Gear for ALP
Okay let's talk about gear for Astro Landscape photography. (light thud) I like to use a backpack camera bag because most of the time we're gonna be out in the middle of nowhere, good ways from the car and it's just more convenient when you're scrambling over rocks and things like this. So this is a photo Minibee bag and it carries just about everything that I need. (zipper opening) There's not a whole lot of equipment, specialized equipment that you need for Astro Landscape photography, but there are a few things that will make your life and your job a little bit more simple. Alright, so we used to talk about for cameras, using nothing but a full-frame DSLR. But with the recent improvements in technology what's more important than full-frame these days is a relatively modern or recent camera. And one of the, probably the biggest challenge or the biggest requirement for a camera for this type of work, is one that performs well at high ISOs. Because we're typically gonna be shooting at ...
3200, 6400 or sometimes even higher. I like to use a Nikon D750 and for the reasons just stated specifically high ISO performance. And also, it has an incredible ability to lift the shadows in post-processing. So if you have an underexposed image with really dark shadows, you can pull them up a couple of stops without introducing a whole lot of extra noise. That's the main thing that I really enjoy about Nikon cameras. Let's talk about other cameras as well for a minute. Canon cameras, what's nice about them is they've really great live view that performs well in low-light situations. It makes it easier to focus in extreme low-light. Sony cameras, like Nikon's also perform very well at high ISO and they have this pretty good live view as well. In terms of specific models, it's not necessarily important to get the high-end camera or the top-of-the-line cameras. Don't go out and spend more than you need specifically for this kind of work. So for example with a Canon camera, 7D mark 2 or a 6D is a really good choice. The 6D is relatively light, relatively affordable, performs very well at high ISO. 5D mark 3 is good or 1 DX sure, but you don't really need the super high frame rate of those high-end cameras and you don't need the really sophisticated autofocus that you get with those high-end cameras, cause we're gonna be doing manual exposures, one at a time and we're gonna to be focusing manually. Let's see. Other cameras, I'm kind of excited about the new Pentax K1 full-frame camera. Considering what you get, it's a tremendous value and it performs very well at high ISO at low-light. And the limitation probably is that they're relatively few lenses available for the Pentax cameras at this point in time. Although that's gonna be changing. A number of people recently have been working with the mirrorless cameras. Specifically the the Sony cameras of course and the Fugis as well. I do like the full-frame cameras if possible but again it's not really necessarily and it's not a deal-breaker if you don't can't afford or don't have a full-frame camera. Now let's talk about lenses. So for this type of work we're typically gonna be using fixed focal lengths, most the time fixed focal length, but certainly wide-angle lenses with a fast maximum aperture. We're really gonna be pushing the limits of ISO, of aperture and shutter speed because we wanna do relatively short exposures to keep the stars as points of light. So that means we're gonna be shooting 2.8 maybe even wider if possible. Single wide-angle Primes, the 1.8 primes from Nikon are great. There are 1.4 primes that not necessarily worth the extra money because you're probably gonna to have to stop down a stop or two to get rid of the chromatic aberration which makes stars appear as little birds in flight rather than the sharp points that we're looking for. Focal lengths range from 14 millimeters up to would be you know kind of what most people would use. I've got here this is a Nikon D500, which is their top, newest top-of-the-line APS-C or crop sensor camera and this works really well. It has a lot of the features of the high-end D including the backlit buttons which is really great for working on low light. On here I've got the Nikon 20 millimeter 1.8, nice wide lens, good fast maximum aperture. Only requires to be stopped down to 2.8 or so to get rid of all that chromatic aberration. Alternatives to the camera brand lenses, Sigma's art lens line is great. They have 20, 24, 35 and 50 millimeter 1.4 lenses, they're affordably priced really good quality. A budget option, a lot of people these days are using the Rokinon lenses. It's actually manufactured by a Korean company called Samyang, and they're branded either as Samyang, Bauer or Rokinon. They have, they're primarily manual focus lenses and 1.4 maximum apertures. They have really good performance in terms of coma, but they're not quite as sharp as the other lenses I've mentioned here. So another really cool option that I use frequently, this is a Nikon 28 millimeter PC or perspective control lens and nice thing about this, this is an old film camera lens. It's a manual focus film camera lens that has this ability to do 11 millimeters of shift and it also rotates for any kind of perspective control so especially useful for architectural photography or anytime you don't want to have converging vertical lines. It's also good for doing two-shot panoramas. So you can shift it all the way to one direction, take one photograph, rotate it 180 degrees and do your second shot and then you've got two shots that line up exactly with no loss of image, and which is a perfect overlap. So these are great for two-shot panoramas. Nikon made a 35 and a 28 millimeter PC