In preparation for shooting Thursday night’s ULA Atlas V launch, I went up the street to my launch viewing spot to dial in the ye olde Nikkor 50mm for night shooting. With the aperture opened all the way to f/1.4 or even at f/2, the field depth is so tight that it’s nearly impossible to focus at the infinite setting.

The header pic is a 30 second exposure at f/5.6 with an ND filter, ISO 100. The details are crisp, but there is not quite enough shadow detail. I had been playing around with different combinations of aperture and some filters to balance the bright highlights with the dark sky and shadows. While the results were decent, it introduced some extra noise in to the equation. For long exposure night shooting, I found that f/2.8, but with no filters, is the way to go. Plenty of light gets in, including stars that aren’t visible to the naked eye due to the ambient light pollution. When setting the focus to infinite, it takes a few seconds to find the sweet spot; but as you can see below, the fine details are crisp and clear.

As a point of reference, this is a launch from last March. It was shot on a Nikon D3100. It’s a 100 second exposure at f/11, ISO 100 with the 18-55mm kit lens.


The Nikkor 50mm continues to impress the hell out of me. Hopefully tomorrow will be as cloud free as possible so I can get a good picture of the launch. If the clouds don’t cooperate, SpaceX and NASA have a busy launch schedule from Cape Canaveral in the coming months, so I’ll get one eventually. Or maybe we’ll finally just drive over to see one up close.