Sunday, March 27, 2016

RED BULL AIR RACES ABU DHABI 2016 | Real life test for the FUJIFILM X-PRO2 and XF100-400 lens

On Saturday March 12, 2016, I attended the Red Bull Air Races in Abu Dhabi (UAE); shooting for some European and Middle Eastern, Aviation magazines, the organisers were kind enough to give me media accreditation.

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
Challengers class race

After my "First look reviews in mid January, this would be by first "real life test" of the new Fujifilm X-Pro2 and XF 100-400 lens! A long lens, shooting beyond 300mm (full frame equivalent), is pretty much a must when one wants to shoot an airshow or air race.

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
Hannes Arch 

First organised in 2003, the Red Bull Air Races have quickly become one of the fastest and most exhilarating motorsport series on the planet. The Reno Air Races in Nevada (US) might be faster, but the championship organised by energy drink think-thank, is definitively more spectacular! 

For the ones not familiar with the Red Bull Air Race format, in the Master class, 14 pilots are competing for the fastest time along a set course, laid out between 25m nylon pylons; a visual spectacle like no other! 

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
Francois Le Vot 

Although the early afternoon light was far from optimal in Abu Dhabi (main grounds facing southeast), shooting this new combo was a blast! The improved autofocus speed together with the fast refresh rate of the new X-Pro2 processor was really enjoyable and definitively a step up from shooting the X-T1. I did however at times miss the brightness of my X-T1 viewfinder and the fact that one can not mount an extended eye piece on the X-Pro2.

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
In the chicane

Because of the speed of the action, this is probably one of the most challenging Aviation Photography events to shoot. And not all photographers seemed to be aware about its challenges! While I was standing in front of  the media stand, I overheard two "professional newspaper photographers" discus their shutter speeds; shooting at more than 1/4000s they were clearly no aviation photographers!

Such high shutter speeds, lead to the prop being completely stopped; something that pilots hate when it happens in the actual airplane, but also something that is to be avoided as an Aviation Photographer! Depending on the engine speed of the plane, one needs to shoot a maximum 1/400s to have a reasonable amount of "prop blur" and end up with a pleasing image. Shooting jets on the other hand is much easier as one can use much higher shutter speeds (no props turning in a jet).

Back to the races itself; two legends of the Master class have left the race circuit this year; three times world champion Paul Bonhomme (UK) and master mind and developer of the Red Bull Air Races, Hungarian Peter Besenyei. Both are making place for two new pilots who worked their way up through the rookie, now called, "Challengers" class.

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
Add caption

Almost all of the Master class competitors for the 2016 race, fly the Edge 540, while Nigel Lamb and Matt Hall are still flying their MXS-R racers. The pilots of the Challenger Class all fly the Extra 330LX, which is ideal for new race pilots.

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI

Just like previous years, the opening race for the 2016 season was held over the beautiful emerald waters of the Abu Dhabi Corniche in the capital of the UAE. About 5 miles south of the track, is the "race airport", Al Bateen Excecutive, where the race planes are being meticulously prepared in what looks like a Fomula one like pit area. The race had beautiful weather with light winds and blue skies; unlike the Abu Dhabi Air Expo, which except for the last day, was pretty much rained out.

When the Red Bull Air Races returned in 2014 after a three-year hiatus, it brought with it the introduction of standardised engines and propellers, leading to a more level playing field and some stricter safety rules, after a few close calls in the preceding years. Failure to fly along the racetrack correctly, results in penalty seconds or disqualification, the latter being due to either excessive G-forces (>10g), a too high entry speed (200kts but 180kts in Abu Dhabi) at the start gate or breaching the safety crowd line.

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI

Less common but surely spectacular are pylons hits; something Australian pilot Matt Hall, the nr 1 ranked to win, experienced in the round of 14. While they have to be sturdy enough to stand straight in stronger winds, the air gates are made of spinnaker fabrics, which rip immediately on impact.

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
Matt Hall pylon strike

In order to get the best potential of the X-Pro2 processor, I did use a fast SD card to shoot uninterrupted at 8 frames per second and freeze the action!

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
Winners of the Master Class

In Abu Dhabi, both the first and third podium places were taken by French pilots; Nicolas Ivanoff won the final race with just 1/10th of a second from the German Matthias Dolderer; while Francois Le Vot took his first ever podium place, after having entered the master class last year!

Beside the pilots, both the X-Pro2 and the 100-400 lens also stood up to the task. There is however a learning curve for photographers that come from the DSLR camp. Personally I remained in Single shot rather than Continuous autofocus for most of the images.

At times it did however feel slightly strange to use a "rangefinder like camera" like the X-Pro2 with a long super telephoto lens... Can't wait to see if Fujifilm will announce a X-T1 replacement (X-T2?) this year? 

More of Aviation Photography can be found here

2016 RED BULL AIR RACES - ABU DHABI
Breitling Wingwalker demo


Cleared into the track, smoke on!

PS: This post is my "500th" blogpost on Bjorn Moerman Photography! 

BJORN



No comments: