On Thursday night I got a chance to shoot FC Tampa Bay Rowdies (a pro team in the North American Soccer League), vs. the Austin Aztex and although I didn’t shoot worth a darn (and the score ended in a 1 to 1 tie. Ugh!), I did try out a few new things, and learned some things along the way.

Shooting at 6,400 ISO
The uninspiring shot you see directly above is only remarkable in that it’s the first time I’ve really shot at 6,400 ISO (click on it for a larger view—-no noise reduction applied. The one at the top of this post was shot at 3,200 ISO. More on that in a moment).

Normally, for night games I would be shooting in the 2,500 to 4,000 ISO range (2,500 at ISO f/2.8 or 4000 at f/4) but the game was held in a Minor League Baseball stadium, and I figured the lighting would be kind of bad (and I was right). Luckily I was able to borrow a Nikon D3s from my buddy RC Concepcion, which reportedly has even less noise than the D3, so if I had to shoot at 6,400 or higher, I’d probably be OK, and it performed like a champ! (see above).

(Above: another 6,400 ISO shot).

My Lens Lesson
I only brought my new 300mm f/2.8 lens, which I now know is a little too short for shooting soccer on a full frame camera. So short in fact, that I could only shoot when the play was near my end of the field, because at the other end, it was just about useless (they looked like ants). Last year, when I shot the U.S. Men’s team, I took my 200-400mm f/4 (which was out on loan to Matt that night—he was shooting soccer down in Ft. Myers), and that extra 100mm made a big difference (and beside my buddy Dave Cross, who shot the game with me, every other photographer working the game was shooting a 400mm f/2.8 lens).

(Above: Back to 6,400 ISO—click on it for a much larger view).

Why it works for NFL but not Soccer (Futbol)
The difference between shooting at 300mm when shooting Soccer (futbol), and when shooting American Style NFL Football, is that shooting NFL football you move your position a lot during the game, based on which team has the ball, and where they are on the field, so you can always be pretty close to the action with a 300mm. You can easily spend five to 10 minutes on one end of the Football field while a team is on a drive, so you’re right on top of the action with a 300mm on a full frame.

However, with Soccer most shooters set up near the corners of the field and stay there for long periods of time (a lot of them are sitting the whole game, either on the ground, or using portable fold-up seats). In Soccer, the possession of the ball can change every 15 seconds (which really makes it exciting), and they’ll be running right toward you—the ball gets stolen—and suddenly they’re running away from you. So, you need longer glass or you’re only going to shoot 1/2 the time at best.

(Above: Another 3,200 ISO shot).

How about trying a Tele-extender?
I actually did, (a 1.4 tele) and it got me in much closer but you lose a stop of light as a trade-off, so I dropped from f/2.8 to f/4.  While that might not sound like a lot, it dropped my shutter speed from 1/750 to 1/1000 of a second, down to just 1/350 of a second (way too slow—guaranteed blurry shots), so I had to raise my ISO to at least 6,400 with that combo, and I was afraid of the noise it might generate.

As it turned out, 6,400 ISO on a Nikon D3s is like 4,000 ISO or lower on a regular D3, so I would have been fine, but without seeing the results on a larger screen, I was a bit hesitant to try, so I took it off, and shot a lot at around 3200 ISO with the 300mm set at f/2.8.

(Above: 3,200 ISO for comparison)

You don’t know unless you try
So, I did learn that the D3s lives up to it’s low-noise legend, and I learned that next time I’ll be sure to borrow it and a 400mm lens (or I’ll rent one from LensProToGo.com). Even though I was disappointed in what I got (in fact, I wouldn’t have displayed these shots if not needed to support this article), it was still a lot of fun—I got some good practice in, and it was all made even more fun shooting with Dave. He’s a serious soccer fanatic (he used to play for this College team), and Dave got some great shots as a result (knowing the game, and where the next play is likely to happen is the key to timing the shots, and Dave knows the game inside and out). OK, back to something I’m more comfortable with—American Style football! Already got some NFL and College games lined up in the coming weeks. Can’t wait!!! :-)