Thank you for the replies.
I can spend about $1200. Seems like I might need a flash and the tamron 17-50 2.8. I'll need to arrive at my children's school functions a bit early to get that front row seat.
Came across the Demb Flash Diffuser Pro? What do you all think about it? Anyone here use it? Would I need it too?
Anyway, what I gather from all of this is:
1. For indoor, try to get as close as possible and use 2.8 for faster shutter speeds even though I will have a flash.
2. The tamron 78-200 2.8 is not recommended for indoor use, bit it is ok for outdoors (candid, fast action, sports). I plan to photograph my kids at my neighborhood park (when is the best time...morning, afternoon?)
Lastly, are there any suggestions to which lenses which I can purchase and be of use now while my kids are young and use it in the future and last say 10 years (sports, stage, graduation, vacation, for example). I know tv's and computers can change every year. What about slr's and lenses? How often do companies release a new model or lens?
Generally speaking, you keep your lenses for a long time. Canon and Minolta choose to break that rule in the mid-80s when autofocus was coming in. Olympus never made autofocus film cameras, and the new 4/3 digital are only partially reverse compatible with the old lenses by way of an adapter. But Pentax and Nikon cameras can still use older lenses with some caveats. Older meaning 1960s and 1970s. Leica the same with the M series. Canon lenses from 1987 onward are fully compatible with all modern Canons, and Minolta lenses from 1985 onward are fully compatible with all modern Sonys. Almost all older 3rd party designs are forward compatible as well, with a few exceptions. Also most of the 3rd party lenses from the 80s weren't very good, but the modern ones are as good (or better) than the 1st party designs.
There are no signs of major lensmount changes in the near future, except with mirrorless SLR designs. Almost all of my Canon lenses are designs released about 20 years ago, and a couple are almost that old. The 100 macro and 70-210 haven't been manufactured since the mid-90s, and are great lenses.
Bodies used to change on a 5-10 year (or longer) basis. Now people upgrade on more like a 2-4 year basis because digital moves faster. I can see this slowing since digital cameras have finally caught up with film in pretty much every way imaginable, but I could be wrong. I have become a fan of buying used bodies since the technology moves so fast, they depreciate quickly. My current camera I bought for $1100 used, when it was released it cost over $3000, and was still selling new for $2500 until its replacement came out a year ago. Good lenses don't depreciate much. My Tamron 17-50 was on clearence and a floor model at Best Buy. I paid about $350 for it, normal Amazon price was more like $400-420. I just got $300 on it as trade in value, and the shop has it listed at $375 used (new prices went up a few dollars since I bought it though). Pro lenses depreciate something like 10% in 5 or 10 years, they hold value VERY well.
10 years is a bit of a reach, but two lenses come to mind that will serve well.
CZ 135mm f/1.8
CZ 85mm f/1.4
These two cover a lot of ground and offer the best indoor results you will ever see, w/o a flash.
On limited funds, they are a pipe dream, though. As I stated earlier, low light w/ autofocus is serious money. It is really tough to get away from that.
Remember that 50mm is not a close-up at twenty feet. So if you are looking for that ... BUZZ, won't happen.
Look, I provided you with what I truly felt would address your issue. With a solid flash, the 70-200mm f/2.8 can easily do the job.
α700 w/ T70-200mm f/2.8 & HVL-F58AM
It is up to you to learn how to use the lens and flash in combination. $1200 should cover it. To improve from there -> NEW BODY
Just read an article. Seems people use 2.8 and faster lenses. More so with primes (50 1.4 and 85 1.8).
Thanks Don for the reply, but I was hoping to do it without purchasing a body. I'll try the lenses first.
The Tamron 17-50mm won't do anything for you at the School Functions that your 50mm f1.8 won't do better and it's still no good.
At 50mm the field of view at 30' is around 14'x9' (that's feet) so you'll get most of the stage but your kids will be too small.
Your 18-250mm set at 150mm will give an FOV 5'x3' (3'x5'portrait) and at f5.6 and ISO200 a Flash with Guide Number of 42 would just do it.
Don suggests the Tamron 70-210mm but I say not; you specifically said you want to shoot your Kids at "fast action, sports" as they grow up and the Tamron is bad at aquiring focus even in moderate light and dismal at tracking a fast moving child. When is the best time? Whenever you can find the time but avoid the middle of the day.
