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Lense suggestions for Martial Arts - Canon Rebel t3i

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Initial post: Mar 1, 2012 5:45:56 PM PST
Amy says:
Just purchased the Canon t3i -- has not yet arrived. Purchased this model after some very well versed Amazon discussion folks provided me with the recommendation : )

Kit I purchased has your standard lense and was suggested that I pick up EF-S 55mm-250mm as well, by the amazon boards.

Any other suggestions?

Will be shooting everyday pics as well as tournament photos for Tae Kwon Do -- usually in a gymnasium with low lighting. Fast action (board breaking takes about 5 seconds from start to finish -- sparring matches last a bit longer but fast action kicks)

Thanks in advance for any assistance

Posted on Mar 1, 2012 6:12:35 PM PST
T. Campbell says:
For low light you want a lens with a very low focal ratio. The EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 is a telephoto zoom, but it's not a low-focal ratio lens.

To "freeze" action you want a fast shutter speed. Generally speeds of 1/500th or faster will freeze just about anything.

The ratio is the focal length of the lens divided by the maximum aperture diameter (the area through which light can pass). If a lens were 100mm long and the clear aperture was 25mm wide then that would be an f/4 lens. To be an f/1.0 lens (nobody makes one of these anymore) clear aperture would need to be as wide as the focal length. The lower the focal ratio, the more light the lens can collect in the moment of time when the shutter is open, and thus the shorter the duration that the shutter needs to stay open in order to get a properly exposed shot.

f-stop values are based on the powers of the square root of two (rounded to 1.4). Each full stop lower indicates a doubling of the amount of light relative to the previous stop. So an f/4 lens (that's the square root of two to the fourth power) collects twice as much light as an f/5.6 lens (the square root of two to the fifth power). An f/2.8 lens collects twice as much as f/4. An f/2 lens collects twice as much as f/2.8. When you sum it all up, an f/2.0 lens collects EIGHT times as much light as an f/5.6 lens. Where am I going with this?

Canon makes the EF 50mm f/1.8 lens... it's about $120. That lens collects roughly ten times as much light as the "kit" lens if the kit lens is set to the equivalent 50mm zoom length. That means if the light was only good enough to let you shoot at 1/50th of a second with the kit lens, then you could take that same shot at 1/500th if you were using the 50mm f/1.8 lens. This is what photographers mean when they refer to a lens as a "fast lens" (fast means it collects a lot of light and allows for fast shutter speeds.)

The 50mm isn't a zoom... that means you'll need to be fairly close to the action. Zoom lenses never have focal ratios better than f/2.8 and those lenses will be very expensive. Basically the EF 50mm f/1.8 lens is a fantastic bargain.

Canon's EF 135mm f/2L USM lens is marketed for "indoor sports" because it's a remarkably fast lens with a fairly good telephoto focal length... but it's not a zoom.

I'd probably start by picking up the EF 50mm f/1.8 (about $120) and go from there.

Posted on Mar 1, 2012 8:24:10 PM PST
iMe says:
I agree with T. Campbell, that you might want to start with a 50mm lens, but I would actually suggest bringing it to the next level, rather than the f/1.8 version, go with the 50mm f/1.4 version, not only will it do a bit better in low light, but it's also built a bit better than the 1.8 version - many have even gone as far as calling it an L-series like lens.

My all time favorite lens for everything is Canon's 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, it is pricey and also an L-series lens, but if you really plan on using your t3i often, the cost should be completely justified. It is perhaps the best all-around lens, and the choice of professionals and media if they're only allowed to carry one lens.

Posted on Mar 2, 2012 6:47:16 AM PST
How big is your gym, and what sort of access will you have? The 55-250 is likely to be way too long, if you have a good spot to shoot from, you will be getting a tight shot of part of the person's face, at 250mm. If you are stuck in bleacher seating, far from the action, a long lens is good, but getting close gets better results, and the lenses cost less. If you are shooting in a typical TKD school located in a shopping plaza, they usually aren't big enough to make use of a 250mm lens. Campbell pretty much covered the subject of f-stop. You want a 2.8 zoom or an even faster prime for indoor sports. The lighting is bad, at best. If you are in a big gym with industrial lighting, you may encounter sodium lights, or some other similar type of lighting that cycles through power levels and spectrum. It's a special challenge. If you shoot slower than 1/60th of a second, it gets much better, but, your pictures won't be in good focus. Flash can fix the problem, but is often not allowed. Black and white will always fix the problem, but feels like admitting defeat.

