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13 Complete Action Photography Kits

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Mason Resnick is the editor of the Adorama Learning Center and a lifetime photography enthusiast.

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13 Complete Action Photography Kits

Gear Up for Sports Shooting! Updated for FALL 2013

Perhaps you've been reading Sports Illustrated, or perusing sports web sites and are inspired to go out and get great sports moments...but your digital camera falls short of your need to freeze the action and get up close. Here are 13 complete sports photography cameras and/or full systems that will let you chase your dream.


No matter what your budget, level of experience or tolerance for weight is, there are plenty of digital cameras and camera/lens combinations out there to help you get started in action photography. From self-contained “not-so-compact” cameras with long-range zoom lenses and sports photography-friendly features to mirrorless compacts to DSLRs at various levels of cost, there is a combination out there that will let you shoot sports—amateur or professional—like a pro.

(If you're a pro shooter, you likely already know what you need, and probably already have it. This  chapter isn't for you. It's for the photography enthusiasts and snapshooters who want to be you.)

What do you need in a sports photography kit?

  1. A fast camera. It should have a fast “burst rate” (how many pictures it can shoot per second) as well as fast top shutter speeds of at least 1/2000 second, which will freeze action
  2. Stability. If you choose a handheld long-range zoom camera, it must have image stabilization. Otherwise, your pictures will be blurred due to camera motion, which is magnified by those long zoom lenses. For more advanced cameras a monopod and ballhead camera attachment are essential. Your arms will get tired holding that big rig for too long, and the monopod gives you a good combination of free movement and stability.
  3. Image quality. If you use a self-contained camera, you will be sacrificing some image quality. The bigger the camera the bigger the sensor—and the better the picture.
  4. A long lens. One of the reasons those SI photos pop off the page is that the photographers use lenses made with the best glass and coatings and wide apertures. You may not be able to afford such lenses at first so get the best lens you can afford; as you improve, you can trade up.


You can use these criteria and shop for yourself, but the number of choices and possible combinations can be daunting. I've made it easier for you and put together the following kits designed especially for sports photography. (Note: Listed prices are accurate as of August 2013)

Self-Contained Cameras



These cameras come complete with built-in long-range lenses that get you close to the action, no matter where you're sitting. These cameras have electronic viewfinders, and feature sports-friendly shooting modes. But you will need some support if shooting at full zoom at night games, because those long zoom lenses will magnify any camera shake.

Advantages

 

  • Compact, long-range zoom lenses
  • Self contained—no need to switch
  • Fast burst rates
  • Flexible; can also be used for family photos & travel
  • Image stabilization


Disadvantages

  • Smaller sensors limit best image quality to lowest ISO setting
  • Can be easily shaken at full zoom, even with image stabilization
  • Small aperture limits usability at night games and indoors


3 options

Nikon Coolpix 520
Adorama Price: $396.95

The Nikon Coolpix 520 is a lightweight yet very versatile camera that has features that help provide top notch photos for its users. It comes with a Len-Shift Vibration Reduction technology so that images shot over long distances that might be blurry due to the lens shake are crisp and clear without the need for a tripod. Its high speed feature allows you to freeze action by simply holding the shutter button to capture seven continuous shots per second. It provides user flexibility by enabling them to control the exposure of they wish with the option to select from P/S/A/M exposure modes. For those that want ease of use just point its 42x optical zoom lens where the action is, set it on auto and the motion detector will automatically choose a faster, motion-freezing shutter speed while subject tracking keeps subjects moving through the frame in focus.

Fujifilm FinePix S8400
Adorama Price: $312

With its 44x Optical zoom coupled with optical image stabilization technology and fast apertures of f/2.9 to f/6.5 users can bring home sharp crisp images due to its ability to reduce blur. For regular action its autofocus can provide speeds of 10fps at full resolution but for high speed action you can ratchet it up a level with its ultra-high speed mode of up to 60fps. If still images are not enough it also supports taking movies in Full HD 1080i movie by simply using the dedicated movie mode button. The FinePix S8400 also supports wireless transfer of images.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Adorama Price: $598

Not only does the Panasonic FZ47 have an action-catching 12fps burst rate, but it also zooms out to 600mm (35mm equivalent), which should be plenty for getting those shots of the kids playing soccer. Other features include a 3-inch touchscreen LCD, image stabilization (which you'll need especially at the longer focal lengths), and a 12MP sensor. A nice feature for video capture: Shutter speed goes as high as 1/12,000 second in video mode, which is great for clear, action-stopping footage.

