I was talking with a fellow T2i owner over on my Facebook page and she was wondering what settings and lens are best for shooting fast action, from a distance, indoors (low light). I thought it would be beneficial to share our conversation with all of you...
Patti's Question: While waiting for my new T2i to arrive I'm shopping for necessary accessories. Here's the thing; I don't have a lot of money for lenses and flashes so I need help making wise choices. ;) I will be video taping my daughters first figure skating competition and taking pictures at my son's hockey game. Which lens do you recommend for ice arena's? Will the Hoya fl-day filter help with the lighting? Any tips for taking pics in these conditions would be great. Once the ice is out, I'll be on to swim meet pics!
Moose's Answer: In order to capture fast action, from a distance, in low light (in a gym or arena), you need the help of a "bright" telephoto lens. When I say "bright", I'm referring to a lens that's capable of achieving an aperture f-number between f/1.4 to f/2.8. Lower f-numbers basically allow more light to enter through the lens giving you faster shutter speeds at lower ISO's, which is critical to "freezing" fast action indoors.
I know it's going to seem like a shock, but the most affordable indoor action shooter is the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. While this may seem outrageously expensive, the Canon equivalent is double the price. As you might of guessed, low-light (indoor) sports photography is probably the most challenging and expensive types of photography.
In regards to settings, I would shoot in Shutter priority (Tv on the mode dial) and select a shutter speed between 1/250 and 1/1000. Make sure your ISO is set to Auto in order to get an accurate exposure. I would also enable burst mode, so that you can rattle off a series of shots in quick succession...usually you can find a few keepers that way. In addition to all of that, try experimenting with AI Servo focusing (just press the AF button the back of your camera). This will allow you to continuously focus on a moving subject by half pressing the shutter button.
If you just don't have the budget right now for the above mentioned lens, the next best option would be the Canon 55-250mm f/4-5.6 lens. Using the settings I mentioned above, you'll probably end up with some underexposed (dark) shots, full of grain (image noise). However, the good news is that you'll be able to zoom in for tight framing from a distance and your shots should be relatively sharp. You can use basic photo editing software (like Picasa) to brighten your shots and for image grain you can use noise reduction software (like Noise Ninja).
Patti's Reply: Is there a big difference between the canon 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS and the IS II? I'm guessing the later is a newer model. Also is the Tamron AF 18-200 f/3.5-6.3 Di II LD (IF) macro A14E a better option to the canon (I can't afford the first Tamron you suggested...yet)?
Moose's Reply: I believe there's only one version of the 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS lens currently on the market.
In regards to the Tamron 18-200mm lens, you're better off with the Canon 55-250mm in my opinion. For the types of shots you're after, the added zoom (250mm versus 200mm) and the built-in image stabilization will be more useful to you when shooting subjects from a distance.