Guest post: “Astronomer’s Paradise” time-lapse video

This week I will publish several guest posts on NikonRumors. If you have an interesting Nikon related topic you want to share, contact me. You can see all previous NR guest posts here. The first article is about the time-lapse video “Astronomer’s Paradise” by Christoph Malin (images by Christoph Malin and Babak Tafreshi). Here is the video (click on images for larger view):

"Astronomer's Paradise“ is the first episode of a three parts Atacama Desert Starry Nights time-lapse series, starting with footage on the ESO* (European South Observatory’s “Cerro Paranal” site). The series will be included as a bonus on the ESO's 50 years anniversary DVD/Blue Ray disc expected to be released this summer. This time-lapse movie was made from DLSR still images from the November 2011 TWAN imaging expedition to Paranal assigned by the European Southern Observatory.

The first week of shooting took place at ESO’s famous Cerro Paranal site. The second week, we travelled to the ALMA OSF facility, near San Pedro de Atacama, where we were scheduled for imaging sessions at the 5000m high Chajnantor Plateau, the site of the ALMA radio telescope array.

In total Babak Tafreshi** and me*** photographed 14 nights in a row from usually 05:30 p.m. to 08:00 a.m. This was demanding, especially the second week at 5000 m. But even during our two days off, we continued photographing the stunning Chilean night skies on several locations, as they had been steady and clear all week.

Cerro Paranal is an astronomers paradise with its stunningly dark, steady and transparent sky. Located in the barren Atacama Desert of Chile, it is the home to some of the world's leading telescopes. Operated by the European Southern Observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) is located on the Paranal mountain, composed of four 8.2 m telescopes which can combine their light to make a giant telescope by interferometry.

Four smaller auxiliary telescopes, each 1.8 m in aperture, are important elements of the VLT interferometer. Paranal was selected by ESO for cutting edge astronomical observations also because of the sky transparency and steady atmospheric condition, which let astronomers peer into tiny details in the deep cosmos.

Babak Tafreshi: “It is an amazing experience to be under an ideal night sky, a pure natural beauty unspoiled by urban lights. On Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert you look all around the horizon and there is no prominent sign of city lights, neither direct lights or light domes. There are not many locations left on this planet where you can still experience a dark sky like this. I have been to similar dark skies in other continents from the heart of Sahara in Algeria to Himalayas or islands in the Pacific. But what makes Atacama beat others is being dry and clear for so many nights per year.”

Walking on the desert near Paranal between the scattered stones and boulders on the pale red dust felt like being on Mars. The clear Chilean night sky with its zillions of stars was so bright that you could see the shadow of your own feet on the ground. Yet the Atacama desert surroundings are unforgiving and zero fault tolerant. Working in the dark was even more challenging. Safety precautions are omnipresent at Paranal and ALMA, and the places are – except the ambient light of the Milky way that over time sets to below the horizon – very dark at night. Cars must drive with parking lights at low speed. If you get lost or have an accident at the driest place on earth without water or rescue, you will die within days because of rapid dehydration.

Some words on how the video was produced:

On Location

We usually started transporting and building up equipment from 05:00 p.m. on at the Paranal Platform. While Tafreshi is known for a lightweight two-camera setup that makes him flexible, I am the time-lapse guy that usually juggles with 3 to 4 cameras, external power sources of all kinds, a dolly and two astronomic heads with their controllers. Moving around the equipment during location changes, changing batteries where necessary, adjusting the controllers etc. kept me mostly busy during the night, although one usually tries to get at least one or two hours nap in between. This helps on staying concentrated for the tasks. Sometimes, when all equipment was running well, we could just hold breath for a moment and enjoy the beautiful skies above Paranal.

