After spending some time shooting photo's for my friend's Little League Team, I had a chance to really test the low light capabilities of my equipment. Specifically I put my Canon 60D and 70-200 F4L lens to work.
During day games this combination worked great. The lens focuses quickly, and at 5.5 frames per second, I seldom had problems capturing the action. There was another bonus, the look of the big white lens! Compared to all of the point-n-shoot camera's in the stands my gear shouted Pro! Not that I am, this has been a favor to my friend who's a coach for the team, and his son who plays on the team. The advantage that I had by looking the part was access. No one had a problem with me being on the field (respectfully along the sidelines).
While shooting day games presented no problems, night games were another story! At a maximum aperture of F4, I had a heck of a time under the fields lights. I had to kick my ISO up to 1600 to get a respectful shutter speed, and still had some trouble with action blurred shots. So, squeezing everything I could out of my equipment, I pushed the ISO up to 3200. While I was barely able to manage a decent shutter speed, I began to also worry about noise. When the ISO goes up, so does the potential for noise. In older camera's less advanced than my 60D, anything over ISO 800 would be so noisy that the images resembled old newspaper photos. Luckily my 60D with its Digic 4 processor produced very acceptable images at ISO 1600 and 3200.
After downloading my photos to the computer for review and processing I began to think about how to improve my images in low light conditions. That's when it hit me, get a faster lens! In this case faster means something with a larger maximum aperture. What's better than F4? How about F2.8? This would be 1 full stop faster than my current F4 lens, and allow faster, hopefully action stopping shutter speeds. Unfortunately an F2.8 lens can be expensive. So, the hunt was on and I began researching my options.
My requirements were pretty simple, F2.8 and 70-200mm. The brands I considered were Canon, Sigma, and Tamron. First up - the Canon 70-200 F2.8L IS. This is an awesome lens with many glowing reviews. This lens does it all but at a cost, it's the most expensive of the bunch. I ruled it out because of the price. If I actually made some money with my Little League photography instead of giving it away I might have thought differently about it.
Second up - the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG, OS. Again this seemed to be a great lens based on the reviews but still a little more than I wanted to spend. While approximately $1000 less than the Canon, it was still over $1000.
Third up - the Tamron 70-200mm F2.8. I was interested in this lens based on favorable reviews and the price point. At just a little over $700 this lens was beginning to look more and more attractive. While it lacked the IS/OS of the other 2, it still offered F2.8.
I made my decision, choice number 3, the Tamron 70-200mm! My order was placed with Adorama, and my new toy arrived 5 days later. Wow, it was impressive right out of the box. This lens was larger than my Canon 70-200 F4L, and heavier. It felt solid in my hand and when connected to my 60D. The lens comes with a tripod mount that also serves as an additional grip. I liked it right from the start!
When Saturday came around, I was able to try the lens out, but it was a day game. Overall I was very pleased with the performance of my 60D with this lens attached. It focused fairly quickly, and the photos came out very nice. When shooting at F2.8 the background would melt away into a nice blurry splash of various color. In other words, the bokeh effect was pleasant, not harsh.
If you are interested in this kind of lens, you can read some reviews here:
Canon 70-200 F4
Canon 70-200mm F2.8L IS
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX, DG, OS
Tamron 70-200 F2.8
It'll be a couple more days before I get a chance to test this lens under the lights. Hopefully the results will be worth the expense of the lens. After I get a chance to really use it under the low light conditions, I'll report back! Until then, happy shooting!