January 2016 | Issue no. 21 | by mark shaiken

This month, do :: or :: diso looks in the bag and considers gear.   Let’s say it right up front:  Yes, gear is expensive.  Photography ain’t cheap but in this piece, I try to offer some buying strategies and gear options.  The links will take you to the Amazon web page where the particular gear is for sale but as the article discusses, find the gear used if you are able.  For some of the gear, there are no good options – you get what you pay for (YGWYPF). Typically, I had a bad experience with a knockoff brand that cost less, and I identify that gear with the moniker: YGWYPF — Meaning, be forewarned. The article lacks images of the gear … that always seems a bit forward, especially given how much it costs, and you probably know what a lens and a camera body look like.  So, other than the Gura Gear Bag, the images throughout the article were taken with the gear discussed.

Before you read any further, please please remember: what do you really need to get started shooting sports? Any body and a lens that will reach from the 20’s mm to 200mm. Shoot in the afternoon as close to the field as you can (or shoot through a fence).  In other words, despite what I use, you can definitely get started with the basic camera and kit lens and make great images.  Just remember, wait for the action to come to you, fill the frame, and as you go along, decide how to deploy your dollars.

Final warning – I shoot Nikon so the article focuses on Nikon.

Buying Strategies:  When I buy gear, I try to buy on the used market.  My favorite place to buy is KEH Camera.  I shy away from buying used gear on eBay.  Too much drama for me.  For used equipment, you want an expert to give the gear more than just the once over and you want a seller that will stand behind the sale.  KEH says it is the world’s largest used camera dealer / broker. Its grading system for used equipment is used the world over and looks like this:

Product Grade
Like New

“LIKE NEW” means the equipment is 99 to 100 percent of NEW. Items include original box and instructions.

Product Grade
Like New Minus

“LIKE NEW MINUS,” the rating of the equipment is at 97 to 99 percent of original condition. Only the closest inspections will reveal slight wear. Perfect glass, but the box and accessories are usually not included.

Product Grade
Excellent Plus

“EXCELLENT PLUS” rates 90 to 96 percent of original condition. Exceptionally nice, but may have slight wear on finish visible only under close inspection. Glass will be very clean.

Product Grade

“EXCELLENT CONDITION.” 80 to 89 percent of original. Shows moderate wear for the age of the item, with the possibility of small dings or blemishes. Glass may have slight blemishes but will not affect picture quality.

Product Grade

Priced to sell, “BARGAIN” items are 70 to 79 percent of original condition. More than average wear for the age of the item, and may have dents, dings or finish loss. Glass may have marks or blemishes, but should not affect picture quality.

Product Grade

The look only a photographer would love. “UGLY” means equipment is rough, with multiple impressions in metal, excessive finish loss and brassing. Glass will have marks, fungus and/or haze which will affect picture quality.

Product Grade
As Is

“AS IS” means useable for parts only. Equipment may or may not work. No warranty or return.

KEH is usually quite conservative in its ratings. So, an excellent plus lens in the eyes of KEH might be considered by you or me to be a like-new lens. KEH stands behind its equipment with a 180 day non-transferable warranty.  Other options are the great folks at Roberts Camera in their used equipment department, B&H Photo’s used department, and the occasional refurbished equipment, sometimes Roberts and B&H or at Nikon’s website.

70-200 @120 f 4.0You can also try a rental. I have used lensrentals.com with nothing but great experiences. With rentals, you pay only for the period of use rather than the “mortgage your life” experience of lens ownership.  If you are going to buy new,  buy from an authorized Nikon dealer and refraining from purchasing a gray market lens. While the gray market Nikon lenses cost a little less, if something ever goes wrong, Nikon USA is not going to service it for you at all. Finally, consider reputable off-brands as lower cost alternatives, such as Tamron and Sigma.  For any of the purchases, take a look at some reviews before taking the plunge.  Among the better reviewers out there are Thom Hogan (for Nikons) and Ken Rockwell (for everything).  There are others – just Google it.

70-200 f 9.0

The Bag(s). When the conversation turns to camera bags, one thing is clear – there are a huge number of choices, styles, sizes, and costs. Bags, like tripods, can be the bane of the photographer’s existence. And, you may buy many many bags during your life in search of bag Nirvana.  Things to look for: how much does it hold; how heavy is it; how does it fit your physique; is it durable. I use a bag made by Gura Gear  — the Bataflae.


