Another Pandemic Surge, Another Airshow

Last year I attended the London, Ontario SKYDRIVE Airshow. It was a success because it was well conceived and executed but also because it was one of the very few public events that was not cancelled.


I found myself there again last weekend. It was a little different. It was very hot and humid so the indicated air temperature of 32oC felt like 42oC. Instead of being able to drive and park my car into a spot right up against the runway, I sprung for a Photo Pit pass this year thinking it might confer an advantage for shooting. It did not. They made us walk a good kilometer in the heat from a remote parking lot with all our gear to end up right beside the parked “drive in” cars. Some people were smart and had brought wheeled carts to help carry all their gear. I always travel light and had only my E-M1X, Zuiko 300mm f/4 PRO and MC14 with me. But then I had to carry a chair and an umbrella.

Surprisingly some of the more popular options that I saw fellow photographers bring were step ladders and tripods. I guess the height to shoot above the early hordes who had grabbed the best spots right by the barriers and the tripod to help bear the weight of those long and heavy full frame telephoto lenses.

300mm is likely enough for a m43 body at an airshow, but I pushed the envelope slightly with 420mm.  The smaller FOV is less forgiving if you are not adept at rapid panning and tracking targets but the lightness of the m43 gear (the bulk of the E-M1X body actually provides the right mass to counterbalance long telephoto lenses) makes it far easier than any camera mounted on a tripod head.

Same as last year, I booked for the day most likely to rain.  There were plenty of clouds and some distant dark rain clouds but none of the thunder and lightning that I was hoping for,  to give the Olympus weather sealing a real world test of course (and to see everybody else run for cover).

You might want to increase the magnification scale of your browser window to see the images at their largest and pixel peep a little in order to appreciate the quality of the resolution.

Checking my wingman.  ISO400 1/1600 s   I always wondered if it was really necessary to shoot in RAW during daylight events like an airshow or a car race. Sure there is reduced dynamic range in the jpeg file but is it needed in daylight images with few shadows?  Remember shooting RAW + JPEG means slower write times and reduced memory card capacity. This is the RAW result of the aging F-18 Hornet fighter of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
This is the in camera jpeg of the same image. Looks very similar? Both were processed in the same fashion with Photoshop. The RCAF needs to buy a new fleet of fighters very soon. The three finalists are the F-35s, the Super Hornet, and the Saab Grippen E. Canada is not a provocateur so it seems stealth technology is not necessary for national defense. The Super Hornet would seem to be the most logical choice for seamless integration with USAF and our NORAD duties but Boeing insulted Canada when it tried to stop the sale of hundreds of Bombardier CS100 jets to Delta Airlines. The Grippen is an interesting option given the similar climate between Sweden and Canada.
At 100% scale it becomes evident that there are clear artefacts remaining in the clouds post noise reduction in the jpeg (right) but that appears to be the only defect. Both images show very similar details in both the very bright and very dark regions.  The funny thing is that it doesn’t happen in every image, my other RAW and jpeg comparisons failed to show this effect.
RAW (left), jpeg (right) and the two show very similar details with no other differences of note.
Again no differences between RAW (left) and jpeg (right) except that the heat distortion of the atmosphere from the jet exhaust is more visible in the jpeg. This could be the result of the default sharpening that occurs with the in camera jpeg development. 


I think it’s safe to conclude that shooting in jpeg is adequate for this type of photography.   Here, I prioritize high burst rate and large card capacity to an image quality superiority that I cannot see.

Pitt Specials.  ISO64, 1/250 s exposure.
C-130 Hercules.  ISO64 1/100s  It’s easier to get a full prop rotation image when there are 6 blades in each prop. Canada disappointed me last week with their tepid response in evacuating Canadian citizens and Afghan nationals with confirmed immigration visas. We can only carry 118 passengers in the C130 because there are only that many safety belts. Meanwhile the Americans crammed in nearly 700 people in their C17 Globemasters (albeit a much larger plane) by having them all sit on the floor. That is the much vaunted American “just get it done” spirit in action!
The RCAF’s precision flying acrobatic team, The Snowbirds. ISO400, 1/2500 s This is their 50th anniversary.
Snowbirds.  ISO400 1/6400s   With over 2700 performances at North American airshows there have been fatalities including 7 pilots and 2 passengers.
Super Hornets.  ISO400 1/2500s  The Thunderbirds also performed but I left early. These are some visiting Americans from Carrier Air Wing 8 of the USS George H.W. Bush.

I can’t wait until 2022 when I can travel further abroad and take in some really incredible airshows.

Addendum Sept 5, 2021 – Images from the Annual CNE Toronto Airshow

The CNE Airshow returned this year with a limited number of performers and no reserved audience seating.   People were encouraged to watch the show from the shores of Lake Ontario while keeping distance from strangers despite a projected 84% of Toronto being fully vaccinated.

F-35A ventral surface showing long trailing thermal distortion. E-M1X, Zuiko 300mm f/4 MC20 ISO400 1/2000s


P-51D Mustang “Quicksilver”  E-M1X Zuiko 300mm f/4 MC20  F/13 ISO64 1/160 s


Amazing local pilot is 80 year old Gord Price!   Gord also flew CF-104 nuclear armed Starfighters of RCAF 442 Squadron based in Germany in the 1960s.   It was his mission to attack ground targets in the Warsaw Pact countries should the Cold War with Russia go hot.   He was not expected to survive.   E-M1X Zuiko 300m f/4 MC20 f/14 ISO64 1/100s


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