If you will recall, I rented a Nikon 600mm f/4.0D AF-S II VR to take pictures of the Blue Angels in 2012…because why not?
Unfortunately, the Blue Angels were canceled last year, but they were back this year!
So I rented the Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR…mostly because I could:
Pros don’t buy these lenses. Nikon and Canon’s pro support programs loan them out for free at sporting events hoping TV viewers see more black or white to influence consumers. Therefore, don’t take any of the prices that seriously. Nikon and Canon probably take a loss on the sale of each of these lenses, considering the small quantities sold. They are created mostly for bragging rights, like the unbeaten Nikon 13mm f/5.6.
It was fun to rent, but shooting anything with a lens like this is hard. Ideally I would just move closer to the airplanes, but until the FAA decides to let drones fly with planes (or the Blue Angels invite me to ride along) I’m stuck with have to use the power of optics.
The issue which shooting with such a large lense is mostly the haze and smoke trails. The heat shimmer kicks in eventually if you get enough air between the you and the object you’re trying to shoot:
You may need to embiggen to get a good look, but the planes basically look like a mosaic because of the heat shimmer — and there’s no amount of Photoshop that can fix that.
Convection causes the temperature of the air to vary, and the variation between the hot air […] and the denser cool air […] creates a gradient in the refractive index of the air. This produces a blurred shimmering effect, which affects the ability to resolve objects, the effect being increased when the image is magnified through a telescope or telephoto lens.
Your best bet is to get a polarizer (which I unfortunately didn’t have) and shoot at 90° to the sun, as shown by the Rayleigh sky model (See also: Polarizing filter). There’s actually a pretty cool tool called SunCalc that will show you where the sun will be at a given date and time — very useful for things like this.
Still, with just over 1500 photos I was bound to get some good ones. Interestingly enough, it’s not that hard to actually track the planes once you get a bead on them. Here are the 4% that made the cut: