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Falcon 9 TESS Launch - Extreme Range
Lens: Tamron 55BB 500mm Catadioptric Camera: Pentax K-30 Photo Location: Titusville FL ISO: 100 Shutter Speed: 1/180s Aperture: F8 
Posted By: FritzCat66, 04-19-2018, 11:09 AM

I thought my fellow Pentaxians might be interested in this extreme-range image I shot yesterday of the Falcon 9 launch, which successfully placed NASA's TESS planet-discovery satellite into orbit.

This is from Space View Park in downtown Titusville, which is just some 12 miles from the pad, with little but the Indian River between.

I live nearby and often shoot launches with my DA 18-135 zoom, but I wanted more reach to get closer, so this time I was experimenting with the Tamron 55BB 500mm catadioptric lens, which I recently got used from eBay (note I do not consider myself anything more than a hobbyist, definitely not a serious photographer at all, having zero artistic ability, and negligible post-processing skills). The Tamron 55BB is reviewed here in the PentaxForums lens database; it's a respected mirror design but very quirky, with a fixed F8 aperture and manual focus. However, it's a very compact - and relatively inexpensive - way to get a lot of tele yet still fitting inside your camera bag. I shot with my K-30 in Av mode, and the launch occurred just after 6:51p Eastern time.

Catching the lift-off was easy enough. I posted that pic as well, but the focus isn't great - I did not realize that the Tamron can actually focus beyond infinity, and only later in the shoot backed it off to the infinity mark.

After the launch, however, tracking the Falcon was really difficult; I lost it a couple of times but was able to re-acquire. I continued shooting even as the rocket became just a tiny dot in my viewfinder (I'm thankful I thought to use the Refconverter A I kept from my SuperProgram film days to save some neck strain).

So, I had no idea what I actually caught, but was happy to find this one. This is when the Falcon is waaaay downrange, nearly 2 minutes after launch (EDIT: looks like actual time was T+1:42), and at this point has turned mostly East, away from the Florida coastline. This image is not re-sized at all, it's just very low-res due to the extreme crop. The rocket itself is only some 30 pixels in length at this point, but you can still make it out. Even better, though, is that you can see the plumes from each of the nine Merlin engines blasting away!

I have the Pentax A 1.4x-S teleconverter, but did not use it this time. Which was fine; the 500mm Tamron is already like a 750mm FF equivalent, and the subject was very difficult to track as it was. Maybe I'll experiment using the TC in the future, but I need to get used to the Tamron just as it is first.


Here is the aft-end view of the Merlin engine cluster at extreme range, somewhere around T+4:00 (note this is NOT resized, only cropped, with some color saturation turned up):



...and while not as interesting, here is the launch itself, seconds after lift-off:


Last edited by FritzCat66; 04-20-2018 at 01:07 PM.
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04-19-2018, 01:28 PM   #2
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Not your everyday images, I like both of them. Thanks for sharing!
04-19-2018, 04:01 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by grog85361 Quote
Not your everyday images, I like both of them. Thanks for sharing!
Me too! Good stuff.

Jer
04-19-2018, 07:39 PM   #4
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Thanks, guys! I did a little poking around regarding the Falcon 9 flight profile on this launch, and it appears that this shot was taken at T+1:42 (I wish EXIF timestamp included milliseconds!), so this is after it has passed the speed of sound but some 50s before main engine cutoff. Corroborated with some video of the launch, at this point the Falcon 9 was around 25km in altitude, about 40km downrange from the pad (and keep in mind I'm nearly 20km farther west), and moving at some 2700 km/h. That's why it's really just a few pixels - the rocket and the rose below it (without plume) fits in a square 100 x 100 pixels, from the K-30's overall 16MP sensor. That's far away and not much to go on!

Here's a reference shot from the official SpaceX tracking video at the same time, from a more northern angle.


04-20-2018, 06:27 AM   #5
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It was a beautiful and picture-perfect launch and booster landing <be still my fluttering heart, all a-twitter over the sight of rockets doing their stuff again>. Thoroughly impressed with the ability of those tracking cameras to capture crystal clear video at such a range.

