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I am an athletics photographer, and I have a dilemma. First off, I use the 5D Mark II body. Currently, I own the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM II, and I LOVE it... except for indoor photos. Before I purchased this lens, I used the 70-200mm f/2.8 for indoor volleyball and the photos turned out great, but I needed the 400mm for other outdoor sports. But recently I went to another indoor game, and the quality with the 400mm is just terrible. I'm considering swapping out my 400mm for the 200 with a 2x extender, so I can get those indoor shots. But will the slow auto focus with the extender be too drastic for outdoor sports like soccer and horseback riding (I also ride)?

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    Why swap as opposed to add the lens to the bag? Can you rent the gear to see if the AF will be too slow for you? Plot twist: have you considered primes for indoor work (the 85/100/135 are all great options)? – OnBreak. Nov 22 '18 at 6:00
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    70-200/f2.8+3x teleconverter will give you the same f5.6. And you will see normal IQ degradation because of the teleconverter. Also speed of focus will suffer. So for me the idea is not so wise. Better check the reason of bad quality on 400mm – Romeo Ninov Nov 22 '18 at 6:08
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    A backpack full of wide aperture, metal encased primes makes a good kettle bell. Long, front heavy telephotos are great for sledgehammer style exercises. Consider taking advantage of batteries, too.... – rackandboneman Nov 22 '18 at 11:32
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I am an athletics photographer, and I have a dilemma. First off, I use the 5D Mark II body. Currently, I own the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM II, and I LOVE it... except for indoor photos. Before I purchased this lens, I used the 70-200mm f/2.8 for indoor volleyball and the photos turned out great, but I needed the 400mm for other outdoor sports.

You most likely need both lenses. 70-200/2.8 is great for indoors where distances are not as great as they are outdoors and the artificial lights are dim. It's darker indoors than what you think. 100-400/4.5-5.6 is great for outdoors in daylight where light is plentiful and distances may be large.

But recently I went to another indoor game, and the quality with the 400mm is just terrible.

The reason is that Canon 100-400 is a slow lens. It's mainly useful during the daylight hours outdoors. Indoors, you can't reasonably shoot fast action with the 100-400. Your choices to gather light are:

  • Bump up the ISO on your current body. This results in grainy images, and there is a limit: 5D Mark II cannot go over ISO 6400 unless you use ISO expansion (hint: don't!). The recommended option is to shoot RAW and use Canon Digital Photo Professional on a computer to apply good noise reduction to the RAW images, but it can't do miracles. A 5D Mark II is a dated body and newer bodies would have less noise with high ISO values.
  • Slow down the shutter speed. But, this results in motion blur.
  • Purchase a new body so that you can bump up the ISO without having excessive noise/graininess. Unfortunately, a 5D Mark IV costs a lot.
  • Use a faster aperture lens such as 70-200/2.8.
  • Use a flash. Seriously, don't do this for indoors sports!

A 5D Mark II body goes up to ISO 6400; a 5D Mark IV body goes up to ISO 32000. This does not necessarily mean 5D Mark IV can shoot at 1/4 of the shutter speed with no additional noise; the 5D Mark IV images at ISO 32000 are probably more noisy than 5D Mark II images at ISO 6400.

I'm considering swapping out my 400mm for the 200 with a 2x extender, so I can get those indoor shots

Don't. The image quality degradation of a 2x extender may be severe. As far as I can see, there are only two reasons why you might want to have 70-200/2.8 + 2x extender instead of 70-200 + 100-400:

  1. The weight. 70-200/2.8 + 2x extender is lighterweight than 70-200/2.8 + 100-400
  2. The price. A 70-200/2.8 is an expensive lens and so is 100-400.

Of these, I don't see (1) as a problem. Typically when you shoot something, you have an idea of what you're going to shoot so you can decide what gear to bring with you. I wouldn't carry both 70-200/2.8 and 100-400 at the same time ever.

So the only problem is (2). Something to consider:

  • Canon 100-400 costs 2200 EUR
  • Canon 70-200/2.8 IS costs 2100 EUR
  • Canon 2x extender costs 500 EUR
  • Tamron 100-400 costs 800 EUR
  • Tamron 70-200/2.8 G2 costs 1500 EUR

Let's say you can recoup 70% of the price when selling your used gear. For your Canon 100-400 you can get 1540 EUR. Now, what to buy with it:

  • If you buy Canon 70-200/2.8 IS + 2x extender, you have to pay 2600 EUR, meaning you need to somehow get 1060 EUR from somewhere.
  • If you buy Tamron 100-400 + 70-200/2.8 G2, you have to pay 2300 EUR, meaning you need to somehow get 760 EUR from somewhere.

I would pick the Tamron two-lens combo instead of the fast Canon telezoom + 2x extender.

I see third-party lenses as a better option here. However, there are some things to consider:

  • Autofocus may be less accurate on 3rd party lenses.
  • Autofocus may be slower on 3rd party lenses.
  • 3rd party lenses may not be compatible with Canon teleconverters.
  • 3rd party lenses may require firmware update to work on newer bodies, should you upgrade your body.
  • 3rd party lenses after manufacturer's support ends may not receive any firmware updates anymore, so you may not have the ability to purchase a new body anymore after a long amount of time.
  • 3rd party lenses do not have in-camera lens corrections.
  • 3rd party lenses do not have lens corrections in Canon's Digital Photo Professional; especially you cannot use Digital Lens Optimizer with them.
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I would sell advice to sell all the current gear and get the longest lens with the highest aperture you can afford from Canon and if possible stick with primes, like the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, as long as it fits your budget.

You won’t be disappointed their performance for indoor and outdoors sports, but it’s pricey.

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Have you considered keeping the 100-400 and buying a used non is 70-200 2.8? I found several in the 500£ price range on ebay and given the shutter speeds needed for sports you should be ok without is

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Pick the lens with the best image quality.

The rest is technique. Auto focus has its good and bad points. For action, however, think in terms of focus zones and prepare for your shooting with auto-focus off for better reaction time.

As the distance changes, re-focus and shut AF off again.

My first job as a newspaper sports photographer was boxing and my friends were the depth-of-field and my powerful short duration flashgun.

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I'd probably start by upgrading your camera body. The 5D Mark IV's low-light performance is quite a bit better than the Mark II, so you might find that upgrading your camera body to a Mark IV increases the usable ISO enough that the difference in lens speed doesn't bother you anymore. And its focusing system is also considerably better, too.

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