Nikon D800 for Sports & Action?

Posted June 19th, 2012 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink

As most of the photo world knows, the Nikon D800 and D800E cameras are best suited to landscape and nature photography. They aren’t necessarily the best cameras for sports and action because of their slower frame rate of 4 FPS. That said, I wanted to try the D800 in a few sports and action scenarios to see how well it held up under pressure.

110 meter hurdles.

110 meter hurdle race at a track competition. Photo taken with Nikon D800 and 70-200mm f2.8.

I found that the AF tracking is very good and the camera had absolutely no problems keeping runners in focus throughout their movement. For a few years now, I’ve used Dynamic 21-pt focus for most of my Nikon cameras and continue to be happy with this setting on the D800. Below is a 19-shot sequence of a baseball player running from 2nd base through third base and on his way home (below). I shot it with a D800 and a 70-200mm f2.8 at ISO 2200. On the seventh frame, you’ll see another player running through the image, but the D800 did a great job of keeping the AF tracking on the first runner. In fact, all 19 shots are in great focus. I’m impressed.

Nikon D800 autofocus sequence.

19 frame Nikon D800 autofocus sequence. Baseball player running from second base, around third base, and towards home.

Baseball player running home.

Baseball player closeup as he rounds third base and heads to home. Photo with Nikon D800, 70-200mm f2.8.

The slower frame rate of the D800 means that you need to time your shots more carefully than a camera like the Nikon D4. The D4 shoots at 10 FPS so you can really just “spray and pray”. The D800 requires more timing and finesse to capture the shot a the peak of action. Even so, I found that shooting at 4FPS was workable for the most part. For example, I went to a local track meet and photographed kids running the hurdles and the long jump. In both situations, the resulting images were in focus. Here’s a shot sequence from the Nikon D800 of  a student competing in the long jump (below).

D800 autofocus sequence.

Long jumper taken with Nikon D800 to test autofocus performance for sports.

Long jumper closeup.

Here’s one of the long jumper images that I cropped in order to show focus accuracy from the D800.

Here’s one final shot of three girls competing in the 100 meter sprint (below). Again, the camera exhibited great focus tracking and the resulting images had very good detail. My focus point was trained on the middle runner and the camera did a perfect job of keeping her sharp, even with the clutter of people, cones, and a fence behind.

100m sprint

100 meter sprint at a track competition. Taken with Nikon D800 and 70-200 f2.8.

So, what’s the final verdict? The D800 autofocus system is excellent and tracks fast-moving action very well. The file size and overall resolution is excellent, so you can crop your images while still having great detail. The downside of using the D800 for sports/action is the slow frame rate. I know I missed some “peak of action” shots because of the 4 FPS limitation. You can get around this by setting the camera for a 1.2x crop factor, but even then, you only get to 5 FPS. If sports and action are your main subject, then you should be shooting something like the Nikon D4 for its blazingly fast frame rate of 10 FPS.



3 Comments on “Nikon D800 for Sports & Action?”

  • Joe Swick June 20th, 2012 8:34 am

    Good report validating the D800 tracking. Those are super clear shots.
    In going to a Nats-Rays game tonite. Hope to do some similar tracking with the D700.

  • Joshua March 2nd, 2013 3:08 pm

    Good test, are you using 9 point foucusing point?

  • Mike Hagen March 25th, 2013 8:03 am

    Joshua –

    I use 21 point focusing for almost everything.

    Mike

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