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Author Topic: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...  (Read 2398 times)

chasinglight

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Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« on: August 04, 2014, 06:40:57 PM »
Over the past few years I have shot a handful of airshows, first with the t2i and a 70-200 + 1.4x (blue angels below), then a few with the 7D + 100 -400 and even with a 6D + 100 - 400 (thunderbirds below). For the upcoming Chicago Air and Water show I have been thinking whether there are any equipment upgrades I can make to increase the quality of my images. The 100-400 is by and large THE airshow companion for good reason, its reasonably priced, flexible (wight and zoom), and has IS. I have been considering picking up a 400 5.6 for some time now to see whether I like it better than the 100 - 400 or not; though the IS in the 100-400 is key for panning shots. However, today I got the idea to maybe rent a 300 2.8 IS II with a 1.4x or 2x. I am not normally a fan of renting; I'd rather take the money and spend it on something I can keep..but that's neither here nor there.

Obviously shooting airshows can be hit or miss due to perspective, lighting, weather, and atmospheric conditions..luck...

So the question is what are the advantages of using say a 300 2.8 + 1.4x or 400 2.8 over a 400 5.6 or 100-400 to shoot an airshow? Obviously DoF isn't an issue since you are shooting near infinity, though the lower f/ will allow you to use a higher shutter speed and/or lower ISO. The real difference is probably in the sharpness; so the question is to anyone who has used a lens from both categories, is the IQ gain really worth the hassle of renting/twice the weight? I know for birding the IQ gain is very noticeable, but for airplanes?


Thanks in advance.

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Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« on: August 04, 2014, 06:40:57 PM »

LJ3Jim

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2014, 07:57:48 PM »

Jim Saunders

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2014, 08:10:38 PM »
I had a (rented!) 200-400 the last time out; I wouldn't willingly go to another airshow without that lens in particular.  If I really needed the light I'd get either a 400 f/2.8 or that Spaceballs the Lens (the Sigma 200-500).

Jim
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candc

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2014, 09:29:10 PM »
Another option to consider is the sigma 120-300 sport. It works really well with the canon 1.4xiii to give you a 168-420 f/4 lens.

chasinglight

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2014, 10:38:13 PM »
I had a (rented!) 200-400 the last time out; I wouldn't willingly go to another airshow without that lens in particular.  If I really needed the light I'd get either a 400 f/2.8 or that Spaceballs the Lens (the Sigma 200-500).

Jim

Great shot! So did you find the 200-400 handholdable? That is another lens I was looking at renting, but the 300 2.8 + 1.4x is considerably lighter, though it's sill 2x as heavy as my 100-400. Did you find yourself taking many photos at focal lengths less than 400mm. At some airshows I have zoomed through the whole range of my 100-400, at others I had it locked at 400.

Halfrack

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2014, 10:41:43 PM »
Money being no object, the 1Dx and the 200-400 have some sort of secret contrast detection autofocus - I'm trying to find it now.  Based on a guy shooting the Blue Angels this last weekend, he was saying that his keeper rate is over 95% now.  I'm going to keep digging as to what settings he was using.

Having a long lens like a 3/4/500 is nice, but it can't be your only camera, and it really needs a gimbal setup or monopod.  The airshows will get close to you and a 70-200 or 100-400 in hand to track what is closer is really handy.  AF accuracy is king as it doesn't matter if you framed the shot or not, lack of AF means no shutter or a blurry photo.
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Jim Saunders

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2014, 11:25:52 PM »

Great shot! So did you find the 200-400 handholdable? That is another lens I was looking at renting, but the 300 2.8 + 1.4x is considerably lighter, though it's sill 2x as heavy as my 100-400. Did you find yourself taking many photos at focal lengths less than 400mm. At some airshows I have zoomed through the whole range of my 100-400, at others I had it locked at 400.

Thank you!  I have used that lens hand-held, the photo attached is from Canon Image Square, 1/500 f/8 with the extender in.  I had it on a gimbal because I was in place right at the fence all day, and that kept the horizon level as well.  I used the wide end enough that I was glad for it although there was an occasion or two with multiple aircraft taxiing in front of me where I would have been glad for my 70-200.  I used the long end a lot of course, but being able to pull back was very useful indeed.

Having a long lens like a 3/4/500 is nice, but it can't be your only camera, and it really needs a gimbal setup or monopod.  The airshows will get close to you and a 70-200 or 100-400 in hand to track what is closer is really handy.  AF accuracy is king as it doesn't matter if you framed the shot or not, lack of AF means no shutter or a blurry photo.

