Home Cameras/Lenses Fujifilm Farnborough Air Show: Wings of destiny with the Fujinon 100-400

Farnborough Air Show: Wings of destiny with the Fujinon 100-400

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 Pitts
Pitts

The last time I went to the Farnborough Airshow I had a storming hangover. I took my son who would then have been about nine. I was in such a poor state that at one point I found a nice grassy knoll (we have ’em here too) and lay down upon it to watch the aircraft more or less overhead. I put my camera bag under my head and, well, I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew he was shaking me awake with the words “Dad! You’re missing the Harriers!!”. Indeed I was. 

 Wing walkers
Wing walkers

They used to do this little trick where they would slowly slide sideways along the flightline in front of the awed crowd, doing a little bow every 50 yards or so. The noise from the Pegasus engines was beyond deafening. It distorted reality, led to small dogs in the neighbourhood losing bowel control and caused a harmonic thrumming in your chest that I’ve only ever felt before at a Rolling Stones concert.

 Apache
Apache

The F35B Lightning is a much more refined affair. When it hovers it hangs in the air, to borrow a turn of phrase from the late lamented Douglas Adams, “the way bricks don’t”. It is steadier than a rock and pirouettes about its centre of gravity as if it is a 1/72nd scale model suspended from a teenager’s ceiling on a piece of fishing line. Compared to the pilot in the Harrier, who was doing it all by hand and eye and working the controls harder than the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz when found by Dorothy behind the curtain, his modern counterpart in the Lightning reputedly presses a button and gets back to trying to capture his next Pokémon while the onboard computers do all the work. It’s impressive but just a tad, dare I say… dull.

 Bronco
Bronco

Still, that’s progress for you and indeed a great metaphor for the progress in photography between my two trips. When I went back in the nineties I was shooting film, probably using a Contax RX. When I went to the Sunday show a couple of weeks ago I was armed with the Fuji X-Pro2 and of course the Fujinon 100-400mm R WR. The last time I went ‘plane shooting was last year, when I was equipped with the X-T1 and 55-200mm lens, so I was now larger-sensored, faster AF’d, and longer-reached than I have ever been before.  Until the X-T2 is out in the wild, this is the fastest and best rig that Fuji makes for this type of photography.

 F35B
F35B

Farnborough Airshow happens every couple of years (alternating with Paris) and is—apparently—the largest open-air event in Europe. It is certainly a massive affair, and has grown even bigger since the days when I used to be a student at Farnborough Tech next door to the airfield and sent for a coffee whenever one of the jet engines started up on the test bed, rendering lectures impossible to follow for twenty minutes or so. Today the airfield is owned by TAG and is the UK’s premier airport for private jets. For anyone interested in aviation the two public days of the show are by any measure a “target rich environment”.    

 Red Arrows
Red Arrows

Now, as I have said before. I am by nature a sniper of images rather than a machine-gunner, or as Bradley pointed out a few days ago, perhaps fly-fishing is a better and more peaceful analogy. In any event I tend not to “spray and pray”. Even at an event such as this, where fast moving objects at odd angles against an ever changing sky are the order of the day, I restrict myself to short bursts, never troubling the buffer.

 Typhoon
Typhoon

I have the X-Pro set to single AF, with a wide area focus setting and 8fps as that seems to give the best results. OIS is set to ‘on’, of course, and the focus-limiter on the 100-400 set to 5m to infinity. I spent most of my time with the lens racked out to 400mm (600mm FF) and rarely zoomed back from there unless for some of the takeoff and landing shots. I toyed with the idea of a monopod, but restrained myself and I am glad that I did. Watching other photographers wrestling with the one-legged monster when trying to track some of the fast movers was a salutary lesson in “over-gearing”. Okay, my right arm was tired by the end of the day, but it was worth it for the mobility and particularly for the ability to rapidly shift to vertical orientation—I saw one over-enthusiastic snapper try the same trick with a monopod attached… it was fortunate that his lady companion was wearing sunglasses, but I suspect from the indignant decibel level that some world-class grovelling is probably still going on.

 Typhoon
Typhoon

I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again—damn the 100-400 is good. Those of you who have it don’t need me to tell you. Those that haven’t—what are you waiting for? 

I have no doubt that when the X-T2 arrives it will form a match made in heaven but until it is on general release the X-Pro2 is the best game in town. I’d actually argue that even when the X-T2 is out the X-Pro will still have the edge in certain situations; as a smaller, lighter and more compact alternative to the increasingly bulky T line then the X-Pro2 might not find itself on many touchlines or ringside seats, but will be more popular in hides and highland moors where stealth and lack of bulk is more important than outright speed.

 F18
F18

Certainly from my point of view, after the initial hoo-hah, I find myself not that excited by the X-T2. It is starting to push up (pun intended) to the weight and bulk of the last full-frame digital camera I owned, a Nikon D700, and that I do not want. I don’t do enough airshows and motorsports to justify a camera that sits around waiting to be used two or three times a year, either. Which is ultimately why I sold my X-T1.  

 Catalina
Catalina

Finally, here are some statistics for you:

  • 2500 frames in six hours. 
  • 3 SD cards (32gb raw+jpg)
  • four batteries (which I think was quite impressive given that it was all EVF work and that far exceeds the quoted performance)
  • 72 “decent” images
  • 4 beers
  • 2 coffees
  • 1 pulled-pork bun (with stuffing)
  • 1 ice cream
  • 2 sore feet

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 Preparing for the wingwalking
Preparing for the wingwalking

5 COMMENTS

  1. 4 beers! Says a lot about the in-built stabilisation. I agree with you about a monopod. They are only useful for slow moving objects or for pros who use them a lot and visit a gym regularly. I tried using one for bikes going at over 200 mph at the Qatar Moto GP and gave up quickly. I ended up with sore arms but some good pictures.

    Nice photos.

    William

  2. I went to my first Farnborough Air Show when I was 6-in 1952.My father took me by train and then by bus from Epsom in Surrey and by good luck we arrived late and the hill where he wanted to stand was too crowded so we stood some distance away.The good luck came in because De Havilland’s chief test pilot was flying a D110 jet fighter prototype over the crowd when it broke apart and the debris fell on the crowd on the hill. Derry and his co-pilot and 31 spectators were killed.We could easily have been amongst them.
    I only have a very faint memory of the incident- but I do I remember the screaming,the smoke and the army ambulances with their clanging bells driving through the crowds. Due to its traumatic nature this is most early memory nowadays. My father took me towards the exit but I learnt from him years later that after a relatively short break the air show continued and we saw most of it . Imagine that today- a plane falling into the crowd,33 dead and the show goes on.The past is a different place.

  3. Hi Bill

    Great stuff!

    I was stationed at Farnborough in 1994 whilst I undertook a one year residential Aviation Medicine course as an RAF MO. That summer, I remember watching airshow aircraft from our RAF married quarter garden; quite bizarre seeing an Airbus doing a low level tight turn whilst you sip a beer and tuck into a barbecue! Happy days.

    Thanks for a super article which is beautifully photographed and brings backs many memories.

    Cheers

    John

  4. I might be polite to some folks sharing images and say what a nice job they did but in your case, I tip my hat off to you for some truly excellent work and sharing them with us so that we may aspire to your level of craft. Kudos!

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience, I also have the 100-400mm and it’s paired to the X-T2. So far I’ve been very happy with wildlife shots including BIF. Anyone who is on the fence about purchasing this lens should order it now, it is great wide open, easy to carry around and fast to focus.

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