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Old Oct 12, 2008, 8:46 PM   #1
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I have a budget of $600 to buy a DSLR. The purpose of this camera is exculsively to shoot sports events since my point and shoot isn't doing the job. Our family does triathlons, marathons/running, tennis, football, and soccer. I am a newbie to photography so I don't know what to look for exactly. The camera's that seem to fit the budget right now are the Nikon D40 ($469), Nikon D60 ($599) and the Canon XS ($599). I have read wonderful things about the Nikon D40 so I am tempted to get that one but don't really know any better and I am just looking at the budget. All three cameras's come with 18-55 lens so a lens to 200 or 300 would be a follow-on purchase when I have some money.

What should I be really looking at ? In triathlons and marathons which are extremely long events you only have 2-5 chances of seeing the person so please keep that in mind.

THX in adavance.
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Old Oct 12, 2008, 9:14 PM   #2
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Marathons and triatholons are more about placement than anything else. You'll want a position within 10 yards of the runner.

As far as cameras are concerned none of the cameras in your range are going to be great sports shooting cameras. If you could up your budget and get the Canon XSi it would be worth it. If not, then the XS and D60 it will have to be.

I have to set some expectations though. While you can get some photos of the triathalon and marathon (assuming you can get a position within 10 yards of the runner with an unobstructed view) you will not get many at all of soccer or football - and not any of competitive tennis (you could get some in practice if you are shooting from the next court over and shooting the same side of the net - but a kit lens is way too short to get to the opposite end of the court). A 70-200 lens is great for tennis. For football and soccer it depends on the level of play. If you're on a small field a 70-200 is again good for soccer or football. You can actually use a 70-200 for HS football as well just with a very limited range. Full field soccer is another matter - you'll want at least 300mm, preferably 400mm.

Now, the nice thing about Canon or Nikon is combined they control about 98% of the pro sports shooting market. They both have a large selection of lenses PROVEN in the field as great sports lenses. And they both have outstanding bodies from the pro ranks all the way down to Canon's XSi which are capable sports cameras (sadly, Nikon doesn't really have a good low-end solution - the D90 is the first camera up the food chain that makes a good sports camera - but Nikon rules the prosumer sports market with the D300 and D700). Sony brings up a distant third in sports shooting. They're making a push but not quite there yet. In another 5 years they may be there.

But, getting back to your question. You need to understand before you spend your money - sports shooting is very difficult. It is VERY demanding of equipment. The $600 you have to spend will not get you far. It's a start but you better be prepared to spend more money quickly because the lens you get with the camera will not be capable of shooting what you want to shoot. I'm not saying this to discourage you. Sports shooting is great fun. But, people that don't do it completely underestimate what gear is required to be successful. And, I will also add - most completely underestimate how much there is to learn. You will soon learn that the 'sports mode' on cameras doesn't cut it in many instances. Sports shooting is NOT a point-and-shoot type of photography. It takes planning, practice and a very good understanding of exposure. And time learning some basic post processing techniques. Again, I don't want to discourage you, but I run into a lot of parents at games that are frustrated that they aren't getting spectacular results with their new DSLR. And, it takes access. You can't shoot football or soccer well from the stands. You need to be on the sidelines. Even if you're on the ground behind the fence you'll have limited chances to get quality shots because of the distances involved.

So, if you are indeed interested in primarily shooting sports you need to be prepared before you spend the initial $600. You'll need to spend at least another $200 to getmediocre shots (for a sigma 70-300 lens) at soccer and football in good lighting. If you're talking football or soccer under lights that's quite a different - and much more expensive proposition. If you're under the lights you'll need a better camera AND a lens capable of 2.8 aperture - the sigma 70-200 2.8 being the least expensive one capable of the job (tamron makes one but the focus system isn't up to sports use) - at about $850.

Hope I haven't scared you off yet :GBut it's better you know this BEFORE you spend your money.


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Old Oct 12, 2008, 9:18 PM   #3
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The entry level Nikons (D40, D40X & D60) have an autofocus system that's not very good for sports/action/wildlife.

The Canon XTi, XS & XSi and the Sony A200 & A300 would work better and are still within your budget. The XS & XSi come with a stabilized lens, and the Sonys come with a stabilized body. The Sonys also have a kit lens with a longer focal length (18-70mm vs. the Canon's 18-55mm.)
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Old Oct 12, 2008, 9:20 PM   #4
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As TCav mentioned, you may want to add the Sony A200 to your list, too. It's $499.99 now including an 18-70mm kit lens. From tests I've seen, it's got faster Autofocus compared to the D60 (which by the way, uses a Sony 10MP CCD).