After sunrise we disassembled and packed everything back in, which usually took time until 08:00 a.m., then we went down from the mountain to our rooms to recharge batteries, setup image transfers and finally get some sleep until about 12:00. Then we had breakfast with other astronomers (we worked like them in astronomer's shifts). After that we usually went back to our rooms and started processing the footage from the night before until we moved up the mountain for the next night session. Kind of a tight schedule, but on a place like Paranal, where scientific operations are planned 365 days down to the minute, the clock ticks and the output has to be the best possible.

On equipment

I used the following cameras with their built in intervalometers and lenses:

  • 2 Nikon D3s
  • 1 Nikon D700
  • 1 Nikon D7000
  • 2 AFS 12-24/2.8, AFS 24-70/2.8, AF 16/2.8 Fisheye, AF DX 10/2.8 Fisheye

Dolly and astronomic heads:

The D3s and D700 were my proven workhorses. The D7000 serves me a lightweight backup, I normally use it for hiking and some HD filming, but also as a time-lapse machine. I like to shoot the D7000 with the fisheye lens. Both D700 and D7000 were used with the MB- D10 and MB-D11 battery grips. Where possible, we used the camera's external AC adapters.


To my experience the D700 works best up to ISO 2500, with up to ISO 6400 possible for "emergency cases". The D3s is in it's own league. It doesn't matter much if you work ISO 2500 or 6400 with the D3s and ISO 8000 to 10000 are also not much of a problem. Grain on D3s is beautiful and not visible on time-lapse videos, same goes for the D700. The D7000 has different ISO performance due to the DX chip with high density - I usually used it up to ISO 1600 range, above that things get noticeably grainy. This grain is not a problem on stills, but when it gets "moving" on time-lapse it doesn't look good.


When doing time-lapse with sometimes over 3600 images per night per camera, batteries become a problem and it gets worse with low temperatures and freezing desert winds, especially with the D3s. Regardless if new or used batteries, with long exposures the D3s burns amps and doesn't last longer than 3 hours. The problem is that once you change the D3s battery, the interval is interrupted and the sequence finished. So unless you have an AC adapter power source, you cannot go trough the night with the D3s.

The D700 usually lasts 3-4 hours (if you use MB-D10 with EN-EL4a). Changing the battery is not a problem on the D700 because you always leave the EN-EL3e in the body. Hopefully Nikon will think about an external battery source for the D4 in the future. The D7000 is excellent on battery life: one EN-EL15 usually lasts 5-6 hours, double that with MD-D11 battery grip.


For in-camera storage I use 32 to 64 GB Transcend, Sandisk and Express CF and SD cards as well as FireWire CF card reader for my MacBook Pro. During the whole trip I shot about 520 GB of data, stored on a Raid 1 FW800 disk (NEF and JPG files). Finally, about 35000 time-lapse images were processed on my side, Tafreshi had about the same amount (in between he also did some time-lapses). Altogether we selected 7500 frames for this part of "Astronomers Paradise".

Transporting equipment to Chile

All went well until an Air France employee in Munich checked my LiIon batteries one hour before departure. What followed was bizarre - nobody knew if I can get on the plane with those batteries. Several departments between Paris and Munich got involved and at the end  the flight captain decided that I can fly with my original Nikon LiIon batteries in my luggage. He was just as astonished as I was. Incredible.

On processing the time-lapse sequences and the video

I do all transitions, deflickering and other image processing prior to rendering with Apple Aperture (see this videos). The video was edited and rendered with Final Cut Pro 10, motion and compressor were used for all the time-lapse sequence RAW rendering. Final Cut 10 has improved a lot with their latest 10.0.3 update and is fast and fun to work with - much faster compared to Adobe After Effects. No more delays on working with RAW files, no more conversion to JPG or downsizing necessary (like with AE). Motion is ultra fast on rendering NEFs, about 4-5 times faster then AE, it is impressive.

Martin Kornmesser, ESO and Hubble Telescope Imaging Artist also helped on processing and gave some of my footage the distinct dark punchy ESO look.

I hope we captured the magic of this very special place - this is how the night sky looks like without light pollution. We need more people to be aware of light pollution. Waste of light is waste of energy and money and harms the nature and us.

