September 21-23, 2012 Badlands and Devil's Tower with Canon 24mm F1.4L and Canon 5D II

I'm finally full frame again and will be staying there this time. Out of the last 10 years of being in digital photography, about 6-9 months were with a canon 5D II/full frame is all. The rest, rebels basically. When I got the 5D II the first time, I only had a Canon 17-40L to stick on it. That thing sucked on it badly. Vignetting was horrible and corner softness a joke. I could barely afford the camera that time and certainly not a more expensive lens too. Soooo I opted to sell it and get more money back and go back to rebel with a good Canon 10-22 for ultrawide.

When it came time to make this jump I had a few options. Canon 6D just announced but not out for another 3 months. To heck with waiting longer. Nikon D800 too much when one factors in a lens jump too. Nikon D600 basically the same story. Decided to hang with Canon and hope they soon match the dynamic range and low shadow pattern noise the Nikons are doing with their Sony sensor. The good ol, 4 year old now, 5D II just made sense. I then opted to save even more and get a used one from a chaser friendt as well as a used version of the Canon 24mm F1.4. I got that from trusty lensrentals.com. 24mm on a full frame is same view as 15mm on a crop sensor. Pretty wide. It's not 14mm full frame however. But 14mm options are F2.8. I really wanted wide F1.4 to play with on all the night objects I shoot. I saved about $600-$700 going used on these two compared to new. $400 of which is going to the Samyang 14mm F2.8, which apparently outshines the Canon 14mm F2.8, which is a $2200 lens. We'll soon see and I'll have something on that when it gets here and I shoot with it. It lacks autofocus, which is pointless at 14mm anyway and has worse distortion than the Canon. It's sad though that it beats the Canon at everything else. Anyway, more on that later.

When I got this camera I wondered what the shutter count was. http://www.astrojargon.net/EOSInfo.aspx Awfully cool little deal there. There are other means to find out shutter actuations, not all work on all cameras or images. For instance there is a site you can simply send a jpg to. That route, which is the same as file info in photoshop, did not work on the Canon images I tried. I get zero lol. This thing worked though. Installed it, ran it, plugged camera in and it just told me. About 13,000 actuations on this camera. Not bad at all. It does have an issue when using live view however, which I'll post at the bottom.

I get the stuff and head west to the Badlands for some night photography with Chris, Evan and Brett. Came across a recent burn area along I90. I feel I blew this op. There are surely a lot of "fine art" ops with the terrain and color patterns. Just need a good hill. That and some lower light would help, but I didn't hang around for that. Chilling in a motel room all afternoon was evidently more important.

I found this truck off the gravel road and figured the fire had just ran it over there. Turns out this fire was started by a semi hauling hay. Evidently the truck caught fire without the driver knowing right away. Then three hay bales caught fire and fell off in places, starting fires. This was 9 miles long and a mile wide. Only 2 days before. What a sight it had to be out there during the wind driven fire. It crossed I90 and crossed the highway after I90 to the south.

Chris and Evan now here too. There was a big fire in the middle of WY on satellite. You can see the smoke from that in the sunset. Everywhere was hazy down low out there from just the wind and I guess lingering smoke just in the sky out west. Been so many fires.

Brett arrived and we made our way to the Notch Trail. Moon was still up but the Milky Way could be seen, so could the Andromeda Galaxy, right side of image.

I had read the coma on this lens was bad in the corners. I didn't realize just how bad this was wide open with light sources though. Or just how far towards center it does it. Just look at this crop from the left area of the shot above. Should be points of light. Sadly that doesn't improve a whole lot stopping down to F2.8. Weird the lens is otherwise sharp out towards the corners on full frame. For such a pricey lens, that is kind of a joke. So in the end I'm not sure how useful this will be for starfield shots.

Canon 24 http://www.lenstip.com/245.7-Lens_review-Canon_EF_24_mm_f_1.4L_II_USM_Coma_and_astigmatism.html

Samyang 24 http://www.lenstip.com/330.7-Lens_review-Samyang_24_mm_f_1.4_ED_AS_UMC_Coma__astigmatism_and_bokeh.html

Samyang 14 http://www.lenstip.com/239.7-Lens_review-Samyang_14_mm_f_2.8_ED_AS_IF_UMC_Coma_and_astigmatism.html

Canon 14 http://www.lenstip.com/324.7-Lens_review-Canon_EF_14_mm_f_2.8L_USM_II_Coma__astigmatism_and_bokeh.html

There is so much to consider on lenses. Just look at the other options on those links at the bottom of the pages. Vignetting, resolution/sharpness, flaring, distortion, this coma, chromatic aberrations. Comparing the Canon 24 to the Samyang 24 for coma, it's far better than the Canon. But then compare the resolution of the two. The Canon smokes it. So really it's not like it is a better option. The Canon is a better option. This coma is so troubling though, I'm just not sure it's really a starfield lens at all. This sucks given it's the widest F1.4 there is to get. At least there are other low light ops that it won't be such an issue.

