Category Archives: Airplanes

Using the GX-1 at an Air Museum

I have a Panasonic GX-1. It was purchased on a whim because of a “deal of the day” advertisement that I saw online. The deal was too good to pass up!  The GX-1 showed up in a few days and I immediately started using it.  And then, it stayed unused in a camera bag.

My thought on getting the GX-1 was as a back up camera to my Olympus E-P3.  Both of these cameras are in the same class, Micro Four Thirds (MFT) and are known as mirrorless cameras.  Neither one has an optical or electronic viewfinder and you must rely on the LCD on the back of the camera for picture taking.  While not really pocketable, they are both much smaller than my DSLR (Canon 60D), and produce very nice images.  This type of camera is generally not very good at any type of fast action photography, but do quite well for just about anything else.

I really loved my Olympus E-P3, from the moment I first picked it up.  It felt solid and has a nice retro look.  I’ve taken some very nice photos with it too!  The E-P3 is starting to show its age, especially with its older 12mp sensor.  Low light high ISO capability was not really one of its strengths.  To counter that and work within this limitation, I kept the ISO low and put the E-P3 on a tripod in low light.  The solid build has come into play for me personally.  While out hiking with the E-P3, I slipped and fell – twice!  I came away with some scrapes and bruises, and so did the E-P3.  Nothing too serious but there are a couple of battle scars on it.  Other than the pop-up flash not working very well, the rest of it is just fine.

As for the GX-1, it doesn’t have a very solid feel and is definitely not retro.  The body doesn’t look bad, it just seems like it has more plastic than the E-P3.  Both the GX-1 and E-P3 have plenty of external controls and touch screens.  I’m kind of funny in that I don’t really care for the touch screens and turned them off.  The GX-1 is a very capable camera, and has a newer 16mp sensor and better low light, high ISO performance than the E-P3, and when I used it, found that it too produced some very nice images.  The other plus of having the GX-1 is that being a MFT camera, it could use all of the lenses that I currently had for the E-P3.  I just never really warmed up to it and didn’t use it, especially after getting my Olympus E-M5.

A week or so ago, I was digging around in my camera bags and saw the GX-1.  I decided to get it out, dust it off, and give it another try.  One of the places that I enjoy walking around and using my cameras is the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino California.  It’s fairly close, and always has interesting subjects.  What better place to get re-acquainted with the GX-1!

To my surprise, I enjoyed using the GX-1 more this time than I had when I first got it.  I used my Olympus 17mm f/1.8 and 45mm f1/8 lenses and tried to capture images in a variety of conditions.  Nothing that I want to get too technical about, suffice it to say that there was quite an extreme difference in the indoor lights of the hangars and the harsh mid-day sun.  Not the most ideal shooting conditions, but very realistic.  You can’t always have an epic sunrise or sunset with deliciously warm, golden light.  Sometimes you have to work with what you have!

Here are some of the pictures from that day.  I had the GX-1 in aperture priority mode, and changed the aperture (f/stop) and ISO according to the brightness of the light.  I also set the camera to shoot RAW for the express purpose of post processing.  I know there are some that don’t like post processing, and that’s just fine for them.  Personally, I enjoy working on my photos and finding new methods for creating an image.  Sometimes it’s black and white, sometimes HDR, and other times just a few minor tweaks.  Since I don’t consider myself a journalist or documentarian, I have no problem with post processing.  But to each his own, it’s all good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m very pleased with the GX-1, it was fun to use again.  It’s fairly small and easy to carry around.  I got used to changing settings and didn’t have to fumble around too much.  The RAW files provide good quality images with plenty of pixels for me to play with in post.  I think I’m going to keep it out and use it some more!  Unfortunately it has been discontinued by the manufacturer, but is still available if you look around.  I found it on Amazon – GX-1.

That’s it for this post, until next time – Happy Shooting!

Air Shows with my 60D

Recently I wrote about using my Olympus E-M5 at an air show, and I mentioned that I would share my thoughts about using my Canon 60D in another post.  Well, here it is!

