6 Great Camera Outfits Optimized For Capturing Outstanding Images Of Basketball And Other Extreme-Action Indoor Sports
March Madness, aka the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, is in full swing. What better way to celebrate than by making a direct photographic connection to all those breathtaking basketball images that are bound to emerge from the frenzied Sweet Sixteen competition among the nation’s top college basketball teams over the next few weeks. We thought about tying into all the excitement by creating a 16-team set of brackets of our own, pitting indoor action sports camera outfits against one another, but that proved to be logistically impractical. For one thing there aren’t 16 different camera brands making cameras optimized for indoor sports coverage, raising the real possibility of a Canon vs. Canon or Nikon vs. Nikon team matchup. Secondly, there are really no objective criteria corresponding to points scored for assessing and comparing the overall real world performance of sports shooting outfits. And we didn’t want to turn this into a partisan popularity contest by having camera fans vote on their preferences.
What we’ve come up with is a workable compromise, a carefully selected group of a half dozen worthy sports shooting outfits from four major camera company contenders that are divided into two distinct categories. “In A League of Their Own” is an exclusive class consisting of two ultra-high-end professional sports shooing outfits, one from Canon and one from Nikon that include the ultimate in high-speed lenses chosen without regard to price on a pure performance basis. The second tier, the “Broad-Spectrum All Stars” class consists of four great indoor sports shooting outfits “for the rest of us,” all fine performers with great specs, bodies in the $2K class, and excellent but less pricey arrays of lenses. The brands represented in this category are Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Panasonic.
Yes there are a number of other camera companies offering cameras, lenses, and accessories that are quite capable of capturing excellent indoor sports images, including Pentax, Fujifilm, and Samsung, just to name a few, and we tip our lens cap to their legions of loyal fans. Our object here was not to be utterly comprehensive but simply to get into the spirit of March Madness, have fun, and provide good solid information for anyone into or getting into indoor sports photography which would include such fast-action sports as basketball, hockey, arena football, arena soccer, indoor tennis and volleyball. We sure hope you find it stimulating and informative.
The Team Players
While there are limits to the sports analogy when it comes to picking the elements, or “players,” on each “team” that comprises each of the great indoor action sports photo outfits listed below, we’ll give it our best shot and hope we hit a three-pointer. To that end, we’ve assigned a basketball position to represent those features or performance factors in each outfit that are most crucial in effective and compelling sports photography, especially when shooting indoors where the light can be challenging and on-camera flash or elaborate flash setups are the exception rather than the rule.
*Shots made from above the net using a remote-controlled camera, mounted behind the transparent backboard.
Of course, unlike a basketball team all these players are really “on the field” at all times and can be accessed instantly, which is one of the main differences between camera outfits for shooting sports and basketball teams. On the upside, none of these players will be called out on fouls, but on the downside photographers don't get any free throws. Sports shooters, whether they’re enthusiasts or pros, have to earn their great shots the hard way, by understanding the game, paying close attention to the action, and responding with the reflexes of an NBA pro. Of course a great sports camera outfit can sure help, so here are half a dozen of the best.
In A League Or Their Own
Canon EOS-1D X Team
Based on the cutting-edge pro mainstay Canon EOS-1D X with its tough magnesium alloy body and hi-res 3.2-inch LCD, the players include a 61-point High Density Reticular AF system with cross-type AF support down to f/8 that’s useable with super-telephoto lenses, a full-frame 24x36mm 18.1MP CMOS sensor, a state-of-the-art DIGIC 5+ Image Processor that enhances all performance parameters, and a maximum sustained burst rate of 12 fps for full-res RAW+JPEG images and up to 14 fps in Super High Speed Mode (JPEG). The super-premium high-speed lens players include such stellar optics as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, and the Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II ultra-wide zoom for backboard shots, all top-of-the-line glass. Backing up this impressive roster: Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps, 25 fps, and cinematic 24 fps in MOV, MPEG-4, and AVC/H.264 file formats, and the accessory Canon WFT-E6A Wireless Transmitter that offers wireless LAN and Bluetooth functionality and supports wireless time syncing that allows you to make adjustments without a computer connection.
Nikon D4S Team
This team rallies around the recently released full-frame flagship of the Nikon line, the state-of-the-art Nikon D4S that provides such notable features as a native ISO of 25600 that’s to ISO 409600,a 91k-pixel RGB sensor with Group area AF for super accurate exposure and AF control, and a hi-res 3.2-inch LCD monitor. Players include a 51-point Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX AF sensor that’s selectable for 9, 21 or 51 points and provides 3D tracking and Scene Recognition to maintain tracking at high speeds, a full-frame FX-format 16.2 MP sensor, a state-of-the-art EXPEED 4 image sensor that enhances operational speed and performance, and a 11 fps full-res burst rate that allows shooting up to 200 consecutive with full AE/AF control. The impressive players in the Nikon optical array trio include the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II zoom, the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 ED VRII, and the AF-S Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D EF IF ultra-wide zoom. Backup players on the D4S A-team roster: Full HD 1080p video capture at 60 fps, 50 fps, 30 fps, 25 fps, and cinematic 24 fps in MOV, MPEG-4 and AVC/H.264 file formats and the Nikon WR-R10/WR-T10/WR-A10 Remote Wireless Adapter Set, a complete remote control set designed to control or trigger the shutter release of any Nikon DSLR and that can also control multiple cameras on three frequencies.