Our next ESO/TWAN time-lapse movie will be released in March and will focus on the northern Atacama, the Valley of the Moon, and the other major ESO observatory - the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA).

If you like, check an article on my time-lapse photography in the current winter issue of Nikon Pro (page 16) or in the Nikon Pro iPad issue.

With best regards,
Christoph Malin

*ESO – the European South Observatory - is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe and the world's most productive astronomical observatory. From its headquarters in Garching, Munich it operates three sites in Chile — La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. It builds ALMA, the worlds largest radio telescope array at the 5000m high Chajnantor plateau together with other international partners and designed the European Extremely Large Telescope.

**Babak Tafreshi, 32, is an international astrophotography legend (special project coordinator of the UNESCO International Year of Astronomy 2009, Lennart Nilson Prizeholder 2009 and founder of TWAN – the World at Night, an international awarded night sky world heritage photography project).

*** Christoph Malin, 42, is ESO photo ambassador and an Austrian based outdoor journalist and astrophotographer specializing in time-lapse night sky photography of the Alps and other mountain and desert regions.

See also those related National Geographic posts:

Related galleries:

You can follow Christoph's work on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

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  • J0rge

    amazing video from time lapse!. Thanks for posting this.

    • Jason


    • Thanks to all here in the forum for your nice comments, and I am glad that you all enjoy the video. I am always enjoying NR comments, and here it does not make any difference. I try to answer any questions as best as possible, and if some remain just send me a PM trough my Website. FB and Twitter is also fine, but I am a bit slower on these.

      As I can see some of you are interested in Light Pollution issues and how to prevent or get active.

      For english speaking the “International Dark Sky” Association is your first address:

      For worldwide astrophotographers and amateur astronomers AWB is great, but of course they also do care a lot on light pollution:

      For german speaking:


      All the best

      • ZipZapRap

        The biggest question I have, Christoph, is how did you control flicker?? The gradations between day and night on your videos is beautiful.

        • Christoph Malin


          I don’t “control” it, it’s of course there due to aperture and/or shutter induced flicker. Just watch It’s pure manual work in post using the RAWs. I compare the histograms, image per image and reconstruct highlights or shadows where necessary. Apple Aperture has proved an excellent tool for that, it is very fast on RAW side-per-side and image back-forth comparison (despite that I am managing 200.000+ images with it fast and efficient). Also Aperture allows for single or complete adjustment extractions that you can apply to a given amount of images overriding, or adding to older adjustments. which is great for transitions. only thing missing now with all this is the opportunity to keyframe all those adjustments. because I do color or WB transitions also by hand. but I have finally someone at Apple now listen to me, so we see what new developments will come out.
          ps: for Lightroom there is a great tool called LRtimelapse that helps on deflickering. goes into the right direction.
          and for AE you could use Granite Bay Software’s GBDeflicker. It works well just not on clipped histograms.

          • ZipZapRap

            Many thanks Christoph, I’ll check that out!

  • many thanks for this review!

  • Jill

    I wonder what all of the “wedding shooters” will say.

    • Art

      They will say it was taken at the wrong time of the year. They will say the world is round so when it is the wrong time of year in the northern hemisphere, it is the right time of year in the southern. They will ask whether we know the earth is round or not.


      • preston

        Haha, nice one! I’m looking forward to the defensive replies now. .

  • Fascinating read! I don’t care that much about the technical details, the most interesting part for me were the comments about keeping it dark there.

    Question: What is that “laser beam” you can see coming from the observatory in some of the pictures?

    • Hello Armin,

      the tech talk is for all the Nikon folks here ;). Ok, the laser is used for the VLT’s adaptive optics that adjust to turbulences in the atmosphere. in fact the VLT can adjust part of their mirrors on focus. the laser excites sodium atoms in the atmosphere and creates an artificial star. the artificial star is then used for focusing the telescopes. see


      • Hi Chris,

        fully understand the reason for the tech talk and accept it 😉

        Thanks for getting back so quickly, think I understand. I was just a bit surprised to see something so bright (unless that’s just a misinterpretation from me looking at the pictures and in reality it isn’t so bright) keeping in mind the efforts made to keep it dark out there.