I’ve been using Canon DSLR’s at air shows for many years now.  Starting with my Canon XT, then my 40D, and now my 60D.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve used that XT, but going back through my photos I see that the results were mixed, in other words – not that good.  Some of it was due to the XT being very slow.  Slow to focus and a slow frame rate (3 fps approx.).  Most of it was due to my lack of skill or technique.  It was easy to fix the “slow” camera part, I bought the 40D.  The 40D was superior in every way compared to the XT.  And to be fair, I went back to my archives of 40D air show photos, and they were indeed better.  At least most of them.

How do I know they are better?  Good question!  I have a very bad habit of keeping almost all of my photos, good and bad.  Unless they are very, very bad, I tend to keep them.  This may seem like a silly waste of hard drive space, but I actually do go back to them and try to learn what went wrong.  In almost all instances, the fault was with me.  Poor technique.  If I could consistently follow a plane in the air and pan smoothly while firing off a few frames, I’d usually nail a couple of them.  If I was off by just a little, the camera wouldn’t focus where I thought it should and I would miss the shot.  Then it would hunt back and forth trying to lock on.

Fast forward.  The 40D has been replaced with the 60D.  I’ve been to many air shows and other aviation related events and practiced.  My results have been improving and overall I’m pleased, both with my equipment and my technique.  The 60D is perfectly capable of air show photography, within it’s limitations (and mine).

What limitations?  Another good question!  I’ve shot alongside some very talented photographers, and some high dollar equipment.  Hopefully this doesn’t come across as gear envy because I certainly don’t mean it that way.  But being a guy that likes gear (yes, I still do believe that it’s the photographer that makes the photo), I can’t help but notice some of the differences.  It doesn’t really matter what the other guy is using (usually a high dollar Canon or Nikon), I can just tell that they may not have the same limitations with their equipment as I do with mine.  I’m ok with the limitations and try to work within them (just like I do when I use my E-M5).

The Canon 60D isn’t quite obsolete yet.  It is still being sold in many camera stores such as B&H and Adorama.  It is however, at least a few years old now and a generation behind in technology.  Does that mean it can’t be used anymore and it’s time to upgrade?  I’d have to say no!  While the processor and sensor aren’t the latest and greatest, I find the image quality to be more than acceptable.  The 60D has a great auto focus system (phase detection) and in AI Servo mode, does a very good job of tracking a subject.  There aren’t as many focus points available as in the newer models, but I tend to keep mine on the center points anyway.  I’d say the biggest limitation is the frame rate (fps).  The 60D tops out at 5.5 fps.  For fast action photography, that’s on the slow side.  In fact, when the action is really heavy, I’ve missed some shots during peak times because it happened in-between frames.  It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen.  Knowing this and working with this particular limitation means that I need to anticipate the action a little more, and time my shots better.

I’ve been told that my 60D is more of a landscape camera than an action camera.  That may or may not be true.  I’ve used it for Little League games, auto racing, and yes, landscapes.  I think of it more as a very versatile tool, able to be used for more than just special situations.  The same thing goes for one of my main lenses, a Tamron 200-500.  I love the reach of this very large lens, but it is also slow.  It takes it a while to lock focus, especially if it starts hunting back and forth.  Sometimes I’ll switch it to manual and dial it in just to get it back in the game.  Is there a remedy for this?  Probably not with this lens.  I think I’m going to rent a Canon “L” lens for the next air show.  I actually had an “L” lens in the past and there is a difference.  The “L” lens is quiet and lighting fast in comparison to my Tamron.

To sum it up, I’d like to say that both my Canon 60D and my Olympus E-M5 may not be the best tools available for what I am using them for, but they aren’t the worst either.  Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, like all cameras.  To be successful you need to know your equipment and work within its limitations.  If you’re wondering what you may be missing by not having the latest and greatest, then consider renting.  If you can afford to chase technology or want the latest/greatest, then by all means go for it!  For me at least, I’m going to work with what I have.

