Mike Dvornak Photography | The Best Lens for Sports Photography

The Best Lens for Sports Photography

August 28, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I'll have to admit...sports photography is expensive.  Fast bodies and long lenses.  My start into the sports photography began earnestly in my college days at Auburn University.  I was the assistant photo editor at the Auburn Plainsman - the college newspaper.  Those days were of the film era.  Everyone shot B&W film.  We could only load 36 frames into a standard reusable canister and only allotted 10 canisters per assignment.  Many days and nights spent in the darkroom where you were supposed to use metal tongs to hold the paper in the chemical baths but never did.  Never could get the chemical smell off your hands regardless of number of times washing them.  I attended college during the era of Bo Jackson in football and Charles Barkely in basketball.  A photo rich environment for sure.  But I was a typical poor college kid - full time student and worked various jobs to help defray the cost of rent and groceries.  My camera body was an Canon AE-1 (still have it!) and a 200mm f5.6 lens.  No auto winder either!  One shot and that was it.  That lens forced me to wait for the shot to come to me.  No auto winder made me have to wait to get the right action. Definitely worked up blisters on the right thumb trying to advance the frame quickly. A lot of what I did get was just by luck.   Did I mention no auto focus either?!?  Focusing was a split prism/cross hatch arrangement that let you know when you where in focus.  Looking back I am surprised that I was able to photograph anything!

Fast forward to today.  Camera bodies shoot 10 frames per second, long telephoto lenses are auto focusing and can capture low light down to f2.8 or better.  My main camera lens is the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 autofocus.  It is my favorite lens.  One is because it is "relatively" inexpensive.  New ones today are around $2,100 and you can buy a used one in good condition for half that price.  The other reason is light and agile to use.

However, even though the 200mm lens is a great all around lens, it does not let you reach out and grab the action that is often too far away.  Football, soccer and rugby are all sports that require a lens that is longer than 200mm.  If you want to get the shots no one else is getting (except for the guys who shoot for Getty Images or Sports Illustrated), you must get a longer lens.  Pay to play is a saying that comes to mind.  But there is a way!

{Que angelic music}

Enter the world of the 400mm f2.8 lens.  The images that that lens captures is nothing short of magnificent!  I have used both the Nikon and Canon 400mm f2.8 lenses and the results are just breathtaking.  The bokeh is amazing and the ability to quickly autofocus on fast moving action is superb.  Cons - the price tag on one of these babies could be traded for a tad over the first semester tuition at a major university!  Plus you need a monopod and good arm muscles to carry it around.

There is no rival to this lens.  If you are serious about your sports photography then it must be part of your arsenal!  BUT that doesn't mean you have to purchase it.  I just rent mine when needed.  I'm not a full time sports photographer so the investment is not justified.  There are several national camera gear rental houses out there that will ship a lens to you for as long as you need it. Their customer support is awesome. The only requirement is you carry adequate equipment insurance in case of a drop  breakage or theft while in your possession.

The photo below was shot last year.  Recently, a parent of the young man in this photo contacted me about it.  The conversation about it brought up some good memories of shooting with the 400mm.  It is such a sweet lens to work with.

I have a hunch I will be using that lens again.

Have a great week!

Mike

Nikon D4 body, Nikon 400mm E FL ED VR f2.8 lens, shot at ISO 800, f2.8, 1/1250 sec

 


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