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I recently took on my first paying client, and she is also into photgraphy. She usually does sports for her highschool yearbook. They just have an entry level Canon DSLR with a kit zoom on it that goes up to 200mm, but it's not very fast (f/4 or 5.6 or so). She told me that she has a tough time - especially at basketball games - getting shots with any kind of reasonable lighting, and has to do a lot of work in post just to get them reasonable.

This post on digitalphotomentor.com mentions the Cannon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM II for professional sports photographers. At $6k USD I suspect the yearbook won't be springing for that lens anytime soon.

So I was curious, are there any reasonable quality, fast lenses for Canon cameras that are lower priced (certainly no more than say, $1k)? I'd love to be able to point them to a couple of options. I assume the largest print they'd be making would be a full spread in the yearbook - maybe two 17"x11" (two 8.5" side by side)

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    When talking about telephoto lenses you can have fast or you can have cheap, but you can't have fast & cheap. – Michael C Feb 12 '16 at 3:19
  • If it is indoor or night time sports, forget about it! – thomasrutter Feb 12 '16 at 5:34
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The ideal lens in this situation is probably a 70-200 f/2.8L and the older Mark I USM (non-IS) version, might fall inside the price range on the used market. The lack of IS is less of an issue with sports, where your shutter speed is liable to be up and over 1/focal_length to freeze the action, anyway.

There are also three fast prime options you can consider, all of which are known for their sharpness and speedy autofocus performance.

  • The EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (nicknamed "Mr. Basketball" on the dpreview Canon lens forum because so many people want a cheap basketball lens)

  • The 85/1.8's identical cousin, the EF 100mm f/2 USM

  • The EF 135mm f/2L USM. As an L, it has better contrast and build quality, and 135 is the center of the 70-200 range.

However, the longer a prime, the more restrictive its framing can be on usage. I have a 135L, I shoot events with it all the time, but it can be frustrating not to have zooming capability, especially if your own mobility is restricted.

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I would first consider what focal lengths are needed. I am not a sports photographer but I have been able to shoot some middle and high school basketball where I could stand right at the sideline and often found my lenses to be too long. On an APS-sized sensor camera (likely like the entry-level Canon DSLR she's using) I found a 50mm lens to be an acceptable compromise -- sometimes not wide enough, sometimes not long enough, but almost always fast enough. If shooting from the sidelines, she likely does not need something long and almost definitely doesn't need 300mm.

Aperture is equally important. Gyms are terribly dark and horribly lit. I often shot at f1.something or f2.something. f2.8 actually falls into the slower side for indoor sports, even with good high ISO capabilities.

I'd start with a 50 1.4 or 1.8.

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    I have to disagree with the 1.8 recommendation. The AF is terribly slow for fast action. The 85mm is great, but the Canon 50mm is pretty horrid, can't say what the third party versions are like. – Robin Feb 14 '16 at 3:01
  • The newer EF 50mm f/1.8 STM focuses faster than the older EF 50mm f/1.8 II. The EF 50mm f/1.4 is about as fast as the EF 85mm f/1.8 and EF 100mm f/2. While all three of those aren't ideal in terms of AF speed for sports, they are usable. – Michael C Dec 16 '16 at 1:11
  • The EF 135mm f/2 L is also a very good lens for indoor sports, but it may be a bit long on an APS-C camera for shooting from certain positions. – Michael C Feb 8 '18 at 4:06
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I would grab the Canon 135mm f/2.0. Its light gathering capabilities are fantastic and the price is quite reasonable. You can also add an extender for more range if desired and still get a fast result.

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