STILL CAMERA TIPS: Tricks, equipment, and techniques

Discussion in 'Photo/Video Tips' started by gdjsky01, May 29, 2012.

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  1. May 29, 2012 #1

    gdjsky01

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  2. May 29, 2012 #2

    gdjsky01

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    One site I like to use to see specs and reviews is
    dpreview.com
     
  3. May 29, 2012 #3

    jadebox

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    I agree on the filters. I usually leave either a UV or circular-polarizer filter on each of my lenses. They protect the lens and generally improve the photos. If you have a good camera and lens, pay a little extra for a good filter that won't degrade your images. Polarizing filters reduce the amount of light that gets to the camera, so they are best if used only for outdoor daylight photography. A UV filter is a better choice as a lens protector since it has little effect on your photos in any light.

    Other kinds of filters which tint the light (like sepia-tone filters) aren't as useful for digital photography since you can apply the effects in "post production" using a program like PhotoShop or Lightroom. The same goes for those special effects which may be supported by your camera. You don't need the special effects since you can apply them later.

    Check to see if your camera has "White Balance" settings like Daylight, Fluorescent, etc. If your camera has an Auto setting for White Balance, then that's a good choice. Otherwise set it to Daylight (or maybe Cloudy) if you're taking photos outdoors (as we usually do when photographing rockets).

    An incorrect white balance setting can cause the photo to be tinted. For example, a bluish tint might appear if you have the white balance set wrong for a daylight photo. It's something you can fix with PhotoShop, but it's best to avoid - especially if you want to share photos without editing them.

    I usually have white balance set to "Auto" on my cameras. The only time I think about it is when recording videos using multiple cameras. I'll manually set the white balance for each of them so that the video looks the same from each camera. For still cameras, "Auto" seems to always work for me.

    -- Roger
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2012
  4. May 30, 2012 #4

    WiK

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    +1 on UV filters. I've seen a UV filter save the lens on a dropped SLR on more than one occasion, so well worth the extra few dollars!

    If your camera can spit out RAW image files then you'll be able to change the white balance of a picture in software later, without losing any quality or the end result being any different than if you'd set that white balance on the camera in the first place. I find that Auto WB is fine for just about everything, but it's nice to have the option to change it later if you really need to.

    The best "trick" I can think of at the moment is this: memory cards and spare batteries are extremely cheap now, so buy lots of them. Take them all to the launch with you, and take hundreds and hundreds of photos. Then when you get home and start getting them ready to upload, be ruthless about the photos you choose to include. Only pick your absolute best shots, edit them carefully, and try to keep the gallery you upload from getting too big.
    None of that directly helps you to take awesome shots of a specific rocket, but it does mean you end up with nice galleries at the end of it all which make you look like a much better photographer than you really are. :cyclops:

    Cheers,
    Phil
     
  5. May 30, 2012 #5

    jadebox

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    Roger Smith TRF Sponsor

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    Shhhh! You're giving away the big secret - take lots of photos, but only share the best ones!

    -- Roger
     
  6. May 30, 2012 #6

    gdjsky01

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    My last vacation I took over 2500 images. Many intended for HDR processing. In general, yes, unload them right away into any 'decent' photo organization tool (the one that came with your camera might be fine), and start culling the herd. I wind up with maybe 1/4 worth keeping sometimes even less. I like to back my images up raw to DVDs or an external HD, then cull the herd down to the best.

    THE number one secret to take a great photo is to take lots of them. Tons and tons. Practice on every rocket launched. Don't just wait for your rocket. They cost nothing but time.
     
  7. May 31, 2012 #7

    jadebox

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    Assuming you have a digital camera. :)

    I bought my first decent digital camera after paying to have more then 600 prints made of vacation photos.

    One of my cameras takes up to 60 frames per second, which makes it great for catching lift-off photos. But, it means that I'll often have 2000 or more images to go through when I get home.

    I use a program called Lightroom from Adobe to triage the images. It has a weird user interface, but once you get used to it, you can quickly run though a lot of photos, marking some for deletion and making quick changes to others. It's a great tool. I'm sure if I took the time to really learn how to use it, I'd like it even better!

