2017 North West 200

Back at the side of the track covering the 2017 North West 200 Road Race. After last year's tragedy, the main focus of attention was for a safe race for all riders and that is thankfully (on the most part) what we got. 

After that what we wanted was a fantastic week of racing and once again, despite the weather trying to dampen our spirits on Saturday, is what we got in bucketloads, cumulating in what has to be one of the most spectacular SuperBike races in recent memory. 

Seriously, catch up on the highlights here

I had hoped to have an XT2 for the event (along with the power grip) but sadly this wasn't to be which meant it was back to the same kit that I covered last year's event with, the XT1 + 100-400mm lens. 

ISO 800, 386mm, f5,6m 1/1600 second 

ISO 800, 386mm, f5,6m 1/1600 second 

For most of the images I used the following settings;

  • AUTO ISO (with upper limit of 2000) 
  • Aperture set according to focal length (mostly f/5.6)
  • Between 1/1600 and 1/2500 second shutter speed 
  • Single point or Zone AF (continuous tracking) 
  • Burst mode (8fps)
  • Image stabilisation enabled on the 100-400
  • JPEG mode 
ISO 1250, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2500 second

ISO 1250, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2500 second

As normal, especially after several months shooting stationary (landscapes) objects it took a while to get used to the slight lag on the EVF, compared to viewing a normal eyepiece on a DSLR. This is one area I'm looking forward to seeing with the XT2 as the lag can at times be a little offputting when trying to track a subject. 

ISO 1000, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 second 

ISO 1000, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 second 

In regards to tracking the subject, I'd say that I'd give the XT1 a 7 ouf of 10. It certainly helped if I locked onto the rider as early as possible with 80% of the 8 frames in my burst nice and sharp. If, however, I missed to lock on as the riders came out of the corner my success rate dropped to around 50%. Another factor which significantly impacted success rate was when I was shooting into the sun, (the AM sessions) as the camera really struggled to cut through the haze. Thankfully there wasn't that many important races during these times. Still worth mentioning though as there will be times where haze is a factor of your event and may impact your success rate. 

The position I had for the weekend allowed me to see the bikes powering up towards Black Hill,  with the more powerful ones (and more daring riders) pulling wheelies which of course can make for quite a nice image. 

ISO 800, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 second 

ISO 800, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 second 

It's a shame that Phase Detection AF does not work across the full frame as the movement of the bikes (from left to right and then back to the left) would have suited tracking across the full frame (wide tracking). I found however when I tried this the camera failed to lock onto the subject on the left of the frame and in fact then struggled to lock on even when it passed through the centre. Using Wide Tracking resulted in a very low success rate, but thankfully I had remembered this frmo the previous year so did not use it. 

ISO 2000, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 second 

ISO 2000, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 second 

Overall I was once again impressed with the XT1, certainly by the main event on Saturday I was back in the zone in regards to tracking these fast moving bikes allowing me a success rate of 80% or more. There were a few occasions that I missed "the shot" which was frustrating but I guess understandable given the limitations on the XT1. The EVF lag remains a challenge at times and I'm looking forward to testing the XT2 at a future date, especially with the updated firmware which provides some additional features in regards to AF. 

During one of the earlier races, I also attached the 1.4 extender, giving me a focal length of 560mm, albeit now at a fixed aperture of f8 (at 400mm). I have to admit I was quite impressed with the sharpness of the files even with the extender attached, although I'd be unlikely to use this in earnest unless absolutely necessary. 

ISO 2500, 560mm, f/8, 1/2000 second (Direct JPEG from Camera) 

ISO 2500, 560mm, f/8, 1/2000 second (Direct JPEG from Camera) 

ISO 2000, 560mm, f/8, 1/1600 second (Direct JPEG from Camera) 

ISO 2000, 560mm, f/8, 1/1600 second (Direct JPEG from Camera) 

As a final test, I also looked at pushing the ISO a little more to see how the image quality coped and again was very impressed. 

ISO 3200, 560mm, f/8, 1/2000 second (Direct JPEG from Camera) 

ISO 3200, 560mm, f/8, 1/2000 second (Direct JPEG from Camera) 

100% crop - no post noise reduction 

100% crop - no post noise reduction