I succumbed to the hype, at the last moment, as I saw the moon on my drive home tonight. Astronomers call it, perigee-syzygy of the Earth–Moon–Sun system, but I’ll stick with the catchier and shorter, supermoon. And while the event is significant in that it’s the brightest moon since 1948, photographically it not much of a big deal.
From what I heard, today’s supermoon is 15% larger and 30% brighter than the average full moon. Someone said, it was the difference between a 16″ pizza and a 15″ pizza. If you photograph the moon directly, you won’t notice a difference and your exposure settings will have more of an impact on brightness, than anything else.
The best way to appreciate the moon’s size is to include the surrounding environment. Ideally, at moonrise with a telephoto lens to create the largest impact. By the way, while the moon looks larger at moonrise or moonset, it’s just an optical illusion. So how much of a telephoto lens do you need? Since I wasn’t setup to make a nice environmental moon photo, I opted instead to do a focal length comparison and a camera test.
I don’t own any super long telephoto lenses so I had to make do with what I have. I wasn’t expecting too much from my Panasonic ZS50 superzoom point and shoot, but it did a lot better than I imagined. I also threw in a comparison with the Nikon D3300 DSLR with my 55-300mm zoom.
Take a look at the comparison above, and make sure to click on the image to see a larger version. All focal lengths are in 35mm equivalents. The Panasonic ZS50 point and shoot has a focal range of 24mm to 720mm (a 5.58x crop factor). I shot the Nikon D3300 at 300mm which gives a 450mm equivalent (a 1.5x crop factor).
The size of the moons are in proportion to the overall frame. I combined them all in layers and did not crop into the 12MP (4000×3000 pixel) ZS50 image. I downsized the 24MP Nikon image to 4000×2667 pixels. Viewed on my 27″ monitor, the Nikon image is a little sharper, but not as much as I expected.
The ZS50 image at 500mm is a bit soft, probably slightly mis-focused. Compare that with the sharper 720mm image. I then color corrected and changed the exposures to roughly match each other, before combining the 6 moons into a single image.
Assuming I did this correctly, and since the moon’s actual size does not change throughout the night, you should be able to estimate the moon’s size relative to its surrounding environment, at a particular focal length. While it was a fun comparison, this might actually make a handy comparison chart.
Perhaps next time, I’ll plan for a proper moon in environment photo. It will be a long wait to get a supermoon of this caliber, though. The next one won’t happen until November 25, 2034.
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