Do you have what it takes to shoot car and motorcycle races like a pro?
Do you bring a monopod for that big lens?
I have a big sturdy monopod for the 400mm lens. You can hand hold it for a little while, but it gets really tiring. For instance, at the 12 Hours of Sebring, you're probably out on the track for 11 of those 12 hours. You grab a sandwich and a water at lunch, but the rest of it you're out on the track working. It's excruciating to carry around a lens that weighs almost 10-pounds on its own.
You don't always want to be panning, but should you try to freeze the car solid or do you try to keep a little motion?
You should always keep the wheels turning a little bit. Obviously there are exceptions, but it really depends on the car, the race, and the angle from which the car is coming at you. If the car is coming straight at you, you can use a higher shutter speed because you can't see the wheels. If you turn it just a little bit, though, so you can see sidewall of the tire, there are logos that will give away what shutter speed you're using. Anything below roughly 1/1000th and it will look frozen and sharp. If you can see the sidewall of the tire, it's going to have a big white or yellow logo on it. You want to get some motion on that.
If you're shooting sports car racing and there are no cars with open wheels, you can shoot all the way up to 1/8000th of a second if the cars are coming straight at you. You can't see the tires. All you see is the chassis of the car.
How about focusing? That seems like it would be one of the most challenging aspects of shooting objects moving that fast.
If a car is driving straight at you, it doesn't appear to be going 200 miles per hour. It can look like it's standing still. Then it will shoot by you with a roar. Most cameras don't have much of a problem focusing on a car coming straight at you from a couple hundred yards down the track.
The challenge comes when the car is within 100 feet of you. Your perspective and the perception of movement changes. That's when having really fast AF really helps a lot.
Do you prefocus and just wait for the car to hit a spot?
I find it better to follow the car to that spot with the lens, even if you're not shooting a panning shot. You can spot focus and then wait until the car gets there to fire some frames. I do that, but it's not my go-to method. If you follow the car, you can generally keep it in focus better and you might even see something you wouldn't see if you picked your spot ahead of time.
How about focus tracking? Does that come in handy for you?
I don't have it on 3D tracking usually. Especially with the cameras that are a little older, it'll jump around a little. The other problem is that if it's an open-cockpit series where you can see the driver, you want to get their helmet in focus, you don't want the front of the car to be in focus. If you can see the helmet, that's the important thing. You're basically trying to focus on a moving object within a fast-moving object. I can do that better than the camera can.
I do back-button focusing, so I have my thumb on the AF-on button rather than the shutter. I'll just keep following it with my eye and keeping the focus point on the driver's helmet or slightly in front of it.