Happy 7th birthday, Canon 6D. You’re still one of the best values in astrophotography!

Today, in 2012, the Canon 6D was announced. It only had a single SD card slot and Canon Rebel-style focus point layout, (so I didn’t count it as a top choice for my day job as a wedding photographer) …but its sensor was, and still is, a huge milestone in high ISO image quality. So, happy birthday, Canon 6D! (Also known as the 6D mk1 or 6D classic, now)

Canon 6D – Astrophotography Legend

The 6D sensor was shockingly good in its day. It forfeited just two megapixels compared to its bigger brother, the Canon 5D mk3, but it was actually significantly better than its predecessor at high ISO image quality, particularly 3200-6400 where many nightscape photographers will likely spend a lot of time.

Smart photographers who needed incredible image quality more than they needed the flagship AF and dual card slots that the 5D3 offered, opted for the 6D as soon as its image quality was extensively tested and nightscape, landscape, and adventure photographers, in general, realized that not only did it have great image quality at high ISOs, it had better dynamic range at its base ISO than all previous Canons ever, including all flagships.

Though, admittedly, that base ISO dynamic range was still 2-3 stops behind Nikon and Sony, so if you also do a ton of shooting at ISO 100, then I must stop praising the 6D for a second and suggest that you consider the similarly priced (used) Nikon D750, which recently had its 5th birthday, I  might add. The D750’s high ISO image quality is not as good as the 6D’s, (though it’s close!) but its dynamic range at ISO 100 is still considered “insane” *1 by today’s standards. (Just like the D600 and D610, BTW.)

*1 “insane” is a scientific measurement that means “way better than most photographers will ever need. In fact, you’re more likely to see a bigger difference in image quality by just making sure you use perfect technique, than switching from this camera to anything better.”

Although the Canon 6D lacks a lot of pro features, it wins big in one way- that “magnify” button can be programmed to offer 1-click 100% zooming, unlike the Nikon D600 and D610. It even plays back the zoomed-in image if the LCD is off!

Indeed, when shopping used, you can easily find a good condition 6D for $700-800, making it one of the best values on the market today for anyone who needs a hard-working full-frame sensor in a very affordable package.

Why buy a Canon 6D instead of a newer camera?

By the way, if you’re curious: why wouldn’t you buy a newer camera instead, let alone a camera for a newer, more future-proof mount? There’s the 6D mk2 and the 5D mk4 for Canon’s EF DSLR mount, both which are old enough to be found for decently good deals on the used market. Plus, there’s the Canon EOS RP which is the newest mirrorless camera body in their RF lineup, yet it debuted at a mere $1300 and can be found for under $1000 used, if you’re patient…

Glen Canyon, Utah | Canon EOS RP, Irix 15mm f/2.4

The answer is, yes, all these newer cameras are good, great even. BUT, they’re all not as “clean” at ISO 3200+ as the 6D sensor, as per photonstophotos.net. Shocking, but true.

Oh, and what about the Sony A7-series cameras that are also starting to get old, the 1st-gen and 2nd-gen A7, A7S, and A7R series cameras? You can definitely find them for under $1K, that’s for sure! But, this is because as underwhelming as the 6D’s other specs are, (autofocus, card slots, etc.) …the early Sonys are worse. Also, most of their oldest sensors are far worse at high ISO image quality.

The only old Sony A7-series cameras that have equal or better high ISO performance versus the Canon 6D are the A7R2, A7S, and A7S2. (As well as the A7R3, if you count it among the now-replaced cameras since the mk4 is here, but the R3 is still a $2500 camera, and remember, we’re shopping for a ~$700 full-frame body.)

So, if you’re just breaking into astrophotography now, if you’re on an extreme budget, and especially if you’re at all familiar with Canon cameras already, then the 6D is still your best value, despite being 7 years old. Whether or not it’s actually the right choice for you depends on your total budget for both lenses and bodies, and of course the other features you are likely looking for beyond image quality. Last, but the polar opposite of least, remember: it’s not about the gear, it’s about getting out there and shooting.

Search for a used Canon 6D on B&H (Latest price check: $689.95-$879.95, depending on the condition)

The New Champion Of Astro-Landscape Lenses | Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DN for Sony FE Mirrorless

Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN FE Art, Sony A7III | Photo by Sean Goebel, sgphotos.com

Ladies and gentlemen, we have more witchcraft at 14mm. And also at 24mm. The Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 FE (not the DSLR version, the new Sony FE mirrorless-only version) …is basically flawless.

