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Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Sat Jul 28, 2012 3:14 pm

At the risk of rehashing a well worn subject, I am searching for people's opinions on the best kit for aviation photography. I am not seeking to have a dream wish list of the newest kit, nor do I want to start a brand argument . What I want to know is what is the definative kit to lug to an airport. I thought I had it down to two choices in another thread, and so many other options kept in. I wanted to call this post, what's in your bag.

I have a D700 and a D300s. Thus far I have only used the Dx camera for aviation work. I have an old Nikon AF 80-200 2.8 and a 80-400. I find the 80-400 to be chronically slow for fast moving aircraft. I also use a 16-85 for overhead shots. In a previous thread I looked at the 70-300vr and the 170-500 sigma as longer alternatives.

I've been scouring the Internet and reviews and blogs and am after people's opinions. I only have one, and that is that the 80-400 is too slow. Obviously I have nikon kit, but I would be very interested to hear from canon users. I stood next to a chap at LHR with a 70-210 f2.8 and a 7d, and he seemed v happy. ( more importantly he had the skill to get stunning results).

Can i throw a few questions out there:
*What do you use, , or recceomend. What is in your bag.
*is 300 mm long enough for most European airports on a DX camera
* DX or Fx? And if FX, what is the ideal telephoto zoom to accompany.
*is it worth having the 70-200vr (new) and an expensive converter.

As a part time photographer who has sold images and stories in magazines on a regular basis, I fully understand that 90% of it, is in the eye of the photographer- and that kit makes up 10% of the equation. Of that 10%, 80% is the glass. I din't have a fat wallet or a shopping list beyond a possible long zoom. I am really just interested in opinions.

Thanks for your input- I appreciate all replies.
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Sat Jul 28, 2012 4:04 pm

I have both Nikon and Canon gear, but use the Nikon stuff almost 90% of the time.

I shake my head when people complain about the 80-400 being too slow for aviation photography. For commercial aviation, the aircraft are moving but generally in a very straight, predictable line. Those that can't get an 80-400 to hold focus on a commercial aircraft probably have some of their settings wrong - could be the number of focus points being too small causing the lens to focus off the aircraft if not centered, or something else. For military air displays there is a higher miss rate but still certainly reasonable. I'm coming up on 3k images on airliners and most of them are taken with the 80-400. Quite a few of these are taken out at 400mm as well - the lens has very decent optics in a very portable size with a great range of focal length. I guess in some cases in could be the workman blaming his tools.

I did just pick up a 28-300 Nikkor for a travel/family vacation lens and tried it out at CYYZ recently. A pretty decent lens.

I have the 80-200D and the 70-200 VRI. Certainly when the light gets low the 70-200 with VR is handy, but I like the images from the 80-200 better.

The FX versus DX question can be tricky. I do like the extra "reach" of the 400mm on DX sometimes, but often the atmospheric issues affecting quality mean it isn't always all that useful. I like the FX sensors for their low light capabilities and have been quite happy using FX with the 80-400. I have used the D7000 with great results, but if I had a choice I will stick with my D3s/D4 for versatility when the sun gets low.

Good luck with whatever you choose, and as you say 90% of it is the person behind the camera.
Improvise, adapt, overcome.
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Sat Jul 28, 2012 9:51 pm

I use the D700 and the 80-400.

Works fine for me. But there are better combinations.

[Edited 2012-07-28 15:07:33]

Here's a sample taken with that combo:

View Large View Medium
Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © Vivion Mulcahy

[Edited 2012-07-28 15:10:10]
Nikon D700, Nikkor 80-400, Fuji X Pro 1, Fujinon 35 f/1.4, Fujinon 18 f/2
Topic Author
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:25 am

I appreciate the replies. And first of all, I have to agree that it might well be the workman blaming his tools. My area of expertise is recording journeys, photojournalism, people and general illustration of an event. Yesterday, I tried to capture a European Roller in the garden here in Africa, and the photos of the little guy on the branch were fine. As soon as he moved I missed everything. On other lenses, he'd have been recorded wings and all flapping away at 7fps. Birds are a different story to metal ones, but I do try and shoot both.

My 80-400 tends to hunt, and I take what you say about aircraft in straight lines. But I do find myself having issues when the aircraft are much closer, almost overhead. Perhaps as you say it is in the hands of the beholder.

My kit always seems to be D300s and 80-200d. Based upon Viv's observations, I'll start to look at D700 and 80-400. I spend enough time at LHR and IST to be able to try it out and not worry about burning images.
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Mon Jul 30, 2012 12:59 am

Quoting viv (Reply 2):
But there are better combinations.

Viv that shot is amazing, I'm not sure how much better one can get than that
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Mon Jul 30, 2012 6:53 am

Megatop 412- I would agree with that. As you say, how could you improve it? Viv's shot is quite amazing.

I was out this morning using the D300s and the 80-400. Single spot auto focus. It worked amazingly well in the African sun on birds sitting still, but when they flew off it was an issue. But birds move faster closer than metal ones.

I'll be off to ZNZ and DAR in the next couple of days so I'll what opportunity shots I can get when there with the d700 and thé same lens. . (there is no spotting allowed as such- and most images are taken on the tarmac or from departure lounges various.
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Mon Jul 30, 2012 12:37 pm

Thanks, for asking the question. I pretty much have the same one. I currently am using a D5000 and have found that I have now become good enough to warrant an upgraded body and I was debating between the D300s and the D700.