MILCs



Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact (MILC) cameras are the fastest-growing camera category and while most are not ideally suited for sports photography because they either react too slowly and/or they don't have eye-level viewfinders that are a necessity for successful sports photography, some are very fast, and do have either built-in or add-on eye-level finders. Lens selection is relatively slim compared to DSLRs, but thanks to third-party adapters, some DSLR lenses can be used on some MILCs. I chose the best out there. To achieve the best balance between keeping it compact and adding stability, for the first two cameras I chose the Tamrac ZipShot Tripod, which is super-light, takes up practically no space, and sets up and breaks down in a jiffy. My suggestion: Hold the camera with the ZipShot's 3 legs together (use a fastener to keep them in place) so it effectively becomes a lightweight monopod.

Advantages

 

  • Small and light
  • Can change lenses
  • Lens adapters allow you to use wide variety of lenses
  • Top models have minimal lag time



Disadvantages

  • May be some lag time
  • Limited lens rage
  • May require electronic viewfinder


3 options


Nikon 1 V2 with Nikon 10-110mm lens
$1,096.95
Tamrac Zipshot Lightweight Tripod $38.95
Total
Adorama Price: $1,135.90

The Nikon 1 V2 is the faster, more sophisticated follow up to the Nikon 1 V1. The MILC offering has built on the solid foundation and now boasts even faster autofocus capabilities due to its new EXPEED 3A dual image processor, hitting 15fps in burst and up to 60fps with fixed point autofocus. While Nikon has continued to design it for use in high speed sporting events it has added features that provide flexibility including  a mode dial atop the camera for direct access to Program, Shutter, Aperture and Manual controls, it has a mount adapter so that users can now mount any Nikon F-mount lens with a 2.7x 35mm equivalent focal length so that now a 50mm lens covers the equivalent of a 135mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera. Other enhancements include a Wu-1b Wireless mobile adapter for transfer of photos and a GPS unit for geotagging.

 

Olympus OM-D


Olympus OMD-EM5  $999
Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 lens $549
Tamrac Zipshot Lightweight Tripod $38.95
Total Adorama Price: $1586.95

The Olympus OMD-EM5 is a fast, svelte little camera that has proven itself not only as a great street camera but when paired with the outstanding Olympus 75-300mm lens it can capture the action anywhere in a light, portable package. In my field tests I found focus was very fast and decisive. When set in manual exposure and manual focus, there was virtually no lag time. Image quality is great to ISO 800, and with noise reduction you can get away with ISO 1600 or even higher, and the built-in electronic viewfinder is one of the best I've used. Remember the old film Olympus OM series? This digital camera lives up to that legendary camera's standard.

 

Sony NEX-7

 

Sony NEX-7  $1,198
Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.4 E-Mount NEX lens $898
Flashpoint UC204 Carbon Fiber Monopod $79.95
Flashpoint Swivel Tilt Head $10.95
Total Adorama Price: $2,185.90

The smallest and lightest camera to feature the best APS sensor on the market, the Sony NEX-7 is arguably the best mirrorless camera on the market. With an action-freezing top shutter speed of 1/4000 second and 10fps burst rate at full resolution—as well as a built-in, high-resolution electronic viewfinder—the NEX-7 is well-suited for sports photography. I've paired it with a superzoom because that's the only E-Mount lens that currently reaches well into telephoto territory (300mm equivalent). Thanks to the wide variety of adapters available that will take Nikon, Canon or Sony DSLR lenses, you have other options, but may lose autofocus and some other capabilities. Since you are getting such good image quality, it is also important to stabilize the image. A lightweight monopod and tilt head will get you there.



