600 with an f/2.8 lens for night sports). So, you'll want the brightest lens you can afford to keep from using the highest ISO speed if possible (and you may need to use it, even if you have a brighter lens).

There are some lenses that are "in between" what you've got and the available f/2.8 lenses. For example the "Beercan (Minolta 70-200mm f/4 AF ) is twice as bright as your existing lenses when zoomed in much (f/4 is twice as bright as f/5.6). But, it's not as long as your longer zoom (which reaches out to 300mm). You could probably find one of these on the used market for around $200 (but, it's really not as bright as you want for this kind of thing if budget allows for an f/2.8 lens).

There are some longer lenses with f/4 available, too (again, these are only half as bright as an f/2.8 lens, but twice as bright as what you've got).

Again, if you can catch the band when it's relatively still, you might be able to get some keepers at higher ISO speeds if you can keep the camera steady enough (i..e, use a tripod or monopod when shutter speeds get too slow for the stabilization to handle it).

Your Sony allows up to ISO 1600 if you set it manually (Auto won't go that high). But, it's going to be very noisy there (that grainy look you get), and you'll need to make sure you're not underexposing it any or noise can be even worse, especially if you need to brighten the images using software.

Given it's ISO speed limitations, you're probably better off from a noise perspective stcking with ISO 800 and only using 1600 if absolutely necessary. Regardless, I'd strongly suggest using a lens that can maintain f/2.8 at the focal lengths you need. Then, use noise reduction software like Neat Image, Noiseware or Noise Ninja to help clean them up later

One of our members here (Mark1616) used to shoot some sports with a Maxxum 5D using a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX APO AF Lens.

So, he could probably give you some feedback on how the lens worked for night sports. However, the Maxxum 5D is going to be better from a noise perspective compared to the Sony Alpha at higher ISO speeds (even though it's mostly the same camera body, the higher resolution sensor used in the Alpha increases noise levels).

I'll send a note to Mark with a link to this thread and he may be able to offer some suggestions (as he shoots this type of thing and has no doubt looked around for suitable lenses in this lens mount when he was using a Maxxum 5D).

Getting photos of kids in a band would be less demanding on a lens compared to trying to get photos of running players, and if you're very careful to pan with them (to reduce shutter speed requirements), you may be able to get some keepers with a slower lens if you take lots of photos with the ISO speeds bumped up high enough. But, a brighter lens would be a better way to go.

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Old Jul 31, 2007, 2:48 PM   #3
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I defer to the excellent explanation and advice provided by JimC and whatever Mark1616 might also have to contribute, but I'd like to point out some other options.

Since you say you want to take photos of your kids in band, you don't need the higher shutter speeds that one would use for sports. You just need to use something to prevent motion blur of the slides on the trombones, or the tubas as they swing around. Also, I presume that you don't need to zoom in on a single member of the band, but want to capture your kids within the band.

At about $400 - $550, the Tamron 90mm f2.8, the Minolta 100mm f/2.8, and the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 are all fine lenses that are longer and a lot brighter than the 18-70 you've got. I don't think you need a lens that's really long, so one of these might be ok.

Can you check the shots you took with the 75-300 that didn't work out, to see what focal length you used?
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Old Jul 31, 2007, 2:54 PM   #4
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Tcav makes a good point.

Some of the primes (fixed focal length/non-zoom lenses) would probably work OK from a shutter speed perspective for your purposes (and at a much lower cost, too).

For example, you could probably pick up a Minolta 135mm f/2.8 AF lens at a good price on the used market. I've got this lens and it's pretty good at wider apertures (and it would probably focus faster compared to the macro lenses which are geared for finer focus adjustments).

The question would be if it's long enough to capture the desired framing from your vantage point (or if your print sizes would be small enough to allow for a bit of cropping).


Again, it's all a matter of perspective, too (desired print/viewing sizes, what the photos are going to be used for, what you interpret as acceptable quality, what percentage of keepers is high enough and more).

If you've got some photos you've taken with your existing lenses in the same lighting, you may want to post a sample or two here. That way, forum members could get a better idea of what your shutter speeds were and what may work better for you in the same conditions.

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Old Jul 31, 2007, 3:11 PM   #5
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Hi Jeff,

As ever I'm at Jim's beckon call LOL.

Jim has supplied some great info and I'm impressed how much he knows about the kit I used to have (Jim are you stalking me? hehe).