lens. There're also modern versions of these lenses, let's see they have a 24, a 45 and a 90. Those lenses are great, they're also a lot more expensive. These are available only on the used market primarily from eBay. Now if you're shooting with Canon cameras, unfortunately canons FD lenses cannot be effectively mounted on a DSLR. The good news is, you can get with a minimal investment in adapters like 15/20 bucks, you can use these same Nikon manual focus film camera lenses as well as contacts, contacts or Olympus, yeah the Zuikou lenses and they do make or they did make the perspective control lenses and again they can be mounted on a canon DSLR. Very cool. So let's see what else in here, a headlight D750 out before I didn't show you this 14 to 24 2.8 zoom lens. Now this is considered by many to be the best zoom lens ever manufactured. And what's really special about this lens is that it can be shot wide open across the focal length range. So from 14 millimeters all the way to 24, 2.8 it's tack sharp, corner to corner, minimal vignetting and almost no chromatic aberration. Again coma or chromatic aberration is the optical aberration that makes points or stars look like elongated lines sometimes like birds in flight. Little kinda (imitates birds in flight). So until recently, a lot of people Canon shooters would even buy an adapter and use this lens on their Canon DSLRs but a couple of years ago. Tamron came out with a 15-30 2. that is almost comparable to this lens. And that's a good option for Sony shooters, for Pentax, not for Pentax shooters for Sony shooters and for Canon shooters and for Nikon shooters on a budget. So that's the Tamron 15-30 2. or the Nikon 14 to 24 2.8. This is kind of like the all-purpose astrophotography, Astro Landscape photography lens. And historically zoom lenses have not been quite as good quality or quite as sharp as fixed manual focus primes, but these two lenses in particular are really outstanding. For a crop sensor or APS-C cameras, there are a couple of good zoom options. The Tokina 11 to 16 2.8 is a nice wide lens and they're not a whole lot of wide lenses, ultra wide lenses for APS-C cameras so that's a good one. And let's see, Tamron also makes the 18 to 55 1.8. so that's the fastest zoom lens you can get for an APS-C camera, probably fastest zoom you get for any camera. Both of those are really outstanding values and good choices if you really want a zoom lens. Now why would you prefer a zoom over manual focus? One of the main reasons would be so you don't have to change lenses out in the field. So if it's dusty or raining or anything like that, you don't have to open up the lens and introduce dust into your camera. So good choice is there. The kit lenses sometimes are not bad either. This is the Nikon 24 to 120, it's the kit lens for my D750. It's an excellent quality lens. Limitation is it's an f4 lens, so if we're doing star point high ISO work, it's maybe not the best choice. However, it's great for moon light photography, any kind of full moon photography, where you're not necessarily shooting really short wide-open exposures. Other than that, there're not really any other special requirements for lenses. Just think wide, fast primes and manual focus lenses are a good option because they're easier to focus in low light than auto-focus lenses. Auto-focus lenses are engineered to be focused automatically of course and the engineering requirements for auto-focus lenses are different from manual. Auto-focus lenses are designed to focus quickly and as a result of that they have a relatively short throw from near focus to infinity. So what that means is they're very, very sensitive when you make a tiny little adjustment, it goes, you can throw it off and it makes it difficult to focus precisely manually, especially in low light. Alright so we've talked about cameras, we've talked about lenses, we need something to put that camera on, right? That would be a tripod! Now in terms of tripods, there's not, there are lots of tripods to choose from but there's not really too many specific requirements for this type of work. There's aluminum versus carbon fiber. Carbon fiber of course is lighter and it's better if you're gonna be going backpacking or hiking or don't really wanna carry the weight. And it also has the advantage of not getting as cold in extreme weather environment so it doesn't get as cold as aluminum. Carbon fiber also is they're strong but due to the fact that they're lighter in windy conditions they might be a little bit more prone to blow over. So cost versus weight is another consideration as well. So carbon fiber tripods are typically twice as expensive as aluminum ones, aluminum tripods and so that's something to think about as well. If you travel a lot, you want one that collapses down pretty tight, compactly and will fit into your camera bag. So this one will fit into my check bag pretty easily without being disassembled. On this tripod I've got a levelling head which is really nice because it allows me to level the tripod regardless of whether or not the legs are level. So if I'm doing panoramic photography that's a really nice feature to have, this leveling head as well. It's got a little bubble level right on here, I can level the head, tighten it up and then, put the camera on here and level this as well. So if I'm gonna be rotating the image to do, rotating the camera to be doing a panorama you wanna make sure that it can be rotated without having any variation in the level. So generally, fewer leg sections then more are more stable because when you get down to the tiny little leg sections they're like pencil or pinky thickness, they tend not to be so stable. In general, if you're gonna be