Motor sports is fast actioned, fast paced and you (and your camera) have to be quick to record the action. Point and shoot cameras, even the top end models, are a total waste of time for motor sports photography, as are the all-purpose bridge cameras. If you want to take photos of racing cars or racing motorcycles with these camera types the vehicles have to be stationery. With this in mind you may be okay on the start grid of a race but once the race begins you may as well sit back and enjoy the action as a spectator because you won’t be able to take photos of it.
Mirrorless cameras have come a long way, and whilst these superb cameras are more than capable for photographing many different subjects the technology isn’t quite there for motor sports. This may change in the future, but as it currently stands a mirrorless camera is not up to snuff for motor sports photography. Trust me, I have tried (as did my better half) with the Olympus PEN mirrorless I own but after a few laps of many missed shots I gave up and got the dslr out of the car.
A mirrorless camera is okay for taking photos of the vehicles on the grid, taking photos of mechanics and engineers working on the vehicles in the garages, taking photos on pit walks, taking photos of grid girls and brolly dollies and taking photos of the wining drivers on the podium etc. but when it comes to taking photos of the action on the race circuit it is time to put the mirrorless camera away.
If you are serious about motor sports photography there is only one camera to use, and that is a dslr camera.
The ideal camera for motor sports has:
As well as being “fast” a motor sports photography camera needs to be well built, i.e. tough and durable, and also weather sealed. Motor sports photography involves a lot of time outside and the camera is going to be exposed to the elements. Weather sealing ensures any mist and rain can’t penetrate the camera and damage it. At the other end of the spectrum weather sealing also prevents sun and heat damage. As well as keeping the weather out the sealing also keeps out the dust, dirt and debris of race circuits, and as all motor sports fans will know race circuits are notoriously dirty places.
Motor racing is popular and as well as the other motor sports photographers milling around you will encounter numerous spectators. At busy race circuits your camera is going to get knocked in to and banged around, therefore it needs to be tough and durable to deal with this, and make sure it comes out the other side unscathed.
The image quality of crop sensor cameras isn’t as good as that of full frame cameras, but it is still exceptionally good, and plenty good enough for taking photos of motor sports. In reality you will never need the superior image quality of a full frame camera when taking motor sports photos because the vehicles move so quickly the additional pixels of a full frame camera make little difference.
If you are a professional motor sports photographer who relies on selling motor sports photos and prints to pay the bills and put food on the table you may disagree with me on the above point, but for the semi-professional photographer or the enthusiast photographer a (very) expensive fast full frame camera (such as the Canon 1DX) is not really necessary and a bit of an overkill, unless you just fancy owning a top end motor sports photography camera of course.
Now you know the features to look for in a camera suitable for motor sports photography it’s time to answer the difficult question of “what camera to buy?” Unfortunately, only you can answer this one but I guarantee that if you go for any of the top end branded fast cameras you will be able to capture great motor sports shots and you won’t be disappointed with the image quality.
THE CAMERA I USE FOR MOTORSPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
"The camera I use for motor sports photography - the Canon 7d"
Since I shoot Canon (I always have done and probably always will) there were two cameras available to me for motor sports photography, being the top end Canon 1DX or the pro-sumer level Canon 7d. I always strive for the best image quality and even though I need the Canon 1DX for this, I don’t have the budget for such an expensive camera and even if I did save up for one I would struggle to justify the price tag. Consequently, I opted for the Canon 7d and whilst it is still a pricy camera it is a fraction of the cost of the Canon 1DX.
I have to say that I am very happy with my Canon 7d and it does everything I want it to and some. Whilst the image quality is not as good as the Canon 1DX it is still exceptionally good and I have no complaints at all, and based on the motor sports photos I have sold I can confirm the image quality is plenty good enough to take commercial motorsports shots and earn a bit of money too.
The Canon 7d is built for moving subjects and has all the features a motor sports camera needs, i.e. it has fast processors, it has a high burst rate, it has plenty of autofocus points and the auto focus points are sensitive too. In addition to this the 7d has a magnesium alloy body that is tough, durable and sealed too.
The Canon 7d is an excellent camera for sports photography (among other things) and it is one I would definitely recommend to anyone looking to capture motor sports shots.
Buy the Canon 7d from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
Since the release of the 7d MK2 the price of a used 7d MK1 has gone through the floor and there are loads of bargains to be had. A used 7d MK1 will save you a ton of money, and if you don’t mind buying used lenses you may want to buy used. There is only one site to go to when looking for used camera lenses and that is eBay – where there is always a big choice and loads and hence loads of deals to be had. If you want to see the current Canon 7d MK1 deals on eBay use the search box below.
What are you waiting for? Go and grab yourself a bargain.
ANOTHER CAMERA I USE FOR MOTOR SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
"My other sports photography camera - the Canon 6d"
As well as my 7d I also take my full frame Canon 6d when I go to motor sports events. I don’t use the 6d for taking action shots, oh no it’s too slow for this – besides that’s what the 7d is for. I use my 6d to take photos on pit lane walkabouts, on the starting grid and at the winner’s podium. As well as action shots I like to take photos of engineers and mechanics fixing/repairing the race cars and bikes, I like to take photos of drivers and riders preparing for the race, I like to take photos of the post race celebrations and I like to take photos of the start grid. The full frame 6d is perfect for these type of shots.
I could use the 7d for these type of shots but I prefer to use the 6d, which is smaller and more discreet than my fully gripped 7d. Another reason I use the 6d is so I don’t have to keep changing lenses on the 7d (the 100 – 400 I use for racing isn’t that good for the walkabout shots for a number of reasons). I don’t like changing lenses at race circuits because they are dusty which means dirt can get in the camera, and they are also busy which increases the risk of the lens being knocked in to and damaged.
Buy the Canon 6d from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
The most cost effective way to buy a Canon 6d is to buy a used or second hand model, and the go to site for this is eBay. There is always a lot of choice on eBay and with some much to choose from and so much seller competition you could save yourself loads of cash. To see the current Canon 6d deals on eBay use the search box below.
See just how much you could save
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.