Saturday, 6 September 2014

Shoreham Airshow (UK) with a rented D810

DH90A Dragonfly landing in front of Lancing College Chapel
Last weekend I rented a D810, and on the Saturday spent the day at Shoreham for the airshow. I’ve not seen much aviation photography with the D810, and I wanted to know whether it would be a good practical option for this.  My D700 is great for aircraft, which is one reason why I’ve never been tempted by the D800, but the D810 has so many small improvements, it looked very enticing.

I picked it up on the Friday evening and took it out into central London to set it up and give it a first try. Everyone says how good it feels in the hand, and it really does. Once I’d got used to some of the controls, and customized “My Menu” to have my usual items in there (like battery info) and added crop modes (Image Area) and custom setting A6 to turn on/off frame lines, I felt good to go.

Spitfire N3200
The Vulcan banks

The Shoreham airshow is not particularly taxing on a modern auto-focusing system, as there are mainly vintage prop aircraft on display, and even my D70 was (mostly) OK with them ☺. Nevertheless, I wanted to try out the new group AF.

The pictures I’ve put in this post were all taken with the 200-400mm f/4 VR II, except for the monochrome C-47 (24-120mm f/4). All hand held. Just processed through Lightroom 5.6 (except for the banking Vulcan, which had a little additional help from Topaz Clarity). All images were recorded RAW (14-bit NEF, with lossless compression).
Moody Dakota: B&W with Silver Efex Pro 2
I've put a larger set on Flickr. The images here are larger than on Flickr, so worth clicking on these see the full size.

Slightly to my surprise, I found I was using the 1.2 crop a lot. Exiftool tells me that just about 50% of my selects were with the 1.2 crop. About 15% were in DX crop (which I’d expected to use for small aircraft at a distance, but fairly quickly discovered I didn’t really need). The remaining 35% were in FX mode, which was great for anything on the ground or that was large and in flight.

Matrix metering seems very sensitive to any sky in the picture. It is clearly trying to protect highlights (good!) but I found myself dialing in more exposure compensation that usual – up to +1.67 stops for flying aircraft (not helped by the bright grey clouds during the afternoon), and the highlights were still not blown.

F6F takes off. The Group area AF worked perfectly, following the a/c down the runway and not getting distracted by the background.

Focusing worked great. The 200-400 hunted only twice during the whole day (and I’m pretty sure that was due to user error). It locked nicely on to moving subjects and was not distracted by objects in the background. In fact, I don’t think I got a single grossly out of focus image all day. Having said that, I was pushing the shutter speeds at some points to see if the extra pixels would be less sparing on my hand holding technique. My keeper rate always falls off precipitously with any camera below 1/100 when panning at about 400mm, but as it happened, I found I could get enough sharp pictures at 1/80 to get nicely blurred backgrounds on take off or landing. So, all good.

I’m still trying to work out the best processing in Lightroom. Camera Standard and Adobe Standard are very different profiles for the D810, and I’m still trying to decide how best to employ them. Lightroom also seems to have an odd interpretation of the White Balance data. I set the camera to 5560K fixed WB. Lightroom interprets this at about 5950K and adds a tint of -4. Not sure what’s going on there, but not dissimilar to the way it treats my other Nikon images. Nevertheless, Lightroom handles the NEFs well, without much slowing down relative to D700 images.

I also stitched some panos. The image at the end is a three image stitch from FX (36MP) originals. For this, I exported full size 16-bit Tiffs from Lightroom and used the Batch Stitcher in PTGui. This produced a very good pano with no problem. 
RAF Display Typhon pulls vapour: from a 5 MP crop at ISO 800.

Anyhow, I don’t think the pictures in this post will show much that is particularly informative, in the sense that at web resolution, they won’t look much different to a D700 shot. However, the Typhoon shot is a 2841x1887px crop. That represents about 1/6 of the image area, so on a D700 would be a roughly 2MP image: that’s not really enough to do much with, so  that is one extra image I would have missed with the D700. And it was at ISO 800: not too shabby. I don’t like cropping images on the D300 either at ISO 800, so a double win for the D810.

Anyhow, the real test is whether or not the prints look good. I’m going to try to get some images sent off for printing this weekend, so I’ll post a follow up when I have them back.

Two Mustangs and a Spitfire await departure. A three image stitch from FX (36MP) originals. Stitched in the PTGui Batch Stitcher, which handled this with no problem.

1 comment: