Best Camera For Motorsport Photography in 2024

Best Camera For Motorsport Photography in 2024

Best Camera For Motorsport Photography in 2024

Motorsport photography is quite unique, and so are the requirements of the camera gear you use to capture the action

The high-speed nature of the on-track action really pushes the ability of even the best cameras available. Autofocus tracking, frame rates and buffer size all get pushed to their limits when capturing motorsport photos.

However, camera technology is ever-evolving as different manufacturers bring new developments with each new camera body they release. With that in mind, heading into the new motorsport season for 2024, here are the best cameras available for motorsport photographers.

Canon R3

As Canon’s top tier (at the time of writing this) sports mirrorless body, it stands to reason that it would be the brand’s best-suited camera for motorsport photography and my personal camera of choice heading into 2024.

That said, Canon actually developed this camera with motorsport photographers in mind, introducing features with the R3 like vehicle subject detection autofocus and panning assist.

But what made the Canon R3 stand out to me when I tested it, prompting me to purchase the camera body when it was first released, was the speed and responsiveness of the autofocus system. Even from using the latest Canon 1DX at the time, the improvement was enough for me to want to make the move across to the Canon R3 as well as all the other incremental improvements you see with each new evolution of technology.

There are a couple of drawbacks to purchasing an R3 in 2024; firstly, it is quite a costly purchase, especially if you need to buy two of them as a professional. While aspiring professionals might find it a bit too expensive when just stating out.

Also, there are always rumours that something better is on the horizon. The widely rumoured Canon R1 could potentially be released this year. With the 2024 Olympics in Paris, Canon has a history of releasing updated versions of its 1 Series (particularly the 1DX range) cameras in the lead-up to each Olympics which would suggest that something better than the R3 may not be far away.

Check out the latest pricing on the Canon R3 – US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Cheaper Alternative To The Canon R3

If the Canon R3 is a bit too far out of your budget, then the Canon R7 is a solid cheaper alternative.

A step up from the entry-level cameras, the R7 is a good middle-of-the-range option in Canon’s camera line-up. Obviously not as featured-packed as its top-of-the-line counterpart, the R7 does benefit from some of its features being filtered down – notably the vehicle subject detection autofocus mode.

The crop sensor does give the added benefit of extra reach, which certainly does come in handy in capturing motorsport photos from the spectator areas at most race tracks, but there are limitations in its speed and performance as you would expect for the price difference.

Check out the latest pricing on the Canon R7 – US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Want to know the best Canon lenses for motorsport photography? Check out this post.

Nikon Z9

While it’s not enough for me to switch brands, Nikon also has some very good camera options for motorsport photography. The stand out is Nikon’s flagship mirrorless camera, the Z9.

As the undisputed top-tier camera in Nikon’s mirrorless range, the Z9 features the best that the brand has to offer, including its own advanced auto-focus system that includes 3D subject tracking of multiple subjects. From my experience with the Z9, albeit limited compared to Canon, it is equally as responsive, picking up race cars and following them without issue.

The Nikon Z9 easily beats its Canon rival with a higher-megapixel sensor but loses out with a slower frame rate for full RAW images, a smaller buffer and high ISO performance. Either way, both cameras are very good tools for motorsport photographers to use.

That said, there are a couple of other considerations when it comes to the Nikon Z9. While it is the top tier of Nikon’s range, it was only released a month after the R3. So, if Nikon wants to keep pace with whatever Canon is working on with the R1, I would expect an upgraded version of the Z9 in the not-too-distant future as well.

However, the biggest thing to consider when looking at the Z9, given that you are probably already a Nikon user, is the other cheaper cameras in the Nikon mirrorless range, the Z8 in particular. All of which I’ll get into in the next section.

