Following my last visit to Hendon earlier in the year, there had been a few changes at the RAF Museum apart from the weather that is. It was raining then and raining now. Along with the Battle of Britain Hall, the Grahame-White Factory and the new Grahame-White Watch Office building are open all day, instead of half a day and the Art Gallery had been reopened in the upper balcony area of the BoB hall. My main purpose of the visit was to try out the ‘Hand Held Twilight Mode’ on my Sony Alpha 580 camera. Although intended for evening use, I had been using Twilight Function around the hangars at Duxford and was quite impressed with quality of the photos it was producing. I wanted to try it out under more difficult museum lighting conditions and you can’t get much more difficult museum lighting conditions than at Hendon. Basically the camera rattles off, and people do stare at you wondering what the noise is, a series of six rapid images in a very low light environment without using a flash. The software in the camera then processes the images to produce a finished Jpeg photo with non or very little ‘colour noise’ on it despite resorting to high ISO numbers and at the same time micro adjusts the six images so they all line up. The only down side is that the Twilight Mode is an in-camera function in that you have no control over the settings so the camera decides the shutter speed, aperture and ISO.


As the main entrance to the new G-W Watch Office building was open, I stared there. Both it and the G-W Factory are actually quite light and easy to photograph hand held. The Milestones of Flight is another building that the camera can easily be hand held without resorting to flash or even a tripod. I tried an experiment with the P-51 that is mounted on a turntable and was slowly rotating. Fully expecting it to fail, I fired off the six shots and finished up with a perfectly in focus image despite the subject matter spinning around. As I moved on into Bomber Hall, the fun and games began. The software coped very well with the somewhat dark conditions in there. I did find out that it only goes up to ISO 6400 and some of the airframes in the darker corners were starting to show signs of colour noise that could be seen even when I zoomed in on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. The Twilight Mode did have some limitations with the museum lighting conditions. I assume that with an image up to ISO 6400 then the software can cope with the colour noise but over that then noise starts to creep in. The Historic Hangars were a little bit lighter although the lights used in there do have a bit of a tint to them. Something to correct in processing. Finally the ultimate challenge. The Battle of Britain Hall. The half that has the Sunderland in it was not a problem because of the big glass wall at the front. The other half has minimal lighting and the camera was having problems. The Spitfire/Hurricane were virtually impossible as it was to dark for the auto focus to focus, and the others airframes were well over the fixed ISO 6400 and all showing signs of colour noise on the images. Although the museum was crowded, even for a rainy Saturday, I quite enjoyed my little experiment and wander around and came away with some excellent images that I would probably only been able to get with the camera mounted on a tripod and long exposures. Along with the Panorama Mode another function on the Sony A580 that will be extremely useful despite me thinking they were cheap gimmicks at first.

Royal Air force Museum Hendon ~ 16th July 2011

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