nightscape #nightscapephotography #landscape #landscapephotography #lens

Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve

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https://www.darksky.org/

Enjoy the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve with us

We want you have an enjoyable rewarding experience so we arrange our star gazing experiences at easy accessible locations within the reserve. We can also arrange pick up at your location by our local transport partners at reasonable cost.

As sunset comes later in the summer, we time our tours so that you can enjoy dinner and join us as darkness falls (and still make it back to the pub if you wish!)

Star Gazing Experience

Our Stars experience has been developed to inform, entertain and share our enthusiasm for the Dark Sky with visitors to Kerry. Our guides will explain Moon’s phases and how they affect us on Earth .We will tell you what planets you may see and where. We even alert you to the passage of visible satellites. Most of all we will teach you a little of the stories and legends of the stars and constellations.

We limit the number of people on each experience to ensure that everybody gets to see some special sights through our telescopes. Sessions normally last about an hour however our guides enjoy their stars and are flexible when visitors have more questions. See HERE for more detailed information or book HERE

We offer complete flexibility to clients who wish to arrange a private stargazing experience and are happy to discuss your requirements. We can come to your location and add an extra dimension to your dinner party or barbeque with a post dinner tour of the stars. Call or email tru our Contact page or ask your Hotel or Guest House host to call us.

The Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve is located in the South West coast of Ireland in what is called an ISTHMUS – a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas, usually with water on either side. The Reserve is protected by the Kerry Mountains and Hills on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other, is approx. 700 sq km in size and offers dark un-lightpolluted skies, inhabited villages, helpful locals, remote wilderness, long sandy beaches, and numerous lakes, islands and rivers.

Protection of the Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve is about protecting the day-time and nocturnal Wildlife in ALL its forms on land, river, lake and sea. As well as protecting and promoting the Heritage of numerous monuments of pre-historic stone, rock art etc that festoon the region, and protecting the quality of the dark night-time sky to witness them as our ancestors once did.

So, what is a Dark Sky Reserve?

An IDA (www.darksky.org) Dark Sky Reserve has a core/buffer structure, similar to the design of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The darkest night skies of such Reserves and Parks are in the Core Zone. The Buffer Zone, which usually includes more populated areas, protects the cores dark skies through the enacting of responsible outdoor light policies by municipal councils and private individuals. In the case of the Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve there are actually dark-sky areas in the Buffer Zone with equal star-viewing as can be found in the Core Zone.

What is a Core Zone?

The Core Zone is an area in which there is little or no critical light pollution. These are the area’s in which on clear moonless nights one can fully see the sky in all its glory – just as our ancestors did. This region is most suited to astro-photography, research and naked eye star gazing.

What is the Buffer Zone?

The Buffer Zone protects the Core Zone by ensuring that light pollution is kept under control in the Buffer Zone. If the Buffer Zone began to increase its outdoor public street lights (for instance) this would impact on the Core Zone.

The Reserve holds many natural assets including The Skellig Islands UNESCO World Heritage site, tracks of 350 million year old creatures, towering cliffs, sandy blue-flag beaches, windswept hills, rare flora and fauna and traditional wildlife such as foxes, badgers, hares, rabbits as well as endangered species like bats, frogs, toads etc. The Atlantic Ocean bordering one side of the Reserve is also the protected home to many sea creatures and plants. Many island bird sanctuaries surround the reserve with no visitors allowed except under strict guidance and permission. It is not unusual to see Dolphins playing out in the Derrynane, Kells, Ballinskelligs or Waterville Bay area, so keep a sharp eye out for them. The Reserve is unique because is is an inhabited ‘living’ Reserve, there is a school, a playground, a church, a pub even a small chocolate factory in the Core Zone. You can rent a house, stay in a Hostel or book into a B&B in the Core Zone area.

Protection of this Kerry Dark-Sky wonder is very important, hence the application to receive Dark-Sky Reserve recognition from the International Dark-Sky Association. To correctly map our evolution into this more technologically based society we need to remember, cherish and protect the starting-off point in human development, globally agreed to be humankind’s wonder at the heavens providing the first spark into the creation of what we now call science.

Brian Mc Donald

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Studying as a Graphic Designer lead to my love of photography. After first learning camera operation and darkroom processes in college, my passion for digital photography has progressed over the years. I am self-taught from countless hours studying books, practicing online tutorials and learning from the best. Over recent years I have accomplished accreditation with the Irish Photography Federation and gained acceptances and awards for my work in International Photography Salons under patronage from the International Federation of Photographic Art.

Loving nature and the outdoors, I mainly travel towards coastline to capture the majority of my images. I venture further to mountains and other suitable locations when I can but the South East of Ireland, in particular my home County Wexford is my base for my preferred genres of Landscape and Seascape. When the many conditions required are right I also try to capture the sky at night. There is something quite unique and awe inspiring about capturing the night sky and with modern camera sensor improvements, this has become all the easier. Since 2016, I have tried my hand at creating some modern architecture images as I enjoy both the precise nature of the composition and the new styles of experimenting with light and shadow.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it- Ansel Adams”

Having practiced with many photographic genres and styles over the years I have come to love the long exposure as my main technique. I am always fascinated by the resulting image from capturing a scene over a period of time.

Whether it be the tides in motion, clouds passing, rivers flowing or stars rotating across the night sky, I endeavor to portray motion and time in a constant Changing Light.

Brian McDonald LIPF AFIAP Cover page of Astronomy Ireland Magazine

An absolute honour to have my Milky Way and Mars image at Kilmichael Point, Gorey, Co. Wexford chosen for the September issue cover page and gallery of the world's most popular astronomy club. The image is titled “Watching the Universe go by” and features the Milky core rising near vertically over one of Ireland’s world war lookout posts which are located at strategic locations around the coast.

Also, the planet Mars shining a bright reflection on the sea. Mars reached it’s closest point (Opposition) to the earth in July 2018. More on Mars here https://mars.nasa.gov/all-about-mars/night-sky/opposition/

And also in the image, a passing satellite which Astronomy ireland’s David Moore identifed as the rocket use to launch military Lacrosse 4 Satellite in 2000.

This cover page feature was my photography highlight of 2018 for sure.

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Kevin Ferrioli

Digital photo magazine

I’m a SQL analyst and developer by profession, living in Dorset, United Kingdom, which is an amazing place for people who love outdoor activities. I love mountain biking which has taken me to stunning locations, and there are miles of breath-taking walks with lots of nature and history around – every corner has a surprise, it’s like living in a fantasy, at least that’s how I see it.

Since I was a child, I’ve always had a fascination for the stars. I had the opportunity to visit places near the equator with true dark skies, where the Milky Way core is visible up in the sky – unlike in the UK where the core is barely visible on the horizon. It’s of unbelievable beauty. I spent most of my childhood visiting locations in the rain forest, flat lands and my favourite – the mountains, especially over 4000 meters.

