I have been using Canon digital SLRs for night photography since 2003, starting with the 10D, 20D, and now 5D. The Canon CMOS sensor produces clean files for typical full moon exposures of 6-8 minutes at ISO 100 or 200. The instant feedback and lack of reciprocity failure makes digital a great tool for judging your exposures and nailing your light painting. But sometimes I want longer star trails. While it’s possible to push the 5D into the 15 minute exposure range, I find I’m more productive using the digital camera for shorter exposures, while using an inexpensive film camera for the 20-30 minute long star trail shots.
On last month’s trip to an airplane boneyard in the Mojave desert I brought along a Voigtlander Bessa L that I purchased for $79 brand new, with a Voigtlander 21mm lens. I only shot one of the 3 nights in the desert with the film camera, and it took me another month to finish the roll and get it back and forth to the lab. There were a couple of stunning images that made me want to shoot more film at night. Comparing the look of digital and film at night can also help serve as a guide for post-processing the digital images.
Night photography with digital can often give you a “day for night” type of look straight out of the camera, with light blue skies. Sometimes quite a bit of post processing is necessary to give the images a real night time feel. Film can often render a darker sky with a long gradation between tones that is more pleasing than digital. In a future post I will go over how to post-process digital images to give them more of that film look and night vibe.