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Old Nov 1, 2007, 7:31 AM   #1
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I am a novice photographer but would like to start taking digital pictures.

My son plays college lacrosse and I wanted to start taking some nice action shots of him playing. I have been to all the stores and was actually looking the the following cameras:
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18
Sony DSC-H9

I like the Panasonic because of it 18x zoom but am looking for some help from the pros. Help me decide on one of these or let me know if there is something I should be looking at instead. I would like to stay in the price range of these cameras.
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Old Nov 1, 2007, 8:54 AM   #2
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To a large extent your success with any of these cameras will depend on how close you can get to the field. 18x zoom may SEEM like a lot but in reality for sports work it isn't. Especially when you're shooting from the stands.

I know both the S5 and the H9 have a LOT of happy owners. I haven't heard much about FZ18 nor have I seen many reviews. From a spec standpoint the fz has the edge in reach which will be very beneficial but other than that it comes down to the points I'll make below.

But here's the critical piece that will be missing from almost ANY review and from most users: how does each of these cameras perform shooting ACTION. I am primarily a sports shooter and I can guarantee you that shooting action is completely different than shooting stills. Cameras that are fantastic at still shots - sharp, responsive etc - fail at shooting action. Why?

Several reasons.

1. Lag time - you press the shutter and a second later the camera fires.

2. Can't get fast enough shutter speeds - this is more evident in marginal lighting. None of these cameras will get you usable shots in night games under the lights - but some cameras do poorly even in overcast conditions. It's a limitation emposed primarily by the lack of usable images at higher ISOs. With the lenses on these cameras you could find yourself shooting at ISO 800 in overcast conditions in order to get shutter speeds fast enough to stop the action. Both the Sony and Canon use the same sensor but it appears sony applies more in-camera noise reduction. Some people like that and some don't (as they prefer to remove the noise in software).

3. Poor continuous / servo focusing. This is the toughest one. The other 2 can and often are tested and spelled out in reviews (DP Review has shutter lag timings in their reviews as well as side by side high ISO shots of the Sony / Canon for you to look at). But no one outside sports shooters really tests the servo focus ability of a camera. Neither Steve here nor Phil over at DP Review do any type of testing against moving subjects. And it's critical to success. So the best advice is to see if you can find anyone here or on other forums that is using one of these cameras to shoot field sports (lax, football, soccer, etc) and see their results. That way you can judge for yourself how good they are. I will caution - you really want to see a whole gallery. Even a blind squirrel can find a nut as they say. So just because someone has one great shot if the other 4000 they took suck it's not a good recommendation from the camera.

4. Frame rate - how many photos can you take when using continuous focus. For instance in Phil's review of the Canon he states the s5 has a continuous rate of 1.5 frames per second - BUT when you use the mode that engages continuous focus (which you need for sports since your subject will move quite a bit in 2 seconds time) the frame rate drops below 1 frame per second. But no comment about how accurate the mode is. For the Sony there was no discussion about continous focus that I could find.

Bottom line - I'm sure at least the Canon & Sony would be great superzooms for general photography (again I haven't seen anything on the Panasonic) BUT you really want hands-on opinion of someone whose used one of these cameras for sports use - if the camera can't track the subject well and given the slow burst rates you'll get some pretty poor results for sports use. Digicams in general have been getting better the last couple of years but the servo focusing is really a niche thing - sports and some wildlife shooters need it. So it isn't a feature that gets a lot of attention from the digicam designers - it's such a small market since most sports shooters use DSLRs.

Sorry I don't have a specific recommendation but hopefully I've given some useful tidbitts to help in your search.

Good luck!
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