Thanks for joining the conversation, Honeybadger32d! It would help to know what specific sports you're planning to photograph, whether they're played indoors, and if they're played outdoors, whether it's under sunlight or artificial light. The more information you can provide, the easier it'll be to answer your question.
We look forward to your reply!
You asked for the best AF method.
If you want to zero in on a single golfer, I would think that a single point AF would be be better than one of the zone methods, unless your golfer suddenly and unexpectedly moves out of frame.
If you want to take a picture of a group of golfers, one of the zone methods might be okay, but realize that your camera will likely focus on the closest person, or the area in that zone that has the greatest contrast.
I use 1 point AF or sometimes 1 point with 4 point expansion for most sports but golf is one where I often prefer locking focus during the practice swing or before a putt, etc. The initial drive from the tee is a classic case where the point you initially chose for focus may now be on the background instead of the golfer as the swing progresses. I will put a single focus point on the player and lock focus to avoid any chance of the AF searching during a sequence when the player is no longer covered by the selected point.
Unlike most other sports, the golfer isn't running or dodging during the action sequence and stays in one place which makes composing and then locking focus a good method of ensuring that what you want in focus is in focus during the action sequence.
Some of the Canon telephoto primes have a handy array of AF stop buttons towards the far end of the lens and I use those when available. For shorter lens (like the 70-200 f2.8), I prefer reassigning the AF start button on my camera bodies as an AF stop button.
These are a couple of examples from a HS match I shot a couple of years ago using the compose and lock method.
My personal basic starting mode for sports is Av, Average WB, fixed ISO but a switch to Auto ISO if warranted. I almost never use Ai-servo or any auto AF modes favoring One Shot and just the center focus point. I have never shot golf but since it basically involves a single person most of the time I can't see Ai-servo being any help and possibly a big mistake.
I would not use M mode at all. Av allows for the fastest SS with proper exposure. But if you feel fastest SS is the main most important thing then use Tv mode.
What camera body are you using? Different camera bodies lend themselves better for one technique or another, particularly with the entry level and beginner level camera bodies.
What lens(es) would you be using? The same applies to lenses as it does for camera bodies. The consumer oriented lenses will usually need a different approach to exposure compared to wider aperture, professional lens.
I prefer to shoot in M mode because it is the closest to the film experience. It allows me to directly shutter speed and aperture. ISO in a digital camera is just a simulation of a film type, and really isn’t part of exposure, even though it is part of the Exposure Triangle. To me, changing ISO is equivalent to changing film.
I typically leave ISO set to Auto, except when I am shooting sports. I try to find an ISO set-point and leave it there. Most of the time shooting sports can mean only slightly varying lighting conditions when you are outdoors during the daylight hours. The biggest change can come from the color of the clothes athletes wear, which can cause ISO Auto to vary the exposure more than I’d like.
For example, if one team is wearing light color jerseys and the other team is wearing dark jerseys, this can cause the exposure to vary by a full stop or even more. I suppose the same can happen when shooting golf as different players hit from the tee box. I would want one exposure setting for all of the players, even though it could be adjusted in post. I’d rather get it right in the camera.
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