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I'm trying to photograph the eclipse and we already have a solar filter for our telephoto lens. However, we have two cameras so we might as well use them. I've spent a fair amount of time searching Google, and this related question seems to be the closest thing I can find on the issue: Can the sun damage the camera sensor? Under what conditions?

Michael Clark's answer helps with the confusion I had about why you can take a picture of the sunset/sunrise with your camera directly, but it's a bit wishy-washy on whether I need a solar filter to not go blind/protect the camera.

Would I get a washed out photo on a wide angle lens without the solar filter?

  • What sort of image are you hoping to capture with the sun present in a wide-angle scene? A solar filter will filter out everything but the sun, and most of your scene will be black except for the sun with the filter in place. If you're looking to shoot something like a landscape during totality, you won't need the filter. – meklarian Aug 9 '17 at 5:55
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Would I get a washed out photo on a wide angle lens without the solar filter?

Without a filter the sun is roughly 14 stops brighter than the highlights of the landscape under it on a sunny day. You must make a choice: get details of the sun (with at least some kind of fairly strong filter and darker exposure value) OR get details of the surrounding landscape while allowing the sun to be completely oversaturated and cause a fairly large area of the sky around it to also be washed out.

As the answer in the other question you reference states,

... NO manufacturer of cameras or lenses has ever said anything to the effect of, "It's okay to look at the sun through our camera's viewfinder." If in doubt, use Live View.

It's also likely the case that no manufacturer has ever said, "It's okay to point your camera at the sun without any kind of solar filter. Some of us do it on occasion, but we do so at our own risk.

I've taken plenty of wider angle photos (say between 17-24mm on a FF camera) with the sun high in the sky and in the field of view without any detrimental effect on my lenses, sensor, or vision. But the sun will not be clearly visible in such a photo if it is exposed for the terrestrial scene. If the photo is exposed so that the sun will not be overexposed then the rest of the scene will be very dark or even black. There's just too much difference in brightness between the sun and the ground to capture both at the same time unless the sun is very low near the horizon.

Backlight with sun

This frame was shot at 24mm on a full frame camera. ISO 100, f/8, 1/320 second. Had the sun been properly exposed it would have been about the same size as the full moon when you use a smartphone to take a photo of it. Even as it was, I shot the image with the people in the scene very underexposed and then pushed the shadows to near the breaking point in the raw conversion process.

Both of the following images were shot on a FF camera at 17mm. The only difference between the two was the exposure: Both were shot at ISO 100. The first was taken at f/9 and 1/200 second, the second was taken at f/8 and 1/800 second. The difference in the size of the glare from the sun is due to the 1 2/3 stops difference in the overall exposure. Even in the last one the diameter of the sun, at about 4.3% the length of the diagonal, looks roughly 8.6X larger than its actual angular size of 1/2° in the sky - which is roughly 1/200 (or 0.5%) of the 104° diagonal angle of view of that lens at 17mm on that camera.

ISO 100 f/9 1/200

ISO 100 f/8 1/800

Note: In the first and third images above you can see a 'ghost reflection' of the sun at approximate actual size directly across the image center from the sun. This is a reflection off of lens elements. Since the sun is high and slightly to the right in both images, the reflections are low and slightly to the left in each image. Anti-reflective coatings in modern lenses are very good, but when you have a light source that bright compared to the rest of the scene, you'll likely see such a reflection.

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There are two concerns, one is your eyes, and one is your camera.

The only safe answer for your eyes is you need a filter to look through the (optical) viewfinder of a camera at the sun. Now most photographers using wide angle lenses have certainly had the sun in view when shooting and nothing bad happened. As your lens gets more wide, the impact of the sun is diminished. There is some point where it goes from "really harmful" to "minor damage" to "mostly no damage", but knowing where that occurs is more speculation than practical. Further, serious damage can be done without pain (conversely at times bright lights are painful but do no damage). Also bear in mind most such "I've done it before" shots were brief happenstance - with the partial you will almost certainly do it for longer and more than once. Bottom line: Don't look through the optical viewfinder at the sun without a solar filter on the FRONT of the lens. Never the back.

The sensor is a more interesting problem. If you have a live-view camera, any kind of video or electronic viewfinder, the shutter is open while you are viewing. That makes it safe for your eyes (you are only looking at an LCD), but very dangerous for your sensor, since it is exposed the whole time. Think magnifying glass burning wood. Such sustained exposure is absolutely a bad idea, no caveats there, if you care for the camera.

On the other hand, with a SLR or DSLR used in conventional mode, at very high shutter speed, there is negligible danger to your sensor since it will be open only for a small fraction of a second. HOWEVER, that energy has to go somewhere when the shutter is closed. It is being reflected partly up to the viewfinder, and partly is going THROUGH the mirror onto the AF/AE sensors. So while your sensor may be safe, other parts of the camera can be fried from heat or UV. And you're back to the same problem: with a wide enough lens, and brief use (e.g. long enough to point in the general direction and fire, as opposed to sitting on a tripod pointing all the time), probably no damage will be done. After all, again MANY shots have the sun in them. But the longer the exposure, the longer the lens, and the less durable the camera the more likely you will get damage. The only safe way to avoid damage is to just not do that -- get a filter on the front. Plus there's going to be the temptation to frame by looking through the viewfinder. Don't.

The reason I go through a long discussion is that I am hearing more and more people say "I get the sun in my shot all the time so I know it's OK". Then, they or others may take that as permission to set up a tripod and get a time lapsed shot of the sun as it goes across the sky -- and find they are burning a path through the interior of their camera. Or will find eye damage when they stare at it a while to frame their shots.

Remember your youth, when you or someone burned wood (or worse) with a magnifying glass. A focused image of the sun is not safe for materials or people, even if in some circumstances nothing bad happens. Solar film is cheap if you must photograph the partial (or full) sun.

Finally as mentioned elsewhere, generally speaking the sun will be too bright without the filter to have any meaningful appearance i a shot, even with mostly occluded it is too bright since while total light falls off, the light from the part you see is exactly the same and too bright to image (without a filter). A more interesting with high percentage partial eclipse is to use light passing through leaves and such, as the speckles on the ground take on the shape of the occluded sun.

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You'll get a washout! When the sun is a slighter right before totality is when to take the pictures.

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This will be my first eclipse, though I'm looking to shoot telephoto. My research has shown that a filter will be necessary leading up to totality. At totality, the filter needs to be removed as there's just not enough light to warrant it.

So, I think the answer to your question is to use a similar approach. You may not need a full solar filter for your wide angle shot, depending on the angle of the sun, but a graduated ND for shots leading up to totality might no go amiss.

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Would I get a washed out photo on a wide angle lens without the solar filter?

Depends on what you're trying to shoot, and how wide your wide angle lens is (i.e., what focal length lens, mounted on what camera / sensor size?)

Before and after totality, you will need a solar filter, period. The sun is just too bright, too contrasty with the sky in order to see anything but a washed out white spot in the image.

During totality, if you're in an area covered by totality, you don't need a solar filter. Because you are using a wide angle lens, I presume you are trying to compose a scene with terrestrial subjects (i.e., people, landscape, ground, etc.) with the eclipse as well. Because this is a total eclipse, this should not be a problem.

Note that if you are not in a region that is covered by totality, then you fall into the "before/after totality" regime at all times: you will need a filter.

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