I shoot with the 24-70mm f2.8L It's big and it's expensive, but it is fantastic for the sort of shots you are looking for. For sports, a zoom is useful. You don't want to be, and often can't be, running around trying to get the angle and the distance. Move back to accomdate your lens, and spectators will fill the empty spot and all you can take pictures of ends up being the back of people's heads.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 2, 2012 8:20:14 AM PST
WRT to starting with the 50mm... If you have the kit lens, see if the 50-55mm range /works/ composition-wise (we all agree it is too slow for indoor action). If 50-55 is too short a lens, you might want to consider the EF-85 f1.8 instead of the 50mm f1.8.

Posted on Mar 2, 2012 8:31:01 AM PST
Amy says:
Thanks to all for current responses!! Lighting at actual TKD school is very large & well lit (several, large full windows -- perfect for belt testing). Tournaments are typically held at local college campuses (state schools & universities with no natural light)

At this point in my daughter's training, I typically sit in the stands @ Tournaments -- as opposed to ringside and tend to sit floorside, front row when possible (which, is likely), which tends to be about 10 feet away from the action

Ideally would like to try to keep spending to under $250 for a lense at this point, if possible

essentially, my goal is to try and capture frame by frame shots of her breaking boards & sparring with the ability to actually capture it and not end up with a blurry mess or missed shots. she also performs at times on the school demonstration team and there is a lot of choreographed routines including self defense, board breaking, etc

Thank you again so much : )

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 2, 2012 12:22:33 PM PST
my goal is to try and capture frame by frame shots of her breaking boards & sparring with the ability to actually capture it and not end up with a blurry mess or missed shots.

3.7fps for stills is not going to be very "frame-by-frame"; most high speed punches are less than half a second. If you go to video mode, you will get 30fps, but at video resolution (2MP), and likely with blurring (video /relies/ upon blurring to give the impression of smooth motion -- otherwise you get staccato effects as the subject "jumps" from one frame to the next).

Posted on Mar 2, 2012 1:38:02 PM PST
T. Campbell says:
I went digging through Flickr looking for any Tae Kwon Do photos shot in a gymnasium that include the EXIF (exposure info) data and just randomly sampled several of them. Some were blurry (shutter not fast enough). At 1/500th you'll probably have no motion blur at all. You could cut the exposure to, say, 1/250th and have modest blur on the parts of their bodies which are moving the fastest (e.g. if they're doing a kick, then you'll get a blurred foot, but sometimes blur is desirable to "imply motion".)

In any case, it looks like the average shot would require ISO 800 with an f/2 or f/2.8 lens. At f/2 you might even sneak by with ISO 400 depending on the lighting. The shots taken with kit lenses (e.g. f/3.5-5.6 variable focal ratio) had slowish shutter speeds... attempting to shoot action would have been blurred (the sample shots I looked at weren't shooting fast action.) For example, I found shots take at 1/80th at f/4.8 & ISO 400. Another at 1/40th & f/4.6 & ISO 250. As I translate exposure to get a fast shutter speed (1/500th or at least 1/250th), I'm able to derive the ISO speeds at various f-stops.

Increasing the ISO speed will increase the "noise" in the image. It's desirable to keep that as low as possible.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2012 6:58:05 AM PST
Campbell, I just added a gallery from my daughters blackbelt test at You should be able to see all the exif data there. I keep all martial arts shots at 400 or faster. You can go lower, but you risk losing focus on the face because the fighter is moving quickly at the wrong moment. I've lost too many otherwise great shots to motion blur to chance it. For kids martial arts, the situation is a bit more controlled, and you can go slower for motion blur on a board break, but, the risk is still there.

And you won't get a rapid fire board break sequence. The actual strike is just too fast for ~4fps to get you anything other than before, during and after, and that will take luck. Most of the time, you will get before and after. For a board break, the person doing the break is focusing their power, and you are focusing your timing. To get the shot just right, you have to read the subject, and time your shot just as the board breaks. You may as well do it in single shot, because the key moment is just too short for anything else. Even 10fps doesn't get the key moment very well.