My fascination for the night sky has always been with me and I have always wanted to capture their beauty. One day, I saw images from Michael Shainblum and he then became my main influence and inspiration. I’ve never looked to replicate his style or the others, it was just that I loved how his images made me feel so immersed. It inspired me to do the same with my photos, to capture an image that would put the viewer under the stars.

dorset nightscape
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As I did last year, I went again to the same place for my first Milky Way, Peveril Point, Swanage, Dorset UK. For my previous attempt, I used a Sigma Art lens 20mm F1.4. The idea was to capture more detailed foregrounds. The lens proved to be excellent for low light but it has four major downsides: first, photos of the night sky taken with this lens were extremely difficult to edit. Second, it is not very good for panoramas, despite I used a nodal head. Third, the autofocus is the worst of any lens that I have ever owned, it is very difficult to capture a sharp photo even with the best light conditions. And fourth, the lens profile in Lightroom is terrible, it makes the images worse. I was not bothered by the astigmatism distortion of the corners which virtually disappeared in panoramas. Overall, I was not happy with the lens, I felt I wasted my last year trying to use it. So I went back to my trustworthy Samyang lens 14mm F2,8. Coupled with the Canon 6D, still my preferred choice. I have not tested the Sigma 14mm F2 yet, but given the price, I will stick with my Samyang.

The image to the rights is the process used to create it. It is a panorama of 7 photos, Canon 6d and Samyang 14mm F2.8, ISO between 4000 and 5000. Each photo is 25 secs. Stitched in Adobe Lightroom.

Peveril Point Swanage Milky Way: 7 images highlighted below and stitched in Abobe Lightroom.

Peveril Point Swanage Milky Way: 7 images highlighted below and stitched in Abobe Lightroom.


The moon rise was spectacular, one of the most beautiful rises from the sea, it was also so dim that allowed to capture the Milky Way up to the last minute before the astronomical dawn. Again, I thank you the nature for this beautiful experience.

Digital photo magazine

All images have been captured with a Canon 6D Mk1. And most of the images were captured with a Samyang 14mm F2.8 Lens, my more recent work is being captured with the amazing Samyang 14mm F2.4 XP

Durdle Door, Dorset.

Durdle Door, Dorset.

Image by jasty78

Durdle Door (sometimes written Durdle Dor) is a natural limestone arch on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset, England.

It is privately owned by the Welds, a family who owns 12,000 acres (50 km2) in Dorset in the name of the Lulworth Estate. It is open to the public. The name Durdle is derived from the Old English word ‘thirl' meaning bore or drill.

The form of the coastline around Durdle Door is controlled by its geology—both by the contrasting hardnesses of the rocks, and by the local patterns of faults and folds. The arch has formed on a concordant coastline where bands of rock run parallel to the shoreline. The rock strata are almost vertical, and the bands of rock are quite narrow. Originally a band of resistant Portland limestone ran along the shore, the same band that appears one mile along the coast forming the narrow entrance to Lulworth Cove. Behind this is a 120-metre (390 ft) band of weaker, easily eroded rocks, and behind this is a stronger and much thicker band of chalk, which forms the Purbeck Hills. These steeply dipping rocks are part of the Lulworth crumple, itself part of the broader Purbeck Monocline, produced by the building of the Alps during the mid-Cenozoic.

The limestone and chalk are in closer proximity at Durdle Door than at Swanage, 10 miles (16 km) to the east, where the distance is over 2 miles (3 km). Around this part of the coast nearly all of the limestone has been removed by sea erosion, whilst the remainder forms the small headland which includes the arch. Erosion at the western end of the limestone band has resulted in the arch formation.

UNESCO teams monitor the condition of both the arch and adjacent beach.

The 120-metre (390 ft) isthmus which joins the limestone to the chalk is made of a 50-metre (160 ft) band of Portland limestone, a narrow and compressed band of Cretaceous Wealden clays and sands, and then narrow bands of greensand and sandstone.

In Man O' War Bay, the small bay immediately east of Durdle Door, the band of Portland and Purbeck limestone has not been entirely eroded away, and is visible above the waves as Man O'War Rocks. Similarly, offshore to the west, the eroded limestone outcrop forms a line of small rocky islets called (from east to west) The Bull, The Blind Cow, The Cow, and The Calf.

As the coastline in this area is generally an eroding landscape, the cliffs are subject to occasional rockfalls and landslides; a particularly large slide occurred just to the east of Durdle Door in April 2013, resulting in destruction of part of the South West Coast Path.

There is a dearth of early written records about the arch, though it has kept a name given to it probably over a thousand years ago. In the late eighteenth century there is a description of the "magnificent arch of Durdle-rock Door", and early nineteenth-century maps called it 'Duddledoor' and 'Durdle' or 'Dudde Door'. In 1811 the first Ordnance Survey map of the area named it as 'Dirdale Door'. 'Durdle' is derived from the Old English 'thirl', meaning to pierce, bore or drill which in turn derives from 'thyrel', meaning hole. Similar names in the region include Durlston Bay and Durlston Head further east, where a oastal stack suggests the existence of an earlier arch, and the Thurlestone, an arched rock in the neighbouring county of Devon to the west. The 'Door' part of the name probably maintains its modern meaning, referring to the arched shape of the rock; in the late nineteenth century there is reference to it being called the "Barn-door", and is described as being "sufficiently high for a good-sized sailing boat to pass through it."

Music videos have been filmed at Durdle Door, including parts of Tears for Fears' "Shout", Billy Ocean's "Loverboy", and Cliff Richard's "Saviour's Day"

The landscape around Durdle Door has been used in scenes in several films, including Wilde (1997) starring Stephen Fry, Nanny McPhee starring Emma Thompson,

the 1967 production of Far From The Madding Crowd (the latter also filmed around nearby Scratchy Bottom), and the Bollywood film Housefull 3.

Ron Dawson's children's story Scary Bones meets the Dinosaurs of the Jurassic Coast creates a myth of how Durdle Door came to be, as an 'undiscovered' dinosaur called Durdle Doorus is magically transformed into rock.

Dorset-born Arthur Moule, a friend of Thomas Hardy and missionary to China, wrote these lines about Durdle Door for his 1879 book of poetry Songs of heaven and home, written in a foreign land:

durdle door

Good Lighting Advice

Digital photo magazine

by Chasing Stars

To achieve International Dark Sky Reserve status all those responsible for lighting (local authorities, highway departments, businesses and individual residents) are required to ensure that light pollution (light escaping sideways and upwards) is reduced to a minimum.

LEDs are now beginning to appear above our streets and main roads in very large numbers. Sadly, far too many LEDs are very bright, and their excess light reflects from the ground into the sky.

