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Zoom Lens for Indoor Sports


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Initial post: Feb 6, 2013 6:32:03 PM PST
Ken Schreder says:
I'm an amateur looking for a zoom lens for indoor swimming. I'm considering the Canon EF 70-200 f/4 IS USM at the top range of my budget. I've read people's posts about "low light" and don't know exactly what that means. I want a lens that will freeze the action. My camera is a Canon XTi and I've used the Tamron AF 18-250 Di II lens. I'm satisfied with outdoor shots but not indoor. Can anyone give me their experiences regarding the Canon lens mentioned above or another alternative?

Posted on Feb 6, 2013 8:34:40 PM PST
S. Owens says:
I'm sorry I don't actually have the lens you mention but I do hear good things about it. The drawback to it is that it is still an f/4 lens and when you are trying to shoot action you still can not get a shutter speed as fast as if you were using an f/2.8 lens and image stabilization doesn't help that.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2013 9:51:28 PM PST
Are you familiar with the exposure triad?

Shutter -- Aperture
\......................./
Sensitivity (ISO)

Changing one of the three will require you to change at least one of the other two to maintain the same exposure.

"Freezing the action" means a shutter speed of of 1/250 for slow action, and 1/500 for faster action. Ignoring "indoor" for the moment, lets also apply "sunny-16"...

Outdoor in bright sunlight: use f16 @1/ISO... Let's assume ISO 100 (typically best quality -- least noise).

f16@1/100 bright sunlight
f11@1/100 bright clouds (distinct shadows)
f8@1/100 heavy haze (no distinct shadows)
f5.6@1/100 dark clouds/stormy day

Even that stormy day is brighter than most indoor situations... Now apply the triad to stop motion...

f4@1/200
f2.8@1/400@ISO 100 Moderate slow action on a stormy outdoor day!

f2.8@1/800@ISO 200

Indoor may need another three to four stops... Or ISO 1600 or faster to support f2.8@1/800.

Note: image stabilization will not do anything for stopping action; it only helps stop twitchy fingers holding the camera.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2013 10:54:44 PM PST
EdM says:
The gear you have is not best for indoor swimming. Typically, unless you have access to a high quality, perhaps Olympic standards pool, the lighting is pretty dim.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swimming_pool#Competition_pools

"An Olympic sized swimming pool (first used at the 1924 Olympics) is a pool that meets FINA's additional standards for the Olympic Games and for world championship events. It must be 50 m (160 ft) in length by 25 m (82 ft) wide, divided into eight lanes of 2.5 m (8.2 ft) each plus two areas of 2.5 m (8.2 ft) at each side of the pool.[21] The water must be kept at 25-28 °C (77-82 °F) and the lighting level at greater than 1500 lux."

More recent Canon DSLRs than your XTi are more capable, leaving aside other brands. The Tamron 18-250 is NOT the best lens for low light. Typically, you'll be using it at/near the long end, where the maximum aperture will be about f6.3.
Due to the large zoom ratio, focusing is typically slower, and due to the xTi, auto-focus is again less capable. To, "freeze the action" means that the shutter speed must be even higher to freeze arm and foot movements. Note what Dennis states about the exposure triangle. Compare:

http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=281364

"XTi Low Light Problem"

"...taking photos in low light conditions (inside on a cloudy day) in AF mode the camera won't focus and take the picture. It tries to focus then says "busy" through the viewfinder...

"You need a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or wider to shoot in low light without flash...

"A "faster" lens (Like a 2.8, 1.8, 1.4 and the best of these a 1.2) would let you take pictures in low light..."

If you _must_ have a zoom lens, then the 70-200 f4 is a "least bad" option for low light, as f4 is just over a stop faster than f6.3. But, it is not f2.8, f2.0 or faster. So, perhaps a last generation and thus lower cost Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras, or maybe an after market similar lens. F2.8 gets you a full stop of light over a f4 lens, or 2+ stops over f6.3.