When I had my KM 5D I had to get the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8on the 2nd hand market as there were no new ones that I could lay my hands on easily but I was fortunate as I got in there before the KM digitalis really took off so the price was great. When I sold it I managed to get about £100 ($200) more for it than I paid.

If you can find one it really is the way to go for work under the lights however it is still going to be tough unless the ground you are shooting at has really bright ones. I shot asoccer game on Thurs and even at ISO 3200 and f2.8 I was just getting 1/640th (the lowest I really like to go if possible) so at ISO 1600 you are halving that so 1/320th or 1/250th (as the Canon's ISO 3200 is nearer ISO 4000 in real terms). I don't say this to put you off rather to give you the fullest picture possible.

As for the range of the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 you will be able to get about 30m of comfortable focusing which is enough once you are used to working within those limitations. Obviously you can shoot things further away however when working with a lens with a wide aperture you will really notice it get softer when you start getting near to infinity.

Sports shooting is one of the hardest areas to learn, it looks easy but with everything moving so fast you have to master technique, and each sport is different. I'm still not happy with the results I get withsoccer (I'm going to add some later to the sports section of the match on Thurs) however with field hockey I know I can nail the shots I want as I shoot so many games a year. Even without upgrading your equipment you can practise the skills of panning, timing, framing, angles to shoot from if you can catch some day games and just shoot lots of things moving quickly. As I tell anyone there are 3 golden rules to photography..... practise, practise, practise.

It's good that you have started to post and by sharing your work (even if you think it is terrible) then you will get advice from people with more experience than you. When you have some shots in reasonable conditions then put them in the sports/action area and we will all take a look. With the band shots then you will have a better chance as there is not as much movement, however again the fast lens (low f number) is going to be a great help.

Looking forward to seeing some of your work.

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Old Jul 31, 2007, 3:13 PM   #6
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It took me so long to write that while watching TV and chatting to a friend I notice the other replies and might have got the wrong end of the stick, did you want to shoot sports or just the band as that will make a bit of a difference.

Anyway from all the posts you have a lot of food for though.
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Old Jul 31, 2007, 3:34 PM   #7
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Yea, Mark, did you look in your rear view mirror today. ;-).

I probably just read too many forum posts, and since you moved from a KM 5D to a Canon and shoot sports, your kit stuck in my mind (both the Tamron and Sigma you used for sports).

It sounds like it's mostly the band the OP is interested in. I noticed this was said:

My problem has always been the fine line between speed and light. This is due to the fact that most shows are after dark, under the lights at a football field, but I need speed to capture the movement. From what I've been able to shoot so far, I get pretty decent pictures at show time with my smaller lense, but I can't zoom much with that lens.
Now, "pretty decent" can mean a lot of things, depending on perspective. The kit lens is not very bright. Also, your subjects will occupy a much smaller percentage of the frame using a shorter focal length for a given shooting distance. So, blur from movement will not be as obvious at a given print size (less movement across the frame because of the subject size within it).

In addition, blur from camera shake gets worse as focal lengths get longer.

So, you've got a lot of things working against you trying to shoot with a longer focal length lens that is not very bright if you want to capture the subject in a way that lets them occupy a greater percentage of the frame.

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Old Jul 31, 2007, 3:37 PM   #8
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JimC wrote:
Yea, Mark, did you look in your rear view mirror today. ;-).
You weren't that pretty blond were you with the long legs LOL
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Old Jul 31, 2007, 4:56 PM   #9
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Nope. I'm not a blond. :-)

I never even go to ball games, much less take photos at them.

So, you guys know more about this stuff than I do. lol

The only ball game of any type that I've been to in years was a basketball game earlier this year. You've seen some of my snapshots from that one before.

I mentioned the 135mm f/2.8 because it did better than expected from an AF speed perspective in that kind of lighting shooting moving subjects.

I'll blame any focus problems on me (trying to hit the body versus face when filling the frame much at wider apertures, etc.). lol

You could probably find one of these on the used market at a reasonable price if you're a good shopper (around $300).

Here are a couple of examples from that lens. Note that this was the first basketball game that I've been to in over 30 years. :-)

EXIF in images.

