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Best lens for shooting basketball

Glen Woodman , May 23, 2011; 02:02 a.m.

My wife buys me season tickets for the SDSU Men's basketball team every year. The seats I have are on the floor not more than five feet a way from the court. I currently have a D300 with a 20-200 3.5. Which doesn't do well with the lighting conditions. What would be the best lens to use for this type of shooting?

Thanks for your input!

Glen Woodman


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Jerry Coleman , May 23, 2011; 05:32 a.m.

Glen, a 50mm 1.4/1.8, 85mm 1.4/1.8 or a 70-200mm 2.8. You also should be cranking your ISO up a bit. I usally start at 1200.

Marios Forsos , May 23, 2011; 05:54 a.m.

I do not know the 20-200 lens at all, but if it is a fixed f/3.5, then it should be okay if you crank your ISO to around 1600 (which, under circumstances, should be okay on your D300).

Otherwise, you really should be looking at a fast zoom lens (depending on how far from the action your seat it). Have a look at the 70-200 f/2.8 (from whichever manufacturer you can afford) or, if you're further away, have a look at Sigma's new 120-300 f/2.8...

Andrew Garrard , May 23, 2011; 06:32 a.m.

Glen - assuming that, by "20-200 3.5" you mean "18-200 f/3.5-5.6" (a common lens), I suspect you might struggle a little with the amount of light it lets in at the long end, and it might be a bit slow to follow the action. It'll depends how well the venue is lit, though - I've only photographed amateur games in dim conditions.

I would expect 200mm - especially on a crop-sensor camera like the D300 - to be plenty long enough from your position unless you're trying to get close-up head shots, and that's tricky during a game. I'd second the idea of hiring a 70-200 f/2.8 idea (on a D300, Nikon's older one is almost as good as the latest version, if that saves you money); that's a "Nikon ED AF-S VR-NIKKOR 70-200mm 1:2.8G" according to the plate on the lens, and mark 1 vs mark 2 doesn't matter much. I'd take your 18-200 along as well, because it'll be decent for wider shots of the action - I suspect that hiring a very wide lens would be overkill (although if you feel tempted by a Nikon 10-24mm so you can get some shots of the whole court, don't let me dissuade you). It depends on the style of shots you like and how much money you want to spend on (hiring) kit.

I suspect an AF-S 200mm f/2 would be a nice lens to use as well, but it'd be a bit of a one-trick pony, and they're not cheap to hire (or light to carry). Good luck.

Elliot Bernstein , May 23, 2011; 07:30 a.m.

Perhaps what you need really depends on where the seats are and what type of shots you are trying to get. And of course your budget. And the lighting, which is usually not great at these venues. I would recommend you choose from the following, the 50mm f1.8, 35mm f1.8 and the 85mm f1.8. If your budget affords it, all three would be nice.

Richard Snow , May 23, 2011; 08:45 a.m.

I'm going to throw my two cents in here...

If you're on the floor, the 50mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.4 should be fine. I also like the 85mm and my personal favorite for basketball is the 105mm f/2.

If you don't want to be fumbling with lenses and don't have two camera bodies, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is phenomenal, but you'll need to crank your ISO up to 1600 and nail the exposure.

My suggestions:

  • Turn AUTO-ISO ON and set a max ISO for 1600. This is just one less thing to think about.
  • Shoot in Shutter Priority (S) and try to get 1/500 sec of faster shutter speeds...faster stops motion.
  • When checking/changing shutter speed, try to keep your aperture at f/4 or larger (smaller number) to maintain shallow enough DoF to make the subject player stand out.

Hope this helps,

Wade Thompson , May 23, 2011; 09:24 a.m.

IMHO, a 2.8 is too slow to shoot in some of these poorly lit venues... even cranking the ISO up to 3200. Basketball gyms at night can be terrible.

Andrew Garrard , May 23, 2011; 11:18 a.m.

I have very limited experience in doing this, but I'm a little surprised at the suggestions to use short primes. I can see the benefit to a faster aperture, but... If only so I can learn: do people really not feel restricted using primes to cover action moving around basketball court? I used most of my 150-500 Sigma's range when trying to cover action (from a little farther back and on a full-frame camera - and f/5-6.3 wasn't really enough even with a D700). I'd have thought a 70-200 at f/2.8 would be better than trying to crop from a fast but very short prime. The primes are much cheaper, of course, and it may not be such an issue if you're perfectly placed to get every hoop shot.

Dave Wilson , May 23, 2011; 11:23 a.m.

I agree completely with Elliot in starting up a f1.8 collection. I would just start with the 50mm f1.8 and go from there. In the days of older, I used to shoot a lot of college bb. My two workhorses using 2 Nikons were 85mm f2 on an F3 with MD and and the small pancake 50mm 1.8 Ais on an N2000. That N2000 with the small 50mm was one of my all time favorites for fast shooting indoors. They were both good and sharp wide open and using 1600 Fuji color film I could cover whatever I needed. With the D300 crop sensor of course it's a bit tighter so you might find the 35mm 1.8 a better choice for you in your seats. When autofocus became more reliable I bought an N90 with the 85 1.8 AF which was really sweet, again the 85mm on the crop is a bit tighter than the 35mm. Enjoy your games and post up some shots.

Jose Angel , May 23, 2011; 11:26 a.m.

I`m not a sports shooter but I use to shoot basketball from time to time (school courts). I use to be located at the corner of the court, side by side with the coach and pro-staff. I use a D700 (FX) + 70-200VRII.

My setup is fine for the closer half of the court and near basket details. For the other half-court area, it`s simply a bit short to my taste; I`d like to have a 200-400/4 here. For that slam dunk shots from behind the basket, at least a 24-70 is needed.

If your seats are placed at the center stand area, and I suspect in a NBA sized court, with a 70-200 in a DX camera you`ll have good overall coverage, I think. With a FX camera I`d certainly miss to have anything longer too, but on a D300 I think you´ll be fine.

In my experience, shooting wide open require experience and skills tht i don`t have, my keeper`s rate is really low; action runs so fast, the only way I found right is to raise the ISO to have a correct "freezing" speed, and shooting at least f4 or better f5.6. I prefer to shoot f8 at higher ISO than f5.6 at lower ISO. Many courts are "reasonable" lit around here, others are simply "caves" (specially in cloudy days).

You have to disable the AF switch from the shutter release button. Use the dedicated AF-ON button, and press it as many times as you want to shoot. The battery grip is a great accessory here, as well as a good monopod (tripods don`t).

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