I shoot indoors in low light, but not swimming. Still, I would prefer a better DSLR, like the 7D which has a very capable auto-focusing mechanism for sports and low light, and a better sensor as to low light ability, as sensors have come a fairly long way since 2006.

Another possibility is to get the appropriate focal length prime lens, like a 100mm telephoto lens Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras of maybe Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens for Canon SLR Cameras.

Looking at the conditions you need to shoot in, the shutter speed needs to be fairly fast, the aperture is pretty slow for what you have, and f4 is only somewhat more than 1 stop better than f6.3, Plus, the ISO needed for the XTi is not so capable compared to more modern DSLRs. Plus, many indoor pools are lit very poorly. So, everything is working against you.

I'd consider a prime telephoto lens or a f2.8 telephoto zoom, possibly updating to the T4i or better. If you work very hard to improve your technique, you may be able to get some decent shots. After all, photographers used to shoot photos with prime lenses and no autofocus back in the day. Still, in those days you had to do excellent pre-planning, anticipating the action and the needed focus to get the shot, and more. Compare this:

http://photo.net/sports-photography-forum/00R6Jn

"I shoot swimming meets quite often with a 70-200 2.8L. I use a UV filter to keep water off the lens. I have never had a problem with fogging. The light in most indoor pools is terrible from an intensity standpoint and contrast away from the lights. I use flash a lot so preset your flash at a 200th in custom functions. You can shoot flash then on AV.or in manual. If your flash shutter speed gets down to a 60th you will get blurring behind the flash image. Without flash watch the contrast as Waterpolo moves back and forth and most pool lighting is uneven. There always seems to be a dark end. Without flash get your shutterspeed as high as possible. I have recently shot meets in the Boston University pool and at Harvard. The light is uneven in both places. If you are on the deck just stand up and shoot a lot of pictures A lot just depends on the light you encounter. Be prepared to correct white balance as some indoor pool lights are very wierd. I shoot RAW and use ACR so I can correct white balance afterwards."

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2013 9:19:05 AM PST
"""
"An Olympic sized swimming pool (first used at the 1924 Olympics) is a pool that meets FINA's additional standards for the Olympic Games and for world championship events. It must be 50 m (160 ft) in length by 25 m (82 ft) wide, divided into eight lanes of 2.5 m (8.2 ft) each plus two areas of 2.5 m (8.2 ft) at each side of the pool.[21] The water must be kept at 25-28 °C (77-82 °F) and the lighting level at greater than 1500 lux."
"""

To put things into numbers...

1700 lux is exposure value 9 (ISO 100). {Blast, my light meter battery is dead, so I can't translate that to an aperture/shutter combo}. The typical office cubical or shopping mall runs 110-220 lux -- EV 5-6.

Using this chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Exposure_Value_Chart.jpg
one can determine that this Olympic pool, at EV 9, would require f2.8@1/60s and ISO 100.

Assuming an f4 telephoto and a 1/500s shutter would give

f4@1/30@100 (aperture/shutter/ISO)
f4@1/60@200
f4@1/125@400
f4@1/250@800
f4@1/500@1600 <= how noisy is your sensor at that ISO?

Assuming office/mall lighting (another four EV levels)

f4@1/500@3200
f4@1/500@6400
f4@1/500@12800
f4@1/500@25600 <= even pro bodies are stretching for this!

Posted on Feb 7, 2013 10:28:08 AM PST
Ken Schreder says:
Dennis, I'm a familiar enough with the exposure triad. I wouldn't be able to explain it like you, but I think that I could figure out what I needed to do by playing with the settings on the camera in order to get the picture lighter. I think that I'll have to play with it a little more in order to test the speeds/ISO's you list above to see what mine can do. I'm guessing that by "noise" you refer to the graininess of the picture. Honestly, I don't know. The information posted above is helpful, but also confusing and technical. And maybe I'm searching for simplicity where none can be found. I can't help but wonder if your standards are higher than mine when it comes to pictures. I understand that our current lens is not great at anything (referring to EdM's comment), but we got if for the flexibility of not having to change lenses and it has served us well. I use the camera mainly for snapshots, but I have blown up a picture that I liked of outdoor swimming. So I'm wondering if a picture that you think doesn't look too good, I would be happy with.