using a tripod that has a lot of different leg sections, and you're not necessarily extending it to the full height start with the thickest leg sections first and then the thinnest ones at the very end. And to go along with that, you definitely don't wanna raise up the center column unless you have to because that effectively convert your tripod into a monopod, makes it a lot less stable. and with these long exposures we really wanna keep this tripod and the camera as stable as possible. Now most landscape photographers and anybody who travels a lot, tend to prefer ball heads over pan tilt heads. And they just, they move at all axes at once, tend to be a little bit more compact. If you tend to do a lot of architectural photography or panoramas, maybe a more traditional pan tilt head would be advantageous. Other things to consider with tripod is does it have a hook on the bottom? This one does not because of the leveling head here it's got the adjustment for the leveling head on the bottom. But if it's got a hook on the bottom, you can hang your camera bag or any other kind of weighted bag down to stabilize it in a windy situation. I don't wanNA over stress the wind but if you're doing long exposures, you really need to keep the camera stable cause even just a little bit of movement over time will make the star trails kinda show up as wiggly lines and we don't want that. All right, so that's about it for tripods. I will just say though I've seen a lot of people over the years really skimp on tripods and come up with a very inexpensive, very lightweight not necessarily well-made tripod and that's a compromise that you don't wanna make. Especially if you've got an expensive camera with a nice piece of glass on top of it, last thing you want is for it to blow over in the wind. So there's our supports. Speaking of support, I've got this little peak design bag here which is real nice. It's got a little belt loops on there and I keep extra batteries, flashlights batteries and other little accessories that don't fit in the camera bag on here. Anything I need to access quickly I can have it right on my belt and reach right in there. So that's a nice little accessory bag as well. Let's put that down. And let's see, all right. Because I'm a night photographer and working out here in these low light situations, got to have some way to get around, some way to see what you're doing. I've never been a real big fan of headlights because as a workshop instructor, a lot of times I've had students just kind of walk up to me with a question, shine a headlight right in my face, so. But, they are a really valuable tool when you're out trying to stumble around in the dark. So a headlight, specifically one that is relatively low-powered and red because the red light will preserve your night vision. So that's a useful thing to have. Now I do a lot of light painting as well, so adding light to my long exposures. And for me, I primarily use just regular old flashlights. And you can use all kinds of different tools for light painting. You can use candles, you can use your Zippo lighter, you can use a flash, you know, just about anything. A lot of people are using homemade LED toys, lighting toys. And EL wire is another popular thing for light painting, but again I'm using primarily flashlights. So I like Coast flashlights in particular. This is the hp3 pen light, this is pretty nice because it has an adjustable beam, multiple brightnesses, it's nice and compact. This is the Coast hp7R, very powerful flashlight. It will basically light up the side of a mountain and I like it because it is rechargeable. It's an LED light focusable beam and it has this rubber sleeve on the outside that is basically a filter holder. So I can add any different color filter I want on here whether it's red, blue, green, whatever. Or you can also use a CTO or color temperature orange gel to convert that cool LED daylight balance to a warmer color if you wanna do that. So yeah, this is the hp7 and this is the hp5R, a smaller version, also rechargeable, also a focusable beam which is really nice. In addition to these Coast lights, I also sometimes wanna have an incandescent light. And this is a Surefire 6P, so it's a warmer colored light and it contrasts nicely with the cooler colored temperatures or white balances that we have in natural light. So sometimes I wanna have a cool light that will kind of blend in with the natural light, other times a warmer white balance and an incandescent light Incandescent flashlights are quickly becoming dinosaurs, they're fewer and fewer of them available, so that's why these gels that you can use to adapt that LED lights are pretty useful. One thing I've got here is, this is a handy little piece of PVC pipe, that just happens to fit nicely over the end of my flashlight here. And what this does is it acts as a snoot that prevents, if I'm walking around in the scene doing my lighting, it prevents the camera from seeing the actual beam of the light and as well it also focuses the light into a tighter beam. So if I'm trying to light a relatively small area from some distance, this is a good way to do that. So this is my little PVC tubing snoot. Now while we're at it, lemme reach in here (zipper opening) and got a couple of other tools. Oh, here we go! So this is a another version of the snoot, this is my super snoot. And what this, the longer the tube the narrower the beam and the further it will remain as a small tight beam. So hopefully you can see, it's dark enough. It's a pretty tight little beam, it doesn't spread out very widely as opposed to without it, it's gonna spread especially over longer distance. Alright. So let's see what else we have in here. Oh