Rally is a motorsport like no other. The action is fast and frenetic, the fans passionate, and the logistics challenging. To cover a rally as a photographer you need a camera that can keep up with the pace of the event. Rallies happen in all weather conditions, so the camera needs to be able to get the shot every time.
Up to this point in my career I’ve used traditional DSLR cameras for rally. Over the past few years, though, I have been experimenting with the mirrorless offerings from Panasonic in other areas of my work, including the GH5 in Nepal, and the G9 in the Faroe Islands. I was greatly impressed with the image quality but found the sensor a bit noisy at high ISO. When Panasonic announced the full frame S1R, I decided to take the leap and bring one, along with some L-mount f/2.8 glass, to a winter rally in Quebec.
I had read reviews of the S1R and was worried that I was going to need a backpack full of batteries in order to cover my event but I am very pleased to say that this was not the case. For a large full-frame mirrorless camera battery life was excellent. Rallye Perce Neige is a long day out in the February cold, and a single battery was enough to cover four stages or about half the day.
I’ll briefly mention memory cards and the fact that you absolutely need to have fast cards in the S1R. The files are large, and using slow cards will result in a lot of waiting for the buffer to flush. If you’re shooting in continuous burst mode, a fast card will ensure that you’re ready to go when the next car comes through the stage. I can get away with UHS-1 or CF cards in my Nikon bodies, but not so in the S1R.
The RAW files, while large, are gorgeous. The wide dynamic range of the camera lets you pull out tons of detail from the shadow areas and at higher ISOs. When I was shooting motorsport in lowlight, I noticed very little noise. I completely understand why this camera is taking the studio world by storm. For motorsport, I especially appreciated the fact that the huge file gave me plenty of wiggle room with respect to composition. While getting it right ‘in-camera’ is usually the plan, having some room to crop and still print large is a very nice bonus.
In the next article, I’ll discuss how the camera performed from an autofocus perspective, and share some thoughts on the new L-mount lens offerings as well.
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