Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Eclipse challenge

Two minutes of totality. That's not very much! My goal or challenge this eclipse is to try to photograph the eclipse with the stars in the background. This, I shall do with my Olympus PM1 and 14-42 lens. This is an older camera that I purchased secondhand a couple of years ago.

Experimenting with it last year, I found 40 seconds at 128,000 ISO at f3.5 resulted in an extreme over exposure with banding. I've not used the camera a whole lot so you might say it's almost strange territory.
Let's say that was overexposed by 4 stops (it was probably more) then 40 seconds becomes 1.25 seconds. There's no point in stopping down as the lens is focused at infinity and any areas slightly out of focus just won't be a problem.

We can conclude that on a dark night that a good exposure will be 128,000ISO, 1.25 seconds and f3.5. Now bringing that up for those that have a maximum ISO of 1600, we have 3 stops to add to exposure so 10 seconds should do the trick. Thus, your ideal night sky would be 1600 ISO, 10 seconds at f3.5. I say f3.5 because that's what most lenses are, wide open.

In terms of zoom length, unless you want to burn your eyes and sensor into oblivion then stick with wider angles such as 14mm on my Olympus or 28mm on 35mm or 18mm on a 1.5/1.6 crop sensor. With a 1" sensor that would be 10mm. Basically, keep it simple - keep the lens wide open.

As far as tripods are concerned, a decent tripod is a great help. I've shot sky photos with the camera placed on a tree stump, pointed upwards before now and it has worked really well. I'm not quite sure where the sun will be on the 21st (eclipse day) so a tripod or a bean bag will be very helpful.

As far as eclipse glasses and funky filters are concerned, I wouldn't personally bother. There's nothing to be gained from photos of the moon partially over the sun. It's not something a million other people won't put on Facebook etc while thinking they're the smartest, coolest kids in town instead of the dumbest. There's nothing particularly to be gained from watching the moon go across the sun either.

As a matter of fact, I've been through 2 total eclipses before. Two in Britain - the first I was too young to know what it was all about - and one where the media had bored the pants off everybody by blathering about the eclipse 24x7 for the previous few weeks. That one, I was so bored by that I never even went outside to look at it. My dad just tutted over the darkness and switched a light on while continuing to read his book.

My sole recommendation other than trying an exposure of ISO 1600, F3.5 and 10 seconds with a 10/14/18/28mm lens (or whatever the widest your kit lens will do) is to try to limit sensor exposure to the sun. The sun might harm your sensor. Now I'm not that worried. My PM1 cost me $75 secondhand two years ago. If I had to replace it, I'd be looking at about the same price. It's not earth shatteringly expensive.

Speaking of secondhand cameras, there are so many really good secondhand cameras out there that there's little point for anybody to buy new any more (other than to single-handedly and heroically maintain the cocaine habits of the bosses at the camera manufacturers). If I go out looking for a secondhand camera, I can find 8 and more megapixel cameras for next to nothing. The dimwits amongst us have fallen for the "upgrade" scam enough that there are plenty good cameras with hardly any wear, available.

Not once have I ever complained that my 8 megapixel 2007 Canon XT lacked resolution. It has been more than adequate for every task Ive thrown at it. The sole reason I have an Olympus PM1 now is not because of it's 20 megapixels but because of it's light weight and small size. I just found the Canon a bit big and bulky to hump around. It's fine for a studio or something similar but for travel, it just takes up too much space.

They say the best camera is the one you have with you. When I had a smartphone, I always had a really good camera with me. Now I don't have a smartphone, it doesn't particularly bother me. I dumped social media at about the same time as my smartphone quit on me. Neither were bringing me much joy so I canned the expense and time wasting.

If there are any clear nights then it might be a good idea to head out to practice photographing starry nights. If the moon is bright in the sky then photograph that too. Bracket your exposures. You only likely get one chance at this eclipse. Who knows what will happen between now and the next. The moon might fall apart (it is really old), there might be a zombie apocalypse (Voodoo is famous for its zombies)  or even an invasion from Mars (a sample return might bring back energy-based life forms that cannot be detected until it's too late).

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