High School Football

Football season is here and I will be shooting several football games for the high school that I graduated from many years ago. On Friday night, I arrived at the field around 6:30pm to set up for the 7:00pm kick-off. I packed light, bringing only my Nikon D500, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC, and Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. I didn’t even pack a monopod since the one I have is very cheap I found it to be to flimsy for the combination of the D500 and the 200-500mm lens.

I knew the 200-500mm is a fantastic birding lens, but how well does it handle sports? I’m pretty sure it would perform well in a NFL or big-time college stadium. But how would it perform under high school quality stadium lighting?

I decided to start the game with the 200-500mm on the D500. I figured with sunset around 7:20pm, the 200-500mm should work well enough for at least the 1st quarter. I positioned myself on the visitor’s left side between the goal line and the 30 yard line. The sun was off to my left. Most of the field was in shade by the start of the game. I set the D500 up to be in Aperture Priority mode using auto ISO with a minimum shutter speed of 1/1250th and auto white balance.

The visiting team, Oscar Smith, is a state power in Virginia, and it didn’t take them long to score their first touchdown. And second. And third. Fortunately, for me, all the action was taking place in at my end of the field on the closer side of the field. So I was shooting mostly in the 200mm range. Honestly, the Tamron 70-200mm would have been the better choice here. But I really wanted to test the bigger lens.

The first shot was taken about 20 minutes before sunset. There was still some sun shining on the bleachers of the home team. The field, however, no longer had any sun on it.

High School football
Nikon D500 (taken at 7:06pm)
Nikon 200-500mm @ f/5.6 200mm 1/1250th 2,000 ISO
Only seven minutes later, the sun is no longer shining on the bleachers and we see the ISO creeping up.
High School football
Nikon D500 (taken at 7:13pm)
Nikon 200-500mm @ f/5.6 280mm 1/1250th 6,400 ISO

Not much change in the camera settings here. Slightly higher ISO with the sun all but gone.

High School football
Nikon D500 (taken at 7:18pm)
Nikon 200-500mm @ f/5.6 500mm 1/1250th 8,000 ISO
This is right around sunset. The stadium lights at this point had minimum impact because of the ambient light. The ISO jumped up to 20000 here, which is higher than it would be a few minutes later when the stadium lighting had more impact.
High School football
Nikon D500 (taken at 7:24pm)
Nikon 200-500mm @ f/5.6 200mm 1/1250th 20,000 ISO

I decided to switch out the 200-500mm for the Tamron 70-200mm. The next image was taken 18 minutes after the previous. It was now dark and the stadium lights were my only source of light now. Having the 2.8 aperture dropped my ISO back down. Still not where I’d like it to be, but the lights at this stadium are really bad. In the future, I may drop my shutter speed down to about 1/800th or 1/640th to see if I can get away with that without too much motion blur.

High School football
Nikon D500 (taken at 7:42pm)
Tamron 70-200mm @ f/2.8 200mm 1/1250th 11,400 ISO

Another 25 minutes have gone by. The ISO is now staying at 11400. This makes sense. The stadium lights are my source of light now and they aren’t changing. To me, 11400 ISO on a D500 with a little noise reduction in Lightroom is more than acceptable. I’ll play around with shutter speed to find the sweet spot between noise and motion blur.

High School football
Nikon D500 (taken at 8:09pm)
Tamron 70-200mm @ f/2.8 200mm 1/1000th 11,400 ISO

All the photos you see here have been edited in Adobe Lightroom with Noise Reduction applied. The photos have been cropped as well.

Next time, I’ll provide a comparison of the RAW images with the processed images. I just want to show that you don’t have to be afraid of bumping the ISO on the D500. Lightroom, or whatever software you use, is more than capable of cleaning up the noise. I’d rather have a image with some noise than an image that has too much blur from motion. Unless that is what you are aiming for.

All in all, the 200-500mm is a perfect match for the D500. It focuses fast and works well with the D500. However, because of the wide open aperture of 5.6, it’s not ideal under high school lights. You really need to shoot with a long lens with an maximum aperture of 2.8, but we all know what that means:  money, money, and more money.


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