Sports Photography and the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 USM Lens

First of all, I need to be perfectly clear – just because you have the same equipment as someone else doesn’t guarantee you the same results. I need to say that because that’s a mental trap I can easily fall into.

I’ve been shooting high school football for the last 7 or so years. In college I freelanced for AP and the school newspaper, and did some sports. In high school I took sports photos for the year book… so, I’ve been interested in sports photography for a long time. In recent years, I’ve mostly shot with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens from the sidelines, and it’s good, but it just doesn’t get me close enough. I also have a Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Zoom – but the focus just isn’t fast or accurate enough for action.

Recently I bought an older Canon 300mm f/2.8 USM lens (I think mine is from 1991). It doesn’t have stabilization, but for sports photography that’s not a negative. This lens is heavy enough that I will use my monopod anyway.

So, will this lens give me the ability to shoot night football with better results? I tried it out last night, and I have to say the answer is probably yes. But, I should explain. Shooting night games will never allow results as good as you could get in daylight. That’s just the way it is. To get shutter speeds of 1/500 or greater, you will need to increase ISO to 3200 or more, and the noise you gain from that will be difficult to overcome in your images. Plus, the shadows that night lighting creates will always negatively impact the quality of your photos.

Now, that being said, Canon’s 300mm f/2.8 is a great lens in daylight, or under lights, but I think you can see the quality difference in the photos below. Daylight shots can be taken at low ISO and high shutter speeds, producing better results.

ISO 6400, 1/800 @ f/2.8
ISO 400, 1/1200 @ f/2.8

You can see that focus is sharp in both (and I have to say the focus tracking ability with this lens is very good) – but the top one, with lights, has more harsh shadows. I think the bottom one (daylight) looks better.

One thing I have to say; focusing with this lens is the best I’ve ever seen. This is the lens that took the sports market away from Nikon, and I can see why. It’s a joy to shoot with – even better than my 300mm f/4 in daylight. The f/4 is good, but the extra light from the f/2.8 helps it focus even better/faster – more light is better in sports (and most) photography! I had a much higher number of sharp images from this f/2.8 that I have gotten with any of my other lenses.

Again, I should reiterate, just getting a better lens, or a new camera, doesn’t guarantee better photographs, but it can help! This lens is just the right tool for this job.

Do you like to take sports photos? I do, and I go to football, basketball or soccer games whenever I get the chance. I think my photos have improved over the years, but I’m always trying to get better shots, and learn from others.