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Old Dec 31, 2011, 3:07 PM   #1
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Join Date: May 2011
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Default Questions about shooting indoor sports

I'm back. I purchased the Sony a580 & 70-200mm f.2.8 in August and have taken many volleyball pictures with great success. My only issue is where the camera is focusing. If I am taking a picture of someone serving, I will get great shots with the ball frozen in mid-air, but not consistantly. Since the subject is moving and I am using the rapid fire to get sequential shots the focus it all over and not always on the server or the ball. I have tried the different focus choices, but I am not sure which one is best to use. I have the following on my camera AF-S (single shot), AF-A (automatic) & AF-C (continuous). Then I have the AF area choices of wide, spot, and local. Which do you suggest is the best and is there any other function I should be considering.

Last edited by talitha; Dec 31, 2011 at 3:14 PM.
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Old Dec 31, 2011, 3:47 PM   #2
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Savannah, GA (USA)
Posts: 22,378

Hey talitha

I'm going to move your last post in this thread over to our Sports and Action forum, where some of our sports shooters can give you some tips, rather than continuing the older thread asking about upgrades that you added your last post to.


Please let us know how the new gear works for the dance photos, too (as that appeared to be the primary reason you wanted to upgrade).

Congrats on the A580 and Sony 70-200mm f/2.8. That should be a very nice combo for low light shooting.

For your sports shooting, as a general rule of thumb, I'd go with AF-C (Continuous Autofocus) with your newer A580 for action shooting.

AF-A sounds good "on paper" (where the camera automatically switches to AF-C when it detects any movement). But, in practice, it doesn't work all that well deciding what mode to use, and you're probably better off setting it to continuous (AF-C) to begin with, so that the camera doesn't need to try and figure out what you want it to do.

As for AF area, you're probably better off setting it to spot (which is selecting the Center AF point), and making sure you have focus locked on the player you're interested in, letting the AF-C track that player after "half pressing" the shutter button to get an initial lock and start tracking, then pressing it the rest of the way down to start taking photos.

Note that you can't always expect to have both the ball and the player in sharp focus at the same time when filling the frame at wider apertures. So, concentrating on making sure the player is in focus is a better bet, and at f/2.8 you may find that both the player and ball are in focus a lot of the time. If not, then the player is the more important subject.

Also, note that unless you want to use very high ISO speeds, you may not get fast enough shutter speeds to freeze all movement (rapid hand/foot/ball movement). So, seeing some blur with the ball may not be related to focus at all and is to be expected with more reasonable camera settings. Keep in mind that any settings choice is a compromise in one area or another, and you're trying to balance freezing movement against noise levels and retained detail. So, if the players are sharp with good detail, you're doing a good job.

Now, I have seen some shooters mentioning that Wide Area Focus can work well in some conditions. But, I'd take that with a grain of salt, and I'd be more inclined to stick with Spot or Local Focus (locking on the player using the Center Focus point for best accuracy for most action type shooting with an f/2.8 lens). You can use local and just select the Center Focus point (and pressing the button in the center of your multi direction control pad will do that for you). But, I'd probably just leave it set to spot so that you don't have to worry about selecting anything.

Note that one thing you can do to improve the performance of your 70-200mm is making sure you have the focus limiter set at 3 Meters to Infinity (make sure the bottom switch position on the lens is clicked so it's closest to the camera when the lens is mounted). That will reduce the focus range so that it's not trying to focus at closer distances, improving Autofocus Speed with your 70-200mm. If you leave it set to full and it loses focus when tracking, it can take a lot longer to lock focus again unless you're using the focus limiter feature. So, I'd make sure it's set to the 3M to Infinity position for best overall performance.

As for other things you can do, making sure your shutter speeds are fast enough is one of the most important considerations. Indoors, I'd stick to manual exposure in most conditions, taking some test shots and looking at your histogram and image playback until exposure looks right.

With a Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on an A580, I'd probably start at around ISO 4000, f/2.8 and 1/500 second and see how the exposure looks. If it's too dark, increase your ISO speed and/or slow down shutter speed to around 1/400 until exposure looks correct (but, I'd try to keep shutter speed at at least 1/400). If exposure is too bright, use faster shutter speeds and/or lower ISO speeds until the exposure looks correct.

I'd also make sure that DRO (Dynamic Range Optimization) is set to OFF. You don't want to use it at higher ISO speed settings.

Setting White Balance ahead of time would also be a good idea, even if you're shooting RAW (since the raw converter would have a better starting point that way, as most converters can use the "as shot" white balance. I'd use a custom white balance with a gray or white card, placing it "in between" some of the lights on the floor when setting it so that you're getting a better lighting temperature average. Even a napkin or sheet of white photo paper can work in a pinch as a white balance target (but if your target is too reflective, that can cause issues setting it, so I'd avoid anything shiny).

I often carry some sheets of premium quality matte photo paper with me as they tend to work well for setting a custom white balance. Or, you can buy a custom "18%" gray card for setting white balance. I'd make sure you're using a slower shutter speed using Shutter Priority at lower ISO speeds when setting it, since cycling lighting can fool the camera when setting it if shutter speeds are too fast, and you want to get a good average. Then, after you get your custom white balance set, change back to manual exposure with more appropriate settings.

You may also want to post some sample photos of where you're seeing issues to get some tips from some of our sports shooters on what you may have been able to change to get better results.

But, it sounds like you're off to a great start with that kit if you're capturing "many volleyball pictures with great success", as not being able to get a sharp ball in photos is a very minor consideration compared to getting good shots of the players. :-)
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