Check out the latest pricing on the Nikon Z9 – US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Cheaper Alternatives To The Nikon Z9

As I just mentioned, the Nikon Z8 is a slightly cheaper alternative to the Z9 with nearly identical internal specs: same sensor, same processor, same frame rate. Externally there are some differences. The Z8 is smaller without a vertical grip and has a smaller battery, but you can purchase the battery grip, which resolves both of those issues.

Additionally, the Z8 doesn’t feature onboard ethernet and only has one CFexpress slot, its second card slot being an SD UHS-II (the same as the Canon R3).

Check out the latest pricing on the Nikon Z8 – US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Alternatively, the Nikon Z6II is an even cheaper alternative. Designed as a step up from their entry-level cameras, it features the frame rate and buffer size that you’d want for motorsport photography but lacks subject detection and some of the autofocus responsiveness of the other two Nikon options mentioned above.

Check out the latest pricing on the Nikon Z6II – US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Sony A9III

Due to arrive in January (this week at the time of posting this), Sony’s latest iteration of its high-speed sports camera, the A9III, promises a bunch of new technology that should appeal to motorsport photographers.

The global shutter on a full-frame stacked sensor is touted as having many benefits including the complete elimination of rolling shutter. Although, if I’m honest, I’ve never seen a noticeable issue with rolling shutters in motorsport photography in any mirrorless camera I’ve used or tested. Other improvements in autofocus and 120fps shooting do seem very interesting.

That said, the A9III is expected to have less dynamic range than you expect from other Sony Alpha cameras, which isn’t ideal.

My best advice for Sony photographers is to wait until the Sony A9III comes out and is thoroughly tested before making any decisions about which camera body to purchase in 2024.

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

Optimising Your Cameras For Motorsport Photography

Optimising Your Cameras For Motorsport Photography

Optimising Your Cameras For Motorsport Photography

The art of motorsport photography is an intriguing blend of speed and precision.

To be able to capture the essence of motorsport requires more than just a quick reaction to press the shutter button. The sport’s high-speed and unpredictable nature demands an in-depth understanding of your camera’s capabilities and how to optimise them to photograph anything that plays out on the race track.

Let’s take a look at the tools at your disposal to capture all the action, so you can tell the full story of any motorsport event you attend.

Advanced Camera Settings for Motorsport

Advanced Camera Settings for Motorsport

Autofocus Modes

When capturing high-speed action, your autofocus needs to be as responsive and accurate as possible. While autofocus systems continue to advance with each new evolution of camera body and lens technology, fine-tuning how your camera uses its autofocus will go a long way to maximising the amount of sharp photos you capture each time you are at the race track.

For an in-depth look into the settings and options you can adjust with your camera, check out this post. 

Continuous Shooting

Taking advantage of your camera’s continuous mode (burst mode) is a great way to ensure that you don’t miss any of the action. Not only does the higher frame rate increase your chances of capturing that perfect moment, but should anything unpredictable play out in front of you, you will give yourself the best possible chance of capturing the moment.

Just keep in mind that the more photos you are capturing in quick succession, the more likely you are to run into an issue known as buffering.

Metering Modes

While the “pros” will tell you that you should always use manual exposure, there is a time and a place to use the camera’s inbuilt automated modes, particularly shutter priority mode.

That said, if you are using shutter priority, then you need to make sure your metering is set up to ensure you get the ideal exposure each time. I’ve found that my exposures with spot metering and center-weighted average metering modes are too subject to variation, particularly with white and black race cars. So, I tend to stick with the average metering mode.

The real pro tip is to understand the scene that you are capturing and use the exposure compensation to either under-expose or over-expose what the camera thinks is the ideal exposure to ensure you are capturing the shots that you want. If you are shooting toward dark tarmac, you might want to under-expose the image a little. While if you are shooting backlit, you might want to over-expose the image a little.

Using Back-Button Focus

Using Back-Button Focus

Do you want to know the best way to control how and when your camera uses autofocus? It’s by separating the autofocus from the shutter button. That’s where back-button focus comes in. Check out this post to learn about using back-button focus in motorsport photography.

