FZ1000 Airshow #1

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Hatstand
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FZ1000 Airshow #1
1 month ago

I took my FZ1000 to its first airshow last weekend. It was at my “usual” haunt, the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden - a small airfield, where 400mm is just about the right amount of reach. I found myself leaving the camera in 10MP 560mm mode a lot of the time though (more by accident than design).

Conditions were not ideal. It was cloudy and late evening, flying didn’t start til 1.5 hours before sunset. Light was poor. It wasn’t a “regular” airshow, but an outdoor orchestral concert including some aviation-themed pieces punctuated by simultaneous flying displays.

Its main attraction was the appearance of the world's only two airworthy Lancaster bombers, together in formation. A rare sight, given one is normally stationed in Canada and the other in Britain.

I got some pleasing results - nothing special and generally a bit “dull”, but I think the FZ1000 did as well as could be expected given the poor light. Here’s a couple of examples, SOOC:

FZ1000, SOOC, 20MP

FZ1000, SOOC, 10MP,attempting full-disc propeller blur...plane is in motion... hand-held at 1/30th... sky blown out...

They’re a bit flat, partly due to conditions, but in any case I intended to post-process for posting on forums. There are more (PP’d) examples in THIS THREAD over at the airshows.co.uk forums. I wonder if anyone can guess which ones (if any :-D) were grabbed from 4K video?

FZ1000 vs FZ200 for airshows
In terms of image quality, the FZ1000 has considerably less noise, and better dynamic range. Its low-light capabilities wouldn’t normally come into play at an airshow, but at this particular one it provided a huge advantage.

By the end of the show it was so dark I was shooting at ISO’s up to 3200, and still getting good results with very manageable noise levels. The FZ200 has a 1 stop exposure advantage (constant f2.8), but even at “only” ISO1600 I think noise would have been a serious issue.

For most airshows (ie. in good light), after my usual post-processing and/or reduction to screen or forum-sharing sizes, I am not expecting a large image quality difference between my FZ200’s airshow photos, and my FZ1000’s.

So why bother? Well, better IQ is welcome, and it was certainly a factor for non-airshow use (ie. most of my photography!)... but it was not the main reason I bought the FZ1000. It was the long list of new or improved features, many of which were directly relevant to my airshow photography. I consider it a definite step up in terms of speed, functionality and handling.

Eg. The speed of operation, faster AF, better burst-to-burst speed, better AFC, panning-mode I.S., better screen/EVF, step zoom, more customisable Fn buttons, customisable Q.Menu, more comfortable grip, stills from 4K movies, instant switching to the last-used "C2" custom setup... etc etc.

And a whole bunch of other useful goodies when I'm shooting the ground displays at airshows, like focus peaking, pinpoint focus, electronic level display, eye detect for EVF, size of single-area focus is remembered, "sweep" panorama, tighter DoF available with less step-back-and-zoom, etc etc.

Most airshows I go to are at Old warden ie. a “small” airfield - the FZ1000 has the right amount of reach there, and it beats my FZ200 (and Stylus 1).

But it remains to be seen how well it will work for “medium” sized airshows (3-4 times a year). I’d be cropping to 10MP 560mm, maybe even 5MP 800mm, and I suspect my FZ200 will win, unless I can fit a quality teleconverter to the FZ1000.

Certainly for "big" airshows (once a year at most) I expect to need the massive reach of my FZ200 + TC-E17ED. A high proportion of the photos I took at the RIAT airshow earlier this year (photos HERE) were at/near the maximum 1020mm of that combination. By the way, they were also hand-held and I.S. turned off The bare FZ1000 just can't compete with that.

4K grabs
There is little/no delay when starting a recording, nor between stopping one recording and starting another - other than time to autofocus, which is practically nothing. For planes in flight against the sky, it maintains focus very well. But I was a little disappointed by frames grabbed from 4k. Too often, they looked like grabs from video, if that makes any sense. And a bit soft. There were exceptions though, and it’s early days - will persevere with it for a while to try and improve my results.

It can be quite time-consuming picking out the best frames to grab. In camera, you can play a movie, pause, move back and forth frame-by-frame, save a grab. It's a neat process, but I find it near impossible to decide which frame to grab, given the small display and no way to zoom in during playback to check focus or motion blur. And the WiFi app doesn’t seem to support grabbing frames from 4K, so using that to get a bigger display is apparently not an option.

I am also concerned that the grabs made in-camera may not be optimal quality if post-processed. The video is compressed, and then the in-camera grab will (I assume) be recompressed to jpg (with no control over the parameters?)... and then any post-processing will recompress yet again, when saved to jpg.