        I’ve taken my first steps in night time photography recently on Islay (for UK standards a comparably dark and remote place) and got fairly frustrated with some of the light pollution even out there.

    • GD

      It’s essentially a reference star. Using it, they can subtract out real-time changes to an ongoing exposure caused by the atmosphere.

      • KitHB

        When can we have laser correction like theirs on Nikkor lenses?

        Surely that’s the answer for all those people who say 36MP isn’t useful with current lenses. I want a lens with lasers!

    • Rui Pereira

      It’s the Death Star!

  • jodjac


  • Ren Kockwell

    Very cool experience.

  • T_g

    WHoa !!

    Great pics, great videos … great post !

    Bravo Christoph, I’ve dreamt for 5min, awoken 🙂

    Thank you NR !

  • AMAZING! Bravo! x10

  • 120-300 F2:8 os

    Amazing time lapse i am going to do this at El Peñol Colombia,
    but with lesh pro things D200 and tokina 16-50 f2:8 but many thanks for posting it hope some day doing it with nikon D800

  • Anonymous

    Great work. The logistics of this type of work is nightmarish, and you all handled it very well. Congratulations on a good job!

    • Thank you! With time one get’s some routine. But at location surprising things always happen. And next time it will be two dollies, aargh! (and hopefully a D4!)

  • Fantastic video, the place looks special. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great !!!

    I haven’t got too much taime to make such great pictures !
    So mine are more modest :
    (Taken 6 years ago, with “only” the D2X with th AFS 17-35 2.8)


    • Christoph Malin

      Cool, you’ve been there when they were quite new. I like the Peugeot car 😉

    • Superbe reportage Richard ! Bravo 🙂

  • In case someone wonders: at about 4:08 is a Meteor with a so called “Meteor Persistent Train”.

    Example & text here:

    I did a short video with a couple more MPT’s some months ago:

    Watching all the TL footage with one eye while rendering or sorting, we often find meteors captured, and even better MPTs.

    Have fun

  • kyoshinikon

    He left the 14-24mm off the list (the photos show he used one. Really cool though

    • The AFS 14-24/2.8 is my absolute favourite for timelapse. tack sharp on open aperture. however next time I will also take a AFS 24/1.4 ED with me. And I hope they will come up with a 8mm FX Circular Fisheye sooner or later.

      • R!

        You should try to get a converted mount Leica R 15 mm F2.8 or F3.5,or maybe the Fish eye from Nikon AIS :7,5mm or 8mm prime lenses!!
        Fantastic images Bravo,beau travail!!

      • R!

        Try the fantastic 28mm f1.4 lens also because It has a special capacity of grabing the blue cast of light that is specially made for sky halo pictures like boreal aurora.(aurore boreale en français).I’m catching lights that I never did with no other lenses before,this is really interesting !!

        • Christoph Malin

          Thanks for the hint! Will try next time!

  • Magical. Thank you so much.

  • Richard W.

    Im a wedding photographer…….I thought the footage was amazing.

  • Very great 🙂

  • R!

    Fantastic images:pictures and video,BRAVO!!!!!

  • David


  • T.I.M

    Great video, my 3 girls and myself enjoyed it !
    Imagin that with a D800 !
    Thank you for posting !


  • macsavageg4

    Amazing images. I am finally starting to dabble in astrophotography with a telescope and a D800 on the way as well. I admit I have a lot to learn and the city I live in isn’t helping. I have currently been doing what shooting I can do with my D7000 which I was quite surprised with its abilities. Anyway nice work and gives me something to attempt to try in the areas that I live in and can get to.

