Shooting basketball with primes... any experience, recommendations?
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Widgic
Registered: Jan 28, 2011
Total Posts: 320
Country: United States

I am thinking about getting a couple of high aperture prime lenses to shoot basketball.

When I cover a basketball game I usually take my 24-70mm F/2.8, 70-200mm F/2.8 and a 300mm F/2.8 (I shoot full frame, Nikon).

I am thinking about getting a 50mm F/1.4G and maybe a 85mm F/1.4 (D or maybe G). I was wondering if anyone has any experience they can share about shooting with these focal lenses (again, on full frame bodies) and with wide aperture.

I have basically one concern and one question:

1 - Depth Of Field

I am really concerned about depth of field... My trusty online DOF calculator (http://www.dofmaster.com) gives me to following results for DOF:

50mm @ F/1.4 @ 6' distance -> DOF= 4.32" (not bad, 1/2 of what it would be with the same focal length but at F/2.8)

85mm @ F/1.4 @ 10' distance -> DOF = 4.2" (again, 1/2 of what it would be with F/2.8)

So it's enough to get the face / upper body in focus, but everything else (ball, arms, etc) will be OOF.

I know I could stop them down to 1.8 and get more DOF....

2 - Focus speed

For those with experience with these lenses, do they focus faster than the zoom lenses? I would think so because they have less glass to move and wider aperture (more light going to the AF sensor). Is that the case or is it the same / worse?

Thanks,

Denis
www.widgic.com



Geoffrey Bolte
Registered: Jan 21, 2007
Total Posts: 1314
Country: United States

If you get the G models yes, as they will be AF-S models where as the D models are screw driven by the camera. ie No focus motor in the lens.

They may focus pretty fast but no where near the 24-70,70-200 or 300mm.

Any reason why you need 1-2 stops more than 2.8?? Just wondering as many of the decent venues I shoot in are ISO 3200 or better. Where as high schools are anywhere from 4000-10000.



Scott Sewell
Registered: Dec 08, 2003
Total Posts: 8558
Country: United States

May I ask what's been not working with the 24-70, 70-200 and 300 that is causing you to think about other lenses? I would think between those three lenses you'd be set with basketball at any level from high school and above.



Widgic
Registered: Jan 28, 2011
Total Posts: 320
Country: United States

Scott Sewell wrote:
May I ask what's been not working with the 24-70, 70-200 and 300 that is causing you to think about other lenses? I would think between those three lenses you'd be set with basketball at any level from high school and above.


Honestly I don't need to shoot with prime with a wider aperture. Most arena's I shoot are 3200 - 4000 ISO with D3s's so it's not bad. I like the idea that when shooting with fixed focal lens you have to think about framing, composition differently than with a zoom, I think it forces you to anticipate the action and imagine and prepare for shot in you head more than with zooms.

Denis
www.widgic.com



thetaobear
Registered: Apr 25, 2010
Total Posts: 123
Country: United States

Answering to your question 1:
I always shoot with the Canon's 35mm 1.4 at f/1.4. It has been perfect because I do get very clean images (lower ISO on the 5D3) and the images stand out because of the narrow depth of field. In terms of sharpness, I had no problems at all given my setup. I think the worst offender is chromatic aberration. It seems that these wide open lenses run into chromatic aberration when the object is not on the focus plane. So I suggest shooting in RAW and use LR or PS to correct chromatic aberration. The results amaze me. Therefore, sharpness and CA are not problems at all.



svanstone9
Registered: Oct 28, 2012
Total Posts: 52
Country: United States

thetaobear wrote:
Answering to your question 1:
I always shoot with the Canon's 35mm 1.4 at f/1.4. It has been perfect because I do get very clean images (lower ISO on the 5D3) and the images stand out because of the narrow depth of field. In terms of sharpness, I had no problems at all given my setup. I think the worst offender is chromatic aberration. It seems that these wide open lenses run into chromatic aberration when the object is not on the focus plane. So I suggest shooting in RAW and use LR or PS to correct chromatic aberration. The results amaze me. Therefore, sharpness and CA are not problems at all.


