I graduated from Solon High School in 2004. At the time, we were a formidable Division I powerhouse when it came to OHSAA football. Over the past 9 years, the Solon Comets have had some ups and downs, but this year they snuck into the playoffs with an amazing last-second field goal in the final game of the regular season. This past Saturday, they traveled to Westerville Central to battle the Warhawks in a first-round playoffs game. My brother plays clarinet in the Solon High School Marching Band, so I was happy that I could finally see him play this season, not only because he’s my brother but also because the marching band is seriously good.
I decided to use this occasion as an opportunity to take out the new Nikon D610 to test the latest Nikon full-frame DSLR’s low-light and focusing capabilities. I was excited to use the D610, as the D600 has been a favorite of mine since it arrived on the scene, and I wanted to see exactly how the D610 stacked up against its predecessor. For glass, I chose the Sigma 70-200 F2.8, along with MeFoto Walkabout Monopod for stabilization.
The D610 performed awesomely in this low-light fast-paced football situation. The focus was where I wanted it nine times out of ten, and the Sigma lens was a great choice, allowing me to get some really cool shots even from the visitor stands. As it turned out, I didn’t even need to use the monopod, though I was glad I’d brought it along just in case.
Overall, I was incredibly happy with the images I got from the D610 and the Sigma 70-200. Despite having taken all these images from the stands, I didn’t feel like I was at a disadvantage there thanks to the gear I’d brought with me. However, I did learn some valuable lessons about taking sports photos:
1. Make a list and check it twice. Preparedness is king in the world of photography. One mistake I make too often is not having enough memory, so this time I made sure I had not one but two whole memory cards. I was feeling pretty good about myself until halfway through the second quarter my camera stopped working. That’s when it hit me: I forgot to check my battery level. I was shooting RAW + JPEG and, with the continuous shooting mode on, I burned through battery power pretty quickly, like before halftime, meaning I couldn’t get any stills or video of the main attraction (for me, at least)–the band. Next time I plan on charging my battery ahead of time (always a good idea, right?) and bringing a backup battery, or better yet, equipping my camera with a battery grip.
2. Set yourself up for success. I shot all these at ISO 3200 with my aperture set to F2.8 and my shutter speed at 1/320s. The noise is barely noticeable (if at all) and the depth of field was exactly what I wanted. I was also shooting in a high-speed continuous mode and had my focus set to AF-C, and my autofocus performed admirably. Considering this game started at 7 PM post-Daylight Savings, I feel like these settings will be a pretty good baseline for when I shoot my next nighttime sports event.
3. Stay focused. I’m often asked what the trick to getting sharp sports images is. The fact is, you can’t expect your autofocus to nail the shot 100% of the time. That’s just unreasonable. But if you bring two memory cards so that you can shoot continuously, and if you have your focus set to AF-C (or AI Servo in Canon), you’re going to have a pretty high ratio of in-focus shots. Just snap a lot in these settings and you should without a doubt get some shots that make you happy. Want some more tips about focus? Nikon has some advice.
4. Move your butt. I grabbed some decent shots from the stand. But I wasn’t just standing in one place. I was moving up and down, and following the action, so that I could get some new perspectives and to keep it interesting for myself. Even from the stands, I got some fairly “professional”-looking shots, as far as I’m concerned.
Gear is generally not the most important factor in obtaining some quality photos, but having a camera with the low-light capabilities of the Nikon D610 and the focal length and minimum f-stop of the Sigma 70-200 F2.8 helped immensely in this situation. And even though my alma mater didn’t fare as well as my gear did, I was glad I could see them cap off a great season that no one expected, and I was especially glad I got to see my brother rock out to a brassy version of “Thrift Shop” one last time this year.