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Old February 12th, 2010, 07:07 AM   #1
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Thor's Chariots - The Northern Lights PMW-350

I have just returned from a brief trip to Norway to shoot the Northern Lights. This year I used a PMW-350 which performed really well considering there was a lot of thin cloud making the Aurora very diffuse and faint compared to previous trips. I shot using the 32 and 64 frame slow shutter and also used 6db of gain. Compared to an EX3 the 350 is a lot more sensitive and I don't think I would have been able to get the footage I got with an EX1.

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Old February 13th, 2010, 10:11 PM   #2
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Nice Alister - wondering what kind of result you might have got with a digital stills on a similar timelapse setting? I think the D700 could have shot this same speed but in JPEG or raw (timelapse @ 1fps = no problem), or of course you could use the more compressed video settings of the Canon 5D or 7D. The 35mm sensor would be almost noiseless at similar gain (iso) settings.

Anyway - really nice to see the PMW350 in action in a light challenged situation - I think it went really well.
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Old February 14th, 2010, 03:20 AM   #3
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I'll be up in northern Norway and then Finland later this week with my Canon 7D (I'm not taking the EX3 on this one). Whilst I'm there I hope to see the Northern lights too, if luck is on my side! I'll see how I get on - if anything good becomes of it I'll let you know!
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Old February 14th, 2010, 03:31 AM   #4
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I had an older Canon 350D running at 800asa and it required a 10 second exposure to achieve a similar image. The longer exposure means that much of the structure and motion of the Aurora is lost. When the Aurora gets bright you would be able to drop down to a 16 frame shutter, which was what I really wanted, but the lights didn't play ball. The brighter bursts of the Aurora often only last 30 seconds so you need to keep the exposure as short as possible.

Another issue with DSLR's is there small size means they cool much quicker and a frosted over lens becomes a constant problem. Certainly in Iceland I hope to run some longer T/L sessions using a DSLR with a 10 to 20 second exposure.
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Old February 14th, 2010, 12:27 PM   #5
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Beautiful Al. The Northern lights have always been kind of creepy to me. It's like a Lion licking the glass between himself and you. You just know those lights are because all the violent radiation and particles from the sun just dying to get in here and fry us.
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Old February 14th, 2010, 02:04 PM   #6
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Thanks for the heads up Alister! As always with your posts, very informative/useful stuff to know - and in this case especially useful for me in advance!
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Old February 21st, 2010, 10:08 AM   #7
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Well I've just got back from the Arctic and I was lucky enough to see some spectacular Northern lights over about 90 minutes whilst husky sledging at midnight. The temps were at -40C and I had my 2 youngish kids in the sledge and I was hanging on the back with both hands trying to stop the pack racing away into the wilderness by stamping on the brake quite often! So not an ideal platform for risking any kind of camera work!.... but very, very memorable for everyone nonetheless! Needless to say I did not get any movie or even still footage as by the time we were back at the kennels and was able to get the 7D out again the lights had completely disappeared!!!

The lights "dance" very fast - this does not really come across so much in time-lapse videos I've seen. Really beautiful!

The other thing I found with filming various things during the trip is just how quickly the 7D got cold and iced all over at these temps (within minutes) - still worked fine - but once the lens was frosted over the only solution for me was to gradually warm it up by putting it back inside my arctic suit for a while. As suggested, maybe the EX would not have cooled quite so fast as a DSLR (being a much larger mass).

I now have even more respect for those like Alister that shoot films in these extreme conditions and better understanding of the challenges involved. My fingers still hurt from the cold too!
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Old February 22nd, 2010, 10:34 AM   #8
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Really pleased you got to see the lights. They are special!

One way to prevent the lens from icing up is to strap a chemical hand warmer around it. I'm going to be trying an experiment in Iceland with a pair of EX's on a common mount angled apart, to shoot in such a way that I will be able to stitch the two clips together to create a panoramic view of the sky that can then be panned across in the edit.

It's hard work in those temps, you end up physically exhausted very quickly, on top of that you have to deal with frozen tripods, cold batteries and everything else, still I think its fun!

I am working on putting the funding together to try to spend a few weeks in Norway next winter when there is 24 hr darkness, I want to shoot the aurora in 3D using both EX's (or PMW-350's) to capture the faster motion plus wide spaced (several miles) DSLR's for long duration 3D timelapse. It would be a big adventure, but if I can pull it off, well worth the effort.
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Old February 23rd, 2010, 12:09 PM   #9
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Wonderful work, Alister.

If you don't mind me asking, what balance temperature did you use for this?
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Old February 24th, 2010, 03:39 PM   #10
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IIRC it was 4k.

I'm in Iceland this week hoping to get more Aurora footage, but right now it's snowing and cloudy, Grrrrr.
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Old February 24th, 2010, 06:43 PM   #11
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Hope Iceland goes well for you Al. Only wish I could have joined you this year! Just gotta keep the positive vibes going that this year is a bit more productive than last...
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Old March 3rd, 2010, 09:53 AM   #12
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Iceland was a little disappointing. The 3D and video for the web workshops went very well but the weather was wild with a foot of snow on the first day and winds around 60mph. We got clear skies on the last night for a brief period and I did manage to snatch a few brief Aurora shots. Next year I want to spend a few weeks up in Norway.
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