Sunday, August 27, 2017

New School Year, New Toys - 2017.08.27

A new school year is approaching which means fall sports will begin soon and the bulk of all the shooting I did last year was high school sports for Algonquin Regional High School. One of my biggest struggles during the varsity football games (Friday Night Lights baby) was getting a decent balance between shutter speed and ISO speed that provided reasonably low noise and sharp pictures. I bought the Canon 5D Mark III and 7D Mark II at the beginning of the season and found both cameras work great during day games but they both struggled (especially the 7D) shooting night games or indoor sports (cheer). I had a lot of out-of-focus shots due to the mediocre auto-focus, the colors seemed a bit muddled and the shots were just not sharp. I am willing to admit that some of the issue was probably user error (I did not know about the focus micro-adjustments for quite some time) but based on review that I have read, both of these cameras struggle a bit in dynamic range and high  ISO noise levels. I came to the conclusion that my cameras were limiting the quality of my pictures and the only way to overcome this was to upgrade my gear.


This is where the new toys come in. I am keeping most of the gear that I bought last year as the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM were my workhorse lenses. However, I have updated to the Canon 5D Mark IV and I added the Canon 1D X Mark II to the line-up. The real improvement of the 5DIV is not in the 30.4MP sensor (the 5DIII has a 22.3MP sensor). Rather, the real benefit is in dynamic range and relative ISO invariance (ability to adjust exposure over a large ISO speed range with little impact to noise performance). This camera should allow me to get sharper and cleaner pictures at high ISO during night games. I am probably the most excited to work with the 1D X Mark II - this is a professional level camera and pretty much the top of the line DSLR currently offered by Canon. The 1D X II only has a 20.2MP sensor but it can shoot at 14fps in bursts up to 170 RAW images before buffering. I am not one to follow the spray and pray mentality but having the higher frame rate provides more flexibility in post production and increases the odds of getting the exact moment in action that you want. For comparison, the 5D and 7D families shoot 5-10fps (allegedly) and buffer with fewer than 30 RAW images. The auto-focus system is also second to none (Nikon D5 and Sony A9 owners will dispute this).


To round out the kit, I also added the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II USM telephoto lens. Let me tell you now, this is a big lens! I was not really prepared for how large and heavy this thing is and it pretty much forces you to use a mono-pod. The other thing that I was not really expecting is that the lens is so long it forces you to shoot a different perspective than with the 70-200mm. It will take me some time to figure out the right balance between the two, which will most likely be my two primary lenses for a game.

I got a chance to shoot during a practice session for the Algonquin football team and again, the next day, at their first scrimmage. I have included a few pictures and a link to the scrimmage picture gallery to show how my first days with the new kit turned out. My first impression is that the 1DX Mark II with the 300mm lens is simply awesome. The pair is significantly better than the setup that I had last year and even the 5D Mark IV seems slow comparatively even though it shoots 7fps compared to the 5D Mark III's 5fps (I actually tested the cameras and the 5D IV does shoot a sustained 7fps). I have never believed the claim that the 7D Mark II shoots 10fps and I recently tested it and measure only 8fps with the Lexar 32GB 1066x CF card. The high frame rate can be seen in the pictures below - the series was shot with the 1DXii and 300mm lens and I got eight sharp and in-focus shots of the receiver catching the ball. I can select the best shot from the series for my gallery post or create a narrative with several of them to show the action.

I usually start a play by focusing on the quarterback and then either follow the runner in a run play or try to pan to the receiver in a pass play. I had good luck with that in the past because the lens was much smaller and I could swing the camera quickly but now the lens has quite a bit of mass and it is mounted on a mono-pod making it a bit more difficult to pan. I think that things work out in the end because of the faster auto-focus in the 1DX. In another series where the defender came out on top stopping a short slant I was able to capture four shots in the series demonstrating how fast and accurate the auto-focus is.

At the team scrimmage I was able to get another 2-3 hours of practice on the new setup and took about 900 pictures. I posted the full gallery of 94 pictures here but I included some of my favorite shots below to demonstrate how sharp the pair is (and how I am improving). I shot in RAW on the 1DX Mark II and used manual mode on all cameras (I also had the 5D Mark IV and 7D Mark II which I shot JPEG) with the aperture set between f/2.8 and f/4.0, I used auto ISO and set the shutter speed 1/2000th - 1/5000th to keep the ISO between 100 and 250. All three cameras were set up with AWB and no exposure compensation. I did mix-and-match the lenses and bodies and I also threw in a 1.4x Mark III teleconverter for fun. One experiment that I did was shooting from the back of one end zone with the 7D Mark II (which has a 1.6x crop factor) paired with the 300mm lens and a 1.4x TC for an effective focal length of 672mm. This was very difficult to keep steady, even with the mono-pod, and was almost too much zoom even when the teams were down at the other end zone. All photos were edited in Adobe Lightroom CC 2015.12 for exposure, WB and composition (crop).

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