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Capturing Lunar Eclipse on Video

August 28, 2007 is a very special day. It's the day that half of the world could see a full lunar eclipse. And being only one day to two days behind Chinese's Ghost Festival and occurring in early past midnight hours really brings a chilling eerie feel to it.

The full eclipse is visible in all of California, all of Hawaii, most of Oregon, parts of Washington, and parts of Nevada. The rest of the North and South America and Asia could only see partial eclipses. Europe and Africa can't see the lunar eclipse at all. Much of the lunar eclipse occurs over the Pacific Ocean, where there are few land masses. Therefore I feel extremely lucky to witness this event.

There is nothing more fun than to sit in my backyard on a warm summer night, watching the ominous disappearance of the moon. And of course, all this fun has to be recorded for memory sake. I chose to capture video of the lunar eclipse. In this article, I will document my experiences, pitfalls, tips, and lessons learned in this article. I hope you'd have as much fun capturing the lunar eclipse as I did.


A tripod is absolutely necessary for filming the stars (or in this case, the moon). Nobody can hold the camcorder for three and half hours straight out in the field. Plus, you wouldn't want unintended motion to break the peaceful nature of the scene.

For filming the bodies in the sky, an astronomy tracking tripod is practically a must have. This tripod generally comes with a high-end telescope. It follows and stellar body in the sky so that the stellar object stays in the place in your video frame.

I didn't have one of these tracking tripods so I was forced to use my faithful Bogen-Manfrotto tripod with a Boyer-Manfrotto ball-head. This sturdy tripod has served me well for many years. But I have mostly used it for photography.

When you use a non-tracking tripod for filming the moon, you'd have to track it yourself. The moon is going to move from one end of the sky to the other end. So you'll have to reframe your camcorder every few minutes (exact time depends on where the moon is in the sky and how big the moon is on film).

When I started reframing the shot is when I realized why I need a video pan-head. The ball-head is too quick. And provides very jerky motion. Almost everytime I retrame, I lost track of the moon. I end up having to zoom out, locate the moon, and zoom back in. In the end, I got a lot of footage where l am bouncing around the sky, looking for the moon (see video below). I am going to edit those segments out. But I won't have to if I had a video pan-head. The video pan- head provides slow, smooth action. And it is exactly what is needed in this situation.


Small vs. Large digital sensor. Manual everything (exposure scale)


Since I picked a Digital8 camcorder, my storage media is 8mm tapes. Digital8 uses the same DV format as MiniDV, so I'll have no problem transferring the footage to my computer through Firewire.

Each Digital8 tape could store one hour of video. I only had one spare Digital8 tape sitting around. And it didn't occur to me that the lunar eclipse could start as early as 1:45 AM and could last until 5:15 AM. You definitely need enough storage media on hand to film four hours worth of footage.

About 50 minutes into the shooting, I started scrambling for tapes. I know I had a lot of spares. But I couldn't find them. In the end, I managed to find one Video8 that could be used in a Digital8 camcorder in a pinch.

Cross-Reference Difference documents the different Types ottapes.

Of course, two hours worth of storage isn't enough. Luckily I have a second Sony DCR-HC90 MiniDV Handycam ready with plenty of spare tapes. I didn't want to change the framing and exposure. Therefore I used a firewire cable to connect the two camcorders together. The DCR-TRV350 served as the video camera while the DCR-HC90 served as the video recorder. It's awesome that two Firewire can be connected together.

Cross-Reference Another option is to capture DV directly to hard disk on your notebook computer. See "" on how to do that. Keep in mind that each hours of DV takes 12 GB of disk space.


Conserve battery (electronic viewfinder)

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