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DSLR Camera for photographing northern lights

Carp

Member
Messages
7
I'm going on a trip up to Yellowknife in Canada in late august to hopefully see the northern lights. I had a nice camera about year ago, it was a Panasonic G85, but it had a problem with the screen, so I returned it, and now I no longer have the money from the refund, so I'm looking for a camera that's cheaper. What is a good camera?
 

Tracy Perry

Dark Sky Lover
Site Owner
Messages
38
I would seriously recommend looking at any of the DSLR Canon lines. Most of them can be used with a telescope later if you decide to go that far into it, where the Nikons are not well adapted in their provided API for some of the software to use. I wouldn't consider any of the point & shoot cameras as many are lacking features you need.
I'd probably go with something along the lines (since you said less than a G85 which looks to be around $675 USD on Amazon) of a Canon EOS T6 Rebel. You can get one with a full outfit of kit for around $430 on Amazon. Granted it's not the latest/greatest Canon, but you get two lenses with that kit 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 and a 58mm Wide Angle Lens along with a tripod (which you will need for astrophotography due to the long shutter times).

There's another kit on Amazon that is basically the same but instead of the 58mm WA lens it has a EF 75-300mm III lens. It goes for $499 at the time of this post. It looks like the 75-300mm lens goes for around $200 (new) by itself - with refurbished ones around $80. This camera kit also comes with the 58mm WA lens of the above kit. I'd probably lean towards this one of the two.

The important features to look for are in a camera to use for astrophotography (and to grow into) are
  • Live View LCD
  • Variable Angle LCD
  • Low Thermal Sensitivity
  • Hydrogen-Alpha Sensitivity
These are for cameras you may use later with a telescope also. The Hydrogen-Alpha sensitivity has to do with the camera filtering out some of the red that is present to make a more pleasing photo. With astrophotography you don't want this as many of your deep sky objects (some which can be photographed with a camera and a decent lens) lean towards the infra-red range and a lot of the color gets filtered out so the more it filters out the duller the reds will look.


The image on the left of Orions belt was with a stock camera and the one on the right with a replacement filter that did not block those bands.


You can easily get into the $1-3000 range on full frame cameras - but that's not what you asked about, and it's not what I'd choose for astrophotography using a 'scope. The T6 is a nice camera.
The T6i is very similar it statistics to the T6, but it has an articulated LCD (one thing to look for), shoots continuous shots faster (good for terrestrial use for nature shots - but only 2fps faster), a higher ISO (higher is always better for astrophotography use) and a higher megapixel (don't get stuck on that). The T6i is also noticeably more than the T6 ($719).

If you could stroke it, I'd go with the Canon T7i. You can get a similar kit to the above 2 for around $920 on Amazon (way outside your "cheaper" area. But it does give you the latest version of the camera in the TXi line. You could also just get it with the one lens for now (stock 18-55mm). The stock lens is a decent lens for use in astrophotography from research I've done.
 

Carp

Member
Messages
7
Thanks. The one thing that I liked about the G85 and other mirrorless cameras was that they could record 4k video. I don't really like articulated LCD screens, they aren't as secure as fixed or tilt only screens. I looked at the Panasonic GX85 and I like it, but it's kind of expensive, and I kind of wish that I had kept the 12mm Rokinon lens that I had instead of returning it when I returned the Panasonic G85. The Rokinon lens would have been perfect for photographing the Aurora. I like the T6 rebel since it isn't too expensive, but it doesn't record 4k video, and it doesn't say what the aperture of the wide angle lens is, so I'm not sure if it's wide enough.
 

Tracy Perry

Dark Sky Lover
Site Owner
Messages
38
Ahhh... you didn't say you also wanted to record 4K video.
The Canon EOS M50 is supposed to capture in 4K @ 24fps. It's a mirrorless design that apparently came out recently. I haven't read anything about it in the astrophotography field. It does have the variable angle LCD (as most that I looked at did now).
The other Canon's that are 4K are in the $3000-$4000 range (EOS 5D). The reason I like the Canon is if you decide to use the camera with a telescope it is easy to modify for the filter issue (albeit it then effects your everyday use) and it is well supported by BackYard EOS, which is something you will want if you ever get a telescope.
The T6/T6i/T7i and the 5D are fully supported by that software. The M50, being a newer camera apparently isn't in the API yet and not supported. The M5 may never be supported as I noticed that the M1/2/3/4 are not. The M5 is not even listed, and that was the precursor to the M50.

