Those that know Nicole and I know that we have what appears to be an on going camera acquisition problem. To remedy this but continue to try out ALL of the cameras we have decided to start borrowing cameras from our fellow camera enthusiasts instead of trying to purchase or hoard them all to ourselves. Not all are winners though and some are just easier or more fun to use but you have to shoot with them first to find out! Thus, we decided if we run a roll through every camera we are interested in, not unlike going on a 5 minute date with a bunch of strangers at a singles night, we can quickly see which are worthy of being added to our collection (or put on our list of “must haves.”) Camera speed dating!

Here is most recent camera I had the pleasure of a quick date with…the Hobbix Junior.

 

 

A quick couple facts about the Hobbix Junior…..actually, I have had a hard time finding out much about this little camera. It was made in 1955 and has a fixed focus lens, and only B & I shutter speed options. I snapped it up, admittedly, partly because of it’s name and definitely because of it’s size. It is tiny (though not consider a spy-camera or micro sized), and very compact with it’s short fixed lens. It takes 828 film, which is a similiar size to 35mm film, but it is roll form like 120 film with a paper backing, not in a canister. This film is not really made any more, though we have some in stock from a company called Film For Classics that is cutting and packaging odd sized film for those of us interested in shooting older format cameras.  The 828 film we have in stock is Arista EDU iso 100 black & white film. What I shot for my first roll though was a very expired Kodak roll I acquired. The film turned out not so great, no doubt due to how expired it was, but there were definitely images there so the camera certainly seems to work! I used it in probably less than ideal conditions for some of the roll too, with probably not enough light so that definitely didn’t help. I liked this little camera and I’m a bit sad it’s film is so unique, making it not as easy to shoot alot with. However, I will definitely try it out again with some of the Arista film and see if using new film makes a difference. Here a couple of the ‘better’ shots.

 


Fujifilm recently announced details about their upcoming GFX 100 body, offering a 102 megapixel sensor with in-body image stabilization (IBIS), a first for a medium format digital camera. I suspect the GFX100 is going to really shake up the industry since it will allow you to get a 100MP medium format digital camera for tens of thousands less than from any of its current competitors. Yes, that’s right, tens of thousands less! The GFX100 will sell for a mere $13,299 here in Canada, and while that might still sound expensive to you, if you’re used to normal 35mm DSLR prices, keep in mind that the competition sells for $35,000 to $42,000, as far as their medium format 100 megapixel bodies, albeit with physically slightly larger, full-frame 645 sensors. Also keep in mind that Fujifilm’s lenses are not only superb, but are priced far lower than most equivalent offerings from other companies. I’m sure the competition won’t sit still, but for now, the GFX 100 should be by far the best value if you need a truly top-end digital camera at a relatively affordable price.

The actual pixel dimensions of an image on the new GFX 100 will be 11,648 x 8,736, resulting in a 16-bit (per channel) TIFF file size of 582.3 megabytes. This is big enough to easily make a 73 x 97 inch print without any upsizing, given a printing ppi of 120, which is plenty in my experience when outputting such a large print. Anyway, plenty of resolution for most needs I would think!

There are truly a few astounding specifications for a camera with such a large image size. For example, you will be able to shoot at 5 frames-per-second with a buffer size of 13 frames when shooting 14-bit raws (2.5fps for 16-bit raws), or 41 JPEGs. That is amazing performance for cranking through 100 MP raw files where each is going to be somewhere around 200 MB is size, given that only 70 images will fit on a 16 GB memory card. My guess is that the camera might have an internal high speed RAM buffer on the order of 4 or more GB in size to support that kind of throughput. It also sports Fujifilm’s latest X Processor 4, which gives the GFX 100 the horsepower it needs for shuffling all those megapixels about quickly.

The next amazing specification is that, as touched on above, the camera has 5-axis sensor-based image stabilization, a first for a medium format camera. At times, it can be a challenge to handhold such a high resolution capture device, so to have IBIS available at all times, when light levels drop and shutter speeds slow, is potentially a huge advantage when you want to remain agile with your framing and not be hindered by a tripod. For such a relatively large and probably heavy sensor to be effectively stabilized is quite a feat in my view.

Achieving accurate focus is also very important with such a demanding system and the GFX 100 steps up with virtually 100% coverage of the entire sensor and a single-point AF grid of up to 425 selectable focus points. The AF system has been tuned for improved performance during subject tracking and in low-contrast situations, as well as featuring face-detect and eye-detect AF for those times when you just want the camera to handle everything.