Just be warned, using back-button focus does take a little getting used to. I would suggest testing it out at an event or even just a few sessions where you don’t necessarily have to deliver images to customers while you get comfortable with how to use the different buttons.

Choosing The Right Lenses

Even more so than any of the settings you configure in your camera, the lenses you choose to use will have a huge impact on how you photograph motorsport events and the quality of the photos you capture.

That said, it’s not about having dozens of different lenses. It’s more about having a select few lenses that cover a range of focal lengths to be able to adapt to different shooting scenarios. To find out what lenses I recommend you need for motorsport photography, check out this post.

Understanding Lens Stabilizer Modes

Understanding Lens Stabilizer Modes

Equally as important as it is to use the right autofocus modes to ensure sharp photos, using the right lens stabilizer modes can have a huge impact on the quality of your photos.

Yes, that little switch on the side of your lens with two or three modes has a purpose and can help give you the best chance of getting sharp photos each time you are trackside. While this post is written specifically about Canon’s lens stabilizer modes, the fundamentals apply to all camera and lens manufacturers. In fact, the way that the three different setting options work is universal; the only difference is some of the manufacturer-specific terminology.

The Advantage of Carrying Multiple Cameras

No doubt you’ve seen professional motorsport photographers carry two (sometimes more) cameras with them each time they are trackside. From not missing a shot, to keeping your sensor clean, there are actually a few reasons why you should incorporate a second camera into your kit, especially if you want to take your motorsport photography more seriously.

When you are just starting out, that doesn’t mean buying two of the latest and greatest cameras. But as you progressively upgrade your gear, hang on to your older camera and continue to use it as part of your workflow.

Wrap Up

The speed and unpredictability of motorsport make capturing photos of it a unique challenge for even the most recent high-end cameras. However, with a few considerations and changes to the configurations, you’ll give yourself the best chance of capturing sharp photos each time you are at the race track.

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

The Best Sony Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Sony Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Sony Lenses for Motorsport Photography

Yes, I’m a Canon photographer. But, since I helped out the Nikon motorsport photographers, I couldn’t leave out the Sony users.

Sony was a pioneer in full-frame mirrorless cameras, breaking into the motorsport photography market while Canon and Nikon were still producing DSLRs. While they have well and truly caught out now, Sony camera gear is just as common at race tracks as the other two brands.

With that in mind, I took it upon myself to test out some Sony gear (and ask a couple of other professional motorsport photographers) to determine which of the E Mount lenses are best suited for motorsport photography.

The Best Sony E Mount Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Sony Lenses for Motorsport Photography

As I mentioned in the introduction, Sony was one of the first camera manufacturers to truly go all in with full-frame mirrorless bodies. And as such, they’ve got a well established and diverse collection of lenses available for the E Mount. So, let’s take a look at which ones are best suited for motorsport photography.

Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II

As always, my first recommendation from any camera, well… lens manufacturer, is the 70-200. For Sony, that is the FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II. This upgraded version, released in 2021, is a solid step up on the original top-of-the-line GM version of the 70-200 with improved autofocus speed and image sharpness, and it’s also significantly lighter.

Just watch out when you are looking to make a purchase, though. Sony actually has several variations of their 70-200 lenses, including a less sharp G version and a couple of F4 models, which can confuse matters, especially if you are looking to snag a deal. Always double-check the model number before making the transaction.

Check the latest pricing on the Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II (SEL70200GM2) here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS

For a long lens, Sony has two very good zoom options in their Gold range. And while the Sony FE 100-400 GM is a slightly sharper lens, the extra reach of the Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS makes it much more versatile for motorsport photography.

