Planespotting What camera settings to use when plane spotting

Have you ever stumbled across the term “plane spotting” and wondered, what that really means? In our new news category, AVIPEO.COM will explain what plane spotting is, why you should start, and what you should take care of when beginning.

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Welcome to the third part of your plane spotting series here on AVIPEO.COM. In this part, we will explain to you everything about what you should take care of when plane spotting with cameras.

First of all it is safe to say, that there is no definite guideline on how to do plane spotting. In fact, you can decide by yourself what you want. Some just drive to an airport to enjoy the experience and some enthusiasts note aircraft registrations in their logbook. The majority of plane spotters however prefers to take pictures of aircraft using cameras.

If you are willing to invest not only time, but also money in the hobby, you will receive better results in the long term, that´s for sure. But even with less expensive equipment – especially if you are just starting to spot planes – you can achieve great results.

A lot of beginners use bridge cameras or compact cameras for their pictures. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as you are satisfied with your results. Point-and-shoot cameras are often less expensive and especially mirrorless cameras are getting better and better these days.

If you are visiting a popular location for plane spotting however, it is very likely that you will notice many spotters with huge cameras and lenses around their necks. These cameras are called DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex camera) cameras. And if you are really wanting to shoot great quality pictures, DSLR cameras are the way to go.

Yes, most Canon, Nikon or Sony DSLR´s are very expensive. But with a bigger sensor, you will be able to shoot better pictures with higher quality. But it is not only down to the camera. If you decide to buy a DSLR for plane spotting, you also have to look at lenses for the camera. Many people argue, that it is way more important to invest in good camera lenses, than into the camera body itself.

But what camera/lens combination should one choose, you might ask yourself. Well, we believe, that you are good to go when using an entry-level DSLR for around 400€ at the beginning. The bigger sensor will let you crop into the picture and all functions are fully adequate for plane spotting. When you plan to invest money, you should invest in good quality camera lenses!

Often, you´ll need the range of 70mm to 300mm to capture aircraft format-filling. There are many lenses available from all sorts of manufacturers. Popular are for example the 70-300(L) lenses from Canon. Sometimes you might as well need a smaller focal length, for example if aircraft are taxiing directly in front of you. And again, here are a lots of different lenses to choose from. If you are initially buying a DSLR camera, there are often kit-lenses included, which mostly cover the range of 18mm to 55mm.

So if you have decided to buy a DSLR and a good lens, you might be wondering what settings you have to choose when spotting. The settings really depend on the lighting situations, if the sun is out you have to choose different settings than if the sun wasn’t out.

There are three main settings you want to get correct. The ISO, the aperture and the shutter speed. When the sun is out, it is advisable to just set the ISO as low as possible to prevent image noise (mostly ISO 100). The aperture should ideally between f7,1 and f9 to guarantee the best sharpness. And the most variable part is the shutter speed. Here you really have to try out what works best for you. In normal sunny conditions, 1/500 should be ok.

If you are just beginning getting into plane spotting with cameras, you can always fall back on semi-automatic modes, where you pre-set the ISO at 100 and the aperture at f8. Your camera will then decide what shutter speed to choose. There are a lot of spotters out there who are using these modes, so don´t be afraid to let the camera help you as well!

Over the past three episodes here on AVIPEO.COM, you have learned how to get started in this wonderful hobby. Now that you know the basics, go out and gather experience on your own! And by the way, if you have questions just ask fellow spotters, most of the colleagues are very friendly and helpful. J

In the next article of our plane spotting series, we will introduce you to the world´s most plane spotting friendly airports. Let us show you around at Hamburg Airport next time! And stay tuned for more plane spotting content.


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