Photography News issue 25

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Photography News Issue 25

Buyers’ guide

Stargazing and astrophotography essentials Take several large steps towards better pictures of the night sky with this month’s round-up of recommended kit Photography and stargazing share many techniques and technologies – after all, both disciplines primarily rely on focusing light – and they come together in the sphere of astrophotography. So if you’re into the idea of shooting the night sky, as a photographer, you’ll already be at an advantage; your knowledge of working with light will stand you in good stead, but there’s a variety of equipment and new techniques you’ll also need to get the most from this subject. That’s why this month we’re outlining some great products to get you started in astrophotography. Gear wise, what you need depends on the type of astro shooting you’re intending to do. For landscape-style images that contain both the Earth and the stars, you simply need a tripod and a fast lens, whether that’s something like a 20mm f/1.8 for wide-angle shots, or a 70-200mm f/2.8 or more isolated views. With these, you can shoot exposures of 10-20 seconds and get sharp shots of the stars. If you’re planning on more highly magnified views and seeking out objects in the night sky that are so small and dim to be virtually invisible to the naked eye, you can still put plenty of what you’ve got to good use; a DSLR or CSC with a telephoto lens, and a tripod, will take you three- quarters of the way there. And if you don’t own a sufficiently long lens already, there are affordable options out there, including telephoto zooms and teleconverters to extend the range of what you’ve got. The only other vital component you’ll needwhen starting out is ameans of tracking the night sky, because at the very long focal lengths you’ll be using, andwith the extended exposures required to record faint objects, the rotation of the Earthwill blur them into streaks. So, picking a star-tracking, motorisedmount is your first job. Fortunately though, there are plenty out there, including affordable kits that contain everything you need to get shooting straight out of the box. Having got a taste, you might want to extend the magnification of your set-up and that means mounting your camera on a telescope. Again, this is easy if you pick the correct adapters and with modern ’scopes becoming more user friendly, they’re quicker to set up, andwill oftenhave a computer controlled, motorisedmount that not only helps align and calibrate the kit, but also takes you right to the specific galaxies, nebulae or stars you’re looking for. Of course, there are loads of other things that makes night shooting a more pleasant experience, so make sure you have a think about your clothing and lighting options, too.

KENKO 2x Teleplus HD DGX teleconverter £279 2


MACWET Climatec Long Cuff Gloves £30

ORION RedBeam II LED torch £2O



VIXEN Polarie Star Tracker £299

MacWet Climatec Long CuffGloves £30

Kenko 2x Teleplus HD DGX teleconverter £279

Orion RedBeam II LED torch £20




Anyone who’s stood out in the elements waiting for a long exposure to tick down will tell you there’s no quicker way to kill your enjoyment than by getting cold. And your hands will be one of the first areas to feel it. Now, with astrophotography involving exposures of not just seconds, but many minutes, your fingers could be frozen into blocks of ice by the time the shutter drops. So, gloves (along with a cosy down jacket and hat) should be near the top of any stargazer’s shopping list, and these MacWet Climatec Long Cuff versions won’t disappoint. Specially developed to combat colder weather, they’re windproof, water resistant, and fleece-lined on the back of the glove. The Aquatec fabric used on the palm and fingers gives a sure grip on your gear, even in the wet, as well as retaining enough sensitivity to dial in settings without needing to free your fingertips. At the wrist of these Long versions, is a thick, elasticated cuff fastened with Velcro to prevent draughts and provide a secure fit. Light in weight, the gloves are available in an excellent range of fittings, from size 6 (XS Women’s) to 12 (XXL Mens), and four neutral colours.

Many photographers shoot images of the night sky by extending the range of their existinglensesusingteleconverters.There is a downside to using teleconverters, as the additional magnification cuts out light, reducing maximum aperture, but if you’re shooting long exposures and using a star- tracker (as is pretty much vital), that’s not an issue. This new 2x teleconverter from Kenko, which is available for Canon users, and works with EF and EF-S lenses, doubles the focal length of the lens, so fitting it to a 70-200mm f/4 lens will give you a 140-400mm focal length; however the maximum aperture will drop to f/8. Unlikemany,thisteleconverterbenefits from full coupling, so, while you’re likely to be shooting and focusing manually for most astrophotography, other than the moon, it will allow autoexposure and autofocus in regular use, making it a great option for sports and wildlife, too. To improve image quality, its five-element, three-group construction features multi- coating to optimise light transmission and minimise flare, and results show impressive sharpness. It’s cheaper and fits more lenses than Canon’s teleconverters, too, which is a bonus.

Light pollution is a big factor in all types of astrophotography; whether you’re shooting expansive, wide-angle views of the night sky, or more tightly cropped compositions of constellations or nebulae it can affect the clarity of your exposures. But you also need to take care not to disturb your own vision in the dark. Get to a dark spot on a clear night, and wait a while for your eyes to adjust; within a few minutes your vision will adapt to the dark and you’ll see the stars much more clearly; but then flick on a regular torch to make any adjustments to your gear and you’ll ruin this, momentarily blinded by the bright light. That’s why astronomers use red- beam torches, like this one by Orion, the RedBeam II. The red light is far less disruptive, letting you set up gear, adjust your settings, and move around in the dark without ruining your night-adjusted sight. The torch’s twin red LEDs are powered by one replaceable 9V battery and will give up to 600 hours of use. And to make it even more adaptable, the brightness is adjustable and the torch has a lanyard so that you can hang it around your neck and not lose it.

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