Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix and my new Canon EOS 7D


SOLGP_084I’m in a kind of photographic ecstasy at the moment. As some of you may already know, I’ve just upgraded to the new Canon EOS 7D DSLR. I love my old Sony DSC V-3, but I won’t be looking back. I’m in a whole new ball game. I’ve traded in a fine 7 megapixel Honda for a 18 megapixel, 8FPS, 12,800ISO Acura. I chose this camera for its claimed low-light capabilities, its image quality and customizability (is that a word?) and I am very pleased so far. This camera responds very quickly to adverse focus situations and is pretty hard to stump. SOLGP_085I have no doubt that this thing will give me years of images and I look forward to putting it to the test. Heather and I are now equipped better than ever to record this awesome experiment called Earth and we are beaming with anticipation of future gigs. Let us know if we can help you capture your special event.

SOLGP_086In local news, the City of Lancaster is stepping up their game lately; if you read my post about the Arbor Lofts, then you may already know that the city is trying to renovate downtown into a 21st century foot-traffic people friendly district. Part of that process included shutting down Lancaster Boulevard and holding a go cart race called the Streets of Lancaster Grand Prix, and I don’t mean the ones you used to ride when you were a kid. These machines go 100 mph and corner like a tron light cycle and are very loud. SOLGP_087Heather and I remarked that this was the first time we were happy that we got denied for the Arbor Lofts, if only because we wouldn’t want to wake up to the sound of 100 carts a top speed (apparently we make too much for the  low subsidized rent, which we could not afford).  SOLGP_088An event like this in America wouldn’t be complete with a ton of fried food and beer sold from trailers and stands and we were not disappointed to find bacon-wrapped hot dogs right next to the beer garden.  The crew headed out to see what we could find.

SOLGP_089The first day, we missed the qualifying races and showed up right before the car show. We would later return Sunday for the main event which was likely a good idea. Saturday’s car show made for a much better setting to get acquainted with the 7D, which did not disappoint. The light was diminishing quickly, but I wanted to test the camera’s higher ISO’s. SOLGP_090The auto exposure bracket function worked beautifully for handheld HDR’s because the 8 frames per second helped eliminate whatever movement occurred. I’ve been wanting to shoot a car show for quite sometime and the setting was rewarding. Everyone likes cars. SOLGP_091There were thousands of man-hours represented in the work that the crowd inspected from an amazing maroon Ford panel van to a jet black gloss perfect ’51 Chevrolet.

SOLGP_092The feel and build quality of the 7D make you take it seriously. It’s nice to own a camera with a learning curve. It has a bottom and didn’t take me long to at least explore all of the possibilities and in some cases, employ them. You pay for settings when you buy a digital camera and this one has a setting for aaaaalmost  everything that you can think of.SOLGP_093 What’s impressive is how easy it is to get to those settings. That said, my one disappointment is that of all the customizable buttons on the camera, mappable to many functions, not one can be set to start auto-exposure bracketing. This seems like an oversight to me, especially when HDR (high dynamic range imaging) is rapidly becoming so popular. SOLGP_094The autofocus is the best of any camera I’ve used and handled carts coming straight for the camera on the straight aways moving at what seemed like 70 or 80 mph. Most images were simply in focus when I used AI Servo mode with zone AF and AF point expansion.SOLGP_095

The light was fading and the band was setting up so, I turned my focus to putting the new camera through its concert-capturing capabilities. I promoted concerts for a few years and have played bass in more bands than I care to admit, so concerts hold a special place in my heart; I’ve seen over 300. SOLGP_096Unfortunately, the photography bug hit me late in relation to the concert part of my life so, I feel like I have a lot of making up to do. Bullfrog Blues gave me a chance to do just that.SOLGP_097

A friend from the music scene and colleague just happened to be performing that night making it even more synchronous and enjoyable. SOLGP_098The light was better than some of the clubs around here but still bad enough to put the Canon to the test. Small concert lighting is always terrible. SOLGP_099The wings of the stage were hardly lit and essentially turned a five piece band into a trio. Luckily, this band knew how to find their light and did so for their various solos. SOLGP_100It was a pleasure to shoot this band and they were good, too. Soon thereafter, we slipped away to recharge our physical and actual batteries for our return for the main event the next morning.SOLGP_101

SOLGP_102Our buddy Jonathon was able to join us to bring the video the next day and as always, it was good to have him along. We managed to find great places to shoot, slipping past a few fences. I think that the cameras actually get us places we aren’t technically supposed to be. I really believe that a uniform and an attitude can get you just about anywhere. We definitely wear some amount of false confidence to go with the subterfuge and that can go along way. SOLGP_103In reality, we should have contacted the event coordinator 6 weeks ahead of time to obtain a press pass. Lesson learned.SOLGP_104

There was a quality of the light that I’m trying harder to understand. There are definitely times of the day where images just turn out to be too harsh. So far, based on my own observations, you’re better of getting the sun closer to perpendicular to your subject. SOLGP_105Obviously low angles of incidence are going to get you more shadows, which is bad, but I think there is more to it. I definitely like the hour before and after sunset, I believe the “golden hour” is the hour following sunset, but I like the minutes just before. SOLGP_106People turn out  a little orange, but there’s a romantic feel to the light I cant seem to replicate anywhere else. The second day had the harsh light that’s difficult to overcome.SOLGP_107

We seemed to arrive amidst all of the action. Carts were buzzing by like some hypersonic lawnmower caravan, cutting the grass before it could grow another micron. There were about 5 races, progressing from young teenagers to middle aged. During the first few races, it was surprising to see how young some of the drivers were; their fireproof gear made them look more experienced and bad-ass that we expected them to be older.SOLGP_108 A resounding thud signaled the first visible crash where a kid went flying into the barrier with enough force to immediately create a rescue scene out of the bystanders nearby. Turns out just the guy’s standing was the only thing harmed.SOLGP_109

I was very surprised about how non “carty” it was; these guys are wearing fireproof clothing, carbon fiber rib protectors and a million sponsor patches. At speeds of 100 mph, they speed down straight aways with the gas tank between their legs, relying on rubber stick to save them from the awfully stationary barrier at the turn. SOLGP_110There were all the elements of a NASCAR race or a day at the drag strip: testosterone flowing, hours of blood sweat and tears, the smell of melted rubber and gas and the technicolor break-up of the crowd with a million wants and dreams of every kind, nursing children with greasy food and soda. Cotton candy, bacon wrapped hotdogs and carbon monoxide. SOLGP_111America. People are beautiful, I love the things they do to entertain themselves and destroy the monotone drone of work and sleep. I take pictures.SOLGP_112

At the end of the day, I was much more familiar with my new language, Canonese. If there’s any one out there looking for technical information on the Canon EOS 7D, I suggest DPReview or Imaging Resource, my opinion is one of an amateur and I’m easily amused. That said, this machine really performs. Aside from a few small omissions, like a button mapped for AEB, this camera has exceeded my expectations. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the 7d’s video mojo, but I’m giddy just thinking about it. This also means that there are a million new expensive devices I need to flesh out my new system like the TC80 remote control with intervalometer for timelapses. I can’t wait to stop timelapsing manually.  The shots below represent some of my best frames with the new beast so let me know what you think. There are a few HDR’s in the gallery, but other than that, the shots are jpegs straight out of the camera with no processing. I’m taking a little bit of a gamble spending all sorts of money on gear, but I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t matter. Great work has been done with modest gear and I respect that, but I’m sick of that crap, for once, I have a tank to drive a nail.

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