Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

Started Feb 16, 2009 | Discussions thread
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Skeeterbytes Forum Pro • Posts: 13,606
Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

Yesterday was the Tour of California cycling race prologue time trial, an opportunity to see not only a host of the world's best cyclists but Lance Armstrong's US debut on his return from retirement to road racing. In short: a Big Deal hereabouts.

Armed with my E-510 and lenses I had hopes of grabbing some memorable race shots. Weather was to put it charitably, spotty. Cold and cloudy with occasional sun breaks and the constant threat of rain, the course circled the state capitol, largely in the shadow of tall office buildings. In other words the light was not ideal for shooting action sports. For non-aficionados, time trialists on a flat course such as this routinely hit 40 mph. The crowd has been estimated at about 75,000, so most of the course was lined two or three deep, with prime spots (e.g., the start, corners and finish) much more crowded than that.

Time trials are single rider laps against the clock, with riders starting at one-minute intervals accompanied by a leading motorcycle and trailed by a support car and TV motorcycle. (It's pretty cool technology--the TV bikes uplink to a circling helicopter which, in turn, shoots the signal to a ground-based receiver and into the broadcast network.) The coordination to pull this off is pretty amazing, and also chops the course into chunks that aren't easily orbited by fans, so once the race starts you're somewhat limited in finding the perfect spot. I never got close enough to the starting block or the finish line.

I orbited a chunk of the course and shot on the go, settling on a busy corner to watch the top riders scheduled for the event's end. Regrettably the corner was quite crowded and got very dark as the clouds thickened and the sun headed towards the horizon. Although I added flash (FL36R) it didn't really help (not enough range, I suspect). It probably hindered by limiting my top shutter speed.

Most of my shots either lack correct focus or show motion blur (or both). Honestly, not one was absolutely tack sharp. I've not shot cycling in ages (not since going either digital or autofocus) so this was effectively a first-time experience. There are a ton of things I could have done better, added to the fact that the E-510 autofocus (CAF) is simply not able to track a speeding cyclist in weak light against a busy background.

I mostly used the standard 50-200, which I sometimes paired with the EC14. I also used the 7-14 for a change of pace. I shot in either P or A mode, mostly in CAF limited to the center spot. Depending on conditions I used center-weighted or center spot metering. I left ISO in auto (max400) mode but should probably have set it on 400 the whole time to eke out some faster shutter speeds.

Live and learn. I had to shoot above and around the crowd, which gave me a lot less time to fuss over technique and review. I should be several inches taller (six feet doesn't cut it) or carry a collapsible step stool (saw a few of those). And I should have considered the light more when picking out my spot. I'm also considering finding one of those concentrating lenses for my flash to gain the necessary throw. But most of all, I need either an E-30 or E-3 to shoot another event like that. I love my little E-510 but this day it nor I got the job done. Better AF, higher burst speed, flippy panel for shooting over crowds, higher flash synch speed and better high-ISO performance would have all been hugely helpful.

FWIW the Canon and Nikon count was probably 90/10. I didn't see another Oly all day (yes, I'm special).

I'll upload some shots in a second posting.



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