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A Long-Lens, Three-Camera Approach to the Eclipse

If you’re a photographer like me, then you're very likely messy, disorganized and late on things that more together people have, well, together. And so I find myself living just about 45 miles from the moving epicenter of eclipse totality which will streak across Tennessee this Monday. Am I excited about this? Yes! Am I ready? No!
My original plan was to use three different camera/lens setups, each on their own tripod. I want to shoot two of these rolling 4K video and then earmark one just for stills. I WANT that “wedding ring” image pretty bad, I have to tell you.
I’m a sports guy and I have all this long glass, including a 600mm f/4, and I knew that lens on my Sony α6500 would be perfect for the “wedding ring” shot. I also planned on using two other cameras, my Sony α9 and my α900, to shoot my combination of stills and 4K video. I would use my other big, prime telephotos with eclipse-appropriate filters on my α9 and α900 rigs and a drop-in filter in my 600mm on the α6500
Like many of you, I started doing the research on this a little late. Ok, really late. And all the circular screw-on type solar filters were already long sold out at most places. So I dug a little deeper and found out about “solar film.” I snatched up a 12x12” sheet of the stuff trying not to look at what I paid for it in the checkout window, and I ponied up the extra $8 to get it here fast.
As I searched in vain online for a 52mm solar filter to “drop in” to the 600mm, I read that I could melt my aperture rings by using that method. You really have to use a front filter to protect your lens, as well as your sensor.
Let me elaborate on this subject. I’m just old enough to have started fires with the plastic magnifying lenses that came in boxes of Cracker Jack in the 1970's. What fun that was, especially in Fall in Chicago where I grew up, with all the leaves on the ground. I digress.
The point being that even if I had a purchased a the correct 52mm drop-in solar filter for my 600mm way back when all those “together people” bought theirs, I’d still run the risk of melting my aperture blades. Think about what you can do with a plastic magnifying glass, and now consider how much more powerful the front element of a 600mm f/4 lens is! So, I would have to have the filter on the front of the lens. BUMMER! If I use the 12x12” solar film to cover my 600’s front element, I’m down to shooting one camera during the eclipse. That front element takes up a lot of real estate.
After talking with Sony technical expert Mark Weir about other eclipse-related gear matters, he reminded me that most experts who seem to know their stuff say that shooting at f/8 or f/11 is about right for this kind of thing. His question to me was simple, "Why drag all those heavy lenses when you really don’t need fast glass?” He was right, of course. Which is why we call him “The Professor.” So, after speaking with Mark, I refined my plan. Here is what I’m bringing on Monday:
Setup 1:

  • Sony α900 
  • Sony 70-400mm f/4.5-5.6 A-mount lens with 2X teleconverter
  • α900 + 400mm at f/5.6 and 2X teleconverter = 800mm at f/11 
  • This setup should get me a nice set of still photos
  • The front element is small enough so that I can cut a piece of my film and still have plenty leftover

Setup 2:

  • Sony α9
  • Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master lens with 2X teleconverter
  • α9 + 400mm at f/5.6 and 2X teleconverter = 800mm at f/11 
  • My plan for this one is pretty simple, I’ll just shoot 4K video of the eclipse
  • The front element is small enough so that I can cut a piece of my film and still have plenty leftover

Setup 3:

  • Sony α6500
  • 600mm f/4 lens attached via a Sigma MC-11 adapter with and without a 1.4X teleconverter 
  • α6500 + 600mm = effective focal length of 900mm
  • α6500+600mm and 1.4X teleconverter = effective focal length of 1260mm
  • I plan to shoot this setup without the solar filtration so I’m only going to be using it at totality for the “wedding ring” shot. (Did I mention how badly I want that image?)

I like the zoom setups because I can control the field-of-view very easily. One thing some might not have noticed in their research is that the Earth is spinning on its axis AND it’s moving through space in relationship to the Sun. Now my fellow Artisan Spencer Pablo was WAY ahead of me in doing his own stuff and he has a fancy thingamajigger (aka: equatorial tracking mount) that will actually track the Sun as it moves into totality and out again. Me? Not so much. I wouldn’t be able to find Polaris anyways. My son and I will be lucky enough to find a place to park in the secret location I have mapped out for the day. As we all attempt to shoot the eclipse, it’s important to note that things will be moving pretty fast up there, so don’t forget this fact as you create your own plan of action and lock down your tripod.
Last, I think the most important thing about the eclipse for me is to enjoy the experience. I’m taking my son out of school and we will wrestle with the inevitable traffic jam and dodges the other eclipse-watchers together. And we'll also be together to experience the actual event. I’ll be long dead the next time it comes around so I want him to have a memory of having fun with his Dad when the sky turned black in the middle of the afternoon.
In my diabolical and sometimes theological mind, I think the experience of a sunset and sunrise taking place in under 20 minutes in the middle of the day will be stunning. It will cause us all to remember just how small we are as we relate to the cosmos, and hopefully, help us to not take ourselves so seriously in the days after.
The rest of my preparations include a big ole’ cooler filled with bottles of iced-down Mexican Coca-Cola (the stuff with real sugar!), and snacks. Lots of snacks because the boy is 13 now, and he's always hungry. And of course, Moon-pies will definitely make the cut, because how do you not?. (Believe it or not, Moon Pies were invented for a coal miner just up the road from where I live in Tennessee by a guy named Earl Mitchell in 1917, a full year before the last total eclipse. I bet there were people eating Moon Pies 99 years ago as they watched. Now that’s interesting!)

See more about Sony Artisan Of Imagery here.

Follow him on Instagram @murphyracey

See more of his thoughts on all things photography on his blog


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