I was about 13 years old when I saw the USAF Thunderbirds air demonstration team for the first time. I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but alas, it was not meant to be. My eye sight wasn’t 20/20, which back in the 80’s meant that I was ineligible. Nevertheless, my passion for flight never dwindled and I make it a point to see every air show that I can. At this years Rochester International Air Show, I had the opportunity to photograph the Navy’s Blue Angels with Sigma’s 150-600mm Sport lens. Could this lens possibly be the best lens ever to photograph an air show?
As a sports photographer, I’m primarily shooting straight ahead on a monopod with slight variations in angle depending on the subject matter. I’m not a career wildlife photographer so I don’t own a Gimbal Head for my tripod. I quickly came to the conclusion that a monopod without a tilting head on it is useless for shooting toward the sky. I decided to go handheld. Having the Sport version of the 150-600 weighing in at 2860g/ 100.9oz, I had my work cut out for me. Handholding this lens I was able to get some great shots which was a true testament to the abilities of the optical stabilization the lens has. Although you can customize the function of the OS using the Sigma USB Dock, I was set to the standard factory setting and it worked out very well.
Shooting with the 150-600 Sport on a Nikon D300 DX format camera, the effective zoom at full telephoto became 900mm. The clarity of the images was very impressive, especially considering that it was handheld at that focal length.
Panning the lens across the sky to keep up with the planes which were cruising past at upwards of 600mph at times was no issue for the autofocus system. The sky was covered with thin high cirrus clouds, muting the contrast of the planes, but that didn’t stop the AF system from keeping pace with the planes. Even when the planes were heading straight toward the camera, the AF had no issues tracking the approaching subject.
Performance after performance, the lens performed extremely well as my shoulders grew tighter and tighter. I kept thinking of the all the men and women in uniform at airshow who endured weeks of grueling physical training during Basic. If they could do it, I could certainly handle a little bit of muscle fatigue in my arms and shoulders, especially when the icing on the cake was yet to come with the Blue Angels taking to the sky. When they did, they didn’t disappoint.
So the question remains to be answered, is the Sigma 150-600 the perfect air show lens? I would have to say yes, and no. I would rather have tried it with Sigma’s 150-600 Contemporary lens since it weighs in at 1930g/ 68oz., which would have been a bit easier on my shoulders. Also, with the static ground displays, a wide angle lens such as the Sigma 18-35 f1.8 or the Sigma 12-24 are great companions to the 150-600. In the end, after a hot bath and some great images, the effort was well worth it.