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David Franks

Mirrorless for Aviation Photography

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Not sure if this is the proper forum for this question or not. Please let me know if it's not or if its already been asked before. I shoot mainly aviation and it's getting more and more difficult to carry 10 - 15 pounds of gear all day in the Texas heat where I do most of my shooting. Starting to take a day or two just to recover from a show. Explored switching to mirrorless a few years ago and found that the gear wasn't quite up to the challenges of ground-to-air and air-to-air aviation shooting, specifically in continuous tracking and the speed of the electronic viewfinder. I'm hearing that now the latest models may be up to task, especially the Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II. My question is two fold; 1) is there anyone on the site successfully using mirrorless for aviation photography and 2) what would be the equivalent M23 lens for the Nikon 24-120mm f/4, Nikon 70-200mm f/4 and the Sigma 150-60mm f/5-6.3 lens?  Thanks all -

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Well, you have come to the right place to ask those questions, David. 

 

@Greg Drawbaugh is an avid aviation photographer who seems to be able to produce some amazing work with his gear, including the older original E-M1. I'm pretty sure he'll be able to offer you great advice on what to use for those shows. 

 

The move to MFT from a larger format is quite daunting at first, but in my experience it has produced so much more enjoyment of photography for me simply because I don't have to carry around all those heavy lenses. I recall several years ago there was a Top Gear show here in Durban and I took my Nikon D700's plus a few lenses with me (12-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and a TC or two). By the end of the day I was broken, and this was when I was probably at my fittest. 

 

To answer your question about what lenses you should opt for to replicate the Nikons, you are spoiled for choice because there are so many options now, from a clutch of makers. Olympus makes a 12-100mm f/4 PRO lens (Greg has this one), which equates to 24-200mm on the FX system. It's a weather sealed, extremely capable professional grade lens. I have the shorter 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO which I believe is the best zoom lens I have ever used. I've had two of them because I killed my first one in a horror smash involving an 8kg chess set I was photographing... 🙄

 

For the 70-200mm f/2.8 there is both a Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 and an Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. I've used the Oly and it's an amazing lens. I personally prefer the older Olympus 4/3 mount 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD with the MMF3 adapter on my E-M1 for the bokeh, but for tracking AF you would be better off with the MFT lens. 

 

The Sigma 150-600mm is something that might be replaced by the Olympus 90-250mm f/2.8 in 4/3 mount with the MMF3. The problem you will have is that this is a whopper of a lens, both in terms of its size and its cost. I believe they are over $5k new. There are lesser, smaller lenses in the 100-300mm range made specifically for MFT but from an IQ perspective you'd have to draw your own conclusions. I had the Olympus 75-300mm and while I got some good images with it on safari in Botswana, I never warmed to that lens much at all and sold it at a bit of a loss. 

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I have done very little aviation photography since moving away from DSLR gear, but the little that I have done leads to to believe that it is hit-or-miss, at least with the Fuji XT-1. The next-generation EVF may be a bit faster.

Also, The Dynamic Range function generates unpleasant haloes against a blue sky. And cannot be switched off on the Fuji. I switched it off on my former DLSR to solve this problem.

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16 minutes ago, vivionm said:

Also, The Dynamic Range function generates unpleasant haloes against a blue sky. And cannot be switched off on the Fuji. I switched it off on my former DLSR to solve this problem.

 

Is this also the case with RAW shooting? 

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Yes. Cannot be removed in post-processing.

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That would definitely put a damper on the enjoyment of this type of photography, for sure. I can't understand why Fuji would be applying that to a RAW file though. Maybe voice concern about it to them? 

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Yes. Perhaps an option to switch it off could be provided via a firmware update.

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Hey guys, really appreciate the responses. Last night I decided to go ahead and rent both the Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II and 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens just to try them out. They will arrive next Wednesday and I'll have them for a week or longer if I need more time. No airshows scheduled during that time, but I should be able to find something to practice on and I can always head out to one the larger airports in the area to catch some aircraft taking off and landing. The airshow season goes on hiatus around here during the worst of the summer heat but resumes late September before ending early November. My plan is to make my decision and hopefully have a lighter but as/more capable kit by then. I normally carry 2 DSLR bodies with a standard or wide angle zoom on one and a longer zoom  on the other. Show day will usually start before sunrise and end after the sun sets, so its a long day with few opportunities to set the gear or myself down anywhere for a break. Back and shoulders are in agony by the end of the day and take a day or two to recover. Anything to help with that situation will be a plus, and based on some of the reviews and field tests I'm seeing the quality of my photographs may also improve. Would appreciate any tips for the first time EM1 Mark II user.

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I don't think this is right.

 

On Fuji DR 100 = Off.  It is only at DR 200 that the DR function kicks in.  

