Aviation photography and unsharp images

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MadridSpotter Junior Member • Posts: 28
Aviation photography and unsharp images


To start off, this is probably going to be a long post as I have lots of questions.

In 2017 I bought a D500, 70-200 VR ll and 200-500 to use for aviation photography. I picked the 200-500 over the Sigma 150-600 as I had read it was sharper. I tried everything while at Japan and was impressed by the quality of the images, but this was only with civilian aircraft which usually are easy to photograph.

Then came the RIAT, an airshow in the UK. Just before arriving at the UK, while in Germany, I had an issue with the autofocus of the D500 which seemed to stop working out of nowhere, the issue fortunately fixed itself.

I took around 5000 photos during the whole event and most of them were unusable, so I'll just leave these 3 as an example of how bad it was.

After returning back home I went to my local airport and the images I took were sharp enough:

For the rest of the year I only shot commercial aircraft and had no issues with anything, but due to a personal issue I had to hang up the camera for nearly all of 2018 so I dn't really have examples of pictures taken last year.

Earlier this year I finally was able to come back to photography, and discovered another issue.

Take a look at the lettering below the cockpit windows

Sharpness drops off towards the right side of the plane, and looking closely there's a "double vision" effect on the grey dots of the tail

Although it may seem like a minor problem, it's a big deal for aviation photography, as websites such as airliners.net, jetphotos.net or others require the images to be tack sharp, and quite honestly even if I didn't upload to those sites I'd still appreciate having completely sharp photos.

Last month I travelled to the USA and visited a place called Star Wars Canyon near Death Valley, where the D500/200-500 combo should excel.

Right wing and tail of the aircraft are blurry

As was the case with the 2017 airshow, nearly all images were unusable because of the blurryness. To me it looks like the autofocus didn't actually focus correctly, but that doesn't seem to be the only issue, the second F-18 photo has the nose fully focused but the rest of the aircraft unsharp, even when shooting at F7.1 and 1/1250.

One more thing to add although this is more related to the 200-500 than the D500 itself, while shooting at anything below F 7.1 the lens is useless, regardless of the focal length.

What would you say about the whole thing? Is it a photographer issue, equipment issue, maybe both? Any tips?

Thank you.

PS: All images are exported from Lightroom with the default 25 sharpness it adds when importing photos. When setting that slider to 0 the photos taken this year look completely out of focus, not sure if that's supposed to happen.

Nikon 200-500mm F5.6E ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Nikon D500 Nikon D7200
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