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javacleve Oct 7, 2009 11:33 PM

Further questions about the Canon XSi
I initially posted this in the last thread about Canon XSi vs NikonD5000, but thought it might be better to start a new one because my situation is a little different.
I had SOME sports photography experience (amateur) many years ago, with an Olympus OM2N. I miss that camera! Well, I still have it but it can no longer be repaired. :( So I have a little idea of the challenges...
I also own a Nikon N80, with a Nikon 28-85 mm lens, that I have not been all that thrilled with. I hate the autofocus! I guess I'm used to the OM2N, but it seems to me that the autofocus just delays the shot, especially in low light (which seems to be what I am mostly shooting in lately). It seems too front heavy to me, also, and hard to hold steady (I got a little tripod but it's not always practical to use that!). It's such a bulky, heavy camera in general, I almost never use it...
I also was not thrilled with the flash, in that the onboard one is wimpy but the added one makes everything so bulky.
As for a digicam, I have only owned P&S, and am looking to upgrade to a DSLR for 2 reasons: 1, I abhor the shutter lag on my P&S (which is not one of the better ones, I admit--currently I have the Nikon L14)--have missed soooo many shots because of it; and 2, my daughter just made the gymnastics team so I'd like to be able to take better photos during meets. This poses the extra challenge that they are held indoors. I don't expect professional quality photos, but I'd like something that isn't soooo grainy and blurry.
Steve did not review the L14, but reading the L12, he seems to think the flash and lowlight capabilities of this camera are pretty good (and I have not been impressed), so I don't know what to think now of what he says!

I am so confused by all the issues with digital cameras--the noise, moire, etc. I understand f stop and ISO, but it doesn't seem to directly transfer to the digital realm (because of the noise issue).

I am leaning towards the Canon XSi from all the reviews but I am not really clear how it will do under my stated circumstances. I know the lens makes a difference...I liked your description of the available lenses in the other thread, John G (and would go with the $600 one) except for the added concern of low light. Any thoughts on that?
My other consideration is the Nikon D80 because it seems to have less noise at a higher ISO, BUT I'm kind of "gun shy" about the Nikons now!
My favorite lens with the Olympus was a 50 mm f1.4 with macro focus, btw. I'm spoiled by that--anything like it for a dSLR??
Sorry for the long post!

javacleve Oct 8, 2009 12:14 AM

Just want to add, I started reading the long thread "which p&S should I buy..." after 17 pages, though, my mind is spinning a bit.
I am really impressed by what I saw with the Sony A230, which I had not considered before this.
I would be happy with the cruise photos!! So, if you are saying that you need a DSLR to get good photos in low light--perhaps my standards are lower!?

I like the Canon sensor cleaning system, but I wasn't too impressed with the example photo (in the other thread), so I guess a clean sensor doesn't mean much!
I don't see a review for the A230, any comments on the weight, ergonomics, shutter lag (BIG ISSUE for me) and flash performance? Battery life? Ease and cost of media use (the Canon uses the standard available media)?

javacleve Oct 8, 2009 12:53 AM

3 Attachment(s)
It is late, so I am finding new questions while hoping for a reply :wink: I found a review of the A230 on another website, and was not that impressed with the higher ISO performance. See attached photos...
I think this is my issue with digicams in general. They LOOK digital to me (other than at, say ISO 200 max). Maybe I should stick with my film??

littlejohn Oct 8, 2009 1:52 AM

Well I used to use the OM-1 I know what you mean about focus. I could focus that sucker..LOL it has a split and a prism for focusing.

I am also using the A230, and wasn't all that happy at first. I found that the 55-200 lens produced sharper images. Then a member here suggested changing settings,contrast, Saturation and sharpness made a nice differance.

That's some of the advantages of digital. Plus there is the thing called Post Processing (PP) which allows you to (and spend more time) adjust the become the lab too! :D

There are several pics here by folks who use this series of camera (A200) Tullio has some awesome pics from the A200 (an earlier version).

There is a wealth of expertise here and surprise surprise, their opinions differ too. But generally, there is a common thread and on being is to provide beginners help and guidance.

Take a good look at the A230, play with one while reading here. And based on your experience, you'll decide whether the level that the A230 provides is sufficient, or will you want to up it up a notch.

I can wasn't this much fun...

JohnG Oct 8, 2009 9:32 AM


In general, any DSLR on the market will have very minor shutter lag in good light. When taking AF out of the equation they are all so close as to not be able to tell the difference. Now, every camera on the market is going to have more trouble focusing in low light. There are a couple factors which impact this:
1) camera itself. Everything else being equal some cameras do better than others in low light.
2) aperture of lens - f2.0 lets in twice as much light as f2.8 and 8 times as much as f5.6. So guess what? A camera using an f2.0 lens will generally have a better chance to focus than a camera using an f5.6 lens in low light.