    -- Roger
     
  8. May 31, 2012 #8

    luke strawwalker

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    Yep... same here... last vacation I took out west we had the good old 35mm SLR... took about 20-30 rolls of film... had to spread it out over a few weeks to get them all developed because it ended up being about $200 bucks! The digital sure is sweet on that count!

    Same thing with the burst photos as well... I uploaded pics from our first joint launch with the San Antonio club at Shiner a couple months or so ago to an album on the club's yahoo group, and it ended up being about 90 pix, even after I had "thinned the herd"... think it was in the range of 300 pix that I actually took, most in burst mode... but it IS a neat tool!

    Later! OL JR :)
     
  9. May 31, 2012 #9

    gdjsky01

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    Ok Roger, I'll bite... which camera? I been eyeing Casio's on eBay...
    My lonely Canon 40D DSLR does 6 per second in RAW+JPEG. Turning off RAW does not increase the rate only the total number buffered in the camera.

    As for adoption, I had a Nikon Coolpix 950 in 1999! And Olympus 2100UZ in 2001... No film cameras since then. (And I worked for Kodak for 15 years! :) )

    I agree on using Lightroom. Been an owner since ver 2 (now 4). I tried Apple's Aperture (Mac only) and it's pretty good as well. But settled on Lightroom because it plays nice with Adobe CS4.
     
  10. May 31, 2012 #10

    spacecadet

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    The downside against fecundity is the sheer amount of time to process them all and, for an SLR at least , the life expectancy of the mirror box. It was never an issue with film, but it is now everyone takes tens of times as many photographs. It may be in six figures, but that's easily approached in a few years. My film cameras I expected to last for decades (including a Hasselblad made the same year as Apollo 8 took some of its friends round the Moon) and I don't expect much less now.
     
  11. May 31, 2012 #11

    jadebox

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    The Casio EX-F1 that I have is selling for more than I paid for it! It's probably the only electronic device I've ever bought that went up in value. :)

    I haven't looked at the current Casio cameras recently, but I don't think they offer anything like the EX-F1 any more.

    I posted something about choosing a camera, but I can't find it now. I did run into a good thread on Taking Static Shots of Rockets which I'm mentioning now so I don't forget about it. It would make a good thread starter (hint, hint).

    Anyway ... choosing a camera .... hmm ... this might be better as a new thread, too. :)

    The number one thing is probably obvious - how much do you want to spend? That will help you decide which types of cameras to consider. Real SLR digital cameras are pretty expensive. Small "point and shoot" cameras can be very inexpensive and still take very good photographs.

    Consider what you want to do with the camera? Are you going to use it just for photographing rocket launches or do you want to also use it for day trips or vacations where you might want to carry it in your pocket? You're not going to fit a DSLR or large P&S in your pocket - unless you have really large pockets. Carrying even a small DSLR camera around all day can be tiring. Plus you often need to also carry a flash, extra lenses, cleaning cloths, etc. Small cameras aren't going to capture magazine-cover lift-off shots, but they can take really nice photos, are easier to use, and are easier to carry around.

    The two basic categories of digital cameras are Digital Single Lens Reflex and Point and Shoot:

    DSLR - larger, heavier, more expensive, interchangeable lenses, optical viewfinder, more manual control
    P&S - smaller, less expensive, usually fixed lens, usually LCD with no viewfinder, often little manual control

    SLRs are fairly uniform in size and shape. But, P&S cameras range from cheap toys with fixed-focus plastic lenses to expensive cameras that look much like DSLRs and may have interchangeable lenses.

    Use a site like dpreview.com to get an idea of what's available. Narrow your selection to a few cameras and don't agonize about it too much. There are so many cameras available that you could spend a lifetime trying to find the "perfect" one for you. But, all the major manufacturers make quality cameras. So, if you can quickly narrow your choices to a few that you compare, you'll save a lot of time and anguish.

    If you can, try to check the cameras out in person - nothing beats lifting the camera and looking through the viewfinder to see if you're comfortable with it.

    As far as features specific to rocketry photography ....

