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Zooming for action sports


I just bought a Rebel T6s with 18-135 lens and was wondering if I should buy a lens with a better zoom for taking pictures of my boys playing hockey. I am a newbie when it comes to higher end cameras so please excuse my questions.


Thanks in advance



You could get a 55-250 zoom, whcih would almost be twice the magnifcation. It would be a good starter lens. You want the STM version of the lens.

John Hoffman
Conway, NH

1D X Mark III, Many lenses, Pixma PRO-100, Pixma TR8620a, LR Classic

Thanks John.

Do they play indoors or outdoors? Could make a difference on recommended lenses. Also be sure to set the camera to use AI Servo for the auto focus & pick a shutter speed that freezes the action. In Tv mode 1/500 or faster should get the job done or you can try the "Sport" mode but either way slow shutter speeds need to be avoided. 

"A skill is developed through constant practice with a passion to improve, not bought."

If this is indoor hockey and not outdoor daylight pond hockey, I would be most worried about having a larger aperture lens to let more light into the camera, to deal with the need for a fast shutter to capture fast action in low light.   You may not be happy with the result if you are in fact indoors and you get another, longer, variable small aperture lens.  


To render a properly exposed image the camera needs light.  


Shutter speed. You could get more light into the camera by using a slower shutter speed, but not if your subjects are moving quickly.  For something quick like hockey you actually have to use a short shutter speed, like the 1/500th minimum Ernie proscribes, or maybe even faster. So that further intensifies your lack of light problem.


ISO. The camera can compensate by electronically boosting the gain, raising the ISO setting to make the sensor create images in less light, but that hurts image quality beyond a certain point. That point where you notice grainy static and a loss of detail may be ISO 400 or 640 or for sure 800 on a crop sensor Rebel camera.  


Aperture.  The inexpensive kit lenses cannot open up to let in as much light as a larger aperture lens can.  


There are some affordable large aperture lenses. There is an 85mm f/1.8. Also a 200mm f/2.8. And a 100mm f/1.8 or 2.0, I'd have to look it up.  If you get a lens that lets in 2x or 4x or even 8x the amount of light into the camera, you can avoid the high ISO image quality damage. 


Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?

@jrhoffman75 wrote:

You could get a 55-250 zoom, whcih would almost be twice the magnifcation. It would be a good starter lens. You want the STM version of the lens.

The EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is a pretty good lens.  It doesn't have a wide aperture [not fast], and it may struggle to focus under low light conditions on subjects that are any significant distance away from you, particularly if you're focusing through the safety glass that surrounds hockey rinks. 


Your T3i is not the best Canon DSLR under low light conditions.  It begins to yield noisy pictures at ISO 800, and higher.  However, if you're shooting distant subjects, then the noise may not be as noticeable.  And, you can always invest in software like Adobe Lightroom 6, which can do a remarkable job of removing noise from images. 


With advanced noise reduction, you can shoot as high as ISO 1600, or even ISO 3200, on subjects that fill less than 50% of the vertical height of the image.  Shooting at a higher ISO speeds will mean that you can use faster shutter speeds, which will help to freeze the subject's motion, reducing motion blur.


If you get the sense that there is a trade-off involved with ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed, then you're catching on.




I would suggest learning how to pre-focus by focusing manually on an area of the rink, and taking advantage of the camera's Depth-of-Field.  Every lens has a range of distances where subjects are in acceptable focus.  This range is called Depth-of-Field, DoF.


I would use the camera's One Shot mode, for example, to focus on one goalkeeper net, and then switch the lens to MF mode.  Every time action is near the net, your camera is in focus and you will not have to wait for the camera to lock focus before it can shoot a picture.  Make to sure periodically check focus accuracy in your focus zone.  Remember, if you change the focal length of the zoom, then you will also lose focus, and will have to recapture it.


Using a tripod, or monopod, support, helps reduce camera shake when you hand hold the camera.

"The right mouse button is your friend."

They play indoors.

I really appreciate all the info. Looks like I would need an intensive course to better understand the photography jargon.


This little article from Canon will help with some of the terms we use. It's a quick read.

"A skill is developed through constant practice with a passion to improve, not bought."

The new 70-300 will work fine, too, and give you a little more reach.