Video specifications are impressive too, with 4K recording at 29.97p over the full, medium format sensor size, at a rate of 400 Mbps. If you are using an external recorder, you can capture 10-bit 4:2:2 footage via the HDMI port, and you have access to all of Fujifilm’s highly regarded film simulations, as well as F-Log Rec 2020 capture.You can even capture 1080p at 59.94 fps, for some mild slow-motion capability. Remember that this is a much bigger sensor size that 35mm DSLRs or mirrorless cameras have, and some of those even crop in when doing 4K, so the GFX 100 would likely give dramatically different looking footage than anything you are used to using. The unknown so far is how bad the rolling shutter might be for video? However some preliminary reports online, seem to indicate that the rolling shutter isn’t too bad actually. The sensor used in the previous GFX models had a very slow readout speed (not Fujifilm’s fault) and thus had major rolling shutter distortion when doing video or electronic- shutter still photos. I suspect that this new camera will be a lot better, but how it compares to superb video capture cameras, like Fujifilm’s own X-T3, remains to be seen.

To help when framing those 100 MP stills, or shooting that 4K video, the GFX 100 has a massive OLED electronic- viewfinder, with a whopping 5.76 million dots and a magnification of 0.86x, which should offer an immersive experience. The rear touchscreen LCD is solid, but a fairly conventional 3.2”, 4:3 aspect ratio unit with 2.36 million dots. It does tilt up/down/sideways, like Fujifilm’s other top end camera bodies. Also, the EVF is removable and the camera can either be used without, or you can attach a tilt- adapter in between, just like on the GFX 50S, to allow for very flexible EVF viewing in awkward situations.

Most of Fujifilm’s other key features, like all the various bracketing modes, time-lapse capability, flexible focus modes, Bluetooth and Wifi with auto image transfer and geotagging, various manual focus assist modes (peaking, digital split, digital microprism), in-viewfinder manual focus scale with a dynamic depth-of-field bar-graph, and more, are all present on this new medium format camera. This means it will feel like a very well sorted and mature product, right out of the gate, not always something that can be said about a brand new medium format camera.

Look at a release date of June 27th for the new GFX 100. We are taking pre-orders now (deposit required) and are planning on having a demo unit available for testing. In addition, if you are a pro photographer and would like an advance preview of what this camera can do, please contact me at digital@ beauphoto.com. There will be a limited number of slots open for a private demo and Q&A session with Fujifilm reps, so you can try and determine whether or not this impressive new camera is one you should add to your arsenal. I have not personally seen or handled one as yet, but look for an update in a future posting once I have.

Lastly, for various reasons Fujifilm will start officially calling their GFX bodies “55mm Large Format” digital cameras, a decision which I am completely puzzled by. I won’t go into the gory details, but personally, I am going to keep calling them “medium format” digital cameras, so there. Yes, the sensor diagonal is 55mm, so that part is accurate, but the “large format” designation makes no sense to me whatsoever… but regardless of what you end up calling it, I’m guessing the GFX 100 will prove to be a seriously impressive camera!

For all the details on this new camera, visit Fujifilm Canada’s site here: Fujifilm GFX 100


Those that know Meghan and I know that we have what appears to be an on going camera acquisition problem. To remedy this but continue to try out ALL of the cameras we have decided to start borrowing cameras from our fellow camera enthusiasts instead of trying to purchase or hoard them all to ourselves. Not all are winners though and some are just easier or more fun to use but you have to shoot with them first to find out! Thus, we decided if we run a roll through every camera we are interested in, not unlike going on a 5 minute date with a bunch of strangers at a singles night, we can quickly see which are worthy of being added to our collection (or put on our list of “must haves.”) Camera speed dating!

Here is most recent camera I had the pleasure of a quick date with…the Braun Paxette.

A few quick facts about the Paxette series…these cameras were manufactured in Germany throughout the fifties as a pocket 35mm rangefinder. The model I used has a 45mm f2.8 lens and a fast shutter speed of 1/300.

