Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

What about a telescope?

September 12, 2017

So last tie I posted pics and video from an experimental moon shot that used one of these big add on lenses meant for smart phones. There are many many kinds of optional do-dads to designed to extract money from smart phone photographers. But there are also do-dads designed to attach smart phones to some serious lenses. For example:


This pictured thing is a Gorsky universal telescope adapter for Smart Phones. With some patience, it allows you to line up your smart phones camera to look through the eye piece of a telescope or similar viewing device.

Intrigued, in the throes of camera gear acquisitiveness, and also on the lookout for more ways to take moon pics, I got one.

I set it up indoors, which I highly recommend. There is better light indoors. You can work out the kinks of the getting the camera lens over the eyepiece where you can see and where hopefully you will be pestered less by insects.

Like other smart phone photography gear I have tried, this one insists on mashing the buttons on the side of the phone. There is no getting around this.

Out of habit, when the smart phone screen goes off I used to press the power button. You can’t do that with this accessory. The other method is to double tab the phone’s screen.

On the whole though, I found this setup less fidly and easier to focus then the Youniker setup I talked about in my previous post. I used the same tripod and tripod head, but obviously, used a much bigger lens.


This thing was also easier to aim then the Youniker lens, despite them both being on the same tripod and head. (Not the tripod in the picture above.)

So how do these widgets do?


Clearly the best shot yet.

The notable improvements over other shots are the level of detail. It is a decent exposure as well.


What can you do with a Smart Phone and a big lens?

September 12, 2017

I took some time to get back to my moon shot experiments. A while back I had purchased a lens made to attach to Smart Phones by means of a clamp. It was red among other things.

Youniker 18x Zoom

This is described as an 18x universal optical camera lens kit. It is made by a company named Youniker. The reason I got this one instead of anything else is because it attached to the camera using a clamp rather then a plastic spring loaded clip. Also it is red.

So I got this thing because I am an acquisitive camera junkie, but once I had it I wondered if I could use it to take a Moon shot. Well yes I can.

The first time I tried this I could not get the setup to focus and it finally dawned on me that there was condensation on the lens. This is the price of living in air conditioned comfort. Well and global warming.

The second time I tried I put the setup in the garage a few hours before taking the shot. This appeared to have helped.

I say setup because I did not use the cute little table top tripod that came with it. The ball head on the tripod is difficult to adjust and when you get the moon zoomed in, it moves rather faster then you might expect it to. Meaning there is constant adjustment, something no ball head, never mind the one on this tripod, is good at.

With that in mind I put the lens on my gear head tripod head. A gear head is like it sounds. It has knobs that you can turn to adjust the equipment mounted to it in three directions. (Roll, pitch and yaw.) This has made moon shot so much easier. I can quickly make minor adjustments and line up the shot. I don’t think it would do for astro-photography in general though as you need something that can track. The gear head I have is the Manfrotto 410 Junior Gear Head.

Because I actually use my phone, I did not align it in the holder prior to going in my backyard. At night. Where it is dark. Well I live in a big city so darkish. So to align I shined a flashlight into the lens until I could see this on the screen of my phone. It occurs to me writing this I could have taken care of this in the garage. Which had a light. And fewer mosquitoes.

Setting up somewhere well lit is definitely a good idea. Set up the phone and then carefully transport to your viewing location.

As a tip if you happen to be using this lens and mount hardware on your phone. Mount it so that the phone’s lens is the lowest part. Put another way mount in upside down portrait mode. Why? Because then the weight of the phone presses the lens towards the lens and bracket arrangement. In pretty much every other orientation, the weight of the lens pulls the phone’s lens away which will cause vignetting and a smaller image.

The next challenge was actually pointing at the moon. The moon was full on the night I chose. It turned out to be pretty difficult to get it.

Once aligned I had difficulties getting the image focused. This is a two part problem with a setup like this. Firstly the Younkier 18x lens has a manual focus ring. So you adjust that. And then you have to focus the phone’s camera. There are phone camera apps that allow you to focus manually, so I could have locked in the focus. Maybe I will try that next time.

But after all that work here is the result.


This is a zoomed in shot of the moon. Meaning that I had to use the digital zoom features of the phone’s camera to get this shot. Considering the necessary distortion this adds, it turned out pretty well.

So what are the pros and cons of this setup?

Pros –

It is inexpensive for what it is. Besides your smart phone, you purchase an add on lens which runs around $30 and comes with some accessories. The lens and its accessories are pretty portable, but to use it for a moon shot you will need better a better head and tripod.

Cons –

It is endlessly fiddly. You have to get the phone aligned just so and clamp it down good so it doesn’t fall. (Mine fell out once.) This is problematic as you can’t use it with a camera case. You know, the thing designed to protect your phone in the event of a fall? The magnification is less then ideal for a moon shot. Another problem is that the clamp, and pretty much every clamp I have tried, interferes with the phones button on the side of the phone. (My phone at least. Your phone may be fine.) This can be annoying when the phone is trying to power off because the power button is being held. Why not clamp somewhere else? Because the clamp has to fit on where the lens attachment is over the lens of the phone. My phone also has a curved back further complicating getting the lens set up right.