Check the latest pricing on the Sony FE 200-600mm F5.6-6.3 G OSS (SEL200600G) here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II

Sony has been doing the mirrorless full-frame camera thing for a little while now and, as such, has started revisiting the lenses they released when their Alpha range of cameras first launched. One of those key lenses is the Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II. Smaller, lighter, with better image quality and autofocus speed than its predecessor, all make this lens stand out over some of the others with a similar focal range from Sony. The autofocus, in particular, is ideal for motorsport photography.

Check the latest pricing on the Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II Lens (SEL2470GM2) here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM II

Also recently upgraded (in fact, very recently, being released in late 2023), the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM II stands out as the best wide-angle lens in Sony’s range. Much like the 24-70, the 16-35 is now smaller and lighter, but it’s the improvements in the autofocus speeds that make it really stand out for use in motorsport photography over some of the other lenses in Sony’s range.

Check the latest pricing on the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM II (SEL1635GM2) here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Sony Lens Designations

What do those codes in Nikon’s lens names mean? Let me decode them for you:

  • OSS – Optical SteadyShot (Sony’s version of Image Stabilisation)
  • FE – Full Frame E Mount
  • G or GM – Sony’s designation for its top-tier Gold and Gold Master lenses, with G Master, labelled as GM, being the best for image quality.
  • II – Lens Version – Upgraded lenses since their initial launch.
 

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

The Best Nikon Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Nikon Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Nikon Lenses for Motorsport Photography

It’s pretty common knowledge that I’m a Canon user. However, I am here to help all motorsport photographers, no matter your brand allegiance. And to be fair, Nikon makes some pretty good gear, too. Just don’t tell Canon I said that.

So, I’ve taken the time and tested out some Nikon gear to determine which lenses from their range Z mount glass are most suitable for motorsport photography.

In the past, I have tested out some of Nikon’s older DSLR gear as well, including their F mount glass, but I didn’t take as extensive notes with those to make any recommendations.

The Best Nikon Z Mount Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Nikon Z Mount Lenses for Motorsport Photography

I know I mention this every time I write a post about lenses, but it’s true. Good lenses will last you way longer than any camera body will. So, spending a little extra on the right lenses is always a much better idea than trying to save money. That’s why I always recommend Nikon’s S-Line designation of lenses.

NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S

The first lens I’m always going to recommend that you purchase for motorsport photography is the 70-200mm, and for Nikon’s Z mount, that’s in the form of the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. It’s the go-to lens for most photographers for many reasons, which I’ve outlined in this post.

Check the latest pricing on the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

Nikon has done a really good job of bringing their big prime lenses to the Z mount. However, given how expensive they are and their lack of versatility, I would actually recommend investing in the NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. While it doesn’t have the reach of the NIKKOR Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR, the image quality and weather sealing make it a much better long term lens investment, especially in the unpredictable environment of motorsport photography.

Check the latest pricing on the NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S

When it comes to shorter lenses, Nikon has a whole bunch of options. If you are looking for a lens that you aren’t going to outgrow, the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is the highest-quality lens in the range. Just keep in mind that these shorter lenses from Nikon don’t feature Vibration Reduction.

Check the latest pricing on the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S

In the same vein as the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, out of all of the wide-angle lenses Z mount range, only the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S has been given the S-Line treatment, meaning that you won’t outgrow it. Yes, this lens is a premium investment over some of the other options, but you’ll definitely notice the difference over Nikon’s other options.

Check the latest pricing on the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Nikon Lens Designations

What do those codes in Nikon’s lens names mean? Let me decode them for you:

  • VR – Vibration Reduction (Nikon’s version of Image Stabilisation)
  • S – Nikon’s premium S-Line lenses.
  • DX – Nikon’s designation for crop sensor lenses

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

The Best Canon Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Canon Lenses for Motorsport Photography

The Best Canon Lenses for Motorsport Photography

Your investment in Canon lenses for motorsport photography is far more important than the camera bodies you purchase.

Technology in Canon’s camera bodies is advancing at such a rate that they warrant being replaced every few years. But a good lens purchase will last you decades. In fact, if it wasn’t for Canon changing over to the RF mount with the switch to mirrorless technology, I’d still be using the lenses that I purchased well over a decade ago.