From the first time I spied one of these little guys I was curious about them. I didn’t know they existed till a few years ago, however once one came in on consignment it seemed everyone had one to consign. I said this to one of my customers, Raz, who was having his father’s Paxette CLA’d by our repair man Frank. Raz  mentioned this Paxette was his fathers very first camera. After the Paxette his father continued to collect cameras throughout his life – cameras ranging from Polaroids to Leicas were found in his estate. Raz was kind enough to offer me the chance to shoot this Paxette. I took him up on it — after all who knows when I’d get another change to try a recently CLA’d Paxette, most of the ones we get in here on consignment are jammed up in one way or another. Borrowing this camera and learning the history of its previous owner added to the enjoyment I had using it. I have a preoccupation wondering what cameras may have ‘experienced’ before my interaction with them. If you too would like to read his story, here you are: Bill Dong

Here is a photo of Bill, taken with this camera as well!

 

I enjoyed using the Paxette, I know I would have done a better job using it had it been my only camera at the time. As with all other distance scale focus cameras I use, I continually forgot to focus. My SLR habits are just too strong — looking through the viewfinder and seeing things in focus means they are in focus…. not true on other cameras! One thing I liked is its ability to know when to stop when I wound ahead one frame, coupled shutter & advance was handy for once. Something I found annoying however, was that like many other old cameras it has no camera strap lugs so one is forced to use it in its case or hold it to take it out and about.

Here are a few photos I took with the camera….

 

 


Those that know Meghan and I know that we have what appears to be an on going camera acquisition problem. To remedy this but continue to try out ALL of the cameras we have decided to start borrowing cameras from our fellow camera enthusiasts instead of trying to purchase or hoard them all to ourselves. Not all are winners though and some are just easier or more fun to use but you have to shoot with them first to find out! Thus, we decided if we run a roll through every camera we are interested in, not unlike going on a 5 minute date with a bunch of strangers at a singles night, we can quickly see which are worthy of being added to our collection (or put on our list of “must haves.”) Camera speed dating!

Here is most recent camera I had the pleasure of a quick date with…the Canon P and Jupiter-12 35mm f/2.8.

 

 

A few quick facts about the Canon P…first fun fact – apparently the ‘P’ in Canon P stands for ‘Populaire’. It was manufactured in 1959 and as with all Canon rangefinders use the LTM screw mount. Which means one can use a variety of lens brands on the camera, anything from Jupiter to Leica. I have a variety of lens brands myself, Jupiter, Canon, Nippon Kogaku and Leica. I admit that I do prefer the Jupiter to the others as it is very lightweight and though I have a distaste for rangefinders I found myself carrying my Canon P w/ the Jupiter-12 35mm with me all winter because it fit perfectly in my jacket pocket. I took it everywhere with me — camping in October, street shooting all November and December and then recently I took it out for one last spin (because sun dictates I rotate my cameras more frequently) last Tuesday morning. It was fabulous to finally shoot it under blue skies! Admittedly I am growing far more fond of it than I ever thought I would.\

Also, see our previous blog post for the double Canon rangefinder date Meghan and I did last year for similar interest:  http://www.beauphoto.com/camera-speed-dating-canon-rangefinder-double-date/

 

 

 

 

 


The long awaited Profoto A1 for Sony has turned into the Profoto A1X-S for Sony and it is well worth the wait. Like the A1 (which is still available but now at a lower price) the A1X is designed with light shaping capabilities; it has a unique round head with a soft, smooth fall-off that makes it easy to create a natural and beautiful light. It also includes a smart magnetic mount and dedicated Light Shaping Tools that click on and off quickly and easily. They can be stacked for more creative options. The A1X also offers a built-in LED modeling light that makes it easy to position the light and understand how light and shadows work together. So what’s the difference between A1X and A1? The A1X and A1 are siblings. The similarities are many, but the A1X has a little more of everything. A more powerful battery, faster recycling and a updated user interface. And it’s available for Sony. Also Profoto has bundled the A1X with the Profoto Connect to make the A1X off camera kit for Sony, Nikon and Canon. With all this happening can a A1X for Fujifilm cameras be far behind?

Have a look at the A1X in action below or the full list of features and specifications go to: https://profoto.com/ca/a1x

 


We wanted to remind you that full-time registered students are eligible for savings on a variety of equipment, from cameras and lenses, to lighting and studio equipment, as well as film and paper too. Not only do we have start of semester savings on lots of equipment, but there are also year-round discounts available from certain manufacturers.

In addition, Beau Photo now offers workshops on a variety of topics and students buying gear will get coupons to attend some of these for free. Workshops will either be held in the seminar room here at our new shop or, depending on the topic and anticipated audience size, we’ll sometimes even come to you and hold the workshop on-campus.

