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SLR for Ski racing?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 

I'm in the market for a new DSLR to photograph my son while skiing, both while he race USSA and free skis. Something with interchangeable lenses, fast focus, etc. Video is not a big deal for me, much more interested in action stills. I'm sorta looking at the Sony ALPHA SLT-A65.


Any thoughts?

post #2 of 20


Look at the Nikons cheaper and better.


BTW my preference is Nikon.

post #3 of 20

I don't have any experience with this particular Sony, but from this what I saw, this is some 3, 4 years old body. Cameras change a lot in 3-4 years, so personally I would go with something newer. Not that picture quality would be bad, but thing is, skiing is pretty fast sport, so it puts quite some challenge to AF system. And in last few years, AF systems from low end cameras (which were completely useless for skiing before), changed quite a lot, and nowadays even low(er) end cameras have much more capable AF systems then they had still few years back. That's basically main reason, I would go with something newer and not with 3 or 4 years old model.

post #4 of 20

A photographer goes to a diner party, the host comes up to him and thanks him for coming then comments on all of his wonderful pictures and mentions that he must have a fantastic camera since he takes such amazing pictures. After dinner he politely thanks the host for such a great dinner and tells her that she must have a great stove, since the dinner was so delicious. 

post #5 of 20

It seems there was a Canon setup which was the most popular among the pros at Sochi.  Maybe Primoz can  give us the specifics.


post #6 of 20
Listen to Primoz, he does this for living.
My0.02: avoid mirrorless systems, their AF is not yet up to modern DSLR performance. It's important to get a good lens with good reach and relatively large maximum aperture. Even though skiing happens in bright daylight, you would still need large aperture to be able to shoot at fast shutter speeds to freeze the motion. Most cheap telecoms are very dark at tele end and the picture quality is not that great. Crop sensor (as opposed to full frame) bodies are just fine, you also get extra reach because of the crop factor. Good luck.
post #7 of 20
Originally Posted by newfydog View Post

It seems there was a Canon setup which was the most popular among the pros at Sochi.  Maybe Primoz can  give us the specifics.

I bet you that Canon setup is unaffordable to a non-pro. It also needs a large backpack to transport.
post #8 of 20

Unless you have way, and I mean WAAAAY too much money, this what I'm using is just too much for hobby shooter, who doesn't earn money with equipment. My normal backpack for ski race is worth probably some $20k and has in it 2x Canon 1d bodies (one 1dx and one 1dkm4), then 500/4 (sometimes 300/2.8 for SL races), 70-200/2.8, 17-40/4 and 1.4x converter, sometimes also some weird lens to play with like fish or tilt-shift lens. Most of time there are also two PocketWizards in case there's chance for remote camera somewhere. So it's basically useless to talk about this, as I don't see many hobby shooters who would pay around $10k for 500mm lens, which is not really normal walk around lens, and would be used few times a year. In my mind, this investment is worth once you get money back with that lens. And if I wouldn't be shooting skiing, I would never have this lens, and neither 300/2.8, even though 500/4 was great lens to have when we went to Namibia for holidays :)

Another thing is, skiing World cup race is different then local ski race. Restrictions are bigger, and you are not allowed to do man of things you can do on your local hill, so most of times long lenses are must, while on local races, you can get away with much different equipment.

As far as Nikon/Canon debate goes, I use Canon, and except for few tries I never used Nikon. Not because it would be better/worse, but simply when I started this little agency we have here, I started with Canon (still on film not digital :)). No idea why. And once you have so much of equipment (we have probably for one pretty nice house worth of equipment), there's simply no way to change it. You can maybe sell things for some 20% of price you paid, and you can't start buying new one one lens at a time, but you need to have pretty much all what we have now in next week or you can't do your job. So I guess I will be staying with Canon until I'm in this business :) But personally I would say anything you get, Canon or Nikon is about same. There are some things where Canon is better, and there are some things where Nikon is better, but both are good enough to get job done, even for pros. It's basically same like which race skis are better Fischer or Atomic... ok for alpine, as in xc skiing answer is clear :P In general with sport shooters Canon had some advantage (a bit better auto focus, a bit cheaper long tele lenses), especially in early digital years, when Canon vs. Nikon was around 80/20%. Then there came 1dmk3, which was real lemon and lot of agencies and newspapers switched to Nikon, so ratio changed, but in general it's still more Canon then Nikon. Main reason is probably this what I wrote about myself and sticking with Canon. Unless you are something like AFP (which switched to Nikon few years ago), and you get some weird deals to switch, you just can't afford to switch, so this Canon vs. Nikon ratio somehow stays.

