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I'm Sure There's A Lesson Here - Star Wars Canyon

Discussion in 'General' started by FrankBB, May 15, 2018.

  1. FrankBB

    FrankBB Premium Member

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    I thought I would share a bit from a recent 4-day road trip. I'll post something with the rest of the road-trip pictures later, but for now, this is about a place in California's Death Valley known to aviation enthusiasts as "Star Wars Canyon". Star Wars Canyon is an area where (primarily) fighter aircraft practice high speed runs through a relatively narrow canyon. They fly below the rim of the canyon, and the photos I've seen from there have been amazing. I've been wanting to visit this spot for years, but for some reason always thought it was remote and hard to access. Week before last my wife and I spent three nights in the small town of Lone Pine, California, at the foothills of the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, near the based of Mt. Whitney. I shot mostly with my new Fuji XF10-24 on an X-T2, and had the XF55-200 along in case I wanted to get a bit closer.

    On our way home we decided to drive through the southern part of Death Valley, going from Lone Pine out to the Panamint Valley, and then south towards home in San Diego. I had noticed a "scenic overlook" on the map, and I try to never drive past a designated scenic overlook without stopping to see what was there. The maps said that this overlook was at a place called Painted Canyon.

    I had the XF10-24 on the camera when I got there, and after walking up a small hill I found a small group of people with big lenses and a scanner listening to air traffic control conversations. Almost before I realized where I was, a pair of German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons showed up, and there I was with a 24mm lens. At least I got it into CH before they were gone.

    [​IMG]

    I'll continue the story (and explain the title) and put a few more pictures in the next post.
     
    Macro, Pedro1948, Ron Stewart and 2 others like this.
  2. JRick

    JRick Premium Member

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    nothing bad about that shot. makes the viewer search. just another lonely (man made) bird

    bet you were glad the aircraft reflected some light rather than get lost in the shadows :)
    - hard to add any fill at that range //lol//
    - new aircraft paint coatings are not very reflective anymore.
     
  3. FrankBB

    FrankBB Premium Member

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    Here are couple of crops of the first image. Luckily, the XT-2 JPGs are not too bad at handling crops. I think these are cut down to 16mp and 10mp.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It turns out that Star Wars Canyon is indeed quite easy to get to. There are even a couple of places to watch from. I was at one that was a short walk up the side of hill from an unpaved parking area, and just about 1/4 mile down the road was the actual "scenic overlook" of Painted Canyon, which is an actual paved parking lot that even has a vault toilet.

    Next thing we know we're down the road at the actual "scenic overlook", and this time I've switched lenses to the XF55-200. But here comes the lesson. I spend a lot of time at the San Diego Zoo, and for that I use a Nikon D500 and just one lens, a 300mm f/2.8. I can track birds in flight, or moving animals, or planes at an air show fairly well with it. Before I got the f/2.8 almost 5 years ago I used a 300mm f/4 for many years, all the way back to film cameras. For travel and general photos I've been using the Fuji system since about 2013, and mostly with the small primes, but with some zooms as well. I really prefer the EVF for that sort of shooting, and won't go back to a DSLR for that. But that said, for tracking moving things I still find the DSLR to be better.

    Some of you may see what's coming. What I saw coming, after waiting about an hour, was a pair of F/A-18 jets. The people around me also had scanners, so I even had a bit of advance notice. I had the X-T2 set on CH, AF-C and a 3x3 grid for focus points. Even with the EVF not being as good for tracking in bright light as the DSLR, I was able to more or less keep the plane in the frame as it sped by. But, I was so excited to see this that I reverted back to, and I won't call it training but it effectively is the same thing, maybe instinct, and . . . wait for it . . . completely forgot that I could zoom the lens. I had it set at 55mm, and that is where it stayed. Luckily, the X-T2 JPGs are not too bad at handling crops.

    Here's an F/A-18 in Star Wars Canyon, or, as the military flight planners call it, the "Jedi Transition". First image is un-cropped, followed by 16mp crop, and then 10mp crop. Velvia JPG, with a bit of Definition added in Aperture (same as Clarity in LR).

