Some people are hailing the new mirrorless cameras offerings from Nikon and Canon as a sea change in strategy and a signal that the big two really “get it”. But, is that really true?
Both Canon and Nikon already are the entrenched players in the professional and consumer DSLR market. They make the worlds best professional DSLRs and have multi-billion dollar investments in these systems. Each has multiply factories churning out lenses and cameras bodies for the world-wide market. Are they just going de-emphasize their bread and butter, turning away from their cash-cows to pursue mirrorless? I don’t think so.
What the Z 6, Z 7 and EOS R represent is more the Nikon and Canon’s belief that the market for interchangeable lens cameras over-all is going to continue to shrink and they better be prepared to grab and maintain as much marketshare as they can. It these mirrorless cameras are simply a way to stop defections to Sony and keep their photographers in their fold. The internet has had a raft of stories of professional photographers that switched from Nikon or Canon DSLRs to Sony full frame mirrorless and they felt the need to create videos, some long and boring, justifying why they did it. I think most are actually video applications to the Sony Collective but I digress.
You can look at what Canon and Nikon introduced, both in terms of bodies and announced mirrorless full frame lenses to get a glimpse of what is really going on.
First Canon; Actually Canon has been in the mirrorless space since the launch of the EOS M in June 2012. 7 years on and guess what, today Canon has 7 lenses for the EOS M systems despite a steady trickle of updated bodies from the original M through the M2, M3, M5, M10 M100 and M6. Get the impression this ain’t their fist rodeo? The most recent introduction, the consumer grade M50 was actually the best selling mirrorless camera in Japan over the holiday quarter and probably the best selling mirrorless camera in most markets around the world. But still to date only 7 native M lenses, only 2 of which are fast primes. The rest are slow consumer zoom lenses. Canon expects everyone to use their adapter and the standard EF lenses for professional offerings. Also, all Canon’s EOS M cameras have been built around smaller APS-C sized sensors, not full frame.
Next Nikon; It has fared even worse considering that is only foray into mirrorless before the Zs has been the not-well-received Nikon 1 series with the even smaller than Micro-4/3rds CX format sensors from some of their point-and-shoot cameras. Whether the system took good photos or not is irrelevant, from a sales and marketing perspective it flopped and the entire line was officially discontinued early last year.
So let’s look at what they introduced. Remember that both of these companies make the premier professional camera bodies on the market today and have been catering to the needs of professional photographers for decades. But both the Zs and the EOS R have only one card slot. That is the clearest sign that no matter how else these cameras are spec’d out neither company considers their first full-frame mirrorless cameras to be aimed at professionals. These are prosumer bodies at best meaning they will be back-ups, second systems or experimenter bodies for working pros until the next generation of bodies are introduced. Nikon at least included In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) in the Z 6 and Z 7 but offer no battery grip option for vertical shooting, something else working pro’s need.
Canon has a battery grip option but no IBIS. Interesting considering the lens intro that Canon is touting, a native RF mount 28-70mm F/2.0 beast lens that is $3,000, has a huge 95mm front filter thread and NO Image Stabilization (IS) in the lens. First the zoom range, 1999 called and they want their focal length back. 28-70mm, in 2019 really? 24-70mm f/2.8 have been the standard since the early 2000s. Why didn’t you just roll out one of those in the RF mount with IS? Oh, you want people to use the adapter and the 24-70mm f/2.8 you’re already making, get it. Next the 28-70mm is big and heavy because of the impressively f/2.0 aperture but has no IS and you are going to mount it to a camera with no In Body Image Stabilization either? Who thought that was going to make for an easy handling package?
Both the EOS RF mount 28-70mm f/2.0 and Z Nikkor Noct 58mm f/0.95 (manual focus only on that one) are show-boat lenses designed to show off each companies optical prowess. They are not lenses designed for photographers. Now both companies have introduced other native full frame mirrorless lenses that are much more useful.
Both new mirrorless camera systems have adapters to use their existing arsenals of lenses, which is what these camera are both really all about. Both systems have potential and Nikon has released a pretty excessive road map for Z lenses with primes being mostly f/1.8 which makes sense to take advantage of the larger lens mount.
