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Nikon 85mm f/1.8G for indoor sports

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Robert Bouknight , Feb 17, 2013; 07:00 p.m.

This year, I tried a 28-70/2.8 AF-S, and 70-200/2.8 versions I & II along with the 85/1.8G for shooting BBall. When I had 3-4 more stops of light with good color rendition at the center court at one tournament that was lit to college broadcast levels, the 70-200VRII I had with me ruled and the images looked fantastic. But when I am at the home court and forced to 1/640-f/2.5 @ ISO6400ish (I use manual mode, let the ISO float for exposure), the shots just lock cleaner and more detailed with the 85 prime at 2.5 vs the others at 2.8. I am pretty sure that a good part of the image quality improvement is a result of about 1/2 stop less needed ISO (the T value of the lens factors in, also).

I could go on, but back to the OP's question, I think that the 85G is a good choice in truly dismal light. AF seems fast enough to track BBall action. No doubt that a D4 with a 2.8 zoom or a 200/f2 would be better tools. I wound up leaving the 2.8 zooms at home for most games, but would use them if I had another 1.5 stops of light. I have a 105/f2DC that I have tried also, but had less AF success with it. It would probably be OK if I were a little further from the action, though.

BTW, I don't have any statistics to support, but it seemed like my in focus keeper rate improved when I changed from the 85/1.8D to the G version last year, using a D3s.


Eric Arnold , Feb 18, 2013; 01:22 a.m.

Those lenses are not optimized for AF speed.

i'm going to risk getting dinged here, but i would suggest trying out the Sigma 85/1.4, which may be the most optimized for AF speed out of any lens in its class. if possible, i would rent both the 85/1.8g and the sigma and try them both under the same conditions.

Chris Court , Feb 18, 2013; 07:43 a.m.

I recently shot the women's World Squash Championships. It was played at night, outdoors, in a glass court. One of the features of the court is a couple of clear photographer's ports on the front wall - low down, on either side. I used D700 with a variety of glass, with a target SS of 1/800 - although I sometimes dropped that as low as 1/500. With the fast primes, I could keep the ISO as low as 1600, although with the zooms I was up around 6400 - which is higher than I really prefer to go on this body.
After sorting my shots, the keeper rate was as follows:
14-24: 3.5%
50 1.8g: 3.5%
70-200 VRII: 31%
85 1.4g: 62%

I did find that the focussing on the 85 was considerably slower than the 70-200. Squash is a fast game, so there were a LOT of out of focus shots that didn't make the cut - however my keeper rate was enough to make my employer happy. I haven't used the 85 1.8, however I gather that it focusses perhaps slightly faster than the 1.4, and so may have been a marginally better option for this usage. Really, the biggest improvement I could have made to my keeper rate would have been to use a D3s or D4 body, but alas, we work with what we have available.
C


Nicol David, world No. 1 and 7 times World Champion.

Shun Cheung , Feb 18, 2013; 08:14 a.m.

70-200 VRII: 31%
85 1.4g: 62%

I did find that the focussing on the 85 was considerably slower than the 70-200.

Chris, perhaps it is my misunderstanding, but your comments don't seem to match your statistics. Could you clarify that part?

And Chris is referring to the f1.4 version of the 85mm AF-S, not the f1.8 the OP has in mind.

Chris Court , Feb 18, 2013; 06:17 p.m.

Yes, Shun is correct. I have the 85 1.4, not the 1.8. I imagine that the similarities between the two fast 85mm primes would be greater than the differences, however not having used the 1.8, I could be mistaken.

The 70-200 absolutely focusses faster than the 85, however - in the conditions I describe above, at the cost of 2 stops of ISO. It was the loss of dynamic range more than the increased noise that resulted in fewer keepers from the zoom. There is a big difference between ISO1600 and 6400 on the D700.

Chris

Robert Bouknight , Feb 18, 2013; 07:08 p.m.

Chris, I think you see the same type of IQ improvements that I see when I use the 85/1.8 vs a 2.8 zoom in poor lighting.

This morning in good light, I compared the AF speed between 85/1.8G and 70-200/2.8VRI lenses. I focused on a tree at about 100', released the button then focused on a leaf at 10'. The 70-200 was very slightly faster, but either lens would easily refocus MUCH faster than ANYONE could RUN the distance. Am sure that a VRII zoom would be perceptably faster than the VRI. Camera was in AF-C 21 pt mode.

I am convinced that lens focusing speed is only part of the issue(s). When the camera is set to f2.5 or 2.2, the depth of field is less than at 2.8. So, the camera has to deliver greater focusing accuracy in already poor light vs. f2.8. Also, remember that when a subject gets closer to the plane of focus, the amount of lens element travel increases significantly in order to change focal distance incrementally.

To "help" the AF system, I try to anticipate where a shot will take place, and prefocus on something in the area if possible. Then I start tracking hopefully a little before I want to hit the shutter button to give the system time to get going. I do think the camera AF system lag is less with the D800 (and D600) than earlier generations.

A lot happens when AF is activated on a moving target in the AF-C mode. The motion is rarely uniform in velocity relative to the camera, so the camera has to deal with changing velocity and acceleration . The perfect AF point (eye) is too small to track with 51 or 39 discreet AF sensors IMO. While our 2012 tools are certainly more capable than the manual focus FM I started with in the late 70's, I am sure that there is a lot of room for AF system improvement by all of the manufacturers. I think we have enough pixels, I would like a quantum improvement in AF systems in future generations, and another stop or so of usable high quality ISO.

Just for fun, go try the 100' to 10' trick with a "slow" focusing 180/2.8AF. Bet you can't outrun that lens, either! Sorry about the ramble, but this is an important topic for me, since I would like more keepers!

Eric Arnold , Feb 19, 2013; 02:22 a.m.

I think we have enough pixels, I would like a quantum improvement in AF systems in future generations, and another stop or so of usable high quality ISO.

i agree. i have a d3s, which is pretty good at focusing, and also good at high-ISO, but it's not always perfect, even with top-tier lenses.never-failing AF would be good, as well as the ability to shoot at ISO 25.600 cleanly. dont need 36 or even 24 megapixels; 16-18 would be enough to crop.

Mark Paterson , Feb 28, 2013; 09:28 a.m.

Not ever attempting it, I have little to add as to the capabilities of the 85 f/1.8G for use at a sporting event, but, would not the lack of variability with regards to framing discredit the use of a prime lens in sport photography?
I understand the pick a spot and wait for the action to come to that spot, but that is not really how I would choose to shoot a sporting event other than the earlier example of horse jumping and even then I see limitations.

Just a point I thought I would share.

Mark


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