If you spend any time at all beneath a cloudless night sky, particularly under the new moon, you begin to get a sense of the vast universe you just happen to inhabit. Stare long enough, and you just might begin to sense how small and effectively naked you are in face of the cosmos.
Just 100-ish miles of an atmosphere that is mostly invisible to us is all that sustains us and supports liquid water. An invisible magnetic field shields us from much of the routine flux of energetic particles from space that could limit the complexity of molecules in say...US!
And yet that unbelievably vast cosmos also formed all the matter that you and I carry around all day.
It is you.
And it is me.
So go out sometime and embrace it. And even though your eyes may not see everything revealed in this image, you'll see enough. Enough to broaden your view of the cosmos and your place in it.
May/June is prime Milky Way time in the Northern Hemisphere—is it always prime time in the global south? This season I thought I’d explore a different option to improve my equipment. RENT.
I shoot a Canon 70D with a 14mm f2.8 Rokinon lens. That means I’m imaging on an APS-C sized CMOS so it is a bit cropped from what you would get with a full frame. The Rokinon is also a modestly priced option for an f2.8 lens. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to capture a number of images with comparable detail to those captured with more expensive equipment. Surely, the higher priced kits ought to produce some better results than my kit.
I rented a Canon EOSR and a Sigma ART 14mm f1.8 from LensRentals (https://www.lensrentals.com). The camera features a full frame sensor in a mirrorless design. The larger sensor should allow better light collection. The mirrorless design should eliminate any vibration from the shutter. And the updated/upgraded camera should improve the quality of the capture. Similarly, the lens features a larger aperture—more light transmission, and frankly much improved glass, yielding better light transmission and imaging.
A little side benefit of the rental is that I had two kits to shoot the Milky Way during this prime time!!!
So, how did they do?
I deliberately set up a comparison shot at the Bisti Badlands. The in-camera images are shown at right. I typically set the white balance to the fluorescent light setting, and run a neutral mode with the full RAW acquisition. With the APS-C images, I collect for 10 s. You can see the comparison between the Rokinon and the Sigma lens, both in camera and in the histogram. The additional light collection brings in more color initially, allowing for more contrast overall. As clear as it is in the images, the histograms reveal similar information. The Sigma lens makes a dramatic impact in terms of the information available for later processing. The larger aperture engages more of the dynamic range of the sensor for the fixed acquisition time I used.
So, what does an up-to-date full frame camera buy you?
At first blush, you know that you can collect light for longer using the rule of 500. Or conversely, the newer technology supports higher ISO with low noise, enabling even shorter captures. I went the latter route, using ISO 12800 for 6 s captures. The image with this configuration is shown at right. And hey, it kind of looks similar to the 70D with the same lens. Maybe a little crisper owning to the full frame sensor. The histogram reveals a bit more contrast to that of the 70D with the same lens, showing more highlight content and a bit broader region in the shadows.
The next steps in my image processing follow the recommended procedure of the Starry Landscape Stacker (available in the Apple App Store); well worth the money. My process varies only slightly from the recommended based on my own experience using the software.
Typically once I have the stacked sky image, I will do one of two things; 1. Adjust the composite image in Lightroom to my tastes and be done or 2. Adjust the night sky in Lightroom and blend with the landscape in Photoshop. For the shots shown here, it is mostly the latter since the white balance and contrast for the sky needed to be different from the landscape.
The results of the processed images are shown at right. Despite the same basic process, my results varied in a way I didn’t expect. I actually prefer the end result with my base kit vs just adding in the Sigma lens. I like the level of contrast with that combination. That said, the Sigma is an outstanding lens for nightscapes, and I imagine it will be a permanent addition to my kit at some point.
The full frame represents another degree of upgrade, and that image is included at the bottom of this post. It is the clear winner in my book. Not just because of the quality of the sensor, but the full frame makes better use of the lens. For me, this image is the keeper, but I’ve also been reassured that my 4 yr old camera with my f2.8 14mm forms a descent kit!
Abiquiu Lake sits just north of Cerro Pedernal, one of the favorite landscapes of Georgia O'Keefe. This evening the cloud cover and timing for the rise of the Milky Way seemed to be on track to prevent any dazzling images.
Guess I was wrong. See this and other images from the night.
This one is a composite of landscape near dusk and sky after astronomical twilight. This combination is one of the better ways to shoot the landscape with low noise, during or near the new moon. The other contributor there is the cloud cover which reflects terrestrial light sources to effectively produce a hodge podge of light sources. Even with the cloud cover, the sky still delivers some variety and beauty to the image.
The wide angle makes it appear as if the water were farther away than it actually is.
Made from 7 light frames by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.8.0. Algorithm: Mean Min Hor Noise.
A stroll through central campus at my graduate alma mater…
B&W seems appropriate for nostalgia!Read More