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Old Feb 14, 2007, 5:10 PM   #1
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I have totally had enough of my point and shoot kodak when it comes to taking great photos of my three sports-minded boys. I'm jealous of all the photos I see from other parents that have great action shots or that catch the ball in mid-air and I must have something that will accomplish that!

I will be a newbie in the SLR world but I love photography and scrapbooking as a hobby so if it means a little study and practice to get what I want, I'll put the effort in to accomplish that.

What suggestions in regards to camera's and lens' to help me in this department? The sports we typically photograph are baseball, football, soccer and then indoor basketball.

Price range:$500 - $1,000

I think the common ones have popped up on my list (Pentax K100d, Canon Rebel, Nikon D70) but if there are others I should consider, the info would be appreciated.

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Old Feb 15, 2007, 1:20 AM   #2
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There's a couple guys around here who really know there stuff when it comes to this type of photography and I'm sure they'll be around soon to fill you in on what you need to know.

I have the K100d, and while I'm sure I could get decent performance out of the thing for this kind of shooting, Canon and Nikon are the brands most would choose for sports shooting. They tend to be better at shooting bursts quickly for long periods, focusing quickly, and have better in camera processing.

You're going to want some high quality auto-focus lenses, probably zoom lenses, so you won't get much cost saving going with the Pentax either. I think the Pentax is more suited for the artsy hobbyist on a budget type. I've heard that the Nikon has better quality cheap lenses, so that may be the way to go for you. I'd suggest you take a look at the D40. The biggest complaint I've heard is that your lens selection will be limited, so be sure that you'll be able to get the right lenses for the job (long telephoto, low f-numbers).

Your biggest problem though is going to be that $1000 isn't really enough to get the types of lenses that will really do a good job on sports shooting from long range, particularly for the indoor basketball. Not unless you're able to move around and get much closer to the action. You will certainly see a big improvement over a p&s though, so my suggestion would be to get started with whatever you can afford and use it as best you can, and then save up for one or two really nice and fast telephoto lenses. Perhaps a powerful external flash could help in the meantime.
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Old Feb 15, 2007, 12:21 PM   #3
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You have a very challenging request. 90% of my photography is sports related so bear in mind when you read my post I have high standards when it comes to quality sports photos. The key for you is going to reside in your level of expectation regarding the quality of your results. An entry level DSLR will get you much better sports shots than any digicam on the market BUT you have to spend some money on the lenses. And in some cases - especially low light sports, those lenses can be EXPENSIVE. In that same vein, you are not going to be able to buy a single lens that will allow you to shoot all the sports you specified. Such a lens doesn't exist.

Now, I agree with Corpsy, while Pentax makes excellent cameras, for sports shooters I recommend Canon or Nikon cameras. The reason is the cameras perform very well for sports shooting (Those 2 systems control 99.9% of the pro sports shooting market) and they have the largest range of AUTOFOCUS lenses available for them.

Now from the two camps, from a sports camera standpoint, the cameras stack up like this, IMO:

Canon 30d, Nikon D80, Canon 400D, Nikon D50, Canon 350D, Nikon D70 (The d70 is so far down because of it's poor performance at higher ISO - a necessity for sports shooting. Other camera features would place it higher in the list from an overall standpoint but strictly speaking as a sports shooting tool the ISO performance really drops it down). Strangely enough that's also about how the price points fall. We can come back to specifics later, for now I just want to let you know what you're getting into.

OK, regardless of which system you buy: canon or nikon, the lens REQUIREMENTS for each sport are the same.

The biggest thing with regards to lens requirements are:

1. What is the appropriate focal length for this sport given where you're shooting from

2. What, if any, is the minimum aperture requirement. Aperture will directly affect what shutter speeds you are able to get. The lower the light levels the wider the aperture you need to get acceptable shutter speeds (acceptable is 1/320 minimum and 1/500 desired).

Baseball - Recognize that if you aren't allowed to shoot from the field and there is a fence, you'll have to shoot right up at the fence to be able to focus properly. If they're young and there is no fence then you don't have a problem. For tball you can get away with a 200mm lens. For every level above that you really want a 300mm lens. Now people will say, little league fields are smaller than high school - true, but your subject is also smaller. So, in the end you need just as much reach to fill the frame with your subject. If you're shooting day time games you can get away with consumer zoom lenses with aperture values of 5.6 without a problem

Football / Soccer - you need to be able to get to the field for good shots in these sports - period. Shots from the stands will yield too few decent shots. Certainly not enough IMO to justify spending $1000 or more on equipment. If I gave you pro level equipment and you shot from the stands the results would still be poor - you're too far away and the angles are wrong. Someone with a digicam on the sidelines could get better photos. For these sports you need REACH. How much? Let me say this - for a quality sports shot, a 200mm lens (on a Canon or Nikon camera) will yield quality results for about 25 yards. A 300mm lens gives you about 40 yards of reach and 400mm gives you about 50-60 yards of reach. That's it. So, if you're shooting from outside a fence that's 15 yards off the sideline of a football field with a 200mm lens - now suddenly you really only have 10 yards of action you can cover. Guess what, that means something happening between the hash marks is too far away to get a quality shot. Forgetting about all the players and officials in your line of site. So, keep that in mind too. Your success in getting quality results for these sports will be directly linked to how close you can get to the field - right on the sideline for football and right off the touchline for soccer is key. Again, good light you can get by with a 5.6 lens. BUT, if you're talking night games under lights (HS football and at least in my area HS soccer are both played at night) you NEED a lens with 2.8 aperture. That means EXPENSIVE. The least expensive lens option for EITHER system is the third-party Sigma 70-200 2.8 lens. That lens costs about $850 and remember it's stil only good to about 25 yards. Which isn't very far.