For 2019 through early 2020 both Canon and Nikon want the EOS R and the Zs to simply stop the defections to Sony. These cameras are purely defensive maneuvers to give their install bases a reason to stay with them, shoring up marketshare and potential future sales. In the short term both companies are not considering coming out with full frame mirrorless camera bodies that threaten the dominance or sales of their flagship professional DSLR cameras and lenses. No sea change or change of heart here.
Just want to write a short post to show you an easy way to determine the correct shutter speed for Astrophotography. This is also known as the 500 Rule.
You may be seeing all those amazing photos of the core of our Milky Way Galaxy at night and thought to yourself “I have a camera, I want to do that”. Later I will be doing a more in depth look at all the aspects and settings for doing astrophotography but today I just want to talk about one thing; setting your shutter speed and that is where the 500 rule comes in:
If you have a full frame camera and you want to know what the maximum shutter speed you can use and still have all the stars in the photo be points of light and not blurs then just take the focal length of the lens and divide it into 500 to get the maximum shutter speed in seconds.
A simple example with a 20mm full frame lens. Take 500 and divide it by 20 and you get 25, 25 seconds in the maximum shutter speed you can set and still have sharp pin-point stars.
Now maybe you have a camera with a DX or APS-C sensor not a full frame, what do I do then? Say I want to use this Tokina 14-20mm f/2.0 lens on my D5600 or similar camera with an APS-C sensor. First convert the focal length to full frame which in this case would be 14mm X1.5 to give you an equivalent focal length of 21mm in full frame. Now take the 21mm and divide it into 500 and you get 23.8 seconds. Most cameras cannot set 23 seconds so I recommend rounding down to 20. 20 Seconds is the longest shutter speed you can set and keep the stars from blurring.
The 500 Rule a rule of thumb and in my experience its better to back your shutter speed down by 3-5 seconds. So for the 20mm full frame lens we talked about probably 20 seconds would be better than 25 but the 500 Rule will give you a good starting point.
Can you feel it? The start of Milky Way Galaxy season is less than 6 weeks away! This is the time of year when the core of the Milky Way Galaxy is up at night. It starts being visible in the predawn hours in late February and goes into September. If you shoot with a DLSR with an APS-C (DX) sensor Tokina has an amazing fast apertured super-wide angle zoom that is perfect for shooting the Milky Way Galaxy or any other astrophotography application. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you don’t know it already please allow me to introduce the Tokina AT-X 14-20mm f/2 PRO DX lens. Not a misprint, its a constant f/2, not 2.8.
The AT-X 14-20mm f/2 PRO DX zoom equates to a 21-30mm full frame angle of view on Nikon or 22.4-32mm on Canon. This super-wide is great for including a lot of landscape and sky in your composition.
At the time of writing the constant f/2.0 is the fastest super-wide angle zoom lens available for APS-C sized DSLRs. F/2.0 is nearly a full stop faster than f/2.8 which equates to almost twice as much light entering the camera. More light entering the camera has several advantages; First, it allows the camera to focus in lower light situations. Second, it allows for more light to hit the sensor when doing long exposures at night, the faint light from more distant stars will be recorded making it perfect for astrophotography. More light gathering can also translate into shorter exposure times or lower ISO settings for sharper astro photos with less noise.
Next, the f/2.0 aperture yields a shallower depth of field than f/2.8 or slower lens. This last point allows you to isolate your subject more for a dramatic perspective. In another review I will be doing an in depth comparison of the the AT-X 14-20mm f/2 PRO DX vs the slower AT-X 12-28mm f/4 PRO DX lens so stay tuned to my blog fort that.
Handling and Ergonomics
The Tokina 14-20mm is a weighty lens for its size weighing 735g (25.9 oz.). It feels solid, well made and balances well on PRO APS-C bodies like the Nikon 7500 or Canon 7D mkII. It will feel a little front heavy on smaller, lighter APS-C bodies like the Nikon 5600 or any of the Canon digital Rebel cameras but not too much. The reason for the weight is the amount of glass needed to accommodate the bright f/2.0 aperture and the fact that Tokina uses more metal than other manufactures in the internal barrels of the lens making them heavier but more durable.
