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12-26-2012, 04:09 PM   #1
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Which lens for aurora borealis?

Because I saved my old Pentax lens I don't have any fast lens. I am going to Iceland (West and South) the first week of March for 8 days and will rent at least one lens for the trip.
This is what I have on hand:

Pentax K5

1. SMC Pentax DA 18-250 1: 3.5-6.3
2. SMC Pentax DA 12-24 1:4 wide angle
3. SMC Pentax FA 80-320 1:4.5-5.6 slow focus
4. Tokina 400 1:5.6 telephoto (still sharp but heavy
5. SMC Pentax M 100 1:4 macro
6. SMC Pentax M 40 1:2.8 Prime
7. SMC Pentax M- 28 1:2.8 Prime
8. SMC Pentax M 20 1:4 Prime
9. SMC Pentax M- 50 1:4 macro

I'm thinking of bring lens # 1, 2, 7, and maybe 3.

What additional single lens would you rent to bring in particular to photograph the auroa borealis at night?. We will have a car and I have a good camera bag (or even two and decent tripod so overall weight not much of an issue.

12-26-2012, 04:57 PM   #2
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In most cases I'd take the 12-24 over the rest, if you have plenty of open space - that will maximize the sky coverage. If the lights are in a specific quadrant of the sky (less likely in Iceland, perhaps?) the 20 and 28mm lenses would be nice. I'd have a hard time recommending anything above 40mm but that's my rare Oregon experience speaking - I have only seen the aurora a few times and it's been low to the horizon.
12-26-2012, 04:58 PM   #3
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1 and 2 will probably do just fine. I was in Norway in Feb this year shooting the Northern Lights. From memory, most of the stuff was done using an 18-55WR lens on a K10 or using a Pentax fisheye on the K10. I took the Sigma 17-70 but it was a pile of rubbish and really DIDN'T like the cold at all and kept stopping working. I can't remember using anything much longer than this. A good (carbon fibre) tripod and cable release are also needed. Also, remember, no filters on the front of your lenses either as this causes problems. There's a guy in the USA somewhere who has a blog about shooting things like the "lights" who produced an excellent list of do's/dont's along with some excellent images.

How to photograph the northern lights with a digital camera.

Most of the time I used manual focus anyway. One other thing I found useful - a 90 degree finder!

Where are you planning to go? I've been to Iceland twice, but never in the "cold".

Lenses misting up is also a problem you need to be aware of. Make sure you pack lots and lots of "good" thermals and make sure you test your stuff before you go out there...you might get a surprise about what does/doesn't work as well as you think it might. Other useful tips - a red LED head torch, mittens (not gloves), inner gloves as well as outers. Your feet will get REALLY cold if you are stood around for a long time as well - I used heated insoles for some of the stuff I did.
12-26-2012, 05:12 PM   #4
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The 12-24 looks like your best lens for aurora. Take my advice cautiously; I've photographed stars, meteor showers, nebula, etc. but am too far south for good aurora. The 18-250 is a good pairing to cover daytime photography without packing many lenses.

One additional lens to rent for aurora? A fast wide prime. You want a lens with minimal coma for sharp stars across the frame but if you're lucky to get very active aurora, oblong stars will be forgivable. Maybe the new Samyang 14/2.8 but check reviews first.

12-26-2012, 05:27 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by eonb Quote
1 and 2 will probably do just fine. I was in Norway in Feb this year shooting the Northern Lights. From memory, most of the stuff was done using an 18-55WR lens on a K10 or using a Pentax fisheye on the K10. I took the Sigma 17-70 but it was a pile of rubbish and really DIDN'T like the cold at all and kept stopping working. I can't remember using anything much longer than this. A good (carbon fibre) tripod and cable release are also needed. Also, remember, no filters on the front of your lenses either as this causes problems. There's a guy in the USA somewhere who has a blog about shooting things like the "lights" who produced an excellent list of do's/dont's along with some excellent images.

How to photograph the northern lights with a digital camera.

Most of the time I used manual focus anyway. One other thing I found useful - a 90 degree finder!

Where are you planning to go? I've been to Iceland twice, but never in the "cold".

Lenses misting up is also a problem you need to be aware of. Make sure you pack lots and lots of "good" thermals and make sure you test your stuff before you go out there...you might get a surprise about what does/doesn't work as well as you think it might. Other useful tips - a red LED head torch, mittens (not gloves), inner gloves as well as outers. Your feet will get REALLY cold if you are stood around for a long time as well - I used heated insoles for some of the stuff I did.
Having lived in New England all my life, cold doesn't bother me and I do go out shooting in the cold quite a bit. I am worried about jumping in and out of the heated car (containing my wife) so will being a lock bag to put the camera in when still outside. I have two remotes for the camera but no cable but that should be okay. Last year we went north to Quebec City during the winter

We are going to the West Iceland staying in Stykkisholmur for 2 nights, then down to area near Fludir (Geysers region) and then south Iceland to Krkjubaejarklauster and Skogar. Looking forward to getting to Jokulsarlon where the galcier and ice fragments are often on the black sands.
12-26-2012, 05:28 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by eonb Quote
1 and 2 will probably do just fine. I was in Norway in Feb this year shooting the Northern Lights. From memory, most of the stuff was done using an 18-55WR lens on a K10 or using a Pentax fisheye on the K10. I took the Sigma 17-70 but it was a pile of rubbish and really DIDN'T like the cold at all and kept stopping working. I can't remember using anything much longer than this. A good (carbon fibre) tripod and cable release are also needed. Also, remember, no filters on the front of your lenses either as this causes problems. There's a guy in the USA somewhere who has a blog about shooting things like the "lights" who produced an excellent list of do's/dont's along with some excellent images.