But, I'm not so sure a $200-$300 follow up purchase for a longer zoom will cut it for your sports photos (definitely not for the night football games).

For daytime use, you may be able to get by with something like a Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD Macro, keeping in mind that consumer level zooms like this tend to be a bit softer than the pro level zooms (especially on their longer end). It's not the fastest focusing lens around. But, you may be able to get some keepers with it. It's selling for around $159 now. You may also want to check into used lenses. The Sony can use any Minolta Autofocus lens ever made, and vendors like http://www.keh.com usually have a pretty good selection of budget zooms.

For low light use, you'll want a much brighter lens. For example, a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 is a popular budget lens for that purpose. It's selling for around $799 now (although it's not yet in stock at most dealers in Sony mount).

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Old Oct 12, 2008, 9:49 PM   #5
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P.S.

A popular budget zoom is the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO lens (the one John was referring to at around $200).

That would make a good budget choice with a Canon or Nikon model for good light use. But, you'll want to avoid that particular Sigma zoom if you go with a Sony solution. Apparently, the faster AF motors in the newer Sony models are causing a problem with that lens (I've seen numerous reports of stripped gears from Sony users of this lens). Apparently, this Sigma model's build quality is not quite up to the demands the camera bodys' focus motors are placing on it

I have not seen any similar reports with other Sigma lenses (or the Tamron I mentioned). But, until they sort it out, I'd avoid the Sigma 70-300mm lenses for use on a Sony body.

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Old Oct 15, 2008, 2:21 PM   #6
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Wow, what a wealth of information and knowledge. I must say that I am not sure what to think or do anymore. I am not trying to be a pro since I have such a small budget plus the wife is the one that takes most of the shots since I am the one competing.

If I have read into this correctly then I should be getting a Canon or a Sony and staying away from Nikon (I loved the D40 price ? Looks like the Sony A200 is superior when I do a lamens comparison with the Canon XS and Canon XSi but I may be completly wrong again.

I guess lens I need a 200 or 300 which I was already considering. Only thing I can't understand is this body vs lens autofocus.

Thanks to everybody.
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Old Oct 15, 2008, 2:48 PM   #7
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cbarnes2000 wrote:
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If I have read into this correctly then I should be getting a Canon or a Sony and staying away from Nikon (I loved the D40 price ? Looks like the Sony A200 is superior when I do a lamens comparison with the Canon XS and Canon XSi but I may be completly wrong again.

I guess lens I need a 200 or 300 which I was already considering. Only thing I can't understand is this body vs lens autofocus.

Thanks to everybody.
Well, the d60 and d40 are certainly not good choices. As to the A200 being superior to the XSi - I guess that depends on what features you're looking at. From a sports shooting standpoint I don't see that holding water. In other areas maybe. But from a focus perspective and high ISO perspective the XSi is the better camera from what I've seen in the sports shooting world.

As to the body vs. lens autofocus. Lens autofocus is a superior design. The high pereformance pro grade lenses from Canon, Nikon and Sigma all incoporate lens based focus systems. Sony has some lenses with their SSM drive but the majority still rely on camera based motors. Much like Nikon. Nikon's non entry level cameras have focus motors in the camera. But the high performance lenses have their own focus drives. It's faster and more precise. To save money, they stripped the focus drive out of the D40/D60. That means that the lenses that DONT have focus motors of their own (most noticably the non-telephoto prime lenses) will not autofocus on these cameras. In the Canon system ALL focus drive is in the lens. So any lens on a canon body has to have a focus motor in the lens. It's just that some focus motors are better than others (Canon's ring USM and Sigma's HSM being the best).

Sony beefed up their in-camera focus motors but their overal direction of the future is still lens-based drives for premium sports lenses. The probelm is their premium lenses cost quite a bit more than the competition. For example a Canon 70-200 2.8 lens can be had for $1100. You have to pay $1700 for the Sony version. The difficulty in rating the Sony 200 as a sports camera is there are not many people using it as such. So it's very difficult to get a handle on whether or not it is good at the task. The A700 has proven to be - but the 200 is NOT the same camera. You can't extrapolate. So, from a sports shooting perspective it's still kind of an unknown.

I'll also re-iterate a point I make often. Standard review tests almost NEVER test a camera's ability to TRACK a subject. If they tests AF speed at all it's only in initial acquisition. When shooting sports you're talking about SERVO focusing where the lens is constantly adjusting focus. That's where you really start to see differences in focus performance. People who don't shoot sports don't have a good appreciation for how much of a difference there really is.

