Thursday was washed out by rain and low cloud but Friday, Saturday and Sunday were just terrific. Saturday was crazy busy and roasting. Sunday turned out to be a gem with most of the crowds scared off by a superficially bad forecast, but the weather cleared on cue for wonderful skies and cooler, less crowded conditions.
The Air Festival is a fantastic free air show held every August over the natural amphitheatre of Bournemouth Bay. My usual tool of choice is a Nikon body with the rather huge 200-400 F4 Nikkor lens. I did use this a lot during this year's festival but on Saturday I wanted to be more mobile, so brought just Fuji X and on other days I had a Fuji X body (X-T1 or X-T10) loaded with the 55-200mm OIS lens in the bag, a focal length range which is ideal for larger aircraft and especially for aerobatic formations such as the Red Arrows.
I tried out the new zone and wide tracking focus modes, trying to establish which worked best for shooting aircraft. I used single servo AF as I have not found continuous AF to be as consistent or reliable unless you can nail a single target with a specific focus point. Conditions were mostly bright enough to use around an f8 aperture and still get high enough shutter speeds. Stopping down to that extent would help to give a greater depth of field for groups of aircraft and mitigate focus error.
When the Red Arrows come into the display area they fly straight over the East Cliff and its hotel buildings, so standing on the cliff you get all of a second or two at most to compose, lock focus and shoot when they appear over the hotel roofs. I can anticipate the approximate point where they will appear from experience but it does require a fast reaction and fast camera response to get a shot. I was impressed when the Fuji grabbed this razor sharp shot.
The Fuji took some nice shots of the Red Arrows performing on all days, using a mix of the 55-200mm zoom and 50-140mm zoom. My reach was therefore a bit limited but I actually like shots that include larger skyscapes or backdrops from the area of the show.
While experimenting with focus modes I did find a couple of shots were missed in wide tracking mode when objects were very small in the frame or were not moving significantly across the field of view. In these situations the focus system seemed to struggle to identify a target and switching to zone focus using a 3x3 box of focus points worked better. The wide tracking mode was very good otherwise at it allowed freedom of composition without having to place a focus point on a specific aircraft. It would simply focus on one or more of the aircraft in the frame.
I shot RAW and jpg files simultaneously and especially liked the Classic Chrome rendering. I kept a mix of RAW and jpg files depending on which worked better or gave me the freedom to choose a different processing option. As always the jpg files were extremely good.
One of the highlights of the show for many and certainly for me was the final appearance of the Avro Vulcan XH558, which will be grounded from flying at the end of this season. It is a rare and rather magnificent aircraft with its huge delta wing profile, surprising manoeuvrability and the terrific, tearing roar of its Rolls Royce Olympus engines. I remember watching the Vulcan at the Hurn air show as a boy, when it was still very much in service and I was so pleased that my own little boy was able to see it display and get excited by the noise and sight of it. I took some shots on the Fuji during its Saturday flypast, which turned into a mini display. While most aircraft look better coming into the camera view I love the look of the Vulcan as it passes and especially as it climbs away.
During some of Saturday i shot black and white jpg for the vintage aircraft for something different and due to summer haze and glare dulling the effect of colour.
The Night Air display is a real challenge for camera and shooter due to darkness and bright pyrotechnics. I tend to underexpose by around a stop. Exposures here were f2.8 and 6400 ISO, so pretty much pushing the limits, but they came out very well.
This was quite a reasuuring performance from the Fuji system and when the 100-400mm telephoto lens is released that should give enough reach for all air show shooting. Hopefully it will be as good as all the other lenses released so far.