I try not to speak in superlatives, but through trial and error I believe I’ve found the best “night sports” lens, at least for someone with my budget. It’s the Nikon 300mm f/4. Here’s why:
- It’s affordable
- It’s a prime, so it’s super crisp
- It’s not heavy (even though it’s glass)
- It’s got a relatively low f stop with pretty good bokeh, good for night sports
I love the 70-200 f/2.8 because it gives you flexibility, but I saw Ken Goodman with his 300 and immediately got ‘lens envy’ so I tried it out. Wow. It’s much more crisp than the 70-200 and the focal distance – 300mm – is pretty much perfect for a full-frame camera. At 300, I can roam the sidelines from the 30 to the 30, and usually have the kids pretty much full in the frame.
I use a Nikon D700 (full-frame dslr) which can handle 6400 ISO pretty easily – in combination with Lightroom’s great noise reduction engine. This is important early in the season when shooting a game that starts at 8:00pm; you’re basically shooting when it’s pitch black out.
This time of year, I’ll start a 7:00pm game game at ISO 5000, f/4, 1/500 sec and as it gets darker into the second half, I’ll end up at ISO 6400, f/4, 1/320 sec which is also acceptable. These recent photos were taken at Curtis high school in Tacoma, which I believe has the darkest stadium lights anywhere. This photo was taken at 7:50pm, ISO 5000, 1/320 sec with the 300m, I was standing on about the 30 yard line. By the way, I think Curtis has the best night stadium anywhere. It’s dark – which the players sometimes complain about – but the backdrops are black as spades so it really makes the players who are illuminated, “pop.” I love shooting there.