Aviation photography

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Lewis
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Hi all,

This is my first post and thus an introduction to myself as well as a question of advice.

This place was recommended to me by a fellow petrol head of mine, SparkUK. So here I am.

Basically I hold my private pilots license and at some point this year I will start my "hour building" towards my commercial license, whenever COVID stops closing my flight school...

Because I'm lucky enough to see some incredible views from the plane, and scenery when I land at places I figured that getting back into photography would go hand in hand and is something I wished I'd picked up during my PPL training.

So being a petrol head also I see myself having three use cases for photography;

In-cockpit photography
Landscape scenes
Motorsports & Aviation/Runway stuff

Given that I've not done any photography in anger since I was 18, now 31, I'm well out of touch with current tech and have spent a lot of time recently trying to catch up.

I don't want this to become a Mirrorless vs DSLR thread which at a guess you'll have had plenty of already, but what I do wonder is what you guys would recommend given my intended use...

My current favourite is looking like a Nikon D750, with perhaps a 50mm 1.4 for in cockpit and 70-300 or so for the Motorsport/Runway stuff, but I don't know whether to be looking at something like a Sony A7 iii instead with tech moving towards mirrorless, is it too late to be getting in and setup with a D750?

Very much welcome your opinions.

-Lew
 
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18,205
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Simon
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Welcome! I guess a lot will depend on budget. What do you mean by in-cockpit, is that pics inside or pics looking outside?

I used to have a D750 and moved to Fuji 18 months ago. D750 is an awesome camera with some great lenses. But Fuji is smaller and lighter and some equally good lenses. You will get Sony fans saying Sony, Nikon saying Nikon etc... I started with Nikon hence my love of them. But got bitten by the Fuji bug with X100 range which is useful if you want something small and light.

The AF is getting better on mirrorless but a DSLR still handles better and AF is better, although I would not go back now. Prefer the other benefits. D750 will be fine for the next 5 years at least, and some good value glass (i think the 1.8 would be fine rather than 1.4).
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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In cockpit being like this:





These were taken with my phone, which is what I want to correct.

Although compact would be handy, most of my photos will be the landscape and runway Work so I’d rather have a better selection of lenses etc for that, rather than going for something just because it’s smaller. Ideally I’d like to get a body and a couple of lenses for £1500 (second hand probably)
 
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18,205
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Simon
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50mm would be too wide i think, something 24-35 range on FF or 16-28 on crop roughly.

All depends on what you want weight wise and IQ wise. I have the 16-55 on my Fuji (£600 used) which is better than the 18-55 but at £200 or so that is a bargain. It is hard to say without touching. For example if you have small hands then mirrorless may just feel better. I prefer the feel of a DSLR but like I said, like the other benefits Fuji has.
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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50mm would be too wide i think, something 24-35 range on FF or 16-28 on crop roughly.

All depends on what you want weight wise and IQ wise. I have the 16-55 on my Fuji (£600 used) which is better than the 18-55 but at £200 or so that is a bargain. It is hard to say without touching. For example if you have small hands then mirrorless may just feel better. I prefer the feel of a DSLR but like I said, like the other benefits Fuji has.
Because the planes typically have old windows that are hazy/scratched it’s not possible to get the clearest of pictures anyway, so I’d like to save some money on that lens, thinking about it.

You raise a good point about the 50mm, I need to do some looking into the 24mm etc. I feel like a prime will do as well though, I don’t wanna be messing about with zoom in there.
 
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GC
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Both of these were shot on a D500 DX body at 16mm with a 16-80mm zoom. On an FX body 24mm would be similar.





GC
 
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3,347
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Because the planes typically have old windows that are hazy/scratched it’s not possible to get the clearest of pictures anyway,
When I did my flight training, the Piper had a drop window on each side. I didn't qualify so it's decades since I've been in a light aircraft. Do they no longer feature these?
 
