Axalp – shooting alpine fighter jets
Once per year the Swiss Air Force invites the public to observe how their fighter jets do target practice in a Swiss valley called Axalp. This year, we won the lottery as the weather was magnificent, very little wind and no fog high up. There is one peak called Wildgärst on almost 3’000m above sea level which offers a 360° view of the spectacle. It is a 3 hour hike which we did during the night to be ready for the first low-pass flights early morning. What an experience!
I used a mix of Nikon D750 and D850, which delivered unprecedented results, especially with morning light and the right angles. I did learn though, that my 80 – 400mm lens is not ideal, especially if used with a 1.4x tele converter. Getting sharp and crisp images becomes close to impossible. If one is really serious about such images, I propose focal lengths > 400mm and non-zoom lenses (such as the new 500mm). Yet this setup can deliver quite the images, given you use the right settings and practice.
The following settings worked for me:
- Shoot in manual mode only
- Enable Auto ISO with a cap of about 3’200 (both cameras are superb at high ISO)
- Shoot at shutter speeds > 1/1’000 for jets, < 1/500 for turbo-props and < 1/250 for helicopters (shorter for larger rotorcraft)
- Don’t aim for bokeh and use apertures > 8
Now see for yourself.
I was really impressed by the sharpness and resolution the D850 produces. See a 100% crop of the F/A-18 on his back pictured above:
Thank you to my buddy Marc for teaching me how to photograph aircraft. He never risks a compromise in sharpness and relentlessly seeks yet the best aircraft shot. He is working on changing his 90-style website .. I took a screenshot for archive purposes, you never know.