The Meade Glass White Light Solar Filter and I met during preparation for photographing the 2017 solar eclipse. I needed a solar filter for a super telephoto lens and this filter proved to be a great solution.
Before selecting a solar filter, the question "Which lens should I use to photograph the solar eclipse?" needs to be asked. Or, for a much higher frequency opportunity, "Which lens should I use to photograph the sun?" This important and primary question needs asked and answered in part because different lenses require different sizes and possibly different styles of solar filters.
The mid-day timing of the 2017 eclipse (in the range of locations I plan to photograph within) means a very high sun. With a high sun, it is difficult to incorporate landscape or landmarks in the same frame during the eclipse. Also, with a solar filter installed, it is hard to get exposures adequate to even composite a scene together as only the sun is visible and everything else in the frame is totally black. And in this case, I can easily create any additional black border desired in Photoshop, so the larger the sun in the frame, the happier I am (as long as image quality remains at least reasonably close to equal between the options). That means the longest focal length available is going to be the best choice for photographing the sun, at least until eclipse totality when a wider angle (perhaps 800-840mm?) lens may be a better option for capturing the larger corona (using very significant HDR bracketing).
To select a sun photography focal length, it is helpful to view a comparison. These images were captured on a full frame body with the APS-C/1.6x equivalent angle of view focal length shown in parenthesis.
Note that the 1680mm example was captured using the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with both 1.4x and 2x extenders behind it. While that combination delivers a very favorable sun disk size, the image quality is ... not so good. Also, keeping up with the rate of the sun moving through the frame becomes challenging at this narrow angle of view. At least with this lens, one of the sharpest super telephoto lenses available, I suggest stopping at 1200mm with-extender combinations when photographing the sun.
If you don't currently have a long telephoto lens, a scheduled solar eclipse is a good reason to get one. The 600 f/4L II mentioned is a great choice and a highly useful lens overall. It is not inexpensive and renting is another good option if it would have only a one-time use for it.
While one might get away with photographing photographing the sun without a solar filter using a wide angle lens (you've taken or seen landscape images that inclue the sun), photographing the sun with a longer focal length lens means that a proper solar filter is an absolute requirement. Improper protection can mean certain destruction of a camera in a very short period of time (I melted a camera simply trying to flare test a 600mm lens) and if viewing through an optical viewfinder, eye damage will occur extremely quickly. It is also important to note that not all filters advertised for solar photography use are suitable for viewing the sun through an optical viewfinder. Put safety first.
So, we've determined that a very long focal length lens is generally desired for photographing the sun. The best long focal length lenses, super telephoto models, are very large and these lenses do not have front filter threads. That dilemma leads to the big question we're primarily addressing here: Which solar Filter should I use for a super telephoto lens? A great answer: the Meade Glass White Light Solar Filter.
Meade is a long-time favorite brand, especially among astronomers. The industrial-grade, aluminum-rimmed, Meade Glass White Light Solar Filter simply slides over the end of a lens and provided thumbscrews hold the filter in place. The 1.15" (29.1mm) deep rim has an interior depth of about .88" (22mm) and the interior depth of the fully-tightened thumbscrews is about .37" (9.4mm), meaning that the filter diameter can effectively be reduced by 2x that amount or .74" (18.4mm). The filter is available in sizes ranging from 3 5/8" (93mm) through 13 3/8" (340mm), ready to fit a compact lens or something enormous.
While this filter appears quite rugged, the finish is also a bit rugged. The bare aluminum interior is sharp at the thumbscrew threads and the ends of the metal thumbscrews also sharp. Perhaps astronomers are not concerned about the appearance of their gear, but ... I care and turning the screws into a super telephoto len is not something I could bear. Usually, photographing the sun involves shooting up into the sky and that means the filter is not likely to be much at risk of falling off without being impacted from behind and therefore, the thumbscrews could be simply backed out far enough to avoid contact (important: as long as there is zero risk of a light leak as this is a serious safety issue). But, that still does not solve the problem of the three slightly-raised sharp areas where the interior of the rim is threaded.
I was not interested in the filter touching my lens, but simply wrapping a piece of gaffer tape around the end of the lens (you can see the white tape in some of the images on this page) solved the problem. Slide the filter over the taped lens, gently tighten the thumbscrews and all is great.
Important to me was to select a filter that was safe for viewing the sun through the optical viewfinder. Included in this filter's suitability list are telescopes and those combinations are primarily intended for solar viewing sans camera. Meade's website directly states that this filter is safe for viewing the sun and I have done so for a short period of time with this filter in place.
"Our aluminum housing, reflective helios solar glass filters block 99.999% of incoming light for protection and are ISO certified, guaranteeing safety with correct use." [Meade] Safe, but only if no light can enter the optical path without first passing through the filter, meaning that a proper fit is needed.
While on the fit topic, we should talk about the right filter size to select because, as mentioned, the Meade Glass White Light Solar Filters are available in a wide array of sizes, ranging from small to huge. As these filters are designed to slide over the end of the lens, the filter's specified interior diameter must be at least as large as as the diameter of the objective end of the lens.
Should I get the solar filter sized to fit the hood or the lens itself? During the solar eclipse, the lens will be pointed at the biggest source of lens flare available, the sun. So, the lens hood isn't going to help much in regards to flare avoidance. But if you look at the end of your super telephoto lens, you might find that the diameter does not remain the same for much length, adding complication to slide-on filter attachment. The lens hood, with a rubber end and narrower size behind that, ideally accepts the slide-on filters.
