After having to skip a year my Northern Lights tours are back on again starting January 2022. These trips are made for those that appreciate the beauty of nature. The arctic is a spectacular place in so many ways. Especially in winter when the low arctic sun skims along the horizon providing golden hour light all day.
During the long nights when the sky is clear the Northern Lights come out to play. The cold air provides very clear viewing and most guests are blown away by the numbers of stars visible. It’s a photographers paradise.
For more information take a look at the tour page. If you are interested, send me a message.
Your going on an overseas shoot and trying to decide whether to check in your camera or take it as carry-on on the flight. What should you do, which is best?
24.8 million checked bags went missing in 2018, so it’s not a small problem.
Europe is the worst with 7.29 bags per 1,000 passengers annually, then it’s 2.85 in North America and only 1.77 in Asia.
So if you’re in Europe and travelling with say 3 bags – camera, tripod, lights. Then statistically your going to lose a bag around around once every 45 flights (22.5 return journeys). The statistics actually fit well with my own experience of a checked in bag going missing about once every 2 years. Most of the time they do turn up eventually, but if you need the gear for a shoot this can often be too late, especially if the location is remote or a long way from an airport.
Some years back I had a huge flightcase with a complete edit system in it disappear on a flight. It didn’t show up again until a couple of years later, found by the airline quite literally on the wrong side of the planet. How you lose something that size for years is beyond me. But stuff does go missing. This case eventually found it’s way back because my name and address was inside it. And that’s an important point. Make sure your contact details are on your luggage and IN your luggage. On the outside I only put my mobile phone number as there are criminal gangs that will look for addresses on luggage knowing that there’s a higher than normal chance that your home or business property may be unattended while you are out of the country.
Another thing to think about is how tags get attached to your luggage. If the bag is a hold-all type bag with two straps, often the check-in agent will put the baggage tag around both carry handles. If a baggage handler then picks the bag up by a single handle this can cause the tag to come off. Also baggage tags also have little additional bar code on the very end of the tag. These are supposed to be stuck onto the luggage so that if the tag comes off the luggage it can still be scanned and tracked. But often the check-in agents don’t bother sticking them on to your luggage.
If you have ever worked airside at an airport, as you move around you’ll often see small piles of luggage stacked in corners from where it’s fallen off luggage belts or worse still are the bags on the outside of bends on the airport service roads, often in the rain or snow, that have fallen from luggage bins or luggage trucks. Many airports employ people just to drive around to pickup up this stuff , throw it into a truck and then dump in a central area for sorting. Most will eventually find their owners but many won’t which is why they are now many specialist auction houses that sell off lost luggage on behalf of the airlines and airports.
Also what happens if you get caught up in an IT failure or baggage handlers industrial action? You valuable kit could end up in limbo for weeks.
So, I recommend where you can you take your camera as carry-on. Also do remember any lithium batteries MUST be taken as carry on. Tripod, lights etc, that can go in the hold. If they go missing it is a complete pain, but you can probably still shoot if you have the camera a lens and couple of batteries.
Here’s a compilation of footage from this years winter trip to Norway. This was all shot with the PXW-FX9. Mostly with sony lenses and autofocus. The AF was great for following the dog sledding. The camera performed really well and did a great job of capturing what was a very faint Aurora display in between cloud banks.
The daytime footage was shot using S-Log3 in CineEI. I didn’t expose any brighter than base, so used 800EI or 4000EI. I used the viewfinder display gamma assist rather than any LUT’s as I know I can use gamma assist no matter what frame rate I shoot.
