The announcement by Sigma that the Art series of prime lenses would be offered in Sony E mount definitely put a smile on the face of this user of Sony cameras. While I tend to use camera bodies from several manufacturers, I have been finding several aspects of the Sony system are better fitting the needs of my current clients. And while my Sigma lenses perform great using the Sigma MC-11 Adapter, offering lenses in Sony E mount, to me, means recognition as well as commitment by Sigma for the growing number of Sony shooters. To put an even bigger smile on my face, I had the privilege to use four of the E mount Art primes this summer.
While zoom lenses tend to get the most use in my newspaper and aviation work, a prime lens just seems to scream “creativity” to me. A prime lens slows me down a bit so I can feel the photograph I see coming together in front of me. It feels more deliberate. To many, a prime lens might relate to extreme sharpness, shallow depth of field when shot wide open and beautiful bokeh- but to me it also means I don’t just stand in one spot and zoom, but have to physically move in or out to align the image in my imagination with the reality in front of me.
I found that especially true when asked to take some outdoor portraits of my friend Anneliese. With the new E mount Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens on a Sony A9 camera, I set out to photograph her with the concept of shallow depth of field so the concentration went to her sharply focused eyes. To do that, I used not only continuous AF, but also eye-AF on the camera. I like that continuous AF is always compensating for little movements by the subject. And eye-AF is a Sony setting that allows the camera to lock in on Anneliese’s eye and stay in focus despite the movements of her head or my movements to reframe the composition. One of the advantages of the new Sigma E mount primes is they officially support continuous Auto-focus as well as quicker eye-AF. I like shoot in silent mode and with the new lenses, there is no searching noise.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens- ISO 500; f1.4 at 1/2000 second.
Putting these attributes to work on a real newspaper assignment, I took the 85mm Art lens on a Sony A9 to photograph a local music festival. I chose the 85mm again because I prefer staying tight on the action or subject. I was amazed at the fast continuous auto focus under extreme lighting conditions. And the sharpness blew me away.
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There are many awards and praises that can be given to an outstanding lens. The biggest one I can give is keep that lens mounted on my camera and use it every day. The new Sigma 16mm F1.4 Contemporary DC DN E mount lens is that outstanding of a lens to me.
I’m not a photographer that is as interested in minute technical details of lens testing as I am a photographer that wants results in the real world. And the Sigma 16mm has not disappointed me with each new day and each new assignment.
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I thought I was going to be excited heading to the Duluth Air Show to see the Navy Blue Angels perform. But when my Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary lens showed up in time to take it along, I knew the excitement of trying that lens for air show photography far exceeded anything else.
The 100-400mm range has dominated air shows for years. Versatile, fairly sharp, and somewhat in a lot of budgets. Just from seeing the Sigma press release on this lens, I knew it would be versatile…very sharp…and would fit in a LOT more budgets than the competition. That said, I was also taking along my Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary lens, which to me is the best air show lens around.
Scott Airshows Pitts S1S fills the air with smoke at the Duluth Air Show. Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary lens on a Canon 1DX. ISO 200; f10 @ 1/400th second. © Jim Koepnick | 2017
One advantage of the 100-400C lens became apparent as soon as I parked the car. It was a two mile walk to the entrance. In terms of weight and size, the 100-400C is easy to carry. It has the look and size of a 70-200 on your camera. And after the first mile of walking, you start to notice why one might want to pick this lens for an air show. Once on the grounds, the lens was paired up with a full frame Canon 1DX. Available for the longer reach was my 150-600C on a full frame Nikon D5. I wish I would have had a crop sensor camera with me, but I will at AirVenture Oshkosh in July, so I can’t wait to photograph an air show with the added reach the crop sensor creates.
The forecast for rain disappeared and I was presented with a beautiful cloud background at air show time. I decided to shoot in RAW format for the air show because it would give me more flexibility for color adjusting and cropping in post production. For me, being able to crop in tighter on an airplane in post production can create a more dynamic final product.