AONB Position Statement & Good Practice Note

The AONB position statements set out its current position on a variety of topics. These include light pollution, and the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty derives much of its beauty from its qualities of tranquillity, remoteness and cultural heritage. Light pollution has the potential to erode and destroy that tranquillity and sense of remoteness.

It is, therefore, considered appropriate that all artificial external lighting within its borders, or within the setting of the AONB, should be muted, screened, and the minimum required.  

Position Statement 1 - Light Pollution (PDF, 75Kb)

Good Practice Note 7 - Good External Lighting (PDF 70Kb)

Position Statement 7a - Recommendations for Dark-Sky compliant lighting on new builds & refurbishments - a Developers' Guide (PDF 500kb)

Terms used in describing good lighting, and waste light not directed to the area to be lit.

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Task or Useful light – light that fulfils the task for which the lamp was installed.

  • Obtrusive light – light causing a problem of some kind through misdirection.

  • Spill light - falls outside the area where it is needed.

  • Upward reflected light - unwanted light bouncing off the ground.

  • Direct upward light - wasted light shining above a light fitting (not necessarily vertically upwards – it may be escaping just one degree above the horizontal but will eventually end up in the sky).

  • Light intrusion – over-bright and poorly directed light, often going in windows and/or causing glare and discomfort on other premises. Sometimes called light trespass, but this term is normally to be avoided as, in law, trespass is deliberate intrusion and the intrusive light is usually the result of ignorance rather than malice.

Examples

Good

Compact LED light directed downwards. This and similar types are recommended for domestic, commercial, farmyard and similar uses: preferably with sensors to switch off when not needed. 
Photo: Auraglow

A halogen floodlight, correctly angled, can light a large area. 
Photo: Martin Morgan-Taylor

Bad

An LED floodlight that, even if tilted down, will shine above the horizontal
Photo: ILP

An LED floodlight on a hospital shining into ward windows: its wiring and short fitting bar mean that it cannot be tilted far enough downwards to illuminate the area to be lit. It will always emit upwards as well as down.
Photo: Bob Mizon

Environmental Zones

It is recommended that Local Planning Authorities specify the following environmental zones for exterior lighting control within their Development Plans.

ZoneSurroundingLighting EnvironmentExamplesE0ProtectedDarkUNESCO Starlight Reserves, IDA Dark Sky ParksE1NaturalIntrinsically darkNational Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty etcE2RuralLow district brightnessVillage or relatively dark outer suburban locationsE3SuburbanMedium district brightnessSmall town centres or suburban locationsE4UrbanHigh district brightnessTown/city centres with high levels of night-time activitySource: Guidance Notes for the Reduction of Obtrusive Light GN01:2011


Where an area to be lit lies on the boundary of two zones the obtrusive light limitation values used should be those applicable to the most rigorous zone.
NB: Zone E0 must always be surrounded by an E1 Zone.

Lighting Types, qualities and Impacts - Bob Mizon Commission for Dark Skies (CfDS) - March 2016

This paper by Bob Mizon looks at best practice relating to external lighting - Different types of lighting through the years, terminology guide, threats to the environment from blue-rich white lighting, putting light where it is needed, part-night switch-offs and common misconceptions met when discussing quality lighting and good practice...

Download Lighting: types, qualities and impacts (PDF - 1.2Mb)

Institute of Lighting Professionals

The Institution of Lighting Professionals (ILP) is the UK and Ireland's largest and most influential professional lighting association, dedicated solely to excellence in lighting.

The key purpose of the ILP is to promote excellence in all forms of lighting. This includes interior, exterior, sports, road, flood, emergency, tunnel, security and festive lighting as well as design and consultancy services.

Their website contains a wealth of information and advice, and we would recommend the two links below - the first one being a PDF, and the second link taking you to the free resources page on their website:

Guidance Notes for the Reduction of Obtrusive Light (PDF)

Free Resources from the Institute of Lighting Professionals

More Links to useful resources

Universe Today - LEDs: Light Pollution Solution or Night Sky Nemesis? - Article by Bob King

Edison Tech Centre - Find out about the evolution of the Electric Light.

International working group (PDF) - Regional Government of Andalusia - Declaration on the use of blue-rich white light sources for nighttime lighting

Understanding & choosing colour temperature in LED lights (YouTube Video) - David Geldart of Lumicrest Lighting Solutions

Blue-rich LED Lighting — Bright New Future? - The Commission for Dark Skies

Switchoffs - Most UK councils are adopting environmental and economic lights-out policies - The Commission for Dark Skies

Top Ten Dark Sky Locations Dorset, UK

You can also check out the NEED-LESS interactive night sky simulator to find the darkest places in the AONB and discover what to expect when you're looking upwards.

Descriptions

1.       King Alfred’s Tower

Kingsettle Hill, South Brewham, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0LB

King Alfred’s Tower is a striking 160ft (49m) folly, built in 1772 for Henry Hoare II, known as Henry the Magnificent, the designer of the iconic  Stourhead gardens. It is believed to mark the site where King Alfred the Great rallied his troops in 878. The tower commemorates the accession of George III to the throne in 1760 and the end of the Seven Years War. Henry would surely have appreciated the majesty of the night sky as much as his own creations and this site provides a perfect spot from which to admire the beauty above.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: ST778340
Eastings: 377848 Northings: 134032
Latitude: 51.105152 Longitude: -2.3177773
Facilities: Car park
Owner: The National Trust

2.       Dinton Park

St Mary's Road, Dinton, Wiltshire SP3 5HH

Perfectly described by the National Trust as “far-reaching rolling parkland with tranquil views in the grounds of a Neo-Grecian house”. Please note that car parking for Dinton Park is located on St Mary's Road immediately south of St Mary's Church. There is no visitor car parking at Philipps House itself. This park is one of Wiltshire’s best kept secrets and boasts substantial views - even Salisbury Cathedral can be seen from the highest point. Just like the night sky, the house is strikingly simple, deliberately conservative and grand, making it a fantastic backdrop for your night time photography.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: SU009315
Eastings: 400985 Northings: 131584
Latitude: 51.083577 Longitude: -1.9873184
Facilities: Car park, nearby shop and pub.
Owner: The National Trust

3.       Fontmell and Melbury Downs

Spreadeagle Hill, Melbury Abbas, Dorset SP7 0DT

At 263m, the summit of Melbury Hill is one of the highest points in Dorset. An Armada beacon sited here in 1588 formed part of the chain of signal beacons stretching between London and Plymouth. What better place to witness the other navigational tools used by sea farers worldwide – the mystical constellations. This site offers superb panoramic views which, apart from Win Green, are unparalleled in the AONB.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: ST886187
Eastings: 388608 Northings: 118715
Latitude: 50.967740 Longitude: -2.1636066
Facilities: Car park, nearby café at Compton Abbas Airfield.
Owner: The National Trust

