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I hate to be THAT GUY that starts another comparison thread, especially one that may really seem like comparing apples and oranges and has probably already been answered somewhere, but all the research I've done has done nothing to help my indecisiveness. Here's my situation:

Main subject: sports, especially youth hockey and some high school football

Currently own: Canon T1i with 70-200mm f/2.8 non-IS

Basically, it's time for an upgrade because the T1i just can't handle the low light situations I'm in, and if I'm going to get serious about photography (which I want to) I need a serious camera anyway. I've basically narrowed my choices down to two:

  1. Stick with Canon, go for the 7D, and buy a smaller lens to complement the 70-200 (either the 24-70 2.8, 17-55 2.8, or 16-35 2.8...haven't narrowed that down yet)

  2. Sell my Canon gear, switch to the Nikon D700 with the 80-200 2.8 and a smaller lens similar to what I listed for Canon

I have no experience actually using either of these cameras or lenses other than what I own...but trust me it is in the works. So please bear with me as I may ask or compare things that may not matter as much as I think.

Obviously I love the ISO performance of the full-frame, so I like the D700 (I'm not a fan of the D Marks for sports). That's a huge plus, and honestly may be a deal-breaker already. But for the sake of argument, let's continue. Will I notice the slightly improved color depth and dynamic range in the D700 compared to the 7D?

For the 7D, I love the 8 fps, though I can live with the 5 fps from the D700 (anything is an upgrade from the 3.4 fps T1i...). I also like the reduced shutter lag, I feel like that might make a difference when those unexpected things happen on the ice/field and you need to react at light speed to catch it. But maybe not? I also appreciate the 100% viewfinder coverage of the 7D compared to the 95% D700. But again, maybe that's not a big deal?

My big question is: full-frame vs crop? I really like the extra length of the 1.6x crop factor because of the size of the places I shoot in, but it does make it hard to get the action that's right in front of me (typically where the best action is). If I went with the 7D, is a 16mm or so lens enough to get the players that are within 20-50 feet of me? If I go full-frame, will I be able to crop my longer-range photos in post without losing too much detail? The pixels in the D700 are massive, so I assume this helps with that?

Finally, Canon lenses vs Nikon lenses. I am a big fan of Canon glass, but haven't used Nikon so I can't really say much. Again I know it's hard to compare cross-platform, but if anyone has experience with both that could share their thoughts, that would be awesome.

I love the sounds of the 7D for sports, especially with the Canon glass. But can it handle what I need it to handle? I really want to make this a side business in the relatively near future, so I need something that will definitely get the job done.

Thanks for any and all help! I'll try to use all this equipment soon and let you know how it goes (unless you convince me to not even bother with one or the other!).

share|improve this question
    
Which Nikon 80-200? If you're considering anything but the AF-S version I think you'll be a little disappointed in the AF speed compared to the Canon 70-200. AF-S/USM is particularly helpful for focus tracking so, IMO, giving that up would be a significant loss. –  Dan Wolfgang Sep 14 '12 at 14:07
    
Honestly I wasn't even aware there was an AF-S version, I've only seen the D until now. Thanks for pointing that out. I've heard great things about the motor of the D700 though...would this do anything to help compensate should I not get the S version lens? –  user11593 Sep 15 '12 at 0:45
    
The AF motor in the higher-end bodies is great. But in-body AF and AF-S just work differently, and AF-S is much more capable for focus tracking where small adjustments are constantly made to keep the subject in focus. –  Dan Wolfgang Sep 15 '12 at 12:01
    
What is the AF system on the Nikon like? I have a 7D and have shot gymnastics (worse lighting conditions than hockey) and have been pretty happy with the results. The AF on the 7D rocks and along with high ISO it is the biggest factor in getting usable shots. –  Robin Jan 9 '13 at 16:30
    
I've had very few problems, if any at all, with the D700 AF. It can be a touch slow at times, but I put most of the blame on myself for not using the camera efficiently / using AF-lock, etc. If I get a blurry shot when doing my hockey, it's much more likely that it's because I missed my target with my auto-focus point selection than because the camera is not keeping up. I did a cheerleading comp with miserable lighting and had no trouble with AF. I used a 7D for a couple hockey games and loved its speed, though at times found it TOO fast and jumpy. But again, that's more my fault than the 7D's –  user11593 Jan 10 '13 at 1:07

3 Answers 3

D700, particularly if that includes indoor hockey.

Basically, indoor sports are the most demanding because they need fast shutter-speeds in low-light, so they need to perform very well at high ISO. Not only are full-frame models usually better for that but the D700 is an awesome low-light performer because it has large pixels even for a full-frame camera.

As you suppose you guessed it, having fast lenses helps too. Stabilization is not really needed when shooting sport action since you need a fast shutter-speed anyway, so that can save you money.

The lack of a 100% coverage viewfinder is the reason I would NEVER buy a D700. It's a killer for me but its a personal choice. However, it is much less relevant for sports where action is moving so fast that you have to frame generously to keep the subject under a focus point and then crop later. Once you have to crop, well, you have to crop. Frankly I think it was embarassing for Nikon to have 100% OVF in the D7000 and not the D700 and they corrected that in their models. Yesterday I got a Nikon D600 which - despite the lower number - is extremely good.