  • Kartken

    Winner astrophotography competition time lapse video “Ocean Sky”

    • jorg

      very cool, thanks for sharing!

  • Larry C

    “The D7000 has different ISO performance due to the DX chip with high density”

    Wouldn’t the D800 have this same “high density” ISO problem for this type of photography? Seems like another argument in favor of a lower density D700 replacement.

    • Rob

      I read hrough the article and its in here low light comparisons come into there own, not just test shots.

      The comment on the D7000 was an eye opener, as the pixel density is the same as he D800 now I have second thoughts on buying one, The difference in price may mean a D4 as a better proposition.

      I have learnt something from this article excellent work. I don’t get many opportunities to shoot this type of image owing to the ever increasing polution, whether it be light,automotive or industrial.

      Thanks for the post.

      • +1 Exactly my thoughts.

        • rhlpetrus

          Regarding the pixel density issue, it’s not actually relevant, what matters is the sensor size and final viewing size. In case of video, it’ll go down to HD resolution. From some tests floating, it seems the D800’s sensor already incorporates some better tech compared to the D7000’s. D7000’s in FF size should already be better than D700 and close to D3s at 3200 and 6400. So D800’s images (using same final size/res) will be definitely better than the D700’s. Add the extra DR at base ISO, which shoul dcarry over up to 1600ISO at least.

          • Rob

            I did not mention the D700.

            There is that D7000 – and the D800 has the same pixel density as the D7000. What’s more the D7000 is not a FF camera.

            “The D7000 has different ISO performance due to the DX chip with high density – I usually used it up to ISO 1600 range, above that things get noticeably grainy.”

            Has nothing to do with comparing any of the other cameras. All I am doing is looking at the results of the pixel density.

            • rhlpetrus

              I was talking about the D7k, which I own. What matters is sensor size, not pixel density, if you are comparing final prints or final images on a monitor (same size). The D800 will produce a much better image than the D7000. And that means it will produce better images than D700 as well, from my own tests, pretty close to the D3s (always at same print size). Observe that to produce these videos they have to downres all images to a common denominator, that’s the point.

            • Rob


            • rhlpetrus


          • so if the D7000 and D800 have the same pixel density, what gives the D800 better ISO? Isn’t the same amount of light hitting the sensor?

          • Christoph Malin


            first let me clarify that I am not a ISO guru or noise specialist, and for sure am not into the “D800 vs the rest” arguments 😉 I just test and try out in the field what works for me and what not. Both D800 and D7000 are excellent ISO performers for the given pixel density. However, all that speculation on the D800’s ISO performance is not necessary. Just compare a D3X and a D3s on the same ISO, and the results speak for themselves. They just show one can’t outsmart physics. A D3X is just not made for High ISO use, and the same will be probably true in certain fields of use for the D800. Is the D800 therefore “not as good” on High ISO than a D4? No, it’s just not made for that. I am sure it will be a excellent ISO performer in specific ranges as the D7000 is, given the huge chip density.

            Some thoughts on downscaling: we tried all that with the D3x vs D3s before, but note that we render to 4K or 2K ProRes. it is at the final stage of rendering output of the final film to given formats (H264, MPG4, ProRes QT etc), where downscaling is done with different Bitrates of course.

            What I can say is that working with NEF/RAW from the very beginning and each stage in post, leads to much better final Full HD results. For some time I immediately converted and downsized all my NEF material to 1920 jpgs for later rendering in AE which is still common for a lot of folks. I remember AE rendering 58 hours on a certain project with NEFs. That was the case why we then converted them to JPG first. But rendering NEF/RAW in Motion now – as it is 4-10 times faster) leads to much better results, when comparing the same output size (AE and Motion).

