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11-25-2013, 04:02 AM - 1 Like   #1
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Shooting soccer with a manual focus $25 lens (surprisingly doable, samples)

Hi,

I decided to save money on a telephoto in lieu of a wide angle lens. I had an occasion of seeing a college soccer game last night and figured I would figure out if it is even possible to manual focus an event like that.

The conditions were pretty poor: F4, ISO 6400, Shutter anywhere from 1/100 to 1/250 at 300mm equiv, it was all artificial lighting.

The lens was a push-pull zoom (very convenient, actually, as you can focus and zoom at the same time!) Tokina RMC F3.5-4.5, 80-200mm. I paid $25 for it. The camera was K-30 in catch-in focus mode.

The bottom line is that I found it easier than with an auto-focus. I spent a lot of time worrying about autofocus tracking capabilities, but, I got pretty much the same number of usable shots and I was limited by shutter speed rather than focusing speed. This is not what I expected.


Last edited by rrstuff; 11-01-2014 at 11:42 PM.
11-25-2013, 04:17 AM - 1 Like   #2
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well, people used to shoot sport without AF for years. So it is very doable, you just need to know how. Just now with the AF, people act like it is impossible to do sports without AF.

ohm ansd the shot's are nice. Good shots for the local papers etc to print .
11-25-2013, 04:24 AM   #3
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Thanks. This is exactly what I thought before buying this lens - how in the bloody hell did people do it in the past. But it really is not that bad, especially with catch-in focus. I think I have fallen a victim to camera manufacturer's marketing, trying to convince consumers we do need a faster tracking autofocus for an amateur use .

I wanted to share this, because this was very unexpected and it might be for others too. I shot a Nikon D1H with a 400mm F2.8 before and I had a harder time getting things *I want* in focus.
11-25-2013, 05:37 AM   #4
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I think you've done very well indeed. I might have to get out and try even though I detest sport.

I might point my daughter to this link. She wants to shoot roller derby (she plays).

11-25-2013, 06:19 AM   #5
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Catch in focus with a push - pull zoom, that's a great use for such an unloved thing. They are generally poor lenses, or at least they have been surpassed by newer zooms, which makes them cheap. But for this kind of work , with CiF, they might be very useful. I've got a box of the damn things somewhere, I shall have to dig them out.
But, my favorite zoom is a Vivitar S1 70-210, which is push - pull.
11-25-2013, 07:09 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by rrstuff Quote
how in the bloody hell did people do it in the past
Well in the past, shooters didn't have the automation of catch-in-focus, so that is a modern advantage you used, rather impressively.

One difference between the old days of shooting film and manual AF for sports is quantity. The number of keepers was less because the total number of shots taken was less. More is better these days according to art editors. Plus the proportion of keepers to shots taken these days, at least on a professional level, is significantly higher. At least that was my findings working for the world's largest sports image licensing agency.

M
11-25-2013, 07:52 AM   #7
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I have always been interested to learn how to do this. But i find the concept difficult.

My problems is estimating the distance to the place you prefocus. And when you are changing all the time where you point your lens you have do this several times.

Second how can you guess where the action is going to be. Of course for football you think that there is going to be a lot of action at the goal, even then you could be pointed just out of the frame. What about the middle of the field where there going to be a cool jump in the air for a header. How do you get that shot?
11-25-2013, 08:43 AM - 1 Like   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Culture Quote
My problems is estimating the distance to the place you prefocus.
Estimating distance visually is a learned skill. Take your camera outside to a larger space like a field or a parking lot. Set up markers or cones, both at delineated spots (say every 20 meters) and at random locations. Setup an audible timer on your smartphone (everyone in Finland has one, right?) and force yourself to run off a lot of shots at both known and unknown distances at a programmed pace. Repeat as needed.

QuoteOriginally posted by Culture Quote
how can you guess where the action is going to be.
That's a matter of learning the game. Which means watching a lot of matches with and without camera in hand. Most sports have a certain flow about them, even though they can appear random and chaotic at first. In soccer, all players have positions and roles; these mandate that action usually will happen in known spaces on the pitch. I'd suggest you train your camera on one player for 5 minutes and rotate this through the lineup. You should be able to get some good shots that way.