4.       Martin Down Nature Reserve

This 336ha reserve is home to an exceptional collection of plants and animals associated with chalk downland and scrub habitats, including a number of rare or threatened species. It also offers an exceptional view of our night skies. Savour this ancient landscape where our prehistoric ancestors would have relied heavily on the night sky for navigation, planning their year and for their religion and associated rituals.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: SU036200
Eastings: 403665 Northings: 120048
Latitude: 50.979831 Longitude: -1.9491720
Facilities: Car park
Owner: Natural England and Hampshire County Council

5.       Win Green

Donhead Hollow, Near Ludwell, Wiltshire SP7 0ES

One of the best known and most iconic sites in the Cranborne Chase AONB, Win Green is its highest point as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It contains chalk grassland, a habitat that has been seriously eroded in the UK and offers extensive views, with Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, Salisbury, Glastonbury Tor, the Mendips, the Quantocks and Milk Hill all visible when clear.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: ST923204
Eastings: 392328 Northings: 120473
Latitude: 50.983613 Longitude: -2.1106625
Facilities: Car park
Owner: The National Trust

6.       Knowlton

Knowlton, Wimborne, Dorset BH21 5AE

Many people report a strange sensation when standing at the centre of Church Henge, among the ruins of the medieval church. This is perhaps because it is at the heart of a major pagan ceremonial site, once taken over by Christian worship, but now returned to nature. Surrounding the site is the largest concentration of pre-historic barrows and henges found anywhere in the UK. Read up on the constellation myths created by our ancestors that tell of gods and monsters, heroes and villains and other legends using only the stars in the night sky and then witness the incredible theatrical display for yourself. The backdrop of the stunning church also makes for fantastic astrophotography.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: SU023102
Eastings: 402331 Northings: 110231
Latitude: 50.891560 Longitude: -1.9682264
Facilities: Small car park
Owner: English Heritage

7.       Badbury Rings

B3082, near Wimborne, Dorset BH21 4DZ

Badbury Rings is an Iron Age hill fort in the territory of the Durotriges. In the Roman era, soldiers built a temple nearby which was used by the people of Vindocladia, a small local settlement. Back then there was little light pollution and our ancestors would have visited Badbury Rings and witnessed the full majestic view of our galaxy and beyond.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: ST960030
Eastings: 395983 Northings: 103064
Latitude: 50.827097 Longitude: -2.0584077
Facilities: Car park
Owner: The National Trust

8.       Cley Hill

Corsley, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 7QU

Although a bracing walk to the top of this ancient hillfort, once you’ve reached the summit you’ll be on top of one of the UK’s UFO hotspots. For almost 40 years this site has drawn UFO spotters who are keen to see if the talk of lights, flying objects and other unidentifiable oddities are true. Warminster has a designated National Reporting Centre for UFOs - so you won’t have to go far to record your sightings. The site offers 360 degree views of the surrounding hills and while the lights of Warminster may reduce the quality of the darkness, you may well enjoy an out of this world experience.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: ST837442
Eastings: 383769 Northings: 144287
Latitude: 51.197568 Longitude: -2.2336712
Facilities: Car park
Owner: National Trust

9.       Sutton Veny playing fields

This small picturesque village not far from Warminster is home to the Starquest Astronomy Club, a successful group made up of novices and more experienced astronomers. They meet once a month for talks and training in all things astronomy and also set up their telescopes on Sutton Veny playing fields for observation sessions. If you’re looking to find out more about the AONB’s night skies and astronomy, this club is probably for you. For more information, email peter.lee@tytherington.net; tel: 01985 840093.

Directions
Website
Grid reference: ST901417
Eastings: 390192 Northings: 141759
Latitude: 51.174978 Longitude: -2.1416849

10.   Ox Drove

Middle Down, north of Alvediston

Retrace the steps of our ancestors as they drove their cattle along this ancient track and take a journey of your own exploring the night sky. While you will not see the same brightness of starry night skies as they once boasted, you will still be one of the lucky 10% living in this country who are able to witness pristine skies.  Park in the lay-by next to the Ox Drove.

Directions
Grid reference: ST964250
Eastings: 396469 Northings: 125041
Latitude: 51.024727 Longitude: -2.0517156
Facilities: Car parking in lay-by

Light Pollution

The Good and the Bad

The Good and the Bad

by http://www.chasingstars.org.uk

Why do our dark skies need protecting?

The night sky makes up half of our visual environment and yet, unlike historic housing, ancient settlements, resident wildlife and our fantastic landscapes, the night sky has no protection, which explains why in just six years light pollution has increased by 24%.

This is not just bad news for people who can no longer be enthralled by the night sky. The amount of money squandered by ‘wasted’ light is staggering, plus the cost to human and wildlife health is significant. Making just a small low-cost difference to our lighting could bring about massive changes for the better.

Pollution is just that – light that is wasted and not used to light the things that people need. We all need light and certainly don’t want to make the AONB a light-free zone. All we want to do is ensure that we have the right lights in the right place at the right time.

The impacts of light pollution are significant, but small changes can make a big difference.

Is light pollution really that bad?

Even though it doesn’t smell bad, and if you’re used to it, it doesn’t look that bad, light pollution has been proved by experts to be just as bad as air and environmental pollution – it’s just not as obvious.

Here are some facts to get you started….

  • Total of 830,000 tonnes of CO2 pollution is produced from the energy wasted by streetlights alone.

  • The estimated cost of wasted light (that which isn’t shining on the things we need to illuminate) is a staggering £1 billion.

  • Light pollution is directly linked to a decrease in robin, songbird and owl populations.

  • Insects are the basis of many food chains, but one street light can kill up to 150 each night.

  • Lighting at night disrupts our circadian rhythm which has been proved to increase your risk of stress by 52%. It is linked to more serious health issues too.

Let’s look at this more positively…

  • There is increasing interest, wonder and amazement at the incredible array of stars above us. Stargazing is a fabulous educational activity for all and by keeping our dark skies you’ll be one of the lucky 10% of people in this country to enjoy this spectacular show.

  • Dark skies make the Cranborne Chase AONB unique, encouraging people to visit from polluted areas to escape to our pocket of tranquillity. That means more income for businesses through people arriving and staying longer.

  • Saving money. Substantial savings can be made by local authorities, businesses and individuals by turning off or dimming down unnecessary lighting. That means more money for the things that matter.

  • Saving energy. There is no point shining a light into the sky. Energy wastage can easily be considerably reduced – which is so much better for the environment.

All of the above is wasted light.

Easy ways to protect and enhance our dark skies… and banish the pollution

It is often said that if we all do a little, collectively we can make a big impact. In one small area of Wales, angling lights to illuminate the ground and turning off lights when they were not needed reduced light pollution by 10%.

Do you have concerns about street lighting or obtrusive lighting from another property? Let us know. We will not divulge your details but will work with others to install lighting which is a win win for everyone.

