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Old May 3, 2006, 5:21 AM   #1
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I am a high school teacher and need to purchase a high quality camera and lens ($1800-$2300) that will take sports photos like the newspapers. Could you please recommend one? The pictures will be used for the high school yearbook and need to be colorful, sharp, and clear. I have some flexibility with the price. Thank you.
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Old May 3, 2006, 5:31 AM   #2
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Bville-

It sounds as if a consumer DSLR camera such as the Nikon D-50 would serve you well and still remain well within your budget. You did not mention if these photos are being take outdoors during the daytime, at night, or indoor in a gym. Can you elaborate a bit please?

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Old May 3, 2006, 5:53 AM   #3
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Thank you for responding. The pictures will be taken both outside on the field and in the gym. We seldom take pictures at night but our area is often cloudy.
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Old May 3, 2006, 7:04 AM   #4
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Bville wrote:
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a high quality camera and lens ($1800-$2300) that will take sports photos like the newspapers. Bville,
Bville,

This is a good news / bad news kind of situation. FIrst the good news, there are several options that will help you shoot sports. The bad news is, you will likely fall a bit short of the 'like the newspapers' goal. Especially for field sports, newspaper photogs typically use a lens like the Canon 400mm 2.8 which costs around $6500 and typically use a pro series Canon or Nikon camera which costs around $3700. So, you'll have to rein in your expectations a little bit.

Now, as mtclimber indicated, some of the entry level DSLRs like the Nikon D50 or Canon 350D will do a pretty good job of basic sports photography. But, to be honest, these entry level cameras are not ideal for sports. As a sports shooter, I can tell you there are several attributes a sports camera body should have that will greatly help:
  • Fast / accurate autofocus[/*]
  • Fast frame-per-second[/*]
  • good burst duration & buffer handling[/*]
  • low noise at higher ISOs[/*]
  • ISO 3200 capability for low light and indoor use
[/*]
There are other attributes that are needed but any DSLR will have them. Both the Canon 350 and the Nikon D50 have some of the above, but they are both missing some key attributes that a sports camera should have: they don't have a good fps burst mode and neither has ISO 3200 capability. If the camera's main purpose is to shoot sports then I think you need to look at the next tier of DSLR:

Canon 20D/30D or Nikon D200. As an overall feature-set, the Nikon is a better camera according to most credible reviews - the one problem, and it's a killer for sports - is the D200 has noise issues at higher ISOs. This wouldn't affect your daytime shots outdoors but will have a large impact on your indoor sports shots which will all be at high ISOs. If you are a Nikon fan, though, the D200 is still a far better sports camera than the D50 so that should be your choice if you go with a Nikon.

For Canon, the new 30D has a few features that make it slightly better sports camera than the 20d (which it is replacing): most noticably it has incremental ISO adjustments at 1/3 stop - so you don't have to jump from say ISO 800 to 1600 - you have several increments along the way. But the 30D sells for about $300 more than the 20D does right now and supplies may still be strained since it's new. If you can swing it, then go with the 30D but if you have to save money - save it here rather than on the lenses.

There are other DSLRs out there from Sony/Konica Minolta and Olympus to name a few, but I don't know any sports shooters that use them so I can't say how they perform as sports cameras. I still believe 90% of the sports shooters are in the Canon & Nikon camp.

Lense recommendations:

Canon: 70-200 2.8 and 1.4x TC for outdoors. There are several threads going around and most experienced sports shooters will tell you if you can only have a single sports lens this one gives you the most flexibility. Don't bother with the Canon IS version - it will kill your budget and the IS doesn't help you at all for sports shots. Your choice should be between the $1150 Canon version of this lens and the $750 Sigma version. I have the Sigma version and it's outstanding. Since you're on a budget I might suggest you consider it over the Canon. The Canon is slightly better but for your purposes and budget the Sigma may make more sense. The Sigma 1.4x TC sells for around $170 I think.

For indoor sports, you need a prime lens. The two most popular Canon lenses for entry level sports shooting are the 50mm 1.8 (a great buy at only $65) and the 85mm 1.8 (around $350).

Nikon: Sigma 70-200 2.8 plus 1.4x TC or Nikon 80-200. Ideally you'd want the Nikon 70-200 VR lens but it costs around $1600 just like it's Canon counterpart. For indoor shooting Nikon also makes a 50mm and 85mm 1.8 lens.

Realize that 200mm is short for field sports so whoever is your photographer, they'll have to work a bit but you have to sacrifice something to stay within your budget and reach is better to sacrifice than lens aperture (i.e. it's better to go with 200mm 2.8 than say 400mm 5.6). And, with the TC you should do OK.

Other equipment that is non-camera specific:
  • Good CF cards - I recommend Sandisk Ultra II or Extreme III cards. Right now the Extreme III cards go for around $100 for a 2gb cards. You'll want at least 2 x 2gb cards for sports shooting.[/*]
  • You will eventually want to look into a monopod. While a 70-200 2.8 lens isn't that heavy in the grand scheme of things, depending on who is doing the shooting a monopod can be a great help.[/*]
  • eventually a rain cover. I have and use the Kata-702 rain cover which costs around $60 I think. Aquatech is the leading vendor but their rain covers go for $200. Kata seemed to have the best quality product for the price below the Aquatech.[/*]
  • Vertical battery grip. A lot of sports shots are taken in portrait orientation - having the battery grip allows you to keep the shutter button at the top - it also allows you to have additional battery power which can be critical.
[/*]
All I can think of off the top of my head. I know, it's a lot to digest - hopefully some other sports shooters will jump in and add things I've forgotten to mention.
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Old May 3, 2006, 6:30 PM   #5
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Dear JohnG,

First, thank you for taking the time to answer my question with such detail and clarity. I have read the information three times and learn something new each time I reread it. Perhaps you should consider teaching. Thank you once again!!
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Old May 3, 2006, 6:44 PM   #6
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Glad to help!
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Old May 5, 2006, 8:29 AM   #7
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John did a great job with his answer. However, keep in mind that you can stay within your budget and still get excellent photos. Just be careful in making lens choices.

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