Tag Archives: Warbirds

Olympus E-M5 at an Air Show

In a past post, I wrote about my experiences using my Olympus E-M5 and Canon 60D at air shows.  This time I want to talk about the E-M5 by itself.

It’s been a busy year for me so far regarding air shows.  I’ve been to 3 air shows in the first 5 months of the year.  The Cable Air Show, LA County Air Show, and most recently the Chino Planes of Fame Air Show.  I’ve taken the  E-M5 to all three and it performed both well, and not so well.

I mentioned some of my issues in a previous post, but to recap, I’d say the top 2 were the poor autofocus/tracking performance and the image blanking out in the EVF (electronic viewfinder).

Luckily there’s a lot of info available online.  After doing a little research, I made some changes to my settings.  I kept the autofocus the same at Single AF, but changed the focus points.  Originally I had it set for a single, very small AF point, but changed it to a slightly larger grid (still centered and smaller than the entire grid).  The other changes were increasing the refresh rate of the EFV, and slowing down the sequential shooting mode from 9 frames per second to about 6 frames per second.  This combination really made a difference in the EVF not going blank on me.  Although the changes improved the overall performance of the E-M5, I still brought my Canon 60D along, but that will be the subject of another post.

The Chino Planes of Fame Air Show is always a big deal for me.  I just love the WWII warbirds, and the Planes of Fame Museum puts plenty of them in the air.  As a  bonus, they always get something a little more modern, and this year it was the F-22 Raptor!

Part of my routine, in addition to getting my sunrise photo pass for the show on Saturday, is to attend the preview event on Friday.  I thought this would be a good chance to get warmed up with my E-M5, as well as have some ice cold beer and some laughs with a friend (thanks Jeremy)!

I did make one mistake on Friday.  I brought my slinger bag packed not only with my E-M5 and a couple of lenses, but also my 60D and Tamron 200-500mm and 70-200mm lenses.  I was nervous about just having my E-M5, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring the big stuff.  The funny thing was that as the day wore on, I never got the 60D out of the bag.  I used my E-M5 the entire day.  Wow, did that bag get heavy!

On the day of the show (Saturday for me), I arrived very early.  The sunrise photo pass gets 75 photographers out on the tarmac at 5:00am, and in position for the sunrise.  We all scrambled around, getting in various positions to get the shots we were after.  I put myself near the F-22 Raptor so I could capture it with the sun rising in the background.  I used my E-M5 exclusively.  After that, it was just a matter of waiting for the show to start at 11:00am.

Once the show started, I switched to my 60D and Tamron 200-500mm lens.  While I will write about this in a separate post, suffice it to say that it performed perfectly.  The only real problem was it got heavy after awhile,  and did I mention that it’s heavy?

What counts in the end are the results.  Here they are:

I’m very pleased with my E-M5.  The changes I made seemed to have helped.  While it’s not quite up to par with my 60D for capturing fast moving air planes, it’s much better than it was.  I think I’ll keep it!

That’s it for this post.  Next time, I’ll go into more detail about using my 60D at the Planes of Fame Air Show.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!

Air Show Photography, What I’ve Learned

This post is about some of the things I’ve learned about photography at air shows.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended quite a few over the past 10 years, and I’ve done 2 so far this year with one more to go next month.

Arrive Early
I can’t stress this point enough.  Air Shows can get very crowded, but I hold to this old adage, “the early bird gets the worm”.  This simple phrase contains powerful wisdom, not just for air shows, but for many things in life!  Regarding air shows, be there when the gates open.  You’ll have less people to deal with if you want clean photos of the planes on the ground.  And you can stake out your spot early.  I usually find a place somewhere along the front of the fence line, either where the planes take off or land.  It seems that the majority of the crowd arrives very close to when the show starts, and will pile up behind you.  While most of the action is in the air, over head, I still prefer to have an unobstructed view of the runway.

Photo Access
To get the best access available as a non-working professional photographer, check to see if the air show you want to attend offers a photographer’s access/pass.  This year, 2 of the 3 shows I have attended offer this option, the LA County Air Show (Photo Tour Pass) and the Chino Planes of Fame Air Show (Sunrise Photo Pass). They do cost more, but in addition to allowing a limited number of air show enthusiasts sunrise access to all of the planes, they also include things like preferred parking and lunch.  The other benefit is that you will be in the company of other like-minded air show photographers!  I noticed how courteous the group at the LA County Air Show was and appreciated it.  They understood and respected each other’s space as we all worked our way around the planes trying to nail that keeper shot!