    Look for a camera with an optical viewfinder. All SLRs have optical viewfinders - that's one of the things that makes them an SLR. The viewfinder of an SLR actually looks through the lens so you have a better idea of what the camera will image. If you haven't used a digital SLR before, you might find it odd that you can't look at the LCD to frame your shot (though there are a few SLRs that accomplish that trick now). But, looking through the viewfinder is the right thing to do when photographing a rocket launch.

    It's hard to see an LCD screen in bright daylight. So, an optical view-finder (which is getting hard to find on P&S cameras) is almost a must. My Casio has a viewfinder, but it's actually a small LCD and, even though you can see it in daylight, it's not very useful because the resolution isn't high enough. That's why I mainly use the camera for lift-off shots and seldom aim at things in the sky.

    Look for lots of glass! A bigger lens is better. As jeff explained before, the more light the camera's sensor can see, the better. All that light comes through the lens. The amount of light getting into the camera is more important than the number of megapixels on the sensor. And cameras with larger lenses tend to have larger sensors which result in photos with less noise. Of course, a camera with a larger lens is going to be larger. So there may be a trade-off. If you're looking for a small, easy-to-carry camera, you're not going to get one with a really large lens.

    If you have lots of money and are looking at an expensive DSLR, do as much research (or more) when choosing your lenses as you do choosing the body. You can easily spend several times as much on the lens as on the body of the camera. I recommend setting a limit on how much you are willing to spend and buying the best lens (or lenses) you can get at that price.

    Do you already have lenses you can use? If so that can influence your choice of brand of DSLR to buy. I have several Canon EOS lenses, so, if I were looking for a new SLR, I'd probably get a Canon so that I can use the lenses I have. If you already have a lens, you can buy the camera body by itself, saving a few dollars toward a future purchase of a better lens.

    Consider how many frames per second and how many frames total the camera can take in "burst" or "continuous" mode and how long it takes it to "recover" after that. Oh, also look at the shutter delay. One of the challenges of photographing rocket launches is that they seldom take off right when the countdown reaches zero. Capturing that perfect lift-off photo is often a matter of luck. With most cameras, you'll usually get a picture of the rocket sitting peacefully on the pad or a photo of smoke. But, if your camera can quickly take a series of photos and keep taking them at a fast rate for a few seconds, you have a better chance of getting one or more nice lift-off shots pretty much every time.

    I'd look for a camera that can maintain at least six or seven frames a second for a couple of seconds. After taking a burst of shots of the lift-off, it would be nice if the camera is available quickly to take more photos during the flight. Most reviews of cameras will report how many frames per second the camera can take and for how long. But, I'm not sure if they normally report on how quickly the camera recovers after the burst. If you're considering a specific camera, you might use the dpreviews.com forums to ask owners of that camera about how fast it recovers after taking a burst of pictures. My EX-F1 takes several seconds to save the pictures to the memory card after a "burst," which is a minor annoyance.

    A few cameras, such as the EX-F1 and some of Casio's other P&S cameras, have a feature where the camera actually takes photos as you hold the shutter half-way down then, when you fully depress the shutter, the camera saves the buffered photos from the last fraction of a second and continues to take and save new photos as you hold down the button. I'm not sure if there is a standard name for this feature, so it's hard to search for it. But, consider it a bonus if a camera you are evaluating offers it. It's really a great feature for rocketry photography.

    Do you want to record videos also? Since most cameras include video features, it's not really a discriminating factor. But, it might push you towards a DSLR if you'd also like to get a really good video camera for free. Professional videographers are often choosing to use DSLRs instead of dedicated video cameras (at least for some applications). If you're interested in recording high-quality video as well as taking still photos, you might consider investing in one of the new DSLRs (or a high-end P&S with similar video capabilities).

    Because cameras now are basically powerful computers with some hardware attached, there are many interesting features offered that you may use to help decide on a camera. My wife's Canon P&S will warn you if someone's eyes were closed in the shot you just took. Jeff mentioned HDR (I'll let him explain). There are cameras that have built in support for helping you take HDR images. There are cameras that will automatically stitch together images into panoramas. Some cameras have GPS to allow them to "geo tag" images. I don't think any of these kind of features are "must haves" but they could be used to decide between two choices of cameras.