Here are some of the results from my last air show using my 60D at the LA County Air Show.

That’s it for this post, until next time – Happy Shooting!

Olympus E-M5 at an Air Show, Revisited

I first wrote about my experience with the E-M5 early last year, and was somewhat disappointed with my results.  There were some definite limitations with the E-M5 with subjects that move fast.  Although the E-M5 was marketed with blazing fast autofocus (or something to that effect), it gave me fits at the air show.  Here are a couple of the main problems I had:

  • Tracking autofocus – very poor performance.
  • Continuous autofocus – very poor performance.
  • Electronic viewfinder – goes black when shooting a burst.

While I was able to come back with a handful of successful shots from my 1st air show using the E-M5 exclusively, I had to rate the E-M5 as a dud for this type of photography.  For my next air show, I brought along my Canon 60D and associated large lenses (in addition to my E-M5).  Having the Canon was a crutch for sure, but knowing that I had a solid, proven performer took some of the stress away.  I relegated my E-M5 with static displays and used the Canon for everything in the air.

I thought it would be helpful to others to post my experience using the E-M5 on a popular photography forum, and was given some good advice (along with a couple of virtual kicks in the butt).  It seems that others have already tread this ground and were having a much higher level of success with cameras like my E-M5 (MFT – micro four thirds).  There were some settings to change, and different approaches using the E-M5 for air show photography and birds in flight (BIF).  Birds in flight are equally, if not more difficult than air planes at an air show.  Not only do they fly fast, they can be unpredictable and are very small.

With some of the forum advice in mind, I started experimenting.  One of the changes I made was re-setting the burst mode from its highest setting of 9 fps to 6 fps.  This helped with the viewfinder blacking out.  It still went black, but came back much quicker.  I also changed the autofocus points from using just the center most point to a larger center grid of 9 points.  Instead of using continuous autofocus, I kept it on single autofocus.  The E-M5 can lock on to an object very quickly, it just can’t track it very well.  When an air plane started on a fly-by, I would pan along, get the E-M5 to focus, fire off a couple of shots and continue the process until the plane moved out of range.  This approach started to work.  This isn’t to say that my keeper rate with the E-M5 is approaching that of my Canon, but it was a big improvement.

The 1st air show of the year for me happened this weekend with the LA County Air Show in Lancaster, California.  Instead of the Blue Angels (who performed last year), the Thunderbirds were the main act.  I haven’t seen the Thunderbirds in 7 years, and was excited to see them in the air again.  The actual in-air performance between the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds could be seen as similar to some, but it’s still a treat for me to see the colorful F-16’s in the air.  To be fully prepared for this event, I brought both the E-M5 and Canon 60D.

I started out using the E-M5 for the static ground shots and the Canon for air shots.  But as the show progressed and I had both cameras out, I started using the E-M5 for more and more air shots.  The Canon 60D had the reliable (but slow) 200-500 Tamron lens attached and E-M5 had the Panasonic 45-200.  I’m going to do a separate post on the 60D and its results, but it worked as expected.  The E-M5 on the other hand did much better than I had originally anticipated.  The ground shots are usually never a problem (if there is a problem, it’s more than likely operator error).  My air plane in the air shots were much better than on previous attempts.  As long as I planned a little ahead and took my time, waiting for just the right moment to press the shutter, I came away with a few good shots.  If I just grabbed the camera and tried to fire off a quick burst without much thought, my results were very poor.  I don’t blame the camera for that, it’s completely my fault.  I didn’t work within the limitations of my equipment.  This doesn’t just apply to my E-M5, but with any camera.  They all have strengths and weaknesses.  Once you’ve figured them out and work within them, you will increase your success rate!

And now for the results.  All of these images started out as RAW files and were converted to .jpeg’s.  Some were cropped and tweaked a bit in Photoshop and then resized.

That’s it for this post. Until next time, Happy Shooting!