Focusing Issues in Sports Photography

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by Acoosticant, Aug 31, 2009.

  1. Acoosticant

    Acoosticant TPF Noob!

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    Hello all, I'm a very new photographer and am having an issue I'm hoping I can get help with from someone with experience.

    I like shooting sports. I like playing sports even more, but I tore my ACL a couple of months ago and will be out for about a year (hence me finding a new hobby in photography--it's the next best thing).

    I shoot more football than anything. I have a Canon 5D Mark II and I usually use the 100mm-400mm zoom lens. I'm not even close to being able to manual focus quick enough for football so I use the "AF Servo" option.

    The problem I am having is that there are so many players running around on the football field (and in front of the camera) that my lens often focuses on the wrong subject.

    For example, I may be trying to capture a player running with the ball on the far side of the field, but if there is a player in the foreground, between me and my intended subject, the camera often focuses that in the shot.

    Also, things are happening so quickly in football, and I'm having to quickly pan my camera from the quarterback to a receiver, that the lens doesn't pick up focus quick enough and I get a semi-sharp image.

    I don't have any examples at work with me (except what I have on flickr--but those are the ones I thought were good) but I can post some when I get home if they are needed.

    I know this is a lot for my first post--any help is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Jaszek

    Jaszek No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    That's why sports photographers use Canon 1D mkIII's since (from what I heard) they focus really fast. 5D mk.II is more of a studio camera, but with enough practice you can shoot sports too. Also play around with the other focus points, or set one focus point instead of using full auto focus (using all focus point (the little dots you see in the viewfinder)).
     
  3. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Auto focus will always pick the closest thing it can focus on and focus on that object, no matter what it is. This is why most people using auto focus will set it so that only the centre point is active, you can then point hte camera at the subject you want in focus, and it will pick out that subject (provided of course nothing runs infront of it ;)). Its far better than leaving the camera to pick the AF point to use where you have no control.
     
  4. inTempus

    inTempus TPF Noob!

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    You have the wrong tool for the job.

    The 5DMk2 doesn't have the AF system for sports action. It lacks an adequate number of AF points and their sensitivity is sub-par for tracking a fast moving subject. Also, the 5DMk2 has a very sluggish shutter speed and shutter lag which prevents it from being used as a very successful sports/action camera. That's not to say you can't do it, but you'll have to get creative with your style and learn how to work with the limitations (severe in some cases) of the body for what you're trying to do with it. You'll probably want to track your subject with the center point AF and disable the others... at least try it. The center AF point is your most sensitive and it will allow you to target your subject.

    As noted already, the 1D is the body you should be using for this type of photography. It's INFINITELY better suited for tracking moving subjects. The 1D can even lock onto a single player and track him through the maze of other players darting past him and never lose focus on that one person.

    You can pick up a Canon factory refurb 1DMk3 for a couple hundred more than you paid for the 5DMk2. You can pick up a 1DMk2N for about $1,800-$2000 in pristine condition as well.

    Personally, I wouldn't go through the hassle of trying to shoot sports with my 5DMk2. I know better. :)
     
  5. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Welcome to the forum.

    The situations you are describing are some of the toughest to focus...as you are finding.

    This is one reason that pro sports shooters use some of the most expensive equipment around. While you do have some quality gear though...it's certainly not the best for what you are trying to do.
    The 5DII, while a great camera, has one major downfall for such an expensive camera...it's Auto Focus isn't great. Actually, many have said that the cheaper 40D or 50D have better AF. Also, the 5D doesn't shoot as many frames per second as either the 40D/50D or the pro bodies.
    Pair that with a big heavy lens with a small max aperture, like the 100-400mm lens...and your AF is going to be slow.

    The pro sports camera in Canon's line up is the 1D (currently on the mark III version). The AF is super sensitive and lighting quick, especially if you pair it with a fast lens.

    Of course, there is a lot of technique involved as well. Pro sports shooters have been getting great shots since well before Auto Focus came about. It really helps to know the game and predict the action. One method is to pre-focus in an area and wait for the action to get there.

    And of course, practice really helps. The guys who are lucky enough to be shooting the Superbowl, are most likely pros who have decades of experience.
     
  6. Dao

    Dao No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    hum ... maybe the new 7D that suppose to come out soon is a better choice than the 5Ds in this area.
     
  7. inTempus

    inTempus TPF Noob!

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    Based upon what we know of it (19 AF points, 8fps, etc.) it certainly sounds like it would be.
     
  8. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Your lens is not helping you out much either. Phase detection autofocus works by differentiating between in-focus and out-of-focus areas,and the slow maximum aperture of the 100-400 means that at "football distances", the focus is not very critically "off" when it is merely close to the correct distance, due to the 1) long distances and 2) small aperture which produces 3) relatively great depth of field.

    A lens with a long focal length and a fast aperture like a 200mm f/2.8 or a 300 f/2.8 will have much shallower depth of field,and the "in versus out" of focus is much more significant, and that makes phase detection AF work better,faster,and with higher precision. Combined with the slow lens, the AF system of a 4x zoom lens is a compromise based on the zoom range due to it being not just one length, but having a 4x range, but as others have pointed out the 5D Mark II has the same AF sytem as the original 5D had,and it's simply not designed for high-performance AF. The 5D Mark II is indeed, a poor sports camera. It was never optimized for sports or action work. Your best bet would be to search out other equipment for football.
     
  9. Acoosticant

    Acoosticant TPF Noob!

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    Wow...thank you for all the responses. Sounds like a wasted a lot of money on an obsolete body for what I enjoy shooting.

    I actually looked at the 1D but it is so bulky and heavy--I would feel a little silly busting it out at a football game when I just learned what ISO does 3 months ago.

    Is the 7D going to be designed more like the 5D in size and weight?
     
  10. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    It's still a great body. Great for studio shooting, landscapes, weddings, portraits etc...just not sports.

    It's dangerous to speculate on the rumors of Canon products...but it looks like it will be an improvement over the 5DII but certainly not as good as a 1 Series 'pro' body.

    If you are planning on getting a different body to shoot sports with...take a look at the 50D or a 1D mkIII (new, or maybe a used older model).
     
  11. bigtwinky

    bigtwinky No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    The 7D is rumoured to be the replacement of the 50D, so i would expect it to be similar in size and shape. Not sure how much the 50D differs from the 5D Mk II though.

    Just a correction, I don't think the 5D MkII is obsolete in anyway, its just not the right tool for the job you need done. Its an extremely capable and modern camera.
     
  12. RONDAL

    RONDAL TPF Noob!

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    there are clearly people taking pictures of football and other sports with cameras from canon (and nikon) that are currently on the market. why fill this thread with speculation of a future product when there are things available already to do the task at hand.....and can possibly be found used
     

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