Indoor sports photography lens


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Jun 29, 2015
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Hello everyone, I am new to photography and am now interning for a jiu jitsu company. I will be shooting local jiu jitsu tournaments. For those who don't know, jiu jitsu is a martial art, based around submission grappling. It can sometimes be slow moving but rapidly speed up into quick action movements. The tournaments are typically held in gymnasiums.

Current set up:
Nikon D5500
35mm 1.8
11-20mm 2.8 wide

I have thought about getting another prime, either 50 or 85, but I really do not want to find myself in a hard spot trying to only shoot with prime lenses. I don't want to be too restricted. My max budget is about $800. Right now i'm considering the 55-200mm 4-5.6 VR II, the 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 and the Nikon 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 VR II.

What other lenses should I be considering? Would any of the options listed above be sufficient?
None of your options are "ideal" for indoor gyms. You may want to consider used zooms with a maximum aperture of at least f4.
Would any of the options listed above be sufficient?
The main draw to zooms is that you can "crop in camera", which used to be fairly important back in the film days, but with a modern digital sensor, you can always shoot a bit wide and crop in editing.

As long at you've got enough distance to minimize distortion from wide-angle lenses, a wide would be somewhat more usable than say a prime that is too long. If you can't get back far enough to get the whole scene in a long lens, then you're pretty much out of luck.

If you can get close to the action, you're going to want a wide lens, so I'd say your 35mm would be the one I'd use. Or your zoom.

Are you having issue with either lens now?
This was taken with a 1Dmk2 fitted with a 70-200 shot at F4 @ 70mm but because it was in a gym i had a powerful studio flash bouncing light of the high ceiling

Part of it may depend on the final use of the images. As noted above, if you can do some cropping in post then a 50mm f/1.8 would certainly be cheap enough to add. That will also give you an idea of the camera settings required for the location (or just go with your 35mm f/1.8 and make some test shots). That 50mm would probably work for action on your side of the mat if you are within a few meters of the edge of the security area, and probably stopped down to f/2.8 to give a meter of so of depth-of-field. I would look for a 70-200 f/2.8 from one of the third-party lens companies, if bought used it should be within your budget.

I would not try with any of the variable aperture lenses you listed unless the people are standing still. Most of those start to stop down to the smallest aperture pretty quick. I have the 70-300mm VR and it is fine outdoor sports in daylight, but indoors it usually requires going to a high ISO.

I would go check the lighting, I had some recent indoor shots at ISO 3200, 1/500th and f/2.8 so if I had to go to f/5.6 then the ISO would have gone to 12800 (I don't have that but the D5500 does). If I had been using my 70-300mm in place of the 35mm then I would have had to drop the shutter speed from 1/500 to 1/125 and so subjects would have to just about be standing still.
The goto lens for most indoor sports is a 70-200 f/2.8. Most non-professional venu's are pretty dark. Consequently, going to a smaller aperture of f/4+ will cause you to significantly lower the shutter speed or increase the ISO or both for a proper exposure. Increasing the ISO will most likely and negatively affect the images IQ. Lowering the shutter speed will increase the potential of subject blur. Unfortunately, a new Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 is outside of your budget. Tamron makes a 70-200 f/2.8 (Tamron AF 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD IF), that falls within your budget, but I don't know of its quality and performance. And Sigma also has a 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II and again I cannot testify to IQ and performance. I would strongly suggest a 70-200 f/2.8 and for your budget used or refurbished.
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The lenses you have listed are really too short to shoot that sport with, unless you are sitting on the mat and hope they come right into you. Using a 70-200 2.8 would solve all your problems, however that means spending a good chunk of money. You could shoot it with an 85mm, don't worry about being stuck with too far or too close, just work with what you have. It's not a really difficult sport to shoot, it will take some timing and luck, but there is a lot going on.
Since you have access to the floor area you might consider something like the Nikon 85mm f/1.8D. Your not going to get rid of all the noise but the 1.8 might help some compared to the lenses your looking at. You should be able to pick up a used one for around $250

I took this a few years go with the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D on NIKON D300

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Thank you all for responding. Regarding the 70-200 2.8 ..I did some reading and the Tamron DI LD ($770) is reviewed well except for sports. A common theme I notice is people saying that the auto focus is slow and hunts a lot in low light. Are any of you referring to this model or a different one?
I am. (see my post above). I think that the Sigma may also have a similar performance. Think 'refurbished'.

Thanks. I'm actually now starting to reconsider just adding two prime lenses. Maybe a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 and an 85mm 1.8 to battle the poor lighting most efficiently with my budget.

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