Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My first hockey game with the Canon EOS 7D

Once again, if you are not interested in photography you will probably want to skip this posting.
For the past few days I have been playing with the Canon EOS 7D digital single lens reflect camera that arrived last week. At times I have found it very frustrating, a bit alien and sometimes disappointing.
Tonight, I decided to go shoot some hockey pictures with it. In Moosonee, the arena is a relatively dark place. To get decent pictures you need a fast lens and a camera with the ability to shoot at high iso's. I have used a couple of cameras for hockey. One of them is a professional grade camera, the Canon 1DIIN. It is a few years old and its high iso ability is limited. Still, it is incredible at focusing on moving objects (largely due to its dual processor design with one processor doing nothing but handle focus). Often I shot at iso 1600 and had to push the shots and ended up with a fair amount of noise. The other camera I used for hockey is the newer Canon 5DII. It has a much more primitive focus system but is much better at higher iso's. I used it at both 3200 and 6400 with acceptable results. By acceptable I mean shots that look ok on a website and would probably work on newsprint.
The 7D does not have quite the high iso performance of the 5DII but it does have a newly designed focus system and dual processors. The processors are a faster model than the ones found in the 1DIIN. The focus system has the kinds of options that were found in professional cameras. Tonight, I didn't use any of those, I just left them at their defaults.
What I shot tonight was not a regulation hockey game. There were no goalies and no officials. It makes for fast action and no interruptions. I didn't have a really great vantage point; the only place I could get above the glass was on a set of stairs in one corner. Hence most of my shots come from one end of the arena.
I shot jpg's, more than 700 of them and picked a couple of hundred for posting. I used only a couple of settings: ISO 3200 f2.8 1/400 or 1/500 or ISO 6400 f4.0 1/500. All I did for processing was to load the jpg's into Lightroom and do some cropping. When I exported the selected shots I applied some sharpening but left them at full size. All of the pictures were taken with a Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS lens with IS (image stabilization) disabled.
White balance can be a problem in this arena. I used an expodisc to get a setting. That worked for most of the shots. But the lights are not consistent in colour temperature so some images end up with a bit of a colour cast. Because I was mostly interested in how the camera performed at high iso I didn't worry about that.
Focusing seemed to work very well within the limitations of the kind of depth of field you get at f2.8 or f4.0 with a telephoto lens. A few times it focused in the wrong place but never for more than one shot at a time unless it was clearly my fault. I used the centre point most of the time along with assist points (the points around the selected focus point).
I am reasonably satisfied with the quality of the images. They are noisy and I suppose I could have done something about that, either in camera or when processing them. But, on the whole, they are acceptable.
I am not a sports photographer and I do not skate or play hockey so I do not really have a clue what is going on on the ice. So my pictures are not that well composed or planned. But they do give an idea of what happened on the ice and how the 7D handled a dark arena.
If I was shooting hockey seriously I would have used two cameras and more lens. The 70-200 is a compromise for hockey, there are times when something wider (especially on a crop camera) would be handy and a 300mm or even longer lens would help with action at the other end of the ice. However, I am doing this for fun and decided not to haul around a lot of equipment.


  1. Thank you for your posting. I currently own a 5DMII and shoot kids hockey. I shoot RAW and find difficulty with the AF with hockey. I use a 70-200/2.8 with the IS on. I was considering getting a 7D for hockey only as I too find about 10% or so of my shots are not well focused with the 5DMII. I am not sure if shooting in JPEG would help this. Your posting is appreciated.

  2. I think that the IS can slow things down. It is not really needed since you are shooting at high speed and probably moving the lens around a lot anyway.
    I shoot hockey with JPG because of the volume of shots that a game typically produces and the fact that I am mostly trying to illustrate what happened in the game with as many shots as possible.
    I would use RAW is I was doing portrait (hockey card) type shots that were being set up with lighting or group shots.