Motorsport Photography – Buying the Right Camera Equipment

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Trying to properly photograph a car or motorcycle barreling down the racetrack at 180mph requires more than a pocket camera. While there may be certain situations where you can get away with using one, what you really need is a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex), the right lens(es), and a few other optional but helpful accessories.

Most DSLR bodies these days have the features and speed you need to get that perfect shot. The main difference between entry level and “pro” models basically boils down to speed. The end product can potentially be the same or similar, the more expensive (and theoretically better) camera will just make it easier to produce. The feature with the most obvious impact is the continuous shooting mode. Entry level pro DSLR bodies can boast up to an 8 frames per second burst mode, although a body that only shoots 2.5 frames per second can still pull off great shots too. At the end of the day, the better camera will have made your job easier but won’t necessarily guarantee superior images. Shell out the cash for a newer and better body only if you can afford it, otherwise a slightly older one can still work just fine.

The other obvious component to a DSLR system is the lens. The three main factors to pay attention to are zoom range, available f-stops, and auto focus rating. Zoom range is the most obvious. The higher the number, the farther you can zoom. Generally speaking, a modest budget can land you a lens that zooms out to the 200mm to 300mm ball park. Depending on the track, this can be plenty. Most budget-priced lenses will have variable f-stops, where the farther you zoom out the more f-stops you lose (example, a lens with a f/3.5-5.6 rating). Some lenses will allow low f-stops throughout its entire zoom range, which is a great feature to have especially if available light is limited but can significantly increase the price. Lastly, the auto focus speed is something you can’t tell right away by reading a spec sheet, but rather by either testing it out or from reading reviews. Generally speaking it’s a good idea to try out and/or read up reviews on any and all lenses before you buy.

There are some additional accessories and tips that can help your motorsport photography experience but aren’t absolutely crucial, and all boil down to personal preference. Some zoom lenses can get quite large and heavy so having it attached to a monopod at all times can provide some relief to the arms during a long shoot, and can be especially helpful for panning shots. It might feel odd at first, especially if you’re accustomed to handheld panning but once you get used to it, the benefits can be significant. If your budget allows, having a second camera body can also be helpful too. Keep a shorter lens on the second body can save you the trouble of switching lenses back and forth, and can also possibly make the difference between getting or missing that impulse shot. The final tip doesn’t require any additional equipment at all…practice!