Unable to get a sharp image when shooting aircraft

phkc070408

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Hi all:

I'm an aviation fan and enjoy going plane-spotting once in a while. I just moved to a location that is right on the landing track for a major airport. Planes fly above my house at about 300 feet, maybe a little lower. I've tried going to a local park to take pictures of them but for some reason can't seem to get a good crisp clear picture.

One thing to consider is the planes are at about 300f elevation, meaning if I'm directly under them, I'm probably closer ro 8,000 10 10,000 feet from them directly when I'm shooting.

I use a full frame Canon 5D Mark iv. My les of choice is the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC. I attached a few sample shots. These were taken at 1/400 and an ISO of 1600, and the zoom fully extended to 600mm. I used Shutter Priority which resulted in an f11 and f7.1 for the two images, and bracketed the shots. I'm using auto-focus with AI Servo and the setting that auto-focuses on any object that moves into the field. The AF points are doing a great job of locking onto the subject since it's very clear to the camera what the subject it (nothing else but the sky is in the picture). Oh, and of course I shoot raw.

I suspect I need to get more zoom somehow, but would like to hear what you have to say.

I read up on teleconverters and their pros and cons. I see that Tampon has a 1.4x and a 2.0x converter made specifically for my lens. While I realize you make sacrifices on the maximum F, I really don't have $15k to go out and buy a 1200mm lens.

Finally, these two images were my better ones, with the planes closer to me.

Can anyone please help me with this?

Update: This just dawned on me as I was writing this - should I reduce my f down to a lower number? While my subject is 10,000 feet away, my subject is less than 200 feet in depth, a 2% ratio. Any use of a large aperture is only bringing air molecules into focus.

Second update: I always have to crop these images significantly, to the point that a normally ok 1600 ISO is now very grainy. This support my opinion that I need more zoom.
 
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Space Face

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Very childish I know but your use of the word Tampon instead of Tamron made me laugh.😁😁

Quite often with zoom lenses at their full extent, images are a bit softer. I have the Sigma 150-600 and rarely extend beyond 550mm so it might be worth dialing back a bit. I also always use it wide open which may allow you to reduce the ISO a bit too and hence minimizing noise and enabling a slightly higher shutter speed (your shutter speed of 1/400 is a bit slow and camera shake could be an issue too. With a 600mm you'd be looking at a SS of at least 1/600 or even a good bit faster) All will help improve image quality. A tripod will assist too.

I don't shoot planes very often so no expert there but some of this might help.

Good luck.
 
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phkc070408

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Well thankfully in the world of auto-correct, we have a machine to blame spelling mistakes on, even if it is our fault.

So, are you saying that with less Zoom, therefore alliwing more light in, ebabling a faster shutter and lower iso, that all of those will outweigh any negatives from having to crop a bit more?

Those two samples were very close to me. Some of the other planes on the landing pattern are a little farther away and would require even more cropping.
 

Space Face

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Well thankfully in the world of auto-correct, we have a machine to blame spelling mistakes on, even if it is our fault.

So, are you saying that with less Zoom, therefore alliwing more light in, ebabling a faster shutter and lower iso, that all of those will outweigh any negatives from having to crop a bit more?

Those two samples were very close to me. Some of the other planes on the landing pattern are a little farther away and would require even more cropping.
I'm not seeing any images.

Reducing the extent of the zoom slightly won't effect the f stop. It's just that many zooms don't perform at their best fully extended.
 

weepete

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Depth of field won't be an issue at those distances. Using a DOF calculator just to do a quick check shows that even wide open at 600mm your DOF should extend from 4,000 to infinity. Normally around f8 is sharpest, so try it there.

Your shutter speed is a bit slow though, to avoid camera shake you should be shooting at the reciprocal of the focal length, so at 600mm your shutter speed should be at least 1/640th sec with VR off. I'd try a few shots between 1/1000th sec and 1/800th to see if this may solve your issue.

The 5Dmkiv is a very capable camera, so ISO 1600 should be perfectly useable with low noise levels. Up to 6400 should be good there (with 12800 getting too far for me). If you have noise issues at low ISOs, then it suggests to me you might be underexposing, as that's the biggest culprit of noise.

Saying all that, there may be a few external factors affecting your shots. The air quality can play a big factor, and if there's a lot of humidity, dust or particles it can affect subjects at a distance. Copy variation could also be an issue, my 150-600 is a pretty sharp copy (for what it is), but there are some out there that are sub-par. Lighting can also play a big role in percieved sharpness, so if you are shooting in flat light with little contrast it may also be affecting your shots.

Teleconverters can be used, but you really need a very sharp lens to begin with, so lenses like the Canon 300mm f2.8 get on fine with TCs, but consumer level zoom lenses just aren't sharp enough to begin with, and what you gain in reach you loose in image quality. The 150-600mm are already on the softer end, so I think using a TC with them is a waste of money.

Ultimatley, you might just need to get closer to get good shots. I've got a little rule, that if I have to crop to more than 1/3rd of the original size I was too far away.
 

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Screenshot%202022-05-12%20at%2013.52.06.jpg


Screenshot%202022-05-12%20at%2013.52.30.jpg
 

NS: Nikon Shooter

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weepete has good thoughts for you! :p

I posted the two pictures to illustrate that. though remote planes
are faster and more agile at close range, it is still possible to get
it right in the box.