post #9 of 20

Next question, what else are you going to use the camera for?  If it is only for ski photography, then you might consider an AFS (small) sensor. You get basically a 50% increase in image size versus a full frame camera.  This means you are only using the center part of the lens (unless you buy an AFS lens).  And many of the image sensors are as high quality as their full frame brethren.


I'd also caution you on going for the megapixel count.  I currently shoot with a Nikon D800 and a D2x.  The D800 is a great camera, but because it has such a high pixel count, you basically need to shoot on a tripod for sharpness.  Get something with 12-15 MP rather than a 20-35 MP sensor.



post #10 of 20
Originally Posted by habacomike View Post

Next question, what else are you going to use the camera for?  If it is only for ski photography, then you might consider an AFS (small) sensor. You get basically a 50% increase in image size versus a full frame camera.  This means you are only using the center part of the lens (unless you buy an AFS lens).  And many of the image sensors are as high quality as their full frame brethren.


I'd also caution you on going for the megapixel count.  I currently shoot with a Nikon D800 and a D2x.  The D800 is a great camera, but because it has such a high pixel count, you basically need to shoot on a tripod for sharpness.  Get something with 12-15 MP rather than a 20-35 MP sensor.



?  A higher pixel count isn’t going to make an image blurred!  Blurring will come from camera shake and/or a shutter speed that is too slow.  The only knock on a full frame (with a larger sensor and more pixels) when shooting sports is burst speed.*  It takes longer to record the data so the frames per second speed may be slower than a DSLR with a smaller sensor recording less data.  If the OP is worried about blurred images he can look at cameras or lenses with built in stabilization, shoot at a faster shutter speed (perhaps necessitating a higher ISO), get a faster lens, etc. Many sports are shot wide open so the background is blurred, placing emphasis on the sharp  portion of the photo of an individual athlete (newspaper photography). The OP doesn't need the fastest lens out there (save the money) to do this, since he simply wants some basic action shots of his kid where the background is likely to be white or blue (no need to worry about blurring it).


Cannon & Nikon are the default brands, but others are worth looking at.  SONY & PENTAX are nailing it with in-camera stabilization. Pentax is weatherproof, making it difficult to beat as a good value for those who need it.  No FF yet from Pentax, though.


* Yes, a FF is heavier. 

Edited by quant2325 - 1/16/15 at 8:45am
post #11 of 20

^^^ Exactly.


The other issue comes into play on grainy photos is the highest film speed the camera can be set to.  The higher its set, the more noise that get in.  Each camera has an idea upper limit and an actual upper limit.  The ideal is a lot lower than the actual.  That's one of the reason why the top PRO cameras cost so much, ultra low noise sensors that allow ultra high film speeds without compromising image quality.

post #12 of 20

I won't tell you want camera to get, get whatever you want, but get a long lens. I use a 70-200 f2.8 often with a 2x teleconverter. Don't worry about high ISO the noise issue is not much of an issue unless you go REALLY high, and you are shooting on snow outdoors, so you won't.

post #13 of 20

High iso is not really all that important when it comes to skiing, except for night races, but even this, at least on World cup, are so well lit nowadays, you hardly every need iso 1600+. For normal, day races, even in shadow, iso800 is pretty much standard thing, and nowadays every single SLR has more then perfect noise at ISO 800. Shooting sport indoor is different thing, especially when you shoot things that are not major top level sports, and events are held in halls which more resemble dark garage then well lit arena. And with sport, you are normally going with wide open lens (f2.8-4.0 or 4.5 on long, 500+mm lenses), so you really very rarely need iso2000 or more.

