Life at 8 FPS

Spring season for kid’s soccer is coming up and if you are attempting to capture your kids or grandkids participating in sports, you need to consider a few things.

First of all, you have probably already discovered that your point-and-shoot camera isn’t going to cut it. Second, you may have also discovered that your DSLR isn’t doing as well as you would like either. Here’s where we need to dive deep into your camera’s specs to see if it can cut it.

How many frames per second (FPS) do I really need?

You tell me. Look at these shots at 8fps and ask yourself if you wished you had the shots in between these photos.

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Kids limbs and soccer balls travel quite a lot in 1/8 sec, don’t they?

My first DSLR was limited to 3fps, and I often found that I wanted the shots in between the shots that I ended up getting (which is one of the reasons why I moved up to 8fps).

Most DSLRs now boast at least 5fps (too slow for me). At 5fps, even in kid’s soccer, you might capture the ball 1-2 times once they kick the ball (and the cold, hard reality is: many of those shots aren’t very good or the shot you are hoping to capture).

8fps or better increases your chances of getting the moment you want to capture, but a lot happens in 1/8 of a second.

Many mirrorless boast 10fps or better. I’ve also seen cameras boast 14fps and 60fps, but usually this is in single focus (see below) and at a reduced resolution (check the camera’s specs carefully).

(However, when I am shooting (non-sports) events, I like slower continuous speeds like Continuous Low on my Fuji X-T1 which is 3fps. 8fps (Continuous High) is overkill in these situations for me. 3fps is just enough to hopefully capture multiple people not blinking or making weird faces. However, there are situations where you are trying to capture a fleeting moment like a choir conductor looking at his choir while conducting where I found 8fps very necessary.)

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Ack! Only one of my shots is in focus!

Most manufacturers boast the continuous frame rate when the camera is set for single focus. That means that the camera focuses, then takes all subsequent photos without refocusing. That’s great for a shot like this:

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But if your subject is moving toward or away from you, only a few of those shots (if any) will be in focus. This is especially bad if you are using telephoto lenses and wide apertures which is often needed to capture sports. Your depth of field is limited to only a few inches.

With continuous focus, the camera refocuses before every shot, but the frame rate is lower.

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However, continuous focus doesn’t equal always in focus. Some continuous focus systems are not very accurate. Some manufacturers are quick to blame the user for not shooting an easier subject or in easier conditions. (Wha?) Do some research to see if the camera you are considering performs as you expect.

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(FYI many reviews say an 70-80% success rate is relatively good. Both my Fuji X-T1 and Canon 7D shoot at about a 75% success rate in continuous focus.)

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buffering

Ack!!! My camera stopped taking pictures after the first 3 shots!!!

(Yes, I know. The graphic is for computers, smartphones and tablets, but every camera manufacturer shows buffering differently.)

This usually happens because of a few factors:

  • Your camera’s (small) buffer got full
    • A buffer is the temporary storage in your camera before it writes to your storage card.
    • Most cameras have small buffers since including a large buffer increases the cost of the camera.
    • You might be able to empty this faster with a faster storage card (see below)
  • Your camera couldn’t empty its buffer fast enough
    • There is not much you can do about this except maybe try a faster storage card (see below)
  • Your storage card was too slow
    • Most inexpensive storage cards are slow (that’s one reason why they are so cheap). If it doesn’t say 40MB/sec or 95MB/sec, then it is really slow — fine for a snapshot here or there, but not for continuous FPS.
    • Keep in mind that many cameras can’t use the fastest cards, so check your camera’s specs
  • You are taking RAW files
    • These files are often around 5x larger than JPEGs. That puts a significant challenge to your camera

Some solutions are:

XT1 vs 7D vs 1DX

  • Cameras with bigger, faster buffers
    • These are expensive like the Canon 7D, 7D Mark II, 1D X and their Nikon counterparts.
    • And not only are these expensive, they are large and heavy which is why many manufacturers are moving to supporting faster SD cards.

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  • Faster storage cards
    • If manufacturers seem to be throwing acronyms and technical terms to confuse consumers, then you are correct. They are. The more consumers are confused, the more they will speed on the wrong thing and have to buy upgrades
      • Read vs write speed
      • Burst vs sustained write speed
      • U3 vs UHS II
      • Blah, blah, blah…
    • If it doesn’t say it is the write speed, then they are advertising the read speed which does not tell you how fast it will record files, but the write speed is often not easy to find and…
    • To make this more complicated, each camera records to the same cards at different speeds, and the measurements made by memory card readers to computers is also different.
    • And UHS-II cards seem to have a lower write speed, but they have faster sustained write speeds than other cards.
    • If all else fails, stick to something that has a 95-150MB/sec read speed or better. (Yes, the write speed is slower than the read speed, but, in general, faster read speeds also include faster write speeds, too.)
    • But if you want the absolute fastest, as of this writing these are the fastest UHS-II cards which can only be used by a few of the latest cameras (like my Fuji X-T1).

And a final word about your storage cards – keep more than one on hand. Good SD cards are expensive, but this is where the rubber meets the road. If your card goes down, you are sunk. (You carry extra batteries, don’t you? Then why don’t you carry extra memory cards?) Also in the same vein, don’t expect these to last forever. Next to your camera, these do a ton of the work.

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Ack! I used the sports mode on my camera and the shots are dark and awful!

Well, there is more to shooting sports than selecting a mode on a camera, having a big buffer and having a fast memory card. I, personally, hate the “sports mode” on DSLRs and recommend users learn about Shutter priority and expand their Auto ISO as high as they can. Search online for tips on the particular sport (each sport has different challenges).

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Ack! My subject is wandering off the frame? What did my camera do wrong?

I’m sorry to tell you, but your camera took exactly what it was pointed toward. Like a car or gun, it does what it is told.

However, the camera could make it harder or easier for you to track your subjects. I find optical viewfinders easier for tracking sports, but electronic viewfinders are getting better. I also find cameras with screens only (no viewfinders) pretty much useless when you need to track a moving subject, but that could be just me.

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