Let me close by saying this - I base recommendations based upon sports shooting knowledge and what I shoot myself and what I see others shoot. From what I see, The sports shooting world falls along these lines:

Nikon D3

Canon 1dmkIII

Nikon D700

Nikon D300

Canon 40D (50d is too new)

Sony A700 (tie with 40d)

Canon Xsi

Nikon D80 (d90 is too new to have formed an opinion yet)

everything else. I haven't seen enough evidence to recommend any other camera on the market as a good sports camera.


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Old Oct 15, 2008, 4:38 PM   #8
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Because it's difficult to find standardized tests for subject tracking, it's very difficult to judge how well one model compares against another. So, JohnG has a point. At this point, performance from models like the A200 for sports use is relatively unknown.

On the other hand, even Sony's least expensive entry level camera (A200) can lock focus faster than any Nikon model shy of the Nikon D3 in good light with similar lenses (including the D40, D40x, D60, D80, D90, D200, D700 and D300) from some of the tests I've seen, even comparing it when the Nikon lenses used have AF-S. So, it's not exactly a slow camera in that respect, especially for an entry level model. ;-) Once light gets down to around 6 EV (much lower than you'd find in gyms, etc.), then some of the other models can lock faster. See some of the tests at popphoto.com for examples of that ability. Ditto for the performance tests over at imaging-resource.com.

But, Nikon has more sophisticated tracking systems on some of their more expensive models, so that part should be taken into consideration. It's difficult to measure a camera's ability to track a moving subject, which is something those types of tests don't tell you. So, without good user feedback from experienced shooters (and skill level of the shooter is very important), it's hard to say which model does best. Some of the A700 tests I've seen geared towards a camera's ability to track moving subjects in controlled conditions shows that it does quite favorably compared to other cameras (higher percentage of keepers compared to any camera I've seen in those types of tests). But, as JohnG says, you can't really extrapolate, and I have not seen any similar tests with the Sony entry level models yet.

As time passes, and we see more sports shooters using Sony gear (and they're the "new kid on the block"), then we should get a better feel for how well it performs. I think the first models introduced by KM and Sony were a bit lacking in this area compared to some of their competition (although still quite usable based on my limited sports shooting experience). Minolta had a very good reputation for having a very fast AF system with great tracking in their film cameras. But, that same ability didn't make it into their intial digital offerings (Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, 7D, and Sony A100 after Sony purchased KM's camera related assets). They were slower than their film based counterparts.

But, the newer Sony models are *much* faster, and I've seen enough photos of sports with even older models like the A100 (which outperforms my even older KM 5D), that I'd feel relatively comfortable recommending the much faster A200 to users on a tight budget compared to other entry level models.

Also (speculation on my part), from what I've seen of Sony's new AF system in my A700 (and it's my understanding that the A200 uses the same focus motor), I suspect that you'd get faster AF with budget lenses compared to it's competition. That's because most budget lenses in Canon or Nikon mount now have focus motors built in, and most of these motors are relatively slow performers compared to Canon lenses equipped with their ring type USM. So, the speed of the lens is going to be limited by the lens based focus motor speed, no matter how good the camera is.

On the other hand, since similar budget lenses in Sony mount rely on the camera body focus motor to drive them, if the body's focus motor improves (as it did in the A200 versus the A100), you get faster AF with them. For example, I saw a huge improvement in AF speed with my lenses moving from the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D to the Sony A700. As I previously mentioned in this thread, just make sure to avoid the Sigma 70-300mm, as the new Sony dSLR focus motors are so fast, the camera body is stripping the gears in these models from reports I've seen. Other lens models don't have that problem from any reports I've seen (just that one Sigma model). Now, I haven't spent much time with the A200, so it's difficult for me to judge it fairly. But, I have used some of the newer Nikon models, and IMO (which is always subjective), the A700 is faster than anything in it's class.

Is the A200 as fast as the A700? No, based on user reports, even though it's using the same focus motor from what I can find out. Why? Different AF sensor, and the algorithms are probably being limited by the speed of it's internal processing. But, I think you'd be "splitting hairs" in most cases compared to other similar entry level models from other major manufacturers. It's got pretty good bang for the buck for a $499 camera kit. I think we'll probably start seeing a lot more users on a tight budget going that direction as time passes, so we should start geting a better feel for how it performs for sports use.

