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MikeA01730 Dec 8, 2010 11:21 PM

Canon SLR for Volleyball Photography

I want to buy a DSLR for general use and in particular to photograph my daughterís indoor volleyball games. Iíd like to spend whatís necessary, but no more. After a lot of poking around on the internet and some time at the camera store I concluded that a Canon T2i would be a good choice. I thought that on balance the increased value of the T2i vs. less expensive cameras was worthwhile, but the added value of more expensive cameras wasnít worth the cost for me. Iíd love to get a 60D or 7D, but didnít think that for my needs the extra costs was justified.

For lenses Iím thinking of getting a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens for general use (family, travel) and a large aperture prime EF 85mm or 100mm for volleyball.

Then I found out about a few other concerns. First at, which compares the 7D and T2i, I read this:ĒThe Rebel T2i features a reliable but slower 9-point AF system. The center point is a cross-type AF sensor for use with f/2.8 or faster lenses. While overall reliable, the Rebel T2i focusing system was not designed to accurately keep up with fast moving objects (tracking).Ē Furthermore the 7D has even more sensors and it appears to be generally accepted that the 7D is superior for sports photography.

A second issue is the importance of AF micro-adjustment that is available on the 50D and 7D (but not 60D). Some people argue strongly that this is an important feature, particularly with a large aperture EF 100 or 85 lens, because the focus is likely to be off.

Thirdly there are also benefits with the more expensive camera with frame rate, metering, and other features.

All these comments suggest that the 7D is superior to the 60D which is superior to the T2i. What Iím unsure about is how much difference Iíll notice shooting indoor volleyball. The additional cost of moving up to the 60D or 7D is significant for me, and itís not clear how much benefit Iíll actually see. Can anyone with real world experience with these cameras or sports photography help me with this?


TCav Dec 9, 2010 6:19 AM

For what you want to do, the Canon T1i and T2i are better than any of the other entry level dSLRs. But, yes, there are better choices if you want to spend the money. The 7D is an excellent camera for what you want to do, and while the 50D and 60D aren't as good as the 7D, they are better than the t1i and T2i. The 7D is among the latest and most advanced dSLRs, and is probably as good as you'll find for what you want to do, but it is also one of the most complicated and difficult to master. You can spend the extra money on the 7D, and never actually use many of the advanced features and capabilities because (no offense intended) the camera is better at this than you are. If you've never used a dSLR before, you will very likely be overwhelmed by the myriad of options and settings that it's likely that you will inadvertently set some of them incorrectly and end up making things worse.

What you want to shoot (indoor sports/action) is tough. It is demanding of the equipment and it is very demanding of the photographer. I suggest that it will take a while for you to get better than the T2i.

What level of competition does your daughter participate in? High School? College?

JohnG Dec 9, 2010 7:43 AM

Everything is relative. Yes the 7d has more advanced AF system than the t2i. But. the t2i will do well too. The other important part is being able to afford the right lens too. Volleyball can be challenging to shoot. On paper, it's nice to say "I'll buy the 85 1.8 or 100mm 2.0 and I'll be fine" - and those are very nice lenses. But it's a challenge to shoot volleyball with prime lenses too. I used to shoot volleyball with the 85mm lens on a camera with same sensor size as the cameras you're considering. Here's what I can tell you - if you are concerned with getting high quality images, the working range for an 85mm lens is around 25 feet (roughly). BUT when action is close to you (within 10 feet) you can't fit an entire body in the frame. I typically shot from floor behind the net judge. That position allowed me to shoot most of the court but the blockers/strikers near me just don't fit in the frame so you're talking taking a shot of torso only - and when people are moving and that close to you it's a challenge to get them properly framed in time. Now if you're in the stands, the 85 isn't going to cover the whole court (but you'll be able to get the closer girls in frame better). And the 85 is too short to shoot from behind the court over the net so over the net shots have to be made from the side at an angle. You can extrapolate to see what would happen with the 100mm lens - too tight on the floor unless you've got room to back off but still not long enough from stands to cover the whole court. And still not long enough to shoot from end of court over net (takes about 135mm).
Sigma makes a 50-150 2.8 which is a perfect focal length but reports from other sports shooters seem to indicate it's not as fast to focus as Canon/Nikon 70-200 2.8 lenses.

Now, a 70-200 2.8 gives you a lot of flexibility but it also means you have to shoot at ISO 3200-6400 to get the 1/400 minimum shutter speeds (if you shoot the prime at 2.0 you can shoot at 1600-2000 usually).