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18,205
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Simon
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When I did my flight training, the Piper had a drop window on each side. I didn't qualify so it's decades since I've been in a light aircraft. Do they no longer feature these?
Should just fly a tiger moth or similar. No issues there!!
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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Both of these were shot on a D500 DX body at 16mm with a 16-80mm zoom. On an FX body 24mm would be similar.
GC
Yes, that'd probably be about right for me, cheers!

When I did my flight training, the Piper had a drop window on each side. I didn't qualify so it's decades since I've been in a light aircraft. Do they no longer feature these?
The Piper has a little bit of the window you can open on the pilot side, you could certainly poke a lens out of it but you'd be limited to whatever is on that side, the passenger side does not have this same opening. Also need to make sure your camera is not going to fly out of it!

Should just fly a tiger moth or similar. No issues there!!
:D

In terms of my choice to go with a D750 then, does it seem a reasonable choice?

And having never bought a camera body or lens second hand, what's the general consensus, is it safe or should I look at forking out for the body new? second hand bodies with 10-50k shutter count seem to fetch anywhere around £650-800 on eBay. Or I can pick one up from MPB for about the same price.

-Lew
 
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Or I can pick one up from MPB for about the same price.
Definitely go via an established dealer like MPB. At least you've got someone to chase if there's a problem. Also: pay by credit card and not debit card or transfer. That gives you extra cover. I've bought several hundred cameras and lenses over the last fifty years. I can count on the fingers of one hand those that have been problematic and dealers have always sorted them out. (y)
 
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Simon
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Depends who quick you want something - am guessing that for a whole recreational flying is restricted(?) so if no rush then could build up posts and time on here as there is a good for sale area when you qualify.
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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Depends who quick you want something - am guessing that for a whole recreational flying is restricted(?) so if no rush then could build up posts and time on here as there is a good for sale area when you qualify.
My only thinking was that if I got the camera now I could spend some time getting used to it before I want to capture great photos. That said, the more I read, the more I realise there's so much to catch up on. I don't even know what photo editing software to go for yet so I need to look into that as well. I need to find a camera bag that will fit a body, 2 lenses and my charts/log book etc in. So yeah, maybe I will just wait through the 60 day period and check the for sale section here before committing to anything.
 
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18,205
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Simon
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My only thinking was that if I got the camera now I could spend some time getting used to it before I want to capture great photos. That said, the more I read, the more I realise there's so much to catch up on. I don't even know what photo editing software to go for yet so I need to look into that as well. I need to find a camera bag that will fit a body, 2 lenses and my charts/log book etc in. So yeah, maybe I will just wait through the 60 day period and check the for sale section here before committing to anything.
And that is the other thing - editing is important even if you try to get it right in camera. Personally I find Lightroom to be excellent and used by many on here.
 
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1,147
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Lindsay
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It look a bit like you're flying an Archer, maybe IFR-equipped? Do you therefore have a wing-leveller autopilot perhaps? I found it very difficult to take half-decent photos with a compact camera whilst hand-flying even in a 172 that is pretty stable, so I wouldn't like to think of you getting into difficulty because you were concentrating on a photo with a big camera that is not easy to chuck out of the way when you have a wing suddenly drop or something. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, then Photograph
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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Are you allowed to carry passengers?
Normally yes, COVID some times restricts that, but right now almost no one is flying anyway.

Sony a7iii plus a 24mm lens will be excellent for in cockpit shots :)

Les

PS welcome to the forum
How does the A7iii stack up for things like landscape and telephoto work?

It look a bit like you're flying an Archer, maybe IFR-equipped? Do you therefore have a wing-leveller autopilot perhaps? I found it very difficult to take half-decent photos with a compact camera whilst hand-flying even in a 172 that is pretty stable, so I wouldn't like to think of you getting into difficulty because you were concentrating on a photo with a big camera that is not easy to chuck out of the way when you have a wing suddenly drop or something. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, then Photograph
It's a Piper Warrior, typically it's fairly smooth to fly but it can get choppy in certain areas. Quite often I can be flight sharing with other pilots, some are even commercial. So I can hand over controls to them etc. Photography never comes before my control of an aircraft.
 
