The Eclipse Plan

With a little short of two minutes of totality I need to go into this with a plan. I do want a few photos, but I also want to experience the eclipse. How do I balance that?

Hodgepodge setup on the side of Mauna Kea with the TV-76mm and Telrad on the plate
The important bit here is that I am going to give myself time to simply enjoy the eclipse and not spend the whole time futzing with the camera gear. When totality begins I will simply sit back and watch. To that end I have thought through a shot plan that may just accomplish this balance.

The plan calls for three cameras… A single camera on a solar telescope, this will be primarily run on automatic with an intervalometer. I just need to check focus and centering of the solar image periodically during the long partial phases. I will use part of totality to attend to this camera and take a deep corona photo.

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Shooting the Canon EOS M5

The Canon EOS M5 is the latest offering by Canon in the mirrorless form factor. Offering the same sensor and much of the performance of the mid-range DSLR’s, the mirrorless bodies are far smaller. This allows the photographer the chance to use these cameras in places a full sized DSLR would be too cumbersome.

The Canon EOS M5 and the 22mm f/2 EF-M lens
The Canon EOS-M5

I am a veteran of the original M and the M3, carrying both cameras extensively. From Nicaragua to Alaska, and around the islands, I have used these little cameras to capture some excellent images.

I had issues with the original, returning my first copy. I eventually gave the camera another chance and have learned to like the capability the cameras provide a mobile photographer. I carry the camera on the job atop the incomparable Mauna Kea, a place where you always want a camera handy!

A trio of EOS-M's, including the original M, the M3 and the M5 (left to right)
A trio of EOS-M’s

The critics have not been kind to the previous M series cameras. While they are decent cameras, offering excellent photo quality, they have lagged behind the competition, particularly the Sony mirrorless, on the features.

The M5 marks a change in this, several reviews from the key sites note that M5 performance and features places it among the best on the market in terms of features and cost. The comment echoed by several critics… This is the camera Canon should have built to start with.

Yeah… I wanted one.

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Macrophotography With Extension Tubes

One of the advantages of a mirrorless camera, like the EOS-M, is the very shallow backfocus requirement. The distance from the lens mount to the sensor is quite small, allowing use of just about any series of lenses on the market. All that is needed is the correct adapter, a need that several specialty manufacturers have addressed with products. The result is that the camera is useful in a wide range of photographic experiments and projects.

Gecko & Plumeria
A gold dust day gecko (Phelsuma laticauda) on a plumeria blossom
This includes older lenses from years past such as the Canon manual focus FD lenses or the Leica M lenses from decades ago. I have a number of these excellent lenses, mostly Nikon and Canon, the fast primes once treasured by photographers for their optical quality. Because these old lenses are not suited for use with modern DSLR’s they are often relegated to eBay and discount shelves in used camera stores. This does not mean they are obsolete, there are creative uses still available for these classic lenses.

I have had fun simply shooting with these old primes and the EOS-M camera. Sometimes I will grab a single lens and just go someplace to play with the camera for half an hour, sort of a self imposed creative exercise. Using one of these manual focus lenses brings back memories of my first years of film photography, before the days of auto-focus.

Combine these old lenses with an extension tube, and the rig becomes a macro-photography setup capable of fairly high magnification.

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SBIG ST-i Camera Mount

The SBIG ST-i is a useful little camera, I have enjoyed using mine. I usually use the camera for autoguiding, but it can also be used for basic astrophotography and even some science. In preparation for using the ST-i with a group of students I had need to make a couple additional mounts. After I go to the effort of designing a simple solution to my problem I may as well share the solution.

SBIG STi Mount
A simple mount for an SBIG STi camera for use in a piggyback setup
The ST-i camera is designed to slip into a standard telescope focuser in place of an eyepiece, as it is the same diameter at 1.25″. The camera can also be used in a “piggyback” style, mounted atop a telescope and fitted with a standard c-mount lens. Using a lens the camera will have a much larger field of view. The front of the camera is threaded for c-type 1″ threads to accomodate this. The SBIG guiding kit provides such a lens and a ring style mount. If you do not have the kit, or already have a suitable c-mount lens you still need a suitable mount.

ST-i camera mount mechanical drawing

I have included the mechanical drawing for the mount in the link above. I machined this from a block of aluminum. There is no reason it could not be made of wood or plastic to allow fabrication with whatever equipment is available. For wood you may need to make the block a little longer and use inserts for the threading. Plastic could be done pretty much as drawn.

The version I made was milled from a solid chunk of aluminum, but a good version could be easily cut from wood and assembled with brass inserts. The design could also be 3D printed without much loss in mechanical robustness.

To mount a c-mount lens you will need the adapter ring sold by SBIG to convert the 1.25″ filter thread found on the camera to the 1″ c-mount thread. Still, at $40 this ring is a lot less than the $350 guiding kit. Good c-mount lenses can be found from many sources for less than $100. You will need a focal length between 75 and 150mm for a nice image scale and as wide an f/ratio as you can find. The kit includes a 100mm f/2.8 lens which I find is quite useful in guiding my Televue 76mm or the AT6RC.

