Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shooting the Ping Pong Tournament, Part 3 (with conclusions)

Ping Pong (a.k.a., Table Tennis) is a very difficult and frustrating sport to shoot!
  1. Poor lighting demands high ISO.  On my APS-C cameras (Canon 7D and Sony a6000), this ISO is quite noisy.  I watched a video from Tony Northrup this weekend that talks about the "conversions" among all the shooting parameters from one sensor size to another.  In particular, he shows that the noise at a specific ISO goes as the 2-dimensional sensor size.  So a 35-mm-sized sensor (a.k.a., "Full Frame") is about 1.6*1.6 (4.096) times less noisy than an APS-C sensor.  In other words, ISO 6400 on a Canon 5D (or 6D or 1Dx) is equivalent to ISO 1600 on the Canon 7D.  I *wish* I could have shot at ISO 1600!
  2. Autofocus is a bear. I think I covered that pretty well in the Sunday post.
  3. The Sony a6000 is a competent sports camera, with the right lens.
  4. My Canon FD 100mm f/2.8 from 1975 is a great lens!
  5. I love shooting indoor sports.  My current pair of APS-C cameras do a good job, but the high-ISO performance is not so great; that is, I would really like to have cleaner pictures at ISO 6400!
  6. The background at Vaughn sucks.  Blurring out the background better would have been nice.  That means either a faster/longer lens or a larger sensor.
Is it time for me to consider buying camera with a larger sensor?  (I hate using the term "Full Frame", but I guess I have to.)

(Pause.  Take a deep breath, Elliott.)

My two current APS-C cameras are:
  • Canon 7D (mark 1) - $1700, 8fps
  • Sony a6000 - $600, 10fps
If I wanted to shift to "full frame", the current cameras on the market are as follows:
  • The kings are:
    • Canon 1Dx - $6000, 11fps
    • Nikon D4s - $6500, 11fps
  • The others are:
    • Canon 5D Mark III - $3000, 6fps
    • Canon 6D - $1800, 4.5fps
    • Nikon D810 - $3000, 5fps
    • Nikon D750 - $2000, 6.5fps
    • Nikon D610 - $1500, 6fps
    • Sony A99 - $2000, 6fps
    • Leica M-P - $8000, 3fps
    • Sony a7 (any of them) - $1500-$2500, 1fps
Leicas and the Sony a7* cameras are not sports camera!  They would need better fps specs.  Also, Leica does not have any AF lenses.

For completeness, there are a couple of "outside the box" medium format alternatives:
  • Pentax 645Z - $9000, 3fps (sensor size is 44x33 mm, 50% bigger than "full frame")
  • Leica S - $25400, 3.5fps;  But it can do 24 fps of 4K video.  4K video is an 8MP (3840x2160 pixel) still image.  That would work!
  • Phase One 645DF+ - $20k?,  2fps

Conclusions/How to shoot ping pong

  • Shoot from an elevated position (8-12 feet above floor level) for most of the shots
  • Be cognizant of the background as you are shooting.  A guy in a red coat wandering by can ruin an otherwise good shot
  • The best shots (to my eye) have the ball in there.
  • Shots with one competitor facing the camera are good, but try to get a few with the back of the near competitor in there, too.
  • If the player is right-handed, you are probably best to shoot from the right side of the table.  If the other player is left handed, then you definitely want to be on the right side!
  • Crank up the ISO to get a fast shutter speed
  • Use the maximum (widest) aperture
  • On APS-C, focal lengths between 50 and 100mm seem to be best (75-150mm on full frame).  But try the longest focal length you have, too, to get very tight shots from nearby, and/or regular shots from far away.
  • Try manual focusing
  • Borrow a Canon 1Dx for best results :-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shooting a Ping Pong Tournament, Part 2

I tried some different techniques on Sunday when I returned to the Vaughn Athletic Center in Aurora, IL, for the second day of the Butterfly Ping Pong tournament.

I used my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM on my Canon 7D and my (new-to-me) Canon FD 100mm f/2.8 on my Sony a6000 (converted to a 72mm f/2.0 by the Metabones Spped Booster adapter).  

Yesterday, the AF couldn't tracking these targets, so I mostly did manual focus.  Since the targets are not really changing their distance to the camera, I figured that setting the focus would be better than the crappy AF I was seeing yesterday.  I was right.  I still had many out-of-focus pix, but I'd say I had 3 times more usably sharp images than yesterday.

I took 1100 pix with the a6000 (*all* manual focus using the 100mm lens) and 400 with the 7D (about half manual focus using both the 50mm and the 70-200mm).  

The a6000 really was able to do 10fps; the 7D was still slow, but not asking it to do AF sped it up a lot.  (Maybe 6fps, but in spurts).

I shot JPEG, exclusively.

I have purged all these images down to about 50 shots.  

One teaser shot (a6000, 100mm (72mm), ISO 6400, 1/800, f/2.8 (f/2.0)):

Inline image 1

I ordered a 16GB SDHC card capable of 150MB/sec (3.75 times faster than the card I have now).

You can see all my shots from Sunday at

Shooting a Ping Pong Tournament, Part 1

Much to my surprise and enjoyment, there was a major Ping Pong (a.k.a., "table tennis") tournament this weekend at the Vaughn Athletic Center in Aurora, IL.  There were 38 high-quality tables on the main gym floor, and they were mostly all busy all day Saturday and Sunday.  The event was sponsored by Butterfly.

On Saturday, I took 990 pictures over 90 minutes.  Auto Focus (AF) really had a hard time in the poorly lit Vaughn Center.  It (more often than not) decided to focus on the back splash.  I'd say that at least half of these pictures were terrible.

I had to shoot ISO 6400 (at least) in order to get 1/640 sec shutter within Vaughn.  These guys are really thin and they change their angle w.r.t. me a lot, so getting AF lock was tricky.  Background is not great.  HIGHER perspective is best.  Standing on the bleachers is a good angle.

One of my best shots: 

You can see the results of my efforts from Saturday at

Equipment observations.  

Shooting RAW is a lot slower than JPEG in my Canon 7D--maybe an average of 2 or 3 frames per second in these conditions.  I switched to Medium JPEG to get better fps.

My Sony a6000 held up well--its internal buffer is a lot bigger than the 7D, so I can take 10-20 RAW's at 10 fps in a spurt, but it takes ~15 seconds to clear that buffer.  (My SD card is 40MB/sec and each RAW image is 27MB.)  When I switched to JPEG (max size and min compression in camera, about 7MB/image), there was not a problem for it to keep up.  But my Sony kit lens (the only lens I brought-oops) is not good enough for this (16-50mm f/3.5-5.6).  

My Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L on APS-C is too long!  Something like 50-100mm would be better (so the 70-200 on a full-frame camera would be pretty good).  I did not bring my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM--this might actually be the right lens for this on the 7D.