With that in mind, and the special considerations for purchasing lenses to enhance your motorsport photography, here are my recommendations for the best Canon lenses for motorsport photography on both the RF mount platform (mirrorless) and EF mount (DSLR).

The Best Canon RF Mount Lenses for Motorsport Photography

Camera Lenses

If you are new to motorsport photography and just starting to buy Canon equipment or have started to make the switch over to Canon’s mirrorless platform, then purchasing RF mount lenses makes the most sense. As I mentioned in the introduction, good-quality lenses last a long, long time. If you are going to spend the money on a good lens, then make sure it is something that you can continue to use as you build your skills and continue to upgrade your camera bodies.

Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

As I mentioned in my which lenses do you need for motorsport photography post, the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM is the very first lens you should look to purchase when looking to upgrade your gear to take better photos trackside. This lens is a staple for all sports photographers. The combination of its fast aperture and decent zoom range gives you the versatility to capture a range of shots of cars on track, even in low-light situations like night racing, while also allowing you to get good-quality photos of your favourite drivers around the garages and paddock without getting in the way.

For these reasons, it’s one of my go-to lenses every time I’m at the track.

Check the latest pricing on the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Once you start to reach the limitation of the 70-200, it’s time to look for more reach. That’s where the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM comes in handy. As Canon has continued to build up its selection of RF mount lenses, they’ve started to add some longer lenses to the range. Having tried a few of them, I keep coming back to the 100-500mm.

It’s by no means perfect; it certainly has some limitations, particularly in low-light situations like night racing. But in terms of bang for buck, versatility and being small enough to travel with easily, it’s worth the trade offs. That said, I am keeping a very close eye on Canon’s developments with big zoom RF mount lenses. As you can read here, I really liked the Canon RF 100-300mm f/2.8L IS USM, but if I’m travelling with a big lens, I’d like it to have a bit more reach.

Check the latest pricing on the Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

When it comes to a great all-rounder lens, it’s hard to go past the Canon RF 24-105 f/4L IS USM. Yes, Canon does have a few good RF lenses that could fulfil this role; however, for motorsport photography, when it comes to value for money, zoom range and size, this is the perfect lens.

For over double the price, it’s hard to justify the extra expense of either the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM or the RF 24-105mm f/2.8L IS USM Z on the odd occasions that a wider aperture would be in handy.

Check the latest pricing on the Canon RF 24-105 f/4L IS USM here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

Canon RF 14-35mm f/4 USM

It might not be immediately obvious, but wide-angle lenses come in handy for motorsport photography. There are times when being able to go wider than 24mm greatly enhances your photos which you will discover as you start to take your photography more seriously. This is why I recommend adding an RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM to your kit bag.

Check the latest pricing on the Canon RF 24-105 f/4L IS USM here: US (Adorama), UK (Park Cameras), Australia (DigiDirect)

The Best Canon EF Mount Lenses for Motorsport Photography

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM

That all said, if you’ve already heavily invested in Canon’s DLSR range of gear or you are looking to pick up some good deals on second-hand EF mount glass to enhance your motorsport photography, here are my recommendations.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

Like I said in the RF mount section, the 70-200 is a staple for sports photographers. It’s just an extremely versatile lens, no matter which platform you are purchasing it for. The EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM was the last iteration of the lens developed for the EF mount before Canon switched to the RF mount, making it the ideal choice if you are still using DLSR bodies. That said, if you find a good second-hand deal on the version II model, that’s also a very good lens. Mine helped me create stunning photos for over a decade.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Before the 100-500mm in the RF mount, the Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM was my go-to long zoom lens for all of the same reasons I mentioned above. If you are looking to buy one second-hand, stick to the upgraded version 2 model. The original 100-400mm wasn’t quite as sharp and had a unique push/pull zoom which was awkward to use.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM

In terms of a big lens for the EF mount, it’s hard to go past the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM. As with all big prime lenses, it was an incredibly good-quality lens. In fact, I know a lot of photographers have continued to use this lens with an EF to RF mount converter, after switching across to mirrorless bodies.