Posted on Feb 7, 2013 12:01:26 PM PST
JCUKNZ says:
I would suggest that a zoom lens and low light is a sort of oxymoron statement. One solution would be to forget about your DSLR and get a Panasonic FZ200 which has a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout its x24 zoom range [ similar to the older FZ10 and FZ20 which may be available secondhand, except they cannot satisfactorilly work at even moderate ISO the way the current bridge cameras can]]. ... a marked contrast to the average zoom lens for DSLR and MFT cameras which loose so much light as they zoom out.
The advantage the DSLR/MFT camera have is that they can reasonably operate at much higher ISO setting than the smaller sensored bridge cameras. I am coming to realise that it is a sort of 'swings and roundabout' situation. I was quite happy with my MFT results shot at 6400 ISO awhile back now. But if you are conscious of noise I doubt if there is an answer for you.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2013 1:07:37 PM PST
Well, if it helps, my two fastest lenses are merely the EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro, and a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 zoom. I have an abominably slow Tamron 18-200 f3.5-6.3 on my EOS 20D, and (at the time) kit EF-S 18-200 f3.5-5.6 IS on my 50D.

I'm still affected by my film era usage, where 400ASA was the "low-light" film (before I could afford color, it was Tri-X B/W), and 100ASA was the daytime film (125 for Plus-X B/W). So even though my 50D may be reasonable up to 1600, I seldom go above ISO 400 on it. Side effect: I don't try for indoor action shots (unless a flash is permitted -- at ISO 400, even a 430EX-II has some range, and the 580EX-II really went out there [I think Canon now has a 600EX, which can reach nearly 50 feet at f4 and ISO 100]).

While the XTi is better than the XSi, it is still some generations old (about the age of my 20D). ISO 1600 is the highest the 20D can reach without going into a menu to permit "extra high" 3200.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2013 1:55:48 PM PST
Les Schmader says:
If you think your outdoor action shots are "satisfactory" now, a gain of 1 stop with the f/4 lens alone probably isn't going to be enough to move indoors and get the same results.

What is your shutter speed, aperture and ISO that get the best results now? What's the slowest shutter speed that freezes the action? From that you can figure out how and if you can gain 3 to 4 stops.

And check to see at what focal length the lens you have reaches f/4 to f/4.5. You might be able to mimic the f/4 lens for comparison.

It's a lot easier to explain and understand when you provide your own data for reference. That can determine what is acceptable to you.

Posted on Feb 7, 2013 5:20:13 PM PST
Ken Schreder says:
What do you think of the Sigma 70-200 F2.8 EX DG Macro HSM II? I'm researching other manufacturers for f2.8 that better fits in my budget. Money no object, I would go for the Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS II USM, but alas, I live in the real world. I'm open to other suggestions, also.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2013 7:17:48 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 7, 2013 7:23:57 PM PST
The lens you mentioned does not have OS, which is Sigma's version of Image Stabilization. That is why it is so inexpensive. You may not need (although it could help) the IS for the specific task you've mentioned, but you may very well miss it for other things in the future. The OS version looks to be $400 more. I have 2 Sigma lenses and they are fine for the money. Sigma has gotten some bad reviews in the past for quality control problems, with people having to order several copies (or sending the lens in for factory calibration) in the past, but it would seem those problems have been cleared up.

I think you're absolutely right in your thinking that your standard of Image Quality may not be the same as everybody else's. What I would do is manually set the ISO at different speeds and just walk around inside an out taking some shots, then look at them and determine at what point the noise becomes excessive to you. There are also software programs that can help to mitigate the issue. You probably should also look at the Dynamic Range, the detail kept in shadows and highlights, as that is also greatly affected by the ISO setting.

