My Canon Rebel XSi: First Photos

Wolves 031The first assignment for my shiny new Canon Rebel XSi was at the Allstate Arena for an American Hockey League match-up between the hometown Chicago Wolves and the near-hometown Rockford Ice Hogs. To make matters more interesting (from a hockey perspective anyway), the Ice Hogs are the minor league affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, of which we’ve been big fans of this year.

Personally, I’ve played hockey since I could walk and have been a fan my entire life, so being able to shoot at hockey games is a combination of both passions. This was only the second time I went to a game fully intent on taking photos, and the last time was with my Canon EOS 20D. That gave me a good base comparison for how the Rebel XSi would fare in similar use.

The Seats

To start, I was behind the 8-ball from the opening face-off because we were sitting in one of the Suite boxes that was directly behind one of the goal nets. Great seats if you’re a fan (which we are, and we loved the seats), not so great if you’re trying to take photos through the giant protective netting that goes from the top of the glass up to the rafters. I knew that if I was going to get the types of shots I wanted, I’d have to sneak my way into some other seats (which I did).

For the Hawks game last year, we had the perfect seats, both from a fan’s perspective and for taking photos with my telephoto lens. Where I moved to this game with the Wolves, I ended up setting right near the goal line about 40 rows up. The best shots I could get from there were of the opposite end of the ice to clear the glass that was in front.

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The Camera

So, to what really matters, the photos. Initially, the auto-focus wasn’t playing nice for me, which was do in most part to the netting and the glass that was in the foreground of my shots. I tried to stick it out, but ultimately had to switch to manual focus for the climatic shootout at the end of the game.

Being indoors and in a constant lighting environment for the entire game meant I didn’t need to play around with too many settings between shots. That made taking pictures quicker, but didn’t really test the entire range of features and usability like other situations would warrant. Overall, though, I was fairly impressed with the outcome.

One of the first noticable differnces from my Canon 20D was that the Rebel weighed a little less (about half a pound less according to the Canon specs). That is, however, until you put the telephoto lens on and then you don’t notice the difference that much. The large LCD screen was a big upgrade from the tiny little window on my 20D, so that made reviewing photos much easier. It also was a change for me to see and control all the settings on the screen itself, since the 20D has the display panel on the top of the camera, but that was only a minor adjustment.

The Photos

Out of about 350+ photos that weren’t total throwaways when I shot them, I ultimately ended up with about 40 or so keepers, which I’d say was pretty good. One of the issues I need to learn to correct when using the Rebel has to do with the Auto Focus settings. Even when I wasn’t shooting through glass or netting, I still had more than a few shots that seemed like it would only focus on a single point in the frame and not multiple areas like my 20D would. I adjusted the focus settings to use mutli-area and tried the different AI and Servo modes, but to be honest, it was mainly trial and error at the time. I need to do my homework on that one.

I do struggle a little with indoor shooting from a white balance perspective, so trying to get the right balance in some of these photos, both during the shot and in the digital darkroom, was a little bit of work. Compared to the shots I took at the United Center last March (when everything turned out with yellow and orange tints), I think these came out a little better, but not the level I wanted to.

With a fast-paced sport like hockey, I like to throw my camera in continuous shooting mode and catch some of those moments in action. For hockey, some of the obvious favorites are slap shots, body checks, and face-offs. I was also fortunate enough to get a few shots of the shoot-out after the game finished overtime in a tie, so that was neat as a fan and as a photographer.

The Rebel XSi, however, was only able to shoot at 3.5 shots/second, while my 20D made it up to 5 shots/second. If I had brought both cameras with me (like I intend to do on vacations and maybe future games), I would have switched to the 20D for that part of the game.

You can view all the photos from the game at on Flickr here.

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  1. Daniel January 10, 2009 at 5:01 am #

    I know this article is a bit dated, but I found your blog through google. I’m a diehard Blackhawks fan, and have been since I was about 9 years old. As a 25 year old student who loves the sport of hockey and the excitement of photography, I just wanted to say those are some great pics with the Rebel XSi. I just received the bundle with a telephoto lens and all the goodies, I just wish I could use it at the United Center! A little difficult to do, from Spokane Washington! Anyways, great pics and good article!

  2. Kris Nelson January 10, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for taking time to leave your thoughts, and I’m glad you like these pics.

    Hockey and photography are such a great mix, I can’t really think of any other sport I’d want to photograph. We’ve been to about a half dozen Hawks game this season, but so far they’ve all been up in the 300 level seats and behind that protective netting, making it hard to shoot through.

    We have great seats for the Sharks game come March, and I really can’t wait to break out the gear again. We had similar seats against the Sharks last season (I’m a big Roenick fan), and you can see some of the photos I took with my telephoto at the game.

    Unrelated to the Rebel XSi, I lent my brother my Canon SD890 point-and-shoot for the Winter Classic game at Wrigley, and in return he brought some pretty nice pics with that, too.

    Back to the Rebel XSi, so far it’s been a really nice camera. It took me sometime to get used to my first DSLR (the Canon EOS 20D), but once I had the basics down, taking photos with it became so much fun.

    Enjoy your camera and Go Hawks!

  3. JoJo March 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    I have an XSi as well and am starting to shoot some hockey photos for my boyfriend’s hockey team. Just wondering what settings you use and what lens? I just bought an 18-200 mm f3.5-5.6 and was using the sports setting (flash did not work with this setting). Some pics were decent but most were very blurry. Any suggestions?

  4. Kris March 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Hi JoJo, thanks for stopping by.

    What I’ve found is the biggest challenge for shooting hockey games is that they’re indoors. The last few ones I’ve done have been at the professional level, so the stadiums are nice and big and have a better amount of light to work with. I did a shoot in a smaller rink in Green Bay last January and it was much more difficult.

    So, get to more light while trying to capture all the action (and reduce blur), the two areas right out of the gate are ISO and shooting wide open (lowest f-stop number). Since I have the XSi as well, ISO 800 is probably the highest you can go. With the lens you have now, you’ll be able to use f/3.5 at the wider angles and only f/5.6 when zoomed in fully.

    The lens I shot these with was a 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6, so you’re already in better shape there. I would try setting it to Manual mode, with an aperture setting of f/3.5 (it will automatically adjust higher when you zoom) and a shutter speed of anywhere from 1/125 to about 1/320th. If you can get closer to 320 and the photos aren’t too dark, you’re in good shape. The closer you get to 125, the more chance of blur.

    I’d suggest shooting in RAW mode, too, because the white balance can be goofy based on the lighting in the rink. I’ve started using the custom WB option by taking a picture of the boards or the ice and using it as reference, depending on what vantage point you have.

    If this seems like a lot to take in, I’d be happy to follow up more via email if that’s easier. Feel free to use the Contact link in the bottom right hand corner and I’ll help out in any way that I can.

    – Kris

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