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DSLR for airshow/aircraft photography?
Hello..

I'm in the process of looking to buy my first DSLR for mainly aircraft/airshow shooting. I know the lens is pretty important, if not the most important, but it seems there are so many out there. I first need a body. I'm really undecided, most of the dslr's it seems you can't go wrong with. However, I still need a camera to start with..

I've really not made any decision whatsoever, but I was looking at Canon's 10D, 20D, Nikon D50, D70, D80, and Sony Alpha, all of which seem within my budget esp. with buying a used body and such. I really would of liked the Canon 400d (rebel xti) but I went to look at it, and it just doesn't feel right in my hands. All of them have their pros and cons, and also, the price factor does come into play. I would say I have a budget of about $1100-$1200, but the less I have to pay the better. For that reason, the sony alpha was catching my eye with 10 mp for cropping, anti-dust, and in camera IS, but still not sure.



Brian..

Comments (9)

Waltz41 wrote:.

Hello.I'm in the process of looking to buy my first DSLR for mainlyaircraft/airshow shooting. I know the lens is pretty important, ifnot the most important, but it seems there are so many out there.I first need a body. I'm really undecided, most of the dslr's itseems you can't go wrong with. However, I still need a camera tostart with.I've really not made any decision whatsoever, but I was looking atCanon's 10D, 20D, Nikon D50, D70, D80, and Sony Alpha, all of whichseem within my budget esp. with buying a used body and such. Ireally would of liked the Canon 400d (rebel xti) but I went to lookat it, and it just doesn't feel right in my hands.

I would say I have a budget of about $1100-$1200, but theless I have to pay the better. For that reason, the sony alpha wascatching my eye with 10 mp for cropping, anti-dust, and in cameraIS, but still not sure. Any thoughts?.

Brian.

I've personally never shot aircraft/airshows before, but here are the basics I would think you would need..

Megapixels will be important.

Chances are you're not going to be sitting close enough and your lens won't be able to reach far enough to fill the whole frame with the plane, which means that having a high megapixel count will be important since the plane(s) will likely only fill a small part of your frame. Since 10MP is more or less the standard anyhow, this shouldn't be too huge of a problem..

AF tracking/AI servo.

They all have different names for this, but essentially you'll need AF that will be able to continually track the subject, especially since planes move fast. Having experience with Canon and Nikon systems, the Canon 400D/20D/30D and the Nikon D200 have the two fastest AF in this regard (I've never had firsthand experience with the Pentax or Sony cameras). I haven't used the D80 enough in these situations to tell you where it compares, but the D200 is faster..

Lens AF.

Along with the ability for the AF to track quickly and accurately, your lens' autofocus motor must be able to keep up with the subject as well. In this case, I'd recommend nothing short of the "USM" or "SWM" or "HSM" lenses - these use ultrasonic sound waves to drive the AF, and are much faster than the conventional motor lenses..

Long telephoto.

Not having experience with telephotos, I can't exactly tell you what length you'll need, but I imagine the longer, the better. I would think you would need at least 200mm. Given your budget, I don't know if you really have the room. Considering that a used body of a 20D, for example, would probably be in the $700 range, that leaves only $400-500 in your stated budget. For Canon, that's just barely enough to buy something like the 70-200 f4L, which fits the bill for having extremely fast AF, but might not be telephoto enough. There is also the Canon 70-300 f4-5.6IS for the same price, and it's certainly longer, but it's autofocus is not quite as fast as the 70-200's (it's still a USM lens, however).

Sigma also makes a 70-200 f2.8 HSM for all brands, but it mighe be a couple hundred outside of your price range..

As for other things, anti-dust doesn't really do anything (I don't have the link with me, but try searching news or the Olympus forum for the anti-dust test). As for image stabilization, it's certainly helpful. The CCD-shift systems of Sony and Pentax don't work quite as well as the lens-based IS systems of Canon and Nikon, especially at the longer telephoto lengths, but it certainly helps. In your case, however, I don't think you'll be shooting at slow enough shutter speeds for IS to make any difference...

Comment #1

Waltz41 wrote:.

Hello.I'm in the process of looking to buy my first DSLR for mainlyaircraft/airshow shooting. I know the lens is pretty important, ifnot the most important, but it seems there are so many out there.I first need a body. I'm really undecided, most of the dslr's itseems you can't go wrong with. However, I still need a camera tostart with.I've really not made any decision whatsoever, but I was looking atCanon's 10D, 20D, Nikon D50, D70, D80, and Sony Alpha, all of whichseem within my budget esp. with buying a used body and such. Ireally would of liked the Canon 400d (rebel xti) but I went to lookat it, and it just doesn't feel right in my hands.

