Equipment Used across the years.

Over the years I have been using different equipment to take pictures or videos of the Eclipses. In this page you can see the "evolution", from the first cameras I used to the equipment I am currently using. 

This is always a tricky combination trying to achieve a proper balance between good equipment, but also being portable enough to take to different places, ranging from Panama to the Artic Circle.
The main intention of this page is to serve as a guidance for any people that are interested in photographing or filming a Solar Eclipse. Hopefully you won't make some of the mistakes I did.

Annular Eclipse in Iceland, 2003

The hardware involved was a 35mm film Nikon Camera (F65) mounted on a very light weight Vivitar tripod which had no additional weight added in order to have it steady. You can also see that the tripod was extended all the way, making it unstable.
The lens involved in the 35mm camera is a 200mm, which proved not to be enough for the pictures I would have liked to take.
I also used a Sony Handycam on an even worst tripod also very unstable. It was the kind of tripods you got with the camera included years ago. The camera had Mylar as a solar filter, and the result was a very poor video of the eclipse.

Annular (Hybrid) Eclipse in Panama, 2005

Same tripod, but this time I added weight to it (you can see a small bag hanging at the
bottom of the tripod) in order to make it more steady. Same camera Nikon F65 35mm film. The lens is now a 400mm lens with a Thousand Oaks Optical filter. I also used a 2X teleconvertor in order to achieve 800mm focal lenght.
At the right of the picture you can see the Sony Videocamera again with the same very unstable tripod. I was not using any additional telephoto for the camera, and the filter used was again Mylar.  

Total Eclipse in Libya, 2006

Ok, this was for me a big step forward in terms of the Hardware usage.
I finally purchased a Manfrotto tripod which is by far better than the Vivitar tripod I was using in the last trips. On top of the Tripod there is the Manfrotto head 410. On top of the head I placed wooden support for two cameras. One is finally a digital, the Nikon D70 with the 400mm lens and the 2X teleconvertor. The other is the same Sony Videocamera which is now also using a 2X teleconvertor. The filters for both cameras are from Thousand Oaks Optical and they are not threaded, which makes it easier to remove during totality.

At the right you can see my third camera, which is the 35mm F65 I used in the previous eclipses. It is mounted on the Vivitar Tripod.

The purpose of this setup is the following:
With the Nikon D70 and the Telephoto, I take the big pictures of the sun with good resolution. The video camera is always aligned with the Telephoto, so I can see through the video camera the same I see in the Telephoto. I got a good film of the eclipse. The Nikon F65 is used for a multi shot sequence of the eclipse, taking pictures every 5 minutes at a lower focal length (about 60mm) in the same frame without advancing the film. The outcome is a very nice picture showing the complete eclipse sequence.

Total Eclipse in Russia, Siberia, 2008

This time I wanted more power!
Instead of using the 400mm focal lenght telephoto with the 2X teleconvertor, I went for a Meade OTA. Big Mistake! The OTA had a focal length of 1250mm, which made it just too much for the pictures. In most of the pictures I took in Russia the sun is not complete in the frame, since it was using almost all the frame and it was very easy to miss it. You can notice that now instead of a wooden support for the cameras, I am using an Aluminum support. This makes the overall setup steadier. 
Lesson Learned: Practice and take pictures of the Sun BEFORE you travel with some large lens or scope just to find out it doesn't work.

Total Eclipse in China, 2009

For this setup I did some changes. First of all, I was tired of moving the head of the tripod manually in order to follow the sun. Therefore, I purchased an Astrotrac. That is the device that you can see at the front of the picture, below the video camera. The astrotrac is capable of tracking the sun for up to two hours, and it is very light weight. Secondly, I realized my mistake in Russia of trying an OTA which provided just too much focal lenght. The 400mm Telephoto used in previous eclipses is of not a good quality, and the 2X teleconvertor made it worst. So, for this eclipse, I used a Nikon 500mm mirror lens. That is a very compact lens and provides a very good image size of the sun on the frame. Since the overall equipment is not clear in the picture, here it is listed:

  • Manfrotto Tripod 
  • Manfrotto 410 head 
  • Astrotrac
  • Manfrotto 486 head
  • Aluminum base that holds both cameras.

Total Eclipse in Hao, French Polynesia, 2010

This was one of the final improvements and I have been using a very similar setup since 2010. I am satisfied with it. I replaced the 500mm mirror lens with a Stellarvue Raptor 70 ED Raptor Telescope. The Telescope provides 400mm focal length, and very good optics quality. I also replaced my old Sony Videocamera with a newer camcorder.
Since I want to SEE the eclipse and not deal with the cameras all the time, I went for a software that automates the pictures of the eclipse. In this case I used Eclipse Orchestrator running on a laptop which is connected to the Nikon D90. This software automates the complete series of shots taken during all the eclipse.

The complete Hardware used here was the following:

For Main Eclipse pictures and video:
Manfrotto Tripod, Manfrotto 410 head, Astrotrac with Battery Pack, Manfrotto 486 head, Supporting Aluminum Bar, Nikon D90, Sony Camcorder, Stellarvue Raptor 70 ED Raptor Telescope, 12 Volt Battery (PowerGorilla), Laptop

For Multiple shots sequence:
Vivitar Tripod, Nikon D70s with 28-200 lens, Intervalometer

Annular Eclilpse in Utha, USA, 2012

Very similar setup to the one used in the 2010 Eclipse of the French Polynesia. You can see the Stelarvue Raptor Telescope with the Nikon D90 and the Sony Camcorder on top of the Aluminum bar. It is more visible the battery pack, shown attached to one leg of the tripod. The battery pack is used to power the Astrotrac.
In the picture of the right you can see the the Nikon D70s at a focal length of 40mm, with an intervalometer to take pictures every 5 minutes. The intervalometer is shown tied to one leg of the tripod.

Total Solar Eclipse in Svalbard, Artic Circle, 2015

In this case we were advise to travel as light as possible, since we needed to transport ourselves to the eclipse location using snowmobiles. Due to this, I skipped the laptop to automate the eclipse, as well as the video camera, the aluminum bar, etc. 
You can see that on top of the Telescope there is a "Sol Finder" which is quite useful to point the telescope towards the sun. 
At the back you can see the second camera used for the multi shot pictures for the Eclipse sequence.

Total Solar Eclipse, Ternate, Indonesia, 2016

Same setup as in 2012, with the exception that I didn't take with me the Astrotrac. I also therefore skipped one of the Manfroto heads. You can see that the camera has a long USB cable, which is connected to the laptop (not shown in the picture). This time I switched to Mac and I used Eclipse Maestro, which is an amazing software used to control cameras during the Eclipse. Highly recommended!