How To Make Aligned Moonshots. Includes Sigma MC-11 adapter & Sigma 150-600 experience.

August 20, 2016

 

 
Introduction

First of all, this guide includes the Sigma MC-11 adapter experience as this was the best option to get the most reach regarding zoom on the Sony E-mount. Let me explain: I had the idea of making a couple of nice moonshots from a rising full moon last month. We have a beautiful church tower here in Amersfoort (the Netherlands) and the idea was to capture the rising moon from a distance next to the church tower, or maybe even right on top of it. Either way, I wanted to try some different compositions. The main problem here was getting the right lens. As the Sony E-mount doesn’t have really long native lenses I had to look for an alternative. Fortunately, with the right adapter almost every lens can be mounted on the Sony E-mount.

With the idea in mind the Sigma 150-600 came to mind. And with the recently released MC-11 adapter, that made it possible to use auto focus on most Sigma lenses mounted on the Sony E-mount, I knew that this would be great to try. There was only one problem though: I only had one day left to get the gear as the moon would rise the next day! Knowing that the Sigma 150-600 would probably be my best option to take this particular shot I started thinking. I met the Sigma guys a couple of months back at an event and had some contact with them since then. So I thought: Why not give this a try and see if I can borrow it from them. After all, the Sigma main office is only a 30 minute-drive away from me. I had also already wanted to test the Sigma MC11 adapter for a while, and this would be the perfect opportunity. I sent an email to Sigma with the idea. They were very positive and I could get the adapter along with the lens on the same day! I would like to give my special thanks to Sigma for making this possible on such short notice. They shared my passion and supported the execution.

To summarize this introduction: I’ll be talking about my experience with the MC11 adapter in combination with explaining how to plan and make a (rising full) moon shot.


Planning the shot

So I had this idea of photographing the Amersfoort Church Tower with the moon right next to it. I wanted the moon ‘big’, but not too much. I also wanted to try to get the moon right on top of the tower as a different composition. To get the moon balanced with the tower, I obviously had to stand quite far away to make use of the full 600mm of the Sigma lens. There’s a great little website called www.mooncalc.org (I use the same for the sun, named suncalc.org) to plan these things ahead. There are also smartphone apps. I recommend Photopills (IOS only now). Photopills has a great augmented reality function too in which you can see the moon/sun rises when you hold your phone in front of you when you’re at the scene of shooting. This is great for planning and scouting ahead.


First it's important to check the moon phase. Again, you can do this right at mooncalc or use smartphone apps. With mooncalc, I located the tower and checked where the moon would rise.

 
Moon rise time: 21:09 PM
Moon position 1 hour after moon rise time.
My position at the roundabout.

I put the pin on the tower so I could see where the moon would rise from the right angle. I knew from earlier scouting that the moon would be at the right height around 1 to 1.5 hour after its initial rise. At the 19th of July, the moon was full right after sunset. That would give us also still enough light to work with regarding light hitting the tower. Total darkness would make the contrast between the light of the moon and the tower too much, so timing was crucial. With the sun setting close to 10 PM (yep, summertime in the Netherlands) the moon would be around the right spot at that exact same time (but of course, on the opposite direction).

With the tower pinned on the map I could see in what line I had to stand. As most locations further away from the center of town were blocked with buildings I had to pick a spot that was a bit closer. The roundabout close to the city center had an open view on the top of the tower and proved out to be perfect for the shot I wanted to make. From there I also had enough room to move left and right to position the moon as I wanted to. I had to keep in mind that the moon moved to the right from the position I was standing compared to from where it initially rose. As you can see, taking a slot like this requires a lot of planning and there are a lot of variables you have to work with.


