View 54: Right Lens for the Job

Last year I attended and photographed a couple games of the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Syracuse Crunch. I used the Nikon 18-200VR lens which is not what I’d call a sports lens. My best shots were of the goalies as they are rather stationary and don’t move as fast as the forwards and defensemen. I ended up with underexposed photos which required a lot of post-processing. Not bad but I was using the wrong tool (i.e.., lens).

In late 2008, I purchased a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom lens which is legendary for its sharpness and speed in focusing. At f/2.8 throughout it’s zoom range, it brings in the most light of any lens I own at these focal lengths. Using it on my Nikon D70 dSLR camera, with a crop factor of 1.5, the lens is the 35mm equivalent of a 105-300mm zoom.

So, it was with much anticipation, when I attended the AHL game between the Hamilton Bulldogs and Syracuse Crunch a couple of weekends ago. I set my camera to shutter priority mode, took a custom white balance off the ice surface and, like photographing snow, moved the exposure compensation to +1.0. I was able to get apertures ranging from f/2.8 to f/4 at a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second at ISOs of 800 and 1600. I was thrilled as the lighting in the Onondaga County War Memorial is far from ideal.

Hamilton Bulldogs forward Greg Stewart skates in the Onondaga County War Memorial against the Syracuse Crunch in a late December game.

Hamilton Bulldogs forward Greg Stewart skates in the Onondaga County War Memorial against the Syracuse Crunch in a late December game.

My seat was second row from the ice and gave me a great view of the end the Syracuse Crunch attack for periods 1 and 3. I still concentrated on the goalies but, as the game went on, I got braver and started taking pictures of other players skating, hitting and shooting. As much as I love my 18-200VR lens, the 70-200VR is not called the premier sports lens for Nikon cameras for nothing and was the right tool for the job.

Hamilton Bulldogs forward Adam Pineault (15), on his toes, deflects the puck into the Syracuse Crunch goal.

Hamilton Bulldogs forward Adam Pineault (15), on his toes, deflects the puck into the Syracuse Crunch goal.

For more hockey pictures, click here.

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14 Responses to View 54: Right Lens for the Job

  1. Julie McLeod says:

    I definitely don’t have ‘the right lens for the job’ but I’d love to be able to capture my kids on the ice. Thanks for sharing your shots and your experience with the new lens…


  2. Great shots, so clear. We would like to someday get the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Will be awhile, a long while most likely… but we can always dream 🙂


  3. Julie, you can make do with whatever you have as I did for years. Try capturing other parts of the game like fans, players on the bench, goalies when the action is in the other end, face-offs, portraits of players during stoppage of play. Lots of possibilities at youth hockey games where access is more flexible than a seat during a pro game.

    Preston, do you have a use for such a lens? Oh, I know, a close up of white longhorns. 🙂 I’ve wanted this lens for years and will find other uses beyond sports for it. However, it was a joy to use at the game.


  4. shrewspeaks says:

    Oh Scott…the crispness of these images is amazing…PLUS your spot on white balance…you really need to do a tutorial on winter white balance!

    Awesome stuffs


  5. Mitch says:

    Great tack-clear photos, Scott. Nice work! I have the 18-200. The 70-200 is that much better, eh? I also enjoyed your retrospective of the year, and your top five photos. Looking forward to more great photos from your new site. Mitch


  6. You were able to capture some great action shots here!
    Speaking of lenses…. do you know of one that would be a good replacement for the kit lens? Mine is the Nikkor 18-70mm f-3.5-4.5, not sure if you got the same one with your camera? The kit lens isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not the greatest either.


  7. What’s really great about these is I was shooting through the protective glass and still got sharp images.

    Mitch, for sports, yes, the 70-210 is that much better but I’ll never give up my 18-200VR for most everything else.

    What other lenses do you have, Michaela? A lens I rented last summer for a wedding was the Nikon 17-55 f/2.8. It’s expensive and, like the 70-210, is fast and sharp. You know how much I love the 18-200mm VR lens which is pretty much my do anything lens from portraits to zoo photography.

    Here’s a website with links to Nikon lens reviews:

    That will give you what’s available out there for Nikons. One lens to avoid is the 24-120mm VR which no one has liked.


  8. Thanks for that link, Scott. The only other lenses I have, besides the kit lens, are the 60mm macro, and the 80-400mm (I think you have this one, too?). The 18-200mm would give me a really nice range. Off to check out that link 🙂


  9. OK, so far I’m really impressed with the 18-200mm lens (still researching other lenses, though). Sounds like it focuses much faster than the 80-400mm?


  10. The 18-200VR is an AF-S lens and is faster and quieter than the 80-400VR. Plus, after hefting the 80-400VR, the 18-200VR will seem light. People have knocked the 18-200VR because they feel the range is just too big to be a quality lens. If you like the pictures I have on this blog, you’ll like the lens. The VR II technology is phenomenal. The focal range saves me lots of lens changes when I had the 18-70 and 80-200 lenses. That means I can get photographs I used to have to miss because the lens I had on my camera was the wrong one.

    If you do decide to buy the 18-200VR and you like to use Amazon, I’d appreciate it if you used the link on this post. Thanks!


  11. rvewong says:

    Scott, I’d like your impressions of the speed of focus with your D70 and 70-200. I find my D80 is really too slow.


  12. Bob, the speed of focus was fast and quiet as the 70-200VR is an AF-S lens. I used continuous focus most of the night and never noticed any lag when pressing the shutter. This lens being 2 stops faster (f/2.8 versus f/5.6) at 200mm than the 18-200VR, it brings in twice as much light. I found the 18-200VR hunted a lot for focus when I used it for hockey because of that.

    I would think the D80 wouldn’t have a problem being a newer body than the D70.


  13. burstmode says:

    I use the slightly older 80-200 f/2.8 for sports. It isn’t AFS but its quite fast. I am interested in why you chose shutter priority rather than Aperture. I tend to set Aperture at f/4 or less for sports so as to get a good creamy background. Of course, I’ve no experience with hockey…


  14. Hi ya, Burstmode!

    I choose shutter priority because I wanted to make sure to freeze the action. Hockey is a fast sport and 1/500th of a second is the fastest I could get and still have good exposures at f/2.8. Lighting is okay where the Crunch play but not good enough for f/4. I’ve since been to rinks with much worse lighting conditions for high school hockey and wished I had a camera with ISO settings over 1600.

    Do you have a blog or some galleries of your work I could see?

    Thanks for stopping by!


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