All of Canon’s big prime lenses for the EF mount were very expensive to purchase brand new. However, on the second-hand market, you can often find some very good deals on these big lenses. If you are looking for a very good EF mount lens, try to look out for a good quality second-hand EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM. Even the older version II model of the lens still holds up to this day.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM

As per my recommendation for the RF mount, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM is a very good, versatile lens, but just make sure you stick to the version II model. If you are looking for second-hand gear, you might notice that the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is also very similarly priced. While it does have the benefit of a wider aperture, it doesn’t feature image stabilisation.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L III USM

In terms of wide-angle lenses in the EF mount, Canon has quite a few options to choose from, but in terms of best value, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L III USM.

Canon Lens Designations

What do those codes in Canon’s lens names mean? Let me decode them for you:

  • ISImage Stabilisation
  • USM – Ultra Sonic Motor (Quieter Autofocus)
  • II or III – Lens Version – For lenses that have upgraded over the years.

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

Canon Lens Stabilizer Mode Settings Explained

Canon Lens Stabilizer Mode Settings Explained

Canon Lens Stabilizer Mode Settings Explained

Image stabilisation is an amazing asset in modern photography, but have you ever wondered what those stabilizer mode settings on your Canon lenses really mean?

Obviously, the stabilizer on/off switch is pretty straightforward, but what about the one underneath it? The one simply labelled stabilizer mode with a 1, 2 and 3 switch? Let me break them down for you.

Introduction To Canon Lens Stabilizer Modes

As a pioneer in image stabilisation technology, Canon has long been at the forefront of reducing the impact of camera shake on the quality of a photographer’s photos.

Since introducing lens-based optical stabilisation back in 1995 with the EF 75–300mm f/4–5.6 IS USM, most EF and now RF mount lenses have featured the technology. You can easily tell if a Canon lens features stabilisation by the IS designation in the name.

In the early days of lens-based stabilisation, there was just the simple option of turning the system on or off with a small switch on the barrel of the lens. However, as technology has continued to advance, more stabilizer mode options (the second switch) were added to Canon lenses to allow you to control how the system works and what impact it has on your photos.

How Does Canon Lens Stabilisation Work?

In very simple terms, Canon’s lens-based image stabilisation technology involves the use of gyroscopic sensors to detect camera movement. Based on these detections, a group of lens elements moves correspondingly to compensate for this movement.

Even though Canon has introduced its own version of in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) with the mirrorless EOS R series of cameras, the company still uses lens-based stabilisation in its RF mount lenses, with the two systems working together to provide even more stops of stabilisation.

What is a stop of stabilisation? In image stabilisation, each stop refers to how many times you can cut your shutter speed in half and continue to get sharp photos while photographing handheld. If your camera stabilisation system is rated to 5 stops, in theory, you can cut the shutter speed in half five times and still get a sharp photo without a tripod as compared to having the stabilisation system disabled.

For more details about Canon’s image stabilisation technology, check out this article.

Understanding Canon Lens Stabilizer Mode Settings

Standard Mode (Mode 1)

This is the default setting on Canon lenses for IS. Mode 1 compensates for camera and lens shake in all directions, making it ideal for most standard photography scenarios.

Panning Mode (Mode 2)

The name might have given it away, but Mode 2 is primarily for capturing subjects in motion as we do in motorsports photography. This stabilizer mode detects the direction of the pan, disabling that axis of stabilisation while continuing to mitigate any unwanted movement in other directions to help facilitate smooth panning shots. (For more information about panning, check out this post)

Dynamic Mode (Mode 3)

The most recent addition to the stabilizer mode settings (2010), Mode 3 only activates when the shutter button is fully pressed. What this means, is that instead of IS bouncing around while you move your camera, the system is effectively disabled while you line up your photo—only locking in when you go to take the photo. Mode 3 is specifically designed for unpredictable and rapid camera movements, which can be handy when photographing motorsports.

