On August 21, photographers in North America will be greeted to one of Mother Nature’s greatest shows. For a stretch of around 100 kilometres, there will be a total eclipse of the sun, plunging day into night, so it’s no wonder photographers are getting more than a little excited about this rare natural phenomenon.
In part two of our ‘Eclipse Special’, we’ll explain how to capture amazing images of the eclipse in a safe and controlled manner, but first, it’s time to prepare by making sure you have the right kit for the job. We’re going to split this kit catch up into four sections, covering cameras, lenses, filters and other accessories.
Cameras: When it comes to the camera body, resolution is a key factor, as you may need to crop in on the solar eclipse for the best composition. Cameras like the full-frame Canon 5D MkIV and the 5DS offer amazing resolution – the 5DS offers 50-megapixels, meaning you can crop way in on a image without compromising image quality. Nikon users aren’t left out either as the full-frame D750 offers 24.3-megapixels and a 51-point autofocus system.
If you wish to record video of the eclipse as well as stills, you may want to take a look at Sony’s range of cameras. The new Sony a9 records superior quality 4K footage, but if you prefer to shoot stills and create a time-lapse from the images, you’ll be pleased to know the a9 can rattle off up to 20 frames per second with no rolling blackout. But if you don’t shoot full-frame, don’t panic. Panasonic offers the GH5, a 20-megapixel mirrorless camera with a Micro Four-Thirds sensors, which means focal lengths are doubled, getting you closer to the eclipse. Of course, full-frame cameras and even DSLRs are not for every photographer, so if you’re looking for a different set-up, a Bridge camera may prove more appealing. Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III combines a 20-megapixel sensor with a fixed lens focal range of 24-600mm – all in a fairly compact body. It’s a great way to zoom in close on the solar eclipse and doesn’t come with the heavier price tag of DSLRs.
Lenses: When it comes to lenses, photographers are spoilt for choice these days – especially when it comes to selecting a telezoom to zoom in on the solar eclipse. At the upper end of a typical photographer’s budget, both Nikon and Canon offer a great range of long glass, with Canon’s EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS and Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR offering both reach and exceptional image quality.
But there’s also plenty of third-party telezooms on the market that would be excellent for capturing the solar eclipse, such as Tamron’s SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 or Sigma’s version, the 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary. On a Canon APS-C sensor DSLR, such as the 80D, these lenses have a top effective focal length of 960mm! But Canon and Nikon APS-C cameras aren’t the only ones to benefit from crop factors. Micro Four-Thirds sensors double the focal length, so the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 Pro, which is an incredibly sharp optic, actually gives an effective focal length of 80-300mm. If you’re looking for a little more versatility though, lenses like Nikon’s 28-300mm F3.5-5.6 G ED VR or Canon’s EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM offer wider focal options as well as extended reach.
Filters: When shooting a solar eclipse, an ND filter can help balance the exposure and avoid the image ‘blowing out’. ND filters not only come in different strengths (more on this is a second), but they also come in different shapes. ND filters can be square, and these versions require a filter holder to position them in front of the lens. Alternatively, you can use a circular ND filter that screws into the front of your lens, which means you have to buy the right size filter for your lens. As mentioned, ND filters come in different strengths, so you can choose to reduce the amount of light passing through the filter and entering the camera. When using fairly low strength filters, you can leave the filter on the lens and focus normally, but with higher strength NDs, you must focus beforehand then switch to Manual Focus (MF) as the camera’s autofocus system will struggle to operate through the tint of the filter. Brands like Hoya offer a range of circular ND filters in various sizes and strengths.
Accessories: There’s a number of accessories which are worth packing in your bag ahead of the big day on August 21. Extra batteries will come in useful – it will be a good few years before you get this photo opportunity again. Mounting the camera on a tripod will also keep things steady so you don’t have to keep finding your composition. A set of binoculars, such as the Canon 18 x 50 IS, can help you achieve composition in the first place, but remember that you should never look directly at the sun. Because this is such a rare opportunity, a good idea is to make use of the second memory card slot, should your camera have one. Pick up another SD or CF card and record images to both cards at the same time. The second card will at as a failsafe should anything happen to the first. Apps such as Photo Pills have been updated to include information and data about the solar eclipse and websites like Space.com have further information and maps.