Overall, if this is the gear you have, you can make it work. The main thing is get a better tripod head and tripod. (The tripod head I used is many times more expensive then the lens. Think about that when considering this plan.)

Here is a link to a video I took while getting this picture. You can see me fiddling with the manual focus on the lens, the auto focus in the camera app and also the adjustments on the tripod head.


April 9, 2017

What is my moonshot project about? It is about taking a good picture of the Moon. You may think this is not very ambitious. Try it.

What I want to do is get a full frame image of the moon that I can blow up and put on my wall. I will most likely get images at full and at several phases. (Full moons are less interesting, but more on that later. Besides, during a full moon everyone is busy coping with their lunacy.)

I suppose the seed for this starts with my Dad. A family story tells about a 5 year old version of me sitting with him under the stars and learning the constellations. I apparently never forgave him when we moved far enough away that what I had learned wasn’t right anymore. My Dad also gave me his camera, a Canon FTb, along with the kit he has assembled. Two Vivitar Series 1 lenses, a 35-85mm f2.8 zoom, and Vivitar Series 1 100-300 mm along with a good traveling set of other interesting gear.

This interest in stars stuck with me even though the heavens had shifted, and one of my favorite school trips was to the planetarium for the classic constellation show.

Too my horror, I have discovered recently that planetariums don’t show constellation shows as often.

About a year ago I got a course from a company called the Great Courses called Our Night Sky. The Great Courses get college professors in front of a camera or sometimes just a microphone and have them talk about some subject. The Night Sky is 12 30 minute lectures on the things you can see at night presented by Professor Edward M. Murphy of the University of Virginia.

Professor Murphy suggests, when talking about the moon, that you actually go out and look up at it every night for a month. I recommend this too.

For one thing, it gives you an appreciation of the fact that our calendar months are approximately the amount of time it takes for the moon to go through a whole cycle.

For another, this is a natural wonder accessible to everyone. Even if you live near a city, the moon is so bright, you can see it.

It does take some planning though. For instance you need to find out when the moon is up. I have been using an app for my tablet for this. One specific to phases of the moon, and another that shows you the night sky. The first app is useful to know when the moon will come up. This second app is useful if you don’t know what direction the moon is going to rise from.


April 3, 2017

A long time ago, I sat out on my drive way and took some pictures of the moon. I know I was in South West Austin, and the it had to be from 1998 to 2005.

Like many photographer before me, I tried to take some pics of the moon. I no longer know what kind of gear I used, but I believe that I used a Canon FTb with a Vivitar Series 1 100 – 300mm zoom lens. I also used a vintage (even then) table top tripod.

Here is a challenge for you. Use a table top tripod on your drive way and take some pics of the moon. Go on. Get your face right down there to the concrete. (I could have gotten a sensible sized tripod. I could have gotten a table to go with the table top tripod. I did none of these things.)

The Canon FTb is a strictly manual camera with only a match needle light meter built in. This mean when you look through the view finder, there is a needle that indicates the amount of light in your scene. You adjust the aperture so that the aperture indicator in the view, is more or less lined up with the needle. (I was using print film. You can be pretty sloppy with your exposure on print film.)

This needle is black. The night sky is black. See a problem? Or maybe don’t see a problem? Actually, just move that part of the viewfinder to look at the moon, make the adjustment and then move back. (Remember the part about print film? If you ever get into film photography, just remember this magic phrase. Print film has a wide latitude. It will make sense later.)

The shots did not turn out well. Part of the reason is that the moon moves across the sky rather quickly. (If you actually understand astronomy, you know that last sentence is not exactly correct.) So to take a good picture of the moon, you need to have a short exposure time. (Relatively short.) The shots I took that had good exposure time, did not allow enough light to reach the film. The shots that did get enough light had the aperture open so long, the moon looks smeared across the frame. (So yes, even with the latitude of print film, you can still get an underexposed shot.)

The two most pleasing are the underexposed ones. These let you see the “seas” on the moon.


Blurry, may be out of focus or simply moving to fast for the exposure time.


Definitely moving too fast.


The length of time keeps the moon “frozen” but is underexposed and grainy. (Insert chorus of “Let it Go” here…


Another one with good shutter speed, but too slow film.


The aperture was open too long. The details are washed out and the moon is moving across the frame. Also there is no graininess from underexposure.


This one is close. Good time exposure that freezes the motion, but too much light that washes out the detail. Maybe can fix with Photoshop or similar?


Another blurred edge and washed out details.


Another one that is close.


Omar reacting dangerously to moon light. Look out! Look out! Or is he just yawning?