So, what sports photography equipment should you use? That’s the big question!
What camera, what lens, what tripod… The list of questions goes on and on. And while it’s the sport’s nut behind the lens that gets the shot, the right gear can help. With so much fun information to cover, let’s get to it!
The first thing you need to know is that if you want truly great images, you are going to have to learn to shoot in manual, that’s just a simple fact . It’s not as hard (or scary) as it sounds, promise. But unless you can choose every setting, every time, you will be settling for what the camera thinks is a good shot. So if you’re ready to get serious about sports photography, learn to shoot in manual.
Here is my list of essential sports photography equipment –
1. DSLR camera
2. zoom lens (200mm or better)
3. tripod or monopod
5. neck strap
Camera – $$$$
DSLR’s come in two flavors, full frame (FX) and crop frame (DX). Full frame cameras have a larger sensor, and therefore typically handle noise better than their crop frame counterparts. Don’t let that little detail fool you into thinking a full-frame camera is necessary for sports photography, crop frame cameras have a pretty neat trick up their sleeve that makes them my top choice for sports photography. Remember a couple of weeks ago when we talked about lens blur from your shaky hands in relation to your focal length? Well, if you use an FX lens on a DX body, you get that same 1.5x (depending on model) increase to your lens! So your 200mm lens will be equivalent to 300mm! Awesome. 🙂
Lenses – $$-$$$$
You will need a good telephoto lens to get you close to the action. The greater the zoom, the closer you get. There are standard zoom lenses, and then there is what’s called “fast glass”. Fast glass is just slang for a low aperture lens. So for Andrea R., who last week asked me “What lens to you usually use for sports?”, my go-to lens for sports (and soooo many other things) is an 80-200 2.8. And I use that lens a lot.
Megan V. asked me a two part question, “What are the best settings for very low light action, and what lenses do you suggest?”. My suggestion for lenses would be one wide angle lens, around a 35mm, for sports where you want to capture more of the scene. And one zoom lens (200mm or better). I would get both lenses in the lowest aperture I could afford.
This is one of those items where people vary greatly on their opinion of what makes a good tripod. When deciding on a tripod as part of your sports photography equipment, considerations should include finding one that is stable, light enough to carry, and high enough that you won’t have to stoop-over to use it. But beware, there are many venues where tripods are not allowed. And if you paid the extra $$ for an image stabilizing lens, that feature must be turned off when your camera (or lens) is mounted to a tripod. Monopods are allowed in most venues, and take some of the strain off when you are shooting a heavy lens for extended periods.
Filter – $$
Filters are on my short list for essential gear for one reason…protection. I have a high quality UV filter on every lens that I use to shoot sports. Errant balls, people pushing past you, weather, you name it; there are just way to many opportunities for damage at a sporting event. One inopportune moment and your expensive lens becomes a very expensive paperweight. Protect your glass.
Neck Strap -$
A couple of years ago, I had a near disaster at a track meet. A parent was texting, and not watching where they were walking, and walked right into my tripod set up. If I had not had my neck strap on, even though the camera was mounted to the tripod, my gear would have been toast. Luckily the damage was limited to the tripod and not my camera or lens (and yes, that parent was fine).
White Balance Card – $-$$
As we talked about in How to Shoot Sports in a Gym or Stadium With Artificial Light, a grey card is an absolute necessity to get your white balance setting dialed in perfectly. So if you are tired of your athletes looking like oompa loompa’s, you need to set your white balance correctly! This item would probably be my first sports photography equipment purchase. It’s relatively inexpensive, and will let you see a huge improvement in your photos immediately!
Until then… Play hard, and have fun!
If you’ve missed any of this series on how to shoot kids sports, you can catch up here…