Family Photographers Need Fast Cameras, Too

Sports photographers aren’t the only people who need fast cameras. Even family photographers have a legitimate need for speed.

If you talk to non-photographers, they often only think of the machine gun-like sound of a high framerate camera firing at 8fps or more, but “fast” actually means a few factors. Here are 3 of the factors:

  1. Good low light ISO performance
  2. Fast response time
  3. High frame speed

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1) Good low light ISO performance

Humans are pesky subjects – they nearly never hold still while they are doing things so your camera can shoot at a slow shutter speed in order for your camera to use low ISOs in low light (anything indoors).

Although, nearly all new DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras can shoot at ISO 6400 and better, most look unpleasantly noisy over ISO 1600, and smartphones really perform badly in low light (and try to compensate with extremely slow shutter speeds). (I recommend a Fuji X series camera and changing these settings.)

The alternative is to use flash, but you can’t use a flash in all situations, nor would you want to since flash can influence how people react to you.

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2) Fast response time

Shutter Lag

Have you ever used a camera and, despite working hard to know how your hardware responds, still felt a disconnect between the moment you pressed the shutter and when the camera actually took a picture? My pro-grade Canon 7D has a minuscule shutter response time (prefocused to shutter release lag time). My consumer-grade Canon t2i in comparison is 50% slower. This doesn’t look like much on paper, but in reality, it’s like the difference between getting your overnight mail in a day and getting it 3-5 business days later.

Autofocus Lag

Highly related to this is autofocus response. My 7D focuses in half the time my t2i can. That’s important not only for sports, but also for trying to capture elusive preteens and teenagers.

In comparison, a Canon EOS M has Full Autofocus Single-point AF 6x longer than the 7D!!! 6 times!!! That’s pretty much a deal killer if you want to shoot toddlers, kids and up. Pretty much only ok for babies, inanimate objects and old people (like me).

EVF Lag

This one is new and not well documented. With mirrorless cameras, in order to see what the sensor sees, it has to display it either in the (back) display or through an electronic viewfinder (EVF). (Some Fuji’s are slightly different with their rangefinder viewfinders.)

EVF’s have two types of lag. One type is the lag between what the sensor sees and what you see through the EVF before you press the shutter button. The other lag is after you press the shutter — how soon you see a live image.

Buffer Lag

Ever have to wait for a file to write to your memory card before you could either see the photo or take another picture? Assuming you are using a very fast memory card and not a cheapie generic card, cameras are designed to deal with this task in two ways.

  1. Have a huge buffer so you can take lots of photos without being slowed down. This makes the camera more expensive.
  2. Be able to fully use the newest, fastest UHS-II cards (like in the Fuji X-T1) to clear out a smaller, less expensive buffer.

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3) High frame speed

At 5fps, even in kid’s soccer, you might capture the ball 1-2 times once they kick the ball (and many of those shots aren’t the shot you are looking for).

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

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Along with fast (and accurate) autofocus lock, you might capture a smile that you would miss with a slower camera.

Single vs Continuous focus

Be careful to note if your FPS is for single or continuous focus. Most manufacturers are quick to boast single focus speeds, but if you shoot something moving toward or away from you and are in single focus, your subject will be out of focus in most of your shots.

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. Do some research to see if the camera you are considering performs as you expect.

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Fast lenses

Along with fast cameras are fast lenses. These wide aperture lenses can be costly, but often give you the extra stops you need to stop motion blur or just get proper exposure in low light.

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Why fast lenses? Doesn’t image stabilization take care of motion blur?

Image stabilization helps stop camera shake — that’s you naturally moving a little — but doesn’t do anything about freezing people naturally moving. It doesn’t take much to be a blur at 1/30 or even 1/60 with kids. Posed/group shots are not exempt.

“But motion blur is temporary.”

Don’t get me even started on that half truth.

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