The Aurora was very faint, barely visible to the naked eye, so I had to shoot using a 32 frame slow shutter (the equivalent of about 1.3 seconds at 24fps). I then used interval record with a 2 second interval to create the timelapse Aurora sequences. As there were no dynamic range concerns I chose to shoot using the default S-Cinetone settings in custom mode so I could see exactly what I was getting. I was amazed at how many stars the camera picked up with such a short exposure, a sure sign of how sensitive the camera is. For the Aurora I used a Sigma 20mm f1.4 lens with Metabones speed booster and 4K s35 scan. I felt that the extra stop of light gained from the use of the speedbooster was better than the slightly lower noise that would have been present if I had used the 6K FF scan. I did also try S&Q at 1 frame per second with the shutter off to see how this compared to the slow shutter. The S&Q was much noisier, the cameras built in NR seems to work particularly well with the slow shutter function, so if you need a long exposure on the FX9 I recommend slow shutter and interval record over S&Q at 1 frame per second.
For the sunset shots I made use of the variable ND filter, set to auto to control the exposure. I used the cameras “backlight” auto exposure setting to obtain a bright exposure despite the strong sunlight. These shots were shot using S-Log3 in CineEI and it’s nice that the auto exposure functions work very well in this mode. The main lens used was a Sony 24-240mm f3.5-f6.3 zoom. Not the very greatest of lenses, but for such a zoom range the image quality is pretty decent. I used this lens because the temperature was often below -15c dipping to -34c at times. In addition there was a lot of blowing snow. I don’t like doing a lot of lens swapping in these conditions and the 24-240mm allowed me to take just one lens on most of the trips out and about on the snow scooters or dog sleds.
Another big help was the Core SWX V-Mount adapter. I used both the Core Neo 98Wh V-Mount batteries and some of my Pag Paglink 150Wh V-Mounts. They all worked very well in the harsh conditions and a great feature of the Core Neo’s is the run time indicator that gives an accurate time remaining readout based on the batteries capacity and the cameras power draw. This is very handy when using a V-Mount adapter as all the adapters currently on the market convert the battery voltage up to 19.5 volts to feed the FX9. As a result you don’t get any form of capacity or run time indication in the viewfinder. The Core V-Mount adapter also incorporates an LED indicator that turns red as the battery voltage gets low and then flashes red when it’s about to run out – a very nice touch. I did use a loose fitting insulated cover that I made myself. It’s not heated but does have a fleece lining so helps keep the heat generated by the camera when it’s operating in the camera. Where this really helps is to keep the lens warmer than the ambient air and this helps stop the lens from frosting over when shooting the aurora at night (see the picture at the top of the article where you can see just how frosty things can get at night).
As usual on these trips we had one guest break a tripod. A lot of materials that are normally solid and robust become very brittle at temperatures below -15c. I was using a Miller CX18 tripod head with Miller Solo legs and once again this proved to be a great combination. The fluid damping of the head remain almost completely constant all the way down to -34c. A lot of other heads become unusable at these sorts of temperatures.
For file backup and file management I use the Nexto DI NPS-10. This is a relatively new device from Nexto DI. Designed to offer a robust backup solution at a much lower price than similar previous Nexto DI products it too worked very well even in these harsh conditions. I have a 1TB SSD in mine and I can backup a 128GB XQD card in around 5 minutes. I can’t recommend the Nexto DI products enough for those that need to have a simple, reliable backup on location.
The workshop shots are part of a sequence of shots for another video I am working on. For these I used Sony 85mm f1.8 FE and 24mm f2 FE lenses. The sequence is mostly available light but I did have a Light & Motion Stella 5K on hand to add a little extra light here and there.
Post production was done using DaVinci Resolve and ACES.
Really excited about this PXW-FX9 event in Dubai on the 14th of January at 5pm. Garage Studios are building us 3 amazing film sets full of props, great actors with great period costumes. This won’t be a PowerPoint presentation, we will shoot a short film, grade the material, showing all the FX9’s key features. It will challenge the camera. It will probably challenge me! It will be fun, you will be surprised. I’m not going to reveal the film subject yet, so come join us if you can.
I’m sitting here in the UK, Its February and it almost 20c (68f). Very nice indeed for the UK this time of year. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in Northern Norway, up above the arctic circle running one of my annual Northern Lights adventure tours. The weather there was very different. At no time did the temperature get above -15c(5f) and for most of the trip it was around -24c(-11f) both during the day and during the night.