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, Minolta 135mm f/2.8 AF Lens, ISO 1600, 1/250 Second, 1/3 stop down from wide open at f/3.2

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, Minolta 135mm f/2.8 AF Lens, ISO 3200, 1/400 Second with the Aperture wide open at f/2.8

Catching them when they're still is easier though. LOL

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, Minolta 135mm f/2.8 AF Lens, 1/500 Second, ISO 3200 with the Aperture wide open at f/2.8

Now, I can remember marching in the band at football games.

I played trumpet for years (starting in the 5th grade in school). But, I haven't been to a football game in over 30 years either and I've never taken photos at one. lol

But, if this one works OK in church gym lighting for kids basketball games, it would probably work OK for high school football stadiums under the lights for shots of a marching band *if* you could get close enough to use it for the desired framing (or use it with a third party 1.4x TC and have something close to a 190mm f/4 after the one stop light loss).

But, with the Sony, your percentage of keepers in low light with moving subjects is going to go down since you can't do ISO 3200 with it and really don't want to use ISO 1600 unless you don't have another choice.

Now, like a Canon 20D or 30D, the Sony Alpha 100 is more sensitive than it's rated ISO speed. It's ISO 800 is really ISO 1000, and it's ISO 1600 is really ISO 2000. Look at Phil's review of it's ISO sensitivity.

The Alpha also uses less aggresive noise reduction compared to most, so it needs a bit of cleaning up later using available tools. That's better done at the raw level though.

Some of the algorithms are getting pretty good lately (for example, Dave Coffin recently included a wavelet based noise reduction algorithm in the latest dcraw.c, and many vendors are using it as a model for noise reduction options during the raw conversion process now (since Dave publishes his code).

But, I'd probably use available noise reduction tools (neat image, noise ninja, noiseware, etc.) if shooting higher ISO speeds jpeg with the Sony. I usually don't bother with that for the print sizes I use with my 5D.

The other problem is that the metering on these models leaves a bit to be desired (even though a newer 40 segment metering system was used with the Sony).

The matrix (a.k.a., multi-segment) metering is weighted a bit heavy towards the active AF point in the KM and Sony DSLR models. So, if I don't want to be careful of my focus point, I tend to go center weighted and compensate with my 5D. It's more predictable compared to matrix with most manufacturers.

In that lighting, considering the higher ISO speeds needed, I went manual exposure (to make sure exposure wasn't moving around too much unless I wanted it to change).

The metering is a bit finicky and sometimes manual is easier. ;-)

I do underexpose it deliberately from time to time when I'm shooting in low light (churches, homes, etc.) though. I may shoot at ISO 800 and push it 2/3 stop or so versus shooting at ISO 1600 in some conditions when I want the best quality with a JPEG and need to keep shutter speeds fast.

Even though you decrease Dynamic Range a bit using this technique and when you brighten the image noise levels go back up, you avoid some of the the processing differences that keep noise levels lower but decrease detail you end up with at the highest ISO speed settings with most newer models if you're shooting jpeg.

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Old Jul 31, 2007, 5:17 PM   #10
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Thanks everyone for the excellent information. You've given me a lot to look into.

Those of you who point out the difference between sports movement and band movement are fairly accurate.Although there are times when the speeds will besimilar,it may be fine to show some of the movement.My shots will vary. Sometimes I shoot from field level. Other times I shoot from the stands. From what I've been able to shoot so far with the new camera, I think I'm set for most of the distance shots. It's when I try to zoom in, from field level, or even low in the stands that I've seen issues in the past.

Some examples of what I've taken in the past and recent pictures can be found on my Smugmug site:


The Mount Pleasant High School shots are all from last year and were taken with our point and shoot camera. Most of the pictures from the Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps are taken withthe new camera, although some were taken by my daughter and my wife with their point and shoot cameras.

Here's an example of a shot where I got a little more motion than I'd like (and a little more of the guy's head in front of me than I'd like ) :


I was fairly happy with this picture, while there was little or no movement, the lighting was better than I've been able to get in the past:


As for how the pictures will be used, the vast majority will likely be used as pictures on the band website or for sharing with family. The good ones will get printed and used for Mom and Dad to brag with. I'd love to be able to get 'close enough' to have our kids as the center of the picture, but I don't have to have full zoom on a single kid at night. I can save that for the few daytime shows we have.

I suppose budget should enter in here, too. While the pricer options may be something I look into down the road. I honestly think something under $1000 is going to be more realistic for me now. Closer to $500 would be awesome, but I'm willing to hold out for what will work best, if I need to.

Again, I really appreciate everyone's input so far.

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