Looking for an Entry Level DSLR/Compact for shooting cars, racing, etc.

Created by njp1589 on Jan. 28, 2014, 6:13 a.m.
  • Long time reader here; in general I've always felt like this website is really good at offering information on cameras applicable to the beginner, the enthusiast, and the pro photogs. So I'm hoping someone here might be able to give me a hand in selecting a camera.

    I am definitely a beginner shooter; I took a photography class way back in high school, bought a decent Sony superzoom for the digital portion of the class and used an old Pentax SLR for the film portion. I have a good understanding of basic camera concepts (F values, ISO, etc) but I'm a little rusty as I've been using my phone camera exclusively for probably the past five or six years.

    Of course, when I went to the Rolex 24 this weekend I came to the understanding that my phone camera is not gonna cut it at these types of events. So I'm in the market for something that will at least be able to get me some decent pictures where even at their slowest, everything is going at least 60MPH. I'm leaning toward a DSLR for the flexibility and control, but I realize that compacts and the like have improved vastly in the last few years, so I'm open to that as well. I'd like to keep things under $600 all in, but if that's unrealistic I can bump up the budget.

    I'm looking to buy and get comfortable using it before mid March when the next race happens. If it pays to wait for a new model, I have a little time.

  • I love photography and motor racing so perhaps I can help.

    First, a bit of warning: it's hard to get interesting pictures of cars without having good access to the track. I've attended everything from CART, to rally, to ALMS, to F1 and I've found it's almost not worth lugging around your camera gear unless you can get media access or something similarly special. One in 100 pictures from the grandstands will actually be worth keeping.

    That said, your best bet is probably this camera/lens combo...

    http://shop.usa.canon.com/shop/en/catalog/cameras/refurbished-eos-digital-slr-cameras/eos-60d-ef-s-18-135mm-is-lens-kit-refurbished

    The lens isn't fantastic, but it will give you plenty of range (28-216mm equivalent) and the camera has a great burst rate and large internal buffer. Here are some pictures I took with my old 60D at Austin in 2012...

  • @mclaren777: Thanks for the link. I see a lot of love for Canon in general, and you have the pictures to back it up, so I'll keep the 60D in mind. Aside from being an overall step up, what particular features does the 60D have over, say, an SL1 that makes it that makes it a better choice for this type of shooting? I just want to know what features to look for (I've read that low f-values are a must for fast action shooting).

    My experience at Daytona this weekend was probably the exception to most racing; the infield offered some excellent shots throughout if you had something to stand on. Sebring is in March, so I'm more or less expecting a more "traditional" grandstand experience there as well. A garage pass seems to be worth it's weight in gold though.

    I live about 10 minutes away from Palm Beach International Raceway, so I'm hoping to head down there once I get the camera for a little practice.

  • I think having a fast burst rate and a large buffer are key features for motorsports photography. Weather sealing is also important because rain and dust are real factors we deal with. Having a long-lasting battery is crucial for endurance events.

    Basically, the SL1 would be a clearly inferior camera for what you need.

  • Race/sport shooting is all about fastest possible shot speed/write speed and and focus speeds. While you can get around focus speed, Its very difficult to make up for a lack of buffer and write speed.

    Generally the faster and better a camera is at high speed focusing the higher the cost. Though you can find good cameras that support a good amount of consecutive burst shots, and still have a good sized buffer. Without having to break your bank. Personally I have found canon to fit the requirements for high speed shooting for me. They also have a good offering of high end fast focusing glass should you choose to take that route.

    Though from experience let me warn you about two lenses, The 70-300 and 75-300 (75-300 and 70-300 are the same design just one is a newer version of the family) tend to have focusing troubles on several of the newest canon bodies. The 100-400L has similar problems on the new bodies as well. If you take a gander through the camera books when it comes to lenses and focusing options they will warn you about certain lenses performing sub par on them.

  • Look at purchasing secondhand.

    You can pick up a Canon EOS 40D pretty damn cheap, I saw one on one of my local forums (Australia) sell for $150AUD shipped about a month ago which is an awesome price, average though is around the $200-$250 mark but should leave you enough to pick up a lens to go along with it.

