Thursday, May 20, 2010

Luna with a Lumix

Capturing the Moon with a zoom camera is one of the most elementary tasks in Astrophotography if the camera is mounted on a tripod.  However, it can be a different proposition without a tripod.  Just before midnight (IST) on 22 April, I had the audacity, one might even say the lunacy, to try doing this with a handheld Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ-35 camera at its maximum possible magnification of 72x!  It was quite a spontaneous, spur of the moment attempt.  I was about to go to bed when I casually looked out through my bed room window and saw a beautiful waxing gibbous (8.5 day old) Moon. I thought I should capture it with my recently acquired Lumix camera but was feeling too sleepy to take out my tripod and mount it.  I told myself there was no harm in trying out with the camera held as firmly as possible with my hands.  To be able to see the Moon filling up most of the field of view (about one degree), I had to employ the maximum available magnification.  The image shook violently, like a kite in a gusty wind, with the slightest movement of my hands.  Before clicking, I had to take a deep breath and hold the camera as steadily as possible, supporting my left elbow firmly against a window railing.      

Here is the unedited result of one of two successful attempts out of seven tries.  Not bad at all!  Of course, the superb ‘Power Optical Image Stabilizer’ of the camera has contributed considerably to the sharpness of the picture.
The problem was not with the exposure time.  At (1/15) second, one can take a very good photograph with a hand held camera at a reasonable zoom level with the image stabilizer in operation.  The problem really lay with the ability to keep the image steady in the field of view at very high zoom levels.  This is where the image stabilizer also helps by trying to compensate for the motion of the camera.   It is only the well synchronized efforts of man and machine that really clicks.  The great advantage with digital photography is that one can keep clicking away till the right combination is achieved just by trial and error.  Two successful efforts out of seven is certainly not too much of an error.  A friend in Delhi who carefully examined the picture has pointed out that at 100% size the effects of ‘handholding’ can indeed be seen.  He is right.  The reader may verify by clicking on the image and looking at its edges at close to 100% size in any image viewer.   
I have been trying to capture a gibbous Moon with the camera mounted on a tripod under identical conditions and compare the two pictures, but persistently cloudy skies have thwarted my efforts so far.   I intend to carry this out as soon as the weather conditions permit.
For the technically inclined, here is some information about the picture:
Exposure Time:           (1/15) sec
Filter:                          None
F-number:                   f/4.4
Speed:                         ISO 80
Exposure bias value:   0.00 eV
Max Aperture:             f/2.8
Focal Length:               86.4 mm (486 mm in 35 mm film)
Dimensions:                4000 x 3000
File Size:                      0.99 MB (JPEG)
Exposure Mode:          Auto
White Balance:           Auto
Optical Zoom:             18
Digital Zoom:              4
Overall Zoom:             72
Scene capture type:    Standard

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