How to photograph the northern lights with a digital camera.

Most of the time I used manual focus anyway. One other thing I found useful - a 90 degree finder!

Where are you planning to go? I've been to Iceland twice, but never in the "cold".

Lenses misting up is also a problem you need to be aware of. Make sure you pack lots and lots of "good" thermals and make sure you test your stuff before you go out there...you might get a surprise about what does/doesn't work as well as you think it might. Other useful tips - a red LED head torch, mittens (not gloves), inner gloves as well as outers. Your feet will get REALLY cold if you are stood around for a long time as well - I used heated insoles for some of the stuff I did.
thanks for the link
12-26-2012, 05:38 PM   #7
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I pulled off some northern light shots with my kit lens, but I fared far better with an old 50mm f/1.7 due to its speed. Personally, I'd go with 6 and 7.

If you can work them, shoot in RAW as well, it will give you a LOT more flexibility with the end result in a case like this.

From my own (limited) experience...

50mm f/1.7:



18-55 f/3.5:

12-26-2012, 07:14 PM   #8
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I was in Iceland last October and took these pics with a DA15 ltd on a K-30:

https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/olH94nTgEB6fIcbu9_COotMTjNZETYmyPJy0li...eat=directlink
https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/NjMcUVp4oCMUXC3mJFkdItMTjNZETYmyPJy0li...eat=directlink
https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/0ljtaykWJD3Xiwvd0W1ZkdMTjNZETYmyPJy0li...eat=directlink

Please note: these are unworked jpeg files, all taken within a minute of each other, @ 5 sec @ 1600 @ f5.6. I also shot some at ISO 5000, at shorter speeds, more noise, but less "smoothness". The displays change quite rapidly, and much of the action in Iceland is straight over head. Your 12-24 mm should work well, but figure out your infinity stop and tape it there- it isn't a problem on the DA15 but may be on your lens.

Unless you are in the interior, Iceland isn't very cold- around freezing if you are within 20KM of the shore. Merino wool underwear helps a lot, with layered sweaters or fleece and a windbreaker on top. If it is windy you will need to anchor your tripod. I used the built-in 2 second self-timer to trigger the exposures. You may want a right angle tripod bracket to switch quickly from horizontal to vertical orientation. I used a Sunwayfoto DPL-02, it is about half the price of a RRS bracket and is adjustable for different cameras.


These pictures were taken right in the center of Reykjavík, in an unlit park on the south end of the pond (Tjörnin). I got about 30 pictures over a 20 minute span around 8 pm. There are prediction sites, but they aren't very accurate unless a big solar storm is coming:

Aurora Forecast | Geophysical Institute


Last edited by Professor Batty; 12-26-2012 at 09:17 PM. Reason: typo
12-26-2012, 08:26 PM   #9
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Considering the cost and pain from here to there, I would take everything I owned.

More than likely I would use the trip as an excuse for a new something else to to carry along.
12-26-2012, 11:41 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Colbyt Quote
Considering the cost and pain from here to there, I would take everything I owned.

More than likely I would use the trip as an excuse for a new something else to to carry along.
I'm thinking a fast, wide prime would be amazing for something like that.
12-27-2012, 08:07 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sagitta Quote
I'm thinking a fast, wide prime would be amazing for something like that.

That and a well made tripod. The tripod not having been mentioned.
12-28-2012, 09:09 AM   #12
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I'm really hoping to get a northern lights shot. The few times this year they would have been visible here, we were socked in with cloud cover or fog. I will use the DA 15 when I finally get the chance. Nothing in my collection of lenses does sky better although the DA 10-17 isn't bad either. To the OP, I think your DA 12-24 would be your go to lens for night skies and, as just mentioned, a good tripod.
12-29-2012, 03:06 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by reeftool Quote
I'm really hoping to get a northern lights shot. The few times this year they would have been visible here, we were socked in with cloud cover or fog. I will use the DA 15 when I finally get the chance. Nothing in my collection of lenses does sky better although the DA 10-17 isn't bad either. To the OP, I think your DA 12-24 would be your go to lens for night skies and, as just mentioned, a good tripod.
I agree I have a good tripod but it does not have a hook to weight if it is windy. I used a gift card from my wife and ended up buying a Sigma 24 mm F 1.8 DG with the Macro capability . Tried it out yesterday and it worked well, as the reviewers indicated it does have nice brokah and handled distances well. Took a moon shot on the water after dark and it handled it well. So now I have some choices. Thanks everyone for the suggestions
01-02-2013, 01:24 AM   #14
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I'm off to Sweden in Feb for same reason with the same dilemma and after much research have bought a Sigma 15mm f2.8 prime. I reckon the extra stop over my Pentax 16-45 f4 (which I will also take) could be useful. Extra stop was also the reason I didn't go for the 15mm/f4 limited prime. The siggy is supposed to be sharper than the Pentax 14/2.8 especially wide open (which is how I'll be using it!).
Useful thread - must investigate heated insoles!

Paul
01-02-2013, 06:37 AM   #15
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Lenses #8 & #9 - using the wider 20mm for broad skyscrapes is a no brainer, but I'll bet your best shots will be with the 50mm where you will isolate detail.... You'll want to fix your focus at infinity, go wide open and bracket exposures. That makes using a M-series lens really easy.
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