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04-14-2011, 08:32 PM   #1
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Sports Photography

Hi everyone,

I'm using a K7 to take photos of my daughter whom is a figure skater and I have been having trouble getting quality photographs. I want to blow-up to 8" x 10" size. I've been getting poor pics with a lot of noise and and very grainy results! I'm wondering if someone more knowledgeable than I can advise? The lens I'm using is a proprietary SMC DA 1:4-5.6 50-200mm ED WR

It has been a perplexing problem for me and the lighting conditions are not ideal in the arenas and are particularly challenging especially in concert with a high shutter speed that is required due to the fast motion/movement of the subject matter. No flash is being used as the subject matter is too far away. Because of the speed of the subject matter, it's important to take shots in continuous shooting mode. If anyone has experience in sports photography in poor lighting conditions I would greatly appreciate any suggestions on camera set-up to achieve quality results. Also, would it be better to take photos in Raw or JPEG format?

My camera Settings are as follows:

ISO Sensitivity ( Auto Setting): 200-800
Exposure Mode: TAv (Shutter and Aperture Priority)
Shutter Speed: 1/250 ( I would prefer a faster speed)
Program line: high speed priority
File Format: JPEG
JPEG Recorded Pixels: 6 Mil
JPEG Quality: Premium (4 stars)
Shake Reduction: on
Metering: Center-Weighted
AutoFocus: AF.S
AF Point: Center
Image Finishing Tone: Bright
Exposure Compensation: +4
Continuous Shooting mode: (Hi)
White Balance: AWB Auto
Highlight Correction: Off
Shadow Correction: Low
Distortion Correction: Off
Lat-Chromatic-Ab-Adj: Off
HDR Capture: Off
Digital Filter: Off
Extended Bracketing: Off

Many thanks in advance,


04-14-2011, 08:52 PM   #2
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It's a common problem and the answer at one level is very simple; it is:

#1 You need a sensor that is better at high ISO, or at teh very least you need to do some noise reduction on your pictures. RAW is better as it responds better to noise reduction
#2 You need a faster (ie wider aperture) lens with the reach you require

So, if your 50-200 is giving you the focal length range you need, then I recommend you purchase a Tamron 70-200 f2.8. That will give you 2 stops of light (at the long end) over your existing lens. If you only need 135mm then the Pentax DA*50-135 f2.8 would be an option, or the Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 (old discontinued model) as both are much smaller than the giant 70-200 f2.8 lenses.

A body like the K-x will give you a stop better ISO performance, the K-5 probably 1 1/2 to 2 stops better.
04-14-2011, 09:00 PM   #3
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Do you have some samples? Also, what aperture are you using? If you're wide open and at 200mm, then it's at f5.6. We're going to need to see some samples with the exact settings on each shot (shutter, aperture, and ISO). You might want to invest in a faster lens like the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 or similar. With this, you can shoot wide open at 2.8. One thing you can try is set the maximum ISO to 1600 and back off on the exposure compensation. You can also try using center weighted metering. Post up some samples so we can get an idea of what kinds of conditions you're shooting under.
04-14-2011, 09:44 PM   #4
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Yes that EV setting of +4 if baffling. You should not be shooting with such an extreme value.

04-14-2011, 09:51 PM   #5
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For me, typical indoor lighting for sports ends up around 1/500-1/640 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1600. This is usually good for a well lit basketball arena, but for hockey or indoor track and field, you'll have to bump up the exposure in post even more.

Since you're using a lens that's 200mm f/5.6 and you really can't go below 1/500 without blur, you're a bit out of luck with the K-7 and your current set up. You'd have to shoot at ISO 6400.

Definitely think about picking up a 70-200 f/2.8, or upgrade to the K-5 for faster FPS and usable ISO 6400.

If you shoot raw, you'll fill up the buffer faster, but presumably you'd be able to apply noise reduction to your liking for better results. I shoot sports in jpeg, only because processing a bunch of raws is time consuming and unnecessary for my needs.

Also, use manual mode since the exposure won't be changing much at all.
04-15-2011, 12:10 AM   #6
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Unrelated to exposure I know but you might want to try AF.C, it usually goes better with continuous shooting of moving subjects.

To make the best of the gear you have, set a lower shutter speed like 1/125 and try panning as the skater passes close by. Assuming you can get access to ringside. It takes some practice and the keeper rate is low, but it can work.

An f2.8 lens will buy you 2 stops of light over your current lens, if you want to throw money at the problem.

04-15-2011, 12:49 AM   #7
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Panned shots work better for conveying a sense of movement. I took a photo of a fast moving car using a fast sports zoom and everyone said I taken a picture of a parked car
04-15-2011, 12:55 AM   #8
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Another thing you can try is trailing curtain sync if you have a flash that's capable of it. Will give an equally pleasing sense of motion as panning which often works better for fast moving sports action than freeze motion type of shots.

04-15-2011, 07:42 AM   #9
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I haven't shot in these situations so someone else should chime in if these are good suggestions. I have the k20d which has the same sensor.

