Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Choosing a camera for shooting sports - Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008

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Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008

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Choosing a camera for shooting sports

QMy son plays on the basketball team. I'd like to get some action shots. All I want is a camera that is good enough to freeze the action. I don't even care about the zoom. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten much help at local stores. One salesman told me that the camera I need would cost at least $1,000. I'd like to spend $500 or less. Help!
—Bob in Johns Creek, GA

APhotographing sports can be a real challenge. And it sounds like you could use some good advice.

This is a great excuse to buy Casio's latest high-speed shooter. The EX-FH20 can capture 40 7-megapixel images in one second! You wouldn't have any trouble freezing action with it.

The EX-FH20 weighs in at a pricey $600, though. So, that puts it outside your budget. Fortunately, you don't need to spend this much on an appropriate camera.

I assume the salesman tried to steer you toward a digital SLR. These cameras are usually more expensive than point-and-shoots. But they really are better for shooting sports.

SLRs offer control

SLRs give you a lot of control. You can use different lenses, depending on your needs. You can select a higher ISO setting for greater light sensitivity. And the ability to choose a fast shutter speed is great for freezing action.

Of course, SLRs' internal workings are faster than most point-and-shoots. That means you can take more pictures faster.

I mention all this not for the purpose of recommending an SLR. Rather, these are things to consider when shopping for a point-and-shoot.

First, look for a camera with a decent optical zoom. Otherwise, you may not see your son well in the photos. You don't need a super-zoom. Something in the range of 5X to 10X will work. These designations may mean nothing to you. If so, check my tip.

Conversion lenses

I wouldn't let the zoom rating be a deal breaker, though. You can add conversion lenses to many point-and-shoot cameras. You can buy one that improves telephoto abilities. My must-read buying guide covers everything you should know about conversion lenses.

Next, look for a camera that offers complete control over its settings. You want to be able to adjust the ISO level. Higher numbers indicate greater sensitivity to light. That means you can take pictures faster.

However, high ISO levels can add noise to your pictures. Some cameras are better at high ISO levels than others. So, read reviews online before settling on a camera. Professional reviews will cover picture quality at different ISO levels.

Shutter speed is perhaps more important than ISO levels. The camera you choose should have shutter-priority mode. You select a shutter speed. Then, the camera will adjust the aperture appropriately.

Shooting speed

Not all cameras are capable of fast shutter speeds. I would aim for a minimum speed of 1/2000th of a second.

Also, when comparing cameras, look at the shooting speed. This will be expressed in frames per second (fps). The more frames per second, the better. You may see two numbers listed under shooting speed. The second will be the burst rate.

What is the burst rate? Cameras store pictures in on-board memory before writing them to the memory card. That means you can take pictures in bursts. But, the buffer can only hold so many pictures before it must be emptied.

So, you may be able to take one frame per second in seven frame bursts. After you hit the limit, you can't take any more photos. That is, until the camera has emptied the buffer.

Be careful of resolution

Just be careful when looking at shooting speed. Some cameras let you boost shooting speed—by reducing image resolution. Manufacturers tout the fastest shooting speed in marketing materials.

You may find some or all of these features in a compact camera. But, many compact cameras have slow internal components. So, think big and bulky. You want an advanced point-and-shoot. These sometimes look more like SLRs than point-and-shoots.

An advanced point-and-shoot should give you all of the features I mentioned. Plus, it will have more muscle. You can expect faster reading and writing to memory cards. It will also have plenty of internal memory and faster shot-to-shot times.

As you would expect, you will be looking at higher-end point-and- shoots. But you should find something in the $300 to $500 range.

And now, specifics

Now, I'd bet you'd like some camera names! I would look at Canon's S5 IS ($350) and G10 ($500). If you like Nikon, look at the P80 ($400) and P6000 ($500).

Olympus also makes a couple of models that might suit you. Look at the SP-565 UZ ($400) and SP-570 UZ ($450). Don't limit yourself to these three manufacturers, though. You may find other cameras that will work well for you.

Now, I have a couple of other tips for you. First, buy a high-speed memory card. Why? My helpful tip explains all. Next, watch out for online scams. Camera buyers are at particular risk. Learn the warning signs in my need-to-know column.

You're buying this camera for one specific reason. That doesn't mean you can't have a little more fun with it! Visit my site for some excellent tips on improving your photo skills:

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Kim :)

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