Budget DSLRs

DSLRs are the best way to go if you want top image quality paired with outstanding optics that will do your action photos proud. The great thing about DSLRs is that as you grow and improve as a photographer, you can upgrade lenses (and cameras) to meet your needs. These three kits are starter kits, with the components chosen for the best balance of low price and sports-readiness. You can always trade up!

Advantages

  • Optical viewfinder provides clearest view of the scene
  • Faster aperture lenses can shoot in lower light
  • Larger sensors mean better image quality
  • Better “bang for the buck”


Disadvantages

  • Larger and heavier than MILCs and self-contained cameras
  • Long focal length lenses are bigger and heavier
  • Burst rates not so fast


3 options

 

Canon Rebel T3i

 

Canon Rebel T3i  $599
Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III lens $189
Flashpoint UC 204 Carbon Fiber Monopod $79.95
Sunpak Medium Ball Head $24.95
Total Adorama Price: $892.90

With an 18MP sensor capable of capturing images at up to 6400 and 3.7fps burst rate, the Canon T3i is a good place to start as a DSLR sports shooter. The 75-300mm lens is an affordable way to give you a longer focal range to get you near the action, and the monopod and ball head will provide the stability you need to get started shooting serious sports without the need for stabilization (which would add a couple of hundred bucks to the cost), for less than a grand.

Nikon D3100

 

Nikon D3100 $476.95 (with kit lens)
Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6G lens $159
Flashpoint UC 204 Carbon Fiber Monopod $79.95
Sunpak Medium Ball Head $24.95

Total Adorama Price: $740.85


The Nikon D3100 (only available with the 18-55mm kit lens) is an ideal camera if you want the flexibility of interchangeable lenses but are intimidated by the idea that you have to learn complicated exposure techniques in order to get decent pictures. The D3100's on-board instructions will hold your hand through the learning process and if you don't want to learn, there's a sports scene mode: Just set it and go. Image quality is excellent and the 14MP sensor will provide more than enough resolution for poster-sized prints and more than enough for anything smaller, while the ISO range up to 3200 will deliver action-stopping capabilities. With recent price drops on the lens and camera, this kit is a great deal!

 

Sony SLT A35

 

Sony  SLT A58  $598
Tamron 75-300mm f/4-5.6 LD $164
Flashpoint UC 204 Carbon Fiber Monopod $79.95
Sunpak Medium Ball Head $24.95

Total Adorama Price: $892.90

The Sony SLT-A58 (only available with a kit lens) has everything that an action photographer could want in a budget DSLR but the zoom lens. Lucky for fans of this family it supports interchangeable lens so that you can easily upgrade to one that more closely meets your needs. Its Exmor sensor can deliver up to ISO 16000 so you can get action-stopping shutter speeds even indoors or at night games, and is capable of six frames in a fraction of a second and then combine all of the data into a single image. When looking for lens, and it supports Sony A-mount as well as compatibles such as the Minolta/Konica Minolta Maxxum lenses. A nice cost effective choice is the Tamron 75-300mm f4.5-5.6 LD AF. Also good accessories are a monopod/ballhead combo for this setup.

 

Enthusiast DSLRs


You're ready to get serious about shooting sports. You've seen the pictures in Sports Illustrated, and you want to shoot like that—even if your subject is in Little League. Many DSLRs have super-fast burst rates, higher top shutter speeds, and improved image quality at high ISOs. I've paired these three lenses with higher-quality tele zoom lenses with larger apertures. Yes, they cost more, but remember: Once you get to be really good, you can start selling pictures to parents in the league (if you're shooting kids playing) and help pay for the cost.