If you are interested in finding out more about light pollution, its impacts and some solutions, visit the websites below, both of which have some great resources on this subject:

Chasing Stars

Home of Outstanding Dark Night Skies as well as Natural Beauty.

Outstanding Dark Night Skies

Outstanding Dark Night Skies

Cranborne Chase can celebrate the fact that more than 50% of the 380 square miles of the AONB still has the lowest levels of light pollution in England - and the rest of the Chase is not far behind.

In fact, the Chase is one of the best places to stargaze in England. Our aim is to help you enjoy this aspect of our AONB as much as our multitude of other ground-based treasures. The great thing is that whether you work, live or visit the Cranborne Chase AONB there is something to see 24 hours a day.

There are currently only two other. areas in England that have been formally recognised for their low levels of light namely Exmoor Dark Sky Reserve and Northumberland Dark Sky Park. With your help Cranborne Chase AONB could be the third.

This important designation will not only put us on the map, but allow us to protect and enhance our night sky for generations to come.

How can you help?

Visit Survey monkey to sign our pledge. We would love your support. Please sign our pledge to show your love for our dark skies and our bid to get them protected. We would also love to know what you think of your own local dark skies. Please send us your photos, poems and stargazing adventures.

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Paul Howell @Pictor Images

Paul Howell @Pictor Images

Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount

Nightscapes using AstroTrac Tracking Mount

by Steve Perry

Like most landscape photographers, I look forward to amazing clouds at sunset. There’s just nothing quite like a dramatic sky and a successful image to close out the day. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite as discouraging as facing a bland, barren sky as the sun slides towards the horizon. Or at least that’s the way I used to think… Everything changed one crystal clear night in the backcountry of Northern Michigan. I had been plagued by a week of cloudless sunsets and out of sheer frustration to get something on the memory card, I finally decided to attempt some star trails. That did it – I was hooked. Little did I know star trails were the gateway drug for nighttime landscape photography! However, it didn’t take long to figure out that star trails can get tedious if they are the centerpiece of EVERY nighttime shot you make. (A conclusion arrived at, in part, by my family grumbling, “Seriously, star trails AGAIN??”)

 

 

I came to a point where I wanted to capture the night sky the way I saw it – without trails and maybe with the long arm of the Milky Way reaching through the frame. I started without the aid of a tracking device but quickly discovered the stars would trail ruthlessly on my 24MP Nikon D3x – and the high ISO wasn’t so hot either. I soon graduated to a D800, but its tightly packed pixels happily showed trails for any exposure over 20 seconds – even with wider lenses.

On top of that, I really wanted to keep the ISO to 1600 or less. Many of my clients purchase large prints, and heavy noise just wasn’t an option. Even more importantly, I also wanted to gather more luminance from the night sky. I envisioned crisp stars normally invisible to the naked eye making appearances in my frame, as well as galaxies and even an occasional nebula from time to time. Sure, some stellar phenomena might be tiny in the final photo, but I wanted the viewer to “discover” them when they were viewing a large print.

So, I did a little research and decided I needed a tracking device of some sort. Options varied wildly from expensive mounts for telescopes to DIY kits that could (allegedly) be put together for lunch money. Then I stumbled upon the AstroTrac TT320X-AG Kit. While it isn’t cheap, (coming in at just over $700) it seemed easy to setup and it was designed specifically for photography.

Before long, I was the proud owner of the following kit:

  • AstroTrac TT320X-AG

  • AstroTrac Illuminated Polar Scope

  • AstroTrac 12v car adapter

  • AstroTrac 12v “AA” Battery Pack

If you decide to purchase one of these for yourself be sure to get all the accessories listed above. I discovered some companies sell them separately and you really need everything listed to pull this off (except for maybe the 12v car adapter which, ironically, was the only accessory that was included with my AstroTrac.)

The unit itself is built really well and much more robust than I expected. When I ordered it I anticipated a frail device that would need significant cushioning every step of the way. And though I’d hesitate to let it bounce around in my truck and I certainly wouldn’t want to drop it, I’m very impressed with the overall build quality.

Using the AstroTrac was surprisingly easy. Initially I was intimated by all the talk of proper polar alignment, adjusting azimuth and altitude, but it’s actually pretty simple as long as you have a rudimentary knowledge of the night sky. The first challenge was mounting the thing to my tripod – Here’s that setup in detail. First, keep in mind that with the entire rig put together and a camera perched on top, it’s not exactly a featherweight. I highly recommend starting with a very solid tripod paired with a very sturdy ball head (if your ball head “drifts” under load this will NOT work). I use a Gitzo 3 series and a Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head.

(Note on the ball head – I think if you happen to have a dedicated tripod for this, mounting the AstroTrac to a pan head or geared head would make alignment a much easier proposition. I just don’t want to carry yet another tripod when I travel!)

I also wanted the ability to quickly mount the AstroTrac to my tripod head, so I needed some sort of quick release that would fit the 3/8” socket on the unit. The folks at RRS had a solution – a TH-DVTL-55 quick release plate. That’s when I came across the first problem. The AstroTrac is a narrow device and the screw that comes with the RRS plate is just a bit too long, bottoming out before the plate is tight. A large washer was all it took to save the day.

Astro-Trac-Quick-Release-Washer-Mt

Astro-Trac-Quick-Release-Washer-Mt

Astro-Trac-QR-Mounted.jpg

The next glaring problem is that you actually need a way to mount the camera to the rig, now that your tripod head is being used to support the AstroTrac.

My solution was a retired – but good quality – ball head that had been collecting dust in my closet. I mounted this to the AstroTrac then the quick release to the camera so my setup looks like this:

astro-trac-basic-tripod-setup

Once you’re to this point, it's time to get ready to shoot!

I recommend waiting until at least an hour and a half after sunset before you begin. I quickly discovered when I first started doing stars that just because you can see them doesn’t mean it’s dark enough for long exposures. I’ve had the sky blow out to completely white on some “impatient” evenings when I thought it was dark enough.

Next, you need to do a polar alignment. In the simplest terms, this just means pointing the AstroTrac squarely at Polaris, the North Star. The instructions go into great detail about the procedure, so I’ll just note some highlights and pitfalls below.

To get started I recommend sort of “squaring up” the AstroTrac so it’s pointing roughly north and angled toward Polaris. I also suggest doing your alignment without the extra weight of the camera on the rig.

Mount the scope to the AstroTrac, noting that it comes in from the bottom, and that it’s VERY susceptible to falling out. The magnetic base is just enough to hold it, but no more. Mine has already hit the ground a time or two, so now I remove it after I get everything aligned. It’s just too easy to bump it unintentionally in the dark. (I might assemble some sort of “safety line” for it down the road.)