Full frame... at least for sport, it's over rated ;) Personally I would be really happy if Canon would keep 1.3x ratio of old 1dmk4 also on current 1dx and future cameras, but I guess we will never see that again, and full frame is here to stay. But I would never bother getting more expensive camera just because it has full frame compared to the one with crop. For sport (or at least majority of sport), full frame is actually bad thing. Simply, because with crop your 300mm lens is actually 400+mm lens, while with full frame you actually need to buy 400+mm lens, and that's at least twice the money you paid for shorter one :)

Image stabilization... cool thing, but in most of cases completely useless in sport. There's sort of rule what speed to use if you don't want camera shake. And that rule is sort of time is 1/mm at which you are shooting. So if you shoot with 500mm lens, you need at least 1/500s not to see shaking of camera/lens. Sure some people can get it at 1/200s and some can't even at 1/800s, but on average that rule is pretty good to start with. With sport, especially something as fast as skiing, and considering most of hobby shooters don't have 300, 400mm or longer lenses, you see that time required to have steady, not shaken photos is around 1/250s, and that is waaaay to slow for fast sports. So you will be normally aiming for something like 1/800s or faster, preferably over 1/1000s. At those times, IS is completely useless, and it actually gives you more problems (AF is a little tiny bit slower with IS on, then it's with IS off) then benefits. All my long lenses have IS, but I don't remember I would ever have it on.

post #14 of 20
Buy the best lens you can afford that satisfies your requirements, then get a body with the change. If you look to the body first, you'll end up limiting your budget for a good lens. Put it like this, if you buy a Ferrari and then use cheap tyres on it, you'll never get to drive the car anywhere near it's capabilities.
Also, don't rule out second hand. It's a bit like skiing - there are a lot of amateurs on internet forums who change their gear every year or two because of the forum buying mentality (if you don't have the latest you can't be that serious).
As soon as Canon brought out the 7D MkII, there was a load of MkI appearing on ebay with very few actuations, because their owners "needed" to buy the new model. Same with other brands and models.
But if you are thinking about buying something now, then changing in the future, again, bodies are like cars. They lose a lot of their value the day you buy them, and then the next time they drop is when the new model comes out. After 4 years the body will have dropped >50% probably. A good lens might drop <25% in the same time, not just because quality optics are quality no matter what age, but also because most people tend to keep good lenses for a lot longer so there aren't as many on the market.

I'm a keen amateur with Canon SLRs - 5DII, & 7D and lenses - 24-70 f/2.8L, 70-200 f/2.8LIS, 50mm f/1.8, 100mm f/2.8LIS, 500mm f/4LIS. My wife has a 100D with a couple of lenses.
post #15 of 20

This is only partly true War the Fox Hat. Both things, body and lens are important. But, at least wih Canon, most of AF is done in body, so unless we talk about crappy plastic fantastic lenses for $50, you won't see much of AF speed improvement going up on lens line. On the other hand, you will get much much faster and more accurate AF once you start moving up the line on body range. And with sport, AF is one of most important things in camera, at least for me.

Yes there's whole bunch of people who just need to have newest model of camera, or they can't shoot. But it's pretty similar with skiing. There's lot of people who need to have latest model of skis, and are ready to trash their year old perfectly fine skis, just because they don't have newest graphics on... well of course and because they are a whole lot worse then this years model :) So yes it's worth checking for used cameras, but compared to skis, you can never be sure you really got good one. Skis are easy to check, cameras can have bunch of problems even if they look brand new. So I would be extra careful with that.

post #16 of 20

Well said by the pro, primoz.  For those who care, has excellent reviews of lenses for most major brands.  Many telephotos used by consumers semi-suck, but  a  few reasonably priced ones tested well.  Also, check out KEH for used lenses.  I purchased two from the firm with both seeming to be in better condition than graded.  Obviously, firms like B&H and Adorama remain the go-to source for most. Regarding lenses, most new cameras come with a front/back focus adjustment.  I needed it only with one lens so far, but it made a big difference with it.

post #17 of 20

Don't forget Sony.

