Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking sport and fast action shots
What to look for
Sports photography is just as much about depicting personal achievement as it is about capturing the speed, excitement and passion of a major event. It's also one subject area to which not all cameras are well suited.
Dealing with distance
Start shooting sports and you'll realise your seats aren't as close to the action as you thought you were. TV cameras might be roughly in line with the front row of a football stand, but their lenses are a lot more powerful than your average compact or entry-level dSLR, where a 3x zoom is frequently the norm.
This is one instance where high-end compacts are often a better choice than a dSLR, as many sport a zoom of 20x or more, topping out at a level roughly equivalent to 500mm on a conventional 35mm camera. You'd expect to pay several thousand pounds for similar magnification on a dSLR, yet the compact can cost you as little as £500. When picking a model, buy the one with the widest maximum aperture at full telephoto. This will help you to achieve a shallow depth of field at the longest zoom that will draw the players out from their surroundings. For example, the Panasonic FZ200 maintains a constant aperture of f/2.8 right through its 20x zoom.
If your sport of choice involves any kind of speed -- horse racing, Formula 1, cycling and so on -- you have two choices: blur the subject by keeping your camera static, or blur the background by panning as the subject passes.
In either instance, you'll need a camera that lets you dial down the shutter speed using a dedicated shutter priority mode. Ideally look for a model that puts this option on a mode selection wheel so you won't have to go hunting through the menus (sometimes it appears on a combined stop marked ASM or PASM). Once in shutter priority mode, make sure your chosen camera has a simple means of adjusting the setting -- preferably using an easily-accessible thumbwheel.
You might find that extending the exposure time leads to over-exposed images, so choose a camera with which it's easy to also change the sensitivity and exposure compensation to overcome the effects of the slower shutter action.
Finally, look for a camera with an effective burst mode that will let you take several pictures in quick succession. Don't pay too much attention to the several-hundred-frames-per-second metrics offered by some models, as these only achieve that speed by cropping the finished picture. Instead, focus on those that offer the highest speeds when shooting full-size stills.
Beware of the fact that in some cameras the maximum burst shooting speed is reduced when they need to adjust the focus to compensate for oncoming or receding subjects, such as cars racing around a corner. If you most of your photography will be conducted with subjects passing by at roughly the same distance, such as basketball players jumping to the hoop, or horses galloping by on a straight, then you can ignore this lower adjusted speed and consider just the higher metric that it can achieve when fixing the focus on the first shot and leaving it there.
Nikon's 1-series cameras can sustain 60 frames per second (fps), but for most people, around 4fps will be more than enough. Ensure you're using a Class 8 or 10 memory card for the best results and to avoid the camera slowing down while it offloads data from its internal buffer.
Sports and action photography wish list
- Telephoto zoom
- High shutter speed
- Fast burst mode
- Wide maximum aperture