Here are some examples of the year-round student savings that can be had on certain types of gear…

RENTALS

Firstly, any new digital camera body or lens sold, regardless of manufacturer, will qualify for a rental coupon from Beau Photo. Depending on the purchase price, a camera body will include a rental coupon worth between $80 and $200 and any lens will include a coupon from $25 to $150. These coupons can be redeemed at Beau Photo for up to six months from date of issue and can be used to rent anything from our extensive selection of gear. This is perfect for trying out new lenses, lighting or other equipment.

Also note that students do get a 10% discount on any regular rentals, provided they show us their student card at the time of rental. Note that students will need to provide valid government issued photo ID (not just their student card) and have a credit card that can be pre-authorized for the replacement value of the items rented. Advance arrangements should be made if a student wants a parent or other family member to provide the credit card. Here is a link to the rental dept. information on our site, so you can browse the wide variety of gear we have available: Beau Photo Rental Dept.

 

As far as purchase savings, we work together with many manufacturers to provide discounts to students buying gear from us. Here are some of the various student programs which we support…


FUJIFILM CANADA

Fujifilm Canada offers student savings on any digital X-Series camera body or lens purchased. Also, over and above any of the regular rebates or discounts that may already be in effect, a student can get an additional $100 off any camera body and an additional $75 discount off any lens. These savings are available for full-time students and faculty at colleges and universities, and will require free registration with Fujifilm Canada at the following link…

http://www.fujifilm.ca/support/education-program


CANON CANADA

Canon Canada offers a Student CPS (Canon Professional Services) program which provides discounted CPS pricing on a specific selection of cameras and lenses. See up to $360 in savings on cameras and up to $140 off lens purchases. Additionally, some flashes and printers also qualify for student savings, and there are also discounts for equipment servicing and parts, as well as expedited repair service. This program does require registration and there is a nominal fee of $50 for two years of membership. The Student CPS program is available to recent graduates (up to 60 days after graduation), and to full-time students currently enrolled in eligible post-secondary visual arts, fine arts and applied arts programs, including photography, journalism, film, broadcast, design, animation and more. Further details are at this link here…

http://www.canon.ca/en/Canon-Advantage/Student-CPS


NIKON CANADA

Nikon Canada offers savings to those enrolled in the NPS (Nikon Professional Services) Campus program. The Nikon Student Savings Program is available to those students who are members of the NPS Campus Program and are enrolled in a media, visual arts, or fine arts program. Savings of up to $425 on camera kits, $275 on lenses and $60 on flashes are available. With Nikon, you buy the items at regular pricing, then you claim back the rebate from Nikon Canada and they cut you a cheque. Of course, you do need to make sure you buy a body and lens that is on the student savings list! Information on the NPS Campus and Student Savings programs is here.…

http://en.nikon.ca/service-and-support/nps/student-discount.page


STUDIO & LIGHTING EQUIPMENT

As far as studio and lighting gear, there are student discounts available from Profoto, Broncolor and Hensel, top names in professional studio lighting. While the discount varies from these companies, the requirements are very similar. First, you need to be a full time student currently registered in a professional photography program at an accredited university or college. Online or small private schools do not qualify. Secondly, you have to supply your student card and proof of your current enrollment, since we generally need to get final approval for student pricing directly from the manufacturer. We would be happy to help you figure out whether or not you qualify, so if you have any doubts, feel free to ask.

As a student, if you’ve decided that you want to pursue a career in photography, it would make sense to capitalize on these savings before you graduate. Purchasing well built, quality products is a good long-term investment since they will last well into your career. While you may end up changing cameras numerous times, good lighting equipment can be a lifetime investment.

Also make sure that whatever you purchase is CSA tested and approved for Canada. Many foreign products which are sold online, or even at some retail stores in Canada, are actually not CSA approved. If something happens while you are using non CSA approved products on set, in someone’s home or even in your own home or studio, for example if a gear malfunction causes a fire, an investigation may deem your insurance void, and paying for damages out of pocket or those resulting from potential lawsuits, could mean an early end to your photography career.


FILM DEPARTMENT, ALBUMS AND MORE

Our Film Department also offers student and educational discounts on a wide range of items including darkroom and inkjet papers, select film and chemicals, and on brands such as Ilford, Kodak, Fuji and more. As an example, at the time of this posting, Ilford HP5 135-36 rolls are regularly $8.71, however with the student discount they are $7.83 each which is, in this case, a 10% discount. For volume purchases direct by educational institutions, additional discounts may apply. Please contact our film department (film@beauphoto.com) for a quote.