Yes, increasing ISO will increase noise. If you can't use flash, noise is less of a problem than poor focus and motion blur. Shoot high iso and accept the noise consequence.

Posted on Mar 5, 2012 7:04:50 AM PST
Amy says: has a lot of great TKD pics & they cover most of our tournaments. While they have gotten some great shots of my daughter, they do not capture all shots as of course, they have other competitors to take pics of

Paul - what kind of camera do you have and what settings do you typically use?!i=1342355122&k=ZNhvh59

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2012 8:19:14 AM PST
T. Campbell says:
As an FYI... I checked their exposures. They're shooting at ISO 3200, using an f/2.8 lens (at f/2.8), and 1/250th for some of these action shots. I noticed it's a touch soft (1/250th isn't quite fast enough... but close). But you can see why it's important to have an f/2.8 (or faster) lens... had this been a kit lens at f/5.6 then the best possible shutter speed at ISO 3200 would have been about 1/60th which would have been _very_ blurry for action.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2012 8:50:56 AM PST
about 1/60th which would have been _very_ blurry for action.

But dead on for smooth video <G>

But don't consider a video camera for that lighting... Since the default shutter speed, for smooth motion, on video is the field (interlaced) rate, AND the camera is running that rate with a middling aperture (around f4-5.6) in DAYLIGHT -- the camera sensor is operating at the equivalent of ISO 30 or less (Sunny-16 rule holding the shutter at 1/60s with aperture at, say f8 for bright day... 1/30s @ f11, 1/15s @ f16 => ISO 15)

Posted on Mar 6, 2012 1:59:43 AM PST
Sean says:
FYI you mentioned you sit about 10 feet away from the action...a 50mm fixed lens at that range would barely be able to keep a human's head in frame...for that close up you need a wider lens, like a 16mm, or a 8mm fisheye like I use to shoot action sports (BMX, skating, etc)

Posted on Mar 6, 2012 3:20:15 AM PST
Tom Martin says:
Sean says: FYI you mentioned you sit about 10 feet away from the action...a 50mm fixed lens at that range would barely be able to keep a human's head in frame...

If the human had a 4' tall head!

At 10 feet the field of view from a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera is 4.5' X 3'.

At 10 feet the field of view from a 30mm lens on an APS-C camera is 7.5' X 5'.

At 10 feet the field of view from a 16mm lens on an APS-C camera is 14' X 9.4'.

Posted on Mar 6, 2012 3:36:20 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 6, 2012 3:38:44 AM PST
Tom Martin says:
Here is a link to Tae Kwon Do pictures on Flickr

The Bristol North & South TaeKwon-Do by Suzi Martin (no relation) were taken with a Canon Rebel XT and a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM Lens.

Posted on Mar 6, 2012 9:08:41 AM PST
T. Campbell says:
A 30mm lens on a DSLR body with an APS-C size sensor (which is the vast majority of DSLRs) approximately provides a "normal" angle of view. That means the angle of view roughly corresponds to what you'd see with the human eye WITHOUT looking around.

The human eye can certainly see more if it DOES look around, but if you ahead and try to NOT move your eyes and notice that the detail in your vision sort of falls off as things are too far to the side, this is what we mean by "normal" angle of view. It's what you naturally see without looking around or moving your eyeballs. As such, a photo taken with a camera at roughly that same angle of view seems "normal" -- neither stretched to wide angle, nor compressed & magnified to telephoto.

You can use the 30mm lens as a kind of baseline for lens selection. If YOU can see it without looking around or moving your eyeballs, then probably your photos will "see it" too. If you need to look around to take in the scene, then you need a wider lens. If the action is too far away to see detail and you need a tighter angle of view to enlarge the subject of interest, then you need a longer lens.

The reason a 50mm lens is usually recommended as the first "prime" lens (a "prime" lens is any lens which does not "zoom") is because pretty much every camera manufacturer has a 50mm lens that sells for about $120 (give or take a few) and it's usually the MOST affordable lens in the entire lens line-up. Essentially it's an extremely useful lens to own at a very affordable price point... it's a bargain! Expect to pay more for any other lens you choose.