    -- Roger
     
  12. Jun 1, 2012 #12

    gdjsky01

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    Fantastic Post!!! :clap: I'll add some more this weekend
     
  13. Dec 16, 2012 #13

    BABAR

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    EPM_03.jpg EPM_02.jpg EPM_01.jpg For taking pictures of rocket models (not on the pad) a lot of times hard to find a good background that at worst doesn't distract from the rocket and at best accentuates it. Here is a trick that gives you close to a jet black background that everybody has in their backyard an average of 12 hours a day (okay, you Canadians may have a lot more or a lot less, depending on time of year!)

    Hold up the rocket against the night sky and use a flash. Since the flash will only illuminate the what is in range, and only the rocket should be in range, the background will be pretty close to black. Won't work for models with really dark paint jobs, and may get varying results with really shiny rockets. But should get pretty good results for those Sci Fi looking ones.
     
  14. Dec 17, 2012 #14

    cwbullet

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    Guys, I have a canon 7d. I have a 70-300 zoom but have noticed i miss shots orvtheybare bury. I have thought about buying a lens with a faster f. Anyone have advice?
     
  15. Dec 17, 2012 #15

    JDcluster

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    What settings are you using?
    how many focus points are you using?
    Are you using a fast enough shutter speed to stop the action?

    A 70-200 F/2.8L IS MKII is what I'd like to have.....
    I do own the MKI though along with the 7D.
    Takes great pics in rocketry and racing.

    JerryOIrisTTbooster.jpg

    If you really need the 300 mm part then, you can add a 1.4 tele converter to get you a 280 mm @ F/4.0.
    Or the 100-400 mm F/4.0
    I don't like it because the zoom is a push/pull setup as opposed to twisty grip.
    Otherwise expect to dig deep for big glass and a mono-pod.



    JD



     
  16. Dec 17, 2012 #16

    jadebox

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    I used my old Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS lens for some of the shots I just posted at http://www.rocketreviews.com/december-2012-launch-6696.html. I've been using it for rocketry photography for years and it's worked well.

    Missing shots probably doesn't have much to do about the lens. It is is more a function of when you press the shutter button, how you have the camera set, and how fast your camera can take photos in continuous drive mode.
    But, you shouldn't be seeing blurry shots with that lens. It's not a "fast" lens, but in daylight it should work fine for photographing rockets.

    The shots can be blurry for several reasons. A dirty lens or sensor on the camera could be the problem, but you'd see that in all photos. If the shutter speed is too low, the images may be blurry due to movement of the camera and rocket. Or the photos may be blurry because they are out of focus.

    The 7D is a professional model, so I don't think it has a pre-programmed "sports mode" like the consumer model I have. So, I'd recommend, at least as a starting point, setting it to use shutter priority (Tv) and selecting a high shutter speed like 1/2000 or faster. Set the drive mode to "continuous," set auto focus to "AI servo," set focus to "AF point expansion," and set ISO to "auto." I also like to change the exposure compensation to underexpose the photos a little. I think this makes the colors a little richer and the contrast between the flame and the rest of the rocket photo greater.

    I usually leave the lens's IS mode on and set to 1. I'll sometimes use autofocus. But, I'll often manually focus especially when trying to follow a rocket in flight.

    -- Roger
     
  17. Dec 17, 2012 #17

    gdjsky01

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    I agree with Roger... I am not sure a faster lens will help 'yet'.

    Zoom out a bit. You have lots of pixels. You can make tight crops after the fact. Move the dial to Tv. (Shutter Priority). Then jack up the speed to 1/1600 or better. If need be jack up the ISO to 320 or 400 to compensate for the fast shutter. Go to 600 ISO if you need to. Better more noise than a blurry picture. Get to high speed continuous shooting mode. Turning off RAW (if it is on) if you camera can't write RAW fast enough to allow continuous shooting for over 5 or 10 seconds. JPEG only is fine for now.