Be Prepared – Weather
I’ve attended air shows when it was cold and wanting to rain, and also when it was close to 120 degrees on the tarmac.  Watch the weather reports and prepare accordingly!  Feeling miserable while trying to catch the action at an air show is a recipe for lousy pictures.  If you know it’s going to be hot, don’t forget your sunscreen.  A wide brimmed hat offers better protection from the sun than a baseball cap.  And one final thing, wear comfortable shoes!  This should go without saying but I’ve seen everything from high heels to thin designer sandals.  There can be a lot of walking and standing at an air show, and having happy feet can be the difference between getting those perfect shots to wanting to just go home and soak your feet.

Be Prepared – Gear
While this really boils down to personal preference, I think a little planning ahead can help lighten your load.  Unless you’re going to go straight to your spot and sit there for the entire air show, you may want to narrow your gear down to the essentials.  What exactly are the essentials?  Good question!  It depends on what you are interested in.  Is your main focus the static displays on the ground?  If so, you may want a wide angle lens.  Do you want to get shots of the planes in the air when they fly by?  A good telephoto lens would be in order.  The gear I bring will fit into 1 bag (Lowepro Slingshot 202 AW). I’m able to put my Canon 60D, Tamron 70-700 and 200-500mm lens inside.  There’s also room for my Olympus E-M5, 7.5mm fisheye, 17mm, and 45-200mm lenses.  Finally, I bring a small tripod for my E-M5 (for the early morning, low light photos).  In addition, I have 2 batteries for the 60D, and 3 for the E-M5.  Each camera has a 32gb SD card, and I bring along several 16gb cards as back up.  One last thing regarding gear – don’t forget a light weight folding chair!

Be Patient
Unless a special area has been set aside for you, the general public will be everywhere.  It seems that some people have no sense of personal space, and will try everything to squeeze in and around you, including trying to go under you.  Some are polite, others are oblivious and don’t understand why you may be getting angry with them.  And unfortunately I’ve seen some photographers get pretty rude too.  Believe it or not, I personally try not to get upset.  If it’s a kid that just wants a better view of a pilot walking by or a plane taking off, I’ll usually let them in for a few minutes.  This also goes for an elderly person that is having trouble seeing the action from the back of the crowd, but only if there’s enough room!  My 200-500mm lens with it’s large lens hood has bonked more than one person standing too close when I’m following the planes in the air.  I’ve also found it best to work together with a couple other photographers to stake out our spots, and watch each others gear when someone needs to step away.  It sure beats lugging all of your gear with you to the porta-potty!

The Pictures
What should you take pictures of?  Depends on what you are interested in.  I’m not trying to be vague, but there is a lot going on at an air show and the photography options are varied.  Obviously there are the planes, both on the ground and in the air.  There are also the pilots and ground crews working on the planes.  There’s action on the ramp with planes getting ready to take off and on the other end where they land.  And don’t forget the crowds!  Sometimes you can get some interesting shots by including the crowd.  Look for angles and scenes not typically photographed, like the MC of the event and all of his equipment.  I got lucky once and got some great shots of a model dressed in a WWII outfit standing near one of the planes! There are literally thousands of photos of air shows with planes in the air.  Try to make yours stand out by being a little different.

The Results
In the end, you want results, pictures you are proud of and want to share!  With some preparation your odds will increase and hopefully you’ll come home with memory cards full of keepers!  Here are some examples from my last event, the LA County Air Show.

Blue Angels, Pilots
Blue Angels Pilots, Canon 60D , Tamron 200-500mm lens.


Air Show Performers Getting Ready
Air Show Performer getting ready, Canon 60D, Tamron 200-500mm lens.
Fly Wing & Blue Angels
Flying Wing passing in front of the Blue Angels, Canon 60D with 200-500mm lens.
Blue Angels, Flying in Formation
Blue Angels flying in formation, Canon 60D with Tamron 200-500mm lens.