Just last night I was looking at an image I took back in 2008 in Yellowstone. It was taken with a Nikon D200 at ISO 800 (which was stretching it) and a Sigma 170-500 (no OS) at 500mm f/6.3, and it is not the best image in the world technically speaking. But I took it with what I had at the time and it is better than nothing at all.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2013 9:29:07 AM PST
"""
What I would do is manually set the ISO at different speeds and just walk around inside an out taking some shots, then look at them and determine at what point the noise becomes excessive to you.
"""

I'd suggest trying that while also trying to keep the shutter speed up <G>

Okay, the variable ratio zoom won't be as fast as a fixed f2.8... So if the target is f2.8@1/500 to stop motion (shutter to handle the motion, and the widest aperture available for the low light), the equivalent exposure at f5.6 (typical variable zoom, except for Tamron that goes to f6.3) would be f5.6@1/125 -- whatever ISO you need to shoot the latter is the same ISO you'd need for the fast lens stopping motion. And f4@1/250 would be the same...

Just taking the shots to see what ISO value becomes annoyingly noisy isn't sufficient if it doesn't account for the shutter/aperture combination needed to stop the motion.

Posted on Feb 8, 2013 11:38:19 AM PST
JCUKNZ says:
...... I've read people's posts about "low light" and don't know exactly what that means. I want a lens that will freeze the action .....
Low light is when the light level is less that outside such as indoor swimmking pools and the like. The lens doesn't freeze the action only a fast shutter spped will do that. What compromises one makes to achieve the required shutter speed is the pragmatic approach to the problem and there are two angles to this .. firstly the degree of enlargement , my 6400 ISO shots are acceptable at 50% on the monitor but horrible at 100%, 50% is a quite large size when you start with a 16Mp camera file. The second option is to deliberately under-expose in the camera to maintain shutter speed. and raise the results in editing. With a DSLR it is possible to raise two or three stops making the too slow 1/50 a satisfactory 1/200 to 1/400 to freeze the action there is a further option available to you and that is to choose a shooting position which has the subjects coming towards or away from you which will require a slower shutter speed than if they are crossing the camera view. That needs to be balanced against the possibility of arms moving in the opposite direction as for example a horses legs contrasting with the direction of the body, or moving faster than the body as they move forward for another pace.

The difference between an f/4 and an f/2.8 lens is negligable in digital days with the control we have over the process compared to when shooting film to a fixed processing process.
People see the answer in more gear when it is possible that better technique is needed.

Posted on Feb 8, 2013 2:11:47 PM PST
DR says:
I have had the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens since October 2012. Got a refurb off canon website when they were running a 20% off special. What an amazing lense!! It was recommended to me by some amateur and pro sports photographers and I let them know that they made a solid recommendation. There are no issues with it being a non-IS. If you don't know what to buy then there are several websites where you can rent lenses for cheap and try them out.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2013 3:38:32 PM PST
<< Just taking the shots to see what ISO value becomes annoyingly noisy isn't sufficient if it doesn't account for the shutter/aperture combination needed to stop the motion. >>

Do you see that I mentioned stopping motion somewhere in my post? I don't. Do you see in the OP's post where he mentioned noise in a photo? I do. Do you see where he mentions the information is getting over technical? I do.

I recommended just trying different ISO's to see where his personal level of annoyance with noise with his camera is. In this particular instance, it is about the only variable that can fixed as a constant. We don't -know- the lighting. We don't -know- what shutter speed is needed to stop the action. (Although I suspect something like 1/250th to 1/350th would do it.)

The OP may not need a new lens at all if he is satisfied with the noise at ISO 1600 with his camera. The only way to find out if that is true is to walk around taking pictures at different ISO's. Is it maybe ISO 800, or 400, or 200? I suspect he hasn't even tried raising the ISO yet. Simplify. One thing at a time.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2013 5:04:49 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 8, 2013 5:06:52 PM PST
The OP ALSO stated that he wants to "freeze the action" (in his first post).