Well Said.



capitalK
Registered: Apr 26, 2005
Total Posts: 1038
Country: Canada

I haven't found shooting B-Ball with primes to be easy, I do it out of necessity because the main gym I shoot in is f/2.8 1/400 at ISO 6400 (the max ISO for my 1D Mk III). By shooting with a lens at f/2 I can get 1/800 of a second which is much more reliable at freezing action. Strobing is strictly not allowed.

Problem with the primes is you have to commit that you are going to get some great shots but you have to let a lot of other ones go. The amount of keepers go down but the quality of the keepers may go up (especially if you need the shutter speed).

Sometimes the decrease in DOF keeps too little in focus, so if there is a bunch of guys fighting for a rebound only one of them is likely to be in focus.



OntheRez
Registered: Jul 16, 2008
Total Posts: 2810
Country: United States

Due to abysmal light in all of the venues in which I shoot (newspaper photog and reporter), I'm forced to do both VB and BB with primes. Shooting at f/2.8 pushes the ISO out the ceiling. I can't speak to Nikon lenses, but I assume there are analogs to the Canon's I use: 85mm f/1.8, 135mm f/2.0L, and not very satisfactorily the 50mm f/1.4. Using these lenses I shoot Tv @ 1/800, which almost always can stop action (even in volleyball). I shoot center point selected (with side assist), back button focus, and center weighted metering. I've found this metering mode to work better with center point AF as it evens out the exposures. I ran with center only for a while, but found that I got wild swings in exposure as the metering didn't have enough area to work with.

Shooting with primes is a real challenge because (1) DOF is normally quite shallow so there are often wonderfully focused shots of a spectator on her cell just past the shooter I was aiming at. Without a doubt there are fewer keepers than when I can work with a zoom as I do in softball, football, and baseball. (2) Framing is a real challenge. I move to different parts of the floor and bleachers using different lenses and try to "set up" for the action before it comes. I don't know about "have to think about framing, composition differently than with a zoom" as I've never had a chance to work in an arena where there was enough light to have a choice. I note thetaobear's recommendation of the 35mm f/1.4. One really does need a wide fast lens (for say working under the basket trying to get a player on the boards ). I have a very poor success rate with my 50mm f/1.4 and given how much better the 85 and the 135 do, I have to think it's the lens that is failing to focus fast enough. Need to consider the 35L though I'm not sure where I'd find the capital in this very depressed region.

If you've never shot indoor sport with a prime, I guarantee you'll be in for a "new and different" experience. Can't say that it's better though I can say when I do nail a shot it is often remarkably good. On average, I'd guess 80% of my shots don't even make it to evaluation state. Aperture is most often 2.0 - 2.2. (I generally take 400-600 shots a game. Depends on the action.) Others may do better than I, and I'd say my hit rate is slowly improving, but I can't imagine that a fixed focal length lens will ever match the success rate of a zoom.

Food for thought from the very dark trenches.

Robert



Russ Isabella
Registered: Jan 30, 2005
Total Posts: 9954
Country: United States

Widgic wrote:
Scott Sewell wrote:
May I ask what's been not working with the 24-70, 70-200 and 300 that is causing you to think about other lenses? I would think between those three lenses you'd be set with basketball at any level from high school and above.


Honestly I don't need to shoot with prime with a wider aperture. Most arena's I shoot are 3200 - 4000 ISO with D3s's so it's not bad. I like the idea that when shooting with fixed focal lens you have to think about framing, composition differently than with a zoom, I think it forces you to anticipate the action and imagine and prepare for shot in you head more than with zooms.

Denis
www.widgic.com


Given this and what's been offered thus far, perhaps you can opt for a transitional period where you tape your zooms to the focal lengths of the primes you are thinking about. This would allow you to experiment in the ways you are thinking might enhance your shooting, without the financial commitment to new lenses.



SkyHawk
Registered: Aug 10, 2003
Total Posts: 376
Country: United States

You may be disappointed in the focus speed of the 85mm 1.4. I know that I was and quickly got rid of it. I really like shooting basketball with the 85mm 1.8. Reasonably fast focus, great lens in low-light conditions such as high school gyms.