Eclipse T-12 days : Equipment and Packing

Aug 9, 2017

I mentioned before that I’m only an average photographer. I know my way around an SLR, understand my F-stops, ISOs and shutter speeds and have done a fair bit of astro photography, but I’m no expert. My intention with this eclipse isn’t to take the most amazing photo of the event – I don’t have the necessary equipment to do so, or the skill – but more as a personal memento of the experience, something I can look back later on and recall with a mental “I was there.”

This is an amazing photo and I won’t get anywhere close to it. 🙂

Thus, I’m not taking a massive array of equipment with me. First that’s expensive, second it’s not practical to take it to a foreign country. It would be a lot easier if this eclipse was in the UK, but it isn’t and that’s that. In fact the next total eclipse in the UK isn’t until the 23rd of September 2090, which I suspect I won’t be around to see (I’ll be 120!) though there’s a chance my youngest son (who will be celebrating his 87th birthday on that day!) will be able to see it.

I’m going to attempt to catalogue the event from start to finish as the moon crosses the sun, eclipses it and then retreats away again. This will actually take several hours from start to finish, though the ‘dark bit’ only lasts two and a half minutes.

To do this I’m actually going to use three cameras. Two SLRs and my mobile phone.

One SLR is fitted with a 500 millimetre lens. This gives a pretty high magnification, enough to see the sun as a good sized disc. Here’s a picture I took through it pointing at a nearby house.

500mm lens

The other camera will have a semi-fish eye wide angle lens (about 10mm focal length.) Here’s the same shot with that lens. Notice the distortion around the edges.

10mm Lens

Both cameras will sit on the same tripod, looking in the same direction. This set up is designed to capture different things. The 500mm lens will capture the sun in close up; the phases, the passage of the moon and (if I’m lucky) the diamond ring, Bailey’s beads, any flares and the corona. The second camera is there to capture the scene around the eclipse, and also, when it gets dark, the stars and planets that will hopefully be visible in the dark sky. I’ve also got the standard kit lens 18-55mm that came with the SLRs.

I’ll also be using my mobile phone to film the 30 min segment straddling the eclipse itself, to grab the atmosphere of the event.

I’ve also designed the rig so I can sit behind it and look over it. Both cameras are operated by remote shutter so I don’t have to be pressing buttons on them to take photos. Many folks have stressed the importance of just enjoying the experience. This way the cameras can be doing their thing whilst I look over them and up into the sky. I’ve already checked the F-Stop, ISO and shutter speeds I expect to have to use. I’ll have a full day in advance to check everything. Spare batteries and SD Cards. Check! Both cameras are Canon, so if one fails I can use either lens on the other.

That’s the plan, anyway!

The rig itself all sits on a single tripod with a small spotter scope alongside. The cameras and scope will be protected by Baader solar film filters during the early and late phases of the eclipse. I have my own tripod to sit on (which is much more comfortable than it sounds!)

Both SLRs on a single tripod.

And I need to get all of this to the USA! This is where the packing problem begins. The weight allowance for the hold luggage on my flight is a pretty standard 23kg, with 10kg for hand luggage. Two cameras, chargers, batteries, SD cards and lens take up a chunk of that. Throw in a laptop, another charger, basic camping gear and clothes and it’s not difficult to hit that weight limit. I could pay for excess baggage, but a) I don’t want to and b) I still have to lug all this around for a week and a half, so it’s got to remain portable. I’ve also got to take certain items in the hand luggage for safety as they are fragile. I also need all the usual travel gumph – razor, toothbrush etc.

Thus the equipment is pared down to the minimum, as is the camping gear and the clothing! Fortunately I’m staying in a few hotels prior and post eclipse, where I’ll have a chance to do some washing.

I’ve gone through it a few times and I think I’ve got the balance right. Time will tell of course. Let me know what you think!

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