Tricia Booker Photography

A Lesson Learned: Nikon D800 For Sports

After spending the summer shooting more than 12,000 images for work and play, I realized that for 90 percent of those photographs I reached for the Nikon D800 (I have the E version) over my tried and true D3s.

I purchased the D800 earlier in the year to primarily be my landscape and nature camera. Like many people, I’d read countless reviews about the camera before buying it, how its 36 megapixel sensor would need the best glass and the best technique to optimize its abilities.

I also read about its limitations for sports, how the slower frames per second and reduced ISO in comparison to the D3s/D4 relegated the D800 to more of a studio camera. In fact, when I started taking it out, I followed all of the “rules.” Worked with it on a tripod, used mirror lock-up and a cable release. And, indeed, my photos were lovely.

Then, this summer while working one of my horse shows, I decided to shoot some candids early one morning and chose the D800 to capture the sunrise. If you know horse shows, you’ll understand when I say I “ran short of time” and couldn’t get back to my office to switch to the D3s. So, I spent the morning photographing a jumper class with the D800, experimenting with the AF settings.

When I downloaded my photos later that day, I was amazed. Using AF-C with the 3D focus tracking provided wonderful results. I was hooked, and the only time the D3s returned to work was on the rainy days!

This weekend my son had his first soccer tournament of the new season. When I packed my bag last night I didn’t even hesitate. There was no question it would be the D800. I shot most of the game on DX crop mode (5-6 fps and 15 megapixels) with a 70-200 2.8 hand held. This set up provided me with the flexibility to get low and to move rapidly when the action changed sides. These images were cropped slightly, if at all.

So, what have I learned? It’s important to read the reviews on equipment before making major purchases, but don’t believe everything you read–literally. Each photographer is unique, and even within similar sports the requirements can be quite different.

Horses are fast-moving subjects, but the ideal photograph in our world only happens for a split second, when the horse is at the apex of its jump. The best equestrian sport photographers only need one frame to get it right. Interestingly, the 5 fps on the D800 are perfectly timed for me when shooting a jumper class–the first press of the shutter for the top of the jump, and holding the shutter down results in the ideal landing shot (one toe touching the ground) as the second frame.

Even during today’s soccer game, using the motor drive resulted in some fun sequences. No, the D800 isn’t as fast as the D3s in providing 10 fps, but it’s perfectly fast enough to catch my kid playing soccer.

25 comments

  1. Pingback: A Lesson Learned: Nikon D800 For Sports | Tricia Booker Photography | ELLIOT PAUL STERN - BLUE RIDGE WORKSHOPS

  2. Pingback: A Lesson Learned: Nikon D800 For Sports | Tricia Booker Photography » Blue Ridge Photography Workshops

  3. Those are outstanding soccer action shots.

    Your observation about running short of time is so true, especially when the event schedule moves so quickly.

    • Thanks, David. With horse shows, it’s also very much a “hurry up and wait” or “wait and hurry up” situation. There’s no time schedule other than a start time, so it’s most always a guess as to when things begin, and many horse people are notorious for being late 🙂

  4. Super shots Tricia…you’ve really captured the determination on the boys faces! And like you said about the reviews…you can’t believe everything. I figure if the equipment a person is using is working for them…it’s the right set-up.

    • Yes, but it’s so hard to factor that in when so many pro photographers are giving their advice! It’s hard to go against someone who shoots for Sports Illustrated or one of the major sports. After so many years in the industry, though, I have gone against the grain a few times!!

  5. Jennifer Lee

    Great post and helpful for me. I’m trying to figure out all the focus options (AF-A, AF-S, AF-C – single point, matrix, 3D, etc) and when and how to use them, among other things, on my D7000. SO much to learn for this novice so every little bit of advice like this helps. Thanks for the great blog, Tricia – keep your wisdom and observations coming! 🙂

      • Jennifer lee

        You name the day, place, and time and I will be there, Tricia! I would LOVE to go shooting with you! Sooner the better. I really enjoy your blog and photographs and would love to see you in person again!

  6. Gary McGinnis

    Great article Tricia. You write wonderfully. Not too much and not too little. Glad to see you are still shooting soccer.

  7. Pingback: A Lesson Learned: Nikon D800 For Sports | Tricia Booker Photography | Blue Ridge Photography Workshops

  8. Pingback: A Hunter Derby With The Nikon D800E | Tricia Booker Photography

  9. Thomas Wilczek

    Thanks for your two cents on this matter as I’ve been battling back and forth in my mind as to whether to upgrade my D3 to a D3s, or go ahead and suck it up and get a D800e and lose my fps in trade for ridiculous image quality . Your shots are lovely, and hearing that the autofocus and crop mode works well in a real life sports scenario just made my decision much easier for me. Thanks a bunch.

    • So glad to have helped out, Thomas! I really have enjoyed this camera for my two sports, equestrian and soccer. I would only say that if you are going to have to shoot in low light, the D3s is still the king. I tried the D800e on a stallion shoot in a covered arena and had some problems with the tracking. I won’t use it again for that, but anything in daylight gives me great results. Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. I’m happy to offer up my experiences.

  10. Pingback: d610 or d800?

  11. Simmon

    Hi Tricia:
    Your article of sharing your personal experience is very well written. In the past several months, I was tossing between getting a new D610 or a new D800 to shoot with my D600. Just like you, I have read a few challenges that other D800 users have encountered. I was going to give up on the D800. Then, I read your article this morning. I felt that a beam of bright light was shone in front of me to lead my way to a decision. I went out and bought a new D800 later in the morning. I really like the overall feel of this camera. Of course, I must learn to overcome the temperament of the D800 to make good use of it. Thanks again, Tricia, for shedding the light.

    • Hi Simmon,
      Thank you for stopping by and for the nice comment! I’m very glad that you found the article helpful in your decision. I really do love my D800 and have no regrets in my purchase. Sadly, it did have an accident a few months ago and I was without it for about three weeks while it was at NPS. I was so happy to have it back. It’s become my absolute favorite camera. Have fun with yours! Tricia

  12. John Macmillan

    A few questions if I may…..when shooting equestrian jumping on the D800 were you in DX mode, what ISO, and were you shooting in RAW? Thanks

    • Hi John,
      I do shoot in RAW 90 percent of the time, with the exception being if I need to quickly email files for publication. I typically use both FX and DX modes when shooting, going back and forth, depending on the crop factor I need and the lens I’m using. The ISO generally runs at 320 or above, depending on the weather and the background. I always try to keep the shutter speed at 1/1,000 or higher and often let it go much higher since I’m generally not printing images larger than 16×20 so having a really low ISO isn’t as important to me as a faster shutter speed. I also like to shoot horses jumping at f4 or 5.6, with the latter used most often when a horse/rider are jumping toward me. I hope that helps!

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