Taking photos of an Eclipse: My Impressions of the Nikon 500mm PF

I shoot the vast majority of my work at less than 100mm; my favorite subjects like landscapes, real-estate, and aerial scenes most of skew towards wide and mid focal lengths. For that recent lunar eclipse , however , I knew I needed a lot of reach. Fortunately, the cosmos aligned (literally in this case) and I had a chance to borrow  Nikon’s 500mm PF lens  and test it during the new moon.

This article is going to take a look at the real-world user friendliness of this super-tele, as well as analyze some of the techniques for photographing and post-processing a lunar eclipse.

Table of Contents

The Lens

I have photographed previous eclipses at around 300mm, and while the particular blood-red moon can weaving loom large to the naked eye, it’s a surprisingly little subject in the camera. Further complicating things, the eclipse drastically reduces the luminance from the moon, making it tough to simply stack tele-converters on a smaller lens. (Plus, my planned location required a significant walk, which limited my capability to bring long lenses, tracking heads, and other large equipment).

To that finish, the Nikon 500mm f/5. 6 PF ended up as being a great option. It’s a lighter and smaller lens than usual thanks to the phase fresnel element in the lens’s construction. I could hold the 500mm as easily as a 70-200 f/2. 8, and with the effective VR, I was getting razor-sharp test shots handheld down to an absurd 1/60th of a second.

VR wouldn’t help with my new moon shots, since I did nevertheless use a tripod. But it leads to the possibilities of using this lens off a tripod or even monopod, an important attribute for an expensive prime lens.


Using the Lens on a Tripod

Even with the relatively light weight of the 500mm PF, it’s often impractical to go handheld. As such, the lens includes a rotating tripod collar and foot.

The mistake I made was thinking that I could escape with using my existing ballhead for the shoot. Such as I mentioned, I’m no extensive long-lens photographer, and didn’t want to pick up the gimbal head for just one day time of photography. As the date of the eclipse approached, even though, I found that my ballhead wasn’t sufficient in check shots, and I ordered the gimbal head last-minute (the Sirui PH-10 ). It paid back and was helpful for by hand tracking the moon – which moves surprisingly quick at 500mm.



As would be expected from a super-telephoto, the 500mm proved to be incredibly sharp. Even wide open, I had zero image quality issues. Halting down didn’t noticeably increase sharpness in real-world subjects, but did extend the very shallow depth of field, improving the detail upon on some nearby topics.


I had been using the lens on our Nikon Z7 , and focus continued to be fast and steady throughout all my usage, albeit having a bit of hunting during the dark phases of the eclipse. I don’t know if the camera or lens was more accountable, but I do think that an f/4 lens would have had an simpler time. Not that I wanted to lug along (or spend for) a 500mm f/4 just for a day of capturing.

Beyond autofocus, the 500mm offers a selection of focus controls. You can choose between A/M, M/A (which prioritizes manual override), and full time manual. Focus can also be limited to 8m to infinity.   Lastly, the zoom lens features a set of function buttons, which can be set memory remember, autofocus lock, or AF-ON functionality

Overall, focus performs well, and it is definitely ahead of zoom options like the 80-400 and 200-500mm, although it feels behind the faster aperture super-teles I have tested.

Flare and Contrast

Phase Fresnel elements, responsible for the extreme weight and size reduction in this lens, aren’t without drawbacks. Owing to their shape, these elements can perform poorly in strongly backlit subjects or with point light sources, resulting in flare and ghosting .

Fortunately, it seems that the 500mm f/5. 6 PF was created with this in mind, since it suppresses these flares quite well. I could not trigger them in my examining in any reasonable situation. I’d imagine the Nano layer and ED elements are doing a lot of the work with flare reductions here.

In Use

As I’ve mentioned, this lens is portable and easy to shoot handheld, especially for a 500mm. With an integrated-grip body like the D6 or even Z9, I’m sure portable balance is even better, yet I still had simply no problems using the Z 7 with a Smallrig L-Bracket providing a little extra finger area.

For the prolonged period of the lunar eclipse, I found that mounting the lens to a tripod plus gimbal head made one of the most sense. For shorter periods, or shoots where much less precise movement is necessary, I think you could get away with a monopod, or a ballhead on a tripod. The lens is light and balanced enough that will readjusting on a ballhead has been doable, if not perfect.

Despite the impressive weight-trimming properties of the lens’s PF element, the 500mm f/5. 6 PF is still pretty lengthy. I made use of the dedicated bag supplied by Nikon for transporting the lens, because I’d otherwise have to rearrange my entire camera bag to accommodate the lens’s size. While it’s not long enough to cause problems with carry-on hand bags, keep transport in mind in case you aren’t used to using long lenses in part of your kit.

The particular Shoot

To get my desired structure, I was originally planning on trekking a few miles in Sedona, where I intended to fall into line the rising moon which includes of the phenomenal natural rock and roll formations up there. Sadly, the forecast the morning of the eclipse called for clouds, which is an absolute no-go intended for eclipse photography. This resulted in a last minute change of plans, and left me personally searching for some alternate options within areas that had better forecasts.

The particular app Photopills   proved helpful for this, since it has choices to visualize and tack the path of the rising celestial satellite. After checking different places from my couch, I found a good alternative location in front of the Superstitions, a prominent mountain range right outside Phoenix. I also have a dedicated astronomic forecast app that told me clear weather was likely in the area.

