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Best lens for taking gymnastics pictures

April Grissom , May 07, 2012; 08:25 p.m.

I have a Canon Rebel XTi and I need help finding the best lens for taking pictures of gymnastics where you cannot use a flash. I am not a professional so I am not close which means I also need a pretty good zoom. Currently I am just using the 55-200mm f1:4.5-5.6 lens which zooms well but does not take good low light pictures. I am just taking pictures of my daughter but would really like to be able to get good pictures. I need to keep the price reasonable too since this is just recreational photography. Thanks for any help you can offer.


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J. Harrington USA (Massachusetts) , May 07, 2012; 08:39 p.m.

Consider raising the camera's ISO. You'd likely need a lens that is 2.8 or faster. However, if you chose a zoom, that will be expensive.

Consider a 50MM 1.8. Not a zoom... but lets lots of light through.

Also check to see if all the lights are on in the gymnastics gym. I've been to indoor sports events where they only had on half the lights. After asking an employee to turn on more lights, pictures came out better.

Alan Bryant , May 07, 2012; 08:51 p.m.

Fast + telephoto + cheap is just not available.

If you could make do with 100mm, you could get a 100mm f/2. It's an excellent lens, very fast, runs around $500. If you were sitting near the front it could work. From about 55 feet away, it would frame a 12x8 foot area with an XTi. From farther away you'd probably be cropping.

You can go longer and stay fairly fast, but it quickly gets extremely expensive. Next lenses out would be 135mm f/2 ($1000), 200mm f/2.8 ($800), 70-200mm f/2.8 ($1400); past those are multi-thousand-dollar lenses like 200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8.

If you only shoot the pictures occasionally, you might look at renting a lens.

Bruce Muir , May 07, 2012; 09:13 p.m.

100 f/2 or the 135L
Depending on distance you might be able to squeak by with the 85 1.8

Some of those gyms are real tough so you will need to be shooting at 1600 I'm betting.

Bruce Muir , May 07, 2012; 09:14 p.m.

100 f/2 or the 135L
Depending on distance you might be able to squeak by with the 85 1.8

Some of those gyms are real tough so you will need to be shooting at 1600 I'm betting.

Michael Liczbanski , May 07, 2012; 09:31 p.m.

Lens, camera, ISO, et cetera are one thing. The other component is skill. Sports photography is way more than just rising the camera to the eye and pressing the button, so learn the sport(s) you are shooting, acquire a modicum of skill and then see which part of your equipment, if any, is deficient. If you cannot be close to the action, like near or on the floor, then you will need a longish lens (probably 200-300 mm or so.)

Judging from my experience, in an average gymnastic hall (high schools and colleges may be darker...) you should be able to get by with 1/125s and f/4 at ISO 800. Bust since every sport has a totally static phase(s), learn WHEN to press the shutter to catch that static moment (gymnast suspended in the air after the jump, just before the fall, a "finishing" stance on a balance bar, etc.) and 1/125s will be enough to stop the movement. OTOH you may want to learn panning and/or slow shutter techniques to convey movement. Just rememebr that it takes 1/2-1s, or longer, between the time you decide the press the shutter and the time the shuter opens (your reaction time plus shutter delay) so learn to anticipate and act accordingly.

Geoff Francis , May 07, 2012; 09:44 p.m.

Use your zoom the work out which focal length suits you best, and then pick the fastest prime you can afford that matches that focal length. The 85 f1.8, the 100 f2, the 135 f2.8 and 200 f2.8 are at the cheap end of the scale as far as fast primes go. Anything faster and you can pretty much more than double the cost. The 70-200 f4L is also at the relatively cheap end of the scale and buys you one stop of imporvement over the 55-250 at the long end. A second hand 70-200 f2.8 might also work.
However, fast (f2.8), cheap telephoto zooms simply don't exist.

Ian . , May 07, 2012; 10:09 p.m.

85/1.8 is a cheap-ish good alternative for this.

Marcus Ian , May 07, 2012; 11:26 p.m.

The 85/1.8 (or 100/2) is ideal for this type of work - assuming you can get close enough. Generally speaking, most people who shoot this type of stuff choose longer primes because of the extremely fast aperture, and good IQ, and lightning fast focus speed (much faster than much bigger-more expensive- zooms). Really, primes in this range are ideal for this kind of shooting.

Alternatively, if you have $5-700, you can easily find a used Sigma (HSM) or Tamron 70-200/2.8 zoom which, while slower, will give you considerably more flexibility. Any of them will significantly outperform your 55-250. The XTi's AF will also perform better with one of them (or the prime) than it does now w/ your 55-250.

William W , May 07, 2012; 11:36 p.m.

I believe the best low priced options would be the EF85/1.8 or the EF 100/2 and crop the results to suit, if you are too far away: but arriving early and getting a good seat is also part of the battle.
I often use the EF85/1.8on an APS-C Camera, for Low Light Indoor Sports.

Often Underexposure and / or too slow a Shutter Speed is the cause of poor Gymnastics Images – you should consider if either of these is a also a problem for you. In other words it will usually be better to push the ISO to the maximum to ensure correct exposure and also an adequate Shutter Speed.

I expect for most Gymnasia (like High School or Amateur Performance), you will be using your limit of ISO1600, even with an F/2 or an F/1.8 Lens, so . . . I think you will have less joy with an F/2.8 lens in most poorly lit gyms. . .
It is likely that your Camera’s ISO ceiling is also limiting you: A sample image of a typical scene and typical lighting with the EXIF attached and a description of the type of Gymnastics and the Age / Competence of the Athletes, would be very useful to provide further comment in this matter.

As already mentioned, managing the SHUTTER RELEASE to coincide with any (nearly) STATIC Subject Position is a technique that will certainly make better photos for you.


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