motoring photography the canon test

get the picture


It's always a source of huge entertainment amongst colleagues in the office to check out some of the pictures people use to sell their cars. Some shots will have an errant wife standing in the shot as if she'll add value to the car while others will have a semi-naked photographer reflected in the window glass. It's all quite unnecessary. After all, taking a great picture of your car needn't be difficult if you just apply a little forethought.

It's said a picture is worth a thousand words, but in some instances a decent picture can be worth well over a thousand pounds. Take this recent example. Two very comparable BMW M5s were being offered on an auction website - similar mileage and specification and the same year of manufacture. One was pictured with two wheels bumped onto a kerb with what looked like rather a run down council estate behind, the other was neatly parked in front of a rather smart double garage. The first car attracted zero bids whilst the other was searing ahead with 24 offers largely based on the strength of the picture.

If taking pictures of cars to sell, you won't need fancy equipment. Just think about the background, make sure the focus is good and that the car fills the frame nicely. If you can offer a series of pictures, so much the better. Front and rear three-quarter shots and a couple of interior shots are all that's generally required. Try to take the exterior shots in clean sunlight and the interior shots in the shade so as to avoid too much contrast in the picture.

Taking photos for press publication is a different ball game altogether and in most instances, a bargain Instamatic isn't going to cut it. Although many professional motoring photographers still use SLR (single lens reflex) cameras that shoot onto slide film, an increasing number are making the switch to digital and it's only a matter of time before digital becomes the industry standard. That's not the only thing that's changed. Look at the equipment carried by a professional twenty years ago and it would likely have been made by Nikon. These days the must-have brand for sports and motoring photographers is made by another Japanese company - Canon.

We were lucky enough to get our hands on the Canon EOS-1Ds for our recent Performance Car of The Year review. As well as this top line 11.4 megapixel camera body, we also landed a16-35mm zoom lens and a giant 400mm telephoto lens with a total value for insurance purposes of £24,000. I'm fairly familiar with Canon EOS digital cameras as my current set up includes a rather more modest EOS D30 body so the basic functions of the EOS-1Ds weren't that difficult to grasp. A few references to the instruction manual got me past the few instances where functions could only be activated by pressing two buttons simultaneously but otherwise it wasn't a difficult camera to get to grips with - from a technical perspective at least.

The EOS-1Ds' big draw is its full frame CMOS Sensor. Most digital cameras shoot onto a sensor that's a good deal smaller than the 24x36mm area of a regular film frame. Because it's shooting onto a smaller area, this means that the effective focal length of a lens is multiplied by a factor of, say, 1.6. Great news when your 400mm lens is bumped up to a hefty 640mm focal length by this process but less welcome when your wide-angle 18mm lens is suddenly relegated to a not so special 28.8mm. Not so the Canon EOS-1Ds. Fit the 16-35mm zoom lens onto this EOS body and you'll get the full 16-35mm range and a beautifully clear viewfinder. This proved a boon for the static group shots of the cars.

There are pluses and minuses with having such a massive amount of megapixels to work with. On the plus side, because the images are so big, you don't need to zoom in too hard in order to land a quality image that will easily fill an A4 page or a computer monitor. Your lenses therefore don't have to work quite so hard for their corn as you'll be able to manipulate big, pin-sharp images on your computer afterwards. The downside is that you'll have less room on your storage media - I managed around 60 shots maximum onto a 512mb CompactFlash card - and you'll need a powerful computer to handle jpeg images that are often in the region of 35 megabytes.

It was something of a worry to have £6,600 worth of borrowed camera and lens mounted on a suction cup to the side of a Porsche 911 Turbo during some vigorous cornering manoeuvres at Goodyear's Colmar-Berg test facility but the Canon came through this unscathed but for an insect that decided to acquaint itself with some multi-coated glass. It's quite something to be able to sit in the passenger seat of a bucking Porsche, triggering the camera remotely using software on our laptop PC and seeing the images displayed on the screen in real time. Even the most committed Luddite would have to be impressed by that.

Likewise, it would be a true technophobe that failed to be impressed with the Canon Bubble Jet i990 printer which, when hitched up the laptop in the hotel that evening, would print photo-quality A4 glossy shots in around a minute. If you can distinguish the results from the best you've ever got back from a professional developer and printer then you've got a better eye than I.

The results I've had with far more modest equipment demonstrate that ultra high-end gear isn't a necessity. Despite that, I think using it has spoiled me somewhat. Going back to my more modest equipment had me rueing the absence of things like a vertical grip and a 1/8000 second shutter speed. Time to start saving.