Taking the shot

The work of these particular shots is mainly in the planning and testing of things. When taking the shot I positioned myself at the roundabout and just had to patiently wait until the moon reached a position that I found good for the shot. I used my Sony A7RII mounted with the Sigma 150-600 with the Sigma MC-11 adapter. This all worked really well. I planned to take most shots at 600mm as the moon would be as big as  possible with that focal length. Luckily there wasn’t too much wind as the slightest vibrations could make your shots unsharp when using a focal length of 600mm. As the moon wasn’t too bright after 1 hour after initial rise the everything was pretty dark. The sun was also setting so I had to pick a lower shutter speed or raise my ISO. I chose to shoot with a lower shutter speed (1/10s)as I was working from a tripod anyway. Most of my shots came out sharp and I was very satisfied with the image quality this setup provided.

I noticed that when I tried different compositions I had to be really fast. The rising of the moon goes extremely fast and it’s high up in the sky in a matter of only around 2 hours. Shooting at 600mm you can almost see the moon moving up if you look closely. Working from a tripod you only have around 30 seconds to shoot a composition as the moon is already at a different spot shortly after. This proved to be challenging, especially when wanting the moon at a very exact spot (like exactly on top of the tower). Although these shots would be cool to try, I liked the full moon right next to the tower most. For me, it was the most atmospheric shot. However, 1 month later at the next full moon cycle I took a shot of the moon right on top of a factory pipe. See below.

 

 


BTS of the moon rising next to the church tower.

And with the same workflow and technique and gear I created the following shot 1 month later with the next moon rise:

 

 
‘Light Bulb’ Rising full moon of 18-08-2016 above a factory pipe

 


BTS shot of about 20 minutes earlier, preparing the exact position

Extra tip 1: When you’re doing shots with very precise position of the moon it may happen that you miss the shot because you only have a few seconds to take it before the moon moves to another position. What you can then do is very quickly lower your tripod so that the angle with the moon is slightly different. This makes for another try because the moon would be a bit lower in your frame, giving you another chance of catching that precise rising shot you were looking for.

Extra tip 2: You can also use this technique to shoot moon sets instead of rises. The workflow is similar. Use mooncalc.org to check when and where the moon sets. Make sure you arrive on time as the setting of the moon goes quite fast at the end!


The Sigma MC-11 experience

With Sigma releasing many interesting (especially ART) lenses lately, it’s great that they can now be used on the Sony E-mount. That means: full electronic connection with included EXIF data and auto-focus. Exactly as how you would use them on a Canon camera. Of course I was a bit skeptical at first. I have used metabolic adapters in the past to mount Canon lenses (the 70-200 for example) on my Sony cameras but they auto-focus was very slow and not easy to work with. This may have changed with newer versions so I can’t really comment on that.

What I can say about the Sigma MC-11 adapter in combination with the 150-600 lens is that the experience was totally different. Everything worked perfectly straight out of the box. The auto-focus is rather fast and can be used perfectly fine. I only tried the 150-600 lens so I can’t really comment on other lenses. However, when an extreme zoom lens like this already works well with the adapter, I am very confident that  on other lenses AF will work even better. I found that it was also rather easy to take shots by hand with this lens. Even though the lens is a bit heavy, in combination with the light A7RII body this combination still works for taking shots by hand when there is enough light. The steady shot on the lens greatly helps with that.

 

 
Sigma 150-600 at 160mm, 1/100s, ISO 200, shot by hand.

For now this is great for Sony E-mount users as there are no native long zooms for the E-mount (yet). At this moment the Sigma fills this ‘gap’ perfectly so if you need a long lens for the Sony E-mount the Sigma with the adapter might be your best bet.

 

 
side view of the Sigma 150-600 mounted on the Sony A7RII via Sigma MC-11 adapter. Sunglasses are for size comparison.

Feel free to ask me anything regarding the MC-11 adapter or how to plan moonshots!

Gear used in this review:

Sony A7RII

Buy on
Amazon | B&H


Sigma MC-11 Adapter

Buy on Amazon | B&H

Sigma 150-600 (Canon Mount)

Buy on Amazon | B&H

(using my referral links supports me and my photography)

Cheers!


Albert

 

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