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I take a lot of pictures of my sons playing High school baseball (and at times lacrosse and soccer). And a lot of my sons' travel baseball games.

I have a Canon Rebel EOS XSi (450D) which of course came with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens.

I needed a zoom lens and my father recommended a 75-300mm lens. Which I realized too late didn’t have stabilization.

My pictures are blurry. The pictures at night are even worse. I am desperate to get a zoom lens that will work for high school baseball and travel baseball and within two years some college baseball pictures.

Help! What type of zoom lens will get me through? And is there a lens that will work with low light or at night games?

Is my a bit older Canon Rebel EOS XSi (450D) even fast enough to handle these type of pictures with this type of lens?

I have tried to figure this out and haven’t been successful. Is there another option than the EF 70-200 f/2.8L? Would the 75-300mm with a stabilizer help at all?

marked as duplicate by inkista, scottbb, Olivier, Caleb, Saaru Lindestøkke Feb 2 '18 at 16:07

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  • please post picture example – aaaaaa Jan 29 '18 at 2:41
  • The low light peforance I think you are limited by your ISO (1600). There are only two ways to over come this: slower shutter speed (which is probably not an option) and a lens with a fast aperture: 1.2-1.8....to get a prime lens with a usable focal length of 300mm is going to be expensive I would imagine. I think the cheaper option is to get a body that performs better in low light...But I don't shoot Canon so I will refrain from making a recommendation. – TheXed Jan 29 '18 at 2:54
  • I use a 75-300mm 1:4 lens with a stabilizer. You would probably be better off purchasing a fast telephoto lens than one with a stabilizer perhaps a 200mm 1:2.8, as its only effective purpose is to stop small movements from affecting the images at longer focal lengths. When I have it turned on, it stops small shaky movements from blurring the image, but a fast lens would not need one. – ToastHouse Jan 29 '18 at 4:19
  • Caleb's answer below is great for the equipment side of things but it seems to me that it is the human brain side of the equation that needs upgrading. Learning the principles of how the equipment works, how to use it to achieve the stated goals and when to override the cameras "brain" is the first place to start. Take a continuing education or online coarse, get some good books on the subject, study and learn. You will know better if you want/need different equipment. ( in the comments because i am not prepared to answer/write a complete tutorial on low light and motion photography.) – Alaska Man Feb 7 '18 at 20:32
  • @Alaskaman It seems to me it is both. The EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 is blurry no matter who is using it. – Michael C Feb 8 '18 at 3:31
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You might can get away with an f/4 lens when using a camera that can shoot at ISO 3200 or so for professional football/soccer because the stadiums that professional sports are played in are typically much brighter than minor college and high school sports facilities. Youth sports and high school facilities rarely, if ever, are lit that well at night.

The EOS Rebel XSi/450D tops out at ISO 1600. That's marginal for high school sports under the lights, even with an f/2.8 lens. You can do it at 1/500 second, shooting raw, underexposing by about a stop and cleaning it up in post, but you'll still struggle with motion blur from your subjects' movements that will push your "keeper ratio" lower than you likely want. You're also going to have to develop the proper technique needed to shoot with such marginal gear in marginal light.

If your sons play in the infield and you can get close enough, you might can get by using an EF 135mm f/2 L. It's a great lens for shooting indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball. It may be the best bang for the buck of any L lens Canon sells. Of course it can only shoot at a single focal length, but 135mm on an APS-C camera is the same angle of view as 215mm on a FF camera. The image quality is just as good in most of the frame as the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II that I've been shooting for the past eight years, and the bokeh is much smoother than the more expensive zoom lens. If they are in the outfield, honestly, you need something like a Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports or some big white primes (EF 300mm f/2.8 L, EF 400mm f/2.8 L). You can sometimes find a decent "deal" on an older non-IS version of these lenses for a few thousand less than the current "IS II" versions (that are optically better, but the old ones are VERY good lenses in their own rights).

If you are willing to go third party, Tamron has just released the G2 (Generation Two) version of their 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens. It's not cheap, but it is a few hundred dollars cheaper than the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II. It holds its own with the eight years old Canon design in terms of image quality and focusing speed. The Tamron is sharper and autofocuses better than its Sigma counterpart, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM. (Rumors have been flying for well over a year that a new Sigma Global Vision Series [Art - Sports - Contemporary] set of 70-200mm f/2.8 and f/4 lenses is imminent, but so far no such official announcement has been made.)

I typically shoot at ISO 2500-3200 at f/2.8 to get shutter times of around 1/500-1/1000 seconds. My go-to camera is a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with an EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II. The 7D Mark II has a flicker reduction feature that times the shutter release with the peak of the oscillation of the lights which brighten and darken at a harmonic of the alternating current powering them. Before I got a camera with flicker reduction it was always ISO 3200 and 1/500-1/800 second at f/2.8 in most facilities in my area. The flicker reduction buys another 1/2-2/3 stop of shutter speed.

