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09-06-2012, 10:17 PM   #1
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Best lens and Northern Lights

Would anyone be able to give me some advice for a new beginner with my new K5?. I bought this camera with the 18-135 mm. Anyone know a good setting for nothern lights?.
So far I love the camera but still trying to learn the basics. I was curious about buying a 15mm limited for some landscape shots or the 12-24mm for everyday use and landscape shots. Going to Japan soon and trying to decide on what lenses to carry. Wondering if I should keep my 18-135 and get a wide ange 15 mm. Anything would help.

09-06-2012, 10:53 PM   #2
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For aurora you'll want something fast and (preferably) wide. Unfortunately the two don't exactly combine well if you're trying to keep your costs low. Of the two choices, you'll want width over speed. You can always shoot RAW and pray for the best in post, you can't add width for the shots themselves after the fact.

Unless you plan on intentionally going somewhere and staking out the northern lights, I wouldn't necessarily buy a lens directly FOR them. I'd get a lens you cn use for other things that will conveniently also be useful for grabbing the aurora as well - which would lean things towards the 12-24.

I'd keep the 18-135mm - while its not hugely wide, 18mm is pretty decent for catching a wide landscape and you can always use the zoom.

If I *knew* I was going to be seeing aurora and was looking for a lens out of everything out there, I'd grab one of the (comparitively) cheap Bower/Samyang/Vivitar 14mm f/2.8's. While its not super speedy, its WIDE. Yea, its all manual focus, but you don't really need autofocus for a lens being used for night time landscapes. Odds are in aurora conditions, you'll be manually focusing anyway since the AF wouldn't have anything to lock on to in the first place.

You won't really find anything else out there even close to the value for width those things offer.

As far as settings goes, it'll be a crapshoot depending on the situation at hand. The presence of a moon, the lack of a moon, light pollution, etc all will play into what you'll want to do for settings.

Glancing through flickr, it seems that a lot of the highly explored shots seem to have been shot at around ISO 800 with sub-18mm focal lengths. The exposure lengths seem to vary depending on what the photographer was after as an end result.

FWIW, I've only had the chance to shoot them once, and I didn't have time to plan ahead so was stuck with what I had at hand - my 18-55mm kit and a cheap 50mm f/1.7 prime.

The prime gave (to me) much more pleasing results simply because I could let it eat more light than the kit lens. YMMV as far as what results you may get, again, all depending upon conditions.

Here are my results from when I had the chance.

50mm, f/1.7, 15 second exposure ISO 400
(Sears 50mm f/1.7 prime)


Same settings and lens


Same settings and lens



18mm, f/3.5, 30 seconds, ISO 800
DA18-55mm kit lens

09-06-2012, 10:57 PM   #3
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Original Poster
Thanks for such a quick reply. I am actually currenly living way up in northern canada where we get many many nights of great Northern lights. They are now starting and I am just trying to figure out what mode on my K5 to use and what settings to manually set. I know a bit but just not used to this camera yet. Thanks again
09-06-2012, 11:09 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Skipper74 Quote
Thanks for such a quick reply. I am actually currenly living way up in northern canada where we get many many nights of great Northern lights. They are now starting and I am just trying to figure out what mode on my K5 to use and what settings to manually set. I know a bit but just not used to this camera yet. Thanks again
Ahhh.

I'm jealous.

I'd still go for the Samyang - especially if you're living somewhere cold. If you really need the AF, you could drop the extra $150 or so and get the DA14mm f/2.8.

If your heart is really set on a zoom, you could grab the DA*16-50, although that would be both a lot more expensive, and redundant to the first half of your 18-135. You could probably sell the 18-135 to make up for the cost difference though, which would make it as affordable as the rest - provided you won't miss the longer end of the 18-135's range.

EDIT: Again though, at least in my admittedly limited experience, lens speed is definitely the biggest factor. The slower the lens, the less flexibility you'll have in your shot. I'd avoid anything slower than a 2.8. I see some fantastic stuff shot at 3.5 on flickr, but they all require long exposure times and I'm not sure how I'd enjoy leving my camera open for three minutes at a crack in sub-freezing weather.


Last edited by Sagitta; 09-06-2012 at 11:16 PM.
09-07-2012, 02:07 AM   #5
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It is important, that you remove the protective filter for longtime exposures of northern lights:

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-dslr-discussion/116167-k-7-aurora-...s-picture.html
09-07-2012, 05:47 AM   #6
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One thing I'd say is that it's important to get correct exposure (not too long (something like 15 seconds, maximum) and still good enough for getting low noisy)!

I've been using mostly ISO 3200 and 10 seconds with 2.8 aperture..
That's the way you'll get auroras stopped (like in this photo: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=430704483642475&set=a.25615686443057...type=1&theater) and In my opinion moves of the northern lights are amazing and I always want to get saved them well..

But I do not say the way I told is only the one way to go. If you want to get northern lights -photos that are looking different you should test different exposures with different ISOs and change your angle! And one thing yet: never take photos with long mm's! I mean you should use mm's like 10mm, 15mm etc.. not anything like 50mm! If using 50mm, for example, you'll only get photos looking not good!

Every now and then I'm using longer exposures if the auroras are really bad.. but at another time you must use maximum 15seconds exposure!

Btw here's one photo of mine, taken in last August, about one week ago!

ISO 800, f/3.5, 10s with K-5 and Tamron 17-50/2.8 @17mm..
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