If you’re shooting sports, speed is crucial. All of today’s D-SLRs provide shutter speeds from several seconds to at least 1?4000 sec., so all are well-suited to action work.
The big camera concern for action photography is autofocusing performance, and here the pro models really shine, but the sweet-spot and even entry-level models are quite capable of producing good action shots with a little extra planning and preparedness on the part of the photographer. Look for AF modes that track a moving subject.
Burst rate, or the number of frames the camera can record per second, is another important feature for shooting those action sequences, especially when you need to capture the “decisive moment.”
An ideal sports-action setup would be a pro or sweet-spot D-SLR with a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 zoom and a wider zoom for overviews. If you can’t get near the action, a longer lens is useful. Faster lenses are very helpful—a tripod can be burdensome for action photography, and a fast lens will give you the best chance of using a fast shutter speed. Also look for lenses with image stabilization, especially those that have stabilization modes designed for panning with the action.
A battery grip will double your shooting capacity, as it holds one or more additional batteries—handy when you’re shooting action sequences. Grips often incorporate a shutter button for more comfortable vertical-format shooting. Some cameras even offer a faster burst rate when you use an accessory grip.
Entry, Mid or Pro: Which Are You?
If you’re buying your first D-SLR, “entry-level” models are a good place to start—although exactly what constitutes an entry-level model is becoming a bit fuzzy. Canon’s entry-level EOS Digital Rebel is available in four models as of this writing, and Nikon lists three entry-level models (the D40, D40X and D60). Entry-level models are relatively inexpensive, compact and easy to carry, and capable of turning out terrific /images.
The “sweet-spot” midrange models are good first D-SLRs if you’re really serious about your photography. They offer better image quality, faster performance and are more rugged, so they’ll hold up better under frequent use.
Pro D-SLRs really do produce better image quality and provide better AF and metering performance, along with more versatility and more rugged construction. But they cost a lot more and are much bulkier than even the sweet-spot models, so they’re not for everyone.
Pro landscape photographers generally use moderate wide-angle through short telephoto lenses, and these are readily available for all D-SLRs.
Landscape /images require great detail, and often are printed large, so you’ll want to shoot them at the camera’s slowest ISO setting to minimize noise and maximize detail. If you want everything sharp, from foreground to background (usually you do, in landscapes), use the smallest lens aperture to maximize depth of field. Of course, the more megapixels your D-SLR has, the bigger you can blow up the resulting /images, and the more detail they can reproduce.
A depth-of-field caveat: With the super-short-focal-length lenses needed to produce true wide-angle views with small-se
nsor D-SLRs, you probably won’t want to stop down past ƒ/8 or ƒ/11 because diffraction at very small apertures will reduce overall image sharpness (one reason a full-frame D-SLR is a better choice for landscape photography). But the shorter focal lengths used with the smaller sensors result in more depth of field, so shooting at ƒ/8 or ƒ/11 should cover most needs.
An ideal landscape setup would include a full-frame D-SLR, a wide-angle lens (24mm or shorter; a good 16-35mm zoom also is a fine choice), a normal 50mm lens and a short telephoto (80-135mm). If your vision leans toward compressed perspective, a longer lens will let you zero in on distant subjects and “stack” things. Currently, the only full-frame D-SLRs are Canon’s EOS 5D and EOS-1Ds Mark III and Nikon’s D3 and D700. Smaller-sensor D-SLRs and the shorter lenses designed for them also can do the job, but the full-frame models, with their larger pixels, produce the best image quality.