WHAT CAMERA SHOULD I BUY FOR MOTORSPORT PHOTOGRAPHY?
Updated: Oct 1
Hi. I'm Jamey. I take pictures of race cars for a living. I know a lot about photography. I know a lot about racing. But I don't review cameras for a living. To be honest I wouldn't do it even if I had time to do it because there are so many talented youtube creators that do an amazing job of reviewing cameras already, that I don't need to add to that already saturated mix.
However, I get asked regularly what camera I shoot with, and what camera to buy to start dipping your toes into photography and motorsport photography. So here are my thoughts.
*IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER. I am not endorsed or sponsored by any camera brand, so I will not be talking specifically about brands of cameras you should buy. They all do more or less the same thing anyway. Change settings. Push button. Make Picture.
So let's begin. What camera should you buy? There are two kinds of people that want to buy a camera. Group 1) Those that have not bought a camera yet and want to get started with photography and start taking pictures at races and Group 2) those that have a camera, but think they need a new camera to improve their photography and reach the next "level". So an important first question to ask yourself is which person of those two groups are you?
Let's address Group 1 first. You need to consider what budget you have to throw at this. Some people have an unlimited budget for photography, others have a much smaller budget. Now, if you're first starting out, you also don't need to go investing a fortune on equipment. I have no idea your budget to spend on photography is, or what your ultimate goal with photography is. Both of those things matter in what you end up choosing to buy. However, regardless of your budget, when you start looking at cameras, the two most important things to consider are: 1) Can you adjust the settings on the camera? Can you take full control over it to change shutter speed? Aperture? ISO? Control over the exposure triangle is crucial in your journey of learning to be a photographer. 2) Can you upgrade your lenses? If you can't upgrade your lenses, you will forever be stuck with what you have on it, and trust me, you don't want that. Lenses are where most of the quality comes from in photos.
Followers from my Tiktok channel know I'm pretty passionate about my stance that lenses are far more important than the camera body/brand itself is. The sharpness, the depth of field (bokeh) and the ability to let light into the camera are all things happening in the lens, and not anything to do with the camera.
When you look at images from your favorite photographers on social media...most likely what you really like about their work, has nothing to do with the camera they're using. It's most likely the composition and exposure settings the photographer chose to use, the depth of field / bokeh, the edit and the sharpness of the image that you like. And none of that has anything to do with the camera brand or the camera model being used.
To further illustrate this point, If I stick a kit lens on my professional sports body that has 24mp and shoots 14fps, it won't matter for much because I will be limited by the lens, the aperture the lens can shoot at, and the sharpness the lens produces and how much light it lets into the camera. Likewise, I can put my professional grade lenses on a basic entry level camera, and get amazing results. Again, lenses matter more than cameras.
So once you pick your budget for this hobby you want to dive into, don't forget to look at the used camera market. But be careful! You don't want to go buying black market or grey market gear. There are reputable websites that sell used camera gear at a discount. But I put my money where my mouth is. I don't advise things I don't personally stand behind. I have bought MOST of my camera gear used. In fact I believe I've only ever purchased a brand new lens and camera once in my career. It's all used gear. You can look on Adorama, B&H and LensAuthority for used camera gear. Be careful with your local facebook groups. There are people that take advantage of buyers.
Ok now for group 2. Before you guy buy a new camera, have you really pushed your existing camera to the limit of it's ability? I sincerely doubt it. Have you upgraded your lenses? If not, start there.
Like I said above, even if you have the latest and greatest camera, but you're still shooting with the 18-300 f6-f8 lens that came with it, it won't matter how amazing your camera is, you will struggle in low light and probably with sharpness and autofocus. So make sure you actually NEED a new camera before you go buy one.
Similarly to group 1, look at the used camera market. Don't be so naïve that you tell yourself that the only way to be a better photographer is with a brand new top of the line camera. I've seen it with my own eyes. The best equipment in the world does not mean you're going to make the best images. Think of it this way, the images that were made decades ago, were made with far less megapixels, one to three frames per second, and no autofocus. But the photographers were still making amazing images.
These above images were all made on EARLY digital cameras OR on film. These images are outstanding examples of beautiful motorsport photography that was created using knowledge of light, understanding of camera equipment, composition and quality lenses. The point is, you don't need 45mp camera with 20fps and 3D tracking autofocus. (All images © to the photographers)
"Photography is still and always will be an art form because it's about creative decision making. Wait for the moment you want. Make the picture you want with the correct settings and exposure. But understand WHY you make those decisions. You do not need the latest and greatest camera to do that! You can make stunning images with an iPhone if you understand what you're doing."
Now that I've not answered your question, think about the above questions and think about what you really need to move yourself to the next level. Is it a better understanding of light and composition? Or is it more frames per second and more megapixels? Do you need car tracking autofocus? Because if you can't already pan a race car, car autofocus won't help you at all. Figure out your goals with photography and what might actually benefit your photography journey. But more often than not, a new camera won't get you there. Understanding photography, composition, light, the rule of thirds and upgrading your lenses will help you improve leaps and bounds.
If you want to learn more about the finer points of photography, and becoming a better photographer, I strongly recommend you look into the Paddock Focus Workshop Series I host.