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Is F4 good enough now for most sports?
Sean King, Photographer
Aurora | IL | USA | Posted: 4:17 PM on 11.28.17
->> In the summer I traded in my Canon 1DX and purchased two Sony A9's. The ISO performance on the Sony A9 is the pretty good. New technology allows us to use higher ISO's with minimal noise and image degradation.

My question is. Do we still need to use 2.8 glass when camera bodies are advancing to the point where we can get great low light results at F4.0?
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Simon Wheeler, Photographer, Photo Editor
Ithaca | NY | USA | Posted: 5:19 PM on 11.28.17
->> Only you can know the venues you work at. High schools around Upstate NY, I'd still be shooting F/2.8. Your local mileage will vary. I find the difference in sharpness between shooting at 1/500 and 1/1000 or higher to be considerable.
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Doug Pizac, Photographer
Sandy | UT | USA | Posted: 5:47 PM on 11.28.17
->> It depends on the camera chip's low light capabilities and the intent of your photo's usage.

The pro of using f/4 is that it is closer to the lens' optimal sharpness setting of f/5.6-8, and it gives you a touch more depth of field. The con is that your ISO will double which increases noise while decreasing resolution.

Whether you shoot at f/2.8 or f/4 has to be your decision because another factor in the mix is the quality of lighting. I have found some chips have inherent color biases that can alter the noise levels. For example, at high ISO some cameras record better in daylight balanced light versus tungsten, and flat light versus contrasty.

I get better results at higher ISOs than others because I take the time and effort to precisely set the color balance via Kelvin setting with a Sekonic color meter I have and an on target exposure setting using a card and the camera's histogram even though I shoot RAW.

While shooting RAW is said to be non-destructive because you make changes in post, that is a falsehood. Yes, using the sliders to change color temp, hue, shadows, highlights and contrast are non-destructive. However, the exposure setting is not because you're dealing with what is recorded by the chip -- not the shifts above. A corrected underexposed image will have more noise than a correctly exposed image.

Above is about the chip. As to intended use, if you're shooting for the web (500 pixels) then it doesn't matter if you're using a Sony A9 or a cell phone. But if you need to make 16x20s then the quality of high ISOs make a big difference. What may be usable as a 5x7 or 8x10 can easily fall apart at 11x14 and larger.

All the above basically comes down to how anal you are about achieving maximum quality. Your standards may be more or less than others -- to each his own, per se.

With that said, you also have to consider what you haven't planned on -- the out of the ordinary. For example, I shot league swimming championships for several years where ISO-3200 was the norm. I did test shots and fine tuned my exposure at f/2.8 to keep the ISO lower and color balance settings for optimal worth even though 95% of my imagery would be used to make only 8x10 prints for the parents which could have easily been achieved at ISO-6400 or higher. But because I took the time to achieve higher quality, I had image files that held up to 16x20s and larger, and from those I made very profitable sales for that 5%. One order was for an 18-inch by 6-foot metal print of a kid as a panoramic doing a full outstretched butterfly stroke. That one print paid more than a dozen 8x10 orders which made me being anal well worth it.

So as to whether you should shoot f/2.8 or f/4 at a higher ISO, it all depends on your chip's characteristics and abilities -- something only you can determine through testing under the type of lighting you're dealing with -- and the quality of glass in your lens.
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Kevin M. Cox, Photographer
Galveston & Houston | TX | US | Posted: 8:44 AM on 11.29.17
->> There are plenty of pros using the 200-400/f4 from Canon and Nikon as their primary long glass these days.
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Tim Gangloff, Photographer
Knoxville | Tn | USA | Posted: 9:27 AM on 11.29.17
->> I agree with what Simon and Doug said. Part of it comes down to your standards. I borrowed a 200-400 f4 from CPS to test this exact question. At my local HS, I was pushing my standards to the limit and beyond, even with a 1dx2. I was at ISO 10 to 16K and as good as the camera is and even with tweaking raw images, it was still not as good as ISO 6400 to 8000.

At my local D1 stadium, I was still pushing ISO's beyond what I would prefer to use as the competition around me using 2.8 lenses had, of course, a lower ISO and potentially a better, cleaner image.

Out of curiousity, I'm intrigued enough to have ordered an A9, but wondering what f4 lenses you were going to put on it. Right now, my thought is I will get a Sony 24-70 2.8 and put it on the a9 for baseline work at basketball. I'll use my 1dx2 with longer glass for downcourt work. I'll be very curious to see if this experiment works.

My bottom line answer is that at HS levels, f4 is not enough and you are competing with many parents who have these lenses. If you an shoot at 2.8, you can separate yourself in quality. And even at D1 college facilities, f4 may not be enough to beat the competition using 2.8 lenses. The differences between f2.8 and 4 is still significant enough that I'm not selling my 400f2.8 for a 200-400f4
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Bryan Woolston, Photographer
Louisville | KY | USA | Posted: 11:07 AM on 11.29.17
->> I think the decision comes down two variables, neither of which are specifically tied to the lens or camera.

1) How fast are the athletes moving. PeeWee move are one speed, Professionals move much, MUCH, faster. A photographer obviously needs a much faster shutter speed to cover a much faster athlete. 1/500th usually works for high school football. It may not freeze the spiral of the ball, but generally speaking, it will give you a very nice image. 1/1000th is the starting point for NCAA D1 and above. When I shifted from HS to college, then college to Pro, I was shocked by the exponential speed difference. When making decisions about gear, the subject is the first variable I consider.

2) In what environment will you be working? PeeWee football is a day game... as long as you don't live in Alaska, that usually means sunlight, no problem. But, make the move to Prep football, lighting will be your number one obstacle. Most high school stadiums are poorly (at best) lit. So, achieving that 1/500th requires 6400ISO and beyond. College and Pro venues are obviously better lit, but lighting is still a struggle at times. Add in a dark colored uniforms or dark skin tones, (Or the photographer dreaded Fan Black Out night) and the battle continues.

These two variables have nothing to do with the quality of gear, the size of the lens, or the camera. And being able to solve this problem is why we get paid the big bucks (ha, ha, ha). To know what gear you need, you need to know who and where you will be shooting. Feel free to give a call if I muddied the water too much. Hope that helps...Good luck.
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Simon Wheeler, Photographer, Photo Editor
Ithaca | NY | USA | Posted: 9:54 PM on 11.29.17
->> Doug is giving away a graduate level course here for anyone smart enough to read his posts. I've recently found myself doing a lot of speakers in low light, 1/125, F/2.8 iso 4000. Color balancing the camera in the room really helps limit how much post I have to do and seems to help with noise. You would have to pry my 300 2.8 out of my cold dead hands.
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Thread Title: Is F4 good enough now for most sports?
Thread Started By: Sean King
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