I would say I have a budget of about $1100-$1200, but theless I have to pay the better. For that reason, the sony alpha wascatching my eye with 10 mp for cropping, anti-dust, and in cameraIS, but still not sure. Any thoughts?.

First off, I'd consider how much you'll be using the camera for aircraft/airshows vs other general types of photography. If it's mostly for airshows, the choice of lenses will make the most amount of difference, particularly those on the long (and expensive) end. You might not want to drop the big bucks on a super fast telephoto right away, but it would be wise to stick with a system that would allow you to down the road if you should want to later on. For more general purposes, just narrow down on whichever make/model you feel you like using the most..

As far as the camera bells and whistles go, they'll be less important when it comes to shooting aircraft in flight than on or near the ground. When chasing jets under the mid-day sun, most of them will do little to no good at best and create serious problems of their own at worst..

Here's a quick sample that was taken a few years back with a 5mp Coolpix 5700 digicam. It was a fine camera for it's day but notoriously slow to autofocus, especially at longer focal length zoom settings, in this case, just over a 400mm equivalent with a 1.5x teleconverter in place..

Fact is, the autofocus system would likely have prevented me from getting any shots at all with this camera. But even though this was a "low show" as far as the Blue Angels were concerned due to cloud cover, the jets were flying beyond the lenses infinity focus point. All I had to do was lock the focus at infinity and just concentrate on tracking the planes. Focus wasn't even an issue. Shutter speeds were in the 1000s range, so IS/VR was pretty much useless etc., etc..

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

To be certain, a "crop sensor" DSLR with a fast 500mm lens would put shots like this to complete shame, but again, it's the lens, not the camera that would make the difference..

'Here, look at the monkey. Look at the silly monkey!'.

Tom Younghttp://www.pbase.com/tyoung/..

Comment #2

Tyoung wrote:.

Fact is, the autofocus system would likely have prevented me fromgetting any shots at all with this camera. But even though thiswas a "low show" as far as the Blue Angels were concerned due tocloud cover, the jets were flying beyond the lenses infinity focuspoint. All I had to do was lock the focus at infinity and justconcentrate on tracking the planes. Focus wasn't even an issue.Shutter speeds were in the 1000s range, so IS/VR was pretty muchuseless etc., etc..

You're very right about that, and it's something I hadn't thought of at all. In that case, the AF tracking abilities and lens AF speed I mentioned is a fairly moot point..

However, I would think IS might still be important, really depending on the weather condition and what focal lengths you use. On a not-so-bright day, 1/1000s might be a little harder to achieve, and you may be working with a lens that is in the 600, 900mm, 1200mm range, in which case your shutter speed alone might not be enough to handle the shake..

Since AF is not an issue, another thing you might want to look at is a teleconverter, which would allow you to extend your reach by 1.4x or 2x...

Comment #3

Waltz41 wrote:I would say I have a budget of about $1100-$1200, but the.

Less I have to pay the better. For that reason, the sony alpha wascatching my eye with 10 mp for cropping, anti-dust, and in cameraIS, but still not sure. Any thoughts?.

Choose the lens first. Then buy matching body. e.g. I am not sure whether long lenses are available for Alpha yet (if avialable then this is the way to go due to I.S. & 10MPs)..

XTi is cheaper (than D80) so you can invest saving in lens (which is important). You may buy XT (which has 8MP, good enough ISO1600) also to still save more money. Lens will be helpful with future bodies too.Regards, Ajayhttp://picasaweb.google.com/ajay0612..

Comment #4

I'll go along with Tom to emphasise that technique is more important than the equipment..

However, you can't say what you'll need until you get there and know what is happening. At small shows you can get away with 200 mm but 400 is better but harder to use, aim focus. Tom mentioned focusing on infinity which is a good trick (and you get a lot of accidental pictures of trees on the horizon... ). Panning with the 'plane is also usefull as you can use a slow shutter speed (1/100th) to get propellers or airscrews _properly_ blurred..

You also need two cameras because it can be a problem swapping lenses. I keep the tele one on all the time and have another mid-range camera available for general shooting etc. Problem is you never quite know what will happen at an airshow. (A good P&S will work for the second camera as the main thing is that when something happens nearby on the ground any photo will be better than none.).

Also, a fast tele is useful but a fast standard or mid range can be needed when the light fades in the evenings and things are still happening as the crews chat, 'planes are put away and so on. (Again, a good P&S will do the trick if you can cope with low light.).

So, if rich two identical bodies and a mid-range zoom on one and a 200 mm plus on the other. If poor a good P&S and a tele and technique. BTW, look around for a good vantage point and don't think time will be wasted by doing this. And make a note of where the loudspeakers are around the airfield as they jump into frame at the slightest chance. (Just like that bloke who walks in front of you just when it will ruin the picture... ).