Lenses In the Bag.  The lenses I use range from wide angle to telephoto depending on the sport.  For indoor sports I rely on two lenses: 24-70mm f / 2.8 and 70-200mm f / 2.8.  That is it. Two lenses on two bodies for 90% of my live action shots.  Less expensive options:  an older Nikon 28-70mm lens, an 80-200mm lens, off brands like Tamron and Sigma, and even a 70-200mm f / 4 lens, although indoors, f / 4 is not always enough aperture for me.

indoor 70-200mm lens

24-70 @f 8.0For outdoor tennis, I use the same two lenses with the same alternatives.

70-200 outdoors

For outdoor soccer, baseball, softball, rugby, and football, I add a very long lens. For me, it is the 500mm f / 4.0 Nikon telephoto lens. Its size and weight are only exceeded by the cost – as much as a used vehicle and equal to several mortgage payments.

500mm f4.0For night sports, a 4.0 aperture is sufficiently wide if you shoot at 3200-5000 ISO. This is not a hand held baby at all, but it is sharp and fast and I find it a necessity at any outdoor evening athletic event.

Recently, Nikon came out with a 200-500mm f / 5.6 telephoto zoom. You give up some wide openness, and I do not feel f / 5.6 is sufficient for night games, but it is sharp and fast and lighter than the 500mm Godzilla. And it is a fraction of the cost of a 500mm lens.  With a little luck, it can be used in a well lit indoor gym.

200-500 indoor @360 f 5.6 iso 4000Even less expensive is a used 300mm f 4.0 telephoto lens.

300mm f 4.0 alternative

It is sharp and fast enough and readily available used at a good price. It is a “tweener” so it might be too much lens for closer shots and not enough lens for distance but it is a good solid alternative to mortgaging for the 500mm.

Finally, for sports portraits, I carry just two lenses: the 24-70mm f / 2.8 and 70-200mm f / 2. 8 telephoto zoom.

Camera Bodies: For sports action, I use two Nikon D4’s. Super fast (10 frames per second), full frame, great battery life, great noise management, and a beast of a body. You could certainly get by with less expensive models but the camera undoubtedly will take fewer than 10 fps. Not the end of the world, but when the action is furious, the more shots you can rip off in a row, the better off you will be.  An option to consider is a prior model:  the D3.


For sports portraits, almost any Nikon will take a great portrait.

Gear to steady:  Monopod: any Manfrotto. A monopod is essential at football, soccer, baseball and softball – anyplace your are using a long lens that cannot be handheld and most athletic events to not permit the use of a tripod.

70-200mm @85 f - 2.8 ISO 3200 through fenceTripod:  usually used only for portraits.  I use a Gitzo Traveler and for the ballhead, I use an Acratech GV2.   There are tons of steadying gear and manufacturers.  YGWYPF.

Lighting: I am a disciple of the speedlighters of the world and use no studio lights. I have a series of SB900s and trigger them with Pocket Wizards – either the Flex TT5s for portraits, or Plus III’s for remoting. SB900s can be found used, as well as SB800s (perfectly fine substitute) and SB700s (same).  There are off brand flashes and triggers:  some work well, but some do not so – YGWYPF.

24-70 portrait @32 f 7.1

Camera Strap: Black Rapid, connected to the camera with a Kirk gizmo that eliminates the need to screw the BR into your camera and thereby allows for quick release so you can put the camera easily on a tripod if you find yourself straying into landscapes of other tripod necessary photography genres. As a note, I have tried some off brand BR knockoffs and really did not like them at all. In one case, the strap failed and the camera fell from my hip only to have the fall broken by the volleyball court. Not good for the camera, the lens or me. YGWYPF.

Toys: Just because you can:  8mm lens,

8mm lensfish eye lens,

outdoor fisheyeand a super wide angle zoom (Nikon 14-24mm).

14-24 @ 19mm f 18 with Pws D800Next month, do :: or :: diso figures out telephoto lens compression.

next month cover



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mark shaiken :: photography
contact me at: mark@markshaiken.com
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