Shooting m43 at the air show.

I’ve been so busy this summer that yesterday was my first airshow of the season, the annual Brantford Community Charity Airshow.   And what is Brantford, Ontario?  It’s a small city with a population of under 100k but it’s also the hometown of the Great One¹.   They bill themselves as the greatest airshow in the world … because admission is free.   Donations are welcome and there is a flat $20 parking fee for every vehicle irrespective of the number of occupants.  All proceeds go to charitable causes since performers and organizers donated their time … yet still I saw many people park outside of the airport in order to save spending $20.   Shortly after the planes started flying they had to close the gates since they were at capacity and it looks like in excess of $50k was raised.

Shooting jet aircraft is fairly straight forward, high shutter speed with fast S-AF or C-AF and a telephoto lens.  Shooting propeller driven airplane is a whole different matter.   Like shooting race cars, you want to preserve some aspect of propeller motion and not simply freeze the blades in midair.   The pro photographers typically accomplish this by shooting the plane from a chase plane flying at the same speed, they can shoot at slow shutter speed (less than 1/100 s) and capture an entire propeller rotation and still capture the body of the plane in focus despite it flying at high speed.  As a fellow ground photographer, the best one can usually accomplish is capturing the blur of a partial propeller rotation.  Or so I thought.

CWHM C-47 transport
1944 Douglas C-47 of 437 Squadron RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force), saw action on D-Day and carried 300 casualties and 460 POWs to safety and over 5100 passengers.

Shot with E-M1X and 300mm f/4 PRO at f/5, ISO64, 1/80s and L speed continuous fire.  I also used a ND8 neutral density filter giving me 3 full aperture stops of darkness while allowing my lens to operate at its f/5 sweet spot and allow a slow enough shutter speed to capture a full propeller rotation.   In most of my shots, the aircraft is not in sharp focus since it’s flying too fast for the shutter speed.  But occasionally, my manual panning of the camera as I follow the plane through the sky as it flies towards and passes me is perfect and the aircraft is in acceptably sharp focus.  But the sin of this image – the boring solid blue background.

T-28 Trojan US NAVY
T-28 Trojan of the US Navy with tail hook extended for carrier landing.

Here the exact same camera settings but the Trojan is flying at near stalling speed so that the airshow crowd can get a good look at her, which makes it easier for me to capture a full propeller rotation and a sharp fuselage image at 1/80 s.

B-25 Mitchell Bomber (CHWM)
1944 B-25 Mitchell Bomber J series gunship of No. 98 RAF Squadron.

Here the shutter speed is only 1/40 s and I’m likely capturing more than a single propeller rotation since the engines are at full throttle for takeoff.   And because take off is a relatively slow speed, I’m able to pan and effect a sharp fuselage image.

Brent Handy Aerobatics with Pitts Special

Shot at f/6.3, ISO 200 and 1/125 s shutter speed.  These acrobatic biplanes are always running at full throttle so it was quite easy to capture a full propeller rotation at a faster shutter speed, in turn increasing the chances of getting one sharp frame.

Hamilton Sport Parachute Club and the CWHM C-47
C-47 ejecting a member of the Hamilton Sport Parachute Club at approximately 2000 feet.

Sometimes you need that MC-20 teleconverter to give you 600mm of focal length reach at the airshow.  Often small, acrobatic planes at altitude are too small to be imaged effectively and you really need all 600mm of focal length as demonstrated below.

Mike Tryggvason & Giles 202

Mike Tryggvason and Giles 202
600mm focal length, f/8, ISO 400, 1/125 s shutter speed.



Superb closeup of Canadair T-33
Canadair T-33 jet trainer, f/5 ISO 800 1/640 s shutter speed with out ND filter.
Superb closeup of Canadair T-33
Superb detail and framing that looks like it could have been taken from another aircraft.
Avro Lancaster Mk 10 (CHWM)   "Last one home"
Avro Lancaster Mark 10 of 419 Squadron RCAF.  Manufactured by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario, just north of Toronto.  Well over 7 thousand were manufactured between Canada and the UK but only two airworthy aircraft exist today.   Shot at f/5, ISO64, 1/80 s.

And of course the Jewel in the Crown of Canadian vintage aviation, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster.  This is the only airshow that it is appearing for 2019 and the slightly out of focus fuselage gives the image an oil painting appearance not unlike the works of Robert Taylor.  I call this one “Last one home”.



¹  The Great One is Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player that ever lived.


Addendum:  The Last Airshow of the Season

Just a few days later in the week was the annual CNE Airshow conducted over Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto.  I chose to attend on Sunday since rain was in the weather forecast and I wanted to try out the Olympus weather sealing capabilities as well as hoping for a more interesting sky background.  I suppose that in the interests of safety and the dense jungle of glass clad towers in the downtown Toronto area, most of the air action took place deep into Lake Ontario and really demanded the use of the 300mm f/4 Pro lens with the MC-20 in order to shoot the planes at a decent scale.   So all following images were taken at 600mm and prop planes with a ND8 filter.

CF-18 Hornet Vapour Cone
Partial vapor cone forming on the tail end of CF-18 Hornet as it accelerates across a stormy Lake Ontario with 100% humidity.   Going supersonic would create a larger and more complete vapor cone  – but not allowed so close to downtown Toronto.  On patrol against illegal American migrants crossing the border by boat.
Gord Price and his Yakovlev Yak50 Prototype
Gord Price is a 77 year old acrobatic pilot flying the Russian made Yak50 !


Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 entered active service in 1949 and shocked Western forces during combat in the Korean War. The MiG-15 could outclimb, out turn and fly higher than the North American F-86 Sabre. And unbeknownst at the time, many MiG-15s were flown by experienced Russian pilots, not North Koreans.
RAF AIrbus A400M Atlas
RAF Airbus A400M Atlas heavy lift cargo plane.




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