Using the Meade ETX-90 attached to my camera was at the same time fun, and frustrating. As a lens it was the equivalent of a 1250mm focal length which of course got me all pumped. Woohooo! 1250mm! I mean how sexy is that? That said, it’s not a camera lens. It has no image stabilization or lens correction. No aperture range. No Auto focus. I offer you this quick take on the experience which simultaneously fell short of, met, and exceeded both my expectations and my unexpectations. Here’s how:
- I expected: A Huge Frame-Filling Moon
Got that. The frame was filled about 75%, top to bottom, with moon, glorious moon. Using a 1250mm I expected images 6 times bigger/better/crisper than the Super Moon of 2012 that I photographed with my 70-200mm.
- I expected: Some Camera Shake
After playing with the setup earlier in the day, I suspected that even mounted to our sturdy astronomy tripod the scope itself was prone to vibration with almost 2 pounds of 5D Mark III dangling off one end. The mechanism to keep the scope barrel at a specific spot was not as tight as called for, it allowed some bounce. It would eventually stabilize in position but a little touch could shift it. I knew I’d be using a remote shutter trigger.
- I expected: To Be F-stop Free
Attached to a camera the telescope is the ultimate prime lens without an aperture range. It has one stop, effectively f/13.8 For consistency I probably wouldn’t have changed it. But it did dictate that I could only use Shutter Speed and ISO to create my exposure. Aperture was taken out of the equation. I got over that.
- I expected: No Auto-Focus
With the camera attached to the scope focusing was manual and through the viewfinder only. By choice I was focusing without my glasses, and had adjusted the viewfinder diopter to correct for my natural vision. I could get a clear, crisp image of the moon in the viewfinder but honestly I was never confident it was one hundred percent in focus. I found it helped to turn off the back of the camera display all together and eliminate the glow shining back at into my eye.
- I didn’t expect: THAT Much Camera Shake
I know I said I expected some some vibrational blur, I didn’t expect it to the extent I got it. I was using both a remote AND two-second self-timer so there was no actual contact with the camera at all when the shutter was activated. But even at a “quick” 2 second exposure the physical firing of the shutter mechanism itself caused enough vibration to bounce the whole setup just enough to cause mild, but heartbreaking blur. Remedy: Mirror Lock Up. I don’t know why it popped into my head. As a lifestyle and portrait photographer I’d never had a need for it but I’d heard the legend of this powerful feature and after a few minutes searching through my camera’s menus, enabled it, and saw definite improvement. Still I tried to shoot at the fastest possible shutter speed, which having no aperture that I could set, required upping the ISO higher than would have been necessary.
- I didn’t expect: Lackluster Optics
I love our telescopes – they’re perfect in size and power. So much so that I was able to see the rings of Saturn from out front lawn one night, and weep. (Yeah, I do that a lot.) Perhaps it’s the way I used it, or my particular conditions but the results in my opinion were equivalent to what a “kit lens” might produce. Albeit a very long kit lens!
- I didn’t expect: To Miss Auto-Focus
With determination and patience I could get what seemed to be a clear, crisp image of the moon in the viewfinder but, blame my eyes perhaps, I was not certain I nailed focus. I found it helped to turn off the back of the camera display all together and eliminate the glow shining back at into my eye.
- I didn’t expect: Condensation.
I had anticipated the possibility of condensation and brought some lens cloths but the amount of water that coated everything after about 75 minutes was surprising. Having the lens hood on the telescope helped until late in the session when the moon was high and the scope was tilted more than about 30°. At that point a fine layer of moisture coated the lens too. No matter how careful I was, I shifted the scope position every time I wiped it dry. Oh goody, I get to reposition the scope barrel and focus again. And Again. And yes, again.
- I didn’t expect: To Step Back and Just Marvel
About mid-way through capturing the Earth’s shadowy path across the moon I found myself too awestruck to concentrate on the photography. I long ago learned you can either be in the world or you can photograph it, trying to do both usually does both poorly. So I poured a glass of wine as my husband uncapped a beer and we just watched, silently—feeling very small and inconsequential yet so very full and enlarged.
- I didn’t expect: To Learn As Much As I Did
In addition to making the acquaintance of Mirror Lock Up, I also enjoyed another lesson on light and how it works, which is really the core of photography: We had set up behind the elementary school where about fifty yards away from our chairs there was a spotlight illuminating the back entrance and a small part of the rear parking lot. Beneath the full moon it was pretty inconsequential. As the the eclipse got underway and the moon’s light dimmed, the stars appeared but was even cooler to watch was how that low (in relation to the moon) light on the building slowly became the strongest light source in our area—it was now the key light—throwing long gorgeous shadows of us, our tripods and gear, onto the ground where none had been before.
So I feel like the super moon images I captured with the ETX-90 were better than what I’d shot in the past with the Canon 70-200mm but weren’t exceptionally super. Regardless, the experience was, you might say, stellar—another instance of learning, improving skills and enjoying the world simply because I went out with the camera. Here’s a full-size comparison of the results of the telescope and the 70-200mm lens:
Click on the image above to view 1:1 full-size image.