A fish-eye is a special type of lens. Wide angle lenses comes in two categories.... "rectilinear" is a normal wide-angle lens. It means that any straight lines in the scene will also be straight in the image you capture. Take a photo of a doorway with a rectilinear wide angle lens and the sides of the door will be straight. The top and bottom will be as well. The door might distort into a trapezoid shape instead of a perfect rectangle depending on the angle you shoot, but the lines will be straight. The OTHER type of wide angle is the "curvilinear" wide angle. This is the lens people call a "fish-eye". It does not maintain straight-lines in the scene as being straight-lines in the image. The same photo of the doorway using a fish-eye would cause the sides of the door to bulge into rounded curve shapes.

Fish eye is an interesting effect, but it can quickly become over-used (any effect will become tiresome to viewers if it's used too much.) You probably want to avoid using a fish-eye for your martial arts shots. It might be fun to use for a few shots, but you'll want the bulk of your shots to be have a more natural look to them.

There are other things that change when you change the focal length of a lens. The compression and depth of field of a shot will change radically in a telephoto vs. a wide-angle lens. For example... if I were to take a shot with an APS-C DSLR using a 100mm lens at f/4 and the focused distance to the subject is 15', then everything from 14.6' to 15.4' will be in acceptable focus (the depth of field is just shy of .8') That's about enough to focus on someone's head, but certainly not their entire body. That'd cause a sharply focused face (for example) with the spectators in the background highly defocused (an effect that many would consider highly desirable.) IF, on the other hand, we change the focal length of the lens to 18mm wide angle but leave everything else alone (same focused distance, same aperture, same camera) then everything from 8.5' to 61.3' would be in acceptable focus... a "depth-of-field" of nearly 53'. Changing JUST the focal length altered the depth of field by more than 52' -- leaving everything else alone. So depending on the effect you're going for... you might actually want to shoot from a distance with a longer lens to create "compression" and have a very narrow depth-of-field. (I use an app called 'DOFmaster' on my iPhone to do the calculations... they also have a website if you want to play with different focal lengths and apertures.) Depth-of-Field index marks used to be on nearly every lens in the days of film cameras. Today it's exceptionally rare that a zoom lens would have depth-of-field index marks, but many prime lenses still have them.

Posted on Mar 6, 2012 10:36:45 AM PST
Expansion: any straight line that passes through the center of the frame will remain straight even with a fish-eye lens.

Of course, I'm also rather old-school -- a fish-eye lens means nearly 180deg coverage (at least to the diagonals) which makes most curvilinear wide-angles just poorly corrected (barrel distortion) optics to me.

Posted on Dec 16, 2012 12:25:27 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 16, 2012 12:31:01 AM PST
Brian Kent says:
We shoot 50,000 + images at martial arts events a year. These are frequently very difficult environments to take great shots in. We shoot mostly indoors, but some outdoors as well. This is a huge factor in optimal lens selection. We don't use flash at indoor competitions, so fast lenses are critical. Kit lenses in this environment just won't cut it, so don't waste your time. We shoot exclusively Canon - Cameras and Lenses. Canon 5D MK III, Canon 5D MK II, and a 7D.Because of the rapid movement, its difficult to use a shutter speed below 500, and 1000 is best. ISO needs to be around 1250 or a little higher, depending on the camera/lens combo. At Indoor events we shoot mostly primes. Hands down, the sharpest is consistently the 135mm f/2L. We also enjoy good results with the 85mm f/1.8 USM and the 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. Occasionally, we will shoot a 50mm f/1.4 or a 200mm f/2.8 prime at certain venues. Indoors, the only zooms we can sometimes use effectively are the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 IS USM and the 70-20mm f/2.8L IS USM. But in some venues even awesome lenses these are not quite fast enough to produce quality images consistently. Outdoors gives us much more flexibility. ISO can come down to 100-500 an we can consistently have the shutter speed at 1000+. The f/2.8L zooms are outstanding in the daylight as are other zooms like the 24-70mm f/2.8 IS USM or the 24-105 f/4L IS USM and the 70-20mm f/4L all enable exceptional results. In the daylight any of these L zooms and sometimes the 200mm f/2.8L II USM prime will always yield outstanding results. For standing group shots we rely on the 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. We hope this helps.
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Discussion in:  Digital Camera forum
Participants:  8
Total posts:  18
Initial post:  Mar 1, 2012
Latest post:  Dec 16, 2012

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