Now, you might consider me a sadist when I say this, but for my Northern Lights trips I normally want it to be -20c or colder. The reason being that when it’s very cold like this we normally get beautifully clear skies. And we need clear skies to see the Aurora.
After many years of taking a full size video camera up to Norway I decided to go light this year and just take my trusty A7S and A6300 cameras. We get around on snow scooters and on sledges towed behind the snow scooters. This can make lugging around a larger camera tricky and there are times when you just can’t take a big camera. But in order to get the very best from these cameras I also decided to take an Atomos Ninja V.
The Ninja V is the first of a new generation of recorders and monitors from Atomos. It’s much smaller than the Shogun range of recorders making it a better size and weight match for smaller cameras and DSLR’s. It has a very, very nice 5″ screen with a maximum brightness of 1000 Nits. The 1000 Nit output and Atomos’s clever way of driving it means it can display both SDR and HDR images depending on how it is set up. A key difference between the Shogun and the Ninja devices is that the Shoguns have both SDI inputs and HDMI inputs while the Ninja only has an HDMI input. But if your using this with a DSLR than only has an HDMI output, as I was, the lack of SDI connectors is not a problem.
The build quality of the Ninja V is really good. Most of the body is made of aluminium. The rear part where the slots for the SSD and battery are is made from plastic, but it appears to be a good high quality and tough plastic. A new feature is an “AtomX” expansion port tucked inside the battery compartment. The expansion port allow different modules to be attached to the Ninja V to add functionality such a video over IP (ethernet) using the Newtek NDI protocol for live streaming or to turn the Ninja V into an IP connected monitor. There is also an AtomX sync module that allows you to wirelessly synchronise timecode and control multiple Ninja V”s on a single network and to use Bluetooth remote control. You can find out more about the AtomX modules here https://www.atomos.com/AtomX
Anyway – back to Norway. We were very lucky with the weather, and with the Northern Lights. On the first night at the cabins we stay at the Aurora put on a pretty good display. I was shooting with my Sony A7S with a Sigma Art 20mm f1.4 lens. I was shooting a mix of time-lapse, in which case I simply record the raw frames in the camera on it’s internal SD cards as well as real time video.
The Northern Lights are only rarely very bright. Most of the time they are fairly dim. So I was using the Sigma lens wide open, shooting at 24fps and with the shutter at 1/24th. The adjusting the cameras ISO to get a nice bright image. At times this did mean I was using some very high ISO’s with a lot of gain. Shooting like this is going to put a lot of strain on any codec. But the Long GOP XAVC-S codec used in the A7S is going to be very hard pushed to not introduce a lot of additional artefacts. In addition my older original A7S can only record HD internally.
By using the Ninja V I was able to record video of the Northern Lights in 4K using the ProRes codec. I used ProRes HQ and ProResHQ uses much less compression than XAVC-S. So even though both the internal recordings and the external recordings are limited to 8 bit (due to the cameras HDMI output limitations rather than any limitation of the Ninja) the ProRes recordings are far more robust and will noise reduce in post much better than the XAVC-S.
When you’re working outside for extended periods and it’s -27c(-17f) it’s tough on the gear and tough on you. When shooting the Aurora my camera are outside all night, exposed to the cold. Typical problems include frost and ice on the front element of the lens. The moisture from your own body can easily freeze onto the lens if you stand close to the camera. If you look at the lens to check it for frost and breath out you will leave it coated in ice.
Wires and cables that are soft and flexible in normal temperatures become as stiff as steel rods and can crack and fracture if you try to bend them. All batteries will loose some of their capacity. Very small batteries are worst affected. Larger batteries tend to fair a bit better, but there is a tremendous difference between the way most cheap budget batteries behave in the cold to good quality brand name batteries. For this reason I power my complete setup from a single PAG PAGLink V-Mount battery. The PAGlink batteries are great for all sorts of different applications, but for these trips a big benefit is that a small plug type charger can be used to charge many PAGlink batteries by stacking the batteries together. Then to power multiple devices I use the clip-on PAG Power hub plate to provide 5V for the camera battery adapters that I use, 12V for the lens heaters I use and another 12V feed for the Ninja V.