The lens has common 82mm filter thread so there are a wide variety of filters available for image enhancement and creative possibilities.
Like all other Tokina AT-X PRO lenses, the 14-20mm has a Tokina’s exclusive One-Touch Focus Clutch mechanism for switching between auto focus and manual focus. Just pull the manual focusing ring back toward the base of the lens, the ring will snap back to engage the manual focus and then push it forward to engage auto focus again.
The lenses barrel design makes it very intuitive to handle on location in the dark. The rings are large enough and set far enough apart that I don’t get them confused in the dark or move one ring accidentally while turning the other, even while wearing gloves.
Auto focusing on the Tokina 14-20m is fast and smooth, it won’t break any speed records but its accurate. The lens does emit a little motor noise if you rack the AF between a very close subject and something far away. It’s not enough for anyone standing around you to notice but it might be heard on video using the built in mic so I would recommend using it in manual focus for video. The lens has had no problems acquiring and locking focus in a wide variety of lighting situations.
At night under the stars you will need to focus manual but that goes for any lens. A trick for getting infinity focus at night. If you have a high-power flashlight point it at something you know to be at a greater distance than the infinity scale. With a super-wide lens like the 14-20 something more than 5 meters (more than 15 feet) away, put your AF point on what you are lighting up and AF on it. Then carefully pull the manual focus light back into MF and you should be focused at infinity for the stars. After that, take a test shot and use the camera’s screen to zoom in on the stars to make sure they are in focus. If its not, start by moving the focus ring just a little to the left or right and take another test shot and check it to see if the starts are more or less focused. Repeat until the starts are sharp.
Here’s a tip; painters tape or other adhesive tape that is designed to be temporary and removable. Once you have the lens focused at infinity use a 3-4 cm (1.5 inches) long piece of painters tape to tape down the manual focus ring. That way it wont move accidentally if you move the camera to recompose your shot.
Simply put, this lens is sharp, even wide open the lens is sharp. Other than the fast aperture sharpness is where this lens shines. DXO Mark gave the Tokina AT-X 14-20m f/2 PRO DX lens an over-all score of 26 which is higher than either the AT-X 11-20mm or the old 11-16mm lenses. That has been my experience with the lens as well, its the sharpest of the lenses in this class. The lens does not disappoint and you will be able to make large prints if you are using a camera with a 24+ megapixels sensor.
As with any lens, it is sharper when stopped down and the lens’s critical aperture setting is f/4.5 - f/5.0, I could not see any sharpness difference between these aperture settings and stopping down to f/5.6 did not improve sharpness over f/4.5-5.0. But sharpness wide open is still very good which is necessary for low light photography.
Astrophotography is where this lens is really at home. The Tokina 11-20mm may have a wider angle of view but the f/2 of the 14-20mm allows more light gathering and that means more stars captured and more flexibility to change exposure time or ISO.
Coma is not bad at all and Chromatic Aberrations (CA) are well corrected. In some high contrast situations you will see a just a little purple fringing but it is easy removed in post.
The Tokina AT-X 14-20mm f/2 PRO DX lens is at the top of its class in both fast aperture and sharpness. The constant f/2 aperture is the fastest available in a super-wide zoom lens for APS-C lenses at this time. That coupled with amazing optics makes this lens a natural for low-light photography and a lens that anyone interested in astrophotography should seriously consider.
A Jack-of-All-Trades Super-wide Lens
The Tokina AT-X 17-35mm for full frame isn’t a new lens but its often overlooked because its a constant f/4 instead of f2.8 lens. Unlike the faster lenses like the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 lens, you can use 82mm filter on the 17-35mm while no standard filter options exist for the 16-28.
Another advantage is the 17-35 is a smaller full frame super-wide that is lighter and much easier to pack for traveling. Let's face up to the fact that full frame lenses are large and heavy and you may not always need a fast aperture while you may need compactness or lighter weight. This is especially true if you are the type of photographer that likes to load everything on your back and walk or hike all day. If you travel a lot, this lens is an excellent choice.
