Photographing A Car Rally With A £40 Camera

[10th March 2020]

First launched in August 2006, the Canon EOS 400D is a digital SLR (DSLR) camera with a 10.1 megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor.

Paired with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM lens, I took the Canon EOS 400D camera to the recent Snowman Rally, ultimately what turned out to be the only round of the 2020 KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship.

I had used Canon DSLRs, to cover motorsport professionally, since early 2001. Firstly with the 3.1 megapixel D30 model and subsequently the D60 and 10D, it was always a bit of a hit and miss affair to nail focus on a moving car. The 9 point autofocus of the 400D is a vast improvement on these earlier cameras, I used either the centre or the lower focus point and the success rate was over 90%. Obviously, the autofocus is nowhere near as snappy as the Canon 1D series of digital cameras but once the 400D gets locked on to a large subject it stays there. This is in marked contrast to some of the mirrorless cameras I have used, in particular the FujiFilm X-T2 that was truly awful in the Continuous AF mode where the camera stopped tracking the subject once the shutter release button was pressed. Therefore, a fast moving car would be unsharp at the front as it had moved in the time between the shutter being released and the image being captured, this is why a DSLR is still king for action photography, although the Sony A9 gets fairly close.

The low ISO performance of digital cameras has not really improved for many years and a correctly exposed image taken at ISO 100 with the 400D will stand up just fine against current cameras. However, when the light starts to drop, as at the Snowman Rally where there was light drizzle and heavy cloud all day, it is a different story. ISO 400 is perfectly useable but there is a noticeable drop in the dynamic range at ISO 800, the highlights blow out and the shadows block up very easily. I shot JPEGs exclusively on this rally but the story is similar when capturing RAW images.

The Canon EOS 400D can shoot at up to 3 frames per second but I never use the ‘spray and pray’, hope for the best, continuous shooting mode in any case.

For a camera that can now be purchased for under £40 (March 2020), the 400D put up a remarkable performance and a proper reality check proving that it isn’t always necessary to spend several thousands on the latest cameras.

Here is a small selection of photographs from the Coogie Urquhart Snowman Rally 2020;

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