For Album Sales, we also offer substantial student discounts on a variety of products, including Renaissance Albums. Students will get those products at wholesale/pro pricing.

For Camera Bags, we offer 10% off on most brands that we sell, including LowePro, ThinkTank, Manfrotto, Roots, Mindshift Gear, Vanguard and more.


For any hardware that is purchased from us, we strive to provide the very best after-sales support and to that end, have numerous staff members with a great deal of technical knowledge and shooting experience. They will be more than happy to answer any question you have about your newly purchased gear, and of course they can also help you choose the right gear for your needs in the first place. If you have gear that was purchased from us go down and need repair, we will help you send it in for servicing. In addition, if you have something in need of repair that is critical for an upcoming shoot, we provide discounted rental rates to get you equipped with replacement gear, to ensure you have a successful shoot.

Lastly, if the school itself is purchasing for internal use, there are savings available on a huge variety of products, but those are generally handled case by case and often involve contacting the manufacturer for a discounted quote on the specific items being requested. Note that we do ship anywhere in B.C., and all across Canada as well.

Beau Photo Supplies strongly endorses and supports all forms of education. Our students are our future, and we strive to help them out during their studies as much as possible!


A big thank you to everybody that participated in our Project Instant V6.0 Show. The entries look wonderful and opening night was a great success!

Our winners were as follows:

Integral Film Category

Winner Haunted Sunshine by Victoria Prevot

Honourable Mention  Series by Anastassia Babenko

 

Peel Apart Category

Winner Afar by Caitlin Ffrench

Honourable Mention Lynx Skull #1 by Anthony Delorenzo

 

Lift Category

Winner Pickup the Emulsion by Chris Evans

Honourable Mention Arrival by Deanna Fogstrom

 

Creative Series Category

Winner Focus by Deanna Flinn

Honourable Mention Sunset by Kellan Higgins

 

Judges Selection

J. K. Eye Ball by Chris Evans “love this one, as the image matches the method of presentation. Very funny!”

Jenn Cook Jesus by Lourdes Hugo “There’s a story here that keeps drawing me back, and an ambiguousness time and place that feels weighted with meaning – it could be now or then, here or there.”

R.B. – Photo Walk with Eloise by Jenn Echols “Lovely series capturing textures of urban fabric. Great use of minimal colour palette and changing scale.”

 

Staff Pick

The Unusual Suspects by Troch

 

You can click on the gallery to see the full-sized image….

 

 

 


Last week we gave you a little insight into what goes into setting up remote cameras for the Super Bowl by speaking with photographer’s assistant Shawn Cullen. After the big event, we caught up with Shawn to see how it went and get some more detail about what it’s like to shoot one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

How Many Photographers Does it Take to Photograph the Super Bowl?

In short, the answer is a lot! And, it takes a lot to support them.  For USA Today Sports, there were 12 photographers, 10 runners, at least 8 editors and IT staff to make sure the network stayed up. The photographers were stationed as follows:

  • 2 photographers, one on each sideline
  • 2 photographers, one in each end zone
  • 4 photographers on the upper level, one level up from field
  • 1 photographer stationed in an upper level shooting position
  • 2 photographers roaming upper levels for action and beauty shots
  • 1 photographer dedicated to triggering the 6 remote cameras. (See last week’s blog for more information.)

When possible, the photographers are connected to the network to transfer images as soon as possible after they are taken.  When network connectivity is not possible, 10 runners are stationed to grab cards from the photographers and run them to the command center. The cards are placed in labeled bags and the runners are instructed to never take their hands off the cards. The command center was set up in an unused ticket office where editors review and select the best images to put on the wires.

Preparation is Key

On Super Bowl Sunday morning, USA Today had a staff meeting with everyone where they review the game plan and what to look for including players, coaches, half-time performers, singers, cheerleaders and the crowd. While this historic game did not have huge amounts of scoring action, there was still plenty to capture. While Shawn didn’t know exactly how many photographs were taken, he estimated around 75,000 or more.