    Now turn the camera portrait... put the rocket at the bottom. At "One" press the shutter and listen. At the speed of sound you should still be good. Keep the shutter down and move with rocket. And with luck... you have a good one.


    .
     
  18. Dec 17, 2012 #18

    skip_dye

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    Do you have an example photo you can post? Please include the set-up of the camera, shutter speed, F-stop, ISO, distance, etc.

    Blurry is usually a result of too slow a shutter speed, or the camera moving while the shutter is open.

    1/1600 may not be fast enough. If my math is right....A rocket traveling 100 mph moves about 150 feet in one second. At 1/1600 of a second the rocket moves over an inch.

    I usually shot mid and high power at 1/3200 or 1/4000 on my Rebel XT. I set my aperture and ISO to give me the shutter speed is need. I just got a 7D and can't wait to shot at higher shutter speeds.
     
  19. Dec 17, 2012 #19

    gdjsky01

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    While faster is better... on the pad, unless it's a Warp 9 or Vmax..., it's not doing 150/sec. more like a third of that. And even if it is:

    And that said... here we have a VB Javelin at 1/4 sec off the pad.
    Canon 40D, 1/2000th of a second. ISO160 F/5.6

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffgortatowsky/7171212743/

    It can be done. And this H410 is a kick a$$ motor off the pad.
    Sure it's a bit blurred, but it is at 163mph. And that's highly unusual.
     
  20. Dec 17, 2012 #20

    alexzogh

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    hmm...

    Jeff, When I looked at the original sized image, that Javelin was out of focus due to motion blur - I too think 1/4000th is a minimum.


    One of the issues with giving photography tips in "general" is there can be vast differences in venue which will lead to very different recommendations. Here in the dreary Midwest, 60% of our launches will be in overcast skies, or worse. I just moved from a Canon to a Nikon D600 primarily because of the fantastic high ISO / low noise capabilities of their new crop of Nikon sensors. I can still hand-hold shoot at 1/4000th in December, pushing the ISO to 16000+ and still get a nice photo.

    If I was taking photo's in the desert, this would be a complete waste, and I would be making a very different recommendation.
     
  21. Dec 18, 2012 #21

    gdjsky01

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    Dude.. I said Sure it's a bit blurred, but it is at 163mph. And that's highly unusual. It is after all 1/4 of second and 163 mph. That is simply a challenge, I don't care what body you are using. I am not disputing being in the desert. Our friend's post said, "Somewhere in Kuwait". I will dispute you need 1/4000th of second and 16000+ ISO unless you are in the shade, during a hurricane, at night.

    Try these.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffgortatowsky/sets/72157632090755815/

    That's the tip of the iceberg. I have 100s of great sharp photos at ISO 160 - 400 from 1/1600th to 1/2000th... sure sure YMMV... but I was trying to give a practical example in text and an extreme one as what is possible with modest specs. Most rockets just are not THAT fast off the pad. He does not need to spend more on a lens yet unless he's already tried improving his techniques and settings.

    Fly high! Take pictures!
    Jeff
     
  22. Dec 18, 2012 #22

    cwbullet

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    Thanks guys. I will get my wife to take some photos with these settings and post a few.

    Chuck
     
  23. Dec 18, 2012 #23

    JordanT

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    High shutter speed is what you're looking for - don't let the camera decide. Based on what lens you have a what gear you're shooting with choose the maximum shutter speed, and let the camera pick the aperture and/or ISO. The image below was captured at 1/8000s and cropped. You can clearly see the 007 logo on the fin. This was ~5lb rocket on a J357, so it was picking up speed fairly quickly. I think I ended up about f5.6 at 1600 ISO. Shooting at 11 frames per second, this was the only shot I captured after the rocket left the pad. I should note that I sharpened the JPG just a hair, but it's otherwise straight from the camera. I haven't had a chance to open the RAW file in Lightroom and make actual corrections.

    Also, unless you plan on following the rocket past the liftoff phase, focus manually and don't let the camera autofocus after that. Of all the things in the frame, your rocket is going to be pretty darned small. My video camera hates having a rocket with a blue sky behind it, and even my DSLR sometimes will choose the trees in the background. The focal distance won't change enough from the time of liftoff until the rocket exits the frame to matter.