Handling and Ergonomics
The AT-X 17-35mm is just 3.7 (94mm) inches long and weighs 21 oz (600g) its feels good and balances well on a full frame DSLR like the Nikon D750. The lens has Tokina signature “One Touch Focus Clutch” mechanism, to switch the lens from AF to MF just pull the manual focusing ring back towards the camera to disengage the AF and when you want to return to AF push the focusing ring forward to engage it. Manual focusing is smooth and not heavily damped so the focusing ring moves easily but does not feel loose, it just has a natural feel. The focus ring turns about 90 degrees to go from the closest focusing distance of 11 inches (0.28m) to infinity.
Auto focus it quick and accurate but it will not be wining any speed awards. Super-fast AF generally isn’t usually required for subjects that people shoot with super-wide angle lenses of this kind anyway. For a lot of my shooting with super-wide lenses the camera is locked down on a tripod for a long exposures so AF speed is not critical.
The Tokina AT-X 17-35mm lens is a sharp lens and like any super-wide its sharper in the center than on the edges. Sharp enough to make large prints from full-res 24 megapixel files. Sharp enough to shoot cactus and count all the individual spins. Like most lenses of its class it is sharper in the center than at the edges and stopping down about 2 stops improves things. The lenses critical aperture seems to be about f/9.0 which is just over 2 stops down from wide open. Critical aperture, the aperture at which any lens is the sharpest, is usually somewhere between 2 and 3 stops down from wide open.
There is some slight vignetting at the corners wide open and some very slight purple fringing but its not usual with a super-wide and I found both to be easily corrected in post. In fact in light-room just clicking the “Remove CA” check box usually eliminated any purple fringe.
The 17-35 is well corrected without much linear distortion and it can be used for architectural photography. This is a shot of the original 1908 Hamburg & Sons/May Company building that was once the largest department store west of the Mississippi River is now being renovated to be the California Broadway Trade Center. The Tokina 17-35 keeps the all lines straight and the over all picture is sharp. The picture was shot at f/8 to increase sharpness and keep everything in focus. Below is the facade of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.
Never underestimate the impact of a super-wide lens that can focus close. You can take something small and fill the frame with it. As mentioned earlier The 17-35mm lens has good close focus of just 11 inched (0.28m) This cactus plant is rally only 8 inches tall but because the lens can focus so close it dominates the landscape where you would barely notice it walking by.
While f/4.0 is not an idea aperture for astro-photography, the 17-35 does pretty well when out shooting where there is a little moonlight present as there was in the photo from the Geminids Meteor shower. According to the 500 rule, a 17mm lens on a full frame camera means you can set an exposure as long as 30 seconds (actually 29.42 but how’s counting) without getting start trails. In reality you should probably back it down to 25 seconds but that is still a lot of light gathering time to take in so many stars. I got this lens after the Milky Way Galaxy season ended but I am looking forward to trying it out when the core returns to the night sky at the end of February.
So yes, for sure this is a Jack-of-all-trades lens. I like it a lot. It does everything it does very well and for an excellent price. This value of this lens is in what it does well verse the cost, which is lower than most other AF full frame super-wide zooms All things considered its an easy lens to recommend so if you are on a budget, seriously check it out.
The 720 Eastbound from Downtown LA
I thought I was high enough on the rocks so that the salt spray of the waves wouldn’t get to me... I was wrong... A big one hit and my camera and I were spattered. But a UV filter saved the front of my lens from taking a direct hit from the sea spray that contained on only salt water but silt and not so fine sand as well. This is what you DON'T want see coming directly at your lens. The lens was “water-resistant but with salt water all bets are off. The lens was OK after I quickly wiped it off but that would not have helped the front glass of my lens if it didn’t have a filter over it.
There is a lot of options and more than a little misinformation out there regarding UV filters. So I wanted to bring up some facts given my years, decades actually, of experience as a photographer and as someone who has worked for filter distributors and manufacturers.
First, what is UV? Ultraviolet (UV) light is the light that boarders the lower end of the visible spectrum. The visible spectrum is between 400-700nm and UV spectrum is between about 280-430nm. This is light that your camera’s sensor is not completely calibrated to and the more UV present the more of a negative impact is has on your photos. UV light contributes to atmospheric haze that makes scenic photos less sharp.
