The Supermoon at Different Focal Lengths

Supermoon at different focal lengths - Austin, Texas

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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17 thoughts on “The Supermoon at Different Focal Lengths

  1. The thing about moon shots — when you aren’t shooting through trees of course — is that they tend to all look exactly alike. Probably becaseu we only see one face of the moon. Now if she would flip and show us her OTHER side, that would be something 🙂

      1. My ZS40 totally refused to focus. My FZ200 up and DIED after 5 shots. So I guess I need another superzoom camera. I’m very disappointed in the quality of the lens on my ZS40.

      2. Sorry to hear about your two superzooms. I think there are a lot of optical compromises in the small ZS40, ZS50 travel zoom form factor. I get some great images at certain focal lengths but only OK or poor quality in other focal lengths. However, the moon was shot with autofocus so maybe the ZS50 has improved on the focusing over the ZS40. From what I’ve seen, I don’t like the new color profile of the ZS60.

        I’m guessing that the FZ200 is better optically, being a larger camera/lens. Making super compact lenses with 30X zoom is a stretch for anyone and the optical quality is going to suffer in certain areas.

      3. I got the FZ300 today and it is a worthy successor to the 200. For a small sensor camera, it has really fine optics with no more distortion than you would expect. They didn’t change the length, staying with the 25-600 rather than going for the 800mm of many compacts.

        I have also found that the SZ40 is best at medium-long distances. Worst at its widest setting when there is substantial blurring in the bottom left quadrant. I will keep the camera for those times when I really need something with a long zoom that will fit in my bag, but it is never going to be my camera of choice. There are real, physical limits to optics. It took me a very long time to try the sz40 because I felt that a 25-800mm zoom on such a small camera — or ANY camera — was not going to be all that great, but i kept hearing all this great stuff about it, so …

        At least I got it for short money. I wouldn’t have minded the barrel distortion by itself. I expected that … but the just plain bad, blurry areas on the lens … that’s a quality issue and unacceptable. First time I’ve been so disappointed in a camera in at least a decade.

        The FZ300 is very similar to the 200, but has better stabilization, a nice build quality, and a really excellent EVF — and I can actually USE it with my glasses ON. They also kept the f2.8 at all lengths which makes it a pretty decent low-light camera. It has new software, so I will have to do a some more exploring, but I think I found most of the settings i need.

        It feels really nice in had. Very solid and finished. Good heft.

      4. I’m glad you found a superzoom you like. For a while, I also researched various superzoom options, with a higher quality than the ZS50. As I recall, I read a lot of good things about the FZ300. The pinnacle of superzooms is probably the Sony RX10 Mark III. It’s a big camera though, and I didn’t want to spend $1600. $500 or so for the FZ300, as well as the size, is more palatable.

        I’m holding off on buying superzooms for a while, opting to stay with the compact ZS50. But I do have plans for a higher quality option, which I’ll talk about in the near future.

        I suspect the ZS50 uses the same lens as the ZS40, but with an updated sensor and processing engine. On my copy, 24mm is soft in the corners and it gets worse at 28mm and 35mm. By 50mm, it starts to improve and 90mm – 200mm is quite good. Then its slowly get’s softer and more defracted. 300mm is OK, 400 is passable. I rarely use 500mm and above.

        But, like I’ve said, the ZS50 is not a serious camera for me. Rather, being my Photo Sketchbook, I experiment and test compositions with it. I occasionally get photos that surprise me, and it’s my attempt to push a modest point and shoot, to the extremes.

      5. If you have the money, I’d go for the FZ1000. Bigger sensor. All the FZs are big cameras and the 300 is significantly heavier than the 200. I previously owned the 60 and 70. The 60 was a great camera and we’ve still got it, but it doesn’t shoot anything but jpg. The 70 didn’t have a Leica lens — the lens was a Chinese no-name — everything you would expect from a cheap zoom lens. I used it twice, said “Uhuh” and gave it to my son, who was delighted. One man’s meat … and all that. I didn’t think he’d see any difference and I was right.

        The 200 always over-achieved in quality. It never stopped surprising me until it stopped working entirely. It was second hand when i bought it and expensive even used. I got the 300 new for the same price as I got the 200 used, but that’s because there’s now the 1000 and 2500 for the well-heeled crowd.

        I have very much liked many of the Panasonic long zooms from the zs19 until the 40, which ended my romance. These FZs with their f2.8 lenses are serious cameras. Best in their class. With the bigger sensor, the 1000 should be a peach.

      6. I can’t afford a super long lens for the Olympus — not that they really make one. This is the only way I can afford a long zoom lens. I’ve always owned a long zoom camera because I like shooting birds and wildlife. You can’t do that without a long lens. It’s amazing how many cameras you’ve own over years. I don’t even remember all of them — only the ones I liked — or hated.

        I was a technical writer before there were tech writers. I worked on the group that created DB-1. So … I do research. Before I buy anything, I do a LOT of research. That’s how I found YOU.

      7. Well, I’m glad you found me :-). Makes sense about the long zooms with the wildlife and birds. That’s one kind of photography that I haven’t done.

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I was too lazy to get my camera out that morning, but I woke up extra early to go run in the woods, using only the bright moonlight (Maybe I am a less lazy runner than photographer). It was freezing and I forgot my gloves, but it was really beautiful. Quite an experience.

    I think the 15% size difference is only compared to the smallest moon. I am assuming this would be around a 7.5% size difference compared to the average moon.

    1. Ah, thanks for the clarification. Most people can’t see a 10% difference (for anything) so all the more reason the supermoon is a fun, but hyped, phenomenon.

  3. Much more exciting stuff next year, with the solar eclipse on aug 17th. Thinking about buying a solar filter for my scope that day… will be partial here in michigan (same with Texas, I imagine), but I am considering driving the 8 hours to get the real stuff.

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