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Steven
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Quite often I can be flight sharing with other pilots, some are even commercial. So I can hand over controls to them etc. Photography never comes before my control of an aircraft.
IDK about in the EU/UK, but here in the US if your intent is to try to sell the pictures that makes the entire operation/flight commercial... might be something to check into/be aware of.
 
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1,147
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Lindsay
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Steven's point - the ANO is slightly vague on this I believe as "Aerial Work" is not well defined. Suffice to say that unless the purpose of the flight is to take photos for sale, then it's ok - and CAA would be hard pushed to prove anything; of more concern would be the aircraft insurers being willing to pay out on any accident if there was any hint of commerciality - but this topic would be better taken up on a pilot forum than a photography one; it has often been discussed on Flyer.co.uk.
 

Sky

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1,285
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Trevor
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Having flown for over forty years (twenty five of those teaching it) and IME what people used was as much down to their skill level with the camera as it was with the flying.

The majority of flyers use just a small compact, but there are lots that use SLRs too. For internal shots so that you can get 'views' as backgrounds to your cockpit shots, then I'd suggest GoPro cameras (or a similar copy). Because these are lightweight, you can use suckers to fix them to the windows etc. without issue - providing they don't block your view.

With my instructor head on, I must just add that using a camera (just like a cellphone) can cause new and inexperienced pilots/drivers to make serious (and occasionally fatal) errors. Even a fixed/mounted camera like the GoPro can too - not just ones that need manual handling.

If you want to take good pictures and/or use an SLR, then fly as a passenger or take a second pilot up with you who can fly from the RHS while you take the pics.

A pilot I know that uses GoPro cameras to get some good videos is a BBC reporter called Jon Hunt - here's his website: https://www.jonhunt.net/

He also has a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/huntj86

Good luck with your learning - the Warrior is a nice plane to learn in. (y)
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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IDK about in the EU/UK, but here in the US if your intent is to try to sell the pictures that makes the entire operation/flight commercial... might be something to check into/be aware of.
It's certainly not paid aerial work. I just see some amazing views and want to record them as best I can to document my journey to becoming a commercial pilot.

Having flown for over forty years (twenty five of those teaching it) and IME what people used was as much down to their skill level with the camera as it was with the flying.

The majority of flyers use just a small compact, but there are lots that use SLRs too. For internal shots so that you can get 'views' as backgrounds to your cockpit shots, then I'd suggest GoPro cameras (or a similar copy). Because these are lightweight, you can use suckers to fix them to the windows etc. without issue - providing they don't block your view.

With my instructor head on, I must just add that using a camera (just like a cellphone) can cause new and inexperienced pilots/drivers to make serious (and occasionally fatal) errors. Even a fixed/mounted camera like the GoPro can too - not just ones that need manual handling.

If you want to take good pictures and/or use an SLR, then fly as a passenger or take a second pilot up with you who can fly from the RHS while you take the pics.

A pilot I know that uses GoPro cameras to get some good videos is a BBC reporter called Jon Hunt - here's his website: https://www.jonhunt.net/

He also has a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/huntj86

Good luck with your learning - the Warrior is a nice plane to learn in. (y)
I have a GoPro Hero 5 Black already which I want to use some more now I'm qualified PPL. My instructor wasn't keen on me filming his lessons which is fair enough but now I'm able to fly on my own there are some GoPro mounts out of the way in the plane already which I'll use.

But I think a key point is that shooting from within the cockpit itself might literally only be 10-15% of what I use this camera for.

I'd say 40% will be landscape. 30% will be aviation related like runway shots/airshows. And 20% motors sport related.

So I don't want to base all my decisions on what will be best inside the cockpit.

So I think I'm 90% sure I'm going to get a D750. But I definitely need some recommendations on lenses.

