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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 - D850 performs at the 2018 Singapore Air Show

To demonstrate the all round capability & versatility of the Nikon D850 , it became my primary DSLR to photograph the incredible Airshow aerobatic performance by the different aircrafts that would be performing.

As I was going to attend the Airshow on the first public access day only, there was some pressure on whether I could capture the action in a spectacular fashion given the large crowd and not really knowing what the performances were like.


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RSAF F-15SG with a "We LOVE U" sign pasted in the cockpit , 720 mm focal length

My setup for the airshow

I wanted a hand-holdable setup which could at least reach 800mm focal length to really capture the details and being able to display them without any serious cropping. The flexibility of hand-holding would also allow me to follow and photograph the high speed climbs , rolls and dives much easier.

- Nikon D850 (1.01kg)

- Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 (1.57kg)

- Nikkor 1.4x TC EII (0.27kg)


- 7FPS

- ISO range between 200 to 500

With this setup , I could reach a maximum focal length of 840mm by using the DX area crop mode (1.5x) of the D850. I prefer the better quality I can get by using the DX mode rather then cropping during post production.

RMAF SU-30 MKM (Sukhoi) deploying flares , 825 mm focal length


1. The overall handling was extremely comfortable (even without a vertical grip attached). The overall weight of the entire combo with the 1.4x teleconverter was about 2.85kg (6.3 pounds) and swinging it around was not really too bad. On a single day , there were two sessions. Each session about 25 minutes long so a comfortable and ergonomically designed DSLR was going to help significantly.

2. I wish I had my vertical grip with the EN-EL18A/B battery ready as it would give me a 9FPS burst capability but I did not , so I had to make do with the 7FPS capability which was actually sufficient for me to capture the action.

3. Autofocus Tracking was capable enough to capture the high speed action though I did find that the Dynamic Area 72 AF mode (d72) gave me the best tracking response (faster) and performance , even better then the Group AF mode. AF setup was as follows :

- AF-C

- AF-C Priorty Selection : Focus

- Focus Tracking with lock-on : set to 1 (AF response) , centre (for subject motion)

- AF-C mode : d72

I was using the older Nikkor 1.4x TC EII so I was extremely pleased that the AF performance was actually good enough with the Nikkor 80-400mm f.4.5/5.6 attached. I was actually expecting a poorer performance with more frequency of loosing focus but that was not the case. The combo was of course not as fast as it could be but it was still good and accurate enough. This was also one reason why I set the Focus Tracking with lock-on to 1.

4. No issues at all with buffering from the continuous high-speed shooting

So overall the Nikon D850 did an excellent job and I managed to capture some really great moments with superb details.

PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS for capturing Aerobatic Displays

USAF F-16 in a vertical climb with significant vapour trails , 825 mm focal length

1. Use the Back-Button (AF-ON) mode only while switching off AF using the shutter release button. The DSLR can then concentrate on dedicated AF (as long as the AF-ON button is pressed) with more precision.

RMAF SU-30MKM co-pilot giving the audience an "I LOVE YOU" wave , 825 mm focal length

2. If you add a tele-converter (TC) to your setup to extend the focal length , remember to tune your Autofocus (AF) performance to a more sensitive one as adding a TC does slow the focusing action.

RSAF F-15SG emerging from the finale flare bursts , 825 mm focal length

3. Using the Dynamic Area (d25 , d72) or Group AF mode would be easier then using the Single AF point to track the subject during high speed action.

RMAF SU-30MKM (Sukhoi) , 825 mm focal length

4. When adding a tele-converter to your setup , stop down further by 1 or 2 stops to get better depth of field & image quality. Also try to stay away from a 2x tele-converter which does impact image quality noticeably. I personally prefer a 1.4x TC for less image quality loss and less f-stop loss.

RSAF F-15SG coming out of a dive , 800 mm focal length

5. Fast Shutter-Speeds are extremely important since the photographer will be using really long focal lengths to capture the details. This is also especially important if the photographer is hand-holding the DSLR setup.

So the formulae I normally use is the reciprocal of (2x effective focal length) , if for example I was normally photographing in the 800 mm effective focal length range , the slowest shutter speed that I should set would be 1/1600s. Normally I would be employing shutter speeds even faster then the guideline.

RTAF JAS-39 C/D Gripen with smoke trails , 825 mm focal length

Rest of the highlights from the 2018 Singapore Airshow

USAF F-16 , 825 mm focal length

RTAF JAS-39 C/D Gripen , 800 mm focal length

USAF F-16 with vapour trails , 825 mm focal length

RSAF F-15SG with clear Year markings on the tail , 825 mm focal length

RTAF JAS-39 C/D Gripen , 825 mm focal length

RSAF F-15SG Eagle flanked by F-16C Fighting Falcons , 600 mm focal length

RTAF JAS-39 C/D Gripen , 825mm focal length

RSAF F-15SG , 825mm focal length

RMAF SU-30MKM (Sukhoi) releasing flares , 825mm focal length

RSAF F-15SG just releases the largest burst of flares during the finale , 825mm focal length

Hope you had fun reading this article and did pick up some interesting tips that you could try in future. Till the next blog , best wishes and a prosperous lunar year of the Dog.

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