OK, we’ll wait to call it “flawless” until we can put it on a ridiculously high-res sensor like the 61-megapixel Sony A7Riv, but for now, let’s just leave it at this: It disproves at least two “impossibilities” that have been assumed about zooms…

Not only does it defeat one of the existing 14mm prime lens champions, the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art, it also performs astonishingly well at both ends of its focal range. In fact, it actually matches the current 24mm champion, the Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM.

Achieving just one of these feats is extremely rare, but achieving both at once is quite unprecedented. The “conventional wisdom” is absolutely that primes are always sharper than zooms, and that zooms are always noticeably softer at one end of the range or the other, or in the middle.

Of course, this isn’t an in-depth, extensive review. We’ll wait for Roger Cicala at LensRentals.com to put 10 copies of this lens on OLAF, and see how that goes. And, of course, more actual nightscape adventures with 40-60 megapixel cameras would be nice, too.

TLDR: if you’re an astro-landscape or nightscape etc. photographer of any kind, this is going to be a REALLY tempting lens. In fact, it’s even a reason to switch to Sony completely, which is a third rarity for a lens. Although there are now adapters to use Sony FE mount lenses on Nikon Z mirrorless and Canon RF mirrorless. It’s a good time to be a nightscape photographer!

But, enough talk. Here’s the proof:

24mm Test (Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN FE Art | Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art | Click the image to view it full size!

24mm Test (Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN FE Art | Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM | Click the image to view it full size!

 


These test images and the beautiful sample nightscape photo were provided by Sean Goebel. To see more of Sean’s work, visit sgphotos.com or follow him on Flickr.

2020 Astro-Landscapes Photo Calendar Available For Pre-Order

The 2020 Astro-Landscapes calendar is finally here!

It took me two years, but I’ve finally captured enough photos to create the next calendar I had dreamed of making: A panoramic landscape adventure photography calendar.

This is no ordinary landscape photo calendar, though. I had another ambitious goal for my next photo calendar: I’ve annotated the calendar days themselves with a few of my favorite types of landscape photography opportunities, such as a moonrise at sunset or moonset at sunrise, or nights when photographing the Milky Way could be optimal during a new or low crescent moon.

Now, each month you’ll not only be able to enjoy another photo from somewhere in the beautiful American West, but you’ll also be able to quickly glance at a few great shooting opportunities every week!

The 2020 calendar will be 7×12″, it will be printed in September 2019 and shipped in October 2019. There will only be 200 printed, and only the first 100 will be signed and numbered. Pre-order your calendar now to ensure that you don’t miss out!

Local pick-up is available, however, calendars cannot be reserved without entering into the system, so please pre-order your calendar using the second link below, and you will be contacted in October for a chance to meet in person.

Thank you in advance for your support, and here’s to 2020 being full of beautiful adventures!


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My Passion For Panoramic Photography

I’ve loved panoramic photography ever since I first picked up a camera about 20 years ago. I’ve always enjoyed creating “extreme” panoramic images, however, when I decided that I wanted my next photo calendar to be a panoramic calendar, I realized that most of my existing panoramic images simply would not work well in the desired format.

So, I made some compromises on my goals for the perfect aspect ratio, (7×12″) and I set off on many wilderness adventures to capture more images. Many of my adventures were centered around a singular photographic goal, and yet the images which found their way into this calendar turned out to be almost entirely the unexpected moments of serendipity and breathtaking light which simply cannot be predicted a year in advance.

For this reason, I decided to add not just helpful information about photo opportunities, but also a brief story behind each photo to help set the scene and give a brief glimpse into the moment itself. I am currently writing a book containing many more of these adventure stories, which showcase such authentic moments in the wilderness, and hopefully encourage other photographers to seek out the beautiful opportunities that nature has to offer.

My Passion For Astro-Landscape photography

I first began calling my imagery “astro-landscapes” when I became interested in nightscape photography, and for a period of time, it was the only subject I pursued. After a few years of nightscape photography “dedicated” adventures, however, I realized something- On all of the trips I took, many of the truly memorable moments, and indeed most of the best photographs, were not nightscapes, but images depicting whichever moments were simply the most breathtaking in terms of unique weather, seasonal phenomena, or serendipitous alignments of the sun or moon with earthly subjects.

During this process of discovery, not only did I realize that Astro-Landscapes was about so much more than just nightscape photography, but also, my desire to simply be outdoors as often as possible grew. Inevitably, also, my desire to sit at a computer and post-produce the images dwindled. I came to the following conclusion: I’d rather be outdoors capturing real moments of nature, instead of “fabricating” them later on a computer.