A wide angle for landscape that might also double up as a good in cockpit lense.

And a telephoto lense that would allow me to get shots of aircraft taking off from runways. I'm guessing 300-400mm max would be enough?

-Lew
 
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1,285
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Trevor
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Too wide an angle in the cockpit is going to distort your images, so before you go getting anything too wide I'd try something like a 24-70. Maybe go as wide as 20, but that might be too much. Any telephoto will do depending on your budget, but one with good image stabilisation will help dampen out vibrations from the engine or any airframe buffeting or turbulence.

Personally, I wouldn't bother with anything other than my 24-120 f4 so I would have no need to change lenses. If I wanted to see anything closer, I'd just fly lower.
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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The telephoto lens would be to take pictures of other aircraft taking off like plane spotting etc. Not so I can use it whilst in the plane.

What's the general opinion on the kit lens that comes with the D750 like this : D750 + lens

I've seen mixed reviews.

I feel like what I'm aiming for now is something like
  • A 35mm prime for general stuff / in cockpit pics
  • A telephoto around 70-200mm. I think this would be enough initially to cover both plane spotting and motor sport. Although I'd love a 150-600, but they're big money from what I've seen.
  • And finally a wide angle for landscape which I intend to do a lot of. I guess the 35mm prime might be good for that initially?
-Lew
 
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5,764
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Dave
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The telephoto lens would be to take pictures of other aircraft taking off like plane spotting etc. Not so I can use it whilst in the plane.

What's the general opinion on the kit lens that comes with the D750 like this : D750 + lens

I've seen mixed reviews.

I feel like what I'm aiming for now is something like
  • A 35mm prime for general stuff / in cockpit pics
  • A telephoto around 70-200mm. I think this would be enough initially to cover both plane spotting and motor sport. Although I'd love a 150-600, but they're big money from what I've seen.
  • And finally a wide angle for landscape which I intend to do a lot of. I guess the 35mm prime might be good for that initially?
-Lew
The 24-120 is well regarded. If you don't need the 120 range the smaller/lighter 24-85 also matches well with the D750 and is surprisingly sharp, albeit with some distortion at teh wide end.

All the current f1.8 primes are very good and if you want small and cheap used older primes are worth a look.

If you have a spare week there's a D750 thread - https://www.talkphotography.co.uk/threads/nikon-d750.557831/ :D
 
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17,231
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Toni
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How does the A7iii stack up for things like landscape and telephoto work?
It's excellent.

If that were in budget then for cockpit shots I'd suggest something like an A7III or A7C + kit lens (28-70) or the Tamron 28-70 f2.8 which is small, light and sharp enough but a little more expensive. For landscapes the same Tamron would be fine together with their 17-28 f2.8, although I like to use primes for that where I can. Telephoto, Sony make some excellent longer tele zooms, and the Tamron 70-180 f2.8 is very highly rated.
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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I could certainly make my budget stretch further but then I’d also start considering a D850 :p

What worries me about mirrorless cameras is how small they’d be in my hand. I’m no giant by any means but I’m still 6ft and 200lbs, it would really annoy me if I have to hold the camera awkwardly, am I going to find my fingers getting stuck between the lens and grip etc.
 
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Toni
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I could certainly make my budget stretch further but then I’d also start considering a D850 :p

What worries me about mirrorless cameras is how small they’d be in my hand. I’m no giant by any means but I’m still 6ft and 200lbs, it would really annoy me if I have to hold the camera awkwardly, am I going to find my fingers getting stuck between the lens and grip etc.
I had been thinking that a large camera in the cockpit would be awkward, but from your description I think a D750 with 24-120 f4 would be ideal in that case. Before buying the A7III I have I did consider the D850 (already had Nikon system kit) but it's very large, heavy & less able in the areas that were important to me (like AF). The D750 handles well, and is a nice professional tool.
 
