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Northern Lights advice

Posted 30/01/2020 - 10:42 Link
I'm off to Iceland for a long weekend in a couple of weeks' and was hoping for some advice on photographing the northern lights (weather/conditions permitting).

I will be using a K5iis and I have 3 batteries, so hopefully I should get enough life out of them. from what I've read it sounds as though an exposure time of 5-10 seconds is usually about right, but that is likely to require either a fast lens or high ISO. Obviously I'd like to keep the ISO as low as possible (1600 max?), so that means a fast lens.

I have a few lenses to choose from. I could take them all and swap as required, but I'd rather not be messing about in the dark swapping lenses. The choices I have are:

Pentax DA 18-135 = F3.5 at the wide end
Tokina 28mm F2.8 manual lens
Pentax DA-L 35 F2.4
Rikenon 50mm F2 manual lens.

As you can see, the wider angle the lens gets, the slower it is.

Does anyone have suggestions of what would be likely to be best, and what I should take with me. During the day I'll have the 18-135 on as a walkabout lens, so that will be with me anyway. Do I take any/all of the others?

Thanks in advance for any advice.
Posted 30/01/2020 - 17:18 Link
Set focus to manual, focus on a star.
Use a tripod, use as low an ISo as you can, and preferably a remote control.
I used the B setting when I took photos of the lights and played about a bit with the settings.
DH just put his camera on auto, no tripod and snapped away and got some good shots.
The remote is handy as it means you can stand and enjoy the lights while taking photos.
The lights will look more colourful in the photos than in real life, if you see what looks like white cloud, but can see stars through it the chances are it is aurora., and will come out green in the photos.
Don't forget to just stand and enjoy the spectacle if you are lucky enough to see them. It is solar minimum now, but even at kP4 you should get something over Iceland, if the weather plays nice. That said my son was there for 10 days last year and didn't get a peep - cloudy every night but one and no lights that night.

Bjørn is the Lights expert on the forum so if he sees it he will give you better advice!
Posted 30/01/2020 - 17:50 Link
Thanks Gwyn.
I've got a tripod and remote. It was advice on what lenses would be best I was after really. I'm not sure how much of a wide angle I'm likely to need. I'm guessing the wider the better, but having never seen them I'm not sure how much of the sky they might cover.

I'll be using the lens wide open and focused at infinity so it'll be a trade off between ISO and exposure time. From what I've read online any more than 5 seconds or so can start to blur. That's why I was wondering if I need the widest angle (18mm f3.5) or fastest lens (50mm f2) or somewhere in between.
Posted 30/01/2020 - 18:14 Link
I shot the lights with a K5, and a Sigma 15mm f2.8. That combination was fine. Personally I'd take your 28 f2.8.
My shutter speeds were between 5-10secs depending on how bright the lights were. ASA800 to 1600.

One tip is to make sure you take off any filters, as they give strange banding with aurora.

Also if it get very cold (I was in N Sweden and temps got down to -30c), take your memory card and battery out, then put the camera and lens in a ziplock bag and seal it up before you go into the warm. Otherwise your camera and lens will get covered in condensation.

Good luck!

K3ii, DA16-85, DA35mm Limited, FA77mm Limited, 55mm f1.8 K, 135mm f3.5 M, DA300, DA 1.4 HD TC,
DA16-45, Sigma 15mm f2.8. Cosina 100mm f3.5 macro
Posted 31/01/2020 - 20:22 Link
I certainly don't claim to be all that good at this, but this picture was taken in Fairbanks last September with my K10D and the kit lens at 22 seconds with a remote trigger. If you pixel peep you will see noise, but I don't see blurring. I hope it's not too dark- it looks OK on my monitor, but I have not uploaded any photos before.

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Posted 31/01/2020 - 20:45 Link
I used my 17-70 F4 with no problems about speed.
I'd choose wide over fast I think.

Good luck with finding Lady Aurora. I hope she plays nice for you.
Posted 01/02/2020 - 22:58 Link
Thanks all.

I'll have the 18-135 with me so I think I'll start with that fitted, and probably take either the 28 F2.8 or 35 F2.4 in case I need something faster.

If I get any decent photos then I'll try to post a few when I get back.

Let's hope conditions are good. There's no moon when I'm there (it won't rise till about 4am), so that's a good start.

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