yeah, alright. My friend Jason Paige in Florida recently started a business called lightpaintingbrushes.com. And he does a particular kind of light painting I call light drawing, where he's pointing the light source back towards the camera and creating shapes, or designs, or patterns, with the light source. So he's actually creating subject matter with the light. And the cornerstone or the key of his whole system of light painting tools, is this little rubber adapter that he has specifically manufactured. And it basically has a kind of a ribbed inside here and this edge will fit on just about any flashlight. This is really handy, it becomes a nice, adjustable snoot. All of his light modifiers just screw right in here. I'm using it primarily just as a snoot, but you can see I can take you know, a variety of different flashlights and fit it on here. Different-sized heads will just fit right on here. And another nice thing about this is that I can use it to shape the light, just by kinda pinching this rubber end here, I can reduce the output of the light. So not only does it get dimmer, but I'm also reducing the size of the output there. Alright, so this is that Coast hp7 light and alright. So at least show you what we're doing this here. This has a nice wide beam, that comes down into a nice tight focused light, and this is really useful. Again it serves, if you don't have a focusing light this snoot is real handy. But because this beam just kinda narrows itself down from a wide circle to a tight beam that's pretty handy. And again, we'll put Jason's little adapter on here, and I can pinch it down and reduce, and control the light a little bit better. And again that's lightpaintingbrushes.com. This is the little adapter that has dozens and dozens of light painting tools and brushes that you can attach onto the end of there. Alright. One last little light painting tool. There's a really great light wand called the Westcott ice light. And that's a really fantastic tool, it has a variable intensity beam and also I believe that color temperature is adjustable as well. But it's a very expensive light and for a light painter it's probably out of the budget and most people. So what I did, is I went to Amazon, and I got a couple of toy light Sabers. Five bucks, great, you know they're perfect. Except, the light that came with it was really horrible quality, it was unreliable. So I just cut the handle off, I pulled out the LED strip that was in there, and I put, I found a flashlight that fit on here perfectly. So this is my five dollar version of the Westcott ice light. It's not a variable color temperature and it's not a variable brightness, but this very soft diffused light is great. It is really nice for for painting and filling in and it can also be used, you can put it in a scene just kind of out of sight and it'll give you a nice soft diffused glow. And it's relative, in this particular light it's relatively low-powered so I can leave it on for longer periods during high ISO shots. And it's also quite nice for portrait work as well, if you're going to be photographing people at night. Because again it's a soft diffused light. All right (pop). So the challenge with these things is finding a place to carry them because they don't necessarily fit in most camera bags. Alright, I've got one other piece of gear here that I'll show you and we're gonna talk about this later in the section on focusing, but I'll just bring it out here. This is a laser measuring device. This is real handy because when you're trying to calculate your hyper focal distance you're not necessarily able to walk off that distance so you don't necessarily have a measuring tape to do it. With this tool (beep). Hopefully you can see my laser point right there. So I'm just shining this laser on the rock wall behind me and it tells me (beep), that this wall is 5.4 meters away. It allows me to find my focusing point quickly and easily. And I'll show you how to use that again in the focusing section. So um, that is about it. Just a couple of other things I'll mention in the gear section, be sure always bring extra batteries. They don't last nearly as long as you think they're gonna do and a real common mistake for people who are relatively new to night photography, is to head out and get out in the field, do a couple of shots and find that you hadn't charged your battery so, have a couple of batteries make sure they're fully charged. Alright. Lastly, this is not camera gear, but just a couple of other things to consider. (zipper closing) Now, it may seem obvious to dress warmly if you're going out in the cold, and that is certainly the case. One of the things that people don't necessarily realize is that standing around for hours on end when it's 40 or 50 degrees, is a lot different from getting out of your house and walking into your car and driving somewhere and getting out of your car and going inside somewhere else. Just really, you wanna dress warmly, wear layers, lots of layers have the ability to change as you get colder throughout the night. In real cold conditions, I like to take the chemical hand warmers and I'll put those in my gloves or my mittens, sometimes even in the pockets is a nice thing. It's kinda hard to think about hand warmers right now, cause we're out in the desert and it's really hot but, oftentimes we're out photographing at night and it gets pretty cold. So again wear lots of layers, common-sense things like, you don't wanna go out in the desert photographing in flip-flops. I know it sounds obvious but I've seen it all the time (laughs). Let's see, take a snack with you, a little thermos full of coffee, anything to just give you a little bit of creature comfort out in the cold.