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ghudson Aug 23, 2014 3:07 PM

Need lens for taking low light action sports pictures
I am looking for advice from the experts on what type of affordable lens I should buy to take nighttime high school football game pictures and also indoor basketball. I have a Nikon D5000 camera and my Nikon AF-S DX 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens is great for daytime sports photography but it does very poorly for action shots with low lighting. Outdoor lighting at our area high school football fields is not good for taking pictures. Unfortunately I cannot afford a $5,000 lens but I want to know what you would recommend. I am just a low budget dad and an amateur photographer who wants to take the best picture I can afford of my son playing sports. I have also been asked to be the team photographer (unpaid of course but I enjoy taking the pictures) so now I have the pressure to take some great action shots of our team in action from the sidelines at night. I admit that I have never learned how to adjust my cameras manual settings for I have always used the sports setting and so far I get great results when mother nature provides the sunshine for good lighting but I can no longer do that with the task before me. Thank you in advance for your suggestions.

Ozzie_Traveller Aug 23, 2014 4:11 PM

G'day mate

Nice to hear from you again after a long absence - amongst those of us at Steve's we'll try to assist in some small way

There are a few things here that bother me ...
I have also been asked to be the team photographer (unpaid of course....
I cannot afford a $5,000 lens but I want to know what you would recommend ...

Without meaning to be rude to you, it never ceases to amaze me as to the number of clubs / schools / media of various sorts who want you to do the expense, but they will not recompense you in any way

My thoughts now are that for any low-light stuff you will need one of the f2,8 zoom lenses - a very popular one is the 70-200mm size from various lens makers incl Nikon
You will also need to do your shooting at medium to high ISO levels - 1600 to 6400 and run with whatever comes from that

Hope this helps a bit

ghudson Aug 23, 2014 5:14 PM

Thank you for replying Phil. I am not too bothered by taking the photos unpaid since it is for my sons high school football team and the school does not have money for this sort of thing. My Nikon D5000 only goes up to an ISO of 3200. I have never shot higher than 1600 so it will take some experimenting to see how that works. With a lens at the F2.8 and 70-200mm, I found a Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM for $1,199 and a Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II for $2,399. Without sounding silly but I have to ask why the Nikon lens costs so much more. What can the Nikon lens do that the Sigma lens cannot to justify the cost? Again, thanks for your advice!

TCav Aug 23, 2014 5:59 PM

A 70-200/2.8 would work for indoor sports, but it's not long enough for football under the lights, and a 70-300/4-5.6 wouldn't be fast enough. For night time football, lenses are expensive. For instance, the Sigma 120-300/2.8 lens is ~$3,600.

ghudson Aug 23, 2014 6:17 PM

Is the f/2.8 lens fast enough for taking night time outdoor football action pictures? I will be on the sidelines and the 200mm is long enough to get most of the field in front of me except the action on the far side which I know is too far away and I am ok with that. I just want to know if the money will be wasted if I get a f/2.8 lens for what I need it to do.

VTphotog Aug 23, 2014 10:19 PM

You are going to pay a premium for the Nikon branded lens. Check out some lens tests to find if there is a notable difference in image quality or focus speed.
F/2.8 is as fast a lens as you are likely to find. (unless you can spend more than what your car cost by a fair amount) If by 'fast', you mean what is generally accepted as a photographic term, that is. If you are talking about focus speed, that is a different parameter.
I think, in your position, I would work on learning to use manual focus. If you know enough about the sport you are shooting, you will be able to anticipate (somewhat) where the action you want to capture is going to happen, and be ready for the shot. You are still going to need a fast lens (wide aperture, to allow faster shutter speed), but won't have to wait for the camera to focus. That is how we all had to shoot sports before auto-everything cameras, and we still got pretty good pictures.

TCav Aug 24, 2014 5:21 AM

If you think you can live with a maximum focal length of 200mm when shooting football, then go with a 70-200/2.8.

Ozzie_Traveller Aug 24, 2014 4:07 PM

G'day GH

There's some very good advice in the answers above - and to me [if I may mis-quote the real estate salesman's mantra of 'location-location-location' ... it comes down to your budget, your budget and the lack of a budget

If it were me, I would buy the Sigma f2,8 lens for $1200 and live with it
Okay - it's highly regarded as a good quality lens, no issues there, and if it does not reach out as far as a 300mm or a 400mm 'sports' lens - so what ... just crop the images a bit

ps- my success rate at a recent night-time rugby match was 8 keepers in 300 images @ iso-3200 ... using a standard zoom lens that stopped down to f6,3 at max zoom of 300mm. If I'd had an f2,8 of the type suggested above, i'd be expecting a 'good' rate of 33-50% and a keeper rate of 20-25%

Hope this helps

JohnG Aug 25, 2014 7:40 AM

A 70-200 2.8 MIGHT do the trick. The key will be whether or not you are shooting from the sideline and have access to move up/down with the line of scrimmage. 200mm is good for about 25 yards of reach. Remember though - that's not 25 yards of field length - it's 25 yards from your shooting position. Which means you are limited to shots from middle of field toward you. So, you're not going to get quality photos on the opposite sideline. And, if you're not allowed in the player area of the sideline then you'll miss out on some action between the 35s.

Now, here's the other part. You really want 1/400 shutter speed at a minimum. You also want to expose for faces, not uniforms. Unless you have very good lights on the fields you are playing at, ISO 3200 might not be enough.

The solution then is to augment with an external flash mounted on a monopod. Preferably a flash with external battery pack (which enables it to recharge faster). The downside to flash like this is you can't shoot long bursts. But, you will get properly exposed photos.

setup with flash on monopod:

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