IS does no good when you need to shoot at 1/500 second or faster to freeze the action unless your technique is not very good. A monopod is all you should need to stabilize your camera/lens for action and sports. In such a capacity, it really serves more to support the weight for extended periods than to prevent camera shake.

enter image description here
EOS 7D Mark II + EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II, ISO 2500, 200mm from the front of the stands and cropped moderately, f/2.8, 1/800 second. You can just see motion blur in his right foot as I was panning with the ball carrier's torso.

enter image description here
Same camera/lens/settings as above except I was closer on the sideline and the lens was at 120mm. When the motion (of the player who has just been tossed aside) is towards/away from the camera rather than laterally across the field of view you can get away with a bit more.

enter image description here
NCAA Div. II stadium with brighter lights. EOS 7D Mark II + EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II from the sideline but about 20-30 yards downfield, ISO 2500, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/1250 second. At 1/1250 second you will see very little motion blur.

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It is unlikely your photos are blurry due to lack of stabilization. They probably are because this is a very slow lens. Stabilization will not help in the case of sports because it lets you shoot at a slower shutter speed which will show blur from player movement.

The workhorse lens for sports is the Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8. If you have are shooting with a full-frame or in good light, you can use a 70-200mm F/4. This is what we use here to shoot professional football. So get the F/2.8 if you can afford it. You do not need a stabilized version. Otherwise get a F/4 one, stabilization is not needed either.

It is better to push the ISO higher and get a slightly more grainy image than to get one that is blurry due to a too slow shutter-speed.

Sigma has some reputable 70-200mm F/2.8 which lets you save money compared to the Canon ones but they do not focus as quickly, so be prepared to prefocus where the player will be when you want to take the shot.

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I agree with previous comments. In addition:

1) High school sports stadiums are some of the worst facilities to shoot in. Lighting is abysmally poor on average. Even with pro-level equipment, you'd have problems shooting fast-action sports in lousy lighting. So understand that even the pros aren't shooting under your conditions.

2) You don't say if you are shooting from the stands or on the sidelines. Sidelines lessens the need for extreme telephoto ranges.

3) You don't say if you are using a monopod or not. If you are trying to hand-hold, it's just not going to work with the equipment you outline.

4) You'll note that pro-sports photographers use multiple cameras with multiple lenses and a monopod (generally speaking.) They switch off depending on what shot they are waiting for. They generally PLAN their shots and choose the appropriate lens for it.

5) An advantage of stadium lighting at night (if there is an advantage to lousy low lighting) is that it is CONSTANT. Therefore, you should be able to take a few test shots of a few areas and figure out the best balance of fastest shutter speed for not blurring the shot, with lowest ISO for keeping a lid on the "graininess" of the shot, with highest possible aperture to insure key elements of your shot are in focus. Figure that out. That should be 1 or 2 max manual settings to cover everything.

6) A very fast lens may buy you more room for a good exposure with sharp focus, but you risk large areas of the image being "out of focus" due to narrow depth of field. For example, at f2, taking a photo of a runner sliding into third, you need to be VERY precise at where your auto-focus is fixed, as that's what will be in focus, and the rest of the scene will slowly start to blur out. Of course, if you miss that exact spot due to the fast-paced action, something else (like maybe his butt) will be in focus and the key element (like maybe his hands reaching for the bag, or the 2nd baseman's glove tagging him) will be out of focus. Net result is almost the same as the "blurry photos" you complain about.

7) You lose aperture when you go to a zoom - you are trading that for convenience. As per above, pick a good fixed length telephoto lens with a fast aperture that will bring you as close to your subject matter as you need for capturing certain events, e.g., "diving into third", and another fixed lens for closer shots (e.q. striking out at home plate.) They'll be cheaper and lighter and have faster apertures than the zoom lens that will cover both ranges.

8) Don't be afraid of looking at used lenses at a reputable quality camera store. You can get some great deals. There are a lot of reasons why people turn in their lenses - usually because they found that they just weren't using it for the type of photography they were doing and wanted to put the money into a lens that was more appropriate. (I've done that several time.) (Or consider buying new when there's new model out.)

9) To summarize:

a) Use a monopod

b) If you can, get a better, newer camera body (full frame would be best) where you can crank up the ISO to give you flexibility is SS and aperture. A full frame would also allow you to use a shorter telephoto (generally cheaper) and then crop it a bit without too much loss of quality.

c) Use the old body with a fixed focus medium telephoto for close shots, use the new body with a long telephoto for the far-away shots

c) PLAN your shots and get ready in front of the action. Combined with a monopod and having the action come into your frame rather than chasing it, you'll reduce the shake of your camera for much crisper, sharper shots. It's arguable of course, but the use of a $50 monopod can give you around 2 f-stops worth of room to maneuver, almost what you'd get for paying the extra $800 for an "IS" lens.

d) keep in mind the EF-S lenses will not work on full-frame cameras, only on the cheaper APS-C chip cameras.

f) I use the 70-200 f2.8 myself and it works well for most situations. The other lenses you mention I wouldn't bother with for various reasons.

g) I have the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM which I use for travel. Great lens. The EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 USM is a great lens just without IS. You don't say which one you have. In any event, keep it for the time being and try the above techniques. If you can get a newer full frame camera, you'll be in much better shape.