At one point in the procedure you’ll need to get Polaris into a little “notch” in the scope. I found that it helps to start by spotting along the top of the scope to make sure you’re in the astronomical ballpark. Also, I found it helpful to turn down the illumination a bit once I start using the scope to actually align the unit (can’t see the stars with it turned all the way up). The closer you get Polaris to that notch, the better the tracking. 

astro-trac-complete-setup

In my experience (shooting wide angle with 4 – 8 minute exposures) as long as I was close to the notch I was getting acceptable tracking. The longer your exposure and focal length, the more accurate you need to be with your placement. There’s a “fine tuning” section in the instruction manual to help.

Once everything is set, carefully mount the camera to the rig (if you bump the tripod, you get to start over – a lesson I learned the hard way one 20 degree below zero night at Bryce Canyon!)

From there, it’s time to experiment. I like to start with a high ISO shot (6400) for 30 seconds just to make sure the stars are sharp and I’m getting what I want in the frame (one of the first things you learn with astrophotography is that composition at night can be a bit tricky when your viewfinder is pitch black).

Once I’m happy with my test shot, I lower the ISO to 1600 and shoot for about 4 minutes at F/2.8. Of course, you can experiment with different combos until you get the look you’re after. Some areas of the sky seem to need longer exposures than others. Keep in mind that your exposure can render a fairly bright image, so be sure you aren’t actually blowing out areas of the night sky (like nebulas). The horizon can be especially troublesome if you’re near a populated area.

Oh, and get ready to grin. When you glance at your LCD and see the sheer volume of stars and celestial detail this rig can capture it will literally blow you away! I remember just standing there with my jaw gaping over the first image – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Crisp stars, nebulas, and even galaxies were all right there. Pretty amazing.

Here are a couple samples from my first night experimenting with the AstroTrac (the second one had better Polar alignment than the first). These are just quickly processed in Lightroom with not much adjustment beyond a blackpoint and a little contrast. Note that I have not done any real color correction or noise reduction in these images. Both at ISO 1600, F/2.8. The first is around 4 minutes, the second a half stop longer at 6 minutes.

Once back on the computer, I pull the exposure back and / or set a black point. This gives a more realistic version of the sky plus lowers the noise level quite a bit.

While out in the field you might also consider shooting a “dark frame” or two while you’re there to help reduce noise. I've not done a lot of dark frame subtraction, so I’ll let you Google that one. (Hint – a free program called “Deep Sky Stacker” can help a lot.)

That said, even at ISO 1600 once I pulled the exposure down I was very happy with the noise level - no dark frames required. (Note: I’ve also been shooting in winter where noise from excess heat isn’t a big problem, your warm summer shootin’ mileage may vary.)

As a final caution, keep in mind that the camera is moving during the exposure, so the ground and anything anchored to it is going to end up blurry. If you’re trying to include a landscape with the stars you’ll have to shoot it separately.

 

AstroTrac TT320X-AG

 

Introduction:

Like most landscape photographers, I look forward to amazing clouds at sunset. There’s just nothing quite like a dramatic sky and a successful image to close out the day. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite as discouraging as facing a bland, barren sky as the sun slides towards the horizon. Or at least that’s the way I used to think… Everything changed one crystal clear night in the backcountry of Northern Michigan. I had been plagued by a week of cloudless sunsets and out of sheer frustration to get something on the memory card, I finally decided to attempt some star trails. That did it – I was hooked. Little did I know star trails were the gateway drug for nighttime landscape photography! However, it didn’t take long to figure out that star trails can get tedious if they are the centerpiece of EVERY nighttime shot you make. (A conclusion arrived at, in part, by my family grumbling, “Seriously, star trails AGAIN??”)

 

 

I came to a point where I wanted to capture the night sky the way I saw it – without trails and maybe with the long arm of the Milky Way reaching through the frame. I started without the aid of a tracking device but quickly discovered the stars would trail ruthlessly on my 24MP Nikon D3x – and the high ISO wasn’t so hot either. I soon graduated to a D800, but its tightly packed pixels happily showed trails for any exposure over 20 seconds – even with wider lenses.

On top of that, I really wanted to keep the ISO to 1600 or less. Many of my clients purchase large prints, and heavy noise just wasn’t an option. Even more importantly, I also wanted to gather more luminance from the night sky. I envisioned crisp stars normally invisible to the naked eye making appearances in my frame, as well as galaxies and even an occasional nebula from time to time. Sure, some stellar phenomena might be tiny in the final photo, but I wanted the viewer to “discover” them when they were viewing a large print.

So, I did a little research and decided I needed a tracking device of some sort. Options varied wildly from expensive mounts for telescopes to DIY kits that could (allegedly) be put together for lunch money. Then I stumbled upon the AstroTrac TT320X-AG Kit. While it isn’t cheap, (coming in at just over $700) it seemed easy to setup and it was designed specifically for photography.

Before long, I was the proud owner of the following kit:

  • AstroTrac TT320X-AG

  • AstroTrac Illuminated Polar Scope

  • AstroTrac 12v car adapter

  • AstroTrac 12v “AA” Battery Pack

 


If you decide to purchase one of these for yourself be sure to get all the accessories listed above. I discovered some companies sell them separately and you really need everything listed to pull this off (except for maybe the 12v car adapter which, ironically, was the only accessory that was included with my AstroTrac.)

The unit itself is built really well and much more robust than I expected. When I ordered it I anticipated a frail device that would need significant cushioning every step of the way. And though I’d hesitate to let it bounce around in my truck and I certainly wouldn’t want to drop it, I’m very impressed with the overall build quality.

Using the AstroTrac was surprisingly easy. Initially I was intimated by all the talk of proper polar alignment, adjusting azimuth and altitude, but it’s actually pretty simple as long as you have a rudimentary knowledge of the night sky. The first challenge was mounting the thing to my tripod – Here’s that setup in detail. First, keep in mind that with the entire rig put together and a camera perched on top, it’s not exactly a featherweight. I highly recommend starting with a very solid tripod paired with a very sturdy ball head (if your ball head “drifts” under load this will NOT work). I use a Gitzo 3 series and a Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head.

(Note on the ball head – I think if you happen to have a dedicated tripod for this, mounting the AstroTrac to a pan head or geared head would make alignment a much easier proposition. I just don’t want to carry yet another tripod when I travel!)

I also wanted the ability to quickly mount the AstroTrac to my tripod head, so I needed some sort of quick release that would fit the 3/8” socket on the unit. The folks at RRS had a solution – a TH-DVTL-55 quick release plate. That’s when I came across the first problem. The AstroTrac is a narrow device and the screw that comes with the RRS plate is just a bit too long, bottoming out before the plate is tight. A large washer was all it took to save the day.

 

 

The next glaring problem is that you actually need a way to mount the camera to the rig, now that your tripod head is being used to support the AstroTrac.