1) You are going to have to use a higher ISO. Invest in good noise-reducing software (I use noise ninja). ISO 3200 is better than ISO 800 if you can only get the shot with 3200!

2) Shoot in RAW. Gives you the most flexibility in post-processing which can be as much as 50% of making a good looking final image. I use Bibble to process RAW (which includes noise ninja by the way). There are many other options out there.

3) Consider picking up a faster lens. If budget is a concern, a faster 200mm prime with manual-focus can probably be had under $100 on ebay. If you can get 1 - 2 stops faster, it will make a huge difference. You can also use catch-in-focus to setup focus ahead of time and wait for the subject to come into focus and automatically snap the photo. Also, you may be able to get a faster, shorter lens which would help get good, clear photos and you could crop to get the composition.

04-15-2011, 11:38 AM   #10
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I don't know the lighting conditions you're working in, but I know that for indoor sports they are far from optimal. I have been shooting a number of indoor sports and I know I have to shoot at 1/500 or faster to freeze action and prevent motion blur. In january I dis a shooting of a gymnastics event with a K7 and had to go to ISO 1600. Almost all pictures showed too much noise. I already had invested in fast glass (P 50-135 F2.8 & S 70-200 F2.8) so I upgraded to a K5 and now I'm a happy camper.
I don't know if your budget allows you to get a K5 + fast glass, so I think the cheapest and best route you could go is to invest is some reasonable fast glass first. The already mentioned Sigma 50-150 F2.8 to me seems a very good option. Only problem is it's a discontinued model, but maybe you can still find one. With ta F2.8 lens you should able to use a shutterspeed of1/500.
By the way i never use flash when shooting sports, since I think it may disturb the athletes too much. I'm not talking about moms and dads with their small P&S camera's but a big flash like an AF 540.
Hope this helps a bit.
04-15-2011, 11:45 AM   #11
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The 400 dollar option....purchase a used K-X on marketplace and bump the ISO up to 3200.

The 800 dollar option..... Purchase a used Tamron 70-200 2.8

The 1200 dollar option..well, you know what that is.

FWIW, I just got my K5 today and might consider getting rid of my K-X. Drop me a PM if your interested.
04-16-2011, 11:57 AM   #12
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I have bumped my K7's ISO up to 1600 and 2200 and it is easily good enough for prints. Not sure about an 8x10 though. NR software and a faster lens would be my next choice after trying a higher ISO.
04-16-2011, 06:59 PM   #13
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Another thing which might help your photo's is to consider switching from AWB to indoor lighting or tungsten just try the setting to get the most natural lighting effects.
This may speed up your photo's a bit I'd try a higher ISO with panning you can get away with less of a shutter speed if your subject does'nt have to be pin, but that's a matter of taste.
04-16-2011, 08:54 PM   #14
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I am a newbie to DSLR as I have just made the leap from Point-N-Shoots, but I did so for the sole purpose of shooting my sons playing hockey so I've done quite a bit of research. For what they're worth, here are my thoughts:

1. If money is no object, faster glass will go a long way to solving your problem.
2. Not sure what the lighting is like during the ice shows but for hockey, I have had some luck with manual white balancing to the ice instead of AWB.
3. If your daughter is skating on a rink that's also used for hockey, are you shooting through the glass? If so, try shooting from the bench, the glass may seem clear but take a good look at it, it has a pretty dramatic impact and you need all the help you can get.
4. The faster shutter speeds needed to stop the action reduce the amount of time the light has to reach the sensor yielding dark images. Your only options are a bigger hole that lets more light in (f/2.8 lens) or higher ISO and try to fix the noise with software after the fact.

Try some experiments in manual or aperture priority mode...
Start at ISO 1600 with a 1/250 shutter speed and limit the use of your zoom to stay at f/4.5 or below.
Then kick it up to ISO 3200 and run the shutter speed up t0 1/500 taking test shots on each step along the way.
Ignore what you see on the LCD screen. Wait until you get home and play around with the images using the software of your choice (or free demos) and when you get something satisfactory, check the exif data to see what you did. That's the beauty of digital... you can take 300 experimental shots without taking any notes or paying for development and it doesn't cost you a dime.

My hunch is, at the end of the day, you'll still be left (like me) wanting faster glass, but hopefully you'll also have a method to get some keepers.
04-18-2011, 08:35 PM   #15
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Many thanks to everyone with your suggestions and your help. I have tweeked things a bit on my camera based on peoples suggestions but I've decided to take the advice of a few posters and invest in some faster glass. I really believe this is the best solution. Going to have to stick with my K7 as I can't afford to move up to the K5 even with a trade in. Besides, the camera is less than a year old and it would be too much of a loss to trade in.

Now my next dilemma is to choose a good f 2.8 70-200mm lens. I'm leaning towards Sigma glass at this point. don't need image stabilization as the K7 body already takes care of that.

Thanks again to all for your help.


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