Gear

A Note on Gear

Gear, gear, and more gear. Although I use Nikon, I won’t say Nikon is better or worse than any other brand. There are personal reasons I stick with Nikon, but I’ve used Canon, Sony, Olympus, Fujifilm, Hasselblad, and Leica cameras to shoot sports.

When I was in high school, I started with my grandfather’s Nikon D300 and 80-200mm f/2.8D ED before getting a full frame D750. I made nice images with what I had at the time. This basketball photo may not be the sharpest, or the cleanest, but it’s still a solid image. If I’d shot this on, say a D5 and 70-200 f/2.8, it would probably be tack sharp and have less noise. But in high school I couldn’t afford that set-up, so I used what I had.

One very important piece of advice about your gear – whatever you’re using, learn how to use it. Know it so well that you don’t have to take your eye away from the viewfinder to change the settings. This will be invaluable when you need to make split-second decisions.

Nikon D750 | 80-200mm f/2.8 @ 112mm | 1/1000 | f/2.8 | ISO 8000
Nikon D1X | 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm | 1/750 | f/2.8 | ISO 1600
Shot for RIT Athletics Communications

Almost anywhere you look online, people say gear doesn’t matter and your photos will turn out fine if you know what you’re doing. This is the wrong approach. As much as we wish it wasn’t true, gear does matter. Especially when it comes to photographing sports.

My mantra has always been that gear does not affect the content of your photographs, it only affects the technical quality of them. Start with the gear you have, learn the core skills of sports photography, and upgrade equipment when your budget allows.

These days, you can find used gear that is great for a tight budget. In fact, I still buy most of my long glass used. Many companies also offer budget super zooms or primes, making long glass more accessible to new photographers. You will have to raise your ISO to compensate for the loss of light, but learning to get in-focus photos that are timed and composed properly is more important than how grainy the image is.

A great example of being able to use old and inexpensive equipment to take nice images is this hockey photo. It was shot on a Nikon D1X that I bought from a friend. The camera was released in 2001, so it is almost as old as I am. It has one of the worst autofocus systems I’ve ever used in a digital camera, terrible low light performance, horrible battery life, and very few megapixels, but I made it work.

The Nikon Z 9 is my primary shooting body, while the Z 6II and Z 7II are secondary cameras. In addition, I have several old DSLRs I use as remotes and backup bodies.

As for lenses, my main kit includes:

  • 14-24mm f/2.8
  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/2.8
  • 300mm f/2.8
  • 400mm f/2.8
  • 600mm f/4
Nikon D7200 | 300mm f/2.8 x 1.5 DX @450mm | 1/1000 | f/4 | ISO 800
Shot for NASCAR
(L to R) Nikon Z 9 w/ 70-200mm f/2.8, Nikon Z 7II w/ 600mm f/4, & Nikon Z 6II w/ 24-70mm f/2.8 at a golf tournament I covered for Getty Images

For outdoor sports, my main shooting lens is the 600mm. For indoor sports, I typically use the 70-200mm. However, I have been known to use a 600mm from the floor for volleyball and basketball to get more unique images.

Since I am a full-time photographer, this equipment is necessary to provide high quality images for my clients. If you’re early in your career, use the gear you have access to or can afford on your budget. If you have a special assignment or want to try a new camera/lens before purchasing it, you can usually get a rental. Local camera stores can have some rental options, but online websites often have a wider selection. Lensrentals.com and borrowlenses.com are two good places to look.