Broad-Spectrum All Stars
Sony Alpha A6000 Team
A milestone in the evolution of the mirrorless compact system camera, the recently announced Sony Alpha A6000 takes the performance parameters of the breed up a few notches with such features as 179 on-sensor phase-detect AF points that cover over 90% of the image area, a 3.0-inch 921k-dot tilting LCD, full-time AF when shooting video, and a 0.39-inch Tru-Finder 1,440k-dot OLED EVF. Players on the A6000 team include a Fast Hybrid AF System capable of achieving precise focus for stills and video in as little as 0.06 sec utilizing a Spatial Object Detection algorithm, an APS-C-format 14.3 MP Exmor HD CMOS Sensor, the latest cutting-edge BIONZ X Image Processor that enhances speed and provides ISO settings up to 25600, and a maximum full-res framing rate of up to 11 fps in continuous high mode. Optical players on the field include a choice of the Sony E-mount SEL 70-200mm f/4 (with Sony LA-EA3 or LA-EA4 adapter) or the Sony A-mount SAL 70-200mm f/2.8 G; the choice of the Sony A-mount SAL 300mm f/2.8 G with adapter or the E-mount Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 PZ OSS providing Image Stabilization with Active Mode; and the Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS ultra-wide zoom for behind the backboard shots. The backup bench: Full HD 1080p video at 60 fps and cinematic 24 fps in MP4, MPEG-4 and AVC/H.264 file formats, and the Sony ECM-CG50 Short Shotgun Microphone for enhanced audio.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Team
Panasonic’s latest mirrorless Micro Four Thirds-format camera is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, an ultra-high-tech contender that delivers full DSLR functionality along with advanced features like a 3.0-inch 1,036k-dot OLED monitor, a 2,359k-dot OLED Live View EVF, 4K video capture (!), and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, all in an attractively compact weather-sealed magnesium alloy body. Players on the GH4 team include a high-speed 49-area AF system with Custom Multi AF that lets you select specific focusing areas and achieves focusing speeds as fast as 0.07 sec, a 16.04 MP Digital Live MOSA sensor that provides ISO settings up to 25600 in Extended Mode, a quad-core Venus Engine Image Processor that enhances operating speed and sensitivity, and an impressive maximum full-res burst rate of 12 fps in AFS mode. Optical players on the team include the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 (70-200mm equivalent) zoom, the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 OIS zoom (200-600mm equivalent, and a choice of the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 (24-70mm equivalent) or the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 (14-28mm equivalent) for behind the backboard coverage. On the bench: Full 4K 3840 x 2160 video capture at 23.98 fps, 24 fps, pr 29.97 fps in 16:9 UHD and 19:7 DCI 4K 4096 x 2160 at 24 fps, in both MOV and MP4 file formats; and the Panasonic DMW-MS2 Stereo Shotgun Microphone for enhanced audio.
Nikon D7100 Team
The Nikon D7100 is a high-performance, high-resolution upper-mid-range APS-C-format DSLR that delivers an impressive array of high-end features including eliminating the optical low-pass filter for enhanced resolution and detail, a big 3.2-inch 1,229k-dot LCD monitor, an optical viewfinder with OLED informational display, and a built-in flash with Commander Function, all built into a robust, moisture resistant alloy body. Team players include a 51-point AF system with 15 cross-type sensors that detect both vertical and horizontal contrast variations to achieve fast, precise focus, a 14.1 MP DX-format CMOS sensor that provides ISO settings to 6400 in normal range and up to 25600 in extended mode, an EXPEED 3 Image Processor that enhances high-speed responsiveness, and a 6 fps maximum burst rate capable of capturing up to a 100-shot sequence at full resolution. Optical players on the D7100 team include the choice of the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4 ED VR or the AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED telephoto zooms, the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D ED IF telephoto, and the AF-S Nikkor 10-24mm f/3.5-4G ED ultra-wide-angle zoom for shooting though the backboard. On the bench: Full HD 1080p video-capture at 60/50i/30/25 and 24 fps in MOV, MPEG-4, and AVC/H.264 file formats, and the optional Nikon WU-1a Wireless Adapter that enables remote firing and (with Nikon’s free Wireless Mobile Utility app) remote viewing and camera control using iOS and Android devices.
Canon EOS 70D Team
Canon’s latest, most technologically advanced APS-C-format DSLR, the Canon EOS 70D features Dual Pixel control that provides phase- and contrast-detection at every pixel point, a 3.0-inch 1,040k-dot Vari-Angle Touch Screen, built in wireless connectivity, and Scene Intelligent Auto Mode that automatically selects the correct scene mode based on algorithms. Key players on the team include a configurable high-speed 19-point all-cross-type AF system that supports focusing with f/2.8 and faster lenses for enhanced low-light performance, a 20.2 MP CMOS sensor that provides ISO settings up to 12800 and expandable to 25600, a state-of-the-art DIGIC 5+ image processor that enhances operating speed and flexibility and provides a short shutter lag time of 0.065 sec plus auto HDR, and a maximum full-res burst rate of up to 7 fps. Optical players on the 70D team comprise an impressive trio: The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L fast telephoto zoom (a less pricey alternative to the f/2.8 L II without built-in IS), the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM, and the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM for through the backboard shots. Backup bench players: Full HD 1080p video capture at 30, 24, and 25 fps as well as HD and SD recording at multiple frame rates in MPEG-4 and AVC/H.264 file formats. Since Canon does not offer an accessory mike, our final 70D backup player is the Sennheiser MKE-102 Omni Lavalier Microphone Kit, a popular choice for enhanced audio performance when shooting video.