This weekend is my annual test of my camera gear. For the past 5 years, I have used the Blue Angels show at Seafair in Seattle as the true test of whether my camera and lenses are fast enough to be able to get good pictures of F/A 18 Hornets zipping by both near and far. For the first time ever, my equipment passed the test with (pardon the pun) flying colors.
You can see some of my favorite photos in this photo album but I'm sure you really want to know all of the detail, so here goes:
After last year, I bought the Canon 20D which has much more buffer space and significantly more shots per second than the Digital Rebel I had before. Then I needed a lens that was crisp enough to be able to take sharp photos even with a fast target but also long enough to be able to take pictures of the pilot's helmets as they zipped past. The Canon 100-400 f/4.0-5.6L IS USM lens did the trick. On Friday, a bunch of us went out on David's boat (er... ship) and took pictures during their practice session. Even with the motion of the boat I was able to get some really nice shots of the planes right over head.
On Saturday, I was able to borrow an absolutely insane lens. The Canon 600mm f/4L IS USM lens is a monster. It weighs nearly 12 pounds and needs one heck of a beefy tripod to be able to swivel around to follow the action. Peyman, Dan and his wife helped Zachary and me tote the equipment to the I90 bridge where we got some great shots as they came in low across the bridge. It was a lot harder to handle than the 100-400 (duh) but the pictures were amazingly sharp. Well, not all of them, but when it wasn't it was usually my fault. It is really tough to line up a lens that big and long with planes coming in at 300+ MPH but I only had about 2 shots of empty blue sky out of over 500 shots.
Finally, today I took the trusty 100-400 down to Boeing Field to watch the pre-show arrangements, take-off and landing. The sucky part is that the planes are behind a chain link fence and there is a barrier about 10 feet in front of the fence so I had to shoot through it from a distance. The nice thing is that at 400mm, you can shoot through the fence pretty reasonably. You can still tell that it is through a fence but it is pretty good. The first and sixth shots in the album are through the fence so you can see for yourself.
My biggest battle was with dust on my sensor. On Friday it was filthy and I had to remove about 6-8 spots from each picture I wanted to keep. I cleaned it on Saturday morning and there were only about 2 spots after that. Clearly, I need to do a better job of cleaning it but I am being very cautious about that. I've ordered some special brushes from Visible Dust to clean it up before my next trip.
Over the three days, I took over 1500 pictures. It is so easy to just let that shutter go and get 5-10 shots in a pass. After a significant amount of pruning and editing I am down to about 120 that I'm keeping. Digital Image Suite 2006 made it so easy to triage and then fix up the ones I liked. Those guys are great!! :)
So I think I am done with this test now. I have about all of the Blue Angels pictures I could want after 6 years of taking pictures there. Next year, I might go to Seattle and take pictures of other parts of town as they fly over. A good shot of the Space Needle or Qwest Field with a blue hornet over it would be pretty sweet.
Unless, of course, I have another lens I need to try out....