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Long time reader, first time poster. I'm going on some helicopter tours in Hawaii soon, and I'm considering bringing a nicer camera than my cell phone. I've been on helicopters in Hawaii before and cell phone photos always have some sort of rolling shutter blur on them (at least when I take them).

My question is... Should I bring my Fuji X-Pro2 mirrorless or my Canon 5D Mark III? I'm specifically wondering which will be more successful at shooting landscapes and producing sharp photos at infinity focus through the helicopter vibrations.

As a side note, I also have a Go Pro Hero 5 and various gimbals I could use with it or my cell phones or my cameras if there's some reason it would also be less immune to the blurry effect I've seen in the past.

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    What lenses do you have? – mattdm Jun 25 '18 at 3:17
  • I've got lots of L lenses for the Canon that I could choose from. From 14mm to 200m covered with zooms and primes. Not quite as much on the Fujifilm, but 16mm to 100mm. I have both primes and zooms, and some with stabilization, on both. – Martin Jun 25 '18 at 3:19
  • I've got a wide angle Samyang 14mm, Canon 16-35 f/2.8L III, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 40mm Pancake, a f/1.8 50mm, and probably others (this is from memory). I've been considering one of the 100mm L lenses too. On the Fujifilm side, I also have a pancake (27mm?), one of their kit zoom lenses (18-135mm I think), and a 35mm. – Martin Jun 25 '18 at 3:29
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    @Martin I suggest adding this info to the question. It's probably a bigger factor than camera type. – Crazy Dino Jun 25 '18 at 9:05
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Mirrorless or DSLR doesn't really matter. Use whichever lens-body combination gives you the best reduction of vibrations that are relatively slow in frequency but very deep in amplitude. Smaller bodies/lenses will catch less wind, but larger bodies have more mass which helps with the vibration coming from the helicopter body to which you are strapped.

One of the cardinal rules of shooting "open door" is to never, ever change lenses in flight,¹ so it is not inconceivable to take two cameras: one with a wide to very wide angle of view and another with anywhere from a medium zoom to as much focal length as you are willing to haul the required size/weight along with you. Just keep in mind that if it is a full tourist flight, there won't be a lot of extra room in the cabin of many helicopters. Most of the Hawaii tours have a reputation for getting you in close enough that you probably won't need the long focal length the way you might if taking a cityscape tour over a major city where you might want details of certain buildings or landmarks that the helicopter can't approach as closely.

Longer focal lengths require faster shutter speeds and the accompanying ISOs. Larger lenses catch more wind. This is the one time you should leave the hood in your camera bag (so the wind doesn't rip it off the lens).

Wider lenses risk getting rotors and skids in the frame, so with those you'll probably want to shoot each composition with multiple frames in high speed bursts to try and catch one without a rotor fouling the shot.

Keep everything strapped to your body or to a hard point on the helicopter, preferably with redundancy. Smaller items must be secured as well. Any items that get loose (memory cards, lens caps, cleaning cloths, etc.) are a risk to be sucked out the door and possibly into the tail rotor or even the engine's intake, depending on the helicopter's design.

Don't get so caught up in getting so many shots that you forget to pause and enjoy the ride every now and then, too. That pause might just allow you to see a shot you otherwise might have missed, too!

Here are a few extensive articles that discuss shooting from helicopters. Some are written from the viewpoint of a relatively experienced photographer taking their first helicopter photo flight, others are written by those who have done more shoots through the open door of a helicopter. Several specifically mention flights in Hawaii and how to pick the best operator to match your photographic requirements.

Helicopter Aerial Photography
How to Take Photographs From a Helicopter
Tips on shooting from a helicopter
7 Tips for Shooting from a Helicopter
5 Tips for Photographing From A Helicopter

¹ Apart from the obvious risk of an unattached lens getting loose in the cabin or rolling out the door, there's also the consideration that a lot of dirt and dust will be blowing around. Think convertible going 70 mph x 10. You wouldn't want to expose the insides of your cameras and lenses to that even if you were allowed by the flight operator to do so (which you very likely will not be if it is open door).

  • "Most of the Hawaii tours have a reputation for getting you in close enough that you probably won't need the long focal length" +1 for this part. My experience with Hawaii helicopter tours is that a zoom lens is not needed at all. An exception might be if you're trying to photograph Kilauea, which they can't get as close to for reasons that should be obvious (especially right now.) As a fixed-wing pilot, I was quite surprised by how close we flew to canyon walls, hills, etc. on a helicopter tour in Hawaii. – reirab Jun 25 '18 at 18:02
  • Thanks for the advice and for these links! I apparently was searching with the wrong terms. As I mentioned, I've used a few tour operators there before -- but this is new territory, and I feel much more prepared. Cheers! – Martin Jun 26 '18 at 1:54
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    @reirab Zoom lenses can be ultrawide, wide, normal, or one of several ranges within the telephoto range. Focal length is ultimately a personal decision based on what the desired end result is. Most shooters seem to be happy using normal to wide focal lengths on Hawaii helicopter tours, but it all depends upon what one is going for. – Michael C Jun 26 '18 at 2:43
  • @MichaelClark Yes, you're correct. My bad on the imprecise language. I meant telephoto, but said zoom. – reirab Jun 26 '18 at 3:31

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