So it's a trade-off. No perfect answer. Now, I shot for a couple seasons with Canon 20d and 85mm 1.8 and it did well. The 85mm and 100mm Canon lenses are extremely fast to focus and very sharp. The focus system on the T2i is the same as far as I can tell. BUT volleyball is tough to shoot. So be prepared for that. It is NOT a point and shoot type of thing. You'll have to learn how to shoot low light sports - it takes technique - it isn't easy. Especially if you go the prime route.

MikeA01730 Dec 9, 2010 7:41 PM

TCav & JohnG,

My daughter is a sophomore setter in high school and this season moved up from JV to varsity. She plays on club teams in the winter, and hopefully will continue to play in college. With luck I'll have several more years to perfect my technique.

I've owned several film SLRs, but since photography has gone digital I've been happy with less expensive cameras. My best camera now is a Canon S3-IS. It's ok for some uses, but completely inadequate for low light sports photography.

I'm thinking that I might get the Canon 60D with a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. That would give me a good general purpose lens, and a reasonable focal length range to shoot volleyball. Once I get experience with the camera, find out how I use various focal lengths, see for myself the limitations of the zoom, and decide how I feel about the high ISO photos, I'll be in a better position to decide what if any additional lenses will be best for me.

Thanks to both of you for sharing your experience and knowledge and taking the time to write detailed comments.


JohnG Dec 9, 2010 8:01 PM

That's great Mike - realize the 18-135 is completely useless for HS volleyball though. That's usually f2.8 ISO 3200-6400 territory.

Mark1616 Dec 9, 2010 8:14 PM

John is 100% correct. If you are going with the 60D then look at the Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 or go with one of the Canon primes that John mentioned before. I used to be stuck (as did John) shooting with the 85mm f1.8 due to ISO limitations until having a body that allowed shooting at a usable ISO 6400. You will never get the shutter speed you want for good shots with the 18-135 and also it isn't the sharpest of lenses. As this is going to be the main focus for your shooting ensure you get the lens for the job. You are better off with a lesser body and the correct lens than a higher end body and a lens that won't cut it. Obviously good body and good lens is best but that also costs quite a bit ;)

TCav Dec 9, 2010 8:15 PM

The Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is not a very good lens, and would be an encumbrance for the 60D (or any of the cameras you mentioned). The Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 USM IS is much better, though the zoom range is shorter.

Mark1616 Dec 9, 2010 8:17 PM


Originally Posted by TCav (Post 1176449)
The Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is not a very good lens, and would be an encumbrance for the 60D (or any of the cameras you mentioned). The Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 USM IS is much better, though the zoom range is shorter.

The latter is better but still doesn't have the wide aperture for shooting indoor sports.

TCav Dec 10, 2010 7:15 AM


Originally Posted by Mark1616 (Post 1176450)
The latter is better but still doesn't have the wide aperture for shooting indoor sports.



Originally Posted by MikeA01730 (Post 1176233)
For lenses Iím thinking of getting a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens for general use (family, travel) ...

I was suggesting the 15-85 as an alternative for "general use (family, travel)".

MikeA01730 Dec 10, 2010 8:59 PM


Re the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS vs. the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 USM IS: the 18-135mm may be "not a very good lens", but it may be a reasonable trade-off for me. The 15-85mm may well be sharper and focus quicker, but it costs around $720 vs. $350 at B&H. I'm interested in the 18-135mm because it's less expensive, the longer focal length would be good for travel photography, and I'm not sure that I'll notice the flaws you would be see with the cheaper lens. Re the 18-135mm "would be an encumbrance" it is ~100 g heavier than the 15-85mm, but I'll get a feel for it at a store before I buy it to make sure I'll be happy hauling it around. Even though I want a good lens for volleyball photography, I certainly want a general purpose lens too.

Re buying a lens for volleyball photography, my thought was that I could get good enough pictures with the 18-135mm to get a sense of what focal length would work best for me for volleyball. Even though I'd get pictures with too much blur to use I would be able to gauge if a 85mm or 100mm prime, per perhaps a large-aperture zoom, would be best. Even though JohnG's comments are very helpful, I think I'd make a better focal length choice after getting acclimated to the camera and taking some photos with the zoom. I didn't mean to suggest that the zoom by itself would let me shoot decent indoor volleyball photos.

I still think getting a general-purpose zoom and then buying a volleyball-specific lens a little later sounds like a good plan. Club practice starts in January, and the first game is in March. That should give me plenty of time.


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