P-38 Lightning, Sunrise
P-38 Lightning, Sunrise Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic 45-200mm lens.
Blue Angels
Blue Angels heading out, Olympus E-M5 with 45-200mm lens.

That’s it for this post!  If you liked it or want to see more photos, you can follow me on Facebook.  Just click the link on my page!

Until next time – Happy Shooting!



Cable Airshow and my OM-D E-M5

The Cable Airshow was something I was looking forward to for a couple of reasons.  The 1st was because it’s an airshow!  And the 2nd is because it was a great place to finally give my Olympus OM-D
E-M5 a real workout!

Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5

I’ve been wondering, since I got my E-M5, whether or not it would be a replacement for my Canon 60D, especially with regards to the fast action of an airshow.  And I finally have my answer. Unfortunately it’s no!

In order to really put the E-M5 to the test, I left my Canon 60D at home. This forced me to use the E-M5 in every situation, from high speed fly-by’s to static displays. I brought lenses for the show, but stayed mostly with the Panasonic 45-200mm. I found the 45-200mm adequate, and for this airshow seldom needed the extra reach of a longer lens. The key, no matter which camera system you may own is to be patient. While it can be tempting to start shooting while the planes are far off, the best method for getting that great shot is to wait for them to get closer and then press that shutter. It sounds easier than it is to actually do! As you hear the low rumble of the engines in the distance, the excitement begins to build and you just may not be able to wait. I know I still have that trouble.

As the show progressed, I started to get comfortable with the performance of the E-M5. I set the camera to shutter priority, 1/200th of a second, and let the camera choose the appropriate aperture (f-stop). Some of the other settings were ISO 200, high speed shutter at 9 fps, and RAW file format.

With the shutter speed fixed at 1/200th, the camera could not achieve its maximum 9 fps. How can I tell?  By the sound. Not very scientific and more seat of the pants, but it’s definitely not 9 fps. When I switched over to aperture priority and set the f-stop to f/4, there was a distinct difference in the sound of the shutter firing away in very rapid succession!

Getting back to the airshow, I picked out a good spot about midway down the field and staked out my claim (put my chair down). The planes would take off right in front of me! And, when they would do their fly-by’s, I was perfectly situated to track and pan each plane as it flew by. The E-M5 has an EVF (electronic viewfinder), as opposed to the standard optical viewfinder found on DSLR’s like my Canon 60D. While the EVF on the E-M5 is very good, I noticed a problem using it while trying to track and pan the planes as they quickly flew by. The shutter was firing and I was panning, but the EVF couldn’t seem to keep up. The image in the EVF seemed to stutter, and I’d lose track of the plane. Since I couldn’t consistently keep track of the plane, I’d sometimes end up with pieces of it in the frame and not the whole thing. Frustrating to say the least.

There is a lot of chatter online about the inability of the E-M5 to perform continuous auto focus for fast action. This seems especially true for those involved in capturing birds in flight. One of the techniques used as a work around is the set the camera for single focus, using just one central focus point, pick a spot where the action will happen and press the shutter when your subject enters the frame. Actually I used a modified version of this, tracking and panning the action as best as I could and once the focus locked on I’d press the shutter. I’d capture a few frames and even with the stuttering EVF, I’d try to keep up with the plane, pick another spot, lock the focus on and capture a few more frames.

Compared to my Canon 60D, this is a very clunky way to work. It seems strange that my DSLR 60D, with all of its moving parts does a better job with this type of photography than my high tech E-M5. I don’t think the 60D was much better at locking focus, but it’s defiantly much better at keeping the image in view (optical viewfinder) and continuous auto focus.

There is one thing that I think the E-M5 is equal too or even a little better than the 60D, and that is image quality. Of the shots that I did capture  that were acceptable, I was very pleased with how clean they were. The color and contrast were very nice out of the camera, and even better when adjusted in Photoshop.

And now, here are the results:

Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5

Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5

Cable Airshow, Olympus OM-D E-M5

Overall, I’m pleased with my results, difficult as they were to achieve. And there’s some good news, I don’t have to wait until May for the Chino Planes of Fame Airshow, there’s a new airshow happening in March and the Blue Angels will be there! Its called the LA County Airshow, here’s the link – I’ll be attending and brining both my Canon 60D and E-M5.

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