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21,618
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Les
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How does the A7iii stack up for things like landscape and telephoto work?
As well as can be expected given the price- I loved mine- I now shoot with a Sony a7Riv and Sony a7Riii - I love the sensor size on both of these cameras and being Mirrorless they are smaller than the average DSLR

I still have a Sony a7iii twinned with a Sigma 24mm f1.4 ART lens - but felt a 42 - 61mp would suit my wildlife photography better - to crop in post suits my style, so the a7iii rarely sees the light of day, unless I'm on a walk about in town etc ( Covid prevents this now sadly)

Les
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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The 24-120 is well regarded. If you don't need the 120 range the smaller/lighter 24-85 also matches well with the D750 and is surprisingly sharp, albeit with some distortion at teh wide end.

All the current f1.8 primes are very good and if you want small and cheap used older primes are worth a look.

If you have a spare week there's a D750 thread - https://www.talkphotography.co.uk/threads/nikon-d750.557831/ :D
Dave, I think I've committed myself to buying the body new, just for total peace of mind, warranty etc. Still leaning towards the D750 over the D850 because I just don't think I need even more than what I'm going to get with the D750.

Would you go for the body only at £1129 then buy separate lenses OR would you go for the the Body + 24-120 lens at £1599?

Seems like you're getting a good deal on the 24-120mm if you get the kit, but I feel like it's possibly not going to be enough zoom for telephoto work around airfields/race tracks, so I'd need a telephoto on top of that. Can't decide if I'd be better with a 35mm prime, and 70-200 (or similar)?

-Lew
 
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5,764
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Dave
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Dave, I think I've committed myself to buying the body new, just for total peace of mind, warranty etc. Still leaning towards the D750 over the D850 because I just don't think I need even more than what I'm going to get with the D750.

Would you go for the body only at £1129 then buy separate lenses OR would you go for the the Body + 24-120 lens at £1599?

Seems like you're getting a good deal on the 24-120mm if you get the kit, but I feel like it's possibly not going to be enough zoom for telephoto work around airfields/race tracks, so I'd need a telephoto on top of that. Can't decide if I'd be better with a 35mm prime, and 70-200 (or similar)?

-Lew
I don't give buying advice! And I don't know anything about airfields or race tracks or what will work for you. Which is what matters.

But If you think you'll need telephoto reach then 120mm might be a bit short, and even 200mm might not be enough.
 

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1,285
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Trevor
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Although the 24-120 is/was a kit lens it is still a cracking lens for the money and one I would use the most if I were still airfield hopping.

If you want to zoom in for close ups of aircraft taking off, then that's a different game altogether. Unless you can get really close, you'll need to be looking at a 500 or 600. Unless you are prepared to pay a lot more money, you can't really go wrong with the Sigma 150-600. However, that will add a few more pounds in weight to your camera bag - worth it if you want good results, but not so good to lug around for just the odd few shots.

Regarding size, then I have quite small hands for a bloke my size and I wouldn't want to use anything smaller than I do (a D810). I've had many smaller cameras and they always felt too small for me - once I'd moved to a full-frame Nikon that was it; I had found the perfect fit. Anyway, we're all different so I would recommend spending a little time in a camera shop (if they ever open again) handling a few different bodies. Small cameras are harder to use with longer lenses - for me anyway.
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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Ok so I've just had a look around on Flickr for photos at Manchester airport, and yes it seems like I'm going to need more than 200mm, obviously, no hobby I'm into is cheap :ROFLMAO:

Here's a photo of something I'd like to be capturing: https://flic.kr/p/21Tf3Ay View: https://flic.kr/p/21Tf3Ay


And further away such as: https://flic.kr/p/2gyHvjp View: https://flic.kr/p/2gyHvjp


The latter one looks like it was potentially using the 150-600 lens.

Weight and stuff doesn't bother me, starting to think that the D750 w/ 24-120 would be good for cockpit/landscape/general stuff and then I could look at getting the Sigma 150-600 to complete the range for me.
 