I'm thinking it's better to grab frames out-of-camera instead. On a big screen it's easier to identify the "best" frames, and there's an opportunity to save using a lossless format before any post-processing.

Autofocus, stabilisation, panning... and the demise of "predictive" AF
With my FZ200 at airshows, I avoid AFF/AFC, and [AF] bursts, because they use "predictive" focusing. It is my view that "predictive" doesn't cope very well with panning. And after much practice honing my technique, I was able to get better results using AFS and non-[AF] bursts. Same applies to the Stabilizer: I turn it off on the FZ200 for airshows, because it doesn’t work so well with panning.

But in the FZ1000, if I'm reading the manual right (p169)... if I set focus/release priority to "Focus", then:

1. AFF and AFC do not use "predictive" focussing,

2. The camera will not take a shot unless focus has been achieved, and

3. 2fps, 7fps and 12fps bursts will set new AF, Exposure and WB for every shot.

However, I note that p139 says that AFC will use "Movement prediction", and doesn't mention if this is indeed, affected by setting focus/release priority to Focus.

Hmm. Well I went with AFC for this first airshow, since others have been pleased with it. I might try AFF and/or AFS another time.

It seemed to work well (with Stabilisation set to “panning”). Panning with planes side-on, and planes approaching head-on or nearly so, at one or two hundred mph... all seemed OK. AF was very fast, despite low light – although it sometimes locked onto a background feature instead of the intended subject! Choice of AF points seems more important than with older FZ’s…

49-area AF seemed to catch planes well against the sky, even if off-centre, or when there were multiple planes in formation, with empty sky in the centre of the frame. But for panning with scenery in the background, the custom “horizontal line” focus area seemed better. I need to test that some more, and maybe try single-area AF too.

I did find occasional frames in a burst which were out-of -focus, but in subsequent frames of the same burst, focus was regained. Perhaps it was momentarily "distracted" by background objects?

BTW, I like the "no shot unless focus achieved" feature of Focus Priority. I'm so used to my FZ200 (and Stylus 1), that I now anticipate when they will achieve focus, and release the shutter just at that moment. But sometimes I get it wrong, or the camera takes longer than usual... and then I get a whole burst of out-of-focus duds.

Nice that the FZ1000 can prevent that, and ensure focus for every shot in a burst - even at 12fps. It might have to slow bursts down a bit to do it sometimes – and I noticed this happening occasionally, at this airshow (bursts slowed down or stuttered a few times) - but that's OK by me.

Exposure compensation
There is an age-old problem with photographing planes in flight: Unless your camera has a gigantic dynamic range, you end up choosing between well-exposed skies and planes too dark... or well-exposed planes and blown-out skies. Most people choose the latter, since trying to brighten dark planes in post is likely to reveal lots of unpleasant shadow noise...

There are many ways of getting there, but the common solution is usually to add + exposure compensation. By default I start with +0.66eV for planes in the sky, but I'll tweak it up and down depending on subject and conditions.

I checked out i.Dynamic and shadow/highlight in the FZ1000, to see if those might be any help. i.Dynamic now offers an AUTO mode (that wasn't in the FZ200), so it can change the strength of the effect for each photo, rather than using a fixed effect/strength. Shadow/Highlight offers more control, but it will apply the same strength of effect to every photo.

They only apply to JPG files, which suggests they don't do anything that can't be done with a RAW file and post-processing. But I'm not sure that's true for i.Dynamic... because when I was trying it out, it actually appeared to alter the exposure eg. In one test, it reduced ISO (reducing blown highlights), and then apparently boosted the shadows afterwards.

Unfortunately that's not what I want for airshows - I want the plane (shadows) to take priority over the sky (highlights), not the other way around. So, I'm not bothering with i.Dynamic for airshows (but it could be useful at other times!)

Shadow/Highlight control doesn't seem to affect exposure, but I am trying it with highlights -2 to see if it might "rescue" highlights a little (in the same way that people manually processing RAW files might).

So far, I’d say it’s an improvement over the FZ200 - I'm still getting blown highlights, but not so much now. This may be simply due to better dynamic range, I'm not sure if -2 highlights is helping any. I have yet to try an airshow in bright daylight.

Red Dot Sight
The way I shoot airshows, I hold the camera out with both hands, and neck strap taut against the back of my neck to make a "tension tripod" for stability. Then I use a hotshoe-mounted red dot sight as my viewfinder, only glancing at the rear screen to check zoom/framing.