Fact.  The jet demos were easier to shoot because I could wind the shutter to the moon; getting the Harvards was a matter of balancing prop blur and everything-else blur; 1/800 seemed to be the happy place.  I used AF point expansion, that worked well enough that as long as I panned smoothly I had a pretty good keeper rate.  It wasn't 90% by any means though.

Jim
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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2014, 11:25:52 PM »

TexPhoto

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2014, 11:55:09 PM »
I own a 400mm f2.8 IS, and I love it.  I shoot sports and it bring to almost any sporting event.  But it it huge, heavy, and a pain in the butt or at least back.  It does provide a unique look that is hard to duplicate.   

I don't bring it when I hang with other non photographers.  They think it's cool for about 2 minutes and then your are just slowing them down.  I have a 300mm f4 IS for that. 

Anyway, I see the choice to go big or small white as 2 sides of the same coin.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  The photo below is not from an airshow, but a C-130 doing touch and goes.  Spotted when I was on the way home from a surf contest.

REX50056 3eh by tacfoto, on Flickr

Jim Saunders

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2014, 12:11:05 AM »
If I had to shoot an airshow with two lenses, I'd be tempted to build a double-sided gimbal mount and have them arranged to coincide at the display line; less chance of knocking one over fumbling for the other, and both have a frame of reference from the horizon.  It'd certainly be a conversation piece.

Jim
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chasinglight

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2014, 01:01:19 AM »
Thanks for all the responses so far. I am still tempted to rent a big white, most probably the 300 2.8 to give it a shot, but I am still not fully convinced that I will get that much more out of my images. Especially since luck, weather, perspective, etc all plays a large factor and provided that all of those plus proper AF and exposure are satisfied my images are very sharp. Here is a recent example and a 100% crop from my 6D + 100-400. The original image was just cropped to 16:9, otherwise no other cropping was done. The image was lightly sharpened with USM. Funny story, I brought the 6D along to shoot static displays/wide angle shots and was going to use the 7D to shoot the planes in flight. Well after a few performances I decided to give the 6D a shot and it actually outperformed the 7D in AF and IQ. Go figure...been trying to sell my 7D ever since..


Jim Saunders

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2014, 01:09:30 AM »
Thanks for all the responses so far. I am still tempted to rent a big white, most probably the 300 2.8 to give it a shot
...

You'd be able to tell the difference but you'd have to try it to know if the difference matters to you.  Try it, just be prepared to have a hard time giving it back  ;)

Jim
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KeithBreazeal

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2014, 02:47:14 AM »
I have been shooting airshows for a long time.  After going to a digital camera, it became apparent that lens quality was the top priority.  I started out with a 70-200L IS.  I was not getting those long shots, so I forked over a few more bucks for the 300 2.8.  Incredible quality!  But now, I'm too powerful when teams fly.  Now I'm finding the 100-400L IS is perfect.  Depending on the show, I'll pack all but carry the 100-400 80% of the time.  Two bodies- 7D with the 100-400 and the 5D III with a 24-105.  I'll sometimes swap bodies if needed.  I carry one extra lens- usually a super wide.  If the day is overcast, I'll go to the 300 2.8.  Strategy is to move further back if teams fly, not risking cutting of noses or tails. 
   If I was told only one lens was allowed into an airshow, it would be the 100-400.
some 100-400 shots:  Click on the photo to go larger on the Flicker page.  Plenty more once on the Flickr page.

P-47 takeoff at sunset Chino POF 0957 © Keith Breazeal by Keith Breazeal Photography, on Flickr

range-

Crowd and B-17 Chino 2014 sat 0489 © Keith Breazeal by Keith Breazeal Photography, on Flickr

B-17 sentimental Journey Chino 2014 sat 0395 © Keith Breazeal by Keith Breazeal Photography, on Flickr
« Last Edit: August 05, 2014, 02:53:51 AM by KeithBreazeal »

chasinglight

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2014, 10:07:15 AM »
I have been shooting airshows for a long time.  After going to a digital camera, it became apparent that lens quality was the top priority.  I started out with a 70-200L IS.  I was not getting those long shots, so I forked over a few more bucks for the 300 2.8.  Incredible quality!  But now, I'm too powerful when teams fly.  Now I'm finding the 100-400L IS is perfect.  Depending on the show, I'll pack all but carry the 100-400 80% of the time.  Two bodies- 7D with the 100-400 and the 5D III with a 24-105.  I'll sometimes swap bodies if needed.  I carry one extra lens- usually a super wide.  If the day is overcast, I'll go to the 300 2.8.  Strategy is to move further back if teams fly, not risking cutting of noses or tails. 
   If I was told only one lens was allowed into an airshow, it would be the 100-400.
some 100-400 shots:  Click on the photo to go larger on the Flicker page.  Plenty more once on the Flickr page.


