I am sure out of the many that photographed this year’s eclipse that ran across the United States like an Olympic relay race, I was one that spent very little time preparing for the photographic event.  In part, this was because I already had some great equipment, in part it was because I wanted to enjoy the event.  The Leica SL was great in a number of ways.  So, here I’ll tell you about the equipment I already had that I used; and what I had to buy to make it all work.  I’ll also tell you throughout some of the neat aspects of the SL that lent itself to this eclipse photography.

From the ground up seems a great way to start.  The tripod and ground surface determine how much shake you have when trying to focus and photography, so like many creations, the foundation is important.  I have two tripods:  a Gitzo traveler carbon tripod with an Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 sp head; and a Manfrotto 190more aluminum tripod with Manfrotto RC4 quick realease ball head.  The carbon is significantly lighter and I like the arca-Swiss style of quick release, so I experimented with this tripod first.  In fact,  I first used a Nikon 500mm f/4.0 long lens with a Nikon F3P to take film photographs of the pelicans.  It panned and focused well, but even with a max weight of 22 pounds, the carbon fiber tripod shook and wasn’t high enough to save my back from bending over.  In the end, the Manfrotto delivered, with a total height of about 5 foot 9 inches (my height), and very rigid.  Now, I like the carbon, so I have a Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic Series 3 carbon tripod the holds 55 pounds on order to pair with a Gitzo GH3382QD series 3 ball head using an arca-Swiss compatible quick release.  The tripod extends to 57.5 inches which, with the ball head, will be over 5 feet and should be great for photographing pelicans.  But, the Manfrotto was great to view the sky with out having to lean over.

Leica does not yet have any new lenses greater than the 280mm lens in the APO Vario-Elmarit SL 90-280mm f/2.8-f/4.0 lens and 280mm is not long enough for moon and eclipse photography.  So instead, I purchased a 30 year old Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 mirrored lens.  This lens was in-expensive and I purchased a Novaflex SL to Nikon F adapter to use with it.  Since the mirrored lens uses an 82mm thread on the outside of the lens, I ordered an 82mm StarGuy silver Mylar solar filter for the lens.  This Nikon lens is the newer of the two 500mm mirrored lenses they made and has a closer focus that overlaps the infinity focus of the lens. The newer lens is a little sharper and still small and light to use.  Mirrored lenses are not known for smooth broken as instead they have the donut shaped out of focus areas and this lense is extremely sensitive to focus.  In fact, the Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 is easier to focus than this lens.  However, a mirrored lens is essentially a cassegrain telescope and handles sky photography well, the focusing not withstanding.  This Nikon lens is about 6 inches long and very light – the mirror and fixed focal length lending to the compact and lightweight design.  I found one in great shape on EBay and purchased it, hard-case, lens caps and UV back filter all intact and in great shape.

So, great stability, light-weight mirrored lens, long focal length and then the camera body.  The Leica SL won for me hand over fist.  I put the grip on to have two batteries at my disposal.  I knew the viewfinder would be clear and show all the exposure information I needed as well has have the diopter correction I needed without glasses.  The Leica SL also has a timed interval rate which I set up for 5 second intervals for 60 shots (which is 5 minutes).  That would be one way to easily back off the tripod and keep from bumping it, blurring the image.  I used the manual focus feature and zoomed in, focusing on the sunspots and then letting everything go to settle down.  I used one of two methods to press the shutter.  Sometimes I used the Leica RC-SCL4 remote release cable (which is hard to find new, but I purchased used) or the apple iOS application.  When using the iOS app, I could not only sit in a chair and press the shutter, but it was easy to show everyone around me the images which were significantly larger than when looking through solar glasses.

The iOS app for the Leica SL is easy to use.  I created a WLAN on the Leica SL with which my iPad then connected.  Occasionally I would reposition the camera to recenter the eclipse, and then zooms in to check focus.  The screen on my iPad simply said the camera was performing a function, but showed the image in the viewfinder anyway.   After the totality, I was taking some photographs of the end of the eclipse, but using the iOS app to download out-of-camera JPEG’s to the iPad so I could publish them on social media.

The camera did well and never got hot in the sun.  I could slow down the exposure when the clouds got in the way and still get a reasonable shot.  Some of my exposures were 2 seconds, and others were 1/500 sec.  I used about 2/3 of one battery, so the extra one was not critical, but very nice to have just in case.

I took the SkyGuy solar filter off for the brief amount of totality and took the diamond ring image here.  It was absolutely amazing!  My preparation was to purchase a Nikon mirrored lens and a corresponding solar filter.  Otherwise, I already had everything on hand.  I took a few hand-held shots two weeks before the eclipse so I knew it would work, and then setup in my yard at Folly Beach the day of.  We also put out some cedar oil lamps to ward off the mosquitos, but more importantly, we had chairs, blankets, cardboard solar glasses and plenty of beer and Gatorade on ice in a cooler.  After grilling some lunchtime hot dogs and hamburgers, we settled down to watch the show.  It was touch and go all day as the cloud cover was very thick.  No rain ultimately came, but there was thunder during the show from further inland.

I did purchase a heavy duty motor drive, but in the end decided it was just another piece of gear to take away from enjoying the event.  In the end, I did not even take it out of the box.  It was a grand experience and reminds me of the totality I saw in the 8th grade when a solar eclipse passed over my gradeschool (in the early 1980’s).  The best part of this unique astronomical event was the ease of taking photographs.  True to Leica form, I put the camera on manual, focused and shot away.  I plan on using this same setup, with the added motor drive to try some Astro-photography and maybe even stich together 4 or more images.  In the end, simple physics was much easier than trying a fully automatic setup that gave me no control!  Here’s to the next eclipse…

About The Author

David taught film photography and development for 3 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1989-1991). He began using Leica cameras in 2000 and still shoots 70-100 rolls of film through a Leica M3 and Leica MA while enjoying the challenges of the Leica Monochrom and the new Leica MD 262. David has written about photography and is working on several volumes documenting changes and artistic merit throughout Old Town in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA. His full-time job is as a CPA, but spends free time with a camera at the ready.

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