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Need help taking sharp indoor action shots

by betloutoo / January 23, 2008 4:46 AM PST

I have a Canon 20D and take basketball pictures. I use a monopod and an external flash but a good percentage of my shots are blurring. I have it set on auto. Actually I would love to be able to take them without the flash but have tried and nothing but blur. Is there a good manual setting that I could try with or without flash to hopefully get sharper images. thanks, betlou

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Low light shooting
by teamxp / January 23, 2008 5:18 AM PST

What lens are you using?

Basically, you can change your camera settings all you want, but if you don't have a fast lens you won't be able to take the shots.

For starters, let me recommend to you the Canon 50mm f1.8 lens. It's a pretty cheap lens, but it's also one of the sharpest and very fast as well. Buy this lens, and try to take some shots without flash. You might want to shoot in Aperture priority mode so you can set the aperture to f1.8, which allows more light into the lens and faster shutter speeds, reducing the blurry shots.

One last thing, since you are going to be shooting in aperture priority mode, make sure you also set a high ISO. I would say at least 800 or 1600. You can even try to set a high ISO with your current lens and you'll get better shots (not blurry).

I hope that helps,


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indoor action shots
by betloutoo / January 23, 2008 5:31 AM PST
In reply to: Low light shooting

Thanks for your reply. My lens is EFS 17-85 Canon Zoom lens. I will try the settings you suggested and check out the 50mm lens (is that a digital lens?) thanks, betlou

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low light photography
by teamxp / January 23, 2008 5:42 AM PST
In reply to: indoor action shots

Yeah, your lens doesn't cut it. Your lens has an aperture range from f4-5.6 (meaning, as you zoom in you lose aperture, by 85mm it's already f5.6), and that's by no means fast. For the kind of shots you want, you need at least f2.8 of aperture, and like I mentioned before, set the ISO to a high setting (high enough to make the shutter speed faster, but not so high that your shots would get too grainy).

The 50mm lens works just fine with digital. Just keep in mind that it would be 80mm (1.6 x 50) in digital. But that extra zoom will help you take your shots.


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Good lens for the price
by mopscare42 / January 24, 2008 1:15 AM PST
In reply to: low light photography

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II takes very good low light pictures.
A friend had one he uses on his Canon 40D. When I first saw it I thought, because of it's size and weight (it feels like a toy) It was going take crappy pictures, I was wrong. It takes excellent pictures both indoors with or without a flash and outdoors.
I liked it so well I picked up one for my 30D and use it a lot.
The only problems I have found is it seems a little slow to focus at times so I don't know how good it is for action shots in a gym setting and It is also a little noisey, but not bad.
I paid $69.00 for it at with free shipping, so a person really can't go wrong. I am sure other places have it for about the same price.

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Canon 50mm lens
by betloutoo / January 25, 2008 11:31 PM PST

Thanks for your input. I have ordered the lens and am looking forward to working with it. Should be in next week, will shout out the results. Thanks again, Betlou

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50mm 1.8 lens
by betloutoo / February 1, 2008 12:03 AM PST

Well I got my 50 mm lens in and tried it out at a basketball game last nite and I very pleased with it. It will take a little getting used to but most of the images I got are great, sharp and close-up. Actually my images are better than they were using a flash and there was no waiting for flash recycle. Thanks for the suggestion. Betlou

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Fast lens
by hjfok / January 25, 2008 5:27 PM PST

The 50mm f/1.8 does not have USM and does not reach far enough for most sports photos. Buy this lens if your budget is really tight.

If you can afford $300-400, then go for the 100mm f/2.0 USM or 85mm f/1.8 USM lens, these are better for actions than the 50mm f/1.8.

If budget is not a problem, then the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS is very good for low light sports and actions. It works great with my 30D, but it is costly $2000 (but now you can get it for $1600 after instant rebate).

An alternative is the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8, about $900. But it is definitely not as good as the Canon.

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Fast lens
by betloutoo / January 25, 2008 11:35 PM PST
In reply to: Fast lens

Wow, thanks for all the info, at this point I have already ordered the 50mm and will try it out. If it doesn't work ok then might go another route. I am down on the basketball court sideline so have opportunities to get pretty close. thanks again, betlou

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Just a question
by kalel33-20416052469708587370302374692233 / January 26, 2008 10:06 AM PST
In reply to: Fast lens

I'm not trying to be rude about this, but you have a pro camera and don't know anything about lens? The lens is the main factor in the image quality and speed. The 20D was a great camera, but if you don't know much about photography then it was a waste of money when you could have bought a much cheaper camera with same image quality. If you really want to learn then go to and search the forums on sporting lens and how to. There are people there that do this for a living and give great info for n00bs.

