Covid-19 is seriously impairing travel. While the job that pays the bills used to come with lots of business travel, I’ve been restricted to work from home since beginning of March. Also private travel is significantly reduced in Europe, and the streets of Nuremberg haven’t seen many visitors either. But our night sky has been graced by a very special visitor from outer space, comet Neowise. Properly socially distanced, it passed our planet at a distance of 103 million km or 64 million miles.
It’s the second comet I’ve been able to witness, the first being Hale-Bop in 1997, during the early days of digital photography. But now I had to try to capture the comet that has a nucleus of about 5km (3 miles) and a tail made gas and ions.
In the northern hemisphere, Neowise can be seen on the northwestern horizon, below the Big Dipper. While it was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, the increasing distance form the sun and the crescent moon make it increasingly difficult to spot the comet.
As camera I used my Olympus OM-D E-M1X and the mZuiko 12-100mm. On a clear night, I put the camera on a bean bag on the sill of our bedroom window. As my usual starting point for any astro-photography, I dialed in a twenty second shutter speed, ISO 1600 and an aperture of f/4. I wanted to capture some context, in this case the silhouettes of the trees on the horizon, so I settled on a 41mm (82mm full frame equivalent) focal length.
The challenge came with setting the focus manually to infinity -autofocus was not an option, as it was practically pitch dark outside. My problem was that I never properly marked the manual infinity mark on my zoom lens. Sure, there is an infinity mark on the distance scale of the lens, but this is just an indication, not a precisely defined mark. So it was a lot of trial and error – each coming with a 20 second exposure and a subsequent 20 second noise reduction phase. before I could determine if I had a hit. It took me quite a few trials and errors before I finally got a satisfying result.
Lessons learned: Do some auto-focussing on infinity during daylight and make a mark on your lens were infinity really is.
In the end I was happy recording my memory of a very special visitor.
Wish you a great Tuesday – and stay safe!