Photopills View


While I’ve chance at this location in the past, to get a viable composition at 500mm, I had to be much additional back than usual, shooting across the intervening distance. While I was a bit worried about the particular composition due to rural developments between my location as well as the mountain, things ended up exercising just fine.

The night time of, I got into place and double checked our composition using Photopill’s AR view to ensure the path of the moon would work with the view. This AR look at is a great way to check arrangement in the field, particularly if you’re new to reading and visualizing such things as the azimuth and highness information that’s typically available for astronomic reference sources.

Lastly, I just called in some basic camera settings, making use of the remaining light above to check focus, make sure the tripod was securely situated, and grab a few more examine shots with the 500mm.

Camera Functions

Though we’ve got a whole tutorial available on shooting the tacha eclipse available here , I’d plan to go over some tips specific to help both mirrorless cameras along with very long lens like this.

Since I wasn’t taking pictures with a guided head, I needed to stay pretty involved with you see, the shoot, which gave me the chance to try plenty of compositions as well as tweak my settings.   For this specific shoot, We had a few shots pre-visualized: your wider view of the pile range with a composite in the various phases of the ausencia, an extreme closeup of the moon growing behind the mountain, then some classic views of the moon merely during totality.

To accomplish those shots, I needed three basic sets associated with settings. I’ll go through each of them below.

NIKON Z 7 + 500mm f/5. 6 @ 500mm, ISO 640, 1/30, f/5. 6

1 . The Wider View

One batch of adjustments needed to work for the much wider panorama, and   The second set needed to work for the moon and landscape together again, which proved to be a difficult controlling act as I had less than a min before the moon rose too much. The last set, while a smaller amount technically challenging, still recommended a balance between capturing enough light from the now significantly deeper moon and avoiding video camera and subject motion blur.

Photographing this kind of wider-angle shot was not too difficult. For this one, I result from a separate tripod that has a 105mm lens, and I required a six-frame panorama connected with vertical shots in order to filter out more detail.

The only real difficulty was finding any exposure value that would help the entire sweep. Then, My spouse and i intended to composite the celestial satellite into the frame.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out appropriately for what I had in mind. I actually shot the panorama involved with the shooting session rather than the end, and I think it was ahead of time in blue hour. My partner and i darkened the panorama throughout post-processing before compositing in the moon, but I even so think the moon did not blend quite right, mainly in the later frames of the desvanecimiento.

I want to return to the location on a new-moon night and just reshooting the exact panorama. After all, the output is an artistic composite, rather than a rendition focused on accuracy. With any luck , with a darker sky, I get a composite that appearance more natural.

If you’re planning a similar treatment, consider taking your wider being injected at a few different times of night – like during the start, middle, and stop of your shooting session ~ so you have more options to choose from eventually.


2 . Rising Behind typically the Mountain

The shot that I was the most excited about was the phase of the moon rising behind the off-road. The Superstitions have a wonderful texture, featuring craggy high cliff faces hundreds of feet higher than average. To cap it down, there’s even a number of tall saguaro cacti dotting the absolute best of the peak.

Together, these features can result in a great foreground to an increasing moon. The timing with the eclipse was also perfect, since I was starting to get some awesome color on the moon just as it became visible over the mountain.

For these pictures, I was bracketing my exposures, as I knew it would be hard to balance the brighter celestial body overhead and the darker foreground. To provide my foreground the best likelihood, I planned on pre-composing these photo and letting your moon rise through the frame, rather than chasing it.

My favorite detail because of this shot is the lone saguaro silhouetted against the rising moon. It’s visible in a huge print or if you simply click to view the image below full-screen on a large monitor. The point that the lens reproduced typically the distant saguaro so well might be testament to the quality of the 500mm PF (and perhaps good reason to try an even longer website the next time around).

NIKON Z 7 & 500mm f/5. 6 snabel-a 500mm, ISO 800, 1/160, f/6. 3

3. Your Eclipse in Totality

Capturing typically the eclipse itself has been extensively covered in our guide, but I would like to mention one specific detail I picked up even while shooting. On a dark subject matter like the lunar eclipse, it is actually tricky to focus accurately, and you may need to boost the camera’s ISO to get a bright image critique on the screen. There are a hardly any ways around this.

First, you could turn off the camera’s “apply settings to have view” in the menu (might be worded differently concerning non-Nikon cameras). This will auto-magically adjust the subject’s illumination on the LCD preview even if your camera settings stay. Alternatively, you could toggle around Auto ISO On vs Off.

I discovered this helpful for focusing immediately when the moon was at it is darkest.


I also made a separate composite resin showing the changes in the silent celestial body through the night.



I always enjoy photographing unique events like this. Besides it present a great, time-sensitive motivation to go out and fire, but it can also help you leave your comfort zone when it comes to electronics. I enjoyed using the 500mm PF more than I had anticipated, and it’s moved through to my list of lenses in order to rent or buy after i need more reach in the future.

Photographing new people like this also exposes a few of your strengths and weaknesses as a professional photographer. I was able to leverage many of the techniques I’m comfortable with, similar to making a panorama, while realizing what I need to learn about subjects like compositing. Overall, I got really happy with the experience not to mention can’t wait for the next lunar eclipse that’s visible from my own home state (November eight later this year)!

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