            Finally a word about “Grain”, I mentioned in the text on the D7000. The higher you ramp a DSLR on ISO the more it shows “Grain”. This is simulating the “corn” of ISO 100, 200, 400, 800 or higher slide films, we are all used to. The difference is that on a timelapse sequence with a D700 or D3s this Grain looks visually much the same from frame to frame. The Grain is not “moving” much and very subtle. With a D7000 at higher ISO, Grain differs a lot between frames (in the same scene), and it looks horrible on Timelapse. Again, not much a problem on stills. I never noticed that myself, until I started using the D7000 for Timelapse. Again: it is still a very good camera. But that Grain Issue is a Issue for TL. For everyone else, not a big thing. So, when I write about the D7000 getting “Grain” over ISO 1600, it is just on that very special Issue.


    • Christoph Malin

      This is why the D700 will continue in the lineup for some time. Excellent High ISO performer for the given price. No HD Video, though.

  • You have some great looking work!

    I got into timelapse after seeing timescape a few years ago. Also take a look at and be prepared to say wow!

    It takes determination to stay up all night, especially when it is cold and there is nothing else to do!


    • Christoph Malin

      Great! For the “nothing to do” times, I either watch the starry skies as is, or use the great “Redshift” App on iPad or iPhone to discover the nightsky and learn a lot each time. “Redshift” is also very useful as it imitates the look of the Milky Way best and dims it quite naturally over Moonphases. Other cool Apps are PUniverse (good on Nebulae) and Starwalk. It has also a nice view on the MW but Redshift is much more accurate and the TimeShift is better.

  • Alphoto

    OMG! this time lapse video just opened a whole new world to me

  • John Richardson


    Thanks for this it is great!! Hard work paid off!!

  • Curious

    What were you focusing on at 4:07? The stars are at infinity and so is the meteor’s persistent trail. It appears as if you were focusing on something closer?

    • Christoph

      Hi, it is a crop of the Tent Scene before. I was focusing with the 24-70/2.8 on the Tent, so the sky in the back is blurred.


    Simply an outstanding experience to view. Thank you for putting it online for all of us to see.

  • I love me some night photography, and especially night time-lapse photography. Very well done, way to make me jealous! Thanks for sharing your setup and technique. I’ve found that as long as I use really fast lenses (F1.4-F1.8), I can get away with much lower ISO settings with my “old” D300 which doesn’t do high ISO very well.

    Curious if anyone might know, what the heck was that reddish “burst” in the sky around 4:10? Any ideas?

    • R!

      Probably the smoke of a meteor desintegrating in the atmosphere,I dont see any UFO lol!!!!

    • Christoph Malin

      See my earlier post. It is a Meteor Persistent Train. I did some of these a couple of months ago here:
      Cool thing was that we got some fainter ones on that video, but they were hard to see (on Vimeo HD), so I enlarged them.

    • mikils

      I think it is laser gunfire from the Death Star hitting some Jedi x-fighter

  • pino


  • Buggaboo

    Thank you Christoph & Babak for sharing these amazing photos & video!!!

    Where I live, we can no longer see the stars due to all the lights from the city.

    Its truly stunning to look up from the camera’s perspective and truly grasp the visuals that you are witnessing out there in the desert.

    Breath taking & moving.

    Fantastic work!!

  • rhlpetrus

    Awesome! One technical question: for proper effect, do you think about 1,500 images/min is enough? That’s what I guess you have here.

  • T_g


    Timelapse is *not* slow-motion or high speed filming being played slower.

    You take pictures, for instance, every 5/10/30/60 seconds, for a loooong while.

    And then you play them at 24/25/30fps, which result in that kind of movie

    So my guess is that Christoph did NOT took 1500 images/min, but rather between1 and 30 🙂 (maybe 60)

    • rhlpetrus

      24 fps (cinematic rate) amount to 1440 frames/minute. They say 7500 frames and it lasts about 5min, that was the source of my question. I know what time-lapse is, but thanks for the reply.

      • T_g

        Understood 🙂

        Sorry !

    • Chris Malin


      exposure is usually 25 secs, with a 2 sec gap. whole interval is 27 seconds. no NR of course. 30s or more is too much, as the stars begin to show trails then, and the movement of the sky is too fast (in the movie).



