In October I had the opportunity to see the Alliance Air Show in Fort Worth, Texas. The show had a number of great aircraft performers from various time periods, and featured the USAF Thunderbirds for the finale. I was excited to take my DSLR along to snag some photos of the show. Unfortunately, an unexpected cold front the night before created awful weather conditions for the show.
My only telephoto lens is the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 lens. The plastic lens is designed to be a telephoto lens for soccer moms on a budget, and it is often sold as a kit lens. The lens does not have anywhere near the zoom range, aperture size, or focusing speed recommended for shooting air shows. (Admittedly, my camera’s sub-$1,000 set-up looked like a toy next to the pros and their massive rigs). Even on a bright, sunny day, shooting with my 55-250mm would have been a challenge, but the dark overcast that persisted through the day magnified the lens’s short comings enormously.
I spent almost the entire day with the lens zoomed all the way to 250mm to capture the planes in flight. At 250mm, however, the lens’s widest available aperture is f/5.6, which is much smaller than would have been ideal on such a dark day. I was forced to bump up the ISO as high as 1600 to compensate and keep the shutter speed high enough to capture the fast moving aircraft. At the time I was hesitant to even go that high to avoid introducing noise (the majority of my shots were at ISO 800). In retrospect, I wish I had taken more shots at ISO 1600 and pushed it to 3200 for a few shots. Though my shots would have been significantly noisier, I wouldn’t have ended up with so many dark shots.
The biggest problem I had with the lens was its slow focusing. It simply wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the faster planes. I threw out hundreds of photos in post because they were out of focus.
Though the lens wasn’t ideal for the job, and the dull gray sky made for a boring backdrop, I was able to get a few shots with it that I was moderately happy with. Most of my final shots were cropped and edited heavily in Lightroom to compensate for the lens’s shortcomings.
Overall, I enjoyed the show immensely. It was an absolute blast to watch, and I had an awesome time shooting it. The experience was great practice, and I learned a lot about the capabilities of my equipment.
You can see some of my favorite photos from the day in the gallery below, or you can check out all of the photos on Flickr.
Here’s hoping for better weather next year.