Finland International Airshow

August 18, 2015

I really need to stop posting about airplanes, this is getting ridiculous.

By random chance, I stumbled over an ad telling me that there were going to be an Airshow here in Helsinki this weekend. I know, probably the first time ads have actually worked, right? I decided right there and then that I had to go. I asked Paulina if she wanted to join me, but sadly she was working this weekend.

Though I wasn’t going to miss out, and even if I had to go alone, I was dead set on going. Then earlier in the week I got a text from Paulina where she simply stated that I needed to check my mail, I though first that it would be some kind of bad news, and immediately checked, I got a confirmation mail and a single VIP ticket for the Airshow, which were really expensive, all paid and ready to use. She’s a darling.

Friday evening I did my equipment check, checked the lenses, checked batteries, checked memory cards, etc. Everything was working without a hitch. (though I forgot to clean the sensor on my 5d, so I had to manually clean a lot of pictures in photoshop).

Saturday morning, got up, took a shower, did a last inventory check (wouldn’t it suck if you’d go, but then forgot something in the last minute?) and off I went. It takes about 40 minutes to get out to Malmi airport, according to the website there were going to be shuttle buses from the train station to the airfield, though when I got off the train, I couldn’t see a single sign for the airshow, so I ended up walking the three or so kilometers, which sucked, but nothing was going to ruin my day.

Canon EOS 5D, 70mm, f/3.2, 1/5000, ISO 320

I got to the airfield at around 10:20 AM, the show was to begin at 11 sharp. I walked around and checked out the airplanes they had on display, most of them were pretty boring (mostly single engine Cessnas and Pipers).

The main attraction would be the Finnish Air force’s McDonnell Douglas F-18 C/D Hornets, fun fact (which I think I’ve talked about before), did you know that the Hornets in the Finnish Air Force are called F-18 (as opposed to F/A-18)? It’s because the Finnish Air Force only exists for defensive purposes, and the F/A stands for Fighter Assault, and since Finland doesn’t use the planes for Assaults, the designation has been dropped, but I digress.

I had hoped that they would’ve at least have one Hornet on display, but alas, no such luck.

The air show started, and it wasn’t that many people on the air field, you had a lot of room moving around, which was really nice. This was also the first time I noticed that I had forgotten something, my ear plugs.

Since the Loop Troop concert last year that almost gave me tinnitus, I’ve become much more responsible when it comes to protecting my ears. But when I had done my gear check, I had been too consumed in choosing the right camera gear, that I had completely forgotten about my ear plugs. Though thankfully they sold these cheap yellow ones at the info, so I went and picked up a pair for a euro (Later on I noticed they were giving them away for free at the different displays).

Canon EOS 60D, 400mm, f/16, 1/640, ISO 800

Canon EOS 60D, 296mm, f/20, 1/400, ISO 200

Canon EOS 60D, 400mm, f/10, 1/1250, ISO 800

For those wondering, the complete list of gear that I brought with me were:

  • Canon EOS 5D (with 32GB memory card)
  • Canon EOS 60D (with 16GB memory card)
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 HSM APO DG
  • Canon EF 20-35mm f/2.8L
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8
  • Kenko 2x Teleplus Pro 300

This was probably the first time that I think I really brought the right gear, not a single time did I wish for another lens that I have at home. I might actually be getting better at choosing the right gear for the right occasion. And yes, I did use every single item.

My initial plan had been to use the 5D for wide shots and the 60D for tele, but that didn’t really work out, more on that later.

Canon EOS 60D, 314mm, f/20, 1/400, ISO 200

Not the best picture, but since I’ve covered the DC-3 before, I thought I’d might as well show it in flight

At 2 o’clock, after three hours of watching planes, the show took a break, they had some unknown singer (unknown to me at least) performing at the stage, Finnish crowds can be hard to win over, and I noticed that every cheer sounded the same, and the crowd standing in front of the stage were basically standing still, so I concluded that the people who were responsible for sound mixing also had a cheer button, which they constantly spammed. A bit awkward, I would’ve liked it if they had a couple of more cheering samples than just that one.