    Something like a Canon 70-200mm f/4L USM would be great and they can be bought relatively cheaply (around the $400-$500 mark). I bought one about 6 months ago for $400AUD (bought it to sell it off for profit). The 70-200 is more of a portrait lens in my opinion but it can definitely be utilised well for sports but you'll likely need to crop your shots. If you get any extra room in the budget, try get your hands on a 1.4x teleconverter which when paired with the 70-200mm f/4 will make it a 98-280mm f/5.6 lens.

    As mentioned above though you really need to have better access to the track to get really good shots, even with a super telephoto, shooting from the stands gives a completely different perspective compared to being on the same level as the cars.

  • The consenus here seems to be that Canon is the way to go (echoed by several others I've reached out to) so I'll head out to the store and handle a few tonight. I was looking at the specs for Sony's offerings, and while impressive they seem to be considered more of an "also ran" than anything else.

    A few friends highly recommended the Pentax K-500/K-50 as well, anyone have experience with it?

    EDIT: Wrong Pentax model.

  • If you are looking for a DSLR you really have two choices: Nikon or Canon.

    When buying a camera you are really buying into a system rather than just buying one body. So your first choice of body will determine your choice of accessories and those will determine your next body and so on. If you think you might become serious then you want to be in one of the two big camera systems which are supported by lots of lenses and third party products. Even if you don't want those now, you might well want them in five or ten years.

    The performance of the body is pretty much irrelevant at this point. Get yourself a base model of either brand and I can guarantee that by the time that you are thinking you need to move on to something more capable there will be a much better option than anything you can buy today. Digital cameras are essentially computers and they become obsolete quite quickly. Unlike computers they tend to hold their value pretty well.

    My preference is for Nikon because I have been using them for 25 years. Both makes have excellent starter models, Nikon is just about to launch a new one, the D5300 so you can get really good deals on the D5200 and there are even some D5100s around. All are really good cameras. The big makes tend to do a cosmetic refurb on the lowest end models every year so don't worry about getting an 'obsolete' model. Save the money for lenses. Bodies become obsolete really fast but lenses are good for 10,20,30 years service. And the lens is what determines the quality of the pictures.

    For the type of shots you are suggesting you definitely want a DSLR and not a compact mirrorless. I have both, I love my V1. But it simply isn't up to the sort of fast action shots you are interested in. They are best for landscapes and portraits (except for child portraits). The focus speed simply doesn't keep up.

    If you are a member of Costco you can get an insanely good deal on a kit with two lenses that should keep you going for quite a while. The kit lenses Nikon make are actually some of the very best lenses ever made. They are sharp, fast and light. The only thing they don't do well is really shallow depth of field. Which probably isn't your main concern. You probably want to isolated fast moving subjects by learning how to background blur moving the camera to track the motion.

    As far as the differences go, Nikon is traditionally a little more expensive and they are a few months later to market with new features. Though in the past couple of years they have beaten Canon to market with features like video in the camera. Canons tend to be big on features but not always fully baked. The reason I like Nikon is that you can trust them to never ship a product until it is ready. Canon has always seen itself as the underdog and throws stuff over the wall that often doesn't really work. So a while back Canon produced a f/0.95 50mm lens that they were very proud of but everyone who reviewed it though it was pretty awful so they replaced it with a f/1.2 lens that is faster than Nikon's fastest autofocus 50mm lens (they do have an old manual one). But the performance of that lens wide open is not exactly stellar either. People have been telling Nikon to come out with a modern edition of their legendary Noctilux 58mm f/1.2for years and they just did - only its f/1.4 because they don't like the performance of their f/1.2 prototypes.

    So Nikon is Apple and Canon is Windows. If you like the way Nikon do stuff you can't go wrong with them. If you don't there isn't anything you can do to change their minds.

  • Well, I finally pulled the trigger; I picked a Canon 60D off of their refurbished section. My cousin has one as well, and has some old gear he's willing to hand off to me.

    My "to buy" list:

    • Memory Cards (the faster the better is my understanding)
    • Camera Bag
    • 50mm f/1.8 lens (cheap and takes good photos)
    • Monopod
    • Extra Battery

    Thanks to everyone for the advice. I'll post some photos once I get the camera in.

  • as far as memory cards go. Find out what the max supported card spec is before you buy. There is no reason to splash out on super highend cards if your camera can't write to them at that speed anyways. That is unless you care about dowloading at the highest speed possible.
  • @TsunamiJuan: I read a lot of the "living with Photography posts" and noticed that that was one of the tips that was offered.