Now, in many situations, the problem can be aided by focus-assist - this usually requires the use of flash. The focus assist beam throws a bit of light on the focus area helping the camera to focus faster. Still not as fast as bright light but faster than no focus-assist at all. So, when using an external flash in normal shooting situations foucus performance should be good across all platforms.

Now, here's where things get difficult - gymnastics. Gymnastics has a whole mess of issues associated with it. First, you are universally NOT allowed to use a flash during gymnastics. So, forget getting extra light and in many cases forget focus assist.

Second - distance. For people that never shoot gymnastics this is something they completely overlook. At low light, high ISO you simply cannot do major cropping of sports photos. They end up looking terrible. It's a combination of noise and focus inacuracies from shooting too far away. Combine that with the fact the aperatus are spread throughout the gym AND as a parent you are usually restricted on where you can go.

The two of these things make it very difficult to get good shots. Assuming you're in a gym with no windows/skylights. Expect proper exposure settings to be f2.8 ISO 3200-6400 and shutter speeds around 1/250-1/500. Below collegiate level that will be the norm. Now, you can use an f2.0 lens to use a lower ISO BUT guess what? That means prime lenses. Getting a 200mm f2.0 or 1.8 lens will set you back about $4000. Canon has a 135mm 2.0 lens for $1100. But 135mm isn't long at all. As an example, if you stood at the starting mark for vault and took a photo of the vaulter as they hit the vault you'll need a 200mm lens to do it. Not on the floor and in stands instead? Are you closer or farther away? Let's say vault is close but beam is another 20 feet away. Now 135mm just isn't long enough. Canon & Nikon have 85mm 1.8 lenses for about $500 or less but you need to be within 25 feet for an 85mm lens to be effective. If you have floor access and can move to each aparatus you can make that work. If you are not then you CANT. If you are in stands at a HS gym you can get SOME shots with a 200mm f2.8 lens but not all - Floor will absolutely have too much outside the reach of your lens (if you're right at the edge of the floor you can shoot side to side with 200mm - barely). And it's likely only 1 or 2 aperatus will be close enough for you to reach with the 200mm. Your best hope is that is beam or bars as they offer the best opportunity for easy shots. If it's a gymnastics gym or studio you're in worse luck. Lighting is much worse there (that's where you get into the ISO 6400 f2.8 1/250 range). And there you are often more restricted in the location of seating.

So realize, unless you have floor access you have a severe disadvantage no matter WHAT gear you're shooting with. You have to decide if you still want to invest thousands of $$$ to get limited shots under those circumstances.

If you do, you want the best AF capability, Best iso 3200-6400 capability and best AF lenses you can afford. And, if you are NOT on the floor then the shorter primes will be too short to get good shots. That forces you into an f2.8 zoom which forces you into cameras with ISO 3200-6400 capability.

IF, big IF, gymnastics is still important to your shooting and you can accept all the obstacles in your path here are my camera recommendations:
Canon T1i - the xsi only has ISO 1600. NOt good enough - the T1i is the lowest canon model which gives you a decent shot of gymnastics shots from the stands.
Of course the Canon D40,d50,7d are all options too but more expensive.

Nikon D90. The af systems in the lower nikons are stripped down - I wouldn't trust them for low light sports. Of course the D300 is a great option and if you're made of money the D700 is probably the best semi-pro camera on the market for gymnastics work (the D3 being the best).

Sony - A700 only. Lower level models are completely unproven IMO as low light sports cameras. The older models with CCD had poor focus and bad high ISO performance. With the latest models Sony has improved that but it is unknown how well they do. Be very careful of people claiming otherwise unless they have low light sports photos to show you. But realize lenses for sports use tend to cost more in Sony ($1100 for Canon 70-200 2.8 but $2,000 for the Sony - yes sony has IS but IS is not useful for sports. You could get the Canon 70-200 or Nikon 70-200 2.8 IS/VR lenses for the same price as the Sony if you wanted IS for non sports work. As a sports photographer I opted for the non-IS Canon version. That extra money saved was better spent in other areas IMO). But I've seen great work from the A700. It's the only non Canon, non Nikon camera I can say that about. So if you can swing it and don't mind the cost of Sony lenses it can be a great solution.

Pentax, Oly - I would not recommend any camera in these systems for gymnastics. The E-3 MIGHT be capable but I have seen very little sports work from it and nothing near as challenging as gymnastics. Pentax - their K-7 MIGHT be OK but the jury is still out. I still haven't seen more than 2 photographers do any decent sports work with it. The jury is also out on how the focus drives on the SDM lenses compare to the drives in Nikon and Canon lenses.