I agree with the last guys post in that the 50mm/f1.8 is not fast enough to focus for sports, but you will have a great portrait lens. The lens you probably have now will not compare to this one for portraits and low light pics.

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fast lens
by betloutoo / January 26, 2008 12:33 PM PST
In reply to: Just a question

I don't consider you rude, I know you are trying to be helpful to someone who needs it. I am just so frustrated will try anything at this point. Thanks for the webpage to visit, will do that. Betlou

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What Kind of Lens Is Good for Sports
by JCipo / February 12, 2008 5:03 AM PST
In reply to: Just a question

I agree with the must know your equipment when using pro camera systems. However, to get around this is the use of the Fuji Finepix 6000 point and shoot camera. I have a Canon and the Fuji and the Fuji is so much easier to use and has a fast system with an ISO rating that can be set to 6400 with little noise and a 10X optical zoom. I can blow up a digital image to over 60x40 inches and have great results. The camera is only 6 mgp but is nearly as sharp as my Canon which is a 10 mgp. The amazing thing is that others talk about lenses costing as much as $2000 but this Fuji only costs abour $400 for the complete camera.

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Fast Lens
by snapshot2 Forum moderator / January 26, 2008 11:23 PM PST
In reply to: Fast lens

If you are on the sidelines, the 50mm will be just right for focal length.

Be sure to try out the continuous shooting feature on your camera.

And yes, it is a very good portrait lens.



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A fast lense is needed if you are shooting without flash.
by Kiddpeat / January 28, 2008 12:59 PM PST
In reply to: Fast lens

Since you are using flash, as someone else has said, your shutter speed is probably too low. A faster lense will not help that. However, you don't say what flash you are using. It needs to be fairly powerful.

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Check shutter speed when using flash
by stormcraft / January 28, 2008 10:41 AM PST

Something worth checking. I suspect that in both P and A modes on your camera, when shooting with the current crop of external canon flash units, that the default shutter speed that is adopted is 1/60th. You cannot change this on my combination of Canon 30D and 580EX flash. You need to change to shutter priority on the camera (or full manual) and then let the flash do the rest. Suggest that 250th/sec would be suitable (and probably your flash sync speed). Current crop of flash units are pretty clever and capable so leave it set to auto and it will provide the required light to fit the camera' settings.
Naturally a fast sharp lens is going to help but not if you are still shooting at 1/60th Happy

regards, Graham

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Flash and action
by hjfok / February 2, 2008 3:22 AM PST

It is not the shutter speed. Your flash unit probably is not powerful enough to reach your subject.
There are 2 exposures when you use flash. The first one is when the flash goes off, this will usually freeze the action with a speed of about 1/1000 sec. The second exposure is the ambient exposure, which is what the shutter speed affects. With a slower shutter speed, the ambient will be more lit and brighter. With a faster shutter speed, the background is dark while the foreground subject is bright, like those PS camera shots.
To freeze the action, your flash light will need to reach your subject. So like the previous posting by kiddpeat said, you need a more powerful flash. People who flash their camera from the stadium will never freeze any actions.

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Sorry correction
by hjfok / February 2, 2008 3:26 AM PST
In reply to: Flash and action

I mean to say, "It's not just the shutter speed."

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Speed Setting
by atlantisbusiness / February 2, 2008 10:34 AM PST
In reply to: Flash and action

Switch to Manual mode and set to 1000. Then adjust your other settings like aperture and ISO with test shots. That is a newby way to learn. Set your flash to full.

<a href="">Wedding Photographer Utah</a>

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Flash and action
by PhotoMan / February 4, 2008 2:26 PM PST
In reply to: Flash and action

I can not stress enough the need to STAY AWAY from the on-camera flash when photographing a sporting event.

The distraction to the players caused by a cameras' flash can have very dangerous results...not to mention that the photographer's health could also be in jeprody or be thrown out of the sporting event.

Over the years, I have seen many young kids injured because they were distracted or blinded by a camera flash just as the puck or ball was heading towards them.

The pro arenas have flash banks in the ceilings (reflecting off the floor / ice) and ambient light is properly balanced. You will never be able to match the photos that you see taken in the pro arenas' by the contract photographers using the right don't be disappointed because you're shot is not as never will be with a on-camera flash.

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IMHO, I'd say
by jump1127 / February 2, 2008 3:28 PM PST

that using flash shooting the indoor action shots will not gonna work unless you're within 5 meters away from the subject you shoot. What you really need are the faster lenses. It depends upon how far you're away from the subject. Look at the pros on any sideline of basketball arena, soccer field, football stadium. They all carry huge and faster lenses, such as 300 F.8L, 400-600mm or above. Here in your case, I'd say that either 70-200 F2.8L or 100-400 L IS is good enough with a tripod or so for general shooting. In addition to that, spot metering ( in your case 20D's partial or center weight light-metering is necessary ) is necessary to make sure you put the right exposure on what you want to shoot.