Then there is the whole 14 vs 14 between the two. The Canon again has some annoying coma towards the corners. Least nothing like the 24. The Samyang though? None. The Samyang hands the Canon its butt on resolution too(14 vs 14 which I've ordered and is not on this page image wise). This is comparing a $400 Samyang 14 to a $2200 Canon. The Samyang wins on vignetting and flare too. It loses on distortion and build quality and doesn't have autofocus. Who needs autofocus at 14mm full frame? Like no one. Build quality, blah. Distortion is somewhat important. You can fix it in software easy enough with a profile. You would lose some of that amazing resolution in the process but surely making it no worse than the good Canon anyway. I can't see much of any reason to drop $2200 on the Canon with that out there. It's still so crazy to me to see this difference and pricing. So anyway, that Samyang is probably a better starfield lens given no coma. The F1.4 to F2.8 zone of this canon 24 is kinda pointless for night sky shots if you are going to get these crazy rays of light shooting out from points of light. But the lens is great otherwise and again Canon 24 to Samyang 24 the Canon is just far better(damn this horrible coma crap thought). Samyang 14 vs Canon 14....doh, Samyang wins. You can buy 5 of the Samyangs and still not spend as much as the one Canon.

My $400 Samyang 14mm F2.8 will be here tomorrow. I have some shots from a Canon 14mm F2.8 I took with the 5D III in the Badlands earlier this year I can try and compare it with.

Back to the account. This time of year the better part of the Milky Way is near the horizon a bit much. Our air was hazy down low. Pretty clear up high though but still not amazing clear. The F1.4 ability combined with being able to shoot at 4000-6400 ISO with the 5D II, really pops out the sky and stars. Damn the coma though.

Think that is Brett's camera. Andromeda up there in this shot.

Evan shooting towards the better part of the Milky Way. F1.6, 18 seconds, 6400 ISO. That is a lot of ooomph. F1.4 on this lens there is a pretty defined vignetting edge in the far corners. F1.6 seems to erase that, while still having a fair bit of overall vignetting obviously.

It'll be interesting when there is a real crisp clear sky lol. This sky was only ok. Sucks I'll have to wait till next spring or summer to get some more of the better part of the Milky Way. I guess I can try again when the moon is gone. I'm not driving to the Badlands again however. I'm also dying to see how the zodiacal light can look with this setup. Gotta get rid of the moon again now.

We made our way back to the parking lot. We sat there trying to make it to zodiacal light time, pre-dawn. It wasn't happening though. We all head back to the motel in Wall. I crash and get maybe 4 hours, which I paid for the next night.

Chris mentioned some cool water falls south of Spearfish, so we went there on the way to Devil's Tower. And heck Devil's Tower was only really decided on that morning. Brett stayed back at the Badlands. I wanted to shoot around Devil's Tower with the Milky Way next to it. I knew I'd be too sketched out to ever do that solo in there lol. I almost think I could pull it off now though. Anyway, we went south for those falls and fall colors south of Spearfish. What a huge cluster @#$@ of people doing the same thing. A car zoo of epic proportions. It looked amazing in there though.

I was in there ahead of Evan and Chris. I pulled off and thought they'd soon show up, but no. So I set off the rest of the way to try and find the falls. I get to the area and the arrow points right and says bla bla falls. Holy crap what a zoo on that gravel road. A wedding in there too no-less. I find a lucky spot on the side of the gravel road not already taken up by a car and park. I then waste time looking for the falls. This was the dumbest area I've ever seen I think. There'd be a walk way and viewing deck for these small 2 foot falls, if that. I did not understand it at all LOL. I'm like, why are people in here looking at this. I kept walking in there, with the other 1 trillion people there, and a lot of the same scene...a whole lotta dumb. I finally have enough of that and leave and plan to just get back out of that canyon area and all the people. You'd get behind some car that was happy doing 15mph(literally) in a 35. There'd be a pull off and think they'd pull in there and let people go by? Hell no. First one that did that to me, I was like, I don't care how twisty and impossible to pass it is in here, I'm blowing your doors off somewhere. Man I want people like that to drive off the cliff. Yeah everyone behind you wants to accomplish this 10 mile drive at 15mph.