 

I do not use the DR function, and do not have the problem of haloes against a blue sky, but I am not sure why the DR function would do this anyway.  

 

As for AF, the XT2 is dramatically better than the X-T1.  I would expect it to cope well with aeroplanes.

 

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I agree with Anthony, although it's not clear in the manual! 


Mike Gorman

 

Lumix G9 , GX8 - Leica 12, 15, 20, 25, 42.5 - 8-18, 12-60, 35-100, 45-175

 

 

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David, I can certainly relate to the neck and shoulder pain issues from lugging around heavy camera gear and equipment in general.

 

My 12-40mm zoom is at least on a par with the MkI version of Nikon's excellent 24-70mm zoom - or maybe just a wee tad better.

 

Dallas has written up a tutorial on this site as to how he set up his first E-M1 Mk1 cameras, which I found very useful and I have configured the command and sub-command dials the same as for my Nikon cameras, so that I don't have to relearn the UI thing completely.  Ditto the function buttons and dial rotations (where possible and where it makes sense to do so that is).

 

 

 

3 hours ago, David Franks said:

Hey guys, really appreciate the responses. Last night I decided to go ahead and rent both the Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II and 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens just to try them out. They will arrive next Wednesday and I'll have them for a week or longer if I need more time. No airshows scheduled during that time, but I should be able to find something to practice on and I can always head out to one the larger airports in the area to catch some aircraft taking off and landing. The airshow season goes on hiatus around here during the worst of the summer heat but resumes late September before ending early November. My plan is to make my decision and hopefully have a lighter but as/more capable kit by then. I normally carry 2 DSLR bodies with a standard or wide angle zoom on one and a longer zoom  on the other. Show day will usually start before sunrise and end after the sun sets, so its a long day with few opportunities to set the gear or myself down anywhere for a break. Back and shoulders are in agony by the end of the day and take a day or two to recover. Anything to help with that situation will be a plus, and based on some of the reviews and field tests I'm seeing the quality of my photographs may also improve. Would appreciate any tips for the first time EM1 Mark II user.

 

 

 

Edited by Hugh_3170
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David,

Good questions, and to be honest I never used either the Canon or Nikon systems for airshow photography, but I have a great deal of experience using the Panasonic and Olympus systems ONLY longer than many to shoot airshows.  I currently carry the E-M1 mkII and E-M1 mkI, and while the mkI will work, the mkII is a game-changer.  I usually keep the Olympus 300mm f4.0 on one and the 40-150 f2.8 with the 1.4x converter on the other, keeping the mkII as the primary body at all times.  The focus tracking is not great, but the Continual Auto-focus on the mkII is spot on and dead accurate.  I am in hopes of Olympus getting us a serious Pro level zoom in the range above 100 and at or below 400 in the not too distant future, fingers crossed.  Panasonic makes a Leica-branded 100-400 lens that can get good results, but it is a serious step below the Olympus Pro series in my honest opinion.  The dual-IS between the Olympus 300 and 12-100 and either E-M1 is breath taking, as I have taken hand-held 10 second exposures with the 12-100, and easily can shoot at 1:30 sec with the 300.

 

Here is a shot from an airshow taken earlier this year with the E-M1 mkII and 40-150 f2.8 and 1.4 converter, please see what you think for yourself.

FM2 Wildcat-1.jpg

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Thanks for the response Greg and the shot of the Wildcat is spectacular. Sounds like the E-M1 Mark II may be what I'm looking for. Can't wait for the one I rented to arrive next week so I can start trying it out. If I decide to make the move B&H has a kit featuring the E-M1 Mark II, the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro and the 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro for $3600.00 right now. Looks like an excellent way to make the jump to M23! I can usually hand hold the Nikon D750 with a Sigma 100-400mm down around 1/60th, occasionally down to 1/25th if there is no wind and solid footing. Might get 1 or keepers out of a burst of 15 or 20 shots. Sounds like I should be able to improve on that significantly using the technology Olympus is incorporating along with lighter weight. I find that most of my shots are within the range of 150mm to 300mm (full frame), so a M23's 40-150mm lens should take care of most of my needs, a 300mm should really cover it. How does the weight of the 300mm f/4 Pro compare to a Sigma 150-600mm or Nikon 200-500mm (4.3 lbs. and 5.07 lbs. respectively)? 

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Thank you David for the kind comment on my FM-2 Wildcat shot.  Since I have never used the larger lenses, I can not say for certain, but the Olympus lens should be well less than half the weight.  I love my 40-150 f2.8, but beware the lens hood is VERY delicate.  As for the 300mm f4.0, field of view equivalent of a full-frame 600mm, I can shoot a perched bird and get 75-80% hit rate at 1:30 sec, the only caveat being the movement of the bird.