I am also impressed that you captured shots at your distance! Love 'em both

Jim
04-20-2018, 02:52 PM   #6
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Here's a shot of the rig I used for those rocket pics. Maybe next time I'll try with the 1.4x teleconverter for even more tele (that would make it around 1000mm in 35mm FF equivalent terms!). I love the fact that this lens still fits in my regular camera bag - but note I am using an aftermarket collapsible rubber shade instead of the hard shade that comes with the Tamron. I'm also using an angle bracket to mount the camera in portrait mode, yet flat on the tripod. That definitely makes setup and tracking simpler, but I'm thinking a fluid-damped video-style head for the tripod would actually be more useful for tracking the launch yet keeping the camera steady. My old Pentax refconverter-A angle viewer also came in quite handy - I love the fact that old Pentax gear like that usually works with even the latest Pentax models!

04-22-2018, 07:15 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by FritzCat66 Quote
Here's a shot of the rig I used for those rocket pics. Maybe next time I'll try with the 1.4x teleconverter for even more tele (that would make it around 1000mm in 35mm FF equivalent terms!). I love the fact that this lens still fits in my regular camera bag - but note I am using an aftermarket collapsible rubber shade instead of the hard shade that comes with the Tamron. I'm also using an angle bracket to mount the camera in portrait mode, yet flat on the tripod. That definitely makes setup and tracking simpler, but I'm thinking a fluid-damped video-style head for the tripod would actually be more useful for tracking the launch yet keeping the camera steady. My old Pentax refconverter-A angle viewer also came in quite handy - I love the fact that old Pentax gear like that usually works with even the latest Pentax models!
Thank you for interesting photos! You have an option to try Pentax Q body, it would make 2750mm in 35mm FF equivalent terms.
04-27-2018, 05:04 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Chetverovod Quote
Thank you for interesting photos! You have an option to try Pentax Q body, it would make 2750mm in 35mm FF equivalent terms.
You know, that's not a bad idea. For maximum range, you would want the Q7 or Q-S1 with the smaller 1.7" sensor. Looks like best deal there would be a used Q7, which right now are selling for around $280 or so. You would also need a K-mount adapter. The Pentax one is the best, but it's going for almost as much as the camera, around $200. But with the all-manual fixed-aperture Tamron 500mm you could probably make do with one of the cheaper simple adapters, around $40.

My main concern would be tracking the rocket, since the Q's don't have an optical viewfinder, and at the range I snapped this one the screen would be practically useless - we're talking a few pixels in a blue field, plus at that elevation the camera would have to be positioned over the photographer's head to see the screen (this is why I use the Refconverter, which unfortunately can't work with the Q).

Something to think about, though, so thanks for the suggestion. I certainly would want to try it before shelling out the $300+ cost to play!

04-28-2018, 09:25 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by FritzCat66 Quote
You know, that's not a bad idea. For maximum range, you would want the Q7 or Q-S1 with the smaller 1.7" sensor. Looks like best deal there would be a used Q7, which right now are selling for around $280 or so. You would also need a K-mount adapter. The Pentax one is the best, but it's going for almost as much as the camera, around $200. But with the all-manual fixed-aperture Tamron 500mm you could probably make do with one of the cheaper simple adapters, around $40.

My main concern would be tracking the rocket, since the Q's don't have an optical viewfinder, and at the range I snapped this one the screen would be practically useless - we're talking a few pixels in a blue field, plus at that elevation the camera would have to be positioned over the photographer's head to see the screen (this is why I use the Refconverter, which unfortunately can't work with the Q).

Something to think about, though, so thanks for the suggestion. I certainly would want to try it before shelling out the $300+ cost to play!
Q and Q10 have smaller sensor (1/2.3") than Q7 and Q-S1 (1/1.7")
04-30-2018, 10:54 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Chetverovod Quote
Q and Q10 have smaller sensor (1/2.3") than Q7 and Q-S1 (1/1.7")
Yup, I had them backwards. The crop factor for the Q/Q10 is 5.6, while the crop factor for the Q-S1/Q7 is 4.7, so for absolute maximum range you would want one of the former. The K-mount adapter still keeps the overall cost up in the $300+ range for any of the Q-mount cameras though.
04-30-2018, 10:57 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by FritzCat66 Quote
Yup, I had them backwards. The crop factor for the Q/Q10 is 5.6, while the crop factor for the Q-S1/Q7 is 4.7, so for absolute maximum range you would want one of the former. The K-mount adapter still keeps the overall cost up in the $300+ range for any of the Q-mount cameras though.
Yes, adaptor pq-pk pentax 39977 is expensive, because it has an embedded mechanical shutter. There are simplified adapters without shutter.
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