Anyway, I had lunch and kept walking around the fair that they had set up, not much of interest was going on, and I was getting pretty tired from standing in the sun, but I really wanted to see the Hornets, which were the last show of the day, which was planned for 6 o’clock, so I kept at it.


The crowd at the air show had also grown a bit, and you couldn’t move as freely anymore. There were a lot of photographers, many with really large Canon L lenses. I had my Sigma 70-200mm with a 2x Teleconverter, which even though it is quite large, is dwarfed by the big prime L tele lenses. But as the popular saying goes, it’s not about how big it is, it’s how you use it.

As I was waiting for the show to continue, I started to look through the images that I had taken, and as I was pixel peeping I thought all of the images were really unsharp, I did some clean up on the memory card and deleted all of the images that were obviously blurry, but I was really disappointed by the TC.

I actually got a bit scared that I wouldn’t have a single usable image from the show, so I decided to drop the TC for the time being, and shoot with the 70-200mm on my Canon 5D because I knew that combination would be sharp (I had earlier had it on my Canon 60d with the TC, seeing as the crop factor gives me an additional 1.6 times zoom, for free).

One of the pilots taking a nap in the shadow of his plane.

The show was set to continue at around 4 PM, but the sun was basically killing me, and I had a small headache, so I kept hydrating myself as much as possible, which kept the headache at bay. I could also tell that I was getting tanned at an alarming rate. I had actually brought a water resistant jacket (if the weather would change), but I hadn’t even given the slightest thought that the sun might be out all day, and so I hadn’t brought with me any sun screen protection at all (the second thing I forgot to think about). And I was basically standing on an open field which by design, doesn’t have anything that protects you from the sun.

I generally don’t get sunburned, so with some wishful thinking, I buried the thought about it, I mean what was I supposed to do? Leave the airshow? No, I had to continue.

It’s interesting how prepared I was for cold weather, I had waterproof boots on, jeans, and an extra jacket, but the temperature just kept rising. I would’ve given a lot of money for a pair of shorts at this point.

Anyway, the show had to go on.

Canon EOS 5D, 200mm, f/10, 1/1600, ISO 320

Canon EOS 5D, 200mm, f/10, 1/1250, ISO 320

Canon EOS 5D, 77mm, f/10, 1/2000, ISO 320

Canon EOS 5D, 157mm, f/10, 1/2000, ISO 320

The second act of the show was basically the same thing as the first one earlier in the morning (the same pilots and planes), but you could really tell that the pilots had become accustomed to their program, they started to do a lot more aggressive moves, and flew a lot nearer to the crowd. Which was a good thing since I had dropped the teleconverter and didn’t have the same reach anymore.

Some of the maneuvers they did in the afternoon were just jaw dropping.

“Is it a bird, is it a plane? It’s both!” – Carlos

At this point my skin was glaring red from the sun, and I was now completely assured that I had been sunburned, I kept checking my watch every 10 minutes, counting down for the Hornets. I also removed the ear plugs since I couldn’t hear the announcer speak, and I wanted to make sure I was prepared for the main event. But until then I decided to rest my arms, so I put down my bag and camera and just stood and enjoyed the show.

Canon EOS 5D, 200mm, f/11, 1/1000, ISO 320

And then at ten past six, without the announcer saying anything, the sound of a jet engine roared through the field. We had all gotten accustomed to the sound of the propellers, but that sound was like a gentle whisper compared to the hurricane sound from the two General Electric F404-GE-402 turbofans.

The Finnish Air Force’s F-18 had finally arrived, and it was so loud I don’t think anybody in the region would’ve failed to notice.

The roar of the engines were simply put; awsome.

I dropped down, and as I tried to put back my ear plugs I was simultaneously holding cover for my ears and picking up my camera, not an easy task to tell you the truth (especially not when you’re trying to do it as fast as possible, because I didn’t want to miss a thing, queue Aerosmith’s track).

I shot off a couple of images, only to notice that I couldn’t get the reach I needed, so I swapped out the 5D body for my 60D.

I love this pictures based solely on the fact that the guy in the foreground looks like he’s panicking.

I shot off another set of shots, just to feel that I still didn’t have the full reach I needed, the jet was moving really fast, and kept its distance from the crowds, I only assume the pilot knows just how loud the plane is, and he probably didn’t feel like making people deaf.

