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What Lens for Astrophotography & Aurora?

It seems I can’t go a day without seeing this question at least asked once on a Facebook page or in a forum, so I thought I’d create the go to ‘list’ for lenses that are best suited for shooting the night sky and Aurora’s.

Of course there are many factors to consider when purchasing a lens so I have limited the list below to common lenses used and proven in the field. I have structured the list based on the angle of view and the type of body it will be used on either a full frame or crop. I am only focusing on Canon and Nikon, however brand like Samyang are universal, and can be purchased with mounts for Sony and others.

If you are looking for a lens for your camera this list would be a good starting point.

Lenses with a ‘B’ have a bulbous front element and standard 4×6 filters will not fit.

 Full Frame BodyCrop Body
Ultra WideSamyang 14mm f2.8 B
Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 B
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 B
Canon 16-35mm II f2.8
Canon 14mm f2.8 B
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 B
Nikon 16-35mm f4.0
Sigma 15mm f2.8 (fisheye)
Zeiss 15mm f2.8
Samyang 8mm f2.8 B
Tokina 11-16mm f2.8
WideSamyang 24mm f1.4
Canon 24mm f1.4
Samyang 14mm f2.8 B
Samyang 16mm f2.0
Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 B
Sigma 18-35mm f1.8
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 B
Canon 16-35mm II f2.8
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 B
Nikon 16-35mm f4.0
StandardSigma 35mm f1.4
Samyang 35mm f1.4
Samyang 50mm f1.4
Canon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Nikon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Samyang 24mm f1.4
Sigma 35mm f1.4
Samyang 35mm f1.4
Telephoto*Samyang 85mm f1.4Samyang 50mm f1.4
Canon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Nikon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Samyang 85mm f1.4

*Normally deeper space work or stitching involved requiring motorised mounts.

Sony A7R II Long Exposure Tests.

A7R II is the buzz word at the moment in the photography circles, with most reviews holding it in extremely high regard. So naturally I had to test the sensor for long exposure noise.

The results can be seen on the long exposure sensor testing page, and here are my thoughts:

There is no doubt, the A7RII is very impressive, considering the size of the sensor it’s delivering much better results than the D810 or the 5Ds(r). It’s performance is generally much better than the older model (A7R) and it’s results are almost identical to the Canon 6D, keeping in mind the 6D is only 20MP one can’t but help be impressed.

One of the reasons I started my long exposure testing was because no one was doing long exposures at high ISO. All the low light tests performed I could find were at best a second, and in most cases much shorter than a second, in some cases as fast as the body could shoot (1/8000th). But sensor behaviour for longer exposures is not consistent, and in some cases it’s not very linear. What is good for sport is not good for astrophotography.

The A7RII’s sensor behaviour is a very clear example of why this test is important. There is no doubt for general low light work or sport this camera is going to be a killer, but what about longer exposures? At 30 seconds the A7RII is holding it’s own, but starting to loose the edge it had at 1 second, and by 5 minutes significant noise has been introduced into the shot, and it looses it edge to many other models. There is no doubt that Long exposure NR enabled would fix some of this, but not all.

So my conclusion is, it’s going to be an awesome camera killing other models for shorter long exposures (1-10 secs), it is going to match the high end models in the 10-30sec range having the benefit of more MP, but for longer exposures other models start to win out including the 5Ds(r), I’ll be very interested to see how this one goes in the field and I think there is the possibility of further testing to understand the ISO to time relationship, for example higher ISO’s for shorter periods could yield better results than lower ISO for longer periods.

Please keep in mind my tests do not take into consideration other factors such as dynamic range (DR) or how linear the ISO relationship is (ISO-less or not). I am purely interested in the noise (floor) and what you will have to deal with in post.

D750 Update.

I’ve been using the D750 for about 4 months now, so it’s time for an update.

I’m now very used to the controls and can quickly change ISO, exposure compensation and other additional functions with ease, I do however find that the D750 is not as ergonomically nice at the Canon bodies, primarily because I have big hands and use a single handgrip strap, which makes moving the rear thumb dial particularly quite tricky at times. Aside from this small issue it has been a joy to use.

During the last 4 months I have also had time to go out and do a fair bit of shooting in low light, and I can confirm that the sensor performs as well as it did during my testing and the level of noise (or lack there of) out of the camera is outstanding, I also find that the noise that is produced is a much nicer looking noise than that of the Canon 5Dm3 or 6D. The noise is so low that Lightroom applies no Luminance NR at all by default.

Here are some samples for you to enjoy, please note that some NR has been applied in Lightroom to suit the style of the shot. It’s worth noting the shots 3 and 4 as they have been shot with the highest ISO and had the least NR applied.

3200 ISO, 51 Sec. (LR Lum NR 50).

BPD_1008

6400 ISO, 30 Sec (LR Lum NR 25)

BPD_0807

ISO 12800, 28 Sec, (LR Lum NR 15)BPD_1083

ISO 12800, 30sec (LR Lum NR 20)

BPD_1220

Sigma 16-20mm f2, Yes Please.

The rumor of the Sigma 16-20mm f2 ART lens has been circulating for over a year now, and it’s looking less likely that we will see it, for a number of reasons:

  • It was reported that if the lens were to be released it would have been announced last year.
  • A 16mm lens at f2, particularly to ART standard would be expensive, very expensive, and it would house some seriously big pieces of Glass. Even a 20mm f2 lens would rival others like Nikon’s 20mm f1.8 which is an expensive prime.
  • The 16-20mm may be considered to be a very short zoom range, and by it’s nature seem impractical. It’s understandable that the market for this lens may be small. If it was considered to be unprofitable I guess that would not produce it.

