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Canon Digital SLR Camera & Lens for Airshows

Digital SLR Camera

The Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera is ideal for airshow photography as it allows you to fit a wide range of quality lenses from wide-angle for static display aircraft up to long telephoto lenses for aircraft in the air. This type of camera also has a bright TTL (Through The Lens) viewfinder, no noticeable shutter lag, and many operating features and modes for taking quality photographs. You can also find more information on using a digital SLR at Airshows on this website.

Sensor Size:
When buying a Digital SLR camera then take a look at the specifications for the sensor size. A Full Frame Digital SLR would give you the same field-of-view as a standard 35mm SLR camera although many popular Digital SLR's have a smaller cropped sensor which give you a smaller field-of-view (See photo below).

Digital SLR Camera.

A Digital SLR Camera with a cropped sensor has some advantages but also some disadvantages for airshow photography. The advantage is when using a long lens for aircraft in the air then it appears to magnify the lens even more, however the lens magnification stays the same, and it just reduces your field-of-view. A disadvantage is when you require a wide-angled lens to photograph an aircraft in the static display, you would then need a wider-angled lens (usually more expensive) when using a camera with a cropped sensor.

When using a Digital SLR camera which has a sensor with a 1.6x crop factor then a 300mm telephoto lens will have the effective field-of-view of a 480mm lens (300X1.6=480), and a 15mm lens will have an effective field-of-view of a 24mm lens (15X1.6=24). If you are using a camera with a 1.6x crop sensor then a wide-angled lens of about 17mm will be useful for static aircraft & museum aircraft and a telephoto lens of 300mm up to 600mm will be useful for taking photos of aircraft in the air.

A Digital Camera's resolution is measured in megapixels and a megapixel is equal to one million pixels. Generally it is preferable to have a camera with more megapixels as it is useful when you need to crop an image and you still have plenty of resolution to play with, or you may want to make very large prints. However, probably more important then the number of megapixels a camera has is the sensor size, low-light performance, frames per second, dynamic range etc.

Batteries and Memory Cards:
When using a Digital SLR at an airshow all day then it is wise to bring a few more spare batteries along. The camera manufacturer batteries tend to be fairly expensive but you can get reliable third-party batteries for your camera which work well. A battery grip makes a decent addition to your camera, making it easier to grip, as well as holding two batteries which will last twice as long as a single battery.

Many cameras now use an SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) memory card and some older cameras used a Compact Flash memory card. Obviously, a higher capacity memory card will hold more images but you should also consider the performance or speed of the card. A faster memory card which has a fast write-speed will not affect the captured image but it is useful when you are taking photos of an aircraft in the air and you use 'Continuous Shooting' mode where images need to be quickly saved to the memory card. As with batteries it is a good idea to bring some spare memory cards with you when attending an airshow.

Features to look for in a Digital SLR are the range of ISO settings and how the camera handles noise. The maximum frames per second that it can shoot in burst mode. The size and clarity of the LCD on the back of the camera. You might also be interested in 'Live View' mode where you can use the LCD screen as a viewfinder or be able to take video with your Digital SLR camera.

Sensor Cleaning:
Early Digital SLR Cameras used to suffer badly with a dirty sensor after being used just a few times. Modern DSLR Cameras usually have built-in auto sensor cleaning which shakes the loose dust of the sensor every time the camera is switched on or off. This works very well but over a period of heavy use then you may find that the sensor needs a more thorough clean.

For general photography you will probably not notice any dust spots on your images but when photographing aircraft against a bright sky then they sometimes show up and can spoil your shot. You can of course clone out the dust spots using software such as Photoshop but having to do this with hundreds of photos can be very time consuming.

You can check how dirty your sensor is by taking a photograph of a clear blue sky using 'Aperture mode' and setting the Aperture to f/22, and then view the image on your computer using graphics software such as 'Photoshop' or 'Paint Shop Pro'. Using the software then select 'Equalize' which will help to show up any dust spots in the image.

If the sensor is particularly dirty then you can either take your camera to a reputable camera dealer and let them clean it, or you can clean the sensor yourself. If you tackle the job yourself then you will need a proper sensor cleaning kit which includes a blower brush, Eclipse fluid, and sensor swabs which can be bought from Wex Photographic. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet for cleaning camera sensors which can be found by typing 'How to clean your camera sensor' into Google.

Digital SLR Camera Reviews:
There are plenty of Digital SLR camera reviews at the DPReview website:

DPReview website for camera reviews.

Airshow Camera Lens
Digital SLR Camera.

Which Camera lens for an Airshow?:
For airshow photography it is usually advisable to use zoom lenses so that you only have to carry a few lenses with you and change lenses less frequently. For a Canon DSLR you have the choice of a range of Canon lenses or various third party lenses from Sigma, Tamron etc which are available with Canon mounts. You can either buy the cheaper consumer lenses or the more expensive professional lenses. Canon have a professional range of lenses which they designate as the 'L' series (Luxury) which are usually a distinctive cream colour with a red stripe and Sigma's professional series is designated 'EX' (Excellence). These professional series lenses are usually have a better build quality, fast aperture, fast auto-focus, very good optics (image quality), but are more expensive than consumer lenses.