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The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens has developed a strong following at air shows. And for good reason- it’s sharp as a tack and has a great zoom range for photographing airplanes in action.
© Jim Koepnick 2016 | Air Show action- Sigma 150-600 f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport lens at 548mm; ISO 200; f9 at 1/320 second.
But what about the times when the creative bug bites you and there isn’t an air show happening in your area? For me, the answer is to go hang out at some of the small, local airports. And to realize not all interesting aviation photos have to be taken at an air show.
And…it also doesn’t mean you need to leave your Sigma 150-600 lens at home. It’s a great lens for capturing a different perspective on aviation. The narrow field of view and compression become artistic tools for your imagination. It’s also a great opportunity to give all of your Sigma lenses a workout…not to mention your imagination.
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© 2016 Jim Koepnick | Photographing a Piper Cub is not limited to summer. Putting skiis on the airplane is popular in the winter, which gives you year-round shooting opportunities. Sigma 150-600 Sport; Canon 1DX; 1/160 sec at f11; 400 ISO.
When the noise of the airshow is over but the creative bug is still nudging you to express yourself, there isn’t a better subject than heading to a small grass strip and focusing in on a legend. I’m speaking of the legendary Piper Cub. It’s small, old, and the dream airplane of most pilots. It’s called a tail dragger because it has a small wheel at the tail instead of a larger wheel in the front. It’s about as basic as an airplane can be. And that is what gives it the mystique it has had for over 75 years.
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© 2016 Jim Koepnick | Full prop circle shooting at 1/80th of a second and finding the correct light angle. A clean, darker background like a lake makes it easier to see the full prop circle.
Each aviation photographer has their individual passion. Air show. Warbirds. Airliners. But I think in almost every aviation photographer is the common passion to want to shoot an airplane air to air. Maybe it’s the ultimate expression of vision and equipment in the ultimate aviation environment. And it’s achievable with your mind on safety, technique, and the right equipment.
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We all live under budgets. But when it comes to photography, a budget should not limit our creativity. Even without a professional camera body and an assortment of lenses, you CAN get great photos at an aviation event. It’s all about sticking to some basic camera settings…leveraging the strong points of your equipment…and the right lens.
Enter the small and mighty Sigma 18-300mm f3.5-6.3 zoom as the “right” lens. Paired with a Canon 70D camera body, it’s small, light, and easy to carry around. I used this combination recently at two aviation events – Sun ’n Fun 2016 in Florida and a gathering of TBM Avengers in Illinois. I knew the large zoom range would have me covered with everything I wanted to photograph. Just mount the lens to the body, turn on the Optical Stabilization and start shooting. But to make this combo perform in the various photo opportunities I would encounter, it was time to make a few camera adjustments. Here are a few tips I used to make it work:
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Fly-ins and air shows are exciting. And fun to photograph. But they can wear you out from walking around as you take photos of all the airplanes on the ground and in the air. And it’s not just the walking that wears you out. It’s walking around with every lens and camera you own because you think you might need each one for that certain shot.
The first wheel turning in my head when I pencil in an air show on my calendar is what am I going to take for equipment. How much is too much? My goal is that while my car trunk might be full of gear, I only want to take two camera bodies and two lenses with me as I walk around. I don’t want to carry around too much weight in gear. And I don’t want to change lenses in whatmight be a windy and dusty environment that allows dust to contaminate my camera sensors.
While pretty standard to take a 24-70mm F2.8 and a 70-200mm F2.8 lens, I prefer to shoot more at the extremes if I’m feeling creative. I want to be different from every other photographer at the event. So as I started to think about equipment I would take to a small fly-in at Brodhead, Wisconsin, I decided on the Sigma 24-35mm F2 DG and the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS Sport lenses. And since there was the chance to shoot an air to air mission with another aircraft, I also brought along the Sigma 70-200 f2.8. The 70-200mm focal range is pretty much the gold standard for an air to air lens.
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