Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Very First Moon Shots

Today is the 3 year anniversary of my lunar photography obsession. August 18th, 2007, just 8 days after getting my first DSLR, a Canon XTi. If my memory serves me correctly I went budget super telephoto lens shopping on Friday August 17th, 2007. I was on my way to the now closed Kamera Korner in San Jose and passed by a Wolf Camera that was closing down and figured they might have some discount lenses. I went in expecting to land a deal on some Canon glass but was fortunate enough to meet a fellow moon loving photographer that worked there and he told me about their super closeout Quantaray 500mm f/8 lens with a 2x extender. I knew that a "real" 500mm lens would cost me several thousand dollars so when he informed me that this 1000mm monster could be had for under $200 I jumped at it. He correctly described it as an extremely slow lens that wasn't super sharp and had some chromatic aberration but with some tweaking in Photoshop decent images of the moon could be created. Unfortunately that Wolf Camera location was out of that lens but it was at another location further south in San Jose but I'd have to wait until the next business day since they were closed. But even better was when he told me that since the lens was being discontinued from their line it was on closeout for just about $110!!!

The next day I hurried over to the Wolf Camera with the discounted 1000mm lens setup and paid less than $120 after tax for the lens and a Canon t-mount adapter. I went home and spent the afternoon doing some practice shots until the moon came into view later that evening. I found it extremely challenging focusing this fully manual lens using just the viewfinder. LiveView didn't exist yet so there was lots of experimentation with taking shots and reviewing them at max magnification on the LCD screen.

Here is the very first moon picture I took just over 3 years ago...


The first lesson I learned using a manual lens shooting the moon is that focusing is extremely difficult during the daytime due to the low contrast of a bright waxing gibbous moon against a clear blue sky. Later that evening once it was dark I was able to capture a slightly better shot but manually focusing such a telephoto lens was still very new to me. In addition my composition skills needed a lot of work.

The next night wasn't much better and I remember thinking at this point that the lens was a waste of money. I now know that is NOT THE CASE and it comes down to operator error.

It took me several months to really learn how to use this lens, and several months more to learn how to properly edit the pictures and remove nasty optical artifacts like chromatic aberration which plagues this super budget lens.

Here is an example of the kind of moon shots possible with this very same $120 lens on my exact same XTi camera with a year and a half of lunar photography experience under my belt...


In all I'm certainly glad that I didn't give up on using this lens. It is the most important lens in my collection and one that I've been trying to use for nearly all my 2010 lunar images. It helps that I upgraded from the XTi to the T2i so now I have LiveView to ensure accurate focus. I still do an initial focus manually through the eyepiece to keep my skills sharp and often find with a LiveView check that my focus is spot on :)


  1. Aren't you effectively focusing at ∞? Or do you have to rack back a bit?

  2. I found that infinity focus for the moon is bogus for any focal length beyond 100mm. Even stars are out of focus at inf.

    With my usual setup in 200-1000mm range more precise focusing is necessary and possible just by eye. Might take a few months of practice and chimping but doable. Thankfully all new cams have live view which makes it all so easy.