Football photography packing list and hardware setup” was the brief… Here is the debrief !

First, thanks to Julien for loaning his Canon Eos 350 XT and Vosonic X’S-Drive II Plus VP2160. The VP2160 was nice to have but I simply could not have obtained the same results with my Canon Eos 300D in place of the 350XT. As Giampi said in the understatement of the week : “The 300D is not a sports camera”… I would go even further to say it is near useless for that task.

The most important thing I discovered it that focusing is quite a challenge – anticipation helps greatly but it is not always possible. I have found that prefocusing on a higher contrast subject at the same distance helps, but again that is not always possible. Corner shots, free kicks and high arcing balls were golden opportunities for anticipating the trajectory and focusing on the receiving end players. I was able to do it better than I expected, but that is not saying much and it was even worse when merely reacting to the action. As expected, keeping the people on the ball in focus was horrendously hard and I have to work on that – a lot.

I was moderately content with the AF performance in good light of the Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L behind the Kenko Teleplus Pro 300 AF 2x teleconverter mounted on the borrowed Canon Eos 350XT. As the sun began to set AF got worse and out of focus images became even more frequent. I shot the whole set at ISO1600 with aperture priority at various settings trying to keep the speed around 1/1000-1/2000s while maximising depth of field. The Canon Speedlite 580EX with the Better Beamer FX-3 helped a little with the lighting but considering the distances the AF assist was of course ineffective. Someone even mentioned that the camera was slowed down by trying to find the AF assist pattern – I’m not sure about that but it may be worth checking.

I surely made the focusing on action even worse by shooting with AI focus instead of AI servo. I’m quite ashamed of that mistake. Maybe I forgot to set it up properly because I’m not used to do it on my 300D which does not offer that choice… As usual, discovering new hardware on the event is a truly bad idea… I guess that’ll serve me as a reminder to force AI servo next time and to get intimately familiar with new hardware before covering an event.

In order to preserve my self-esteem I shall now blame my hardware a bit : the Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L is quite slow with a teleconverter. But since it is not too expensive I’m going to stick to that solution… I wonder if the Canon 2x teleconverter is any faster than my Kenko.

Quite unexpectedly the 350XT lasted the whole game on a single battery with the batery indicator still showing full at the end – that was only about 700 frames but I would guesstimate that this is four times more efficient than the 300D with its more powerful battery. I’m impressed ! Less impressive is the use of different batteries for those two cameras. Lack of commonality is especially irritating considering that the Canon Eos 20D does use the same BP511A batteries as the 300D…

On the contrary, the 580EX seems to have exceeded the capacity of the four 2400mAh batteries : shooting every frame with flash was a pretty heavy workload… I’ll add a Canon CP-E3 to my letter to Santa Claus !

I was also surprised to never be hindered by filling the 350XT’s buffer. Maybe that is a hint that I am not shooting enough – perhaps as a result of my inability to keep interesting things in focus. I lost a few shots when shooting too conservatively – with many GB of storage at hand I had no reason to do that but bad habits die hard.

The 140-400mm focal length range provided by the doubled 70-200mm was a good range when shooting from the sidelines. The second body with the 24-70mm was not very useful – as expected a 70-200 would have been much more useful. A trans-standard zoom was nice to have for the team shots and for catching the penalty kicks from near the goal but the team shots could have been handled with a 70mm and the goal shots are traditionnaly a job for remotes. So two bodies with three lenses would be fine – let’s add a new 70-200mm on the Christmas shopping list. The Canon EF 70-200/4 L would be ideal for the second body, not least because it is not unreacheably expensive. The flash could easily provide the lighting difference between f/2.8 and f/4 – but then a second 580EX is probably useful because it adapts to the crop factor to reduce the wasted light.

After some post-processing the results are not as bad as I feared but correcting my erratic exposures and random focus did degrade the quality a bit. But the noise and softness before going through Neatimage were much harder on the eye…

All things considered this was a great learning experience and I look forward doing it again !