US Navy Blue Angels Formation Low Pass

At the beginning of each year, I browse the US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels airshow schedules, adding the most-local events to my calendar. More often than not, the timing and distance prevent my attendance. Those two factors aligned optimally this year, and I was privileged to photograph the recent Pocono Raceway Airshow.

The same awesome factors of the auto racing typically featured at this venue, including speed and precision, align nicely with those of the airshow events, and the Blue Angels performing on this day never disappoint. Though lacking a runway, Pocono Raceway's massive grandstand, combined with clear air space and the sun positioned behind the show, is an ideal setup.

What is the best airshow lens? I opted for the Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM Lens for this event.

I also had a Canon RF 600mm F4 L IS USM Lens with me for the single jet performances. This lens provided more reach, and the f/4 aperture enabled lower ISO settings.

The size and weight of the 600 made handheld tracking of the fast planes challenging and tiring. Thus, the RF 100-500 got primary use.

While the 100-500 required a higher ISO setting with the f/7.1 aperture in use, the bright day kept the f/7.1 ISO settings reasonable. In addition, planes are not super detailed (and the sky lacks detail), allowing noise reduction to be applied without much loss of detail.

With the light levels staying rather consistent this afternoon, a fully manual exposure was selected. The exposure consistency of images captured on each pass (or many passes) made mass brightness adjustments, if needed, easy.

While there were many times when 500mm was not long enough in front of a full-frame Canon EOS R5, there were times when the formation was too close for even 100mm, as illustrated here (well, 118mm to be specific).

Camera and Lens Settings
118mm  f/7.1  1/2000s
ISO 640
6554 x 4371px
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