What Equipment Do I Need To Shoot The Milky Way?

There are a bunch of things that go into shooting the Milky Way from the location, to the weather, the time of year, the equipment, and just plain luck. What equipment do you need to shoot the Milky Way? Honestly, just about any modern DSLR will work really darn well. Being able to capture images at 3200 ISO is a minimum for me and is easily achieved with today's DSLRs The second piece of equipment you want to have is a lens that has an aperture of f/2.8 or faster and 35mm (or on a crop camera  24mm) or wider. Some photographers swear by wide zoom lenses but I really enjoy primes for most of my work. I'll add why in a moment. Lastly, having a great tripod is the last piece of the puzzle you will need. You want a sturdy tripod that you can depend on. Some people may look at the price of some mid level tripods with an uneasy eye, but it's worth the investment.

The equipment I use isn't the most top of the line. It's very reasonably priced and is actually better than more expensive cameras and glass. Crazy, right!? I'm personally a Canon guy. My current setup is a Canon 6D. I own a 5D Mark III but the high ISO capabilities are not as good as the 6D. I've taken this camera everywhere and have been absolutely terrible to it, and it just keeps plugging away. It's a great piece of kit and performs flawlessly for night time shooting. If you are looking at purchasing a capable camera that won't break the bank, you can't go wrong with a Canon 6D.

Glass... oh, the glorious red rings of Canon lenses. I stick with Canon because of their glass. It's the most important part of a camera system for me. I think it's top notch while providing very consistent and sharp results. My kit is filled with Canon red rings from 8mm all the way to 400mm, but I don't use Canon glass for astrophotography if I can help it. Wanna know why? Because it isn't the best option. Period. I use Canon’s top end glass and love the performance of the lenses for most of my imaging needs, but for astrophotography it just is a poor performer. The reason why: coma. Coma is when pin points of light ( like from stars ) flare or look elongated usually looking like bird wings in the corner of the image. This issue is prominent in some of the most expensive glass, ironically, and even though I love my Canon primes including the 24L II, it just isn’t the best for this type of photography.

Rokinon to the rescue!!! In the USA, Rokinon is the leading company offering Samyang Optics under the Rokinon brand and they are achieving great success creating incredibly sharp optics with very well built lenses at amazing prices. Specifically, I use the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, and Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 for Milky Way and night photography. These lenses have very little coma wide open and are usually a third of the price or even less of their respective Canon L lens counterparts. They also have a faster aperture than the wide angle zooms and cost less. That’s a ton of value for not a ton of money. Did I mention that these Rokinon lenses are fantastically sharp! I exclusively use Rokinon for my astrophotography and couldn’t be happier. Give them a look, you won’t be disappointed.

Lastly, what tripod do I use? Well, there is a small British company that is making a name for itself by going above and beyond in their customer support and creating top of the line equipment without the crazy expensive pricing of some other brands, and they have a cool name. 3 Legged Thing! I use the Dave ( all 3 Legged Thing tripods are named after famous musicians ) and it’s been beat up but still works like the day I got it. Oh, and it’s actually pretty light for being aluminum. They make carbon fiber tripods which are incredibly strong but I opted for aluminum because the weight savings wasn’t much different and I tend to drop/ step on/ trip over everything I own. If aluminum should dent, it still works. Carbon fiber while strong is more rigid and will just break rather than dent. For my adventuring with only one tripod, that matters way more than weight.

What about timers and star trackers and the newest cameras and more expensive lenses and crazy tripods with really expensive … blah blah blahhh? Honestly, they are probably great. They might give you better ISO performance or a sharper image or a more stable mounting for long exposures… but I know my gear works. It's a bit cheaper than the most expensive stuff, and if the worse happens, it’s even more replaceable. The best equipment doesn’t yield the best results, it’s the person behind the lens making the decisions that will create the best outcome and image. Don’t get caught up on buying gear ( which can be fun ) and forgetting that knowledge, education, and PRACTICE  goes further than anything you can buy. Speaking of education and practice, check out my upcoming 2016 workshops HERE.

This is the start of an astrophotography series that I’m creating about what, how, when, where, and why I shoot what I do. If you have any questions, post a comment and I’ll try to answer it. I’ll be doing an astrophotography specific blog post every other week so sign up below to get the latest information and education. Thanks for reading!

Canon 7D Mark II and 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II


The're here, they're here!! 

I received the new Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II just yesterday and the Canon 7D Mark II today, and after some quick shots with both together, I am incredibly excited for the possibilities that this combination offers. The camera and lens combo is quite simply fantastic!

I currently have been shooting with a Canon 6D and 60D and I have rarely ever felt as if I needed more than what these cameras provide. With the release of the 7D Mark II, I got to thinking about upgrading my crop sensor camera, but was on the fence because I didn't think I needed anything the 7D II offered that was different from my 60D. Then the 100-400L II was announced... and here we are today with both in my possession.

So what really closed the deal on the 7D II that isn't available on my 60D? The ability to center focus at f/8 max aperture... and the new autofocus system. 

I could have purchased a 5D Mark III and received the benefits of being able to autofocus at f/8 max aperture and full frame, BUT the 1.6x multiplication factor for whatever lens is on the 7D II camera will be incredibly useful shooting wildlife this year in Yellowstone National Park. The 7D II also has the top of the line auto focus system of the Canon 1DX now ( the 1DX retails for $6799 compared to the 7D II's $1799 ).

Though I would love the 5D Mark III, I currently own the full frame 6D, which besides its rudimentary focus system, gives me exceptional photos even when shooting in low light situations. The 5D III also is currently $1000 more than the 7D II and has a slower autofocus system. Lastly, I'll be shooting most wildlife during the day, dawn, and dusk; therefore, I can use a crop sensor camera with negligible image degradation. 

Now how about the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II? This lens is the answer to my biggest issue when I was in Yellowstone last year, more focal length!!

I had the chance to use a 500mm f/4L IS prime from a fellow photographer when I was in Yellowstone and it changed my perspective of "Just get closer." There are many times where the focal length you need is a lot more than what you can comfortably afford. The longer focal length also allows you to safely photograph some very large (or small) and dangerous wild animals. I always prefer to not be charged by a brown bear if I can help it. 

With this 7D Mark II with a 1.4x III extender and the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II, I have an equivalent focal length reaching 896mm at f/8!! That's huge when you can't get closer to the wild animals because of the snow drifts that are between you and them, or when getting closer isn't an option because the animal may think you are a threat and come after you. Lastly, I want animals to act natural, and the added space gives you the buffer you may need for normal behaviors to be observed. 

As of right now my 60D is on the sales page. It's been a fantastic companion and helped me capture some of my favorite photos around the country, but I think the 7D II will be a welcome addition to my photography bag. And if you shoot fast moving people or animals, and have never experienced a world class  focusing system and frame rate, you just might be missing out.