I’ve noticed that the post I wrote last summer about the Nikon D800 for Sports still receives a lot of traffic each week on my blog. Some people inputting “Nikon D800 for sports photography” into Google seem to eventually land on my website.
So, I thought I’d expand upon my thoughts on using this camera for sport photography, most specifically sports that don’t rely on the “spray and pray” method for capturing that ideal image.
In the Hunter and Jumper disciplines in equestrian sport there are just a few moments in the jump of a horse that create the perfect image, so holding the shutter down, even if you have a camera that can rapid fire 8-10 image per second, doesn’t usually work.
After using the D1, D2Hs, D3 and D3s over time, I’ve developed a feeling for what I like in a camera for doing my job. The D2Hs was a brilliant camera back in 2005 (I still have it), and I had images enlarged on billboards that looked amazing from its relatively small 4.1 megapixel sensor. The D3s, however, has been my workhorse for the past three+ years; it’s still my go-to camera for indoor sports and under certain outdoor conditions due to its high ISO abilities. The 12.1 megapixel sensor is perfect for these images, which are primarily for magazine publishing and are rarely enlarged beyond 11″ x 14″.
The D800E, however, has a special place in my workflow now, and I use it for most of my outdoor equestrian work as well as other sports I shoot, such as soccer. The 36 megapixel files are just amazing to work with, and even on crop mode I still have plenty of latitude for further cropping in Lightroom, if needed. The D800’s resolution results in rich files, full of depth, and they look particularly gorgeous on magazine covers as well as printed on canvas.
My go-to mode for sports with this camera is to set it to AF-C (autofocus continuous) and the 3-D autofocus area mode. Then, I can track a horse as it approaches the fence and press the shutter at the moment it reaches the apex of the arc (or the toe just touches the ground in a landing shot). The 3-D tracking is remarkable, and even if the horse is partly blocked by part of the fence as it jumps, the camera still accurately follows 99 percent of the time. This same technique also works for soccer and other team sports. One small adjustment I made from the D3s was to more closely monitor the shutter speed as I shoot so it remains high enough to prevent accidental camera shake. For horse sports, I keep it set at 1/1,000 minimum; for soccer, 1/800 and up.
(Ken Rockwell wrote a short synopsis of the D800 autofocus settings you can read here if you want more detailed information.)
So, here are my concluding thoughts. I think this camera has received a fair amount of negative press for action photography because it only shoots 5-6 frames per second. Maybe for some pros and types of shooting this will be a major limitation, and they need that amazing (and more expensive!) D4. But, for the photographer who wants an awesome camera for a variety of genres, including sports, the D800 is quite capable. You might have to alter your shooting technique to accommodate the nuances of the camera, like I did, but, in the end, it’s well worth the effort.
P.S. I noticed the metadata with the gallery images isn’t correct for the shutter speeds, which ranged from 1/2,000 to 1/3,200.