There’s only so and so much an unarmed f-18 can do, so the pilot kept dropping flairs.

I made a gamble and added the TC, thinking I already had a set of images from both the 60D and the 5D, and some of them just had to be sharp. So I now felt like I could experiment without losing anything that I really needed.

In some cases a couple.

Even though my 70-200mm sports an HSM focusing motor, it gets really slow with the teleconverter, so I had to help it out (it has full time manual override of the focusing wheel), so I made the big focus changes manually and then let the focusing engine take over for the last critical part, which actually, and surprisingly, worked pretty well.

The earlier planes, the ones with propellers, had been a lot slower than a jet, which meant a slow focus still worked reasonably well, but the F-18 was showing off, and in order to do so, the pilot kept punching the throttle.

And in some, a shit load.

And after a couple of minutes of showing off, the Hornet dispersed, leaving the scene as abruptly as it had shown up.

The only bad thing with having the F-18 as the last performance was that it was backlit by the sun, a lot of my images ended up as silhouettes.

And that was it, it was over, the majority of people started walking towards the exit. I followed pursuit after packing up all the gear in my one bag. As I got out of the air field, I again noticed that they had neglected to put up any signs for the buses, so I just walked to the train station.

When I got on the train I finally noticed how sunburned I actually was, I had a clear white stripe left on the skin from where my watch had been, every thing else was completely red. And my clothes were completely damp by me sweating. To tell you the truth, I was in a hurry to get home.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so happy getting out of my clothes and in to the shower as I was when I was back home.

I had taken about 1,200 images, and I was really excited about seeing the quality, since back at the air field I had felt that most of the images were really unsharp. But to my surprise, most of the images were actually tack sharp, even with the TC. This just confirms that you shouldn’t trust the display on the cameras, I’m just wondering how many good images I threw away because I thought they were blurry. After doing a quick culling, throwing away images that were way under/over exposed, and some that were completely crap, I ended up with around a thousand images for further inspection, granted, most of them were fairly similar.

Today I learned

Anyway, through every experience you learn something new, and this was my first time on an airshow, but definitely not my last, so what have I brought home?

  1. Sun protection
  2. Ear protection
  3. Don’t wear jeans, any other material would’ve been better
  4. Trust your gear! (if it has worked before, it will probably do so again, don’t start pixel peeping in the field)
  5. Have camera straps for each camera

The last point is something I haven’t yet brought up. The final thing I completely forgot was to bring an extra camera strap. On a day to day basis I don’t have any straps on my camera bodies, mostly because I don’t like having my camera hanging around my neck, and I feel that the straps always get in the way, i.e. they are more of a burden than an asset.

But whenever I go out on an event, I bring my BlackRapid camera strap, which is just simply awesome (instead of the camera hanging around the neck, it hangs around your body like a sling).

I also tend to bring two cameras, so I don’t need to swap lenses constantly, this time around I had forgotten the camera strap for my 5d (since I don’t have two BlackRapids, I have to resort to the normal straps), which meant I had to constantly take it out of my bag, take an image, and then place it back in the bag, which is a tedious exercise, and most of the time you just let an image pass, because it’s too much of a hassle to take out the camera.

Canon EOS 60D, 244mm, f/16, 1/400, ISO 200

And as I stood on the airfield, I was really envious of the long lenses the other people were using, like the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, mostly because I felt my 70-200 and the TC (effectively making it an 140-400mm f/5.6 lens) just wasn’t cutting it, but now when I’ve looked through the images, I still would’ve loved a long L lens, but not as much.

I’m also happy that I had a zoom, shooting with a long prime would’ve been problematic, even though the image quality would’ve been absolutely great, the flexibility of a zoom when shooting planes is worth a lot more. Since the planes are moving fairly fast, having a static range (as in a prime) means you can’t adapt to the situation as fast as you can with a zoom. In most photographic cases you can always move around to recompose or zoom with your feet, but since the subject you’re shooting, the planes, are constantly moving, it’s better that you stay relatively stationary (and in a lot of cases you don’t even have the option to move, as with the backlit F-18).