Remote Trigger Radio Frequency and Interference

PocketWizard radios communicate wirelessly via radio waves. Just like any radio, they operate on certain frequencies and some frequencies are better than others. In North and South America (and some parts of Asia) we use the 340 – 354 MHz range because it is the least crowded frequency range for our class of wireless triggering devices. Other frequencies, used by our competitors, like the 2.4 GHz band, have many more interfering devices on them. These frequencies are getting more and more crowded as they are used by Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and wireless microphones. That makes the PocketWizard frequency the best because it is the least crowded which improves reliability and reduces the possibility of missed shots.

PocketWizard Best Practices to Minimize Radio Interference

While our frequency range is the most reliable, there are a few best practices that we can share to enhance reliability and Shawn has a few of his own tricks.

  • Whenever possible, try to maintain a line of sight between the radios and keep the antennas parallel. While radio does not require line of sight, it does help dramatically.
    • When working in the catwalks of large stadiums, Shawn feels he gets the best reception by pointing the antennas slightly downward.
  • Make sure the radios are not near any large metal, concrete, or high water-content objects. People and trees are mostly water!
    • Hard to avoid any of this in a large stadium! To minimize interference, Shawn uses a long cable to keep the radios as far from the camera as possible and 2 of our non-metallic 4 inch mounting bars (MB4) screwed together to position them as far from the metal stadium supports as possible.
  • Do not mount the radios close to the ground – try to have them several feet above the Earth or building floors whenever possible.
    • In order to get that awesome low perspective, try and mount the PocketWizard above the camera if the camera is low.

Shawn swears by Long Range mode to extend the signal even farther. “Dead spots” have a number of causes, but the solution is usually the same: move the radio a few inches or feet away from the problem area.

Super Bowl Remote Photo

Test, Test, and Test Again.

The Super Bowl 2019 was played at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, arguably the best venue in the NFL. Some of its features include a 360-degree Halo Video Board that frames the roof opening – it is the world’s largest LED scoreboard at 63,000 square feet. Fans enjoy complete connectivity with 2,000 TV screens – even  embedded into bathroom mirrors and on the 101-foot-tall “Mega Column” three-dimensional video board. The venue has 1,800 wireless access points where 71,000 people can concurrently stream. Read more about the stadium here.

While all of these amenities make for a great fan experience, they can interfere with radio signals.  At the Super Bowl there is a frequency coordinator who manages all the frequencies to minimize interference.

Whether you are shooting your child’s pee-wee football game, or the Super Bowl, or best advice is to test, test and test again your set up and adjust where necessary.


We just received our first shipment of Profoto Connect! In stock are the Canon, Fuji and Nikon versions. The Sony version should arrive very soon.

Profoto Connect! is Profoto’s first ever button-free trigger.

It’s small, lightweight and carefully designed with simplicity in mind. With only three settings – auto, manual and off – it lets you focus on what’s important. Not fiddling with settings, but being creative and getting the shot you want.

Slide it to auto for point-and-shoot images with automatic flash exposure and great light in every shot. Or slide it over to manual to expand your creative possibilities even further, by fine-tuning the light either directly on the flash or in the Profoto App.  For more info click HERE.

Pick up your Profoto Connect today at Beau Photo or call or email us at: prosales@beauphoto.com


Back in our October 2017 newsletter, I announced that we’d be carrying the iOptron line of products. Well, with spring firmly established now in 2019, the weather is improving and it’s the perfect time of year to get out at night and do some night sky shooting! I am going to publish most of that original article here as a refresher, along with some updates, and also show some examples of tracked night shots that I have done over the years with my own iOptron SkyTracker. I personally have the older model and have had very good success with it, but these new ones (SkyTracker Pro and SkyGuider Pro) are much improved over mine in many ways. So here is a slightly revised version of that original newsletter article…


iOptron has long been known for an affordable range of amateur astronomy products, ones that generally perform better than you might expect given their modest price point. I myself have been using one of iOptron’s star-tracking mounts for a few years now, the SkyTracker. You may have noticed a mention in last month’s newsletter where I used it to help photograph the solar eclipse while in Oregon. The SkyTracker is a motorized mount that you put in between your tripod and head, and it acts to counter the rotation of the earth, allowing you to take much longer exposures of the night sky and still get pinpoint stars, instead of the stars leaving trails in your shot. My mount is powered by four AA cells and is generally really easy to use. The only challenging part is polar-alignment…