In addition to the brighter lense, shutter speed will make you boost your camera's ISO to the extreme limit. Which ISO is good ? Under the dim light, I'd say 800-1600. The lower ISO can be compensated using the brighter lenses. Yet, the noise level will be something you must trade off. Check your histogram and judge what are the possible alternatives.

To avoid blurry and unfocused picture, try the use the center focusing point, readjust your camera to that, hold the shutter button between recompose. Good luck.

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Agree with you
by hjfok / February 2, 2008 4:48 PM PST
In reply to: IMHO, I'd say

I use the Canon 30D and often need to use 800-1600 ISO with my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to get enough shutter speed to freeze action in lower light. To freeze action, you need about 1/500 shutter speed, and 1/250 will be okay for slow action.

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Easier said than done
by PhotoMan / February 4, 2008 6:51 AM PST

Indoor sports photography is one of the hardest to shoot. You have little or no control of the available lighting. That said, the best investment you can make to go along with your 20D would be with a 70-300 IS Canon lens. With this lens you can pan across (IS setting II) and the lens will compensate (as much as possible) for vertical wobble.

Set the "Film" speed high (I use 1600) and take a few readings (AVERAGE, not spot) for different areas of the court, focusing on the players. Take the average speed, lock the lens at 70mm (you can always enlarge when downloaded into your computer or at a kiosk) and set the camera for F4.5 and the average speed (probably between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second.....if you are lucky, 1/50+. Keeping the subject centered as you pan will give you the best possible results. Do not turn the camera vertically. Your mono pod can help a great deal as well. Do not expect all shots to be "keepers". Indoor lighting is usually terrible.

If you want to zoom in (and out) then lower the shutter speed a notch (increasing the light). Your cameras' image sensor sensitivity will give you a good three stops worth of flexibility. Your computer, along with a good photo editing program will help bring out the detail and exposure (Corel Graphics Suite's PhotoPAINT is great for this and won't break the bank. Some of Photoshops' tools are more "powerful" but you can accomplish anything pro level and consumer with Corel without wasting a lot of $$$ on hype)

You are wise not to use a flash. Flash should not be used when photographing any (action) sporting event as it is distracting and potentially dangerous to the players who must keep their concentration on the game.


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Sport tele lens
by hjfok / February 4, 2008 10:02 AM PST
In reply to: Easier said than done

The 70-300 IS is a slow lens, as seen with the slow shutter speed you get 1/15 or 1/30 even at ISO 1600. It is simply not a low light action sports tele lens.
Even the EF 70-200mm f/4L is better (and costs about the same as the 70-300 IS) but it is still not fast enough for low light actions.
If you don't want to spend the money on EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, then at least consider the fast primes like 50mm f/1.4 (for close actions), 85mm f/1.8 or 100mm f/2. These prime lenses are all under $400, and will be way better than the 70-300 IS for low light actions.

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fast lens
by betloutoo / February 4, 2008 10:28 AM PST
In reply to: Sport tele lens

Thanks for all the suggestions, I really appreciate all the help. I have for the time being purchased the 50mm 1.8 and it worked really well for what I need. Maybe later will purchase a larger lens but since I am standing on the sidelines and under the basket I can get some really great shots with this lens. betlou

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fast lens
by PhotoMan / February 4, 2008 1:57 PM PST
In reply to: fast lens

Glad you're happy with it.

It is a great lens ( nothing compares to a good, fast "prime" lens) but definitly try out the IS series of lenses when you have a chance.

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I did shoot for some concerts several time;
by jump1127 / February 4, 2008 2:07 PM PST
In reply to: fast lens

I was not a pros, but a back-up camera. For the dim light, 70-200 F2.8L served me well. If you'll use either tripod or monopod, that'll be great. Occasionally, continuous shots are necessary while you pan your camera. In a basketball court, the light is even more sufficient than a concert where light is always alternated and eventually extremely dim. Most zoom lenses will work fine. What really matter is how fast you set up for all moving position. Shutter speed around 1/250 sec or faster to freeze the action, ISO around 800 or greater to get the right exposure, and proper aperture to guarantee the depth of field needed. The more frequent you shoot, the better you become. Good luck.

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sport tele lens
by PhotoMan / February 4, 2008 1:52 PM PST
In reply to: Sport tele lens

I agree completely with you.

The point is to use the Image Stabilization lens...unless you can afford to spend thousands on super fast telephoto lenses. Even a F2.8 in your typical gym will not give you a "freeze action" 250th-500th of a second shutter (well, at least in the gyms I've had to take shots in..I do it for a living)

I have been plesently surprized with the results of the 70-300 IS in low light situations but IF you can afford the IS F2.8 lenses, then of course go for it ! The more light you have to work with, the better the results.