OK, too much info at this point.

  • I use a monopod with my heaviest lens when shooting sports, but it has nothing to do with preventing motion blur from camera movement. The shutter speed needed to freeze the action does that. The monopod is due to the length of the event and supporting the weight over that period of time. – Michael C Feb 8 '18 at 3:24
  • So what lenses and cameras, exactly, do you suggest to do what you recommend (2 bodies, two primes) that come it at under $1,000 total? – Michael C Feb 8 '18 at 3:25
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But the pictures at night are ALL BLURRY!!!

Since this happens only at night, there are two likely culprits:

  • out of focus: If there's not enough light, the camera won't be able to focus and everything in the image will be blurry in every direction.

  • motion blur: With motion blur, objects are out of focus because of some movement during the exposure. The blur will be mostly all in the same direction. If the subject was moving, then the subject will be blurred, but other objects in the frame will be sharp. If the camera was moving, then everything in the frame will be blurred. At long focal lengths, even a tiny movement of the camera can produce a lot of blur.

If motion blur is indeed the issue, there are two remedies: stop the movement, or use a faster shutter speed. A sturdy tripod can help reduce camera motion, and most tripods cost a lot less than lenses, so that's often a good investment. Even a monopod can go a long way toward reducing motion. If you use a faster shutter speed, you'll need to compensate some other way: larger aperture, higher ISO, or add light with a flash. So, make sure you're shooting at the largest aperture you can, and try bumping up the ISO setting, to start. Using a flash often isn't a good option at sporting events because it's distracting to the athletes.

I don’t know if I need to upgrade my camera because it is not powerful/advanced enough or what lens would work with the Canon rebel eos xsi 450D that I already own?

What you'd get from a newer camera is better low-light performance. For example, the Canon EOS 77D (priced around $800) has an ISO range of 100-25600, whereas your camera's ISO range is 100-1600. That means you could use a shutter speed that's four stops faster. Take a look at the metadata for some of your blurry night shots -- you're probably shooting at around 1/60s. Four stops faster would mean you'd be shooting at 1/1000, which is plenty fast enough to solve any blur due to either the camera or the subject moving. Using a very high ISO setting has it's own problems -- you generally get a noisier photo, kind of like the grainy photos you get with very fast film. But shooting at ISO 10000 or 12800 will still give you the ability to use a faster shutter at a noise level that may be acceptable.

Of course, you can get also get a faster shutter by using a "faster" lens, i.e. one with a larger maximum aperture. The largest aperture on the lens you have, at 300mm is f/5.6. Switching to a f/2.8 lens only buys you two stops, which might be enough, but as you've seen the price of a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens can be pretty steep. That lens will probably include image stabilization, which helps with the camera shake problem, but it doesn't do anything to help with moving subjects. As well, you only get that improvement with that one lens, while upgrading the body gives you improved low light performance with any lens you choose.

Given your need for low light performance, upgrading your camera body will probably be more economical than buying an expensive lens.

  • 1
    With the Rebel XSi and most other Canon DSLRs made between about 2005 and at least the introduction of the 80D (and for those entry level models introduced since that still use older sensor technology), shooting at +1/3 stop ISO settings are noisier than the -1/3 stop and whole stop ISO settings past them. SO stick to either full stop ISO settings (100, 200, 400, 800, ...6400) if blown highlights are a concern, or -1/3 stop settings (160, 320, 640, ...5000) if shadow noise is more of a concern. The OP's XSi maxes out at ISO 1600, and it looks pretty rough past 800. – Michael C Feb 8 '18 at 3:41
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In my experience, there is little way to go around shooting large f-number lens. My sample below were shot with Nikon D3 full-frame camera and 80-200/2.8 zoom, mostly at 200mm.

night baseball, nikon D3, AF-D 80-200/2.8 ISO 1100, 1/1000, f/2.8 nikon D3, AF-D 80-200/2.8 ISO 1100, 1/1000, f/2.8

night baseball, nikon D3, AF-D 80-200/2.8 ISO 6400, 1/2000, f/2.8 nikon D3, AF-D 80-200/2.8 ISO 6400, 1/2000, f/2.8

Shutter speed of 1/1000 seems to be the lowest possible I was able to snap decent action shots. Preferably, you should be able to shoot at 1/2000 to freeze swing action. To stop college-level pitch perfectly, you might need 1/3200 or faster shutter.

Solutions to that can be only two, as far as I see:

  1. only shoot during day using any zoom (f/5.6 should be OK to have low ISO and fast shutter)
  2. buy used, older 80-200/2.8 lens. My experience with baseball tells me that fast autofocus is not crucial. If you shoot for the team, you can crowd-fund this (or better lens). Baseball team is like 20 people, ask for $100 per person and promise great picture by the end of the season or money back.

See full album for info on shots and daytime snaps.

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