In order for the SkyTracker mount to counter the Earth’s rotation, its axis of rotation has to be lined up very precisely with Earth’s axis of rotation. Thankfully, here in the northern hemisphere, we have a star called Polaris that is almost exactly at the required spot, only off by a little bit. However, even though it is close, it is not perfect and back in the day, prior to smartphones with built-in GPS modules, it was actually a real pain to get things aligned perfectly. However nowadays, you can simply download an app for your iPhone or Android smartphone and it will take all the guesswork out. Here is a screenshot of the app from my iPhone…

Basically, the app knows exactly where on earth you are from your phone’s GPS, and it also has the date and precise, accurate time info from cellphone towers, so it can automatically calculate precisely where Polaris should be in relation to the exact point of earth’s axis of rotation at any given time. The SkyTracker mount has a small, red illuminated alignment telescope that is lined up with its own axis of rotation, and in the eyepiece, you’ll see the red chart as shown in the app. In the app, you’ll see a small green cross and that is exactly where you need to aim, positioning Polaris in the SkyTracker’s alignment scope at that spot. Having said that, this in itself can be a bit of a challenge since even though the SkyTracker mount has geared altitude (vertical) and azimuth (horizontal) controls, when you set the locking clamps, there can be a bit of shift. So it becomes a little game, offsetting Polaris from the spot shown by the green cross, then watching it drift into place as you tighten the clamps! The newer versions of iOptron’s star- tracking mounts have been redesigned with improved alignment assemblies and clamps, and are much easier to use.

Here is a shot of my own, older model SkyTracker while down in Oregon shooting the 2017 total solar eclipse. It was mounted between my Manfrotto 055 CF legs and Manfrotto ballhead. Frankly, the SkyTracker was a little bit overloaded with my Fujifilm X-Pro2 and big Fujinon XF 100-400mm zoom. It would have benefitted from the optional counterweight assembly in that case, which I did not have…

(click on image for larger view)

Here is a shot of the eclipsed sun I got with that rig: it allowed me to track the sun steadily for the duration of the eclipse and not have to reframe it every few seconds! I did have to tweak the framing a few times, since the old SkyTracker I have does not have a “solar” tracking rate. In addition to pure sidereal tracking (the stars), the new models have both solar and lunar tracking rates as well, since both the sun and moon move relative to the background stars, requiring slightly different speeds for tracking them accurately. So, these trackers are useful for more than just tracking stars. This photo was taken just after totality, showing the start of the classic “diamond ring” effect, as well as showing lots of detail in the sun’s corona…

(click image for larger view)

Here is a photo of the fully eclipsed sun, a shorter exposure to capture the red erupting prominences (loops of gas/plasma usually associated with sunspot groups) coming up off the sun’s surface. With a fairly “quiet” sun that year, the prominences were not all that dramatic…

(click image for larger view)

Once you’ve got Polaris accurately placed, that’s it. The mount just keeps running and turns the opposite direction of the Earth – easy! If you are in the southern hemisphere, alignment is a bit more challenging since the star used for finding Earth’s south polar axis point is much fainter and harder to identify. There is a switch on the SkyTracker that you set to ’N’ for those here in the northern hemisphere and ’S’ for those using it down under, in the southern hemisphere. Polaris is actually easy to find: just follow a line through two stars making up the bowl of the Big Dipper, the ones opposite the handle and pointing up out of the bowl, and they’ll make an almost perfect line to Polaris. A quick Google search came up with images of many finder charts. Here is one example…

Without a star-tracking mount, you can only manage exposures of a few seconds if you want to capture pinpoint stars and even with a really wide lens, like a 20mm, you would need to keep exposures down to 15 seconds or so. However with a basic tracking mount, you can easily get up into the minutes, even when using longer lenses, and still maintain tack sharp stars… as long as you make an effort to polar align it as accurately as possible. The following photo is a 15 minute exposure with my X-Pro2 and Fujifilm’s wide-angle 16mm f/1.4 lens (24mm full-frame equivalent) at ISO 400 and f/2.2, and this one not tracked of course! Taken in the Alabama Hills, southern California, it was a clear moonless night, so the illumination on the mountains is mostly from starlight…

Time-Exposure – not tracked  (click image for larger view)

This next, totally different shot, is of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) was taken with the iOptron SkyTracker, using my X-Pro2 with Fujifilm’s telephoto 100-400mm zoom at 190mm (285mm equivalent), a 4 minute exposure at ISO 1600, lens at f/5. With such a long focal length, had I not used a tracking mount, the stars would literally have trailed much of the way through the frame with a four minute exposure! As it was, it took several attempts to get a sharp photo with pinpoint stars at this relatively long focal length, since a gusty wind was blowing. For this shot, I ended up standing beside the rig and holding up my camp chair, keeping the wind off the camera and tracking mount during the entire exposure. The shot was taken in central Oregon, near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit…