This lets me put a plane in the frame as quickly and easily as pointing my finger (no zooming out to find the plane, then zoom back in to take the photo)... I find it easier to pan in synch with the plane... and I get to watch the show with both eyes and a full field of view, instead of peering through a restrictive viewfinder half the time.

With that in mind, my airshow setup has rear screen "ON", EVF and auto-switching turned "OFF".

I may have to adjust my technique, depending on the idiosyncrasies of the FZ1000’s AF… and possibly to accommodate back-button-focus…

Battery life
Battery life is not that great with FZ1000 (it's a lot shorter than FZ200) - so spare batteries are a must. I only needed one battery for this show, but it was very short – only about an hour.

I set the screen to turn off as quickly as possible (1 min). I also have the camera set to sleep after 1 min too. That would be quite a nuisance with my FZ200, but it's OK on the FZ1000 because it wakes very fast on a shutter half-press (even if the "zoom resume" has to go all the way from zero to full).

My Settings
These are likely to change as I gain experience with the FZ1000 but for now…

C1 custom setup (Shutter Priority) - for propeller-driven planes:

  • 1/200th – 1/320 for “regular” propeller blur
    (1/200 – 1/250 for single planes, 1/320th for formations or aerobatics)
    1/30 – 1/60 for “full-disc” propeller blurs
     
  • "Standard" photo style: Co0, Sh-3, Sa0, Nr-5
  • Aspect Ratio 3:2
  • Picture size 20MP 25-400mm, or "exM 10MP" 25-560mm
  • Quality "JPG only", Fine
     
  • Metering mode "Multiple"
  • Burst Rate "M" (7fps)
     
  • Shadow 0, Highlight -2
  • i.Dynamic "OFF"
  • i.Resolution "OFF"
     
  • Shutter type "MSHTR"
     
  • ISO limit set "OFF"
  • ISO increments 1/3eV
  • Extended ISO "OFF"
     
  • i.Zoom "OFF"
  • Digital Zoom "OFF"
  • Color space "sRGB"
  • Stabilizer “ON”, "Panning" mode
     
  • Shutter AF "ON"
  • Half press release "OFF"
  • Quick AF "OFF" (save battery)
     
  • Focus/Release Priority "FOCUS"
     
  • Autoreview "OFF"
     
  • Zoom Lever: "Zoom", "Stepping"
     
  • Zoom resume "ON"
     
  • 49-area focus
     
  • Live view mode 30fps (save battery)
     
  • Economy Sleep "1Min", Auto LVF/Monitor off "1min" (save battery)
     
  • ISO "AUTO"
  • Exp.Comp +2/3 (adjust if required)
  • WB custom "C1" (set on the day using a DGK gray card)
  • Focus mode lever: AFC
  • Drive dial: Burst

In good light, a neutral density filter may be necessary to get the shutter speeds I listed without over-exposure. It wasn’t necessary at this show, but I have a variable ND filter (Hoya Pro-1 Digital) for this purpose.

It’s my first variable ND filter - I have become so spoilt by my Olympus Stylus 1 and its built-in ND filter, that I now find myself resenting having to add/remove lens-mounted ND filters all day. With the variable filter, I can leave it on all the time - set it to almost no effect for jets, gliders and static displays, set it to about 2 stops for "normal" propeller-blur, and about 3 stops for full-disc prop-blur and helicopters.

I normally set a custom WB at the start of the day, and as conditions change - using a DGK reference gray card. I save to custom WB C1 slot. I'm not sure, but this WB seems to get saved into custom setups along with all other settings - which is a nuisance. I want to set WB C1 and have it immediately apply to any setup that uses WB C1, including custom setups. I don't want an out-of-date saved WB C1 being used by my custom setups. But this may have been user error - I will have to test this.

Aperture Priority - for gliders, jets, statics:
I switch switch to Aperture Priority, f4, set ND filter to minimum effect, and let the camera find the fastest shutter speed it can. I’d normally set ISO so that shutter speed doesn’t fall much below 1/800th shutter speed.

Creative Video mode, 4K movies - for grabbing stills:

  • Rec Format "MP4"
  • Rec Quality "4K/100M/25p"
  • Exposure mode "S"
  • Continuous AF "ON"
  • Metering Mode "Multiple"
  • Luminance level “0-255”
  • Shutter speeds:
    1/250th for "normal" propeller blur
    1/25th or 1/50th for "full-disc" prop blur.
    (I’m using a European FZ1000, 25fps PAL video)

Anybody who read this far deserves a cookie!

 Hatstand's gear list:Hatstand's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
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