On 1st August we visited RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk for the first time hoping to see visiting USAF F16s from 510th Fighter Squadron (Buzzards) from Aviano air base in Italy as well as the resident F15s from the 48th Fighter Wing. We also took the opportunity to visit nearby RSPB Lakenheath nature reserve.
It was also a first test for the recently released Panasonic Leica 50-200mm F2.8-F4.0 lens, equivalent to a 100-400mm on a traditional DSLR but much smaller and lighter, with an extra f-stop, when compared with a similar DSLR lens. There was plenty of flying by the fast jets as well as a much larger C130J Hercules landing and the even larger C17 taking off which gave plenty of opportunity to test the capabilities of the lens on fast moving subjects in conjunction with Lumix G9. Bright sunshine and severe heat haze, especially over the runway, created some photographic challenges … as well as some interesting effects!
As expected the lens performed brilliantly when tracking the aircraft in flight and, having just applied a firmware update further improving the G9 autofocus, there was no hunting for focus when backgrounds changed which very occasionally happened in the past. The image quality is superb with images needing little adjustment in Lightroom. The feel and build quality of the lens maintains the Leica traditions, while the handling of the lens (particularly the smoothness of the large zoom ring) and its balance with the G9 were perfect.
RSPB Lakenheath gave the opportunity to use the other end of the focus range with plenty of butterflies and dragonflies around. While it may not be a macro lens, the close focusing (down to 0.75m) allows frame filling images of small subjects at distances that minimise disturbance. Focusing was accurate and the level of detail recorded in the images was excellent. Some of the images taken may be viewed in a separate blog entry.
I have been using the Leica 100-400mm F4.0-6.3 for a couple of years and it is superb for photographing wildlife especially birds but the new Leica, with its wider aperture and smaller size, is now likely to be my lens of choice when photographing aircraft and larger wildlife subjects while its close focusing ability adds to its flexibility.
As well as enjoying the aircraft and the wildlife and learning the capabilities of the new lens, I did gain one other valuable lesson … on an already hot day, don’t stand too close to a Boeing C17 Globemaster with 4 immensely powerful turbofans when it is taxiing for take off unless you don’t mind getting considerably warmer and losing your hat! :-)
Here are some of the images taken and more may be viewed at Peter Smart Aviation Photography