Part way back out of there I see Chris and Evan pulled over. I stop and talk to them. We then head back where I just was and look for the falls. Then I think Chris spots it from one area we pulled off before getting there. I'm like, well that's genius. You drive up there and the only sign that says falls tells you to go right, not left! Going right takes you to the 100 lame shin high falls I walked through. Going left where nothing tells you to go takes you to the above, well almost. To see it you have to walk about 3/4 mile. So we walk, not sure what it would even look like. Get there, pretty lame! It was just so cluttered with vegetation and not overly neat looking. More winning in this canyon. Then we leave and head for Devil's Tower, a couple hours away. We at least got lucky driving out of there and the cars ahead of us almost always doing 35-40.

Great fall colors at Devil's Tower, the saving grace here since our Milky Way idea gets completely hosed by cirrus. It made us wait for it to happen too lol.

The one good thing was the trip turned me back onto polarizers. Shooting the same scene Evan shows me a shot and I'm like, why does yours look so much better on your lcd than mine. Polarizer. My brief jaunt with one in the past didn't really yield much visually and it didn't exactly fit in the Cokin P filter holder I had. I now have one of these screw on ones on the way lol. I'll show the difference at the bottom of the page.

The other saving grace I suppose. I knew what would happen after sunset and where, thanks to a previous trip here. The hundreds(literally) of turkey vultures that glide in the air around Devil's Tower would come down to these trees near the parking area at the tower. There were even more than the time before. There was a sick amount of them. The coolest part was the noise they make buzzing the tree tops. So many trees, you'd really not see them coming either. You'd hear their wings whooshing first. But it was constant, since the air there was now filled with them. Waves of them were returning down to these trees.

Just look in the tree in the background. Every tree in this area was like this. I walked in there because of how many I saw in the tree just left of this on. Was then like, oh crap look at all those. Then waves and waves came down.

The viewable tree behind me from that location. There is something weird about having hundreds of turkey vultures in the trees around you, getting dark out and right next to Devils Tower. They largely don't care as you walk around under them either. I did not realize I was so close to the trail around the tower here. All the sudden a bunch take flight and I think I caused it. Then I see the person running through some trees on that trail.

Evan and Chris waiting for the moon to get down, which was painfully slow after a while of this. It was more and more apparent to me the Milky Way op was hosed by clouds. I thought, I should just drive back to my Spearfish motel now and get up early and hit the fall colors in that canyon again. I was sooooooooooo damn tired after all this and only 4 hours of sleep. And oh yeah was sick the whole trip. Allergies turned to cold. That was usually not bad during the afternoon. But yeah the urge to sleep was damn strong here, waiting on the moon to set. So much so I almost didn't take any photos here at night. Basically like 5 shots lol. I regret that now. I was trying to nap while the moon was up so I could have some energy to shoot later. But yeah the clouds soon made that look like a lost cause.

Yay clouds getting worse as the moon gets lower. Once it was dark you could barely find the Milky Way through them. So lame when that was the point of the trip for me and this lens. We almost had a fun experience trying to walk around that thing in the dark and leave. It's a good long walk. Figuring out direction is really damn hard, especially with the moon now down. Figuring out where the parking lot was from anything was impossible more or less. We walk and walk and there is one paved part that goes off. We didn't think that was it. We kept walking, waiting to hit the T part back down to the parking lot, but it wasn't happening. On and on we went, certain we had to be back to that spot by now. And none of us had gps crap on us. I was like, gee I wish I brought my tablet with from the car. Then finally we come across the exit part. I was pretty excited to drive back to the motel and crash. Chris and Evan had to go clear back to Wall. Wish the Milky Way could have worked out better there. It was a simple drive to get to somewhere to sleep after shooting. Could have got what we wanted in 2 hours or less of that and been set. But yeah, there was no Milky Way now thanks to clouds filtering in as the moon was going down.

Here is a comparison of unprocessed raw files with and without that polarizer on. Crazy how the sky gets darkened to like it should look and the shadows at the same time have opened up. Just go back and forth on the shadows then on the sky.

Something is for sure screwed up with this cam shooting with live view on. I adjust the exposure down so it looks right on live view, take the shot and it's blown out. Using manual mode. There is no excuse for the above example and those settings other than something is screwed up with this camera taking a photo with live view on. If something is blowing out at 1/6400th.......1/4000th shouldn't be right or better. I took some indoor shots the other night. 1/400 F1.4 you couldn't see anything in the photo really...that was taking the shot with live view off. Live view on I change it to 1/8000 and the resulting photo you can see stuff. The lcd exposure during live view has it right. Turn live view back off and take the shot and you can get that exposure/picture. Turn it on and take the same photo with the same manual mode setting with it on and the picture is way way brighter. Weird and mildly annoying.

By the way, a great place to watch for good used gear: http://www.lensrentals.com/buy Soon as the gear has been rented for 2 years they sell it and buy new. That list of stuff for sale changes quite often.

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