This has been my driving force ever since, and each of the images in this set of 13 represents very basic photographic techniques: Many are single exposures with nothing more than color-correction and cropping to a 7×12 aspect ratio, and others are very simple panoramic stitches, or basic noise reduction layers. In other words, these moments unfolded with the exact timing, scale, and juxtaposition that you see in each image.


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Moonset at Sunrise in the Alabama Hills | Eastern Sierra, California, August 2018 Nikon D750, 70-200mm f/2.8, 200mm, f/8, ISO 100, 1/100 sec

I wish I could say this moment was perfectly planned months in advance, but the truth is, it snuck up on me completely un-planned. I was car-camping in the Alabama Hills during a solo road trip, and had only planned to do a little nightscape photography before getting back on the road.

As per the usual for most of my road trips, I was too exhausted from driving and hiking all day, so a 40-minute nap at 1 AM turned into a 4-hour nap. When I awoke, the moon was still well above the distant, jagged peaks of the eastern Sierra.

At first, I didn’t think anything of it; I was more concerned about getting on the road as soon as possible. Thankfully, the fading stars and pink-blue light of astronomical dawn lured me into telling myself, “just a couple quick shots, then I’ll get going.” Another 30 minutes later, as the last few stars were disappearing and the moon was getting awfully close to the horizon, it finally hit me- I was about to witness one of the holy grails of mountain landscape photography: a perfect moonset at sunrise.

Except, it wouldn’t be perfect; I was in the wrong spot. After snapping two “safety shots” at 200mm of the first kiss of purple alpenglow on Mt Whitney, I threw my gear in my car and raced “backwards” away from the scene to a slightly more distant vantage point. That few hundred yards was exactly what was needed to allow me to start a timelapse in which the moon nestled perfectly into the visual notch to the right of Mt Whitney, as the sun’s first rays washed over the majestic Eastern Sierra.

This image was processed in Capture One Pro 11. I found that Capture One did the best job of representing such bright, warm colors and tonality without appearing artificially saturated, nor excessively “preserved” as some bright highlight tones can appear in other raw conversion software.

Thank you again for your support!


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Crowds, Chaos, & The Death Of Solitude

I did not grow up with “Nature-Deficit Disorder”, as Richard Louv puts it. Thankfully, I grew up exploring the outdoors, climbing trees and rocks, going camping, and eventually going on more arduous adventures to extremely remote places. Continue reading

Hacking a Timer Remote to Not Need Batteries (Sony Mirrorless Cameras With USB Port)

This guest post is written by Sean Goebel, an astronomy student in Hawaii and an avid nightscape photographer. You can view his work at SGphotos.com and Flickr.com. All content is copyright Sean Goebel.

If you use a timer remote/intervalometer with a Sony camera that has a multi-connector remote port (A6000, A7 series, RX10, DSC-QX30, SLT-A65, etc.), your remote doesn’t actually need batteries. It’s possible, with some basic modifications, to power the remote from the camera. Why would you do this? There are two main reasons: Continue reading

Astro-Landscape & Long Exposure Timelapse Testing For Mirrorless Cameras: External Battery Power

Since acquiring one of the most amazing compact super-zoom digital cameras ever, the Sony RX10 mk2, I have been earnestly testing Sony’s USB power input. All of of the newer (mk2) A7-series mirrorless full-frame bodies, for example, can run off a 5V power bank using a USB cable. (Previously, the Sony USB port could only charge a battery while the camera was off, apparently.)

My goal is to see just how ready (if at all) mirrorless cameras are for all-night astro-landscape timelapse shooting.

Continue reading

Yosemite National Park VS Delaware North Companies | Facts VS Feelings

Ugh, I can’t believe this is still making headlines. And now March 1st is just a few days away. But I think the news reports, and the social media hype, are all extremely short on details, and heavy on conclusion and bandwagon-jumping. So, is it justified?

The Whole History of Yosemite VS DNC

Let’s go back all the way. Curry Village for example, was officially named in 1970. So DNC did not give it its name, that’s for darn sure. According to Wikipedia, the concession contract was granted/purchased by DNC back in 1993, for $115M in today’s dollars. (Does anybody care to do the inflation math in reverse?) This sale did include some sort of “intellectual property” however you’ll have to get back to me if the specific word “trademark” is anywhere in that original sale.. (I don’t know if the “intellectual property” was itemized in the sale, either.) Continue reading

Wigwam Motel, Rialto CA

Testing out some new blog sharpening algorithms, and some night exposures with the Sony RX10 mk2. It appears that although I’m displaying the original size images, WordPress is in fact changing the fine detail ever-so-slightly. Bummer. Might have to go back to uploading to SmugMug, and hotlinking the image URL.

