„Adventure is just bad planning.“
We are still trying to avoid being disappointed by claiming the trip was for evaluating equipment only anyway and that we could relax and wind down a lot. Still there is that nagging feeling. It was time for the Aurora Borealis and we booked plane and hotel, a rental and started packing. It turned out to be quite a lot of packing, two suitcases each filled mostly with metal, carbon fibre and glass.
Still what you cannot influence is both the intensity of the Northern Lights and the weather. Especially the weather. Night one was pretty nice weather actually, but no Northern Lights to speak of, although we witnessed a guide telling his group how lucky they are because with 20 seconds exposure, you can see fantastic lights. Yes… Well… We just rolled our eyes and did not comment, that would be fairly unfair to people that probably have the time of their life and are really excited by the green tint on their camera displays.
And every <Insert swearword of your choice> night after that was cloudy! We tried, but other than an occasional glimpse there was only a few indications of dancing lights. Unfortunately that made matters worse, because the Kp Index actually was very strong, even hitting a 6 one night. So it wasn’t the Aurora’s fault, quite the opposite. End result of this trip was a record low in pictures, only 982. Which might sound like a lot, but 797 of them were part of timelapse sequences and a lot other just handheld exposures to check the strength of the Aurora. This will not be a long travelogue and we keep our fingers crossed for the next trip we plan for winter season 2020/2021.
The evaluation we had in mind was about testing our video cameras whether they can capture the night sky and the Aurora. So we brought three of them. Two were doing ok, but one really showed an inacceptable level of noise. Naturally, that was mine, so I am still not able to do real time video of the Northern Lights and my bank account is getting really, really nervous.
But hey, it was still beautiful Norway.
Because most of the usual spots around Tromsø are now being blocked by guided tours, we searched for some new places. The problem is not other people, actually I enjoy talking to some of them. The problem is the fires the guides start to entertain their groups. This is a total nuisance, the light is really affecting the cameras, especially with wide angle lenses. In an environment where your target is to get away from all other lights than the ones in a sky I really do not understand why people believe that a fire is a good idea. Bring a thermos with hot beverages, but don’t ruin other people’s photography, please.
We also went to the reindeer herd that we usually visit. It was fitting the rest of the trip, instead of curiously getting closer and begging for bread, they walked away from us. That was really new, they have not been afraid of people for 7 years, this specific herd was quite tame before.
What else to photograph? Vegetation looks quite encumbered by the rough climate, but I’m not sure I want too many happy trees in my travelogues.
So one day we pointed the rental south. I don’t really like driving long distances during the night, not in a car that I don’t know well enough. Zebra is different, naturally. But during the day, the weather was better, so we went for the Polar Park in Bardu. On our way, we supported the local economy by buying some souvenirs from the Sami as well. A bit overpriced, but the bags made from elk leather are really good, the leather is very soft, still strong.
Well, that is not an elk.
You might have successfully guessed that: Those are elk – moose for our American friends.
The amount of buses full of tourists was amazing. The last time we visited we were essentially alone in the park. But it is good the park is getting visitors, it is a really nice place and well worth the effort. I just wonder what people are thinking if they run yelling and shouting towards the animals?
To better show the animals, the guides typically feed them some treats and if done respectfully, you can pet some of them. At least the elk. Their fur is surprisingly soft.
Some of the fences in the park have signs like this. On corrals with wolves and lynxes. Seriously people put their finger through the fence?
A herd of Muskoxes. I have seen them on pictures, but never in real life. Another surprise, they have been much smaller than I thought, a little larger than a large boar maybe but certainly not close to cattle like I would have expected.
On to the real subject of the trip. There was one night that actually started very promising. Forecast both for Aurora and weather was good and we got everything going, with DSLRs and video cameras.
We have been a bit late, this night the lights started extremely early. In the beginning, the sky also offered some bigger gaps in the cloud ceiling, but that unfortunately changed fast.
The clouds came rolling in like a huge wave. Just before that one spot was completely covered, I managed to capture those pictures, showing that the Aurora was quite strong during this night.
After some waiting, we got another gap.
But what about the video? I configured my main camera to capture 4K 25fps Cinema DNG RAW footage. I essentially played with a lot of settings, still missed a couple of important ones. Following the 180 degree shutter rule, I left it at double the frame rate, going for 360 degrees likely would have been better with the additional stop of light, motion blur should not be a major concern with that subject anyway. And maybe the S-Log3 picture profile wasn’t perfect either, according to some sources it crushes low light too much. The lens I packed on the camera was a 20mm f/1.4, coupled with a speed booster for another stop. In terms of glass, that is about the maximum you get, I’m not aware of any faster lenses with 20mm or shorter.
As we planned to check footage during daytime and then run additional tests the other nights I wasn’t too concerned during the night to miss some parameters. But when I checked the files on my laptop I was quite concerned by the noise. The Super 35 sensor produced both massive chroma and luminance noise. With the picture below I raised exposure by 3.5 in Camera Raw. No other changes, but the scaling of the picture for the website removes a lot of noise already that is better visible with the original material. Then I fired every noise reduction technology I have available at it. Unfortunately I have to conclude that the results are unusable.
Naturally this is not the best sensor. Also, it is not a full frame camera. Quite a number of manufacturers now offer video cameras that should be able to get much better results (Not talking about the A7SII, to my knowledge it lacks proper RAW output and dynamic range is fairly limited). Problem is, it gets expensive…
The best shot I got from the trip. Actually it is a really nice one. With the Aurora Borealis there are no guarantees. But after the trip is before of the trip, this will not be my last one.