Time-Exposure – Tracked! (click image for larger view)

There are other factors that can cause issues with longer exposures, things such as vibration from wind (as mentioned above), lenses dewing up (fogging up), heavier lenses that cause the tracking mount to “lag” (run slower), where you would then require a counterweight set to balance things out, and so on. Using one of these mounts effectively in more adverse conditions, or with longer lenses, does require a bit of practice.

iOptron has many different products, including telescopes, tube assemblies and much larger, higher end tracking mounts used for high magnification astrophotography, as well as lots of other items, but for now, we are only stocking their camera tracking mounts. The new mounts are convenient for the built-in rechargeable battery pack that can be charged via USB, unlike the older model I use which ran of four AA cells. With these new ones, you could use a USB power-bank to charge while in the field too.

For a basic tracking mount that would work well for mirrorless cameras, or DSLRs with smaller lenses, there is the SkyTracker Pro, which is basically a new, improved version of the one I use. It now has solar and lunar tracking rates, an internal USB rechargeable battery and an improved mount for easier polar alignment. It’s shown in the photo at the top of this blog posting and is priced at $389 CDN. To get a better sense of how compact this device is, check out the next photo…

 

Then there is the SkyGuider Pro, and we generally stock the complete kit with counterweight, suitable for using larger lenses and/or heavier cameras. This unit is $559. Like its little brother, it also has solar and lunar tracking rates as well as ports for an optional hand-controller and camera trigger.  The tripod, and the camera and lens of course, are not included, but the photo below shows the setup that you could use for a heavier camera system with the SkyGuider Pro…

 

Here are all the components that you actually get with the full SkyGuider Pro kit…

 

For smaller cameras, you don’t have to use the counterweight assembly – see photo below for that configuration. The ball-head, camera and tripod in this photo are, once again, not included. You can use pretty much any tripod head you might already own, as well as your own tripod, presuming it is sturdy enough!

 

Have a browse on iOptron’s website – http://www.ioptron.com and check out the wide range of products they offer. If there is a telescope or other item that you’d like, give us a call and we can get you a price and special order it for you as well.

Following are a few more tracked photos I have done in the last few years. This next shot is interesting, a photo of the galaxy M101, which forms an equilateral triangle with two of the handle stars of the Big Dipper. You can just make it out on the full frame below, the fuzzy spot near the middle, just above dead centre…

(click image for larger view)

That photo was a tracked shot, also while was under dark skies in Oregon, a 2 minute exposure at ISO 400 with my X-Pro2 and XF 90mm f/2, shot wide open at f/2. Much to my surprise, when I zoomed in to 100%, I noticed that I could identify a ton of other faint galaxies in the neighborhood of M101. See the 100% crop below, where I labeled the galaxies in Photoshop that I was able to identify. That Fujinon 90mm lens sure is sharp wide open, and the SkyTracker mount did a good job at tracking, even examining the shot fully zoomed in…

(click image for larger view)

Below is a shot of the southern Milky Way, the Sagittarius region, which shows the Lagoon Nebula (M8), the larger pink blob, and the Trifid Nebula (M20), the smaller blue and pink blob to the upper right of M8. The blue colour (reflection nebulosity) is caused by the light of a bright blue star reflecting off the dust it is embedded in, and the pink glow (emission nebulosity) is caused by the energy of a star causing gas clouds to actually fluoresce, similar to a neon light. The other, somewhat brownish looking blotchy areas, are actually dense star clouds in our galaxy (The Milky Way) which are not resolved in this photo, and the darker areas are dust clouds and dust lanes in our galaxy blocking the light from the stars behind them. This shot was also taken with my 90mm f/2, wide open at f/2, at ISO 400 with a 2 minute tracked exposure, also while I was down in Oregon under dark skies…

(click image for a larger view)

Lastly, here is the shot of a nice (and unexpected) auroral display at Pitt Lake, here in BC. Due to the tracking mount keeping pace with the stars, the mountains are slightly blurred. Shot with my Fujifilm X-E2 and Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 at f/2.8, ISO 200 and 125 seconds…

(click image for a larger view)