With the start of the UK airshow season I thought it would be a good time to post my experiences from last year of shooting Blackpool Airshow with the Fuji X-Pro2 and Fuji 90mm F2 lens.
To be clear from the start – this is not the ideal combination for close-ups of planes zooming across the sky. Nothing wrong with the camera or the lens – they’re both stunning – but the inescapable fact is that 90mm is simply not long enough for close-ups of planes flying in the distance. If you’re looking for shots like that then really something like the 100-400mm would be ideal.
As the crowds gathered at Blackpool (and gather they do on a sunny day!) , I was quite happy testing the auto-focus tracking on obliging gulls and looking back towards the Pleasure Beach and its imposing roller coaster.
In hindsight I hadn’t really thought too much about the limitations which a 90mm focal length would present, and within a few minutes of the display starting I was feeling a bit disappointed. Reviewing my images everything looked a little static, lacking any feeling of the amazing maneuvers the planes were performing. Altogether they were underwhelming. I should really have kept some of them as an example, but a lot of them I deleted on the spot – something I hardly ever do and wouldn’t recommend.
It was time to mix things up a bit, and so I decided to switch from the excellent EVF to the OVF and see what I could come up with.
With a 90mm lens this might seem like madness – the frame covering less than 1/3rd of the optical window – but in fact it was a revelation.
With the increased field-of-view I could now see and anticipate the balletic dance of the planes in the sky. As they twisted and turned through their routine, smoke streaming behind, I was able to compose wider shots that captured the grace of their displays.
My 90mm lens was now working with me instead of against.
This is actually one of the reasons I love prime lenses – they force you to think creatively and come up with solutions to make your shots work. Often with a zoom I find my photography can get a little bit lazy, whereas with a prime there is no hiding place. It’s also one of the reasons I love the form factor of the X-Pro2 (and the X100 series). The rangefinder styling seems to shift me into a different mindset and encourage me to think more before shooting.
Relaxed in my new found approach I had a thoroughly enjoyable few hours shooting the various displays. The Typhoon display proved a bit of a challenge, as without any smoke trail it was difficult to find a composition that worked. Fortunately an airliner contrail appeared high up in the distance to provide a bit of added interest to the gleaming metal of Typhoon.
The pace slowed won a little with the amazing Breitling Wing Walkers display, with a few close approaches to the sea front allowing for a closer in shot, even with the 90mm lens.
A quick word on the 90mm lens – it’s phenomenal.
Even at F2 it is incredibly sharp into the corners of the frame and it doesn’t let up until diffraction starts to take over at higher f-stops. It may lack the focal length flexibility of a zoom, but its relatively lightweight combined with the incredible image quality make it a real winner.
The auto-focus of the X-Pro2 didn’t disappoint either. I used the continuous focus mode with zone focusing. To be honest I would have been surprised if it had struggled though – it was a bright day and the aircraft provided an easy point of contrast against the sky. Seeing the little focus squares shifting around in the OVF was actually quite mesmerising, but in hindsight I could just have easily shot with manual focus. On such a sunny day I was able to shoot at low iso and fast shutter speed with an aperture typically around f5.6. Hyperfocal distance works out somewhere between 50m and 100m, so with the planes at least a few hundred metres away it wouldn’t have been a problem.
As with most UK airshows the Red Arrows provided the finale to the afternoon.
The precision with which they’re able to place their planes in the sky is second to none and gave plenty of further opportunity to anticipate the action with the extended view of the OVF.
I now carry out all my post-production work in Capture One. Lightroom still has some advantages when it comes to catalog management, with features like Publish Services, but overall I’m preferring the workflow and image quality that I get out of Capture One – particularly with XTrans files from the FujiX cameras. The geography and timing of Blackpool Airshow means that you’re normally working in a strongly back-lit situation. Colours were therefore somewhat muted and so I decided to convert to Black and White. It’s not something that I do that often, but with this series of images I felt it complemented them quite well.
My take-away from the day would be that you shouldn’t ever feel limited by the kit you have with you. If something isn’t working for you then put your thinking cap on and look for a different approach. Not only will you come away more satisfied, but you’ll probably get some images a little different to the norm – and in today’s age where everyone carries a smartphone camera in their pocket that’s no bad thing.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or queries feel free to ask via the comments below.