After more than a few minutes outside the camera kit itself will have become extremely cold. If you then take that kit inside into a nice warm cabin the warm moist air in the cabin will condense onto the cold camera body. Because the camera body will be extremely cold this will then freeze. Before you know it the camera kit is covered in ice. What you can’t see is that it’s likely that there will also be some ice and moisture inside the camera. It can take hours to warm the camera back up again and get it dried out properly. Bagging the camera before you take it indoors can help, but taking the camera in and out many times over the coarse of a shoot like this can cause a lot of damage. So I prefer to leave all the camera kit outside for the duration of the trip.
This means that when you come to fire it up you are often trying to switch on an absolutely frozen camera. In the past I have had problems with cold recorders that wouldn’t start up. But I’m pleased to report that the Ninja V always came to life no matter how cold it was. Whenever I pressed the record button it went into record. Operating the touch screen in the cold was not an issue. In fact using touch screen gloves, the Ninja was really easy to use. Pressing small fiddly buttons isn’t easy, even with thin gloves, but the touch screen turned out really easy to work with.
A big change on the Ninja V over previous models is the operating system. The new operating system looks really good and is quite logically laid out. Gone is the old AtomHDR slider that changes the brightness of the screen when in HDR. This is replaced with dedicated viewing modes for Native, 709, PQ HDR and HLG HDR and viewing via a LUT. I prefer the new fixed HDR modes over the Atom HDR slider modes as it eliminates the uncertainty that can sometimes creep in when you use a slider to change the brightness of the display. In my case, when shooting during the day using S-Log2 I would simply select S-Log2 as the source and then use PQ to display an HDR image on the screen. At night when shooting the Aurora I used Rec-709.
The Ninja V can take the same size 2.5″ SSD caddies as the current Shogun recorders. So I was able to use the SSD’s that I already own. However to keep the size of the recorder down it has been designed around a new slightly shorty SSD form factor called SSDMini. When you use a standard size 2.5″ SSD it does stick out from the side of the recorder by about 25mm. If you use an SSDMini it doesn’t stick out at all. SSDMini’s are currently being manufactured by Angelbird and Sony. They have the same sata connector as regular 2.5″ SSD’s and the SSDMini’s can also be used on the larger Atomos Shoguns.
By the time we were ready to leave Norway we had seen the Northern Lights on 3 different nights. By day we had seen some beautiful sunrises as well as other optical effects like sun dogs caused by the light from the sun being refracted by ice crystals in the air. The Atomos Ninja V had impressed me hugely. It just worked perfectly despite the extreme cold. It allowed me to record at higher quality than would have been possible without it and turned out to be easy to operate. What more can you want really?
In February 2019 I am running 2 Aurora hunting trips to the north of Norway. One of these has just sold out so that means that places are now only available on the first tour.
These are very different to the normal Aurora hunting trips to a big city. We start in the town of Alta in Northern Norway, staying in a nice hotel close to the amazing looking Northern Lights Cathedral. From there we travel inland to the capital town of the Sami people – Karasjok.
As we get near to Karasjok we exchange our mini-bus for snow scooters and sleighs and journey way off the beaten track, up above the tree line and across frozen lakes to a small lodge used by cross country skiers and dog sled teams. This group of cabins becomes our base to explore the Finnmarksvidda for 4 days as well as being a near perfect location for watching, photographing and filming the Northern Lights.
It is stunningly beautiful around the cabins, it’s also amazingly peaceful and quiet. We are looked after by a couple of Sami people who cook meals for us, take us ice fishing and help us explore this spectacular and unspoilt winter wilderness.
