Archive for category Photography

Astrotron

atAw, man, I got this… this… coding problem. I keep finding myself writing things that only I would have a use for. So on my iPad, I found this App called “Emerald Observatory”, and I was so, so impressed. First, it’s pretty. Really pretty. Second, it’s full of astronomical data, useful stuff. And I thought to myself, wow… I really like some of this.

Then (oh, no…) I began to think about what parts of it I would like to use, that is, have directly available to me. So I wrote those nice folks, complementing them sincerely on what a nice App they had come up with (check it out, you won’t regret it), and suggesting they write what I had in mind, because actually, they sort of had the data in the app already, it was just a matter of organizing it differently. I got a nice reply, thanking me for the suggestion, but allowing as to how they had a lot to do, and so it would be “on their list.”

Well…
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Hackery for my auroral photo pursuits

sssssTrying to figure out if there is an aurora, and if it can be photographed, really requires looking at some different kinds of data. One is the earth’s magnetosphere; how disturbed is it? That’s what causes auroras. That information has to be obtained from the GOES satellites, or magnetometers on the ground (I find the satellites to be a better indicator.) Another is the weather – if it’s cloudy, give up now. Then visibility comes into play – fog will kill the opportunity just as quickly as clouds. You can get that from NOAA (or whoever is your local weather provider if you’re not in the US.) But what if the moon is above the horizon? That’ll kill it too, at least, if the moon is showing any significant crescent. And of course, along those same lines, the sun has to be below the horizon. The moon and sun information can be calculated.

After repeatedly looking all this stuff up, and occasionally forgetting an important issue (like, is it cloudy?) before I drove out to my dark viewing area with my camera gear, I finally decided to pull all the information together into one handy place. And here it is, sized to fit on my iPod’s display, too. Further, since all the data is in one place, I have the underlying engine SMS me if conditions are right for an aurora; also, as long as I keep a browser open to the page, the page auto-refreshes.

The underlying processes keep an eye on things for me, updating their snapshots of satellite data and weather and lunar and solar states every five minutes. So I can be out and about, and if things look hot, I’ll get a text message on my cellphone. How cool is that?
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Aurora time lapse



Aurora time lapse, originally uploaded by fyngyrz.

This is 40 still frames from my EOS50D, taken the evening of the onset of the April 3-4-5-6 geomagnetic storm, all from the same point and with the same camera settings. I used Canon’s 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens, wide open, after manually focusing it on a star. All these shots were taken at ISO 3200, 4 seconds exposure, then combined using the Mac’s movie software and converted from .dv to .mp4 using Handbrake, and from thence to flickr.

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Aurora – Geomagnetic storm bonus

One of the many benefits of living in the northern part of Montana is that from time to time, when the k-index reaches 5 or more, the aurora may extend far enough south for us to see it, and in my case, photograph it. Last night I had the pleasure of shooting over 300 photos of the aurora as it waxed and waned as part of the current intense geomagnetic storm. Here is one of my favorites:

Aurora

You can click on the above image to see it larger, if you like.

Shooting details: Canon EOS 50D [modified IR response in H? range], hooded Sigma EF-S 30mm ƒ/1.4 EX DC HSM prime [ø62mm] using SRAW2 @ 50%, ƒ/1.4, ISO 1600, 5 second single exposure, fixed tripod, processing in Aperture 3.

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The iPad – Not perfect. Here’s why.

In and amongst the fevered pro-iPad ravings today, I thought I’d throw a bit of a wrench in the works, as I’m not of the opinion that the thing is all it could have been. Mind you, I’m definitely pro-iPad, I think it’s a great device, I just think it could have been a lot better.

With that in mind, here are some things I really think can be done better:
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Review: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

100mm Generally speaking, the Canon EF 100mmis a great lens. The bokeh is fine. The lens is pretty fast. f/2.8 to f/22 is useful as a creative range. The optics are sharp and the all-time focusing is a boon. So what’s not to like? Well, here’s the thing. The Canon EOS50D, which I use, has the ability to use the viewfinder in “live preview” mode, and when doing so, will allow you to zoom in on your focus point (or anywhere else, but that’s irrelevant to my point here) such that you can see extremely fine detail. At which point you can manually focus the lens so that it is exactly right. Marvelous, right?

It would be. But the lens has some mechanical backlash problems. Let me explain backlash; if you’re not familiar with it, it takes a bit of describing.
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My camera is back!

Here’s a shot I took with it today. The RAW image is definitely very pinkish-red, but as I was told, it’s not a rough job to correct for the additional red sensitivity. I think, because the red is so hot, I’m losing a little dynamic range in the normal regime as well, but as you can see here, it’s not a severe problem. Now if the weather will give me a break, I’ll give the camera a real workout on some emission nebulae!

Southern Pacific number 4449

Southern Pacific number 4449

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Review: Canon EF 85mm ƒ/1.2L II USM Lens

85mmL

The Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM Lensis a very heavy (1025 grams or 2.25 lbs), very well built lens. It comes packaged with the appropriate hood, the Canon ES-7911. You get both a lens cap and a mount cap, all packed inside tight conformal foam to protect the lens during shipping. There’s also a very brief manual and the usual warranty paperwork.

The 85mm specification is for a full-frame camera; with an APS-C size sensor like the one in my EOS 50D, this is multiplied by 1.6 to an effective 136mm.

The lens offers AF and manual focus. However, the manual focus is electronically driven from the focus ring to the AF motor system, which has several consequences. First, you can’t focus when the camera is off. Second, the rate of focus is limited by the speed of the focus motor. Third, focus adjustments are extremely precise, essentially free of backlash and drift. The first two issues are negatives, but in my view, they are more than outweighed by the third. For instance, I often take images of the night sky; in order to do this, the lens can be AF-focused on something in the sky (I’ve been using Mars recently for this), and then it can be put into manual focus where the focus will remain correct and constant as long as the camera and lens temperatures do not change significantly. This is the only lens I own that has stable enough focus hardware to be able to do this. The focus ring is broad and well-textured, and a pleasure to use. There is a second textured area on the lens barrel, closer to the camera, that you can mistake for the focus ring – this area is meant to assist you in mounting and unmounting the lens. I’ve learned to avoid it. Manual focus is precise and moving the ring results in a fine enough focus change that when you blow a shot, you can be absolutely certain the lens wasn’t to blame.
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