My solution was a retired – but good quality – ball head that had been collecting dust in my closet. I mounted this to the AstroTrac then the quick release to the camera so my setup looks like this:

 

 

Once you’re to this point, it's time to get ready to shoot!

I recommend waiting until at least an hour and a half after sunset before you begin. I quickly discovered when I first started doing stars that just because you can see them doesn’t mean it’s dark enough for long exposures. I’ve had the sky blow out to completely white on some “impatient” evenings when I thought it was dark enough.

Next, you need to do a polar alignment. In the simplest terms, this just means pointing the AstroTrac squarely at Polaris, the North Star. The instructions go into great detail about the procedure, so I’ll just note some highlights and pitfalls below.

To get started I recommend sort of “squaring up” the AstroTrac so it’s pointing roughly north and angled toward Polaris. I also suggest doing your alignment without the extra weight of the camera on the rig.

Mount the scope to the AstroTrac, noting that it comes in from the bottom, and that it’s VERY susceptible to falling out. The magnetic base is just enough to hold it, but no more. Mine has already hit the ground a time or two, so now I remove it after I get everything aligned. It’s just too easy to bump it unintentionally in the dark. (I might assemble some sort of “safety line” for it down the road.)

At one point in the procedure you’ll need to get Polaris into a little “notch” in the scope. I found that it helps to start by spotting along the top of the scope to make sure you’re in the astronomical ballpark. Also, I found it helpful to turn down the illumination a bit once I start using the scope to actually align the unit (can’t see the stars with it turned all the way up). The closer you get Polaris to that notch, the better the tracking. 

 

 

In my experience (shooting wide angle with 4 – 8 minute exposures) as long as I was close to the notch I was getting acceptable tracking. The longer your exposure and focal length, the more accurate you need to be with your placement. There’s a “fine tuning” section in the instruction manual to help.

Once everything is set, carefully mount the camera to the rig (if you bump the tripod, you get to start over – a lesson I learned the hard way one 20 degree below zero night at Bryce Canyon!)

From there, it’s time to experiment. I like to start with a high ISO shot (6400) for 30 seconds just to make sure the stars are sharp and I’m getting what I want in the frame (one of the first things you learn with astrophotography is that composition at night can be a bit tricky when your viewfinder is pitch black).

Once I’m happy with my test shot, I lower the ISO to 1600 and shoot for about 4 minutes at F/2.8. Of course, you can experiment with different combos until you get the look you’re after. Some areas of the sky seem to need longer exposures than others. Keep in mind that your exposure can render a fairly bright image, so be sure you aren’t actually blowing out areas of the night sky (like nebulas). The horizon can be especially troublesome if you’re near a populated area.

Oh, and get ready to grin. When you glance at your LCD and see the sheer volume of stars and celestial detail this rig can capture it will literally blow you away! I remember just standing there with my jaw gaping over the first image – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Crisp stars, nebulas, and even galaxies were all right there. Pretty amazing.

Here are a couple samples from my first night experimenting with the AstroTrac (the second one had better Polar alignment than the first). These are just quickly processed in Lightroom with not much adjustment beyond a blackpoint and a little contrast. Note that I have not done any real color correction or noise reduction in these images. Both at ISO 1600, F/2.8. The first is around 4 minutes, the second a half stop longer at 6 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Once back on the computer, I pull the exposure back and / or set a black point. This gives a more realistic version of the sky plus lowers the noise level quite a bit.

While out in the field you might also consider shooting a “dark frame” or two while you’re there to help reduce noise. I've not done a lot of dark frame subtraction, so I’ll let you Google that one. (Hint – a free program called “Deep Sky Stacker” can help a lot.)

That said, even at ISO 1600 once I pulled the exposure down I was very happy with the noise level - no dark frames required. (Note: I’ve also been shooting in winter where noise from excess heat isn’t a big problem, your warm summer shootin’ mileage may vary.)

As a final caution, keep in mind that the camera is moving during the exposure, so the ground and anything anchored to it is going to end up blurry. If you’re trying to include a landscape with the stars you’ll have to shoot it separately.

I personally use twilight or moonlight (or both) for the “landscape” portion of the shot, and then blend the stars and the land together in Photoshop. That's what I did for my first "real" photo using the AstroTrac:

 

 

Overall, I’m thoroughly enjoying the AstroTrac setup and I’m anxious to get out and use it at more locations. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that a clear sky at sunset is a welcome site for me now!

Milky Way Lens Shootout: Nikon, Zeiss, Sigma, and Rokinon compared

by Greg Benz

Capturing sharp stars and the Milky Way is one of the few genres in photography where special lenses are really a make or break deal. If your lens can’t shoot at f/2.8 or wider, you’re at a huge disadvantage (though you can always shoot log exposure star trails with such a lens). Those wide apertures are required to shoot with shutter speeds fast enough to keep the moving stars sharp.

I’ve used a Nikon 14-24mm for years with great results, including 40×60″ prints. But I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I could get better nighttime image quality with another lens. So I borrowed a few well-regarded lens and put them in a head to head test.  Below, see how the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8, Rokinon SP 14mm f/2.4, and Sigma Art 14mm f/1.8 compare in a field test shooting the Milky Way and night sky.

But first, I’d like to thank Brent of BrentRentsLenses.com for loaning the Sigma lens used in this test, and B&H for loaning the Zeiss and Rokinon lenses.  Brent runs a super-convenient rental business where he ships the lens directly to you along with a return shipping label.  The process really couldn’t be simpler.  And I’ve bought the majority of my camera equipment from B&H for years, and always been happy with their prices and service.

I’m posting a quick summary and some 100% crops from the top-right corner of each lens below.  For a much more thorough comparison of image quality, be sure to see the video. There’s much more to the story than this single group of images can tell, including: performance across the full width of the image, color quality, vignetting, and focus performance.

This test is designed to reflect real-world image quality based on performance in the field. My conclusions below are based on shooting each of the lenses under the most comparable settings I could. I shot each at the exact same settings at f/2.8 in the same lighting conditions, and additionally shot the Sigma and Rokinon at their maximum apertures to test their unique capabilities. All lenses were manually focused on bright stars via the LCD on a Nikon D810, which is the method I most use in the field. As manual focus is an imperfect method, I took several shots (refocusing several times) to help minimize the risk that my focusing technique would skew the results. But ultimately, that’s the best gauge of the results I can truly expect with this lens.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8

This has been my go-to lens for years. It’s great, and I’m definitely keeping it. But for wide-angle night skies, it can’t achieve the excellent stars that the other lenses can.

dark sky travels nightscape photography magazine

ros:

  • Autofocus for daylight shooting

  • Can zoom to 24mm

  • Quality/Durability:  Rubber weather seal between lens and camera and some seals inside for better dust and moisture protection.

