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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre Transportation Talk 
Thread started 14 Mar 2007 (Wednesday) 14:42
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Air Show Prime or Zoom?

Senior Member
411 posts
Gallery: 12 photos
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Joined Aug 2006
Location: UK
Mar 14, 2007 14:42 |  #1


I am just about to buy a new lens for the airshow season in the UK. I am looking at either the 100-400 L or the 400 L Prime.

I know it depends on the airshow and how far away the crowd line is from the dispaly line but I am wondering how many shots (take off/landings/slow passes) would be missed by just having the Prime lens. It would be mounted on a 30D so would have the 1.6 crop factor aswell. The Prime is slightly cheaper so would allow me to buy a nice backpack too (KATA). Can anyone give me any advice on shooting with the 400 Prime and wether you missed shots (I know some will be missed) but how many, and were you left wishing for the zoom?

Cheers for any advice in advance,


:EOS 30D + 18-55 Kit Lens:
:400 5.6 L: :24-105 f4 L:
:BG-E2 Grip: :Kata R-103:
:Next Lens 70-200 2.8 [COLOR=red]L: Gotta fill that gap :D

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Sliced Bread
3,709 posts
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Joined Jan 2004
Location: Twin Cities
Mar 14, 2007 15:43 |  #2

From what I have read here, the 100-400 is well liked by those who shoot air shows with only one body.

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Cream of the Crop
14,720 posts
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Joined Oct 2005
Location: Southern California
Mar 14, 2007 15:49 |  #3

Yep, the 100-400L is really popular for Air Shows

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Calicokat 1990-2007 RIP My Loving Kitty

They have pills for that now you know.
53,755 posts
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Mar 14, 2007 15:52 |  #4

With the wide range in distance, wide range in size, coupled with high speed, it seems that a zoom is the only way to go. 100-400L has got to be the king. It's my next lens

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High Plains Chimper
5,596 posts
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Joined Mar 2006
Location: Lago, CA
Mar 14, 2007 15:55 |  #5

The post is very specific to airshows, which I have not photographed in a long time. However, I do a fair amount of photography of several sports, and various other styles.
I think -take my .02 if you'd like- that the job can be done regardless of whether you have a Prime or a Zoom lens.

For in-flight photos, I assume you would be wanting to use the longest focal range possible (400mm whether it zooms or not). The issue is what you do before the aircraft are airborne -say Thunderbird ground Crew maneuvers- , or when the aircraft is doing a low altitude low speed pass for the crowd to photograph.

I prefer the ability to regulate the zoom, though I am giving up the edge of image quality, as primes tend to be sharper and overall better performers.

I would recommend the 100-400mm, and lots of practice with the push/pull zoom system, so that you get it right when you are at the airshow (practice with birds, whatever).

The Image quality should be outstanding, and you can zoom out to 100mm if the situation calls for it.

I am sure someone else more accustomed to Airshows will give you their input though. Just keeping the thread alive, and offering my thoughts.

Mario "MJ" Gravina

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"Ow ow you are on my hair!" -Joan of Arc

1 post
Joined Apr 2005
Location: Netherlands
Mar 15, 2007 06:39 |  #6

I had the same dilemma... until I ordered a 100-400 this morning.

I think a 300 F4 or 400 F5.6 alone at airshows or spotter's day's won't do the work for me. Especially when you have taxi shots, larger formations etc. That would have meant both a 70-200 AND one of those primes and I already saw myself changing lenses all the time when there is a lot of action going on. Or worse, buying a second body....

I went for the versitality of the zoom. And since I'm coming from a sigma 70-300 APO I propably won't be concerned with the sharpness and image quality of this new lens.

Senior Member
538 posts
Joined May 2006
Mar 15, 2007 16:40 |  #7

I think you'll be very well outfitted with the 100-400L. Although alot of people complain about the push/pull zoom, I'm not sure of how many of those that complain have actually used it, because, in my case, its the best way to zoom for a lens of this focal length. Push/pull is very quick in tracking birds for instance. I don't know how quickly you'd be able to adjust a twist type going from 100-400, but a push pull is basically instantaneous. Count me among the few that favor it.

1,554 posts
Joined Feb 2006
Location: Springdale, Arkansas USA
Mar 15, 2007 17:37 |  #8

I only did one airshow and although the 400 prime is nice, I don't think you can beat the 100-400 for versatility.

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Cream of the Crop
9,960 posts
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Joined Feb 2005
Mar 15, 2007 17:45 |  #9

I went to wadington last year with a 300f4 and a 1.4tc i got some nice shots too but i would have got a lot more with a 100/400 zoom ,half the time i was wondering if i should be using the tc for the next shot- keep it on take it off .as i have a long prime iv got a 70/200 f2.8isL that i will use with a 1.4tc this year.

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Air Show Prime or Zoom?
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