Tour de France Prologue - London
It has been raining for weeks but the weekend of the first prologue saw the weather clear up nicely. With the prologue time trials going ahead I took the opportunity to try out my Nikon D80 with two zoom lenses for shooting sports. I had never photographed professional cyclist before so I was not sure what to expect. With the roads blocked off from traffic and with a growing spectator crowd I walked around for a good location to take photos. I had to try out a few locations until I came across one with a reasonable clear view of the passing cyclists. First I tried the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 EX lens. This lens makes use of Sigma's HSM technology to provide fast and quiet focusing. I indeed I found the focusing to be accurate as well as fast and silent. It’s optical performance is at its weakest at 150mm as it resolves a softer image at f/2.8 but improves when the aperture is stepped down.
With the D80 set for continuous focus and three frames per second shooting I began to take photos of the cyclists passing by warming up for the main time trials. Generally, I found that the autofocus tracking worked well when a cyclist heading almost directly at the camera. However, with continous shooting I found that the a cyclist would fall in and out of focus. This was more obvious after examining the captured images rather than looking through the viewfinder. Matters did not improve with the use of the dynamic area feature of the Nikon D80. Once the actual time trials had begun and the cyclists were passing by at top speeds, the sigma 50-150mm was still able produce sharp photos but tracking did seem to be a little behind at times.
Things changed once I was taking shots with the Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G VR lens. Although the Nikkor was optically slower than the Sigma it seem to be track much better. The results I got were consistently in sharp focus. Photos were also sharp when making use of the dynamic area feature. I could confidently take shots of the cyclist without worrying about the focus capability of the lens. Even with the lens at 300mm and a cyclist closely approaching the minimum focus did of the lens (about 1.5 metres) the results were impressive.
Examining the results in Adobe Lightroom (ver 1.1) it was evident that that the Nikkor 70-300mm VR did a better job than the Sigma 50-150mm EX in terms of focus tracking. However, the ultimate image quality in terms of sharpness was shown to be produced by the Sigma lens.
The Sigma 50-150mm makes a good general purpose telephoto lens for the digital camera using the APS-C sized sensor. The Nikkor lens is not limited to camera bodies just using the APS-C sensor and its higher magnification and image stabilization makes it perhaps a more useful lens to keep in the camera bag if the constant f/2.8 aperture is not necessary.
Trying to take photos when everyone else in the crowd wants to take photos too was a challenge but at the end of the day I’m happy with the results I got. EA