Cons:

  • The most difficult to manually focus at night. Manual focus extends well beyond infinity, making it hard to even find bright stars to start focusing. And the f/2.8 maximum aperture does not offer as good a live view as the Sigma and Rokinon. There’s also a bit of slack in the focusing ring, which can make precision adjustments a little more tricky. Focusing on stars manually is always difficult via live view, but I found the Nikon was most difficult. That’s a real detriment to image quality, as some images will likely be focused imperfectly. Reviewing the images carefully on the LCD is important with this lens to make sure you got the shot in the field. Thankfully focusing is easier with the new Nikon D850 (due to lower LCD noise), but I felt much more confident focusing the other lenses in this test.

  • Image quality is good across a broad range of conditions. But lack of sharpness and coma in the corners puts it behind the rest of the lenses in this group for astrophotography. On overall image quality, I would say that all three of the other lenses outperformed in this test.

  • Weight:  2.26lb.  Fairly bulky, but then you are shooting with the capabilities of an autofocus zoom lens, and it is lighter than the Sigma.

  • Available for Nikon only.

Price in US: ~$1897. Aperture range:  f/2.8-22.

Rokinon SP 14mm f/2.4

This is the lens to get if you want to save money or weight. I would shoot this lens at f/2.8 for best image quality, unless you need a little more speed for the Aurora.

dark sky travels nightscape photography magazine

Pros:

  • Excellent value for the money and the cheapest of the group.

  • Weight: 1.73lb.  The lightest of the group, and it feels quite nice.

  • Image quality is generally excellent, but the vignetting is a bit heavy.

  • Manual focus stop just past infinity helps quickly find stars.  The focusing ring is fluid, which helps manually focus precisely. The f/2.4 aperture provides a slightly improved ability to evaluate focus on the LCD.

Cons:

  • No lens profile support in Lightroom or Photoshop. Third party profiles are available for Canon, but I have yet to find one for Nikon. Given this lens has noticeable distortion, it’s an import consideration, especially if you also wish to shoot architecture or other clearly straight lines.

  • Significant vignetting, but not as bad as the Zeiss.

  • Manual focus only.

  • There is no weather sealing, but this lens feels solidly built (and you aren’t going to run into a lot of water on most Milky Ways shoots).

  • No 16-24mm coverage.

Aperture range:  f/2.4-22.

Price in US: ~ $999 for Nikon or $799 for Canon mount. (While I didn’t test it, the non-SP version of this lens is generally well-reviewed and outright cheap).

Available for Nikon and Canon.

Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

I love everything about this lens, except the weight. I found the image quality was the best of the bunch, if you shoot at f/2.8 for best image quality. It also offers the ability to shoot at f/1.8 for faster shutter speeds, which would be beneficial for shooting the Aurora Borealis. Note that the Sigma showed a slightly smaller angle of view than the Nikon or Rokinon, even though they are all 14mm lenses

dark sky travels nightscape photography magazine

Pros:

  • Excellent image quality, the best of this group at f/2.8. (However, image quality suffers at f/1.8, and shooting wide open should be reserved for situations where shutter speed or image noise is a high priority.)

  • Minimal vignetting.

  • Manual focusing at night is relatively very easy with the wide f/1.8 aperture.

  • The f/1.8 aperture is a huge advantage for shooting the Aurora, which requires faster shutter speeds than stars.

  • Autofocus is very responsive and accurate for daylight shooting.

Cons:

  • Weight: 2.53lb.  The heftiest of the group, you really feel it.

  • No 16-24mm coverage.

Price in US: ~$1599. Aperture range:  f/1.8-16. Available for NikonCanon, and Sigma.

Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8

This is a great lens, but I see no compelling reason to buy it at this price. It just doesn’t stand out for astrophotography, and the vignetting was disappointing.

dark sky travels magazine

Pros:

  • Image Quality is very good to excellent, but there is significant vignetting in the corners.

  • Manual focus “lock” makes it easy to initially find stars for focusing.  Zeiss is known for the “lock” at infinity focus.  Zeiss even warns in the instruction manual that the focus is designed to allow over-travel (beyond infinity focus) to allow for temperature camera flange distance variations.  In other words, there is no single lens that could guarantee proper infinity focus on all cameras in a variety of temperatures.  However, the tighter range of over-travel is still useful, as it gives you an easy way to quickly get close to proper focus – so that you can at least see the stars well enough to manually focus.

  • Weather sealed.

  • Offer threads for filters (95mm). However, given existing vignetting without a filter, I have some reservations about how useful this feature may be.

Cons

  • Expensive

  • Significant vignetting at f/2.8. Deep enough to cause color issues with the Nikon D810 (the D850 should perform better, and the color cast can be corrected). If you are shooting with this lens, be sure to capture an extra frame for the foreground. That’s generally a good idea anyhow, but noisy corners could be problematic with this lens under night sky conditions if you don’t blend images.

  • Manual focus only.

  • No 16-24mm coverage.

Price in US: ~$2699. Aperture range:  f/2.8 to f/22. Available for Nikon and Canon.

Conclusions:

All of these lenses were great for astrophotography, and I’d happily shoot with any of them. They all feel high quality and offer very good to excellent image quality. While I have some strong preferences when pixel peeping the results side by side, I would be proud to print images from any of them – including my Nikon, which was ultimately showed the least impressive results. Looking back on things, I wish I had also tested the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, as that lens is likely also a good choice. However, I’d be shocked if it beat that zoom lens could beat the image quality of the prime Sigma Art lens, and I prefer its wider 14mm field of view. But it’s definitely an option to consider if you’re leaning towards a zoom like the Nikon.

It’s important to note that test focused specifically on shooting the night sky. I did not get a chance to shoot the Zeiss and Rokinon in sunrise/sunset conditions, so I can’t say how they might hold up for flare. I assume the Zeiss is excellent in that regard, and I wish I’d had an opportunity to test the Rokinon for flare. I found the Sigma was consistent with the level of flaring from direct sun that I see with the Nikon (or better). I captured a beautiful sunrise image with the Sigma that has me impressed that this is an excellent all around lens for landscape photography.

I would recommend the Sigma if you’re looking for the best wide-angle night image quality, the Nikon if you want the flexibility to shoot up to 24mm, and the Rokinon if you’re on a budget or want a lightweight lens for hiking. I really can’t think of any reason to choose the Zeiss – its image quality did not outperform the Sigma, and the price is substantially higher.

Personally, I ended up buying the Sigma after this test. I love it. The image quality was my favorite of the group, the wide aperture gives me lots of options for shooting auroras, the wide aperture helps get manual focus at night, the autofocus makes it easier for daytime shooting, and the price was reasonable. I’ll definitely be keeping the Nikon for for situations where I expect to zoom to 24mm. And I’ll always be a little envious of the light weight of the Rokinon.

 

Note:  All weights listed above were measured on a postal scale and may not match official manufacturer specifications.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. See my ethics statement for more information.