So what does a UV filter do? It does two things. One it does all the time and the other depends on your location. A UV filter over your lens will always protect the font element of your lens all the time its on. Keep in mind the front element is the largest and most expensive piece of glass in your lens and replacing it is one of the most expensive lens repairs. It protects it from everyday bumps when you are out shooting. It also protects it form wind-blown sand, salt spray, mud, or if you scramble over rocks with your camera on a strap to get to where you shoot. Under these conditions a UV filter should always be on the front of your lens.
Beyond that the effect of a UV filter depends on your location, or more accurately it depends on your altitude. UV light is filtered out as it travels through the atmosphere so there is more UV light present at higher altitudes than there is closer to sea level. Using a UV on the rocks boarding the Pacific Ocean as I was doing early was not as much about filtering out UV as it was about protection. There is still some UV light present that day it was about protecting the front element of my lens.
But when photographing at higher altitudes above sea level there is a lot more UV light present and even more UV as you go higher. A UV filter will improve the sharpness of the sweeping scenery I came out to shoot and have the added benefit of protecting my lens. This scenic photo from Valle de Bravo, Mexico was taken at over 6,070 feet (1,859 meters) above sea level. For comparison, the "Mile High City" of Denver, Colorado sits at 5,280 feet (1,609 meters) above sea level.
Even higher than Valle de Bravo is Mexico City and the Pyramid del Sol in the Teotihuacan, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Both sit on the same plateau at 7,380 feet (2,249 meters) above sea level. More UV makes scenic photos in these higher elevations more hazy and less sharp. A side note, there is also less oxygen at these altitudes so while hiking up the several hundred steps of the pyramid del Sol you get winded much more quickly. I raced to the top and it took 10 minutes to catch my breath and stop shaking.
“A $2,000 lens with a $20 filter is going to preform like a $20 filter.”
“So I should just get the cheapest UV filter I can find, right?” ... WRONG! One of the “purist” arguments against UV filters or any filters for that matter, is that they are “inferior” glass that can degrade your image. People promoting this argument have not kept up with the times or filter technology. This is true if you choose a cheap filter form a company you have never heard of on amazon.com or eBay. These filters often do not have true UV optical glass in terms of the quality and formula of the glass as well as precise grinding and polishing of the surfaces of the filter. The reason they can call them UV is because all glass filters out some, if even just a little UV but can degrade sharpness and cause inaccurate colors if the glass they use is not formulated optical glass.
Remember: A $2,000 lens with a $20 filter is going to preform like a $20, pure and simple. Make a wise choice when choosing a filter.
If the choice is between a $20 (or even less) filter or no filter at all, go with no filter. No filter is better than taking a chance on a cheap piece of glass. In that respect the purist are correct. No matter how much your lens cost, you made an investment in it so make an investment in the filter to protect the lens and choose a filter that is going to protect your lens and improve your pictures, not harm them. High quality filters are cheap insurance for the front of your lens and will help improve your pictures.
Buy UV filters from established brands known for optical filters and who’s roots in optics go back decades. Some of these include Hoya, B+W, Kenko, Schneider and just a couple others. These filters use specifically formulated optical glass that is formed, ground and polished for perfectly flat smooth and parallel surfaces. These filters are multi-coated like your lens is multi-coated to reduce reflections that could degrade your photos. So using a high quality UV filter will not degrade your images but only help improve them and protect your lens.
Next, make sure the filters are multi-coated and in some ways the more layers of multi-coating the better. Lens manufacturer go to great lengths to multi-coat their lenses to avoid reflections and putting a non-multi-coated filter in front of your lens is almost same as shooting through a window. You would do that to get the best pictures so make sure the filters you buy us high-quality multi-coating.
Through my entire time in photography, which goes back decades, I have only used Hoya filters so they are the brand I know best and have the most experience with. The HMC Skylight 1B filter over the lens of my first “real” camera, a Canon AE-1 was a Hoya and I have used them ever since. By the way, I was 13 years old when I got that AE-1. Glass and multi-coating technology have made great leaps in the last 30 years. The current generation of Hoya UV filters, the HD series with chemically hardened glass and ANTISTATIC series with hardened coatings that negate static build-up have up to 16 layer (HD) of multi-coating on both front and back sides of the glass to reduce reflections. Both series are some of the best filters that money can buy bar none.