Finding out that, say, ISO 800 is acceptable noise level but required using an exposure of 1/125s with the lens wide open is not going to freeze the action. With the same lens he'd need ISO 3200 to reach 1/500s wide open -- or a lens that is two stops faster than the existing lens was; if the lens was at f5.6 wide-open, and f2.8 lens would allow the desired "freeze the action" shutter speed.

I suggested using shutter/aperture combinations with his current lens that would provide a baseline to determine if a faster lens is even viable (if an f2.8 zoom won't provide a fast enough shutter speed to stop motion at the acceptable ISO, then buying an f2.8 lens won't be a satisfactory solution -- a camera with less noise at the ISO values would be needed, or an even faster lens [which means a prime lens, since zooms don't appear at f2.0]).

Otherwise... Well, I could put the camera on a tripod and take a 15SECOND exposure at ISO 100 with the lens wide open... And probably get a very good scene of a forest lit by a cloud covered moon. But I sure wouldn't be able to stop motion under those conditions.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2013 7:45:50 PM PST
Well, I guess that would depend on the phase of the moon, the density of the clouds, and the wind speed, wouldn't it? A 15 second shot of the moon can look terrible, the moon actually moves a lot in 15 seconds, enough to reduce detail significantly. So do clouds. And without long exposure noise reduction you can get a lot of sensor noise in 15 seconds. I've run into all three.

Back to the subject at hand, a lot of "if's" here. Best left to the OP to try one thing at a time, and the easiest thing that he could do right now, barring an Olympic sized swimming pool with a team of swimmers in his basement, would in my opinion be to just walk around a bit trying out different ISO's, not look at a bunch of tables based upon insufficient data.

Posted on Feb 8, 2013 8:55:05 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 8, 2013 9:00:12 PM PST
Then of course is the question of whether you'd want to shoot at f/2.8 anyway. Not in terms of light gathering but of depth of field. I know quite a few people that have invested relatively heavily in fast lenses for the depth of field and then find they never use them wide open. They just thought they needed them because everybody else told them they did. I've been looking over some shots I took at a college basketball game last fall, the closest thing (I'm guessing) that I've shot to an indoor swim meet. The ones I really like were shot at 1/250th to 1/350th, f/4 to f/5.6 and ISO 800 to ISO 1600. These were with a D700, 70-200 f/2.8 VR, and with and without a 1.7 teleconverter. Anything slower than 1/250th is blurry. A lot of the shots at f/2.8 are focused on the wrong player, or the ball and not the player, or the player and not the ball, and it is really apparent. Anything shot at ISO 3200 is a bit noisy to me, and the D700 is one of the all-time high ISO kings. 3200 is correctable, 6400 is not. IN MY OPINION. I shot the whole game, from all over the place, courtside to the grandstands, from right under the basket to from the other end of the court. I have to say, after looking at all of these, if I didn't already own the equipment, I would rent it to see if it would do what I wanted before I bought the wrong thing.

Edit: But first I would make sure I know how to get everything out of what I already have, and if I'm satisfied with that.

Posted on Feb 9, 2013 12:50:32 AM PST
JCUKNZ says:
If he was taking a fifteen second shot of the moon I am sure he would have a traverse motor attached to the tripod :-)
In all these discussions I often wonder if the OP, not ness this threads OP, has unfortunately quite unreal expectations ....I was very pleased with my 6400 ISO shots becuase I was amazed that they worked so well after never using more than 100 ISO with my bridge cameras ...I am looking forward to a repeat of the event this year so I can take many more.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 9, 2013 4:19:44 AM PST
My point exactly. I have no doubt you are more than satisfied with what comes out of your m4/3 at ISO 6400.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 9, 2013 11:40:45 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 9, 2013 11:47:56 AM PST
"""
A 15 second shot of the moon can look terrible, the moon actually moves a lot in 15 seconds,
"""

I didn't say I was shooting the moon (the moon is a sun-lit object -- starting point is to use Sunny-16 for the exposure). I said to shoot a moon-LIT FOREST.