Canon EOS-M3 Review

Despite a rough introduction the Canon EOS-M series is developing into a solid product offering. And it was a rough start, the first model with the first software version was so bad I sent the first camera I ordered back in frustration and disappointment.

Canon EOS-M3
The Canon EOS-M3 with the 18-55mm EOS-M lens

In time, and after receiving a withering round of criticism, Canon fixed some of the most striking deficiencies in the original EOS-M, in particular the sluggish and erratic focusing. With the fixes in place, and steep price discounts, I gave the camera another try. I have gradually come to like this little camera. The photo quality is quite good, the EOS-M lenses are nice and sharp, and the touch screen a very usable feature I have often missed in my full size DLSR’s.

After a couple years of shooting with the EOS-M I decided to order the EOS-M3, the latest offering in the product line. For reasons a mystery outside Canon the camera was originally not released in the US, available in Japan since early 2015. Only in the last month has news come that the camera will become available for order here in the US. Not willing to wait, and the start of an adventure looming on the calendar I ordered a Japanese version on eBay. No issue, there are YouTube videos that explain how to navigate the kanji menus and set the language to English. Thus my fun with a new camera began.

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A Camera Security Device

Taking astrophotos or time lapse often involves leaving a camera out in the dark for long periods. Cameras are somewhat more robust than humans, tolerating the cold for a bit longer. As a result often the cameras are unattended while the human seeks shelter in some warmer place. This can result in the theft of the unattended camera.

A camera security block for unattended camera operation
This was recently highlighted when a camera was stolen from near the Keck 2 telescope last week. Left outside for a nighttime time lapse it simply vanished. We all commiserated with the victim in a Facebook conversation, we have all run the same risk and worried about this happening to us. I usually place the camera somewhere inaccessible to the public or somewhere remote enough that it is unlikely to be found. I still worry.

On the mountain is not the only place this risk exists. I have often left a camera operating for hours in my driveway at the front of my house attached to a telescope. In an attempt to make it somewhat more difficult to simply grab and run I designed a simple security device. A little block of aluminum with a slot that accommodates a standard computer cable lock.

Machined from aluminum the block took very little time to make and provides a great deal peace of mind. It is not impervious to a determined attack, but does prevent the camera from simply walking away. In place of aluminum it could probably be 3D printed if you do not have a machine shop available. With a little more patience it could be manufactured with simply hand tools.

Mechanical design for the CamLockBlock

The slot is the standard Kensington security slot, a 3mm x 7mm slot as found in almost all laptop computers. The locks are available from just about anyplace that sells computer accessories.

The screw I use is a tamperproof button head screw, one that requires a special tool to remove. A standard hex button head screw would probably work in most situations, it is unlikely that an opportunistic thief will have a set of allen keys handy.

The block can be used on a telescope, with the cable wrapped around a tripod leg. It can also be used on a tripod, a ¼-20 hole is tapped to allow the block to sit between the camera and the tripod head. The security cable can then be secured to anything available. Atop Mauna Kea there are many railings, guardrails and signposts that would provide a solid locking point. In nature there are fewer steel poles, but a tree trunk or something similar would also serve.

The design can be modified to suit ones needs, the mechanical drawing above shows the device in its simplest form. As you can see in the photo my prototype block includes two screw holes for the camera and a 3/8″ threaded hole for larger tripods. I also put a second lock slot on the bottom to have the option of having the lock stick out in a different direction.

Check the dimensions of your camera, tripod head or favorite adapter plate to insure that the lock will fit without interference. You can always adjust the dimensions or the mounting hole positions to accommodate your setup.

Street Photography with the Canon EOS-M3

Packing the camera for a trip always presents a set of vexing decisions for a photographer. What do you plan on shooting? What gear will be needed? This particular trip would be to a place I have never been and would present a range of unique photo opportunities. Nicaragua for the first time!

A cobbler practices his trade in the Boaco market

While I had never visited Nicaragua I had been in Mexico many times, I expected the photographic situation to be much the same, an expectation that was not disappointed. Each town in Latin America may be unique, but at at the same time looks much the same as the last. The character of these towns offers varied photo opportunities. Best of all to my thinking… Many towns feature markets, a sampling of the people and goods unique to the region, a condensation of the local culture in one convenient place.

Thus I chose my gear uncompromisingly for street photography. Leaving the big DSLRs and lenses at home I loaded two EOS-M bodies. I have one original model and one of the new M3’s purchased just before the start of the trip. These two cameras would take very little room in the luggage and offer a good range of capability. Traveling with only a single backpack meant space was at a premium. The primary lens would be the 18-55mm to allow a good general purpose walkabout capability.

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