Selecting The Right Canon Lens Stabilizer Mode Settings For Motorsport Photography

Camera Lenses

Standard Mode (Mode 1)

For the vast majority of photographers in the vast majority of photography scenarios, even motorsport photographers, there is no significant reason to use anything but Mode 1.

Using your Canon lens in its standard stabilisation mode allows your camera to use all the tools at its disposal to ensure you capture crisp, sharp photos no matter what plays out in front of you.

If you are just starting out in motorsport photography, then I would really strongly recommend leaving your Canon lenses in Mode 1. This will give you one less thing to concern yourself with while taking photos trackside.

Panning Mode (Mode 2)

Obviously, as motorsport photographers taking panning photos, Mode 2 or Panning Mode makes a lot of sense to use in theory. That said, in practice, with a good smooth panning technique and a slow enough shutter speed, you really aren’t going to notice a significant difference when switching between Mode 1 and Mode 2 for panning photos. Although, the same thing could be said about turning off the stabilizer entirely, especially if you have a really smooth panning motion.

Mode 2 does make a subtle difference when capturing your panning photos. You don’t have the stabilisation system working against you in those initial fractions of a second lining up your panning shot. But at the end of the day, photo quality-wise, you aren’t going to notice a difference between photos captured in the two different modes.

Dynamic Mode (Mode 3)

In Canon’s DSLR range of cameras, Mode 3 effectively means that stabilisation is effectively disabled until you press the shutter button, then it works out what you are doing and compensates accordingly. So if your camera is relatively stable, it will work as if it is Mode 1, while if you are moving your camera, it will work as if you’ve selected Mode 2.

The theory is that you can move your camera around swiftly without fighting the stabilisation system to quickly line up your shot, and then it’ll only activate stabilisation when you really need it.

However, I have found that in the new R Series, mirrorless cameras in the internal IBIS system tends to take over, and your framing wobbles around within the EVF until it works out what I’m doing. It’s a very odd sensory experience and takes some getting used to, often giving the same sensation as sea sickness.

Pro Tip: While moving around trackside, those little switches on your camera lenses, both the stabilizer and autofocus settings and modes, can get easily bumped and changed. In fact, I often manage to turn my autofocus off when moving through crowds, making my way to my next shooting location. It might be a good idea to get into the habit of checking your lens switches just before lining up your first shot, just to avoid any unexpected results.

Don’t Have Stabilizer Mode Setting Switch On Your Canon Lens?

The first thing to check is to see if your lens includes image stabilisation. Some older and cheaper versions of lenses did not include this feature. You can tell if a lens is suppose to have stabilsation as the lens name will feature IS in its designation.

That said, if it is an older EF mount lens, then there is a possibility that you won’t have a stabilizer mode option on your lens. Or you might only have options for Mode 1 and Mode 2.

On the more recent RF mount lenses for the mirrorless camera models, there is a possibility that the lens has automatic panning detection built-in instead of a mode switch, especially for lenses designed to pair with the Canon EOS R10 and EOS R7, which have a panning mode activated in the camera body.

What Canon Lens Stabilizer Mode Settings Do I Use?

For the most part, I’ll just leave my Canon lenses in Mode 1. Even when panning, Mode 1 doesn’t cause enough resistance that it overly impacts my hit rate. It is also one less thing to think about when trying to get as much variety of shots as possible, especially during short track sessions.

If I do find that I am struggling with my panning photos, I will change to Mode 2 to see if that helps. But that doesn’t happen very often.

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Rhys Vandersyde

Rhys Vandersyde

I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.

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