 

Here is another shot showing what the E-M1 mkII and 300mm can do together

Yankee Warrior-1-2.jpg

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Now that's an action shot Greg that needs to be on a wall!

That D4S rig makes my back hurt just looking at it.

I really have a good feeling about the path I'm about to head down. Right now I have this vision of thousands of keepers from a show instead of a few dozen and not being physically beat down. Of course I know that will not be the case, but you know how your head goes to the stratosphere when contemplating a major shift involving new gear and new technology. I'll be glad when my rentals arrive so I can start reigning in my expectations to some measure of reality. 

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It is certainly doable.  Check out the forums at http://www.mu-43.com.  There are a couple of threads dedicated to aircraft/air shows.  However, be aware that not all photos are taken with m43 gear and some do not identify the gear used in the text and the exif data is stripped..

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8 hours ago, David Franks said:

Now that's an action shot Greg that needs to be on a wall!

That D4S rig makes my back hurt just looking at it.

I really have a good feeling about the path I'm about to head down. Right now I have this vision of thousands of keepers from a show instead of a few dozen and not being physically beat down. Of course I know that will not be the case, but you know how your head goes to the stratosphere when contemplating a major shift involving new gear and new technology. I'll be glad when my rentals arrive so I can start reigning in my expectations to some measure of reality. 

 

You're making the right decision by renting the stuff first. I do think that you will be instantly amazed at firstly the speed and accuracy of AF, then secondly at how sharp the Oly PRO glass is. 

 

Right now I don't have a need for the Mk II, but it is good to know that should I start to venture back into action photography the system provides a good option for it. Lens wise, I am still looking for an ultra-wide that is a bit better than my Olympus 9-18mm and not as flare prone as the Olympus 7-14/2.8 PRO. The Panasonic 8-18mm looks interesting, but I still have to get my hands on one for proper testing in the field. 

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On 07/07/2018 at 16:56, vivionm said:

I have done very little aviation photography since moving away from DSLR gear, but the little that I have done leads to to believe that it is hit-or-miss, at least with the Fuji XT-1. The next-generation EVF may be a bit faster.

Also, The Dynamic Range function generates unpleasant haloes against a blue sky. And cannot be switched off on the Fuji. I switched it off on my former DLSR to solve this problem.

 

Not so. This seems to be a common misunderstanding (probably because of Fuji's legendary obscure use of Western language): if you set the menu under dynamic range to 100, it will remain off for all ISO settings.

 

Setting to 200% will engage DR200% at all ISO over 400 ISO, and setting DR400% will further engage at ISO above 800 ISO. In other words no DR is default, DR 200% is available at ISO 400 and above, and DR400% is available at ISO 800 and above if set like that in the menu.

 

If you leave the menu set up at DR100, it is turned off no matter what the ISO. It is very confusing - I have no idea why Fuji chose to use 400% instead of just calling it 0, 1 or 2. It is entirely silly to use the same figures for DR as for ISO, particularly when 100% refers to below 400 ISO, 200% to 400+ ISO and 400% to 800+ ISO. Really stupid.

 

If you are getting a white outline against blue sky when the camera is set below 400 ISO , the cause lies elsewhere in processing or hardware - DR is OFF at those ISO settings (no matter what figure DR is set to in the menu), and if you set the menu to DR100, it stays off all the time - you'll get an indicator in the viewfinder & LCD as well - at the top near the middle - set the DR to 100, and set the ISO to 800, and this indicator will show 100 (meaning DR%, not ISO). 

 

I'm beginning to think Fuji must also have been the culprit regarding "Full Frame" and "Equivalent Focal Length" with their masterful way of failing to communicate succinctly. ;)  I'll never forget how long I was perplexed with their use of "Silent Mode" in the X100 and X-Pro1 menu to describe the word "Off" for flash, nor the confusion that caused amongst users.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Alan7140 said:

 

Not so. This seems to be a common misunderstanding (probably because of Fuji's legendary obscure use of Western language): if you set the menu under dynamic range to 100, it will remain off for all ISO settings.

 

Setting to 200% will engage DR200% at all ISO over 400 ISO, and setting DR400% will further engage at ISO above 800 ISO. In other words no DR is default, DR 200% is available at ISO 400 and above, and DR400% is available at ISO 800 and above if set like that in the menu.

 

If you leave the menu set up at DR100, it is turned off no matter what the ISO. It is very confusing - I have no idea why Fuji chose to use 400% instead of just calling it 0, 1 or 2. It is entirely silly to use the same figures for DR as for ISO, particularly when 100% refers to below 400 ISO, 200% to 400+ ISO and 400% to 800+ ISO. Really stupid.

 

If you are getting a white outline against blue sky when the camera is set below 400 ISO , the cause lies elsewhere in processing or hardware - DR is OFF at those ISO settings (no matter what figure DR is set to in the menu), and if you set the menu to DR100, it stays off all the time - you'll get an indicator in the viewfinder & LCD as well - at the top near the middle - set the DR to 100, and set the ISO to 800, and this indicator will show 100 (meaning DR%, not ISO). 

