Using a 50mm Lens for Sports?

Dribble Drive, originally uploaded by The Digital Story.

It's funny sometimes when I cover indoor sporting events... There are usually a couple guys standing around me with really big lenses trying to cover the action. And then there's me, often depending on my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens (or 85mm f/1.8) prime lens. The 50mm looks so, well, small.

But when you can get relatively close to the play, this affordable glass (usually less than $100 new) delivers big results. Here, it's mounted on a Canon T1i in Aperture Priority mode (with the 1.6x magnification on the cropped sensor, it's the equivalent to an 80mm lens). I set the f/stop to f/1.8 (wide open), the ISO to 1600, and shoot in burst mode. Because the walls were brightly painted in this gym, I also set exposure compensation to +1 so my subjects wouldn't be underexposed. You can see all of the metadata for this shot if you click on it to open in Flickr.

This image is right out of the T1i with no adjustments or cropping. It was uploaded to Flickr directly from my DSLR using the new Eye-Fi Pro X2. With this WiFi SDHC card, you can send pictures to your computer, social networking site, or even FTP server from your camera.

So, if you can get can get close to the action, the affordable 50mm can produce great results.

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Great advice and picture Derrick. I looked at the data on Flickr and was amazed that you used ONe Shot AF and not AF Servo. IS there an advantage to this?

Great question, TJ.

The reason I usually don't use AF Servo for sports is because I have a harder time controlling the focus. This becomes especially important when I'm shooting "wide open" at f/1.8 with minimum depth of field. So, if I don't nail the focus, then the shot is often useless.

With "one shot" I can lock the focus at the precise point I want. I can also anticiapate where the action is going, lock the focus there, then shoot as the player moves through that area.

Derrick: This makes me feel so much more confident. I'm currently waiting for my new T2i to arrive today. I have had the same plan for shooting indoor kids sports.

Over the winter I tried to shoot indoor basketball with my XSi and the 70-250mm IS f/4-f5.6 lens. However, even at the XSi's top ISO 1600, and wide open at f/4, I couldn't get anything faster then a 1/30th shutter speed. Much too slow for moving sports.

I tried the same kind of thing at my son's play two weeks ago. The ISO and lens were just too slow.

So I bought the 50mm f/1.8. And it worked for the play. I had to crop the pictures in Lightroom to get an equivalent "zoom". But I got the shots.

You've given me more confidence that I'll now be able to capture some good indoor sports pictures. The T2i has 18 megapixels, so I should be able to crop the 1.6 magnified 50mm into something that is closer to a telephoto.

And by combining ISO 6400 (or 12800) and the really nice new Lightroom 3 noise reduction, I think I can get 1/1000 and really freeze the sports action.

Wish me luck.

Hi Brad,

For kids sports we can usually get closer than for other events, so I think your new T2i plus a 50mm will work great. And if you need a little more reach, the 85mm f/1.8 works great too.

Best of luck,

Good evening

I shot an indoor Basketball match last week at 8.30 p.m. with abysmal lighting, using a Eos 7 with a Canon 50mm 1.8 and if you wish to see the results please head over to:

minimal work done in lightroom.