You are also right about the crop-factor. An 70-200mm on an APS-C sensor body is very suitable for hockey and you could go with the same for full-frame but your shots wont be as tight when players are away from you. If you are an official photographer, you can get closer or get a longer lens but you will lose a stop unless you have a big budget. Something like a Sigma 100-300mm F/4 which is ultra-sharp is a fantastic option.

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You never have enough zoom when shooting sports. Sometimes they are too close for the short end of the zoom, other times too far away for the long end. But an 80-200 / 70-200 gives a very nice range to get good shots. –  Rene Sep 14 '12 at 7:40
    
Isn't it the "lack of a 100% viewfinder... why you wouldn't buy a D700"? Seemed like a typo but I didn't want to edit if I was wrong. –  dpollitt Sep 14 '12 at 12:36
    
Yes, I thought it was obvious... I meant the 100% viewfinder issue.... I clarified anyway. Thanks! –  Itai Sep 14 '12 at 12:42
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@Itai how did you get your D600?! B&H says it's only released in limited qty... –  Omne Sep 14 '12 at 20:16
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The large pixels are actually reasonably irrelevant. Over the same are, the noise on the 7D and D700 will be similar. Large pixels are good for a reduction in pixel level noise, but overall noise levels (i.e. total noise in the image) is more affected by technology than pixel size. Se D700 vs 5D MK II - overall noise is similar, but per pixel noise is lower on the D700 higher on the 5D MK II. –  DetlevCM Sep 15 '12 at 7:29

In another thread, a user suggested using http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Compare-Camera-Sensors/

and pay specific attention to the "sports/low light" section, which measures exactly the kind of information you are asking for. I do not know how accurate their measurements are.

They did measure than my Canon 50D has only mediocre sports/low light, and that has been my experience.

Even at NHL games, all the hockey games that I've been to see to be played with less than ideal/sufficient light for photography. Which is why you see the photographers with monster F2.8 long lenses that cost a fortune.

share|improve this answer
    
Yeah, hockey isn't great for lighting (except that the fill from the ice helps a lot). And it's fast, so you want to keep the shutter speeds up. Low-light/high ISO performance means an awful lot. –  user2719 Sep 14 '12 at 3:47
    
Thanks for posting that link. I like that it shows the specs of the lenses on specific cameras. Very helpful! Also kind of funny that just for the hell of it I rented a 16-35mm f/2.8 for this weekend to see what I can do with it at a hockey game, and the "sports" rating for that lens according to dxomark.com is "not applicable". Hmm, rookie mistake? haha I didn't have high hopes anyway, but we'll see what happens! :-) –  user11593 Sep 15 '12 at 0:57

D700 is lovely camera for low light situation but don't count too much on cropping photos, it's only 12MP... how much does D700 cost now? around $2K, right?... with that price you have other options too, since you already own Canon lenses, why don't you go for the 21MP 5D mk2? ofc its continuous speed is not impressive, only 3.9 fps, but I personally don't care about continuous shooting.

The new D600 should be ideal too, but... I'm not a pro photographer at all and I'm not into sport photography... is the 1/4000 sec maximum shutter speed useful for fast action? if yes, I think this is what you should buy :)

http://www.dpreview.com/products/compare/side-by-side?products=canon_eos5dmkii&products=nikon_d600&products=nikon_d700&products=canon_eos7d&sortDir=ascending

share|improve this answer
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BTW, those do not tell the whole story. The D700 is actually faster at autofocus and more sensitive than the D600, it also does better than the 5D Mark II by a good margin. On the other hand, the 5D Mark III has an awesome and extremely fast AF system but it does cost more than all of these. –  Itai Sep 14 '12 at 21:25
    
@Itai Thanks for the explanation. I'm not sure if it's ok to ask this here or not, but could you please also explain how effective is the max shutter speed, why D600 is 1/4000 and is that a negative point for sport photography? considering the low light situation needs slower shutter anyway... –  Omne Sep 14 '12 at 21:47
    
There is really not much difference. Looks like 1/8000 is something of prestige on a DSLR :) Smaller cameras can go much faster, down to 1/40000s (yes, 4 zeros) and this is only usable in very bright light unless you have some incredibly powerful floodlights. There is only one stop between 1/8000 and 1/4000, so you would get a slightly sharper image of a racecar or hummingbird. –  Itai Sep 14 '12 at 22:49
    
The lower MP of the D700 does scare me a bit, as I know I will have to crop a decent amount. I was hoping the large pixels will help this, but maybe not? I'm not at all impressed with the DMII for the price and what I would use it for, and the DMIII is well outside my budget. Especially considering I am able to get a new D700 for $1,600 because of a connection I have. I just found that out today, and I REALLY think that tips the scales enough to forget about getting any other camera. Still going to test out the 7D in 2 weeks though. –  user11593 Sep 15 '12 at 1:02
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@user11593 Large pixels do nothing for cropping. They reduce per pixel noise, but that's it. Scale a 5D MK II image down to 12MP and it is similar or even identical to the D700 in noise performance. If you want to crop, you need more pixels and then need to carefully balance your per pixel noise requirements with the resolution you can get. –  DetlevCM Sep 15 '12 at 7:34

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