Shooting Motorsport with the Z8

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I recently pushed the button and ordered a Nikon Z8. It arrived about a month ago. As I’ve been photographing motorsport recently, I thought a day out shooting motorsport with the Z8 would be a good way to put it to the test. It will also give me a chance to familiarise myself with the new button layout.

When I saw a few of the petrolheads at work had booked a track day at Cadwell Park, I thought it would be the ideal opportunity to give my new Z8 a real-life test. I took a day off and headed out to Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire to try shooting motorsport with the Z8.

Cadwell Park

I arrived later than intended. It was also my birthday and Kay was working from home so I hung around at home for a while in the morning. I arrived at the circuit just in time for a red flag and an early lunch. After lunch, the guys headed out onto the track and I picked up my backpack and headed trackside.

This was my first visit to Cadwell since I was a kid with my dad. Having no knowledge of the circuit or where the best places to photograph were. I downloaded the circuit guide from the Piston Click website. This gave me a starting point at least.


I headed down the trackside path and stopped at Hall Bends for my first shots. To begin with, I had the Sigma 100-400mm and the FTZII adapter on the Z8. I was surprised by how close I was to the track and made the rookie mistake of choosing too wide an aperture and too slower of a shutter speed. The images looked ok on the back of the camera, but once on the big screen, it was obvious that the depth of field was too shallow and part of the cars were out of focus.

I used the settings that worked so well at Silverstone a few weeks previously. I hadn’t taken into account the much shorter distance to my subject. The short distance to the subject also makes the subject move faster across the frame.

The 100-400mm wasn’t wide enough in this situation, so I switched to the 24-140mm Nikon Z lens. I wanted to test the lens anyway and thought it would give me more environmental context to the images. I still didn’t bother changing the aperture, although due to the wider angle, it wasn’t as apparent in this set of images.

Performance and Settings

When considering the Z8 as my big leap into mirrorless cameras, my major concern was with the EVF (electronic viewfinder). When using my Fuji X-T5, there feels like there is a big delay between what’s happening in front of the camera and what I’m seeing on the EVF. My concerns were unfounded, the Z8 had almost no lag and didn’t feel dissimilar to my D850.

The autofocus settings were a little new to me. On the D850 I use single point and back button focus (BBF). I have the Z8 set up for BBF, but decided to start out trying the Dynamic Area AF with subject detection. I was getting very few focus misses using this combination, but I was struggling to get focus locked quickly. This could be the lens or the FTZ adapter. I’m not sure at this point. As I get to know the camera better, I’ll have a better idea and probably try different settings.

The Rain

After around 20 minutes trackside, the rain began to fall. I wasn’t concerned about the camera, the Z8 is weather sealed at least as well as the D850. My concern was over the FTZII adapter, I’m not sure how well that would stand up to the rain. I carried on shooting for another five minutes or so, but the rain was now too heavy for any cars to be out on track.

I also decided to remove all my wet weather gear and umbrella from my kit today. The weather forecast said nothing about rain so I assumed I wouldn’t need it. I made a hasty retreat to the paddock and some shelter. The rain lasted around 45 minutes but was enough to thoroughly soak the track. After the rain, people put on wet weather tyres and headed back out on the track.

The Afternoon

In the afternoon I found out that rather than walking around the track, I was able to drive around the perimeter of the circuit. This would give me a much better opportunity to get more varied shots in the time that I had left. The track dried out fairly quickly and more and more cars were out on track. I moved quickly around the circuit and got a selection of good images from several points on the circuit.

Thoughts and Conclusions

The Z8 felt very familiar to me coming from the D850, but at the same time very different. The autofocus system with object recognition is completely new to me. As I mentioned earlier, the focus lock did seem slow to me using the f-mount sigma 100-400mm. The focus lock also seemed to pick the middle of the vehicle and due to my aperture selection, the front or rear of the cars weren’t sharp. This could be unrelated to the Z8 and might just be that my subject distance was much closer than I am used to giving me a shallower depth of field.

On the whole, I was pleased with the results I got on my first outing with the Z8, the images were well-rendered and my hit rate seemed to be about the same as with the D850. I expect that to improve with more practice. I’m weighing up the option of picking up the Nikon 100-400mm lens to do away with the FTX adapter, but it’s a big expense if it brings minimal benefit.

Check back in the future if you want to know what I decide on.

Andy Signature