For a better idea of how much better this Sony model is compared to the older A100 (and I've seen this same thing echoed by other Sony users that have upgraded), see this review, where you'll find some discussion on how this camera really shines for tracking moving subjects in good light, with links to a report using it with the budget Tamron 70-300mm I mentioned earlier in this thread (around $159 now). He discusses his observations compared to the older model in it:

http://www.alphamountworld.com/revie...iew?page=1%2C6

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Old Oct 15, 2008, 5:44 PM   #9
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JimC wrote:
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At this point, performance from models like the A200 for sports use is relatively unknown.
Quote:
But, as JohnG says, you can't really extrapolate, and I have not seen any similar tests with the Sony entry level models yet.
Quote:

Is the A200 as fast as the A700? No, based on user reports, even though it's using the same focus motor from what I can find out. Why? Different AF sensor, and the algorithms are probably being limited by the speed of it's internal processing.For a better idea of how much better this Sony model is compared to the older A100 (and I've seen this same thing echoed by other Sony users that have upgraded),
Jim,

In a nutshell, here's my issue. I appreciate you're happy with Sony. But, by your own admission you have no evidence whatsoever the A200 is a good sports camera. None. The only evidence is "it's better than the 100". I think it's a disservice to push people into a Sony solution when you have no good-faith basis for doing so other than you yourself like Sony.

Whereas there is a wealth of sports material out there shot with the XSi. It's a proven performer. The A200 simply is not proven yet.

Again, I'll admit I'm a canon shooter but I like to think I'm fairly unbiased - after all, most of the cameras I mention as top performers are Nikons. I base that on what I see from experienced sports photographers. Not because I own the camera brand (which, in the case of Nikon I do not).

So, while I respect you greatly, I have to question other than brand loyalty why you would recommend the A200 as a good solution. You don't shoot a lot of action, you haven't used the camera and you admit there isn't much photographic evidence out there to say one way or another whether it's a good camera.

I'm just not a big fan of telling people to be giuniea pigs. If there's a solution that's proven itself in the price range and the person is comfortable with it why on earth take a gamble on something unproven?

In honesty you offer conjecture that makes sony seem like it should be able to compete but there's no evidence to support it.

To the OP I would suggest the following - same advice I give to ANYONE buying gear for sports shooting:

Find people and photos - sports photos - preferably for similar sports produced with the gear you're considering. There are LOTS of people doing sports shooting out there. If you can't find examples of sports shots with a given camera/lens combo from several sources it means one of two things:

1. The combination is unproven - it's too new to market

2. It's not a good solution and those that do sports shooting use a different tool.

If you find a lot of sports shots from a given setup and the quality meets your requirements and the price meets your requirements, why take a risk on something that at best is unproven and at worst isn't as good?

Again, just my opinion. But I don't see how the A200 can be recommended as a sports camera
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Old Oct 15, 2008, 6:10 PM   #10
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John, I've seen lots of sports photos taken with the A100, and the A200 is much faster based on every user opinion I've seen, including the review I just pointed to, where this was said (and I know the reviewer and trust him):

"Tracking moving objects in bright light is where the Sony A200 really shines, keeping up very well with flying birds, soccer players, track events etc. For those first to DSLRs this will be a real treat for them. Getting keeper shots were made pretty easily, and action photography is not my forte'.

http://www.alphamountworld.com/revie...iew?page=0%2C6

I see where he posted some of his BIF photos with it on his site. I'll ask him if he's got some sports photos he can share.

Heck, I've taken some with my old (and much slower) KM 5D for that matter (for example, indoor basketball with it), and it's slower than either of those Sony models (and I know how much faster the AF motor in the newer model is, as it's the same as the A700 uses). Was it the best tool? No. Is it usable for that purpose? Sure, given a bit of practice, and the newer models are much faster. Heck, even Mark1616 used a slower KM 5D with a Tamron 70-300mm for a while, and I've seen him give this lens a positive recommendation for shooters on a budget for good light use here. His major issue with it was detail at higher ISO speeds. Even a slower camera like my 5D can shoot sports. See Steve's old review of it for an example, where you'll find this in the conclusion:

" Continuous AF was quite responsive, being able to keep up with the flow of play on a soccer field"

http://www.steves-digicams.com/2005_...xum5d_pg7.html

The newer model is much faster than that. There's no doubt in my mind that I could get keepers with a model like the A200, and from tests I've seen, it's got a very fast AF system compared to other entry level camera models (and the OP is on a tight budget).

There are probably lots of photos around from it at sporting events now, since it's been on the market for months now. I'll dig around and see if I can find some as time permits. We just don't have any sports shooters here using Sony gear yet and I haven't tried to locate any from it elsewhere yet.

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