So remember, you made an investment in the lenses you shoot with so extend that investment by protecting it with a high-quality UV filter that will not only protect your investment but also help improve your pictures.
(composite photo of 33 meteors in one night)
In horse racing a Superfecta is when you correctly pick the first 4 horses across the finish line. In 30 days between December 5th and January 4th there will be superfecta of 4 meteor showers visible in the Northern Hemisphere but you only need to hit one to get some awesome meteor photographs. This article contains what you need to know to photograph these or any meteor shower.
Which Meteor Showers and when?
Andromedids Meteor Shower
(This was one of the most intense meteor showers of the year in the late 1800s but went dormant for over a century. Surprisingly in 2011 it started to perk up again and this year is predicted to be a good one.)
Peak: Night of December 5th in the morning of the 6th
Geminids Meteor Shower
(the most intense of the 4, if you can only shoot one, go for this one.)
Peak: Night of December 13th into the morning of the 14th
Ursids Meteor Shower
(This year a full moon will obscure all but the brightest meteors)
Peak: Night of December 21st into the morning of the 22nd
Quadrantids Meteor Shower
Peak: Night of January 3rd into the early morning of the 4th
As mentioned, if you think you are only going to try one meteor shower then go for the Geminids, it’s always the most intense with upwards of 100-120 meteors per hour at it’s peak. Last year’s Geminids were amazing all night.
These times mentioned are for the Pacific Coast of the USA. Check locally for the best viewing times in your area. Some meteor showers peak for as long as 24 hours while others peak for just 4-5 hours.
What you will need to photograph a Meteor shower:
Camera that can be set manually
Lens, preferably a super-wide to get the most area of the sky in photo, that can be focused manually
Sturdy, reliable tripod
Remote release or the ability to set the camera’s self timer and/or time-lapse mode
A HOYA STARSCAPE filter to filter out light pollution for better color (optional but HIGHLY recommended)
The darker the sky the better because light pollution caused collectively by millions of city lights hides all but the brightest object in he night sky. The brightest meteors can be seen from anywhere but its best to get as far away from lights of the city as you can. You can search for dark sky nearest you using:
Next, check and double check the weather in the dark sky location you have chosen. There is nothing worse than driving for 4 hours or more just to be clouded out.
Tip: Once you choose your dark sky areas plan to get there 1-2 hours before sunset so you have time to find the exact location and composition you want. When you have your composition set up your tripod and lock the camera down in it so it won’t move.
Camera, you will need a camera that you can focus and control all of the settings manually; these days, that’s almost any DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Now lets run through the camera settings quickly.
Set your camera’s control dial to “M” for controlling the shutter speed and aperture manually.
Determining the Shutter Speed
The 500 Rule introduction: 500 / focal length of the lens = maximum shutter speed
You might have heard of this before, it's a rule of thumb where you take 500 and divide it by the focal length of the lens you plan to use. The resulting number is the longest shutter speed (in seconds) you can use and still get pinpoint stars. Longer shutters speeds would record the starts movement as a blur or “star trail”.
(This is an extreme example of Star Trails but this is what they look like and what you want to avoid when shooting meteors)
Say I have a Nikon D750 full frame camera and a Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 lens that I plan to shoot at 16mm. I would take 500 and divide it by 16mm to get 31.25. Then round that number down to 30. 30 seconds would be the long shutter speed I could set with this lens and still get pin-point stars. I mentioned the Tokina 16-28mm F/2.8 lens because I have used it and it works great for shooting stars.
For cameras with APS-C (DX) sized sensors: You would first have to convert the focal length to a full frame equivalent then divide that number into 500.
Example: Say I have a Canon 80D with a Tokina 14-20mm f/2.0 lens that I intend to shoot at 14mm. I would multiply the 14mm by the sensor crop factor of 1.6 to get 22.4, rounded to 22 or 22mm in full frame terms. Now take 500 and divide by 22 to get 22.73 or 22 seconds. Rounding down is always better in photographing stars and most cameras can’t set a 22 second shutter speed so round down to 20 seconds. That is your shutter speed.