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Here's another close up. These guys were loaded for bear.

    [​IMG]

    What we had planned to be 5-minute quick stop to check out the scenery turned into over an hour, followed by a long drive across the desert with me explaining to my (very patient) wife how stupid I had been to forget that I was holding a zoom lens that could have got me a much closer view.

    As we were leaving we heard some of the people listening to scanners mention that there were a pair of A-10s in the air and headed our way. We had to move on, but a few miles later they crossed in front of us at a low enough altitude that I could clearly tell it was them.

    I'll be going back there once the weather cools off in the fall.
     
  4. FrankBB

    FrankBB Premium Member

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    Here's one more un-cropped, to give an idea of the space. You can just make out the F/A-18 as it exits the canyon and heads out towards the Panamint Valley.

    [​IMG]

    By the way, I had the X-T2 set on CH shooting large JPG, and a fairly fast (I thought) card. It did bog down to a crawl towards the end of each plane's run through the canyon. I'll be interested to see how the D500 does when I get back there. I'll probably take both it and the Fuji.
     
    Scott Burkett likes this.
  5. Irene McC

    Irene McC Premium Member

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    [​IMG]

    Was this image taken on the 55-200 with the 55mm setting? And cropped to show this enlargement?
    If so, that is really jolly impressive. Or did you at that stage remember you could go to 200?

    Zoom and everything else aside : how did you find the continuous focus acquisition and staying with the subject? Were you shooting JPG only? no RAW? I shoot RAW + small jpg, so that will slow down my buffer even more than what you are describing.

    As discussed in my other thread to which you have responded, I have the Nikon D500 and 300f/4 (the very light-weight new version) which I am considering taking along on my upcoming travels. Still undecided...
     
  6. FrankBB

    FrankBB Premium Member

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    That was with the 55-200 planted firmly at 55 the whole time. I remembered it was a zoom when I was looking at the images on the rear screen later. It seemed to hold focus okay, but looking back I did have some where the plane was not where I expected it to be in the viewfinder when it refreshed. I had the aperture set at f/6.4, and there was enough light for the auto features to select 1/950 sec. and ISO 200. I was so busy watching for the aircraft that I also forgot to hard set a fast shutter speed and maybe even stop down a bit more for focus latitude. Other than switching to CH and AF-C, the camera was still pretty much set at my travel settings for a wider-angle lens, which is aperture-priority and auto ISO with a shutter speed threshold of probably 1/200 or so. I think that with the proper camera settings, latest firmware (I have not yet had a chance to update my X-T2 to the very latest) and some paying attention to what one is doing, I think that the X-T2 and 55-200 might be okay for your airshow. The buffer slow down did get rather annoying however. I shoot only Large JPGs too, and my Lexar SD card is labeled 633x (whatever that really means). I guess if I didn't have a D500 and 300 f/2.8 I might not realize the difference. I don't recall even my older D7100 that I had for years before getting the D500 slowing down that much - but then, I rarely shot it in CH. These days I keep the D500 in CL at 7fps, and that seems plenty, but also, I have had it out to an airshow. All this probably doesn't help your trip planning any, does it. Sorry.

    If you want to see a few more, and the shooting settings, they are towards the end of Please login or register to view links.
     
  7. Phil Duff

    Phil Duff Active Member

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    There's a similar area in the UK - Wales to be exact for this type aircraft photography/videos. Called "Mach Loop" - you can get images from above canopy level.



    Please login or register to view links
     
  8. Irene McC

    Irene McC Premium Member

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    Absolutely on my 'to do' list for the last many years already --- I hope one day to get there
     
  9. noeltykay

    noeltykay Premium Member

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    Cool photos! I had the pleasure of spending Please login or register to view links and can't wait to go back again! Here is a an F18 on our way from Saline Warm Springs to Steal Pass...
    Please login or register to view links
     
  10. FrankBB

    FrankBB Premium Member

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    Here's another couple shots of the first Typhoon, who apparently didn't really want to get below the rim of the canyon, both with the 10-24.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     

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