Advantages

  • Faster burst rate
  • More reliable autofocus
  • More durable


Disadvantages

  • They cost more
  • Not much noticeable improvement if you use low-end lens



3 options

 

Canon 7D

 

Canon 7D  $1,499
Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS  $1,149
(Lower cost alternative: Non-IS version, currently only available Grey Market, for $669)
Canon Extender EF 2x III Tele Extender $449
Flashpoint FL2560 Carbon Fiber Monopod  $79.95
Flashpoint F9 Compact Tripod Ball Head  $43.95
Total Adorama Price$2,740.90 - $3,220.90

The rugged, weather-resistant, magnesium-alloy chassis Canon 7D is built to handle heavy use under a variety of outdoor conditions. With a speedy 19-point AF system it focuses quickly and accurately, and its 8fps burst rate and 1/8000 second top shutter speed are fast enough to catch the action, and the buffer has enough room so you can shoot over 100 full-size images without pause (assuming you use a really fast CF card such as th Lexar 32GB 400x card). Its 18MP APS-C sensor handles low light and high ISOs very well, with a top speed of 12,800. The 70-200mm f/4L is a sports shooter's workhorse; if you can afford the faster 70-200mm f/2.8, more power to ya. If you want to save, step down to the non-IS version of the f/4; since you'll be using a monopod you likely will have image stabilization turned off anyway.. The 2x tele extender is matched for Canon lenses so you'll get the best image quality, and doubles the focal range to up to 400mm, which is effectively 600mm factoring in the 7D's APS sensor. I chose a heavier-duty monopod and ball head to handle the heavier payload.

 

Nikon D7000

 

Nikon D7000 $896.95
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM AF $1,249
Sigma 1.4x teleconverter for Nikon $224
Flashpoint FL2560 Carbon Fiber Monopod $79.95
Flashpoint F9 Compact Tripod Ball Head $43.95
Total Adorama Price: $2,493.85

With one of the highest-rated APS sensors for overall image quality, the Nikon D7000 is a half-step down from the Canon 7D price-wise but feature wise is much closer, and is very well suited for sports, from its zippy 6fps burst rate and top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec to such sports-friendly features as predictive focus tracking (it somehow knows where an active subject will move within the frame and keep focus locked on). Its top ISO is 25,000, and it is great at ISO 6400, which should be plenty freezing action at night games without compromising on image quality. I chose the Sigma 70-200 for its f/2.8 aperture, which remains consistent throughout the zoom range (and is faster than the nearest Nikon tele zoom), and matched 1.4x converter to bring the maximum focal range to 280mm (which is like 420mm on a 35mm sensor camera).

 

Pentax K5

 

Pentax K5  $699
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 DI LD (IF) Macro AF Zoom  $769
Sigma 2X teleconverter for Pentax   $249
Flashpoint FL2560 Carbon Fiber Monopod $79.95
Flashpoint F9 Compact Tripod Ball Head $43.95

Total Adorama Price: $2,001.90

Ruggedized against rain, dust and cold and built over a magnesium-alloy chassis, the Pentax K5 offers remarkable features for sports photographers, from its top ISO of 52,000 (that's no misprint) to its 7fps burst rate (in RAW; 22fps in JPEG) and built-in shake reduction and 11-point autofocus system. As with other cameras in this category it offers a motion-stopping 1/8000 sec top shutter speed; unlike the other models, it takes SDXC memory cards (I recommend a fast Class 10 card to take full advantage of the burst rate ). For the optics I chose a mash-up of the Tamron 70-200m f/2.8 for its constant aperture that doesn't change through the zoom range, paired with the Sigma 2X teleconverter, since that's the only one made for Pentax. Pentax deserves credit for making a camera that, in many ways, bests its “big two” competitors.

 

 

Sony SLT-A65  $698
Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G   $1,998
Sony 2.0x tele converter  $548
Flashpoint FL2560 Carbon Fiber Monopod $79.95
Flashpoint F9 Compact Tripod Ball Head $43.95
Total Adorama Price: $3,367.90

With its second generation translucent mirror technology, the Sony SLT-A65 still shoots at blazingly fast 10 frames per second but now at full 24.3MP resolution in continuous auto focus; the speed is helped by itsadvanced Exmor sensor technology. Here it is paired with the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G SSM zoom ISO7020028G, a premium lens that, along with the Sony 2.0x tele converter ISO20TC $548, should level the playing field. Wanna upgrade? Consider the pricey but take-no-prisoners top-grade Sony 300mm f/2.8 ISO300F28G. As with other brands, I've also included a ballhead and tripod.

 

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