These long exposure times give you a better chance of capturing a meteor or meteors in the shot while still keeping all the stars as points of light.
Set your Aperture
No matter what lens you plan to use you want to allow as much light as possible to come through the lens and onto the sensor so set your camera lens to the widest aperture, expressed by the lowest f/ number, that the lens will allow. This could be f/2.0, f/2.8 or even f/3.5 or 4.0 on some lenses. If you have an F/2.8 lens use 2.8, etc. I have had excellent results with the Tokina 14-20mm f/2.0 and 11-20 f/2.8 lenses.
Set your ISO
The ISO setting controls your camera’s sensitivity to light. For shooting meteors or other astro photography set a higher ISO such as 1600, 3200 or even 6400 if you are using a kit lens that has a f/3.5 or 4 aperture.
Focus at Infinity
There isn’t enough light at night for the camera’s AF system to function. This is probably the trickiest part and usually takes a little guesswork to get the focus dialed into infinity properly. The problem with just setting the camera/lens to manual focus and then turning the focus ring to infinity is that the infinity marking on the lens assumes that they lens is at a normal room temperature. Outside at night in the winter the glass contracts as it cools and the actual focus points begin to differ from the focus scale on the lens. Start with the lens set at the infinity marking and take a photo using the shutter speed you just calculated. Now look at the picture on the camera’s screen and zoom in to 100% to see if any visible stars are sharp points of light. If they are not, turn the focus ring just a little towards the closer focus and repeat to see if the stars are in sharp focus or at least in sharper focus. This is little trail and error but you should be able to nail the focus in just a few minutes. I recommend bringing along some painter’s or gaffers tape and once you have the lens focused at infinity tape down the manual focus ring to the lens barrel so it won’t move if you hit it by accident.
(This is the focus scale window showing the lens is focused at infinity but in cold conditions this focus scale might not be accurate and will need to be tested and checked once you set up and lens cools to match the outdoor temperature.)
Tip: Leave your camera with the battery removed and lens outside the warmth of your car, tent or house if you are luck enough to live in a dark sky area. That way the equipment will be cool down and it will be less likely to focus to shift while shooting. The same goes for after the shooting is finished. If you bring a cold lens inside the house or warm car it will fog up almost immediately. Place it in a plastic bag and seal it if you have bring it in.
Tip: Keep the batteries warm in your pocket until you are ready to start shooting to get the most use out of them in cold weather.
Light Pollution Filters
In the USA and Europe, even in dark sky areas, there will still be brownish color cast caused by light pollution on the horizon and possibly over the entire photo. A HOYA STARSCAPE filter will filter out a lot of light pollution giving a more natural color balance. This saves a lot of time in post processing and yields much better, natural color in the final image. Many photographers that do astrophotography a lot consider this filter a necessity and I recommend it highly.
(The HOYA STARSCAPE filter removes a lot of light pollution from astrophotos to yield a more natural color balance in camera. This will save a lot of time in post processing. keep in mind that by reducing the amount of light pollution the HOYA STARSCAPE does reduce the exposure by half a stop.
(These two photos are converted from unedited raw files straight out of the camera to show the color difference before editing for with/without the HOYA STARSCAPE filter.)
Here is a brief video clip that shows the effects of the Hoya RA54 Red Enhancer/Intensifier/Kenko Red Enhancer No.1 (all the same filter) on a couple different scenes. The first 25 second of the video shows the other use of the filter, enhancing the color saturation of red and orange colors making it a great filter for autumn foliage.
(This photo was about an hour before sunrise at the trail end of a summer meteor shower. I was about to pack it up and move to another location to shoot the sunrise when this little guy showed up.)
Once you have the camera’s shutter speed, aperture, ISO and focus set the last thing to do it set the camera or the camera’s remote to do time-lapse photography. This is a setting where the camera will take photos automatically at predetermined intervals. Meteors can happen at any time during a meteor showers and each meteor only last a faction of a second so its best to set up your camera to automatically take a photo every 4,5, 6 seconds until the battery runs out. You end up with a lot of throw-aways but you will also capture the most meteors this way. Once this is all set, let it rip and then sit back and enjoy the show!