Moonshooting with birding lenses
Birding lenses are by nature very long to allow the photographer to get close to their normally shy feathered subjects. Interestingly, such long focal lengths are also good for other things – larger astro bodies like the moon.
Moonshooting with birding lenses is fun. It likewise enhances the long lens technique of a bird photographer, particularly shake control and manual focus proficiency. I have regulary trained my birding lenses at the moon, mostly shooting from my backyard in urban Metro Manila. When the atmospheric conditions are good, decent lunar detail that approaches the output of small astro scopes can be captured .
Here’s one such moonshot.
And here’s a closer look at the detail captured using the Canon 7D’s tiny pixels + Canon’s sharpest lens the 400 2.8 IS and 4x worth of teleconverters:
I’ve been asked in many photo forums how to capture the moon well using long DSLR lenses, so here’s sharing my shooting workflow.
My Top 10 Tips on Moonshooting with Long DSLR Lenses
1. Use the longest glass you can get your hands on, on a good tripod and head.
2. Use a DSLR with the tiniest pixels available for maximum reach.
3. Teleconverters increase the level of detail captured. Most Canon long L glass improve detail capture with TCs up to a focal length corresponding to an f/11 Av (ex. 400 5.6L + 2x, 500 f4 + 2.8x or 400 2.8 + 4x TC).
4. Shoot at the sweet Av of your glass (could be 1 stop from wide open with TCs).
5. Use ISO 100-200 for least noise and maximum sharpening flexibility.
6. Shoot RAW and expose to the right, till the highlights are almost blown, this will allow you more PP flexibility later.
7. Use Live View contrast detect AF (most newer EOS bodies can AF in this mode till f/11 or even f/16). Trigger the shutter with a remote switch after the moon on the LCD stabilizes. Turn off IS if so equipped. For DSLRs with strong shutter vibrations (ex. 1D MIV), you should still use LV contrast detect AF if the combo is f/11 or darker. However, once focus locks in contrast detect, turn off LV and shoot using MLU and a remote switch.
8. With good long lens technique, a Tv of 1/25 sec is fast enough for a 7D + 1600 mm. You can increase the shutter speed by about a stop for a bigger factor of safety if you wish. Any faster Tv in excess of that is wasteful and should instead be converted to lower ISO to mitigate noise.
9. Do test shots for exposure on the onset, review histogram, then shoot many, many shots using the optimized ISO, TV and Av values. Shooting tons of photos increases the chances of “getting through” when the wave-like atmospheric distortion is least. It’s easy to select the sharpest shots later in your computer. As long as ISO, Tv and Av are constant, the RAW files with the largest sizes are the sharpest.
10. Each frame should be individually focused to minimize focus errors.