"""
If he was taking a fifteen second shot of the moon I am sure he would have a traverse motor attached to the tripod :-)
"""

Worse... I'd repair* the battery holders for the Meade 8" LX-200 GPS SCT, and have the camera mounted on a piggy-back bracket, and use the equatorial wedge option (many SCTs these days don't have a wedge -- computer controlled alt/az is great for fast visual setup, no fiddly "aim the motor shaft at Polaris", but horrid for long exposures [countered by so many using short exposure digital and stacking software that can correct for field rotation].

* The battery holders split from the tension of holding batteries for a long period of time. I've picked up similar size holders from a hobby shop and just need to solder the Meade connectors onto the wires.

Posted on Feb 10, 2013 8:25:42 AM PST
Ken Schreder says:
I had a swim meet yesterday, so I played with the settings to see what worked best. I used a Tamron 28-80 f3.5-5.6 lens because that's the widest aperture lens I own. The settings that looked the best were 1/250 at ISO1600 (the top ISO setting on my camera). The picture was improved over what I've done in the past but still darker than I'd like. The picture was not as sharp as I'd like, either. That must be the "noise" that people have mentioned. I'm guessing that f2.8 would allow more light, but don't know how much of an improvement it would be. So if I need to reduce the "noise", does that mean either slower shutter speed or larger aperture? Someone mentioned above the idea of renting a lens to see how it works. Any suggestions on the best place to do that?

Posted on Feb 10, 2013 9:32:01 AM PST
borrowlenses.com

Can you post a few photos on Flickr or something like that where we can see them? You can open up a free Flickr account.

The sharpness issue is most likely not "noise". Noise would appear as something like film grain. More likely the lens is not very good all the way zoomed, or maybe the camera aggressively tried to reduce noise, and that reduces sharpness. Or maybe you were not holding the camera very steady. It could be a lot of things.

Posted on Feb 10, 2013 11:27:20 AM PST
Ken Schreder says:
I uploaded 8 pictures to Flickr. My name there is Ken 40. Is that what you need in order to find them?

8440 & 8439 were taken with the Tamron 28-80 f3.5-5.6 at 35mm, 1/250 f3.5 ISO1600; at a local Y with horrible lighting.
8101, 8098, 8097 & 8095 were with the Tamron Di II 18-250 3.5-6.3, used the TV setting, ISO1600, maybe 1/80, don't know the mm; at a university
7830 & 7828 were also with the Di II, same settings, different university.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 10, 2013 11:34:56 AM PST
1/250s might be too slow to stop any motion -- can you identify if your lack of sharpness is subject motion blur (sharp stationary background with blur of anything moving). If everything shows blur, and the blur seems to be in a direction, it is likely camera shake and you need to brace the camera better. If the blur is evenly distributed about the subject it may be lack of focus (is there less blur on the subject and more blur on items closer and farther from that subject -- that would indicate a shallow depth of field from a wide open aperture). If it is sensor noise, the only way to reduce that is to lower the ISO setting -- and that means either/both a wider aperture lens or a slower shutter (which is not going to stop motion)

Presuming you were zoomed past 45mm (most variable aperture lenses will reach their worst aperture around halfway through the zoom range) you were running at f5.6 (check the EXIF data of the images). If this is the case, an f2.8 lens would let you run 1/500s @ ISO800 (reducing motion blur AND one stop of sensor noise, but also reducing the depth of field even more).

Oh yeah -- if you were using "one shot" auto-focus, it is possible the subject moved out of the focus distance during the milliseconds between focus lock and shot taken. Set the camera to follow-focus (servo/predictive/continuous), press the shutter halfway down, and follow the subject -- you won't get a focus lock indication, but the camera will continue to adjust the focus up to the moment you fully press the shutter (don't release and press, that restarts focusing) [in those with actual predictive modes, they will compute how rapidly they've been adjusting the focus in a direction and continue adjusting until the shot occurs].
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Discussion in:  Photography forum
Participants:  10
Total posts:  43
Initial post:  Feb 6, 2013
Latest post:  Feb 17, 2013

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