  • Max

    Chile FTW!!

  • R!

    The light polution and the chimical polution,without considering humidity and dust bluring effects, are the main reason of unsharpness,imagine the images that will be possible with a D800/E in this kind of places;I can’t wait to see that new DSLR !!!!!

    • R!

      And I forgot to say how much 36 mpx is important for Astrophotography , because of the crop capacities that such a camera can give you,this is a plus for bird chaser and for star chaser,and dont tell me that midle format are better because none has the iso performances or the filming hability of a HDSLR,I really can’t wait !!!!!

    • Christoph Malin

      Nikon has some very nice 1.8 lenses, that would sure be a good combo with the D800 and save some ISO. Used on 2.2 or 2.5 you would still have ISO advantage and less coma on stars. I am also looking very forward to test the D800 on this topic. On the other hand the D3s has such huge pixels, that it can truly differentiate the color of stars extremely well. that’s something a D3x can’t.

  • Shawn

    Do you use a formula to tame the star trails or just trial and error?

    • Christoph Malin


      for stills on longer exposure I use Astrotrac TT320X-AG or the new Polarie from Vixen, Japan. Both tracking mounts are adjusted to polar star then (in the northern hemisphere).

      But there are formulae of course. In general it depends on focal length, chip resolution and declination of the sky region. Chip resolution is a killer here BTW, as a star trail results on the movement of a star between two pixels on the chip during exposure. the larger the pixels, the more freedom of exposure (quite a simplification I know). all the formulae also imply that one uses a extremely sharp lens which is exactly focused to infinity.

      If you are interested, I can recommend Michael A. Covingtons “Digital SLR Astrophotography”, Cambridge University Press. Pg. 111 ff he has a chapter on that on the “rate of field rotation”. Stefan Seip, a well known german astro journalist has a good book (“Himmelsfotografie mit der digitalen Spiegelreflexkamera” / Kosmos), where he explaines the fomulae etc at pg 112 ff. But I am afraid it is available in German only.

      However – depending on geographic position – you are usually fine with 14 to 24 mm on up to 27 sec exposures – for the D3s. However, I once managed to do full frame images of the larger Magellanic cloud on ISO 8000 and 10000, f2.8, 6s, 200 mm without Astrotrac with the D3s. That was amazing.

      • Shawn

        “However, I once managed to do full frame images of the larger Magellanic cloud on ISO 8000 and 10000, f2.8, 6s, 200 mm without Astrotrac with the D3s”

        I was an amateur astronomer before getting interested in photography, but what you said makes complete sense. What I read is that stars and most other astronomical objects are “point” light sources, thus their exposure is governed by slightly different rules than terrestrial objects. I read that the actual physical size of the lens aperture has an effect on exposure, and with 200mm at f/2.8 that would be a nice 71mm refractor telescope (for the unfamiliar: telescopes are measured by diameter). The general rule for astronomy is bigger diameter = better light capturing capabilities, so I can see how you could get a great picture without a clock driven equatorial mount with such a “big” lens. I wonder what you could do with a 400mm f/2.8? 🙂

        This is beautiful work, I hope you’re very satisfied with your results, congratulations on such success.

        You’ve inspired me to experiment more with astrophotography using old manual focus lenses (modern amateur lenses are so difficult to use for this). Maybe I’ll even find a Nikon adapter for my 8″ Dobsonian and see what I can do.


  • rhlpetrus

    I wished I could see the 1080 HD version in full res. On my iMAC the full screen option makes it a bit problematic, with lots of artifacts, bad tone gradations (posterization), since it fills the whole screen, which is more than 1920pixels wide. How does one see it in proper fullHD format?

    • Christoph Malin

      I know what you mean, I have an 27″ iMac myself. Wait a bit until’s 50th anniversary DVD / BlueRay comes out. It may help.

      • Sean

        This is absolutely sublime work.