Enjoying the Sony RX10 II for night photography.  Considering it’s a bit noisy at all ISO’s, 30 sec exposures at ISO 100 feel about the same as ISO 400-800 exposures on my D750, which gives a natural grain look to night shots. I’m actually adding a bit of “silver rich” grain. Continue reading

Radian 2 Kickstarter Campaign Almost Over

There are fewer and fewer things that I get very excited about these days, as far as photography equipment goes. We’re pretty close to having the “ultimate” camera bodies, the “ultimate” lenses, and amazing other tools for the astro-landscape work that I am passionate about.  I could use cameras and gear from this current generation for the rest of my life, and be quite happy. Continue reading

Alpine Labs Radian – Timelapse Device Quick Intro

I’m always on a quest for ultra-lightweight, simple, and affordable equipment.

That’s one of the main reasons why, despite owning two full-frame cameras and a handful of lenses, I still frequently reach for my crop-sensor Nikon D5300 and Tokina 11-16mm for creating both still images and timelapse footage.

I obsess over weight for reasons other than just being a sissy, by the way.  (Although that may be one of the reasons.) I obsess over weight because the lighter the gear, the easier it is to bring two or three cameras into the wilderness! (Watch this video if you haven’t already)

I obsess over price for reasons other than just being cheap-o, too.  (Although, again, that could be one of the reasons…) Mostly, I like affordable gear because it makes me a little more willing to take a risk I might not be willing to take if $5,000 is at stake.  (Either by destruction, theft, or confiscation by authorities…  ;-) Continue reading

February 2015 Road Trip | Grand Canyon B&Ws

The sunset on February 27th was nice, but not as epic as it could have been considering how much dramatic weather was swirling around. And just after sunset, it started snowing moderately fiercely. The Forester (stock road tires) actually slid around a bit for the very first time! (Well, on paved roads. Getting to White Pocket a year ago was a whole different ballgame!)

The next morning, waking before sunrise, it was completely dark, grey, and still lightly snowing outside.

It was also nice and warm in bed.

Get up and go, the little voice said. (Also, my wife Joy said…) Bad weather is awesome. YUP, it sure is! Continue reading

Why astro-landscape and timelapse photography demands lightweight cameras

Why do I complain about wanting more lightweight camera gear?

I didn’t realize just how much I sound like a whiney kid until I watched this clip later, so my apologies lol. Maybe I am indeed a sissy for not being able to lug THREE D810’s or 5D mk3’s up a hill, mounted to multiple 14-24’s or 24-70’s or other 2.8 full-frame DSLR zooms. Also, just maybe, …next time I should count my blessings and and enjoy watching the sunrise while my camera does its thing… ;-) Continue reading

Full Review Of The Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G – The Astro-Landscape Photographer’s Dream Lens! …Almost

Click HERE to read the full written review on SLR Lounge!!!!

In short, I’m a bit torn- in many ways, this is my dream lens.  It’s light, small, and doesn’t cost $2,000. (I’m looking at you, 14-24!!!!) Oh, and those sunstars!!!! Continue reading

Don’t miss Marc Muench on Creative Live Tomorrow!!!

After watching Frans Lanting and Tom Mangelsen on Creative Live in late 2014, I didn’t think it could get any better.  Frans Lanting’s closing presentation was mind-blowing and truly inspiring, and Tom Mangelsen’s personal dedication to conservation had me in tears once or  twice. Continue reading

New Landscape Images: October 2014 Lunar Eclipse

In October, not much happened in the way of astro-landscapes, or any types of adventures or landscape photography at all for that matter.  Other than one of the most notable events in any astro-landscape photographers story book, an essentially perfect lunar eclipse. Continue reading

The Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G is shaping up to be the best astro-landscape lens ever!

I’ve been watching as the reviews start to come in for this exciting new lens from Nikon.  So far, the results are extremely promising!  Consensus being: this lens is highly optimized for astro-landscape work, as it ought to be, with very low vignetting and almost zero coma, the two things were almost every other lens falls flat on its face.  The one thing remaining for me to determine is, how this lens handles field curvature at infinity (star) focus.  Pretty much every lens ever made wider than 50mm has at least some issues with field curvature, either right out of the box or at least after a year or two of heavy use. Continue reading