Getting Equipped for Better Action Photos

The Nikon D3100 is a great entry-level digital SLR.

What photo equipment do you need to become an accomplished Parent With Camera (aka PWC) snapping great action pix of your young athlete? Let’s start with what you don’t need: A point-and-shoot camera.

P&S cameras are great for taking photos of people, places, and things, but they absolutely stink at capturing action pix because of their shutter lag (sloooooow!) and lens quality. Yes, you can get photos of the kids standing still in the dugout or during the medal ceremony, but that’s not action, my friends. Try to snap a shot of your kid rounding the bases with a P&S. You might get a lovely photo of the base . . . but not of anything else.

What you do need is a digital SLR, a camera that allows you to change lenses. It can be Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, or Pentax as long as it’s a single-lens reflex. They’re more expensive than a P&S, but, fortunately, there is an array of entry-level dSLRs that can get you started on the road to action photography stardom for less money. Remember that this is an investment in how you want to document your kids’ activities. Plus a dSLR is a great all-around camera, useful for all kinds of photos.

I recommend trying different dSLRs at a camera store (especially one with knowledgeable employees); one might fit your hand better than another. The two most-popular dSLR companies are Nikon and Canon, and both make wonderful cameras. I chose Nikon, because my friend Deanna let me use her then-new Nikon D70 during the summer of 2004, and I fell in love with it. I shot thousands of photos with it for a year and a half before moving up to the D200 in January of 2006 and then the D300 in January of 2008.

Now I switch between the D300 and my newer Nikon D700; the D200 has found a new home in Seattle with my beloved #2 niece so she can better record the comings and goings of her son, the Z-babe.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens

Once you’ve decided on which camera you want to buy, you’ve only solved half of the photography equation. Equally important is lens choice. Every new dSLR comes with a kit lens, usually an 18-55mm. The 18-55 might be fine for snapping pix of most people, places, and things, but it’s too slow (it doesn’t allow in enough light to use a fast-enough shutter speed to stop action) for indoor sports photography. And it’s too short for shooting outdoor sports.

What sport(s) you plan to shoot determines the lens you need: If your kid plays baseball, soccer, football, or lacrosse, opt (for now) for a 70-300mm lens. As long as you have plenty of light, this zoom range should do the trick until you decide you want better quality and have saved your shekels for an f/2.8 (faster) 70-200mm lens and an f/1.4-1.7 teleconverter.

As for the dreaded indoor sports, like volleyball, gymnastics, and basketball, where perfect shots can be ruined by the odd tungsten lighting, my go-to lens is an 85mm prime, either f/1.8 or the more-expensive f/1.4. Be aware that for most of the entry-level Nikons, you need the AF-S version if you want the camera to autofocus the lens (instead of you manually focusing the older AF model).

I remember when a friend of mine a few years ago bought the Nikon D70, which then came with the Nikon 18-70mm lens. She tried to shoot indoor volleyball photos and was so disappointed with her blurry shots.

“I thought I had everything I needed,” she said.

But she didn’t have the correct lens nor did she know how to increase the ISO to gain a faster shutter speed.

The good news for you? I’m going to talk about shooting indoor photography next Friday! Then, hopefully, you won’t be frustrated when you try to take photos of your kiddo playing basketball . . . as long as you are well-equipped for the task.

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