Shooting the Sun

This past week’s transit of Venus across the sun offered a rare astronomical spectacle, made even rarer in New Hampshire by not being completely obscured behind clouds. With a dismal forecast for the day, I did not test out my equipment beforehand as I should have.  However, this event was sufficiently interesting that I did rig up my E-P1 in preparation in the event that the clouds did clear.  Which they did, for a merciful twenty minutes or so at the beginning of the transit (after closing in, they later cleared just long enough for me to load my gear into the car and drive to the nearby parking garage (since the sun was at that time below the trees) and then block the sun once more and begin to rain heavily as soon as I stopped on the top level; the clouds here will have their bit of fun.)

Lens is a Celestron 500mm f/5.6 catadioptric that I bought in the late 1980’s and which has survived years of storage and little use quite well.  It was fitted with a Twin Oaks 2+ solar filter which I bought on eBay for about a quarter of the price new (best not to shop in the months preceding a solar eclipse).  The filter was for a slightly larger scope, so required “shimming” with some black self-adhesive felt around the inside to make a very tight fit to the lens; this is not a filter that I want accidentally falling off in use!  The lens has a T-2 mount, and for photography I probably would have been better off just using my T-2 to Micro Four Thirds adapter and cropping the resulting images. However, I also wanted a large enough display on the viewscreen to show my children this wonderful event, so mounted the camera to the lens  via a Konica AR T-ring, a Soligor 1.5X teleconverter, and a Fotasy Konica AR to MFT adapter.  This provided a suitably large image on the viewscreen, but without the edge of the solar disk quickly drifting off screen as happens with a 2X teleconverter.  The lens has a homemade wooden block with a tripod socket mounted further back to improve the balance.  The lens shade shown, a piece of dryer duct lined with self-adhesive black felt and sprayed in a camouflage finish, was not used.

This contraption was mounted atop a homemade tripod that employs three discarded wooden crutches as legs, supporting a heavy Manfrotto pan-tilt head.  The remaining piece of equipment was a piece of black cloth to cover the camera and duck under, in the manner of old-time photographers with view cameras. Testing when I first bought the solar filter showed that this was necessary both to see the viewscreen and to avoid accidentally looking at the sun while aiming the camera.

The E-P1 allows setting two custom reset profiles, and I have set one for typical tripod shooting, with image stabilization turned off, manual focus selected, and a 2-second delay on the shutter to avoid the need for a cable release.  The exposure compensation was set to provide a visually pleasing image (either -0.7 or -1.0; in the excitement, I did not take notes), and the zoom focusing option was used to get the least blurry image.

I am not really happy with the image quality (of course, I selected the least fuzzy of the series to post), but the rig did provide me a viewscreen to conveniently show this relatively fast-moving event to all three children.  And, having expected the forecast clouds to obscure the event completely, I was overjoyed to be able to see any of the transit.