Hope this helps..

Regards, David..

Comment #5

Personally, new DSLR's are cheap enough nowdays that I wouldn't mess around with used DSLR's (ie.- somebody elses problems)..

While I am personally not a big fan of the Canon Rebel XT or XTi (just don't like the feel of it in my hands), you can probably walk into a store in your town and buy a brand new in a box XT 8 MP kit with 18-55mm lens for $700 or less (if you watch the sale ads in Sunday's paper), get a couple of high speed CF cards and a decent zoom lens (again, all brand new) and probably still have a little cash left over to stop at McDonald's while you are charging the battery for your brand new camera!.

There are other cameras to consider, too.this is just one of the good options!.

J. M. DanielsDenver, ColoradoPanasonic FZ10, FZ50 & Fuji S602Z owner & operator.

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Remember.always keep the box and everything that came in it!..

Comment #6

Whatever camera you choose, the lenses are the key. A 70-300 is a good choice, with a DSLR that has a crop factor, the telephoto length is extended. That range also helps because there are times when you need to pull back the zoom length in order to accomodate a formation flight or a large aircraft. Small single aircraft however, might call for a 400 with that same crop factor. A camera with a higher MP rating may help when you need to crop in on pix - sometimes the best angle you can get on a shot is when an aircraft may be performing a manuever that is very distant from the show line ( like a modern jet fighter pulling a high-g turn, or a climb out that gives you a good view of the afterburners )..

IS is a good feature, but if you can't spring for that, you can purchase a shoulder support rig like the Bushhawk, or make your own, as I did. It does help to steady the lens a bit. You can then lower the shutter speed so that you don't freeze the props. I have been noticing though, that I seem to be able to get higher shutter speeds without frozen props with my Xti than I did with my EOS Elan IIE. In any event, do not exceed 1/250 - that will freeze props for sure. I do seem to get more of a blur at 250 with my Xti - the Elan IIE would freeze them for sure at the same speed..

Servo focus is useful - but it doesn't always work - sometimes, it will hunt, instead of locking on..

As for static shots, a wide angle with at least a 35MM equivalent of a 28MM lens ( 18MM for most DSLR's ) is recommended - the 18-55 kit lens that Canon makes is much maligned, but it's not bad. But if you can spring for better, then go ahead...

Comment #7

Nathan Yan wrote:.

Waltz41 wrote:.

Hello.I'm in the process of looking to buy my first DSLR for mainlyaircraft/airshow shooting. I know the lens is pretty important, ifnot the most important, but it seems there are so many out there.I first need a body..

I've personally never shot aircraft/airshows before, but here arethe basics I would think you would need..

I've shot airshows with a completely inadequate camera, and here are my observations:.

Megapixels will be important.

Megapixels are irrelevant. They're a poor substitute for having the correct lens to begin with..

AF tracking/AI servoThey all have different names for this, but essentially you'll needAF that will be able to continually track the subject, especiallysince planes move fast..

Largely irrelevant. The moving airplanes are out at infinity, so you pre-focus the lens and turn off autofocus so it doesn't mess up or delay the shot. The static displays just sit there, so you've got as much time as you need to take pictures..

Lens AF.

See above..

Long telephotoNot having experience with telephotos, I can't exactly tell youwhat length you'll need, but I imagine the longer, the better. Iwould think you would need at least 200mm..

200mm is a minimum. I had a 100mm lens, and the only thing that even came close to filling the frame was the Thunderbirds leaving interesting smoke trails. I'd go with a 200-500 zoom, with at least f/8 at the telephoto end..

I'd also take the widest wide-angle lens I could afford for shooting static displays. The closer you can get, the less time you need to wait for the crowd to get out of the picture..

As for image stabilization, it'scertainly helpful. The CCD-shift systems of Sony and Pentax don'twork quite as well as the lens-based IS systems of Canon and Nikon,especially at the longer telephoto lengths, but it certainly helps..

IS would be nice. Even though you'll be shooting in bright daylight much of the time, you're also using very long focal lengths. The Pentax/Sony in-body IS is much cheaper than the Canon/Nikon in-lens IS...

Comment #8

Now I read this....I went to the Fayetteville, AR air show this week and shot 300+ images of the Canadian Snowbirds. The very next air show I go to I will follow your AF rule and set it to manual and infinity!.

Earlier this year Tinker AFB, OK had an air show and since I live just east of the field here's a photo I shot from my front yard..

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This guy was part of the Heritage Flight and when the split up he must have used my house as the reference for his holding parttern until it was his turn to make a photo pass. Apx 50% crop...

Comment #9

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.

 

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