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Scopedawg Review: The Best Solar Eclipse Camera Money Can’t Buy

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When viewing the solar eclipse, you are doing so with the best imaging system out there – the mammalian optical system.  Our optical system (eye, retina, optic nerve and brain) is the model by which digital cameras and lenses / telescopes form images and outperforms even the most expensive and fancy of equipment.  We can adjust to near and far, bright and dim; we can interpret a wide range of brightness and contrast quickly and efficiently.  When the human optical system takes in a mountain valley in bright sunshine, we see both bright sky and shaded mountain, all in perfect focus.  Cameras and scopes would require multiple setups, or multiple settings and some powerful software, to faithfully reproduce what we see without even having to think about it.

The Scopedawg Eclipse Photography Guide will be up and running in about a week, providing you all the information, resources and links you need to capture that eclipse calendar shot.  Before we discuss the intricacies of photographing the eclipse, I thought it might be useful to think about the differences – and similarities – between the mammalian optical system and the human made technology that attempts to emulate it.

 

Nature vs. Technology

Photons of light striking the surface of a telescope’s lens are bent toward a point of focus at the opposite end of the tube, where the sensor of the attached camera resides.  Here the light is filtered in red, green and blue before the photodiodes converts the energy of the light into an electrical signal.  The camera converts this analog signal into a digital format and funnels it down USB cables to the computer, loaded with fancy software that does its thang and pops a color image up on the screen.

Photons of light striking the surface of your cornea and lens are bent and focused toward the opposite side of your eyeball, where the retina resides.  Here the light is sensed by specialized cells (rods and cones) that detect red, green or blue before converting the energy of the light into the electro-chemical signal of our nervous system.  This signal is funneled down your optic nerve to your brain, loaded with neurons that do their thang and pops a color image up in our conscious.

 

 

Us humans even have an aperture ring (iris/pupil) to control the amount of light striking our sensor (retina), allowing us to adapt to low light or bright sunshine conditions instantly.  Another example of precedents in nature forming the basis of human engineering.

Fascinating.

 

Memories Are Made Of This

There is one area in which sensors and computers outperform retinas and brains, in the recording of the input data.  Our vision, if fact all our senses, are so intertwined with our consciousness and the interpretation of the world around us in the moment, we move on to the next sensory input before the current one is stored or recorded.

The digital signal recorded by your camera’s sensor can be cumulative, in other words the aperture can be held open to record the light signal over time.  This is the basis for deep sky images of galaxies and nebula where multiple images of 5 or 10 or 15 minutes of duration are aligned and stacked together to form an integrated, cumulative image.  Although us astrophoto geeks use this image to reduce noise (bad stuff) in the image, it also serves to boost signal (good stuff).  Look through a telescope at the Andromeda Galaxy and you see a faint, fuzzy patch with details of the spiral arms and central area appearing only in large scopes under dark skies.  Even the smallest of scopes, if multiple images of 3 minute duration are processed, show details in Andromeda that your optical system simply can not reproduce.

The human recording system – memories – are subject to reinterpretation over time and degradation of signal.  In other words, it is not the faithful rendering that can be accomplished with camera, telescope and computer.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer my imperfect memories to an exact digital signal.

On August 21st be sure to leave time for both of your imaging systems, the camera attached to your lens and the brain attached to your eye.  The digital image, no matter how spectacular, will never record the rush you feel as the sun disappears.

 

They give us the nice bright colors,                   They give us the greens of summer,                 Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.

Paul Simon, Kodachrome, “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”         © 1973 Words and music by Paul Simon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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