Well, the issues aside I personally would love to see f2 @ 16mm. I admit given it’s likely price tag it will have a very small market, mainly to those that shoot landscapes where there is little light. As a person who regularly shoots the night sky and the Aurora Australis I would love to see this lens.

So Sigma, if your reading this PLEASE produce this lens and if you need someone to test it I’m here waiting. 🙂 I’d be more than happy to shoot the southern sky and tell of it’s greatness; because lets face it, if it’s going to be an ART lens it’s going to be awesome.

The move…. to Nikon….

D750
D750, ‘Stacks of DR’

A few years ago when I had a Canon 5D mark II, Nikon’s current go to model was the D800; it was the bees knees and I considered making the move. After some testing and comparisons I determined that the D800 still did not have enough to lure me away from Canon, and consequently I purchased a 6D. Primarily because it out performed the 5D mark III in low light, which I still consider to be significantly over priced for what you are getting.

 

Fast forward Dec 2014. I’ve been sensor testing for quite a while now, watching all the new models arrive, the new Sony A7, the A7R, the Nikon Df, the D4, and most recently the D750. The D750, touted to be successor to the D700 had a lot to live up to, and since I had used a D700 on a number of occasions in the past and being suitably impressed I was keen to see how it performed.

 

The D750 blew every other model out of the water for long exposures I had tested. From ISO 3200 the detail that could be pulled from out of the shadows was nothing short of outstanding.

 

“Could I have finally found a replacement for my 6D?”

 

I’d been patiently waiting for any sign from Canon that a new affordable model was in the works. All the banter at the usual suspects indicated that a new model would likely be a high mega pixel body, and any replacement for the 6D or 5D was a long way off, and most likely expensive for the latter.

 

D750, 'Shadow Pool'
D750, ‘Shadow Pull’

So after some extensive research, I jumped, and this time I can safely say all of my previous concerns have been addressed. Using the D750 so far does feel like a true D700 upgrade, Combined with a good prime (20mm f1.8) it takes truly outstanding shots. (Maybe I’m getting better to).

 

So far I have only ‘tested’ it for night work, as I’m still waiting on the right conditions for an Aurora (Australis), but based on the samples I have produced so far I have a strong feeling some fantastic shots will come out the other end of my normal workflow. I’m a firm believer in ‘Garbage in, Garbage out’ (GIGO), and although the 6D was not garbage, the D750 will have less issues to deal with going into my workflow, allowing me to push images harder to recover more detail without having to deal with a lot of noise.

And of course… the more to the dark sid…err Nikon was not too bad because ‘they have got cookies’ 🙂

Canon 7D Mark II Sensor Test.

Hi All,

Recently Adobe released Camera RAW 8.7 with support for the new Canon 7D mark II. I’d already taken the shots a few weeks ago, but could not process them through my workflow. Now; I can, and I have uploaded the results to the sensor test page.

Night Photography, Better Body or Faster Glass?

IMG_8214I’m starting to rethink the idea of fast glass over body for night photography as the ‘priority’, let me explain.

In general terms we say get the best fast glass you can and don’t worry too much about the body, update that later. I think for night photography its possibly the opposite or neutral. Maybe get a good body first, then faster glass later.

Why? Well I’ve been testing a lot of sensors recently for noise, particularly for long exposure noise and it’s fairly easy to see that the cheaper crop bodies do not stack up against the full frame cameras very well at all, at least if you exposing for minutes at a time.

Based on my testing I can’t see a one stop advantage from F4 to F2.8 in glass out weighing the performance gain going from a crop to a full frame body. I have no doubt that a D610 with an F4 lens is going to perform better than a D7100 and a f2.8 or even f1.4 lens.

Of course in the long run faster glass means lower ISO and shorter exposures which for Aurora shooting is important to capture those beams. Just don’t rule out a body upgrade before a glass upgrade. If you have an older crop body camera I don’t think you can expect faster glass to solve all your problems. Consider your upgrade carefully. 🙂

In the long run the ideal is a good body and fast lens, which does not always need to be expensive, considering you really only need a manual lens for night work.

70D and D7100 Sensor tests.

How well do crop sensor cameras work for long exposure work? I’ve just finished testing the 70D and D7100, you can review the results on the sensor test page. In regards to the Canon 7D mark 2, once Adobe supports the 7D mark 2 with the Camera RAW software I will be able to follow the same workflow and upload a comparison. So stay tuned, I expect it will perform better than the 70D.

 

Reviewing the D810 and D610 Sensors.

Hi All,_MG_6790

So the new Nikon D750 is awesome right? But there seems to be some very conflicting information available on the internet.

Nikon have claimed that the new sensor in the D750 performs much better than the existing technology currently being used in the D8X0 and D6X0 cameras, particularly when it comes to low light and noise performance.

However Dx0’s testing revealed that the D750’s sensor is only just on par with the D610 and offers little advantage based on their testing.

So how do the D610 and the D810 compare to the new D750 for long exposures?

Well the data is in, head on over to the Long Exposure Sensor Test page for the results. Thanks again to Walch Optics for allowing me to run the tests.

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