The F58AM recommended by Don is fine and will give you enough light even with your 18-250 even though the combination is not an obvious choice.
If I've learned one thing in photography (at some cost) it's that there is no substitute for quality. In your position I would plump for the flash now and save for a SAL-70200G Zoom AF 70-200mm f/2.8 APO G(D) SSM, it's pretty darned expensive but you won't be hankering after something better cos there isn't anything (at that zoom range). I imagine you'd get $400+ for the 18-250.
The Demb Flash Diffuser Pro? Lot of money for a few bits of plastic. In any case if you plump for an F58AM it has a Diffuser built in.
The Demb is probably the best diffuser out there however it's only good for closer ranges. It's not gonna work too well in your situation. It's more of what you would use at weddings and portraits.
What I am proposing is that once you actually have the new, improved glass, your next step would naturally be to improve the body you mount it on and get the MOST out of those new lenses.
It's always glass first.
Heck, I started the SONY ball rolling with the α100. Weird part is, it cost $900 back then. Same as the new α550, so I have to ask, who is getting the bargain?
Anyway ... my road to improvement was, of course, through the α700 and then the Full Frame α850.
Times have certainly changed, as you get a lot more PUNCH for your $950 these days. The A550 is not my personal choice, but for the rest of the customer base, it might be. It certainly offers a lot over the α100.
Yesterday (1/21/2010), I had a rushed photo shoot of a play, "Handicap This!", a tale of a young man dealing with the challenges of Cerebral Palsy. I wound up using my Rokinon MF 85mm f/1.4 lens, which gave me a good twenty foot shot, but I had to manually focus the image. The Rokinon lens only costs $259 ... and can deliver a very nice image. But, in saving the $1000 over the Zeiss AF 85mm f/1.4, the focus work is all on you. Personally, for now, I'll save the money and $250 is not going to break the budget.
Here is a 20-footer sample ... with the Rokinon MF 85mm f/1.4
EXIF: 85mm - f/2.8 - 1/125 sec - ISO-1600 - Manual Mode - WB: Tungsten +2 - Source: House lights - subj dist: 20-ft - CWA Metering - Handheld
Here is roughly the same shot, taken earlier, with the SONY AF 50mm f/1.4
EXIF: 50mm - f/9 - 1/60 sec - ISO-1600 Manual Mode - WB: Flash - Source: HVL-F58AM - subj dist: 26-ft - CWA Metering - Handheld
You can clearly see the uneven distribution of the flash in this shot and its "hot spot." Yeah, it can be post processed, but it demonstrates the lop-sided effect you get from one side of the stage to the other. (No center shot was available due to assigned seating). Ceiling bounce was impossible due to the ceiling being entirely BLACK! LOL
I had a recent experience of photographing my God daughter's recital. I was about five rows from the stage. They announced NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED - it presents a hazard for the dancers.
I had my Tamron 70-200 mounted. I decided to switch to my Sony 50mm f/1.4 prime. Problem, I got images like this where the kids on the stage were mere blips.
A900 w/ 50mm, Aperature priority, f1.4 @ f/1.4, ISO 2000, 1/60th
The other problem was that even with the lens wide open I had to go up to ISO 2000 to get even a slightly decent stopping speed of 1/60th. But even 1/60th isn't good to stop dance action.
I switched back to the Tamron 70-200. And I was able to get shots like this:
A900 w/ Tamron 70-200mm, Aperature priority, @ 200mm, f/2.8, ISO 2000, 1/250
Even though I had 2 stops less light (f1.4 to f/2.8), by narrowing the field of view to the 200mm range, I was getting more of the reflected light off the subjects and the camera was able to shoot at 1/200-1/250th range. Much better for stop action of dancing subjects. Plus, you can actually see the people.
The problem with the 70-200. While it focuses well on stationary objects in low light, it definately has problems with moving subjects in low light. Solution, manual focus. Fortunately from my distance, the depth of field was enough to where I didn't have to change the focus that much as they moved around.
So, I would suggest going with a 70-200 f/2.8 by either Sigma or Tamron. If you get flash and can use it, all the better.