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1,285
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Trevor
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Weight and stuff doesn't bother me, starting to think that the D750 w/ 24-120 would be good for cockpit/landscape/general stuff and then I could look at getting the Sigma 150-600 to complete the range for me.
Well, having been in your shoes; that's what I would do too. Obviously, I'm a bit biased because I have those lenses already. ;)
 
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Toni
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Ok so I've just had a look around on Flickr for photos at Manchester airport, and yes it seems like I'm going to need more than 200mm, obviously, no hobby I'm into is cheap

Here's a photo of something I'd like to be capturing: https://flic.kr/p/21Tf3Ay View: https://flic.kr/p/21Tf3Ay


And further away such as: https://flic.kr/p/2gyHvjp View: https://flic.kr/p/2gyHvjp


The latter one looks like it was potentially using the 150-600 lens.

Weight and stuff doesn't bother me, starting to think that the D750 w/ 24-120 would be good for cockpit/landscape/general stuff and then I could look at getting the Sigma 150-600 to complete the range for me.
Yup, based on the constraints you've given that would be my selection.
 
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From what I read some years back (pinch of salt) you aren’t allowed to operate a camera whilst you are PIC at the controls. If you were to take a passenger with you as cameraman - for aerial shots, you would need a CPL.

Just a thought provoker which may encourage you to read up in more depth than I have alluded to.
Good luck however you go with it. I miss flying.
 
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Andy
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I could certainly make my budget stretch further but then I’d also start considering a D850 :p

What worries me about mirrorless cameras is how small they’d be in my hand. I’m no giant by any means but I’m still 6ft and 200lbs, it would really annoy me if I have to hold the camera awkwardly, am I going to find my fingers getting stuck between the lens and grip etc.
I wouldn’t worry about that, I’m a little larger than you and have no issues with the mirrorless Fuji X-T2.

I also have a Nikon set up, and had the 24-85 until it got damaged, it was a decent lens. I replaced it with the 24-120 which is maybe sharper and of course has a longer focal range, but it is bigger and heavier. If
 
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LTurner1
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Lewis
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From what I read some years back (pinch of salt) you aren’t allowed to operate a camera whilst you are PIC at the controls. If you were to take a passenger with you as cameraman - for aerial shots, you would need a CPL.

Just a thought provoker which may encourage you to read up in more depth than I have alluded to.
Good luck however you go with it. I miss flying.
Nothing is commercial unless I'm paid to do it, but what I tend to do is fly to another air field and back, I might fly there, my mate might fly us home. Both qualified so it means I get one leg where I am not flying at all and can take photos as I please.

It's complicated what you can and can't do, a lot of people don't understand how you're allowed to use phones/tablets whilst flying, yet they provide real time navigation apps which make flying so much safer. There is obviously a requirement to still have an in date chart etc with you in case they pack up, but trying to navigate the Low-Level-Corridor between Manchester and Liverpool without GPS (often the case in most light aircraft) for example, is considerably easier with this technology than it is by trying to track/figure out where you are on a paper chart.

It's fair to say, as someone in here has already said, Aviate, Navigate, Communicate... then Photograph is the order of priority (y)
 
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I suspect a key difference between using a phone in the car and the cockpit is that when flying, most of the time there's nothing to drive into.
 
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4,769
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Terry
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I don't think anyone yet has suggested a body with IBIS (Stabilisation).

I'd have thought it would be a benefit in the air.

And if you don't have to go for full frame maybe an Olympus mirrorless body and lenses maybe worth considering for their excellent IBIS?
 
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Toni
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I don't think anyone yet has suggested a body with IBIS (Stabilisation).

I'd have thought it would be a benefit in the air.

And if you don't have to go for full frame maybe an Olympus mirrorless body and lenses maybe worth considering for their excellent IBIS?
The Nikon 24-120 has stabilisation built in, provided you get the VR f4 version and not the sucky previous model.
 
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