For photographing aircraft on static display then it is recommended to use a wide-angled zoom lens so that you can get close to the aircraft and not have people walking in front of you. For static aircraft that are further away then a mid-range zoom will be useful. For aircraft in the air then you will need a telephoto lens of at least 300mm up to 600mm.

Telephoto Lens.

Below are a few telephoto lens options for Canon DSLR users:

A reasonable starter telephoto zoom lens is one of the Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 lenses which are relatively inexpensive, light, and have just enough reach.

A more expensive option would be the very popular Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens or cheaper Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 APO EX DG HSM OS lens (nicknamed the Bigma) which give you more reach with good quality optics. Sigma now also have the new Sigma 60-600mm f4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport Lens which has a 10x optical zoom, like the Bigma, but has a longer reach of 600mm.

Sigma 150-600mm lens.

Another very popular airshow lens today is the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens which is very good value for money and is available in two options with the cheaper Contemporary version and the more expensive Sports version which has weather sealing.

Other telephoto zoom lenses include the Tamron 150-600mm f5-6.3 and the Sigma 100-400mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM lens which are relatively cheap.

Many of these telephoto zoom lenses have image stabilisation to help in keeping the image sharp when being used handheld at lower shutter speeds and they are all quite larger and heavier compared with the cheaper Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 lenses.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L USM Lens is a good quality lens with a wide aperture but would need a converter to increase the focal length needed at many airshows.

More expensive telephoto lenses would include the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 DG OS HSM Lens and Sigma 60-600mm f4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport Lens.

Telephoto zoom lenses are very versatile at airshows, where you might have a small single aircraft display and you need to zoom in close, and then a aerobatic display team where you need to zoom back out. With fixed fixed focal length telephoto lenses you are not able to change the focal length but they do have an advantage of usually having better optics (for better image quality) even with the aperture wide-open. You may find that a telephoto zoom lens will produce better images if you stop the lens down but a fixed focal length telephoto lens will produce a good image without doing this. A fixed telephoto lens is also usually lighter than the equivalent zoom lens.

A couple of affordable fixed focal length telephoto lens include the Canon EF 300mm f4L IS USM and the Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM lens. The Canon EF 300mm has image stabilisation but the Canon EF 400mm has a longer focal length for better reach and very fast autofocus. Both lenses have good quality optics and are relatively light.

The following fixed focal length telephoto lenses are much more expensive, have superb image quality, faster apertures but are big and heavy. These include the excellent Canon EF 300mm f2.8L IS II USM lens which can be used with a converter for a longer focal length and the very expensive but superb Canon EF 500mm f4L IS II USM lens. Other options include the Sigma 300mm f2.8 EX DG HSM Lens, Sigma 500mm f4 SPORT DG OS HSM Lens and the Canon EF 400mm f4 DO IS II USM lens.

Using your Digital SLR Camera:
In order to use a Digital SLR you need to understand how Exposure works with the Aperture and Shutter Speed, different Exposure program modes, metering etc. More information on using a Digital SLR can be found here.

Software & Post Processing:
With a modern digital SLR you will be required to do some post processing to your photographs in order to straighten, crop, add contrast, colour, resize, and sharpen your photographs for printing or displaying on a monitor or website. Your DSLR camera should come with appropriate software but it is preferable to use either Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. More information on post-processing can be found here.

Lens Reviews on Youtube

Canon & Sigma Lens Abbreviations and meanings

Below are some of the abbreviations and their meanings for these lenses:

DSLR - Digital Single Lens Reflex camera.
Focal Length - 50mm is a standard Focal Length. For example 17mm would be a wide-angle lens and 400mm a telephoto lens.
Zoom Lens - A Zoom lens has a variable focal length.
Fixed Focal Length lens - A Fixed Focal Length lens has only one focal length.
Lens-Aperture - The Lens Aperture is a variable hole in the lens that lets light into the camera.
Fast-Aperture Lens - A lens that has a wide maximum aperture allowing lots of light into the camera.
f-number - In the description of the lens - This is the widest (fastest) aperture available on the lens.
'L' Lens - 'Luxury Lens' are professional range of Canon Lenses.
'EX' Lens - 'Excellence Lens' are professional range of Sigma Lenses.
USM - For Canon lenses it stands for 'Ultrasonic Autofocus Motor' for fast autofocus.
HSM - For Sigma lenses it stands for 'High Speed Motor' for fast autofocus.
IS - Image Stabilisation on Canon lenses.
OS - Optical Stabilisation on Sigma lenses.
EF - 'Electronic Focus'. This lens mount fits the entire Canon EOS DSLR range.
EF-S - 'Electronic Focus Short'. This lens mount fits only the Canon APS-C sensor DSLR range.
DG - DG Sigma lens has been optimised for all Digital SLRs.
DC - DC Sigma lenses are designed specifically for digital SLRs with the small APS-C size image sensor.
DO - 'Diffractive optics'. Technology allowing Canon to produce shorter physical length lenses.