Now that most cameras are really video cameras with the ability to take stills, Sony brings some things to the table.

The Sony A7 series stands with the best from Canon and Nikon.

That you can use Sony, Zeiss and Minolta A lenses on these bodies is great too.

post #18 of 20
Sony A7 is a great camera in all respects except sports. For that a high end canon or Nikon DSLR is still the tool to beat. The lens selection for a7 series is still too limited. But cameras of the future would look a lot like the A7.
post #19 of 20

I'm sure the OP has long since selected a camera and is happily getting great pictures of his son skiing, assuming he bought a camera that works well for that sort of thing.


Many of the comments that have appeared so far are correct, but may or may not be useful, since the basis for some of the statements regarding what's best are not explained very well. The OP hasn't asked any additional questions.


With that said, I can't resist offering a few comments of my own.


As with ski racing itself, for a camera to photograph ski racing, speed is a Big Deal.


That speed comes in several different flavors. For example:

How fast/well does the autofocus work?

What is the maximum continuous shooting speed?

How is the image quality at higher ISOs?

What is the maximum aperture of the lens being used?


Of these four questions, the autofocus (AF) is perhaps the most difficult to quantify and understand. There are multiple factors contributing to the effectiveness of the AF for shooting things that move. These include how quickly the camera acquires focus, how accurate that focus is and how accurately it is able to maintain focus on something that's moving.


Now, you might think this depends on the camera body you're using, and you would mostly be correct. But not entirely. For every camera brand on the market, there are some lenses that focus much more quickly and accurately than others by the same company. Just to make things more complicated, not all expensive lenses are the best for focusing on moving subjects. In general, though, when telephoto lenses are involved, more expensive lenses with larger maximum apertures will focus faster and maintain focus better. There are some reasonably priced lenses that work well, too, but it can be difficult to find out which "amateur" lenses focus quickly and which do not.


For bodies, finding out AF capabilities is a bit more straightforward. Many testing sites (DPReview comes to mind) devote some energy to testing how well cameras focus on moving subjects. It pays to read some of these reviews carefully. In general, even today, the traditional DSLR configuration with the flapping mirror still reigns supreme for action photography. This is because DSLRs have a mature version of what is known as Phase Detect Auto Focus (PDAF). For several reasons, PDAF works better for action than the method that is used on so-called mirrorless cameras (whether or not they have interchangeable lenses). That method is known as Contrast Detect AF (CDAF). Some mirrorless cameras have implemented PDAF or hybrid PDAF/CDAF systems for the sole reason of improving focusing capabilities on moving subjects, but they still don't work as well as the best systems on DSLRs. Some of the mirrorless systems work pretty well, though, and they will surely get better. It should also be noted that PDAF is extremely complex and prone to mis-calibration. For static subjects, CDAF is often more accurate.


Just to clear here, not all DLSRs are created equal, and some are much better for action work than others. Among current DSLRs, the full-frame cameras ($$$$) are generally pretty good, and the top-end APS-C cameras (Canon 7D II or 70D, Nikon D7200) are excellent for being able to achieve and maintain focus on moving subjects. Entry-level DSLRs of any brand have their strengths (very good image quality), but they have less sophisticated AF systems. For most hobbyists, the APS-C cameras make a lot more sense than the full-frame cameras, and the effective "reach" with any given telephoto lens is about 50% greater than with a full-frame, which is another characteristic useful for sports and wildlife.