If you want to know more please take a look at the main page for the tours: http://www.xdcam-user.com/northern-lights-expeditions-to-norway/
I’m writing this from a hotel room in Page, Arizona. Half way through a shoot covering everything from the city lights of Las Vegas to the Slot Canyons of Arizona. I’m using a Sony Venice to shoot most of the material, but I also have an FS5 recording to ProRes Raw on a gimbal for some shots.
It’s been an interesting shoot with many challenges. Some of the locations have been a long way from our vehicles, so we have had to lug the kit cross country by hand.
Almost everything is being shot at 60fps with some 120fps from the FS5. We also had a Phantom Flex for a couple of days for some 1000fps footage. For some of the really big panoramic scenes we have used the 4:3 6K mode on the Venice (at 24fps).
Our main lenses are a set of full frame T1.5 Sigma primes. These are absolutely amazing lenses and when paired with the Venice camera, it’s hard to produce a poor image. Our Venice has a beta of the dual ISO firmware which has been an absolute godsend as the bottoms of the deep slot canyons are very dark, even in the middle of the day. So being able to shoot at 2500 ISO has been a huge help.
I will write up this project in more detail once the shoot is over. I can’t share any footage yet, but once my client releases the film I will be able to let everyone see it. However I have been allowed to post some frame grabs which you will find below.
I’ve been running my Aurora adventure tours for 11 years and so far every trip has seen the Northern Lights. This year I had a couple of guests that had already travelled to Iceland and Finland in search of the Aurora, but had not seen it. So it was wonderful to see their faces when the Northern Lights came out to play for us most nights.
For the last couple of years I have been basing the tours out of Alta in Northern Norway, travelling from Alta to some cabins far off the beaten track at very special place just outside of the very small town of Karasjok. We stay at the cabins for several reasons.
1: It’s very different – only accessible by snow scooter.
2: It’s truly beautiful – a chance to get back to a slower way of life for a few days.
3: Clear skies – this location seems to deliver clear skies when many other areas are cloud covered.
4: Adventure – where else can you stand on the top of a hill and not see anything else man made from horizon to horizon.
So why not come and join me for an adventure you’ll remember forever? I’ll help you take your own photos or video of the Aurora if that’s what you want to do. Or just come and enjoy a bit of Sami culture as our host Oskar cooks traditional meals of reindeer, elk and salmon before we enjoy a traditional Sauna. During the day we go ice fishing, head out up on to the arctic plateaux by snow scooter or go dog sledding through the snow covered trees of the forest.
I’ve worked hard this winter to get the very best deals on the hotel and cabins that we stay at. As a result the cost of the tours is now lower than the past couple of years and I am even able to offer a really amazing early bird deal for those that book and pay 6 months before the tour. Full details here.
Due to the unexpected redundancy of one of my guests I am now looking to sell on a couple of places on my Northern Lights expedition in January on his behalf.
The trip starts and finishes in Alta, Norway. Food is included for most of the trip. We spend 4 days up on the Finnmarksvidda where we normally get amazing Northern Lights viewing opportunities. I can also help guide anyone that wants to learn how to photograph or video the Aurora.
This is a real adventure and a lot of fun. The only way up to the cabins by snow scooter, crossing frozen lakes along the way. We eat a campfire lunch in a Sami style tent, we go ice fishing, exploring by snow scooter and enjoy traditional sauna nights.
Electronics and water are two things that just don’t match. We all know this and we all know that dropping a camera into a river or the sea probably isn’t going to do it a great deal of good. But one of the very real risks with any piece of electronics is hidden moisture, moisture you can’t see.
Most modern high definition or 4K pro video cameras have fans and cooling systems designed to keep them operating for long periods. But these cooling systems mean that the camera will be drawing in air from the outside world into the cameras interior. Normally this is perfectly fine, but if you are operating in rain or a very wet environment such as high humidity, spray, mist, fog etc it will mean a lot of moisture circulating through the camera and this can be a cause of problems.
If the camera is warm relative to the ambient temperature then generally humid air will simply pass through the camera (or other electronics) without issue. But if the camera is colder than the airs dewpoint then some of the moisture in the air will condense on the cameras parts and turn into water droplets.
