Sublime… One word in the English language that comes close… A frozen world of snow and ice, dark rock, illuminated by ethereal moonlight. A place more of the arctic than a tropical island. Recent storms have again created such a place on the summit of Mauna Kea. Just need to make a point to get out there and enjoy it.
The plan? Set the alarm clock for 2am, out of the house before 2:30am, arrive at the trailhead about 3:45am. I would take a walk with a camera, then drive back down to Hale Pōhaku for breakfast, then join the crew for a normal day working on the summit. A good plan, if somewhat exhausting. A plan that was executed exactly as originally envisioned.
It was the timing that was the factor here. A few things to come together to make this work… A good covering of snow, the summit road open to the public, and good weather with clear, starry skies. Clear skies have been in rare supply lately, a succession of winter storms bringing weeks of clouds.
The road being open to the public is also an important bit. While I could drive past the roadblock, the rangers know me, we are forbidden to engage in non-work activities on the summit if the road is closed to the public.
The needed factors came together this particular morning and I set the plan into action.
Among some slides I recently digitized is a series of astrophotos featuring Orion. Taken in early 1986 this represents one of my early forays into astrophotography. While most of the images are troubled by bad tracking, at least two worked with round, if somewhat overexposed, stars. Judging by the field of view it was a 50mm lens which means it might be an f/1.8, the common nifty-fifty.
The image was most likely taken with my father’s “borrowed” Canon AE-1 35mm camera riding on a small equatorial platform of my own construction. This platform consisted of two disks of acrylic and a small synchronous clock motor. I still have this platform… I wonder if it still runs?
A few thing are quickly revealed when looking at the image. Taken on Ektachrome film the image is heavy on the blue, with poor sensitivity in the deep red. The Orion Nebula shows very little color and less extant than I would expect. The image is also quite grainy, the film grain being quite obvious and distracting. I cleaned up the image a bit in Lightroom, but this is about as good as it gets.
The images was likely a fairly long exposure, perhaps 30 seconds to a couple minutes. I have no records to show how long, no EXIF information on a 35mm slide. The image would have been hand-timed with watch a manual shutter release cable.
Kodak has announced a resumption of Ektachrome production after ceasing all production in 2013. This appears to be in recognition of the remaining, but robust, niche community of film photographers and continued demand for film. First scheduled for 2017 this was delayed into 2018 due to the lack of availability of some materials necessary for production.
Even if the film again becomes available I doubt I will be grabbing a roll for astrophotos. I do have the cameras and lenses available to shoot film. Modern DLSR’s are vastly better at low light.
For decades I have used a Bogen 329 tripod head atop a Manfrotto 3221 tripod as my ‘heavy’ setup. This tripod has been carried for miles on hiking trails, over lava flows, and has sat in the cold winds for many a night under the stars of Mauna Kea. Heavy and solid the tripod can hold a camera motionless for hours in strong winds.
The tripod has securely held cameras, small telescopes, lights, antennas, and stranger things across the years. It has also been repaired more than once, with a leg replaced a decade back.
This old tripod has also been showing its age, the pan and tilt adjustments becoming difficult to use.