Sports Photography: Basic Equipment

Sports Photography: Basic Equipment

Fall sports are getting underway and like every year there are a lot of people that want to start taking sports photos. This is fantastic but there are a few things you need to know about sports photography. Before I get into that I want to say 99% of the time in photography the equipment that you use doesn't matter. Its the equipment behind the camera (ie the photographer) that matters.

Now with that said, the other 1% is the small percentage of photography where the equipment does matter (to an extent). One of those areas is sports photography. Don't get me wrong, can you get awesome sports photos with less capable cameras and lenses? Well obviously the answer is yes, however, it makes it much easier and consistent if you use gear that is better suited for sports photography.

Im not going to really get into what camera body you should use. Personally for me I use a D3, D500 and D300 when I shoot sports. Here are some of the things you should consider when buying a camera for sports.

CAMERAS

The first thing is the autofocus system. You need a camera that has both a good autofocus system as well as can perform continuous autofocus very well. If you have a camera that doesn't have a good autofocus system it will cause you to loose shots due to them being out of focus or just completely missed shots.

The second thing is your continuous shutter speed or frames per second. You should look for a camera that has a higher FPS rate. I typically stick around 6fps or higher for sports. What this allows you to do if you shoot a quick burst you will get more frames and a better chance to capture the peak action. Just a note on shooting bursts I suggest shooting quick bursts of about 1 second at a time.

The third thing with cameras is the shutter speed. There are typically two top shutter speeds one is 1/4000 and the second is 1/8000. For sports I would go for a top shutter of 1/8000. This is because there is a lot of times during day sports there is a need to shoot over 1/4000 especially if you're shooting at a wider aperture (ie f/2.8). 

The fourth thing is ISO capability. While for a lot of college and pro sports you can easily use lower ISO (and still keep a high shutter). Where the problem comes in is with high school. A lot of high schools have terrible lighting that requires higher ISO to maintain high shutter speeds. For cameras today and for the majority of stadiums 12800 should give you a high enough ISO.

LENSES

Moving onto lenses there are two things that I recommend. The first is a good AF system. The majority of new lenses have good AF systems but there are still older lenses that hold up very well with focus speed and accuracy. 

The second thing with lenses is a fixed aperture. A fixed aperture with a zoom lens will allow you to maintain a constant aperture throughout the zoom range. If you use a variable aperture longer lens you will end up with a high aperture zoomed all the way in which can cause you to have to drop your shutter speed or boost your ISO to unacceptable levels.

GENERAL

As far as general equipment goes If you're shooting sports I would suggest two bodies. One body with a medium zoom (ie 70-200) and one with a longer lens (ie 300+). What two bodies will do is allow you to quickly switch lenses if the play comes towards you. You typically dont have time to changes lenses during plays. Now with that being said you can use one body and thats perfectly fine. You just have to be more aware and be prepared to move more. 

A few other general pieces of equipment you should look into are:
-Sturdy, high quality monopod
-Extra Batteries
-Extra Cards
-Strap (personally I prefer Black Rapid)

STARTER GEAR

Now you dont have to spend a ton of money to get good equipment for sports photography. The first suggestion I have is the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 AF and the second is the 300 f4 AF ED-IF. Both are great options and can be found used for reasonable prices. You can find both most of the time on www.keh.com. Another good place to buy used gear is eBay however you have to be aware of who you're buying from on eBay. There are a lot of large stores (B&H, Adorama, KEH, Service Photo) have eBay stores.

You can check out my review of the 300 f4 HERE.

Stay tuned for further posts on sports photography. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.