The 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.
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.
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.
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.