Keith, thanks for your insight; I appreciate it. Your images are stunning. The panning images convey such detail and the wildfire images are dramatic and powerful.

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2014, 10:07:15 AM »

mackguyver

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #13 on: August 05, 2014, 10:40:41 AM »
I think the other thing you might need to consider is the atmospheric conditions, given the distance you are to the aircraft.  If you're shooting at high altitude or in the cool desert air, it's not as much of an issue, but just about anywhere else, the effects of humidity, heat, dust, haze, and other air pollution are going to do more to soften your photos than the lens.  I don't think you'd get much out of going to the bigger whites and if the 100-400 is working for you, you're better off using a lens that is quick to zoom and focus.

If anything is going to improve the photos, it's probably going to be a 1D X because you're likely to capture the exact moment you want (FPS) and have faster (higher voltage AF) and more reliable focus.  The 5DIII is a close second and though the frame rate is slower, the AF is nearly as good as the 1D X.  It's also considerably lighter than the 1D X.  If you're going to rent anything to improve your air show shots, I'd recommend one of these bodies.  Be aware that the 1D X experience is very likely to lead to a very expensive purchase, however :)

aekurth

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #14 on: August 05, 2014, 01:52:29 PM »
The Canon 400mm f/4DO lens is my primary air show lens.  I've also used the Canon 100-400mm, the Canon 400mm f/5.6 and the Canon 70-200mm.  I compared the other lens by attending two day air shows  and using a different lens each day.  Every time, the Canon f/4 DO lens produced the sharpest images. 

I prefer to shoot the lens handheld for a couple of reasons.  I'm usually in a crowd of people and a tripod takes more room than I have and is difficult to setup and secure in that environment.  It is also difficult to shoot aircraft that are high overhead with it.  I seldom use my 800mm lens without a tripod and Wimberly Gimbal head  so I'm pretty familiar with these limitations.  Without a tripod, I need a lens I can handhold.   I haven't used the Canon 200-400mm but it weighs twice as much as the 400mm I use. 

When photographing jets, I usually use an aperture of f5.6.  Even though I'm not using the maximum aperture of f4, I find that the lens has quicker and more accurate focus than the smaller Canon 400mm f/5.6 and the slightly smaller Canon 100-400mm lens.  When photographing propeller planes, I slow the shutter speed down to under 1/200 of a second and need to pan the shots.  I put the stabilization on position 2.  The Canon 400mm f/5.6 lacks stabilization and  I've found that this makes a considerable difference.

Halfrack quotes a photographer using the 200-400 lens as saying his keeper rate is over 95%.   We don't know what kind of standards that photographer uses to determine "keepers".  When I pan propeller planes at a relatively slow shutter speed, even a perfectly focused plane can be blurred due to the way that different portions of the aircraft are bouncing around.  Image stabilization helps me hold the lens steady but it doesn't stabilize the aircraft.   I pick the best shots and toss the rest.  The resulting shots show speed as well as sharpness.

A zoom lens does have one advantage over my 400mm f/4 DO.   It allows you to show a closeup and then quickly show the patterns of vapor trails.  I usually miss out on those shots - there isn't time to switch to a second camera during the same pass.  For me the bottom line is to produce the best photos I can - photos that that the majority of photographers at the air show cannot duplicate.  The photographers using cell phones can make a shot of vapor trails, but they cannot show the action closeup.

The original poster was thinking of renting a a 300 2.8 + 1.4x or 400 2.8 over a 400 5.6 or 100-400 and asked if  IQ gain really worth the hassle of renting/twice the weight.  My answer is no - based  on your photos you are doing a good job with the lens you have.  The 300mm and 400mm lens are great lens but they are heavy and are more difficult to use until you have some experience with them.   If you want to rent something, consider the 1DX or 1D Mark IV instead.

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Re: Airshow Photography - Big Whites vs Small Whites...
« Reply #14 on: August 05, 2014, 01:52:29 PM »