Canon has released a new version of its 18-55 (standard "box set") lens. The new lens with the STi (new version of the XTi or 400D) has image stabilization. Just how much it is by itself, I don't know. Should be less than the (regular) 18-55 IS running about $250.00-$300.00 CDN.

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IS vs fast lens
by hjfok / February 5, 2008 10:57 AM PST
In reply to: sport tele lens

I'm not a pro. But I don't think you need to spend thousands to get good low light action shots. Even the 55mm f/1.8 for $80 US will work better than the 18-55mm IS for low light actions. The 18-55mm IS will cost the same as the 55mm f/1.8 plus the kit lens 18-55mm (if you buy it with the camera body). The IS is just to compensate for the shakiness of our hands and body, so the 18-55mm IS lens can be used for handheld low light STILL photos for most non-professionals. If your shutter speed is so slow that you need IS for stabilizing the image, the action shots will likely be blurry. You must have very good panning skills to get good low light action shots with the 70-300 IS lens. For an average person like me, fast lens is the key.
There are other not so expensive fast mid range tele lenses. The 85mm f/1.8 and 100mm f/2 cost less than $400, but may need to crop the photos. My point is that IS is not inexpensive. The 70-300 IS costs $549 US, which is more than the above fast primes. Yes you have more focal length but they are pretty much useless beyond 70mm in low light actions. The 70-300 IS will cost as much as getting the 75-300 plus the 100 f/2. So take the 75-300mm lens when you shoot at broad daylight and use the 100 f/2 for low light.
You're right about the f/2.8, it is not always fast enough for low light actions. It is probably the minimum you need for low light actions. But it is as fast as you can get for a zoom lens. There are certainly faster prime lenses for less money.
If you look at the PS cameras. There are a lot of IS models that either stabilize the lens or the sensor, but none of them work as well as the Fuji that has no IS. Why? Because the Fuji can boost up the ISO (with less noise than other brands) to get faster shutter speed.

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you need bigger glass but absent that, use aperture priority
by Vibrant1 / February 8, 2008 11:03 AM PST

I had a similar problem getting pics of speedskaters in Salt Lake indoors and not great light and flash photography is banned (dangerous for skaters).

I've had a 20D and if I recall the stock lens was terrible. It required getting an f2.8 lens to get really good shots. I got a used 70-200 for about $800. The current model f2.8 70-200 has image stabilization but for sports that's not necessary as you need as fast a shutter speed as you can use with the ambient light present. Rendering image stabilization moot.

I also have since picked up a less expensive 70-300 F3.5 sigma that works almost as well for smaller prints but there's no substitute for those canon lenses. They are worth the money.

So, you need to set the dial to aperture priority and use the largest aperture (smallest number). The camera will automatically choose the best shutter speed. If that is less than 200 you're going to have blurry action photos. If that's the case, increase the ISO until shutter speed is higher.. ideally 500 or greater.

Recognize that the higher you go with ISO, the grainier the print is going to be.

For a lot of sports parents, they don't print them anyway but use them on the internet. So, no big deal and simply set the quality the lowest to avoid having to do it later when you download the photos.

One more thing about that camera.. the autofocus isn't so great for sports ( this requires an explanation about metering and weighting that you don't want to know about because you just get what you get in this department anyway. Pick the single center point of focus and that's as good as it gets).

In addition, in my case, I have to use manual focus to keep the autofocus from putzing around "thinking" while I'm trying to get the shot. So, I focus on a point where the action is going to be and take the photo as the action passes through that point. Of course, on a speed skating course, I know exactly where they're going to be. I don't know that it will work too well for basketball but sometimes the focus point right or left of subject causes the blur, not the shutter speed and light.

That's all I know. Good luck,

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sports photos
by betloutoo / February 8, 2008 10:45 PM PST

Thanks Dan that was a lot of info in a short note. I appreciate you taking the time to this. So far I have had pretty good luck with my little 50mm 1.8 but have had it on auto focus and I know what you mean about it trying to read so much while I am trying to take the shot. Will try it on manual focus. Thanks, Betlou

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Focus with a wide aperture lens
by hjfok / February 9, 2008 3:33 AM PST
In reply to: sports photos

Some actions you can use manual focus if they have predictable motions like skating, car racing, etc. You can also use AI servo and keep the subject in the center (the camera usually starts focusing in the center in this mode and changes as the subject moves), and follow the subject with panning.
Some unpredictable actions you just have to use AI servo and keep the subject's focused point in the center. You may have to crop the photo later to frame it better.
I'm sure you know that the wider aperture has shallower depth of field and makes focusing difficult. So if you don't need f/1.8, then try a smaller aperture like f/2.8 if you keep on having problem getting the right focus.

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