Mind you, I don't use the same gear but it is still achievable.
 

smoke665

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Just a thought, the weight of the lens and camera is over 5lbs. Trying to hand hold that much weight isn't easy. Using a tripod or monopod in conjunction with a faster shutter speed will help tremendously, because even the tiniest of movement translates into huge movements at 8,000 feet.
 

wfooshee

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Can't see any images from the OP, but I'm pretty much in agreement with what others have said. Try to use a mid-range aperture, as lens sharpness is usually reduced at the extreme ends of the range. Shutter speed is too slow.

I didn't see metering mentioned anywhere, but make sure for something at that distance that you use spot metering, where the meter only reads the center 2% or so of the frame. Other metering modes will factor the sky into the auto-exposure, perhaps underexposing the subject.

Finally, if you're nearly two miles away, you're just too far. The fact that you have to crop so much to frame the aircraft tells you that. You're not going to get an air-show-quality image at that distance, no matter what you use. You can practice shots at that distance just by shooting vehicles on a highway from a considerable distance.
 
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phkc070408

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Some very good advice here. I like the 1/focal range for recommended shutter speed, as well as the tripod and the spot metering. I considered a tripod, however the plane would only be in the range of the tripod for a few seconds, and making sure I like it up right ahead of time might be an issue.

OK, I will hold off on any equipment purchases.

Oh, and I really thought I attached the sample photos. Here they are, shrunken a bit.

I was trying to get some twilight pictures, which is the reason for the poor lighting, but all of my shots are coming out with that type of quality, so I'd like to work on that first.
 

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ac12

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Some very good advice here. I like the 1/focal range for recommended shutter speed, as well as the tripod and the spot metering. I considered a tripod, however the plane would only be in the range of the tripod for a few seconds, and making sure I like it up right ahead of time might be an issue.

OK, I will hold off on any equipment purchases.

Oh, and I really thought I attached the sample photos. Here they are, shrunken a bit.

I was trying to get some twilight pictures, which is the reason for the poor lighting, but all of my shots are coming out with that type of quality, so I'd like to work on that first.

The 1/FL guideline has some assumptions.
- you are stable.
- your subject is NOT MOVING.

You are likely tracking the plane as it moves across the sky, so YOU are moving.
If you are tracking the plane, and the plane is visible for only a "few seconds" then you do NOT have a non-moving subject.

IOW, you cannot use the 1/FL as your minimum shutter speed.
You have to use a FASTER shutter speed, to counter the movements of you and the plane.
The faster the relative motion of the plane, the faster your shutter speed has to be.


If you can't track well, and HOLD the spot meter on the plane, the camera will be exposing for the sky, not the plane.
I would determine the exposure you want (by trial and error) and then use MANUAL exposure.


I would use a gimbal head on a tripod.
Good gimbal heads are not cheap.
The cheap ones require work to make them work decently. Been there, done that.
 

ac12

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Hi all:

I'm an aviation fan and enjoy going plane-spotting once in a while. I just moved to a location that is right on the landing track for a major airport. Planes fly above my house at about 300 feet, maybe a little lower. I've tried going to a local park to take pictures of them but for some reason can't seem to get a good crisp clear picture.

One thing to consider is the planes are at about 300f elevation, meaning if I'm directly under them, I'm probably closer ro 8,000 10 10,000 feet from them directly when I'm shooting.


Update: This just dawned on me as I was writing this - should I reduce my f down to a lower number? While my subject is 10,000 feet away, my subject is less than 200 feet in depth, a 2% ratio. Any use of a large aperture is only bringing air molecules into focus.

Second update: I always have to crop these images significantly, to the point that a normally ok 1600 ISO is now very grainy. This support my opinion that I need more zoom.

To reduce the need to crop deep, the cheapest solution is to get CLOSER to the flight path.
 

smoke665

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I considered a tripod, however the plane would only be in the range of the tripod for a few seconds, and making sure I like it up right ahead of time might be an issue.
That's why a monopod has some advantages, it allows movement. I'm not so sure your issue is just with focus though. I took the liberty of doing some editing on your image. This an extreme crop of your image (note the details are pretty good).
edit (1 of 1).jpg

I don't see a lot (if any of motion blur). One thing that helps is to get in some practice swinging the camera in a panning motion, it will let you shoot at a lower shutter speed. The big issue I found with this was underexposure by almost a stop. A gray sky or haze in the air will throw off a meter. When it comes to sky, shots and haze the Dehaze slider in LR works wonders. Also, even with the extreme crop you must have been a good distance from the plane, getting closer helps because there's less haze interference.

My favorite airshows are the Blue Angels. This was shot with a 300mm, f/13, 1/500, ISO 200. I was panning handheld. I was closer than you were to the planes, but it still ended up being a pretty extreme crop, and these guys were flying a lot faster than the one you were trying to catch.

IMGP1062-Edit.jpg by William Raber, on Flickr
 

weepete

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Yeah, that looks to me more like you're just a bit beyond the limit of your lens plus a bit of underexposure.

It's very easy to underestimate how close you need to be with long lenses. Try and get a day with some nice blue sky and clouds. Depending on the orientation of the landing strip, you might be able to get some golden light behind you illuminating the plane which should help with the underexposure and you may be able to work a composition in the clouds that would enable less of a crop. Consider trying a panoramic aspect ratio as well, sometimes that can help.
 

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