Basketball - completely different subject. Here, aperture is more important than reach. To shoot basketall effectively at levels below college (where the lighting is good) you really need to use apertures of 2.0 or better. This means PRIME lenses - which do not zoom. A common lens from either system used from courtside shooting is an 85mm 1.8 lens (approx $350-$400). A budget lens is the 50mm 1.8 ($75 canon $110 Nikon). But that lens is only good for about 15 feet. It's really only good for shooting from under the basket and getting action close to the hoop. If shooting from the stands (much better success rate than shooting from stands for outdoor sports because these stands are close to the action), 85mm is the minimum and 100mm or 135mm is a better choice. At least in the Canon system, the 135mm 2.0 lens is $1000.

Since I'm a Canon shooter I'll give you some lens recommendations for that system. Similar lenses are available in the Nikon system (the sigma lenses listed are available for the same price in both system mounts).

Field sports:

Sigma 120-300 2.8 (what I use but way beyond your budget at $2200)

Sigma 100-300 4.0 for good light only (skip this if night shooting) for $1000

Canon 70-200 2.8 ($1100)

Sigma 70-200 2.8 ($850) - pretty comparable to the Canon/Nikon - about 95% of what the canon/nikon gives you for several hundred less.

Canon 70-300 IS USM 3.5-5.6 ($550) - great choice for good light shooting enough reach for all your outdoor sports as long as it's daytime and not heavily overcast.

Sigma 70-300 (<$200) - fairly sharp especially for the price. But not as good as the Canon/Nikon versions and relatively slow to focus. Unlike the 70-200 this one isn't as close to the canon/nikon lenses mostly due to fous speed.

Basketball - Canon 85mm 1.8 ($360) from courtside.

50mm 1.8 ($75) if you can shoot from baskeline under the basket. Not as much reach and slower to focus than the 85 but for $75 it's a great starter basketball lens as long as you can shoot from the baseline. If you're shooting from the stands, the 85 is good for the first 2 rows only. After that, the 100mm f2 ($400) and 135mm 2.0 $1000) are the lenses of choice.

So, just wanted to give you some additional info to chew on. To get GOOD sports shots you need the right lenses for that sport AND you need to be able to get to the right place. Only then do you have the POSSIBILITY to get good shots. Actually getting those good shots is dependent upon your ability. And let me assure you, sports shooting is tougher than it looks. There is a lot of technique involved.

Now, there are plenty of people out there that don't want to spend that kind of money on lenses and don't want to or can't get close enough. To them I suggest buying a digicam. A dslr with the wrong lens or from the wrong location will still yield poor results. You can spend $350 - $500 on a superzoom digicam and get equally mediocre results. So why spend extra money on a DSLR?

But, if you get in the right place and have the right lens you can get shots like these which no digicam is ever going to give you:

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Old Feb 15, 2007, 12:26 PM   #4
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I was in the same boat as you only a few months ago and I decided to move into dSLR land. Corpsy has already given you some good information so I will try to add to it.

Brand: Nikon or Canon as Corpsy stated. I went with Canon because after looking atseveral sports forums online, they were dominated by Canon users. The PMA show is next month and the manufacturers will announce new cameras at that time (or a little before), so you may want to wait to see the new models (and the price drops of previous models).

Camera bodies: I was originally going to buy Canon's entry level dSLR, however I was told that the 30d was a much better "sports" camera (higher ISO capability and faster frame per second capabiltity to name a couple) as well as just more durable. I encourage you to read the reviews that Steve has on this site and visit the sports forum as well to see the quality and equipment used if you have not already done so.

Lenses: Baseball, football and soccer can be accomplished with the same lense. A 300 mm zoom lense would be ideal IMO, however, the right 300mm lense will be dictated by your budget and whether you shoot in day or night games. A large, constant aperature (read "fast") lense will allow you to shoot night games butmay get outside you budget fast! A smaller aperature lense will cost less but will limit you to daytime games. The larger, faster, more expensive lenses will also allow you to isolate you subjects by throwing the distant backgrounds out of focus.

Basketball will also require large aperature lenses, i.e. f/2.8 and larger, but if you can get relatively close...say the first or second row of stands...a good lense can be had for around $350.00. If you can't get close it gets more expensive.

I would determine the shooting conditions, read reviews on both bodies and lenses, visit the sports forums, and take a look at your budget. A dSLR will certainly get you shots that a digicam never could, the expense is just a bit greater. There are others that are certainly more knowledgable than I, so hopefully they will chime in.

Hope that helps.


I see JohnG beat me to the response!
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