If not ever interested in attaching to a telescope, then pretty much any of the nicer DSLR's from the name brand manufacturers should be fine. The most important part of the camera will be getting a fast lens for it. That Panasonic GX-85 (not the G85) is probably going to be one of the only 4K in the $300-$600 range around that does 4K and has a the ability to interchange lens.
The EOS M50 comes in next in line in the at $699 along with the Fujifilm X-T100 and then you start getting into the G85 price range.

Any of these should do fine for using camera along for celestial shots of stuff like the aurora or meteors with a good lens.
 

Carp

Member
Messages
7
I don't need 4k video, but I think it would be nice to have, 4k is quickly becoming the next 1080p, IMO. Most phones can record in 4k now. I'm not sure if I'd be attaching the camera to a telescope. Would a mirrorless camera work? I really wish that I had kept the Rokinon lens, because when I got it, it was $270, and now it's up to $349. The widest aperture on that lens is F2.0.
 

Tracy Perry

Dark Sky Lover
Site Owner
Messages
38
I don't need 4k video, but I think it would be nice to have, 4k is quickly becoming the next 1080p, IMO. Most phones can record in 4k now.
Rarely will you be recording in 4K for astrophotography. They only thing I could see would possibly be something like the aurora or possibly meteor shows.

I'm not sure if I'd be attaching the camera to a telescope.
This is one thing you do need to think about as you will have to purchase another camera or CCD later if you decide to go that route. It's kind of where I'm at right now with the Nikon D7200. It will work, but a mono CCD with a color wheel will let me do more in a more light polluted location.

Would a mirrorless camera work? I really wish that I had kept the Rokinon lens, because when I got it, it was $270, and now it's up to $349. The widest aperture on that lens is F2.0.
The f2.0 would be very handy to have.
In the world of astrophotography I'm finding that $70 is really not that much. A single nice lens to use on the scope goes from $50-$300 and you normally need 5-7 different ones with a color wheel. The CCD and color wheel I'm looking at is around $2000.
 

Carp

Member
Messages
7
I'm probably going to get the Panasonic GX85, it's similar to what I had before, but it's cheaper, and it has a tilt only screen. It'll also work with the Rokinon lens. I doubt I'll be using it with a telescope.
 

Carp

Member
Messages
7
it looks like there is no extra cost to get it with the 45-150 mm lens along with the standard 12-32 mm lens on Amazon.
 

Tracy Perry

Dark Sky Lover
Site Owner
Messages
38
If using by itself, any good quality DSLR camera can do a decent job for astrophotography. The main thing if you want to do some of the deep sky image captures is to check and see if it can keep the shutter open until released - preferably with a shutter release fob.
 

Carp

Member
Messages
7
It's a mirrorless camera, and I think the shutter can be controlled remotely using an app.
 

Tracy Perry

Dark Sky Lover
Site Owner
Messages
38
It looks like a decent camera... but be advised it's a 4/3 sensor in it. To put that in perspective, here is a graphics of the different formats

comparo.jpg


As you can see, the APS-C (Nikon and Canon DSLR's) have a wider area that they shoot. The full frame is highest of all, but in the Nikon/Canon range you are looking at a couple fo thousand for them.

Odds are that camera would be fine for you. I was already in the Nikon eco system as we have a D40 from a around 9 years back so we just stayed with it on the D7200 as the lenses would interchange between the D7200 and the D40. The D7200 also opened us up to using different lenses since it is motorized itself.

It doesn't look like the GX85 has the ability to use a wireless shutter release without some add-on equipment (cable and transmitter/receiver). The only wireless transmitter I could find was one on Amazon from the UK. Amazon US doesn't show the Pixel for it. Apparently you can use your cell phone and wifi to do the same. Also a GOOD tripod is very important. Also, once you get the camera (hopefully before the trip) you will get out and play with it some shooting the night sky (moon, etc).

EDIT
Amazon appears to have one that may work
 
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Carp

Member
Messages
7
I like the GX85 because it's similar to what I had before, so there shouldn't be that much of a learning curve. I'll probably go to Antelope Island before the trip to practice using the camera, since it's a dark sky park.
 
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