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At short notice, I'll be going to a motorsport event (in a purely non-professional capacity, for what it's worth). In addition to a medium telephoto lens, I'm considering taking a lens with a shorter focal length for parts of the event where I will be closer to people/cars on display/etc. and other general photography of the event.

The two lenses I have on hand are an older Rikenon f1.7 50mm prime (also has a 2x teleconverter, but I probably won't take this), and a Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. As far as I can tell, the main benefit of the kit lens is that it's lighter as well as having image stabilization and autofocus, while the prime is faster and has marginally better image quality.

I'd rather not take both of these simply to avoid having too much to carry around, so which factors would you suggest prioritizing?

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    Day or night race? The amount of light you'll have makes all the difference in your decision. – Michael C Oct 17 '15 at 16:43
  • @MichaelClarkIt's a whole-day event, ending at about sunset. Weather looks like it's going to be good, though, so I guess the faster aperture isn't as necessary in that regard. – DTR Oct 17 '15 at 20:21
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In terms of the prime (Rikenon f1.7 50mm prime) v zoom (Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens) it depends on the location and what you want. I usually carry my prime (Sony f1.8 24mm AF) over my zoom (f3.5-5.6 16-50mm AF IS) around the city since:

  • I can usually walk away from buildings or related if I need to compose. It's not hard to move around a city, unless it's going into a wall. (Zoom with your feet).
  • I'm usually there until night so speed helps for night shots.
  • Given 24MP I can crop in to get a zoom.
  • I really do like the 24mm (effective 36mm) Point of View.

That being said, if you can walk around the area without being impeded or in a bad spot, e.g. on the track, then I would say a prime. However, given that it's a 50mm, I'd suggest the zoom only because it might be too tight if you want all of the stands for example, you might have to walk on the field making it impossible.

If you're willing to stitch, a 50mm could work but again that depends on what you want. If you're going to be shooting cars with it, you mentioned have a telezoom so I doubt that with the shorter length lens, longer is better. If you're aiming for more the background, or that as you said be closer, using a wider angle (in this case the zoom) is better.

There's no right or wrong answer but as I said before depends on how far/close you can be. I would go for the zoom as:

  • You're not doing it professionally and you would probably want to enjoy yourself rather than focus every shot yourself. This get's old quick.
  • Sometimes you're too lazy to walk to/back to get the right shot you want. Other times you just can't.
  • Image Stability can help if you do video.

Happy shooting!

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Short answer:

Oh... I really don't know if your lenses can be useful for shooting a motorsport event, except, of course, in secondary, detail shots showing people on the side of the track etc. I'm afraid that you really cannot shot the race itself with these lenses except, of course, a very general plane with some cars in the middle.

Generally speaking, Your focal length(s) and AF speed is not enough to fully cover such an event.

Long answer:

When shooting action sports, action-stopping shutter speeds are usually a top priority (1/500, 1/1000 or higher). A specific example: I usually use 1/1250 (or faster) for soccer photography. A wide aperture is usually the key to get these fast shutter speeds. Outdoor sports are often played in bright daylight conditions where even f/5.6 max aperture lenses will work fine, but fast/wide aperture lenses are still a big advantage. Wide apertures can blur the especially distracting sports venue backgrounds and can yield the fastest shutter speed/lowest ISO setting combinations.

When cloud cover moves in or the sun is below the skyline, I seldom want a lens with a max aperture narrower than f/2.8. Even at f/2.8, very high ISO settings can sometimes be needed. And if you are shooting outdoors under the lights, you will probably think that f/2.8 is too narrow.

Getting the right focal length is, as usual, very important for selecting a sports lens. Many outdoor sports participants cover a wide range of distances from the photographer's position.

Professional sports photographers shooting big events will usually be using at least three camera setups simultaneously - to make sure that they have the right focal length available all the time. Probably two of those lenses will be zoom lenses. Zoom lenses are great for getting the framing right for each opportunity - and for delivering a wide range of views and perspectives. But, due to narrow aperture issues, The ultimate sports lenses with focal lengths over 200mm are prime/fixed focal length lenses - with wide apertures.

If you are shooting track and field, with full access to the venue, any focal length from 24mm through 400mm or even 600mm can be useful. But if shooting from outside of the fence or from the bleachers, you are probably going to want 200mm - 400mm depending on your subject distance.

Autofocus performance is a big differentiator between lenses when action sports are the subject. While most lenses can capture a distant subject running perpendicular from you across a field (a constant focus distance), it takes a good lens to be able to focus-track a fast-approaching or departing subject at close distances or with tight framing. Economy lenses will not typically be up to this challenge.

Image stabilization, a feature on many of the lenses I recommend, is not a big advantage for many types of action sports photography. The required shutter speed for handholding sports lenses is not usually a concern as the shutter speed required to stop action is usually fast enough to stop camera shake. IS is, however, a very useful feature that you might use for alternate subjects at an event (people in the stands, players on the bench).

Many IS lenses have a panning stabilization mode (Mode 2) available. You might find the panning mode helpful for certain action sports subjects - it is especially effective for capturing motorsports and other flat-track wheeled sports (cycling for example) with a motion-blurred background.

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    Thanks, there's some useful information in this answer. I perhaps should have made it a little clearer that I'll be using the telephoto as the main lens, and the choice here is for a secondary that might be used in a pinch - I certainly wasn't proposing to use one of these to cover every aspect of the event. – DTR Oct 17 '15 at 12:47
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If you are not sure, just go for the kit lens. That is why you have a kit lens, to be flexible while you need more specialized images.

Yes, you probably won't be able to take a good photo of the race, but you can take good images of everithing else. Actually It is very interesting using a wide lens.

https://500px.com/photo/69592965/motorbike-on-the-side-of-a-street-by-cristian-negroni

https://500px.com/photo/71011777/low-angle-portrait-of-mountian-biker-by-catalin-grigoriu

https://500px.com/photo/123542935/enthusiastic-man-in-blue-standing-cheering-in-bleachers-by-hero-images-

Yes, you probably cant take a super high velocity shoot... but who cares! Have fun!

https://500px.com/photo/90246035/fuzzy-biker-by-lukas-grinaj

Some time ago one user was asking how to take blurried photos becouse in his town the cars passed on the streets too slow. You have a situation, take the most of it.

https://500px.com/photo/64647525/born-to-be-vi%C3%B1ales-by-jekurantodistaja

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Well this is a tricky question. What kind of photography do yo wanna take? How far will be the objects from you? Do you have track side acces?

If you wanna be creative and you are not even close to the cars you can use a 18-55mm lens for example. Just is not the one lens you want if you are still in a long distance but you wanna take super close images.

It all depends on the event, your position in relation to the object and what would you like to achieve.

Update:

Would you be in a position where you can visit the garages? Then any of the lenses can help you out but I'd took the 50mm because no matter the amount of light available you'll be able to take nice pictures. It is a fast lens and you probably will also be able to take nice portraits of drivers and mechanics with a nice deep of field.

If in the grandstands you can also play with slow shutter speeds in any case with any of the lenses, its just a matter of imagination and creativity.

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    This might be better as a comment request for clarification. As you can see, it doesn't actually answer the question (which maybe is a bit unclear) which has led to an unclear answer. – user31502 Mar 4 at 16:35
  • Agreed. Its just is so unclear, that is hard to specify a concrete answer. It can be many things at the time – Daniel Mar 12 at 9:13

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