 

I'm beginning to think Fuji must also have been the culprit regarding "Full Frame" and "Equivalent Focal Length" with their masterful way of failing to communicate succinctly. ;)  I'll never forget how long I was perplexed with their use of "Silent Mode" in the X100 and X-Pro1 menu to describe the word "Off" for flash, nor the confusion that caused amongst users.

 

 

Thank you, Alan. I was indeed confused.

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1 hour ago, vivionm said:

Thank you, Alan. I was indeed confused.

It goes with old age Vivion. 😎

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Mike Gorman

 

Lumix G9 , GX8 - Leica 12, 15, 20, 25, 42.5 - 8-18, 12-60, 35-100, 45-175

 

 

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To be honest here, panning with an EVF takes some getting used to.  The E-M1mkII made it MUCH better, the mkI is fair to good, but other, earlier models were frustrating.  I have owned and used the Panasonic G-1, G-5, GH-2, GH-3, GX-7 and the Olympus E-M5mkII, all were severely lacking in their ability to shoot C-AF while panning.  Bang for the buck at $500, the Panasonic 100-300mm can get good results, especially if you can shoot it at exactly f8.  There are few other options at the long end, so hopefully Olympus is working on something to fill the gap in between 150 and 300mm.

 

As for my B-25 shot banking over my head, the camera really surprised me here on a less than stellar weather day.  Thank you for the nice compliment.

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I managed to keep up with the RAAF aerial acrobatics display Roulettes Pilatus PC-9 aircraft last year with the X-T2 - it didn't take too much effort (even though its something I rarely get a chance to photograph) so I'd anticipate that the gen4 EVF in whatever camera it appears in will end any problems altogether.

 

The X-Pro1 was unusable in tracking, the X-T1 was better but also much improved during its lifetime by firmware updates and the X-T2 is streets ahead again of that benchmark, so it is reasonable to expect that the X-T3/X-H2 (or whatever they call it this time) will have the problem completely sorted. A further doubling of the refresh rate would bring things up to 200Hz, which will be imperceptible to most mere humans, so at that point I'd expect that it'll only be a relatively short wait before EVF becomes a realistic contender in this department if the current level of 100Hz is still not sufficient for some.

 

Given Fuji's recent price offers on some lines compared with their past behaviour, the replacement for the X-T2 (at least) could be expected by the end of this year or the first half of next year.

 

It won't affect me as my current refresh rate is an acceptable 1hz or so (the time it takes for me to crank the ARAX-60 film wind and shutter cocking lever), so all this new-fangled electronic nonsense is something from which I'm distancing myself. :D 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Alan7140

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Ok, been away for awhile but somehow still shooting DSLR's and weighing the move to mirrorless. At issue is wether or not the newest mirrorless bodies are up to the challenges of ground-to-air and air-to-air aviation shooting, specifically continuous tracking accuracy and the speed of the electronic viewfinder. An associate of mine recently picked up a FujiFilm X-H1 mirrorless body and XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens, along with a few other lenses. He's having really good luck capturing aviation related action sequences including spinning props with this combo. Sharpness, color and overall detail are amazing. Just wondering if anyone else is using this body?

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David, to answer one of your original questions, a direct mu-43 equivalent to the Nikon 24-120 is the Panasonic Leica 12-60mm 2.8/4 Vario-Elmaret a little cracker!


Mike Gorman

 

Lumix G9 , GX8 - Leica 12, 15, 20, 25, 42.5 - 8-18, 12-60, 35-100, 45-175

 

 

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1 hour ago, David Franks said:

Ok, been away for awhile but somehow still shooting DSLR's and weighing the move to mirrorless. At issue is wether or not the newest mirrorless bodies are up to the challenges of ground-to-air and air-to-air aviation shooting, specifically continuous tracking accuracy and the speed of the electronic viewfinder. An associate of mine recently picked up a FujiFilm X-H1 mirrorless body and XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens, along with a few other lenses. He's having really good luck capturing aviation related action sequences including spinning props with this combo. Sharpness, color and overall detail are amazing. Just wondering if anyone else is using this body?

 

Good to have you back, David. 

 

Most of the newest generation mirrorless bodies will be able to do what you describe. I don't have any personal experience, but many of the birders I know who use the Olympus E-M1 Mk II have had excellent results with that camera. The newest EM-1 X has subject detection software that apparently is able to pick up and track certain items. I think aircraft was one of them, but I'm not really following closely enough these days to know for certain. 

 

If you're already invested in a selection of glass (Nikon or Canon) then their mirrorless bodies would be the logical choice. 

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