The end of the world or maybe not, 21st December 2012?
Thanks to the Mayan's I have been busily buying Christmas presents purely for myself this year. I saw little point in purchasing anything for anyone else considering today is supposedly the end of the world as we know it. I think I may live to regret that decision though........
It did though get me thinking about photographic gear, what I had and also what I need. Not just for myself but also for members of my family who will travel with us in February to Tromso. I have read many posts, articles and threads around the Aurora Borealis and compact cameras and what you can or more often what you can't do, due to their limitations. Whilst much of it makes sense to a point around what you can't do the alternative options aren't that clear or may seem confusing to some. Yes, I shoot on a Canon 7D DSLR so don't have these issues, but I wasn't prepared to spend a silly amount of money on kit for my 14 year old daughter who is also coming to Norway with us. She though needs a camera that suits her needs, that being small enough to fit in her pocket, face detection, HD video and an adequate zoom coupled with the needs and requirements to enable her to go on what could literally be a once in a lifetime trip and to capture images of the auroras.
The biggest 'must have' requirement for a compact camera is that it must have the functionality to use manual settings. Sorry for those that know this, but in plain English to people who don't know what this means, simply put you control the camera and so the camera doesn't control the images it captures. There is a huge difference, albeit very subtle. Take a compact camera with only automatic settings on holiday to capture the Aurora Borealis and you will comeback possibly very disappointed.
I was torn between 2 cameras the Panasonic TZ-30 and the Canon SX 260HS. It is always open to conjecture which one is best, but from what I have read the Canon SX 260HS performs a lot better in lowlight. I am not for or against one manufacturer or another, I am only interested in the output that is produced. So, if an image was captured using a Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic or Canon this fact is totally lost on me as I am interested in the picture itself.
So now you have a camera capable of capturing images of the auroras, but if you want them to be sharp you need a few additional items. These include the obvious, that being a tripod and also a way of controlling the exposure time. Hold on a second though the Canon SX 260HS doesn't have a means to do this as it can't be operated by some form of shutter release either via remote or a cable. Can you seriously operate the camera in freezing conditions on a tripod with your finger on the shutter button for anywhere between 5 and 30 seconds without introducing shake and blurring the image? The simple answer is 'No', so you need to find a way around this.
After a lot of searching and one unsuccessful attempt to purchase the required piece of equipment from an online retailer I wont mention (their website doesn't take online orders so I contacted the owners and got no response!) I managed to find a local company literally just a few miles away that sold what I needed. It is basically a bracket that fixes to a compact camera on a tripod to allow you to use a shutter release cable with it, therefore giving you control over the exposure time. Incredibly useful, just what I needed, ordered and delivered the same week just before Christmas as well. This is link the item SRB Photographic so all I need now is a shutter release cable and thanks to the fact the Canon has manual controls we are all good to go.
For people using DSLR's and going to shoot the auroras for the first time I would strongly recommend buying an angled viewfinder for low shots unless you like getting either very cold or covered in snow from laying down. I also carry one of these around with me photography mat which really is a standard bit of kit for a photographer who is into capturing landscapes or nature images.
One last thing, it was very rewarding to get a mention from a friend, Ryan Clark, who is studying environmental biology on his website with regards his wildlife highlights of 2012. I took Ryan over to Brownsea Island in November to go and see the red squirrels and we had a great day with these superb creatures literally running a few feet from us for most of the day. Below are a couple of images I captured and this is the link to Ryan's website with some great images on there Ryan Clark
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© Darrell Jordan Photography