A typical dangerous scenario is having the camera in a nice cool air conditioned car or building and then taking the camera out of the car/building to shoot on a warm day. As the warm air hits the slightly colder camera parts moisture will form, both on the outside and the inside of the cameras body.
Moisture on the outside of the camera is normally obvious. It also tends to dry off quite quickly, but moisture inside the camera can’t be seen, you have no way of knowing whether it’s there or not. If you only use the camera for a short period the moisture won’t dry out and once the fans shut down the cameras interior is no longer ventilated and the moisture stays trapped inside.
Another damaging scenario is a camera that’s been splashed with water, maybe you got caught in an unexpected rain shower. Water will find it’s way into the smallest of holes and gaps through capillary action. A teeny, tiny droplet of water inside the camera will stay there once it gets inside. Get the camera wet a couple of times and that moisture can start to build up and it really doesn’t take a lot to do some serious damage. Many of the components in modern cameras are the size of pin heads. Rain water, sea water etc contain chemicals that can react with the materials used in a cameras construction, especially if electricity is passing through the components or the water and before you know it the camera stops working due to corrosion from water ingress.
Storing you delicate electronics inside a nice waterproof flight case such as a Pelicase (or any other similar brand) might seem like a good idea as these cases are waterproof. But a case that won’t let water in also won’t let water and moisture out. Put a camera that is damp inside a wateproof case and it will stay damp. It will never dry out. All that moisture is gong to slowly start eating away at the metals used in a lightweight camera body and some of the delicate electronic components. Over time this gets worse and worse until eventually the camera stops working.
So What Should You Do?
Try to avoid getting the camera wet. Always use a rain cover if you are using a camera in the rain, near the sea or in misty, foggy weather. Just because you can’t see water flowing off your camera it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Try to avoid taking a cold camera from inside an air conditioned office or car into a warmer environment. If you need to do this a lot consider putting the camera in a waterproof bag ( a bin bag will do) before taking the camera into the warmer environment. Then allow the camera to warm up in the bag before you start to use it. If driving around in a car from location to location consider using less air conditioning so the car isn’t so cold inside.
Don’t store or put away a damp camera. Always, always throughly dry out any camera before putting it away. Consider warming it up and drying it with a hairdryer on a gentle/low heat setting (never let the camera get too hot to handle). Blow warm dry air gently into any vents to ensure the warm air circulates inside to remove any internal moisture. Leave the camera overnight in a warm, dry place with any flaps or covers open to allow it to dry out throughly.
If you know you camera is wet then turn it off. Remove the battery and leave it to dry out in a warm place for 24 hours. If it got really wet consider taking it to a dealer or engineer to have it opened up to make sure it’s dry inside before adding any power.
If you store your kit in waterproof cases, leave the lids open to allow air to circulate and prevent moisture building up inside the cases. Use Silica Gel sachets inside the cases to absorb any unwanted moisture.
If you live or work in a warm humid part of the world it’s tough. When I go storm chasing going from inside the car to outside in the warm to shoot is not healthy for the camera. So at the end of each day take extra care to make sure the camera is dry. Not just any obvious moisture on the outside but dry on the inside. So this normally means warming it up a little (not hot, just warm). Again a hair drier is useful or leave the camera powered up for a couple of hours in an air conditioned room (good quality aircon should mean the air in the room is dry). I keep silica gel sachets in my camera bags to help absorb any surplus moisture. Silica gel sachets should be baked in an oven periodically to dry them out and refresh them.
Fogged Up Lens?
Another symptom of unwanted moisture is a fogged up lens. If the lens is fogged up then there will almost certainly be moisture elsewhere. In the case of a fogged up lens one thing that sometimes helps (other than a hairdryer) is to zoom in and out a lot if it’s a zoom or change the focus a lot. Moving the lens elements backwards and forwards inside the lens helps to circulate air inside the lens and can speed up the time it takes to dry out.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.