My primary lens for spotting is the 70-300VR, which has always served me well. I think the main criticism is that the lens is slow, but I have been able to get several a.net worthy airshow photos with the lens so I consider it fast enough for my taste. I am still by all means an amateur, so I recognize that the 70-300VR might not fit your needs or be as good as either the 80-200 or the 80-400 but otherwise I do recommend the lens for what it's worth.
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Mon Jul 30, 2012 5:55 pm

I've been around on a few larger airports in Europe and all I can say is that 300mm is well enough. I use an Canon 90-300 EF by my self, and I can get the feeling sometimes that its actually to long, and if i would by a new objective (which I soon will) I will choose at least 75, or even better, 55 mm.

The 75-200 mm plus a great converter isn't a bad idea, but in the end it can be annoying in my eyes.
Photo equipment: Canon EOS 60D | Canon 70-200 F4L USM | Canon 18-55 3:5-5:6 |
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:14 pm

Ok guys, I've now done a whole load of shooting all morning, emailed the images to various people. I've also finally edited my images of IST and LHR taken with the D300s and the 80-200. I've come to some conclusions that you all may or may not disagree with.

My 80-400 is as soft as a new pillow. It is not overly accurate on focussing and it's soft. I've had it cleaned of fungus once and the zoom gear repaired and so I can only come to the conclusion that the lens has had its day. It's been repaired one time too many. So that would explain my issues there.

My 80-200 2.8d is sharp, high contrast and while it is old, it is excellent.

The most important thing is not what glass, but the quality of the glass. If Viv's 80-400 is working for him, excellent . Mine is not working for me. I will have to look at alternatives. My problem, and mine alone.

Strangely, a pro friend of mine, a D7000 and D800 user explained to me that he can only use his lenses as the 700/800 sensors show the flaws of the lesser lenses.

So to summarise, the best combo is what works for you. I think I'll start using my d700 and 80-200 and buy a 300mm f4 with a 1.4 converter. But that is just me. Happy shooting all.
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Fri Aug 10, 2012 7:24 pm

I find that for serious photos you should have two bodies and three lenses. The first should be a wide angle zoom say 15-30 or similar. The second should be an all around 28-135mm which has everything in between. The third should be like the Nikon 80-400 or Canon 100-400. The camera bodies also do not have to be the top ones. Any with a little bit of shutter
speeds and resolution around 8 MP or higher will do the trick.

Also - always shoot raw or highest mode. You do not need to get those expensive telephotos either like 400 2.8. After
all most never use the 2.8 setting. When shooting action, we sometimes go f8 or f11 etc. The 80-400 lens for example
is professionally built and can take many great photos. Perfect shots are made with whatever equipment you have. Don't
let people tell you that you can only be pro if you buy those large telephotos that cost overt $8000 each. The best shooters will do it from whatever equipment they have.

Have fun...
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Mon Aug 13, 2012 1:20 pm

I have a D300s as well but in combination with the 200-400 f4, a great combination in my opinion. Why? It's very sharp, It still works great when it's cloudy and it gives you the flexibility because of the zoom.

Btw, I own a 80-400 as well, it gives me a larger range, but the side effect is chromatic distortion and its less sharp.
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Mon Aug 13, 2012 5:20 pm

I would stay away from the Nikkor (Nikon) 80-400 since it's very old, uses a screw-drive and is not all that sharp.
Review: http://www.photozone.de/nikon_ff/552-nikkorafd80400vrff

Would consider the Nikon 200-400 if you have the money
Review: Not yet?

Lower priced choices:
Tamron 70-300 SP Di
Review: http://www.photozone.de/nikon_ff/619-tamron70300f456fx

Nikon 70-300 f4/5.6 G ED
Review: http://www.photozone.de/nikon_ff/620-nikon70300f4556vrfx

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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:51 am

Now I upgraded body from 350D to 50D and works with 100-400L but I'm little bit confused about sharpness of images taken. This lens previously worked with 350D and photos were very sharp , now looks little bit soft or blurry. I was trying to use microadjusting with both my lens but results does not met my expectations. I don't know that should be like this or something wrong with my camera. I know that there is twice more pixels on the same surface size compare to my previous body but images should be better IMO. Any of you found the same problem?
Canon 50D gripped + Canon 70D + 17-40 L + 24-105 L IS + 50 f/1.8 STM + 100-400L IS USM + Minolta X300 w/ 35-70 f/3.5
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RE: Best Lens/body Combo For Aviation Photography

Tue Aug 14, 2012 4:10 am

As a Nikon user I keep bouncing back and forth on this question, do I really need the 70-200mmVR with a TC or is my 70-300mmVR good enough? I stop it down to f/8, and it seems plenty sharp, plus it's a much better zoom range for aviation photography. I usually don't shoot in low light, so what difference does it make. Then I read reviews of how incredible the 70-200mmVR is and get sorely tempted. The problem is, for that much money it really should go longer than 200mm.

Right now I use the Sigma 150-500mm OS stopped down to f/9 on my D90 which is about as long as I want to get for aviation shots. Anything longer than 500mm for aviation, you're shooting through too much air as far as I'm concerned. I pull out the 70-300mm VR if I want improved IQ over the Sigma(and I'm close enough). Those two lenses seem to get me through all of my aviation needs. Well, those and and the 12-24 f/4 for the wide shots.

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