M

11-25-2013, 10:29 AM - 1 Like   #9
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RRStuff you have the timing down perfectly. When I was stringing sports for a weekly, I used an original Pentax (first six months' production) and preset 135/3.5 (the lens is in the recent acquisitions thread last few days) for the first few years. I graduated to a film KX and M 135/3.5 when the shutters gave out on the original, then to an SF-1. My eye was getting too much winder thumb damage. Film was usually Tri-X (issued by the paper to us menials).
11-25-2013, 10:48 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Culture Quote
I have always been interested to learn how to do this. But i find the concept difficult.

My problems is estimating the distance to the place you prefocus. And when you are changing all the time where you point your lens you have do this several times.

Second how can you guess where the action is going to be. Of course for football you think that there is going to be a lot of action at the goal, even then you could be pointed just out of the frame. What about the middle of the field where there going to be a cool jump in the air for a header. How do you get that shot?
I can't answer all your questions, but I can tell you what I figured out during the last shoot. Maybe those will be helpful hints.

First of all, at these distances, you don't adjust focus too much. Difference between 12m and infinity on my lens was just a few degrees. Thus, you don't have to change the grip and it helps a lot.

As for prefocusing, I would set the focus somewhere around the middle of the field and put the camera down. I would then observe the game and note when someone was approaching roughly in the area of my focus. I would then just try to get shots and sometimes adjust the focus on the fly. But it wasn't always necessary.

I would use F4.5 most of the time. Mostly because this is the max for 200mm for this lens and because F3.5 at shorter focal length has really bad purple fringing. Perhaps a greater depth of focus made it easier than in an expensive F2.8 lens.

When there was a group of people, zone focusing, even inaccurately, would give me *someone* in focus and some of those shots were still ok.

Finally, the sharpness is not excellent, but it is good enough for small prints or for web use. Most pictures were a bit out of focus, but some of them are close enough, ie within circle of confusion for the intended use, which is pretty big for the web. I took some 250 shots, I would say perhaps 15% of them were good for web use, 10% for 4x6 print and maybe 5% (tops) for 8x10 print at reasonable quality. That included a few shots took at high FPS shooting that were meant to be out of focus though.

I generally didn't do continuous shooting, because it makes it harder to track the action. I did if there was something cool happening, like if there was an obvious and prolonged battle for the ball, or if I wanted to get a sharper image (to avoid the shake after pressing the shutter).

I had to do it handheld and while sat down, but I think leaning on the fence, standing would have been a better idea. I know most people use monopod. I did a few shoots for a college paper and we used a 400mm F2.8 so the tripod was necessary. I found it much harder to track the action, but I also was much less experienced in photography at the time. Perhaps someone with greater amount of experience could weigh in on the use of support...
11-25-2013, 10:54 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Canada_Rockies Quote
RRStuff you have the timing down perfectly. When I was stringing sports for a weekly, I used an original Pentax (first six months' production) and preset 135/3.5 (the lens is in the recent acquisitions thread last few days) for the first few years. I graduated to a film KX and M 135/3.5 when the shutters gave out on the original, then to an SF-1. My eye was getting too much winder thumb damage. Film was usually Tri-X (issued by the paper to us menials).
Must have been an interesting experience. I would imagine it being pretty tough, especially with constant winding.
Do you still do some sport shoots? Did you find it a lot easier with autofocus?
11-25-2013, 11:00 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Miguel Quote
Well in the past, shooters didn't have the automation of catch-in-focus, so that is a modern advantage you used, rather impressively.

One difference between the old days of shooting film and manual AF for sports is quantity. The number of keepers was less because the total number of shots taken was less. More is better these days according to art editors. Plus the proportion of keepers to shots taken these days, at least on a professional level, is significantly higher. At least that was my findings working for the world's largest sports image licensing agency.

M
That's very interesting. I guess I am not terribly surprised - the technological advancements were made for those pros shooting sports and they wouldn't be spending their money if it wasn't for better keeper rate. I do think that using cont. autofocus effectively has a learning curve, because in the past I found shooting sports with it very difficult. It could have been general lack of experience though.

