A brand new racing season is on the starting grid and all eyes are checking out the camera section. Yes. A new season and you want to not only go to the race but also come away with some photos better than the family snaps at Christmas. You’re looking over the selections at the store trying to figure price and practicallity, function over “feel-good” and how much you can spend and still have beer money on race day. Tough one. But not as tough as you may think.
I know you see the pro race photographers with their big SLR bodies and large diameter zoom glass and think you’re out of your league showing up with your wife’s pink purse cam. Face facts. You are.
But you don’t need to be. For just a little cash you can get yourself a great camera to take to the race and have some great shots to take home. New off the shelf or even used from eBay, I can give you the options to look for and the things to avoid when getting a camera for race day action.
First – Here is what to avoid. Pocket cameras. You may already have one. These are the slim 3x zoom cams that are great at parties, family gatherings and amusement parks. There are few options. The lens is small and extremely limited and if your subject is more than 30 feet away a great picture might as well be a mile away. These things are next to useless at the track.
Step up. But that does not mean you need to go digital SLR with a bag full of lenses. You can. But the learning curve is rather large, the bankroll even larger and that big dude next to you that keeps getting elbowed while you try to frame a shot is even larger…
What you want is what is called a “prosumer” camera. These look like SLR cams but are smaller, have fixed lenses with a large zoom range (10x and larger), have all kinds of fun options to shoot fully manual, fully automatic or many between functions. First, the zoom range. What you look for is “optical” zoom. This is all in the function of the lens elements meaning that the camera does not interpret the image to increase size (digital zoom). This makes a better picture. You also want the fully manual option. It lets you fine tune the circumstance of the shot. Aperature, shutter speed, lighting compensation and more are all controlable in the manual setting. You have ISO options (like film speed for low or bright light) that greatly control the quality of the final picture. Finally, you want as many pixels as you can get. Most are above 8 megapixels now. 10 or even 12 is becoming normal and affordable.
Now, which one? Oh, the magic question which has no magic answer. Every hand, every eye, every opinion on what is important is different so there is not “one” best camera to get. Canon makes the Powershot SX110 IS (around $200), the Powershot SX100 IS (around $180) and the newer Powershot SX10 IS (around $340). The latter is a 10 megapixel, 28x zoom, hand held powerhouse!
Nikon has the Coolpix series. The P80 is around $300. However, if you can find the brand new P90 ($400) you can get 12 megapixels and a 24x zoom. That means you can be in the grandstand and get a shot of Gordon climbing into the #24 and still distinguish his DuPont freckles…
Fujifilm makes the Finepix series. The S2000HD, S8100FD, S1000FD, S8000FD, even the S700, are all fine digital cameras ranging from 7 to 10 megapixels and starting around $180.
A lot of companies make fine cameras. I mention the ones above only because I have used, or are familiar with, the brands and models. An excellent site to check out for detailed camera information is DPREVIEW. You can’t get any more detailed information on current and out of production cameras. Read up. Get a good cam and go get some shots!