    I should add...some rockets are just not photo-friendly. Even at 1/8000s, the only shot I got of Don't Blink (220+ gs acceleration) was blurry!

    _JAT9099a.jpg

    _JAT9099b.jpg
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2012
  24. Dec 19, 2012 #24

    FredA

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    No standard camera will stop the motion if it's really fast.
    At mach (1100 ft/sec assumed) a 1/8000th shutter speed will still capture 1.65 inches of motion....blurred photo.

    However, most rockets are going much slower at liftoff and you should be able to capture them without blur.
    One thing I've learned (the hard way) is that you must do two things: turn OFF Vr and AF.
    Focus manually.
    Vr isn't needed (isn't wanted) at shutter speeds above about 1/500th second -- it actually blurs my photos trying to respond to the quick upward pan trying to follow the rocket.
     
  25. Dec 19, 2012 #25

    alexzogh

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    Fred,

    I couldn't agree more.

    VR is good if you have a few seconds to let it stabilize, and you don't plan on tracking the rocket - a tripod would be a much better option than turning VR on. as for auto focus, this depends upon the lens. The 70-300 is known to have slow AF. At the very least, you should shift from AF-C in your camera to just AF since there is no way it will be able to track a rocket.

    Here's a good summary of this len's characteristics from a bird watcher's perspective: http://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-70-300mm-vr

    I've shifted to a Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8 lens which doesn't give me the reach of this 300, but is has much better light gathering, and super-fast focus.
    I must admit, I didn't buy the lens for Rocket Photography. I bought it for indoor sports photography (swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, etc..) which has similar needs, and made the cost easier to justify with my wife.

    Jeff, your Rocket photo's are great - I meant no disrespect, I just didn't think the specific photo you linked to backed up your point :>




    00mm
     
  26. Jan 23, 2014 #26

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    stealth6

    insert witty tagline here

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    Bit of a thread necro:

    I've been working on some rocket photography - specifically still shots of launches - and was doing some researching here for tips/ideas. Found this thread and found some great advice. I've got a tip that I think might be helpful to folks:
    --- - Learn how to clean your sensor on digital SLRs.

    No matter how much you try to keep your camera clean, and how careful you are when changing lenses and such, dust can still collect on your sensor. This was never all that much of an issue with film cameras, as each bit of dust that might get in there would only settle on one piece of film and therefore only affect one image. But with a digital SLR, ALL your images are recorded on the same sensor, and therefore any bit of dust that gets in there STAYS there for every image. And they build up over time. Worse, many digital SLR's (including very respected brands/models) sometimes splatter tiny bits of lubricant (from the mirror mechanism) onto the sensor. These again stay on the sensor, build up over time, and affect ALL your images.

    So what to do? Well, you could send your camera back to the manufacturer on a regular basis, or get a local technician to do the cleaning, but these both cost lots of money and time. Or you could learn to do it yourself. There are a bunch of available products and options available out there, but if you do a search for "the Copperhill Method" you will find that it is by far the best way to go. Yes, it can be scary to do the first time or two, and yes you could really screw up your nice expensive camera by doing it wrong, but really once you get the hang of it (which is pretty easy to do), you will find it simple, fast, and you will wonder how you got along without it.

    You can buy the necessary products many places (Amazon, camera sites, etc.), but Copperhill does sell direct, and their website has tons of great info on how to go about it, video tutorials, and the like. Their pricing is as good as most any other place. All you really need is their "sensor sweep", the pre-cut cleaning strips, and the small bottle of liquid cleaner. You could also go with the sensor brush they offer, but it's not really necessary (and it's pricey). They also sell a lighted magnifier that makes the job MUCH easier and is great to have, but again it's not absolutely necessary and it's not cheap. I would suggest a good quality blower as well (they offer one that is a rocket!).

    Keep your sensor clean, do it yourself, and up the quality of your photography.

    And post your shots here!

    s6
     
  27. Jan 23, 2014 #27

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