Bodie Night Photography: 5D Mark II Wide Angle Lenses and Noise Reduction

Bodie at night: 1927 Dodge truck and gas pumps -- by Joe Reifer

Bodie at night: 1927 Dodge truck and gas pumps -- by Joe Reifer

The 1927 Dodge truck and gravity gas pumps are a popular subject for photography at Bodie ghost town. This 24 minute night photograph was taken during the 2011 Mono Lake Night Photography Festival.

Wide angle lens for night photography

I shot the entire night at Bodie with a Canon 5D Mark II and an Olympus OM 18mm f/3.5  lens. The Olympus OM system lens can be used on the 5D II with an OM-EOS adapter. The Olympus lens is small, light, and easy to zone focus at night. At an aperture of f/8 or f/11 the lens is quite sharp across the frame, and offers better edge performance than Canon zooms. The Olympus lenses also have a different signature look than other wide angle lens choices. The 18mm is hard to find and can be expensive. The Olympus 21mm f/3.5 is a more readily available, reasonably priced alternative. The 24mm f/2.8 is also quite good. If you prefer a standard wide angle to a super wide lens, the Olympus 28mm f/3.5 is a stellar performer at f/8, and can often be purchased for less than $50. My adapter for the 28mm cost more than the lens!

Image stacking and long exposure noise reduction

Four exposures of 6 minutes at f/8 ISO 200 were combined for the final 24 minute image. There were about 25 night photographers shooting at Bodie — exposure stacking was very useful for removing people and light painting from the foreground. Using this stacking technique also meant that I did not have to run long exposure noise reduction (LENR) in the camera. This helps productivity and battery life.

5D Mark II Auto setting for long exposure noise reduction (LENR)

Photography instructor Scott Martin let me know about his experiments with the Auto setting for long exposure noise reduction (LENR) on the Canon 5D Mark II. Normally I do not recommend letting the camera decide what to do, but Scott’s LENR experiments may prove otherwise. There are 3 settings for LENR:

  1. Off — long exposure noise reduction does not run on any shot.
  2. On — long exposure noise reduction runs for the same amount of time as your exposure. A 10 minute shot with LENR set to On will run noise reduction for 10 minutes after the exposure ends.
  3. Auto — long exposure noise reduction will run if the camera determines it’s necessary, for the amount of time necessary to optimize the image.

Here’s the really interesting part — noise reduction won’t necessarily run for the same amount of time as the exposure. Auto LENR runs for as long as necessary to reduce noise — this could be shorter or longer than the original exposure time.

I’d like to thank Scott for sharing his Auto LENR research, and I look forward to my own testing. If you have experience with the Auto LENR setting I’d love to hear how exposure time and temperature correlate to when noise reduction kicks in, and how long Auto LENR tends to run.


13 thoughts on “Bodie Night Photography: 5D Mark II Wide Angle Lenses and Noise Reduction”

  1. Nice shot Joe! I wish I coulda been there. Thanks for the info on LENR too. I tried to do a stack again the other night and once again had lens fogging after only about 2 minutes. It’s been happening about every night. Last night I stumbled into a tip to solve this. It was on Dan Heller’s site. Tie a hand warmer onto the lens with a rubber band. I just hope the heat doesn’t transfer to the sensor.

    1. Bodie was a lot of fun. Sounds like you’ve got some serious dew point issues. Have you researched using some sort of anti-fog lens cleaner?

  2. Nice shot. Classic Bodie shot! My only quibble is that I wish I could push that stamp mill a little more to the right to give some space between it and the truck.

    I had no idea LENR worked this way. I’m looking forward to tests of the auto mode. Personally I doubt I’ll have the patience (but I don’t print much), but it is good to know it is smart and does not needlessly waste your time.

    1. The layering of the truck, house, and stamp mill was very intentional — I think I set a world’s record for test shots to get the compo how I wanted it. I agree there is a certain tension in this layering. If I’d moved any further to the right, the houses on the left side of the frame would show and there wouldn’t be separation between the gas pumps. There were also people in the background behind the truck for part of the exposure, someone light painting the house, and people light painting out of the frame to camera right. A complicated place to work.

      Yeah, the LENR info from Scott is interesting. I’m looking forward to some experiments to see if there are time/quality advantages for me with this setting.

      1. “A complicated place to work.”

        Definitely. I stayed on the fringes and shot wide (which seems to be my default anyway)!

        I’m just nitpicking on the compo. It is a very nice composition (especially given the limitations you mention). I just love how that old mill looks against the mountain (and because of that the tension between the truck and the mill was irking me a tad).

        1. Staying on the fringes was a good strategy. Will be watching for your Bodie shots — I’m guessing you were over by the cars for a while? I didn’t see you all night.

          1. How did you guess? :)

            Yeah, I spent time with the cars and the rest of the night I was checking out the rusted machinery on the fringes.

  3. Fun discussion. I’ll add that below about 60 degrees F LENR usually happens in a fraction of a second. It’s so fast that you might think it isn’t processing at all. But compared to having LENR set to off it’s sooo much better and every bit as good as a full-exposure-time LENR On, at least from my testing. My days of wasting 15-30minutes for LENR are over! Except of course when it’s hot. I have seen 15 minute exposures take 40 minutes to LENR on auto, and I’m sure it needed it because of the heat.

    Heat is by far the biggest factor to noise in these modern cameras, not exposure time as rumors suggest. Heat is the enemy. Canon’s engineers tell me that unlike earlier CCD based medium format cameras, todays modern DSLR sensors use a tiny amount of energy to operate and don’t accumulate heat during long exposures. Several hours of continuos exposure time consumes less energy than a single movement of the mirror. It’s the LCD on the back that’s the heat generating and power sucking monster to worry about. Technology is moving forward and we’ve been living in the dark ages. That’s photography though – as soon as we learn new things it’s time to dump our understanding and adopt even newer approaches and ways of thinking.

    1. Hey Scott – thanks again for sharing your LENR testing — this will save people a lot of time and help them make cleaner night photos!

    1. Hey Dan – manual lens focusing scales may or may not be accurate when used with an adapter. The best way to ensure optimum results is to do some focus testing before shooting anything important. Live view is really helpful here. I also recommend shooting from a tripod and noting the focus settings, and then reviewing on your computer. Once you’ve got the settings dialed on a manual lens you’ll find that focusing is one less thing to worry about when shooting at night.

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