That's it for now - gotta run.

JimC Oct 8, 2009 10:22 AM


Originally Posted by JohnG (Post 1007024)
...But realize lenses for sports use tend to cost more in Sony ($1100 for Canon 70-200 2.8 but $2,000 for the Sony - yes sony has IS but IS is not useful for sports. You could get the Canon 70-200 or Nikon 70-200 2.8 IS/VR lenses for the same price as the Sony if you wanted IS for non sports work.

Errr... Sure, stabilization isn't going to help for sports use, because you'll need faster shutter speeds to freeze action. But, let's check prices at a reputable vendor for 70-200mm lenses to see how they compare. The Canon non-IS lens is less expensive. But, if you want stabilization, you'll pay more for Nikon or Canon lenses.

The Sony is the least expensive option in a major camera manufacturer's 70-200mm f/2.8 lens if you want stabilization (since it's built into the camera body), unless you're looking at gray market product. ;-)

$1329 for Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

$1949 for Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

$1949 for Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VR AF-S

$1799 for Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM

You could also use third party lens like the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM (around $800 now) on any of these bodies (but, it would be stabilized on a Sony dSLR body, with no stabilization for it on Nikon or Canon bodies).

javacleve Oct 8, 2009 10:43 AM

John G, you hit the nail on the head, re: the challenges of gymnastics photography. In our case, we do have a glass door which lets in a wee bit of natural light (but obviously only during the day). The photos I have taken with my L14 have that pixelation discoloration (don't know the technical term for that) which bugs me with digital photos. The ones I took with my Nikon N80 were just dark, but the lens is only f2.8 at the wide end; f4 fully zoomed (I don't recall what film speed I was using; most likely just 200, although I did have 800 at one point, I don't remember if I used it in that session).
Now, my question for you would be--you are saying you really need a 200mm lens for vault if standing on the that in order to get the most clear, crisp, clean and professional looking photographs possible?
I ask that, because I do want photos that are cleaner than what I've gotten, but they do not have to look as good as yours do! :wink:
I do agree with you about the ISO needs, though...that is what I was saying about the photos looking "digital." The reviews I've read put the Sony A230 at about 400 ISO max for clean photos; whereas the Canon XSi seems to go up to 800, and the Nikon D80 to 1600...ergo my consideration of the D80.
I am still interested in IS because sports are not the ONLY use of my camera, so there will still be times when I will want it.
I cannot afford $1000 for just the lens, however.
So, do I give up on gymnastics photography altogether? Or, is there a compromise which will allow me to at least take better photos than I have been with my Nikon L14, whilst gaining other advantages (such as eliminating the shutter lag)?
Is there a dSLR with a usable manual focus?!

javacleve Oct 8, 2009 10:46 AM

One more clarification: the reviews on the Canon T1i haven't impressed me, or is there another "Ti" model that I might be confusing with this one?

JimC Oct 8, 2009 10:53 AM

I think you'll find that the Nikon D80 doesn't do any better than the entry level Sony models in the noise area (taking retained detail into consideration), given similar camera settings (like the Sony A230, the Nikon D80 uses a Sony 10MP CCD Sensor, only the D80 is an older model with less advanced image processing).

If you want better high ISO performance with models using a Sony sensor, look at cameras using a Sony 12MP CMOS Sensor instead. In the Nikon lineup, models using this sensor are the D5000, D90, D300 and D300s. In the Sony Lineup, you'd want to look at models like the A700 and new A500 (it should be hitting dealer shelves in the U.S. within the next 2 weeks).

As for reviews, make sure you're looking at images in controlled conditions. Also, take detail retention into consideration when comparing noise levels. Newer camera models tend to have more advanced algorithms for noise reduction compared to older models when shooting JPEG (but, most newer models are "tunable" as to how much noise reduction is being applied, so that you can make a decision on the best compromise between retained detail and noise).

littlejohn Oct 8, 2009 10:59 AM


Originally Posted by JohnG (Post 1007024)
1) camera itself. Everything else being equal some cameras do better than others in low light.
2) aperture of lens - f2.0 lets in twice as much light as f2.8 and 8 times as much as f5.6. So guess what? A camera using an f2.0 lens will generally have a better chance to focus than a camera using an f5.6 lens in low light.

John that was a well thought out post, very informative. I for one appreciate the time you invested in creating it.

Your point #2...was worth the entire read, IMHO...I assume there is a math formula somewhere for this. Is there also an example that you know of that illustrates this? For instance how much difference does 2 time more light make in a photo? (once you get up of the floor from laughing that is...:D)

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