Shoot Notes: How I Shot the Eastern Sates 20 Mile with a 28-300 Zoom

Looking for the race photos? Go here to the main article:
The 20th Annual Eastern States 20 Mile – Main/New Hampshire/Massachusetts – 2015 Photos

Photo_Shoot_Notes-IconThese are additional notes that a photographer might find useful on how I shot this event/photo shoot. Looking for the photos, follow the link above.



I shot all these photos with my Nikon D700 full frame and my Nikon 28-300 Super Zoom and left my favorite lens, my 70-200 f2.8 VRII in the trunk of my car. I’ll give you a hint on the results for the 28-300, its a mixed bag.  The 28-300 is a lens of compromises with advantages and disadvantages. So why did I do all my shooting with the 28-300?easter20mile_route_map Could I have done just as well with a DX body and another cheaper lens choice?

For me this shoot was skills development. I do a lot of skills development just to get me out of the office and to actually take pictures. Reading websites including mine are no substitute for shooting. I also use it to test things that interest me. For this race I wanted to:

  1. Shoot a road race on the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge (known locally as the “low bridge” to Badger’s Island).
  2. Shoot in the 70-200 focal range area, but doing it with my 28-300 f3.5 to 5.6 Nikon VR-II to see how good it is compared to my 70-200.
  3. Have some photos of this race going over the bridge that no one else captured.
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Nikon D700 1/2500th F5.6 ISO 500 135mm (Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 VRII)

As always a little homework goes a long way and it was this homework that made my decision on the Memorial bridge. First, this race was complicated. It started in Maine, running through the New Hampshire, with a second batch of runners starting their own 10 mile race at the 10 mile mark. Finally everyone would be finishing in Massachusetts with the bulk of the runners crossing the finish line over a 3 hour period. Basically there were two races, a 20 mile and a 10 mile, both starting at the exact same time from different locations and all finishing at the same spot 20 miles away.

Doing this on my own, I knew I had to make some choices. Unlike the Paddy’s race, I couldn’t be at four different locations.  I could probably manage two and that would be it.

easter20mile_route_map-PortsmouthIt really came down to what did I want out of this.  I could battle parking, photograph the start line of the 20 miler, then drive down to the finish line and get runners as they pass by, but after 10 and 20 miles respectively, the finishers would be spaced out over three hours. That’s a lot of time and effort for skills development with very little payback.

Finally I decided I would shoot on the memorial bridge about one mile into the start of the 20 miler. Parking was easy, my time investment was low, since they would all be through in about 10 minutes or less.  Plus I haven’t shot a race on the new bridge.

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Nikon D700 1/2500th F3.5 ISO 200 28mm (Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 VRII)

To go a step even further if I took my 28-300 super zoom, I could use that for for some wider shots capturing the bridge and runners. I also knew I would need the normal zoom range of a 70-200 as well. The obvious advantage of the 28-300 is that it covers the entire range. Giving me way more options than just a 70-200.  My normal choices are two bodies, lens changing or a single 28-300? Since this shoot didn’t count, I decided to use my 28-300 exclusively.

After shooting the race I looked at the distribution of focal lengths that I used for the photos that I kept and posted. I was actually quite surprised when I looked at the numbers. The extra zoom range of 200-300 I hardly used.  The 28-70 was about 10% of the photos and the rest fit into 70-200 range.

Used Focal Lengths of published photos:

  • 28-70 mm = 9 photos
  • 70-200 mm = 72 photos
  • 200-300 mm = 3 photos
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Nikon D700 1/2500th F5.6 ISO 560 230mm (Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 VRII)
Shooting above 200mm, its just not quite right.

Lets talk about each of he ranges and what I thought of it and the results.

28-70mm (on the 28-300 Nikon VR-II zoom lens):
On the 28-300 this range is totally acceptable. It does have a lot of distortion, but really its a non issue for my type of shooting. Lightroom has fairly good lens distortion profiles as well. Focus speed usually isn’t a big deal either, things are wide and large, easy to deal with. To me the Photos look great! It was great to have this range with me otherwise I would have missed a few key shots had I been shooting with just a 70-200. Thumbs up!

70-200 (on the 28-300 Nikon VR-II zoom lens)
The results were still acceptable in this focal length.  However coming from a fast pro lens of the 70-200 f2.8 I missed a lot of shots because the 28-300 simply couldn’t focus fast enough. When it did focus it wasn’t nearly as sharp as I’m used to. The focus quality was “acceptable” for web publishing this type of event. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure if the 28-300 preformed any better than my 18-200 VR-I on a crop DX body. I think I could just use my D7100 and my 18-200 and get very similar results. Had I been armed with my 70-200 f2.8, there is no doubt I would have had more keepers and better ones at that. But all-in-all, still acceptable in a pinch, but not ideal. Thumbs Sideways for using the 28-300 in this range!

200-300 (on the 28-300 Nikon VR-II zoom lens)
Soft. This just isn’t a good range for this lens especially for this kind of shooting. Again in a pinch you can use it, but it had all the same issues and more that I had in the 70-200 range. In addition looking at my distribution of photos, I only walked away with three that I like. Had I only been able to go to 200mm I would have adapted and never noticed. Thumbs down!

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Nikon D700 1/2500th F5.6 ISO 400 122mm (Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 VRII)
An example of a soft not well focused photo

So that’s a mixed bag of results, what does it mean? Its not all bad. It means if you know what you are doing you can use the lens to shoot a brightly lit race and do a fairly competent job, however you are going to miss shots because of slow auto-focus. And I will add that was auto focus on a bright sunny day with lots of contrasty light. Stay away from the 200-300mm range for shooting races, but that range still has other uses. On the wide end of full frame 28-70, it does a nice job.

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Nikon D700 1/2500th F3.8 ISO 200 34mm (Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 VRII)

Conclusion:
The reason I bought the 28-300 in the first place was because its the perfect lens for the start of a race. It can go wide and it can go deep. When I would have my 24-70 or 70-200 at the start of a race I would always want the other lens on the camera and miss critical stuff.  Even two bodies is not always a great solution and I would be swapping back and forth with too much gear. The 28-300 is good on the street, its good in crowds and its good when you need to go wide and long. It a good general purpose lens once you understand it and know its limitations.

Further if all you have is a super-zoom, you can totally shoot a road race – start, middle, end, and the event part of it.  The quality of the 28-300 on my D700 I really think is in line with a DX/crop sensor (ie D7100 body) and an 18-200, which I also own. I might try that next. But the real story is, don’t let the lure of expensive equipment keep you from shooting.

For me (and again this is why I bought this lens), is its perfect for the start of a race. My real strategy is to stick the 28-300 on my body and shoot away until the starting line passes me and the runners are long gone in the distance. Then in the slack time before they return to the finish line swap out for my 70-200 VR-II and get some higher quality shots where the focus is “more” nailed and I can work on things like panning more effectively.

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Nikon D700 1/250th F11 ISO 100 112mm (Nikon 28-300 f3.5-5.6 VRII)
Summer 2014 shot in Prescott Park near the bridge.

And just so you know I’m not bashing this lens. Last summer I used it for a model shoot. It had all the same limitations that you would expect, but its still a completely useable lens. My favorite lens is still my 70-200, but its the photographer and not the lens that makes it all work.

Happy shooting and please like my Facebook page or follow me on twitter if you found this article helpful or interesting.

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