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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-500mm will be useful for taking photos of aircraft in the air.


Megapixels:
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.

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.



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. Canon has 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 well built, fast aperture, fast auto-focus, very good IQ (Image Quality), and 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 500mm.

Telephoto Lens.

A reasonable starter telephoto zoom lens is one of the Canon or Sigma 75-300mm f/4-5.6 lenses which are relatively inexpensive, light, and have just enough reach. A much better option would be the more expensive Canon 70-300mm IS USM lens which is sharper and has a faster autofocus as well as an image stabiliser. If you get a Canon lens with USM (Ultrasonic Motor) or Sigma lens with HSM (High Speed Motor) then these lenses will autofocus much more quickly which is useful for fast moving aircraft.

A more expensive Canon telephoto zoom lens which is a common lens at airshows is the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS which has image stabilisation, a long focal length, USM, and professional quality build. Alternative third party lenses are the Sigma 80-400mm f/4-5.6EX OS which is much cheaper than the Canon 100-400L, has image stabilisation, long focal length, and professional build quality however it does not have HSM so is slower to autofocus. The Sigma 50-500mm f/4-f6.3EX is cheaper still and has an excellent focal length range, HSM, professional build quality, but it is relatively heavy, although along with the Canon 100-400L is a popular airshow lens. Cheaper still is the Tamron SP AF200-500MM f/5-6.3 which has good focal length and is designed for digital SLR cameras. A much more expensive fast lens is the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 which is big and heavy but has excellent image quality, flexiblity of a zoom and f/2.8 aperture which also gives good results with an extender. The Sigma 120-400, and the Sigma 150-500, both have Optical Stabilisation and are good on price. If you want a longer reach with a good quality image then take a look at the very popular Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM which it very good value for money.

Although a telephoto zoom lens is versatile and ideal for an airshow you can also try a fixed telephoto lens such as the excellent and affordable Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens which is usually sharper than a similarly priced zoom lens when shooting at the maximum aperture. Many telephoto zoom lens will have a better image quality when the aperture is closed down slightly. The Canon 400mm f/5.6L also has a very fast autofocus although if you use a fixed telephoto lens then you need to complement it with a good zoom lens to cover all the focal lengths that you need and you may find that a second DSLR camera body is needed.

Another option, if you can afford it, is the Canon 300mm f/2.8L IS fixed telephoto lens which is an exceptionally sharp and fast lens and still retains good sharpness and speed with an extender for more reach. This lens can be used handheld which is useful for airshow photography. The Canon 500mm f/4L fixed telephoto lens is another very expensive but also extremely sharp and fast lens with plenty of reach but is very big and heavy and would be very difficult to manage handheld for the duration of an airshow. This lens would be more suitable for a tripod or monopod but you will miss a lot of shots due to the limitation of a tripod and also a fixed focal length.

Click here to see some DLSR Cameras & Lenses.

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.


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