Motorsports has been a part of my life ever since I can remember so it seemed only natural to combine my love of cars, motorbike, trucks (anything with an engine really) and photography. Capturing motor sports images is a challenge and if you want to consistently capture decent motor sports photos you need the right gear. Any old camera and lens, or any old fixed lens camera won’t do. Sure, you may be able to bag one or two shots, but your hit rate will be very low and you will miss far more than you actually get.
You don’t need a lot of photography equipment for motor sports photography, which is a good thing bearing in mind you’ll be carrying it around with you all day and no one likes lugging around a lot of equipment, however you do need the ‘right’ photography equipment.
Below I will share my motor sports photography set up, and whilst it isn’t the really high end professional stuff (I don’t have several thousand bucks to drop on a camera and a lens) it does everything I need it to, and more. My motor sports photography kit is also affordable (note I said affordable – not cheap) and is within most budgets……….
My motor sports setup - Camera
Even though I have a full frame camera it is only a 6d (I don’t have the budget for the flagship Canon EOS 1D) which doesn’t perform as well as I want it to for sports photography. Sure, I can use it for sports but compared to the camera I do use for sports photography it has a low burst rate and slow auto focus. This is not such a big problem when photographing human beings in close quarters (athletics, gymnastics, beach volleyball etc.) but when shooting fast moving objects from a long way off, such as with motor sports (which is my main passion) the 6d doesn’t perform as good as I want it to.
The camera I use for sports photography is the Canon 7d, and whilst it doesn’t have a full frame sensor nor does it produce photos with the same image quality as the 6d, it is the best choice (out of the cameras I own) for motor sports.
The Canon 7d has an 8fps burst rate, which is more than enough to capture a series of photos that will (hopefully) capture that award winning shot. The Canon 7d also has lightening quick auto focus, which is essential for fast moving cars and bikes. I mentioned the image quality of the 7d isn’t as good as the 6d, and it is not but this is not to say the image quality of the 7d is bad. In fact, the Canon 7d’s image quality is awesome and I have no complaints about it whatsoever.
The other advantage of using the 7d instead of the 6d for sports photography is the crop factor and effective lens focal length. When I use my Canon 100 – 400L with the 7d I get an effective 160mm – 640mm, and the additional reach is exceptionally useful since many race circuits don’t let you get too close to the track and keep you a good distance from the track side for ‘safety’ reasons.
My motor sports setup - Lens
Wide angle lenses are no good for motor sports photography. A wide angle lens is good for cars and motorcycles in the pit lane, lined up on the starting grid or in their garage being worked on, but when the cars and motorbikes are out racing on the circuit a wide angle lens is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
My lens of choice for motor sports photography is the Canon 100 – 400L IS lens. I would of course like a lens with a bit more reach, such as 800mm or more but they cost several thousand pounds and I can’t justify that money.
There are third party lenses that have a slightly longer reach, like the Sigma 150mm – 600mm, but the image quality of these lenses are terrible (at best) and they are slow it is impossible to keep the shutter speeds fast enough to freeze the action without pushing the ISO beyond where you should, resulting in noisy photos.
The Canon 100 – 400L IS lens is the best compromise between image quality, focal length and cost. Whilst it is expensive, compared to other Canon lenses, it is very good value considering what you get. Being an L series lens the Canon 100 – 400 is made from the highest quality materials making it tough, durable and able to withstand a lot of abuse. It is also weather sealed, which is perfect not only for the crappy UK weather but also for dusty environments, damp environments and anywhere else Mother Nature can affect it.
I have read reports of the 100 – 400 lens sucking in dust (because of its push/pull zoom system) however I have never had any problems with this, and I have owned and used my 100 – 400 for several years now. I have shot at some very dusty race circuits, taken the lens on a safari and shot in some very harsh conditions, and never had my lens suck in dust. Whenever I read one of these reports I do have to ask the question whether the author actually owns the Canon 100 – 400 lens. Another claimed issue about the push/pull zoom is that is slow and clunky. Again, I struggle to see how people can say this, and whilst it is a little different than twisting the lens to get the zoom learning to push/pull isn’t difficult at all. Personally, I find the action intuitive and logical, and I have reached the point where I can actually zoom faster and more efficiently using a push/pull system than the conventional twist system.
For a full review of the Canon 100 – 400L IS lens check out this article.
Below are a few motor sports photos I have taken using my Canon 7d and Canon 100 – 400L IS lens, just as a taster of what this lens can do.
All of the images are available to buy as prints, cards or posters from Pixels – please click on the title of any images you are interested in.
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.