Leica Q goes to the races: But is 28mm a handicap for action shots?
I first went to a motor race in 1956. Four years later I took a camera to a race for the first time. It was an Halina 35X — very basic camera with a fixed lens. It was another twenty years before I had a camera with a reasonably long lens suitable for motor racing action photography. But in the intervening years I grabbed quite a few passable action shots using a 50mm lens on my elderly Leica 3A. In those times, even at Formula One races, the spectator areas were close to the track and there wasn't the dense safety catch fencing lining the tracks.
In the 1990s my motor racing photography kit became serious — two Canon SLR bodies and big lenses, a 2x converter carried in a huge Lowenpro backpack and a monopod dangling underneath. I hauled this heavy load all over the world. I did get some good photos and quite a few were published.
Now I have gone full circle. My interest in motor sport is as keen as ever — although I am no longer a fan of Formula One —and am I taking more photos than ever. What I am not doing is carrying around a backpack full of heavy gear. Last year I went to the local Bathurst 12-hour GT sports car race with my Sony A7 and a couple of lenses including a long zoom. I came back with some good photos but I decided that they were not worth all the effort.
So for this year's 12-hour race run on the 5th of February I took two of my Leicas — the X Vario and the newly acquired Q. I really needed only the Q and, in fact, I carried only one camera at any time — leaving the X Vario in the car most of the time. I slimmed down my gear because one Leica is easy to carry and Bathurst is a track with a lot of walking and climbing. And, because the eastern states of Australia have been subjected to extreme heat conditions for much of the past six weeks, including the weekend of the race — and I am no longer a young man. In fact the two days at Bathurst were very hot and the last four hours of the race on the Sunday were run in conditions where the ambient temperature was over 40ºC — heatstroke territory.
The Bathurst Mount Panaorama track is widely recognised as one of the world's great motor racing circuits, right up there with the Nürburgring and Spa. It is very challenging and the greatest thing about it from a spectator and photographer point of view is that you can get very close to the action. On the climb up to the top of the mountain and down the other side the circuit runs through rock cuttings and these provide great vantage points where you can look down on the cars without any catch fencing to obscure the view. Even off the mountain much of the viewing is clear of the dreaded fencing.
I had taken the Q with the thought that it would be in its element for pit and paddock shots and I had at the back of my mind trying it out up the mountain for some action shots.
Obviously a camera with a 28mm wide-angle lens is not a conventional choice for motor sport action shots. But, surprisingly, the Q really excelled itself at Bathurst. The autofocus speed is superb — it can easily autofocus on a speeding car — and the full-frame sensor means that even when the 28mm lens was too wide, by cropping I still had a very usable photo when I employed the camera it in the right situations.
Having said that, at most motor racing circuits the Q would be useless for action shots as you are usually so far removed from the track and the heavy steel mesh of the ubiquitous catch fencing destroys any chance of decent photos even if you have a camera with a suitably long lens.
Regular readers of Macfilos will be aware that I have been a big fan of the little Leica X1 and indeed it was a photo taken with the X1 which won me the cash to buy the Q. I still prefer the X1 over the Q when I am looking for a small fit-in-the-hand/pocket camera and it is such a pity that Leica have stopped making the X series cameras. An X2 with a good EVF and the Q's autofocus speed would be a really strong seller. The Q is just too large and heavy to be considered a pocket camera by any stretch of the imagination. But I can overlook this shortcoming when using the superb viewfinder and autofocus and the IQ from the lens/sensor/processor combination is stunning. You really have to see the original files to appreciate just how good they are.
After all these years of photography I am over endless obsessing about post-processing software and technicalities. All I am interested in nowadays is the photos and I am more than happy with the quality of the jpegs from my Leicas and from the Q in particular. But for those who are interested in such matters I set the jpeg settings on the Q to medium low for contrast and saturation and medium high for sharpness. I do like the natural low-saturated look this combination gives me.
I hope that you enjoy my Q photos from Bathurst and maybe they will tempt you to come to the Mountain next year. Just remember to bring a coolbox full of bottled water, a wide brimmed hat, litres of sunscreen and some strong fly repellent — and just one camera!
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