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While I shoot Canon, my brother shoots a D300. We were talking about indoor sports photography. I don't know the Nikon lines, but I know that his D300 is a 2007 vintage, and sensors get better all the time. He already has some F2.8 glass.

What is the current Nikon DX (APS-C) DSLR with the highest sensitivity for shooting sports in badly lit gyms?

My guess that rather than paying thousands of dollars for a super lens like the 200 F2.0G ED, he could buy a better body and gain a stop or two. Is this correct?

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Thanks for that question... I've been wondering the same thing. I don't want/need any fancy features, but I'd like better high-ISO sensitivity with lower noise. –  Eric Feb 22 '13 at 20:41

4 Answers 4

When shooting indoor sports there are many factors, including high ISO sensitivity, that come into play.

  • Can the camera keep up with the action? There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a key moment in the contest occur while waiting for your full buffer to unload enough data to the memory card to get another shot in. Buffer depth is just as important as frame rate. Especially if you want to save RAW files.
  • How fast is the focusing system? Does it track moving subjects fast enough to shoot several fps with all of them in focus? Can you change the selected focus points or zones quickly while shooting without taking your eye off the viewfinder?
  • Is the low light performance good enough? Is the image quality good enough at the ISOs needed to freeze the action? How much does the noise reduction needed at higher ISOs affect the fine details in the photos?
  • Does the focal length of the lens allow you to spend most of your time shooting? Or are you constantly having to move to a different position to frame the action the way you want?

There's an old axiom that states, "You're better off with an average body and great lenses than a great body and average lenses." When applied to indoor sports, replace great with fast.

Nikon hasn't really released a successor to the D300 unless you count the D300s which was built around the same sensor but upgraded the video recording capabilities. The only newer Nikon bodies with equal or better frame rates and focusing systems are FX bodies. Any of those will cost as much or more than a fast pro quality lens.

There's really no substitute for fast glass when shooting indoor sports. Once you own the glass, it will make the eventual next body upgrade even more effective. In my opinion, either an 80-200mm f/2.8 zoom ($1,100), 70-200mm f/2.8 ($2,000), 135mm f/2 ($1,200), or 200mm f/2 (don't ask) is the best upgrade path for your brother. Especially until Nikon releases a DX body with sports speed that beats the D300 by more than two stops in term of high ISO image quality.

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He already has some F2.8 glass. Its sports, so fast focusing is fairly important, but with a bit of planning, you can prefocus on where the action will be. Fast primes work well for most of the time, zoom with your feet. –  Pat Farrell Feb 20 '13 at 17:02
    
If he already has some f/2.8 glass it is an entirely different situation. Prefocusing works well when the action is moving across your field of view, but isn't good for more than one frame when the action is moving toward or away from your position. A lot depends on the sport. As to zooming with your feet, that also depends a great deal on the sport and how much access you have to different areas and how much the host allows photographers to move around. In some venues you are severely limited with regard to shooting position. And you may miss some of the action while moving. –  Michael Clark Feb 20 '13 at 21:29
    
His primary sport is volleyball. The obvious action happens at one of two places right at the net. He's the coach, so he has nearly complete access, but as coach, he also has limited time for photography. –  Pat Farrell Feb 21 '13 at 1:12
    
Behind the back line is also a good spot for catching action at the net, especially if there is an elevated position handy. But for your brother to utilize that for pictures of the members of his team he would need to be behind the opposing team's back line, which might not be best practice. –  Michael Clark Feb 21 '13 at 1:30
    
plus he'd need one of those $$$ 200mm F2.0 –  Pat Farrell Feb 21 '13 at 5:31

If your brother already has an f/2.8 lens, then an updated body might give more benefit. If he's shooting with an f/4 lens, then harder to say. Edit: from your comment, he does have f2.8 glass, so f/2 isn't going to give him significant benefit.

There is no clear upgrade path for the D300. A D400 has been rumoured for some time, but there seems to be a lot of doubt as to whether Nikon will release a D300 follow-on.

The D300 is 13MP, shoots at 6 frames/sec and has 51pt AF.

The only true DX camera that is in the running is the D7000, unless he would consider the D600 or D800, which can shoot in DX modes.

  • D7000 - DX. 16MP, 6 fps, 39pt AF

  • D7100 - DX - 24MP, 6 fps, 51pt AF

  • D600 - FX, 24MP, 5.5 fps, 39pt AF

  • D800 - FX, 36MP, 5 fps*, 51pt AF ( * or 5.5 fps in DX mode, 6 fps with battery grip)

Both the D600 and D800 have DX modes which will give him the extra 1.5x reach that he's getting with the D300.

I'm not sure the D7000 is enough of a step up to warrant upgrading. Better low light performance, but not sure build quality, AF performance as good as D300.

I think the D800 would be fantastic if budget allows. Significantly better low light performance.

Nikon may announce a D400, and should announce a D7000 update, sometime this year. If he wants to stick with DX, and the D800 would blow his budget, then I'd suggest he waits to see what they announce later this year.

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It looks like the D5200 is the current DX leader, but I'm not sure. It seems to have at least one stop more usable ISO according to dxomark.com/ –  Pat Farrell Feb 20 '13 at 17:01
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D5200 is a consumer camera though. Not weather sealed, no focus motor, smaller and dimmer viewfinder, as compared to D7000 or D300. It is new, so has leapfrogged in some areas, which is why it may be good to wait for D7100 or D400. –  MikeW Feb 20 '13 at 17:17
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Nikon just announced the D7100 today! –  Michael Clark Feb 21 '13 at 5:45
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LOL. Thanks, have updated –  MikeW Feb 21 '13 at 5:54

The upgrade from Nikon D300 should be to a used nikon D700 to help with low light indoor sports. I own a Nikon D300 with a fast lens f1.8 and had a chance to use Nikon D700, let me tell you that indoor basketball pictures on D700 at iso 3200 with f2.8 were much cleaner without noise and on my D300 at iso 3200 with f2.8 they were.....well not so clean.

Nikon D7100 is good unit and has good ISO levels but check the buffer size, it fills up fast so after about 6 shots or so you will need to wait. While on D300, D700 or any other pro body Nikon camera the buffer is much larger. Raw at 12bit around 12 to 15 shots and if shooting in Jpeg then around 100 continuous shots, that’s something D7100 cannot do.

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The previous answers are all great. I just have two more points:

I've shot in terribly lit gyms before with a D7000. If he can't afford 2.8 glass (assuming he doesn't already have some), I'd recommend picking up a 85mm 1.8G/D. It's a more affordable lens, and if he can get close to the floor, it's a great focal length. Plus, it's wider than the 2.8s, and has great bokeh.

Also, if he hasn't already, I'd suggest he pick up a battery grip for the camera to bump his burst rate up to a whopping 8fps on the D300!

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