best lens for basketball pictures? I'm in the market for a new dslr camera and am confused about which lens to buy. I know that I need a good zoom, but am also concerned about the low light and fast movement, not to mention cost. Is the Nikon 18-200 VR the best that's out there?
Hope this isn't too late for you. If shooting in low light and being able stop fast movement is a priority, then the 18-200 may not be the best choice. You can certainly crank up the ISO which will compensate some, but to stop fast action, you need a fast lens. The VR function doesn't stop action, it gives you better stability to compensate for hand/arm movement while shooting.
Depending on what it is you're shooting, that is, by fast action you means sports, you would want to go as wide an aperture as you could. Once you start that direction however, you are certainly into higher costs for the lens. The 50mm f1.8 is a very sharp, fast lens. But it may be too telephoto on a digital camera as it would translate to a 75mm lens compared to 35mm film. Shooting basketball under the basket would not work with this lens. You may have to look at a fixed focus lens that gives you f2.8. There are certainly high-end zooms that will give you the extra stop or two, but it will cost you. And of course there are zoom lenses which as you mention are quite expensive as well.
There are ways of being able to stop fast action, again, depending on what you're shooting. For sports, the trick is to try and capture move as it heads towards or away from you rather than side to side. If you have to shoot horizontal fast action, you need to pan the camera while taking you shot to give you a better chance of capturing your subject in focus. The other way of stopping fast action is to use a dedicated flash. With the newer technologies, the synchronization speed can almost be any shutter speed and a flash firing at a rate of 10,000ths to 100,000ths of a second can certainly stop any action.
The 18-200 is great all purpose lens. You can certainly get good shots by employing some techniques, and you won't have to spend a fortune. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you which one will best suit your style of shooting, but as a general rule, if your style requires a higher percentage of low-light, non-flash shots, then you may want to consider a different lens. You can crank up your ISO to compensate for a stop or two, so the extra $$$ spent may not be worth that. At that point, I think it's a matter of taste. Even the newer DSLR's shooting at ISO1600 can produce some very good shots. It's only when you try to make wall-sized prints that you would begin to see the difference.
The other factor is what are you shooting in these conditions? A lens with a wider aperture will not have the same focal range, so if you're shooting more close-up to medium range, getting the more expensive shorter zoom won't be a factor. If you're shooting more telephoto, then you may want to look at the higher priced zooms (which will run upwards of $1000). If this is for general use with occasional shots at either end of the spectrum, then the 18-200 will do nicely.
Whatever you decide, try out a couple different lens options in a local camera store. Take your own memory card with you so you can take the pictures home before you make your purchase, and see what you think of them. I hope you find something you like and will exceed your expectations! Best wishes.
I don't think you will get good results with the 18-200 VR. I have the Nikon 18-135, and it does not work well inside a gym when the action is fast. VR helps with camera shake but does not help when the subject is moving fast. Please also keep in mind that some gyms are very dark.
I have had excellent results with 50 mm f/1.8 lens and without a flash. If you sit 5 rows up from the sideline, you can pretty much capture the entire lane and the basket (with a Nikon D80). If you are under the basket, you can capture most of the player's body. This lens is sharp, fast, and inexpensive.
I talked to a pro photographer, who was using a Canon 70-200 f/2.8. He has to mount two flashes to get good results. Of course, his results are much better than mine. That's what you get for an extra $4k of equipment and years of experience.