SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens for Air Show Photography

As I planned what lenses I was going to use to photograph EAA AirVenture 2019, one of the biggest air shows in the country, my priority was to try my SIGMA 60-600 F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens for the daily air shows. I already knew the 60-600 Sports was a great lens for sports action, having used it for baseball and soccer, but having a reputation as an air show photographer, I really wanted to see how it would capture airplanes in flight.

A PT-23 trainer on an afternoon flight along the Wisconsin countryside. ISO 250; f10 at 1/60 second. 164mm.

I rounded out my lens selection with the SIGMA 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sports, 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM | Art, and 28mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lenses. My goal was to take fewer lenses and rely on the strong points of each lens to complete a Plane and Pilot magazine assignment at AirVenture.

A Light Sport aircraft comes in for a landing at before sunset. ISO 50; f13 at 1/2000 second. 151mm

But as day one turned into day two, I realized I was basically walking around with only the 60-600mm Sports lens. At first, this made sense because I was shooting the daily air shows and needed that 600mm reach to capture the aerial action. I should add, it not only captured the action, but pretty much blew my mind with the incredible sharpness of the images. Paired with the 24-megapixel Sony A9, using the SIGMA MC-11 Mount Converter, I found I was able to crop in for tighter composition and still retain amazing detail.

Kyle Franklin performs in his bi-plane Dracula. ISO 400; f13 at 1/400 second. 600mm.
Yak 110 performing at AirVenture. ISO 200; f13 at 1/400 second. 600mm.

Walking around before the air show, I found an advantage to capturing feature photos with much more candidness using the longer zoom lens. People weren’t aware of what I was photographing, so it was easier zooming in for that unexpected photo.

Viking Air tanker drops water during a forest fire fighting demonstration. ISO 80; f6.3 at 1/500 second. 442mm.
The USAF Thunderbirds make a pass of the AirVenture crowd. ISO 640; f6.3 at 1/5000 second. 222mm.

By the end of AirVenture, I had used the 60-600mm Sports lens for most of my assignments. I did use a few of my other lenses that were set aside for special situations, although looking back, the 60-600 Sports lens would have been a worthy substitute in most cases. A lens with as much versatility and sharpness can be used for a variety of assignments- portraits (great separation from background — don’t let the 4-6.3 f-stop fool you that there is not a beautiful blur), feature photos, group photos, airplanes on the ground as well as in the air… the list goes on and on.

Mike Hoy looks out of the cockpit of a PT-23 trainer. ISO 250; f6.3 at 1/320 second. 222mm.
A World War II re-enactor poses by the nose of a P-40 Warhawk. ISO 800; f6.3 at 1/1250 second. 413mm.

Since I had used the 60-600mm Sports lens for such a variety of situations, I was curious to see how it would perform in what most aviation photographers consider the highlight of aviation photography… an air-to-air mission. My usual lens for this type of assignment is the SIGMA 70-200 Sports lens. The mission was with a vintage Fairchild PT-23 trainer. The subject aircraft is usually photographed at 1/60 to 1/80th of a second in order to show the propeller as a full, blurred circle. After using the 70-200 Sports lens, I switched to the 60-600 Sports lens to see if it was up to the task. Image stabilization was in the number 1 position and focus was in AF-C/single point. The lens was able to hold consistently sharp images out to about 300mm. Moving the PT-23 into position above our photo plane’s horizontal stabilizer, I was able to zoom in for incredibly tight compositions. And once back on the computer to look at the results on a high resolution monitor, the sharpness on small details like the engine cylinder cooling fins was unbelievable.

A beautifully restored Stinson Reliant on display in the Vintage aircraft area. ISO 640; f6.3 at 1/1600 second. 76mm.
Over 1400 airplanes fill the grounds of EAA AirVenture 2019. ISO 640; f6.3 at 1/2500 second. 475mm.

The versatility of this lens got me thinking of several major photos that I could have taken with this lens instead of the lenses I actually used. One such photo was a newly designed Extra aerobatic airplane that I photographed at dusk with the SIGMA 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM | Art lens. The photo turned out great, but needed post production touchup for several runway lights and signs in the frame. I set out to recreate the shot in the same location using the 60-600 lens. I didn’t have an airplane this time, but did have a new BMW M850i as a substitute. With the lens only zoomed to 73mm, I was able to eliminate all of the distracting runway lights and signs that were present when using a wider angle lens. And again, sharpness was incredible. 

A BMW M850i photographed at sunset with strobes and the SIGMA 60-600mm Sports lens. ISO 100; f9 at 1/160 second. 73mm.

I am always learning, and my week at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin taught me a lot about how well I could do my job with just one lens. And not that it just delivered professional images to my client, but delivered my vision of the event to me. So, if you run into me at the next air show, you can bet the only lens I will be carrying around will be the SIGMA 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports.

A PT-23 up close and personal during an air to air shoot. ISO 250; f13 at 1/80 second. 295mm.
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