Among the top APS-C bodies, Canon has a few more focus points and many more cross-focus points than Nikon, and so arguably has the better focusing system for action. However, DPReview seems to believe that Nikon has better algorithms for following action and achieves a better "hit rate" of in-focus images. The Pentax K3, while a dream camera in many ways, seems to have a focusing system that is not as well developed as the Canon and Nikon systems, although a pretty good success rate is still possible.


I should also point out that these comments regarding AF only apply when using the eye-level optical viewfinder that all DSLRs have. Using the LCD on any DSLR may be preferable for macro and tripod work, but it's completely useless for action. If you like to take pictures using the LCD and holding your camera out at arm's length, a DSLR is a poor choice for you.


And now, just for fun, a couple of photos of moving subjects (albeit no ski racers) done with an amateur Nikon that is now two generations old having an AF system that received many complaints on the internet. These were done with an amateur grade 70-300 zoom lens - but not with Nikon's significantly slower-to-focus, and cheaper, 55-300 zoom lens.



Subject moving directly toward camera. This demands that the lens be able to re-focus quickly.




This was clear day with good light. The subject was smaller, but moving in a predictable fashion. The image is quite sharp when enlarged.


Anyway, a bunch of rubbish that may not be of any real interest to anyone. I hope someone finds it at least marginally useful.

Edited by jhcooley - 4/22/15 at 4:46pm
post #20 of 20

A few more random comments:


It is usually difficult to follow action with a mirrorless camera, since the electronic viewfinder often shows the image you just shot rather than what's happening in real time like an optical finder. There are one or two cameras on the market with nearly zero lag in their electronic finders, but electronic finders, for all their ability to show more information than an optical finder, should be viewed with a certain amount of suspicion for action work. The Samsung NX1 looks like a very good implementation, although it currently has a very limited lens selection. The Sony A77 II (fixed mirror rather than mirrorless, with electronic finder) may also be worth a look, but see below for a caveat on the Sony.


Some mirrorless cameras offer very high continuous shooting speeds - sometimes as much as 20 frames per second. This sounds pretty good until you find out that the fastest speeds come with some strict limitations regarding ability to refocus between shoots, available apertures, etc. This usually restricts the usefulness of the high speed to limited special situations.


For most of us, a useable continuous shooting speed with an effective AF system is something on the order of 6 frames per second. Some demand more, and the Canon 7D II provides 10fps. Either one is a whole bunch more than anyone ever got with film, except for dedicated high-speed cameras.


Buffer depth is the number of shots the camera can shoot at its highest continuous speed before it has to slow down because its buffer is full. If you shoot RAW, the number of shots to fill the buffer is usually much smaller than if you shoot JPEG. RAW gives you more image processing flexibility. Buffers may be quite limited for RAW (Nikon D7100, we're looking at you - the 7200 is much better in this regard), but are usually plenty for JPEG.


Pixel count is not much of an issue. The cameras that most of us would consider have pixel counts from 20-28 megapixels. Anything in this range is fine, and if the continuous shooting speed and buffer depth are adequate, the camera may be worth further consideration.


Pixel counts have increased in the last several years, and there have been claims that the higher pixel count is more demanding of technique, steadiness, focus, etc. in order to avoid blurred images. This is true - IF YOU ARE PIXEL-PEEPING AT 100%. Why? Simple. A 24Mp image at 100% is going to be much larger on your screen than, say, a 12Mp image at 100%. If equally effective technique was used for both images, the 24Mp image will look better if both images are viewed at the same size.


Sony, along with several other manufacturers, has done some very interesting and creative things with camera design. In some cases, these things are unique to Sony. In addition, Sony makes some of the best sensors in the business. Nikon and Pentax both use Sony sensors. Sony image quality is top notch.


Be aware, though, that even Sony's latest and greatest APS-C camera, the A77 II, designed, supposedly, with action in mind, does not maintain focus on moving subjects as well as the best efforts from Nikon and Canon. For reference check the review that appeared on the DPReview site on April 22, 2015. It's an excellent camera, but it may not be your best choice for action - although it's pretty good if you use the most effective way of setting it up and can follow the subject well yourself.

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