Is there an image quality difference with the filter mounted on the hood, farther away from the lens? I asked that question to Meade, another solar filter company and to B&H. All three promptly gave me the same answer: "No." So, with the hood providing a better mounting option and adding some protection-from-the-metal-filter space, I went with the hood-mount size.
Looking at a 100% resolution crop taken from an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R using a lens with a 2x extender behind it, of a subject that is 92.96 million miles away, I think this filter performs great from an image quality standpoint!
At this point, you may be wondering, "Which size filter do I need?" You should measure the end of your lens or lens hood. Note that, while we provide accurate actual measured dimensions in the site's lens specifications and measurements tool, these are max size measurements and may not correlate directly to the end of the lens or lens hood (specifically, the thumbscrew may be included in the measurement). If in doubt about the size to get, going one size larger is a better idea than going one size smaller as a too-narrow filter will not work while a larger one should be fine, especially with a spacer such as tape added.
How do you focus on the sun with a solar filter in place? Easy: Use Live View AF with a focus point that falls on the edge of the sun. This technique proved accurate and simple. Upon finding accurate focus, switch to manual focusing and gaffer tape the focus ring in place to avoid inadvertent changes. Periodically check the results for sharpness.
What exposure is required to photograph the sun using a solar filter? Exposures can vary, due to air clarity and other factors, but my experience was that 1/400, f/8 and ISO 100 worked well. If clouds are present, the sun can still often be successfully photographed (the last focal length example shows this), but a brighter exposure may be required. Use the RGB histogram to monitor your exposures and use care to not overexpose the red channel as this filter delivers a beautiful orange-colored sun. Once you have your filter and other gear, go out for enough practice sessions until you acclimate to solar photography.
If using a long lens to photograph the sun, and especially the solar eclipse, a solid, high-performing tripod and head should be used. For tripods, I am using the Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic and Really Right Stuff TVC-34/TVC-34L Carbon Fiber Tripods. Both of these tripods (yes, having two or three complete setups is highly recommended) are excellent and will keep vibrations to a minimum. The heavier-duty versions of both models will be even more solid (but heavier).
What is the best long lens tripod head? I consider the Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Tripod Head II to be the best tripod head for super telephoto lenses. With the tripod leveled and the lens' tripod ring locked in the horizontal or vertical orientation (the sun is round, so orientation makes little difference), the extremely-solid, low-vibration (up-to-150 lb-rated) Wimberley head permits independant panning and elevation changes without introducing any tilt/roll. This means that the eclipse remains identically level in every frame. While a slight change in camera angle may not be noticeable in any single frame, it may become more obvious in composites showing the stages of the eclipse.
Note that when shooting nearly straight up with a large, heavy lens, the tripod tipping over can be a real possibility. Ensure that your technique is such that this risk is not realized with options including anchoring the tripod to the ground. Camera clearance can also be an issue when photographing straight up, with a battery grip contacting the tripod and/or head being an issue to check for. Prepare for camera clearance for panning through the entire eclipse sequence, ideally without tripod repositioning needed. Practice with your gear to ensure it is up to this task. The gear images on this page show the sun being photographed at 4:00 PM with a 1:00 sun positioned modestly higher in the sky.
How do you find the sun in the frame? The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view and the harder it is to find the sun in the frame. This is where some practice will help, but systematically panning the lens in the direction of the sun will eventually result in the sun showing in the frame. Don't be tempted to look at the sun while doing so and wear a brimmed hat to avoid unintentional sun viewing, increasing comfort and reducing sunburn.
Use Live View, especially if the LCD tilts. And if it does not tilt, again remember to wear a hat as you will be looking upward toward the sun. If you are positive that your filter is safe for viewing, a right angle adapter such as the Canon Angle Finder C will be completely worth the price for its neck and back-saving aspects over hours of use.
Note that using Live View for long periods of time, especially with image stabilization enabled, is going to drain batteries rapidly. Be sure to have plenty of fully-charged extras and change them out ahead of important eclipse time periods. A battery grip permits two batteries to be used, doubling the number of shots per charge, but ensure that the grip does not impede the upward angle needed for the camera by impacting the tripod.
Note that some ghosting may be observed when tracking the sun with a solar filter in place. The ghosting is unlikely to show in your images, but tipping the filter very slightly may resolve that issue if it should occur. Once located, tracking the sun throughout the shoot will be easier than re-finding it and wider angles are easier for this task.
How much does a solar filter cost? You are probably thinking that a high quality filter of this size is going to cost a fortune. I did, and thankfully, it doesn't. In fact, it costs considerably less than many smaller threaded filters I've bought. At this price, adding a Meade Glass White Light Solar Filter to your kit is a great idea even if there is no solar eclipse. Photographing the sun is always entertaining with sunspots and perhaps some clouds being ever-changing factors.
The reviewed filter was retail/online-sourced. This filter comes with a 1yr warranty and a box with some foam padding that will suffice for storage and light-duty carry needs. An inexpensive plastic storage box would be very handy to have.
Important to note is that, if there is a solar eclipse in the forecast for a populated locale (such as most of North America forecasted for August 21, 2017), you can expect solar filters to become very hard to find. The moon is going to cause the sun to disappear and that event is causing solar filters (and Canon Angle Finder C right angle adapters) to disappear from retailer inventories. Order your filters immediately if you have any interest in photographing that event. Use the links below to order the Meade Glass White Light Solar Filter or view the entire selection of solar filters at B&H, Adorama and Amazon.
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