I shot olympus dslrs most of the time and they didn't really have a continuous autofocus. I haven't used it a single time until I bought pentax k30, which I found to be quite capable. I am happy to see it can be fun and reasonbly easy to use manual focus though, because that can save quite a bit of lens money .
11-25-2013, 11:52 PM - 1 Like   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by rrstuff Quote
Must have been an interesting experience. I would imagine it being pretty tough, especially with constant winding.
Do you still do some sport shoots? Did you find it a lot easier with autofocus?
For sports, I used AF with the 50-135 while the SDM still worked, but the little bit I do now, I find that MF is still workable for me. It's a matter of practice, and having changed the viewfinder focus screen to an LL-60 and adding the Pentax 1.3x viewfinder add on. I do miss the 35 mm pentaprisms.

Pre-focus also works quite well for sports such as baseball and softball. Focus on the batter position and wait for the ball to be pitched. After a while you get to know the shutter lag and the ball is near the bat.

One thing I do, a standard practice with rifles, is to shoot with both eyes open. Some never learn this trick, but my left eye sees the whole field and the action that is going on while the right eye sees only what the camera sees. This takes quite a bit of practice, but once you have it, life is good.
11-26-2013, 12:14 AM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by rrstuff Quote
Perhaps someone. . . could weigh in on the use of support...
It's difficult to be dish out one-size-fits-all advice for some kinds of sports shooting. Monopods have certain useful applications: when you are shooting an activity with a very predictable cycle of action in space such as a race on a track, or a marathon on the street. It is also good when you are confined to a bullpen with other shooters. In this case you will be serving as part of a team with a more defined scope of coverage. One partner can cover the infield, while you cover the outfield; you only cover the goal area etc. This works really well with heavy 500mm glass.

If you are a single shooter with free range while covering an action sport like soccer or American football, a monopod can hinder significantly. It prevents you from reacting quickly to vertical action like headers. It also tends to handicap your shooting perspective. I've seen too many DWACs (Dads with a camera) only shoot down on youth players because they mentally and physically locked themselves into that position. Shooting down communicates condensation after a dozen or so shots; when I'm feeling limber I try to mix up my vertical orientation, knees be damned.

QuoteOriginally posted by rrstuff Quote
I would set the focus somewhere around the middle of the field and put the camera down. I would then observe the game and note when someone was approaching roughly in the area of my focus. I would then just try to get shots and sometimes adjust the focus on the fly.
I watch as much of the match as I can through the viewfinder. If I need to check something extrinsic, then I'll use my other eye. The method I aim for is becoming one with the action, almost unconsciously shooting when it matters. That's my objective anyway. It doesn't mean that I only focus on where the ball is, it means that I'm aiming for the space where it is going to be, for example where I feel a header will happen after a goal kick. Of course this can be fatiguing, so I try to mix it up by shooting the coaches or players away from the sudden action.

QuoteOriginally posted by rrstuff Quote
using cont. autofocus effectively has a learning curve, because in the past I found shooting sports with it very difficult.
Yes indeed, the learning curve takes a lot of practice. The key is really good equipment. Sports is one of the few areas where better gear separates the quality of shots among photographers. When I started shooting sports I played around with manual focus but now wouldn't even think about it because it simply slows me down and is exponentially less accurate than a very good predictive AF system. I don't know a single professional that makes manual focus a regular practice for shooting sports. Of course 99.9% of those folks are using Nikon or Canon systems.

M
11-26-2013, 12:19 AM - 1 Like   #15
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Heh... You'd be surprise how easy it is to MF sports.. Sports is more or less pretty much predictable actually.. You've just gotta keep your eyes open..
Practice it twice or thrice and you'll be good to go.. I shoot Ice hockey with my 135mm and even my A35-105/3.5 zoom.. Though admittedly the latter is not that nice an experience due to it being not a push-pull zoom...

Oh, another tip, keep in mind the zone that are in focus in a given aperture... That's where old manual lenses are useful with the distance marking actually..
Then you'll just need to turn a little to the right or left and that's it..

A sharp image shows the focusing plane WIDE OPEN, but since the shot to be taken will be stopped down, it is ok to be slightly misfocused IN-VIEWFINDER, just enough that the subject still lies within your focal plane.. This is where knowing your gear and experience helps..
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