Category Archives: camera

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!

Planes of Fame Living History Events

It was my pleasure to attend one of the Planes of Fame Air Museum’s (in Chino, California) Living History Events.  They have one of these wonderful events every month.  The topic of this month’s event was the Lockheed Skunk Works.  Along with guest speaker presentations, there are usually static displays of relevant aircraft and a flight demonstration.

I think one of the things that attracts me to an event like this is to hear, first hand from Veterans, what it was like to be involved in a particular aspect of one of the wars, flying the aircraft, or in some cases designing and building aircraft.  There’s so much information that is shared and it’s great that you can hear it straight from the guys who were there, and actually did the things you might have heard or read about.  Although the seats aren’t that comfortable (I can’t sit in one place too long anymore), I started to pay less attention to my ass falling asleep and more to the presentation.

One of the other things I noticed was that this event drew a lot of people – the place was packed!  And there was nothing but respect shown for the Veterans and other guest speakers.  Let’s face it, speaking in front of a crowd can be intimidating, and not everyone can just start talking and not get a little nervous.  That didn’t seem to matter, the audience was quiet, patient, and showed respect, and the event continued on.

In addition to the guest speakers, there’s usually a warbird or two on display outside of the hangars.  And if everything goes well, there’s also a flight demonstration.  As usual, I have a camera or two with me, and for this event I brought my Olympus E-M5 and assorted lenses, and my Sony RX100.  Both cameras worked perfectly for shots in and around the static displays.  I kept my 45-200mm Panasonic lens on the E-M5 and used the RX100 for anything close up.  The only trouble I had was when the P-38J went up for the flight demonstration.  While I was able to grab a few shots of the P-38 in the air, they weren’t that good and I’m not going to post any.  The E-M5 isn’t the best option for fast moving aircraft (no phase-detection-autofocus, tracking focus mode is poor).  Was I disappointed?  No, not really.  I knew there was a compromise to be made by bringing the E-M5 and leaving my Canon at home.  The Canon 60D has no problem with fast moving objects, but with the Tamron 200-500mm lens, it’s big and heavy.  Seems like it gets heavier with every year I get older.  But the up side is portability!  I was able to fit all of my gear (2 cameras, 4 lenses) in a single bag.  Besides, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for photos of planes in the air when I start going to the air shows!

If you are interested in vintage aircraft or warbirds, then consider visiting the Planes of Fame Air Museum.  Better yet, try to make it out to one of their monthly events.  I’ve met some very friendly folks, some just interested in the warbirds, and others that are interested in both – the warbirds and photography!  If you really like this type of thing, think about becoming a member!  I finally did it during the event, and looking back should have done it a long time ago!

Here are some photos from the event:








That’s it for this post. Don’t forget to click on the links to the Planes of Fame Air Museum and check it out! Thanks for looking and Happy Shooting!

My Photographic Niche

If you’ve followed any of my work you’ve probably noticed by now that I am hooked on a few subjects.  Landscapes have always been a passion of mine.  Military aircraft, especially WWII Warbirds on display in an air museum or an air show are something I really enjoy.  But lately I’d have to say that my niche is black and white photography.  It’s not that I’ve lost interest in my other photographic interests, black and white has just taken a front row seat.

One of the benefits of black and white is that I can still work on my landscapes and also the aircraft.  Since I shoot about 95% color (I do switch the camera over to black and white occasionally), I have the best of both worlds.  It’s after I’ve taken the shot and have it available for post production that I can begin to transform it.  Sometimes when I’m out and working a scene I can even picture it in black and white. Ansel Adams described this as previsualization where he defines it as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.  This may sound a little corny, but it works for me.  There are some scenes that just seem to cry out to me – “black and white”!

Here’s an example.  This shot is of the Imperial Beach Pier, just south of San Diego.  Whenever I’m down in the area I try to make a sunset photo side trip.  I was trying out my new Sony RX100 and got lucky to have a very pretty sunset.

Not bad, and I think most folks would probably just leave it as is.  But there was just something about it that made me wonder what it would look like in black and white.  I think the result gives this shot a completely different mood.  It’s been transformed from light, colorful and even cheery to dark, moody, and somber.

There’s one more aspect to my black and white obsession, and that’s adding a vintage look. I’ve been fortunate to have access a family travelogue from the early 1900’s. The book is called “Around Arizona” and chronicles my great-grandparents and very young grandfather’s 1000 mile journey around a very rough and wild Arizona. Being over 100 years old it’s not in the best shape and I’m in the process of scanning all of the pages and copying the photos. I’ve always admired vintage photos and like to study them to try and duplicate their unique look and feel. Having access to some that have a direct family connection is just icing on the cake.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

As you can see, this photo is far from perfect. It’s faded, scratched, blotched, etc… etc… And I think it’s absolutely perfect with all of it’s imperfections. Looking at it takes me back to simpler time, when there were no superhighways, no air conditioned cars, no fast food. Photography was very primitive compared to what we have today. The camera my great grandmother used for this shot was an Eastman-Kodak No.1 Pocket Camera. It used A-120 roll film and had an autographic feature that allowed the photographer to actually write a note on the back of each frame of film using a little stylus.

That’s enough history. My point in sharing all of that is to say that I use this as my inspiration to further transform some of my photos into something similar, something with that same vintage look and feel. I’m not always entirely successful, but I enjoy the challenge. Here’s one of my more recent images:

To sum it up, I’d say that black and white, including vintage images have more character than those technically perfect shots that are cranked out today. There’s nothing wrong with a perfect digital shot that is flawless down to the last pixel, but most of them lack character, or a soul. A photo doesn’t have to be perfect to convey a feeling, a mood, or tell a story. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with those that want to create that technically perfect image. I’m just going in a different direction, towards my niche.

If you like black and white photography and want to see more, check out my new Black and White Gallery!

That’s it for this post. I hope you find your photographic niche! Until next time, Happy Shooting!