    I still wound up getting something really fast though; it was way too cheap to pass up (only $40!) http://www3.pny.com/64GB-Elite-Performance-SDXC-Class-10-UHS-1---90MBs-P3462C480.aspx

    I'm looking at bags/storage solutions right now. I'm thinking I'll hit up my local army-navy store (or amazon) for a canvas messenger bag and then get a camera bag insert for it.

  • I would actually recommend the 40mm pancake instead of the 50mm 1.8 lens.

  • @mclaren777 said:

    I would actually recommend the 40mm pancake instead of the 50mm 1.8 lens.

    Another vote for it from me.

  • I'll add the 40mm Pancake to my wishlist too. That is one seriously compact lens.

    I grabbed an extra battery and a bag insert off of Amazon, and picked up a messenger bag from my local Army-Navy store, so it's kind of starting to feel like the kit is coming together.

    The vintage racing series and car show is in town this weekend, so I'll see if I can get some decent shots while I'm there.

  • Congratulations on the purchase, the 60d is a fine tool. I love mine. If you're gonna get good at shooting motor racing, you're going to need two things: access to good lenses and plenty of practice. Thankfully it's not tough to do either of those.

    For lenses, you want something that's fast on autofocus so you can trap subjects quickly, especially if they're hammering down the front straight at you. The canon professional line of "L" lenses are wonderful here. A good starter, recommended earlier, is the 70-200 f/4 L. If you can live without IS you should be able to pick this one up for under $500. I'm not sure I'd recommend buying anything else until the hobby starts posting for itself, because the cost of other L telephoto lenses will make even the well moneyed buckle at the knee. Renting is a wonderful option here. Services like borrowlenses.com can put a wonderful lens like the 300mm f/2.8 L in your hands for under $100 for a weekend. Other useful lenses I've used are the f/4 model of the same prime, the 100-400mm zoom, and using the 1.4x teleconverter with my 70-200.

    For practice, You're going to need track access. I'd recommend looking up various track day organizers or club racing leagues that frequent your local race circuits. They may have an established photographer already, but even if they do, they might not mind a hobbyist spending a day on the infield learning some chops. Be friendly and accommodating- shooting either of these will mean getting to the track really early on a weekend day. and keep practicing- the sport lends itself to typical shots that's you'll see on every page of enthusiast mags. Push your craft-make images you aren't seeing everyone else doing.

    Good luck, have fun. It's a great hobby.

  • How are you digging the 60D? Thinking about picking up to replace my Sony Nex before a big trip this winter.

  • @YoThatLimp: Really liking it so far. I've still been shooting pretty basic with it, but it's got enough features and power to keep me satisfied for a while. My cousin was showing me some of the stuff he had put together for his 60D, and there's a really great deal of expansion beyond what I'm doing. Battery life is excellent if you use the viewfinder exclusively, and the stock 18-135mm is a decent lens.

    I'd recommend a new strap right away though. The stock one is not comfortable. Black Rapid comes recommended from several people I know, and there's a good article on it here.

    http://www.tested.com/tech/photography/457174-living-photography-big-budget-vs-d-i-y-camera-strap/

  • @njp1589 said:

    @YoThatLimp: Really liking it so far. I've still been shooting pretty basic with it, but it's got enough features and power to keep me satisfied for a while. My cousin was showing me some of the stuff he had put together for his 60D, and there's a really great deal of expansion beyond what I'm doing. Battery life is excellent if you use the viewfinder exclusively, and the stock 18-135mm is a decent lens.

    I'd recommend a new strap right away though. The stock one is not comfortable. Black Rapid comes recommended from several people I know, and there's a good article on it here.

    http://www.tested.com/tech/photography/457174-living-photography-big-budget-vs-d-i-y-camera-strap/

    Thanks! Will definitely look into this.

    Any pics with the 18-135mm IS lens? I was thinking about picking up the STM version because i've heard mixed reviews on the kit 18-135.

  • Sure, here's a few that I used it on. It's not a bad lens, but I'm liking the 50mm I bought much better for general use (for $100 bucks, it's a must buy). None of the pics here are the originals (Facebook compressed versions), and I didn't have my polarizer yet when I shot them.

  • @njp1589 said:

    Looks great! I tend to find photo gear snobs WAY hyperbolic with their reviews!

  • Very informative thread.

  • Canon EOS 40D is a decent camera and not so expensive.