        How do you manage the 999 picture limit on the built-in intervalometers?

        • Christoph Malin

          Well, it’s no problem at all (I thought first it is, too, and the Nikon Manuals may be a bit misunderstanding). Once you reach 999 frames, all Nikon cameras I use, just open a new folder on the CF or SD card and continue shooting.

          More of a problem is rapid shutter wear. On assignments like that you easily load up 50000 frames or more. So if a D3s holds 300000 it is just 5 assignments 😉

  • Fantastic video and photo. Thanks

  • David Hilton

    err, WOW

  • John

    This is absolutely sublime work. Because you are using built-in intervalometers, how do you deal with the 999 picture limit? Or do you simply restart it while trying to keep the interruption to a minimum?

    • Christoph Malin

      See above. After 999 frames D7000, D3s or D700 just create a new folder, and continue. However, I would love to see a firmware update that allows 4 digits. Furthermore would like to get rid of that stupid 1 second exposure limit on ISO Auto each Nikon has. This should be modified to 30 seconds. Then ISO auto really would make sense. Because on several scenes I did the past two years, D3s or D7000 easily did correct exposures up to 6s.

      • Gerry

        I think what people are asking, is that in the camera software, it only allows 999 shots per “time interval”. So do you use an external cable release?

        • Christoph Malin

          No, I don’t use an external intervalometer. I just let the Cameras run on built in interval. After 999 images they create a new folder and continue – usually. However two days I ago I was taking footage around Zugspitze, and my D700 shot 999 frames, created a new folder. Then shot 4 more images, and then stopped. Hhm. Enough battery, enough space on the CF card, I don’t know what actually happened, this is the first time I am experiencing this behaviour (that’s why I actually never thought about a 999 images limit). The other two cameras kept shooting way over 999 images that night.

  • mikils

    Really impressive, I am more and more itching for the good season to arrive to try my hand at TimeLapse!

    I was interested in reading a D3s battery cannot go through a whole night. I’d thought the damn thing would never run out! I was once able to make a week on location shooting birds in cold environment without need to replace it. I also wonder what the performance of the D4 is going to be, since there is a new battery whose specs are controversial.

  • alphotog


  • Clovis

    FANTASTIC !!!!
    You have done an amazing job. Congratulations!
    Clovis – Brazil.

  • These are great images!!! Thank you very much for sharing!

    I’ve only seen a sky even close to this one in a remote part of Oregon but there was still quit a bit of moisture at the time. Your pics really INSPIRE a desire to check out places like this myself.

    I’ve been considering a tracking head for nearly 6 months now and it’s great to know the setup you used.

    Very cool!

    • Christoph Malin


      for 2 hrs I can absolutely recommend the Astrotrac TT-320XAG. It’s lightweight and very transportable. The polarscope however is not very well engineered, be careful to get a good aligned one, and always fix it with an additional O-ring, to secure it from falling off from times you hit it with your nose etc. The magnets are too weak to hold it good.

      Later this week I will receive the Polarie from Vixen, JP. Looks like it could replace the Astrotrac with a better Polarscope and no 2 hr limit. But I have to test it yet.

  • stanic

    the meteor trails show well how thin the Earth`s atmosphere is…
    astonishing video!

  • Beautiful, inspiring and awesome. Capturing a lost vision from one of the few places on earth the splendor of the night sky can be experienced. Magic!

  • Swarok

    It is absolutely fantastic! Thanks for sharing and please shoot more!
    Still I have a newbie question. On some pictures we can see a light beam from those telescopes. What was it in the reality? Thanks in advance

  • Dan

    That was a totally cool video!

  • adam

    Sorry if this has been answered, I see that your using 28 second exposure. What are your other settings for the time lapse shots? Are you shooting in manual wide open? How do you adjust for exposure changes due to light?
    Great work.

    • Christoph Malin

      Hi Adam,

      I do it like this in post. For the other question google for LRTimelapse. Cheers

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