Monument Valley: Yei Bi Chei Milky Way and Sand dunes

Monument Valley is a Navajo Indian tribal park on the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.

It’s a beautiful place but access is difficult without a guide and guides are costly. The restaurants do not serve or sell alcohol but you can bring it and have it in your room.

There is only one trail that does not require a guide. Even then, the main trail is sunrise to sunset. This makes life difficult for anyone seeking night-time images.

If this sounds problematic, remember, this is their land, private land.

Feature Image Details

The Rokinon is actually a pretty crappy lens in numerous ways. It is manual focus only. The corners are not sharp, wide open. It is not usable, in my opinion, at F1.4 or F1.8. F2.0 is questionable. Others disagree.

Importantly, I have seen many stories where the focus is off entirely but only on one side of the lens. Mechanically, the lens is sloppy. One photographer exchanged his lens three times before he found a good one.

Why would anyone put up with this?

Interestingly, if one can find a good model, it is arguably the best lens ever made for night photography. The reason: coma.

Coma is an image aberration that makes points of light look like bat wings. A Canon 24mm lens that costs four times as much has terrible coma. The Rokinon way outperforms Nikon as well.

Lenses that make stars that look light bat wings instead of points of light are not suited for night photography. The Rokinon is the best coma-corrected lens around.

Exposure Rule

The maximum length of time one can expose night images without stars streaking can be calculated by using this rule: e = 400 / Fl.

E is the exposure time in seconds, 400 is a constant derived from experience, and Fl is the focal length of the lens in millimeters. In this case, we get e= 400/24 = 16.67 seconds. I round to the nearest 5 seconds, thus 15 seconds.

For this shot, I took a series of six images at 15 seconds and stacked them in Photoshop. Stacking reduces noise.

For more on stacking, please see Joshua Tree National Park – Arch Rock – Geminid Meteor Shower.

Blending

The Milky Way image is a blend of an image taken at night with a second one taken right at sunrise the next morning.

The sunrise shot is an eight-frame vertical panorama merged together in Lightroom. One of the frames was used in the Milky Way image above.

I hired a guide for the night image. The next day, I hired a guide for the sunrise image.

More on Rokinon

Focusing the Rokinon 24mm lens is a real pain. Night images are best at infinity, but finding infinity on the Rokinon is a process. If you turn the lens to the infinity mark you are 100% guaranteed to get lenses that are not in focus. They will not be usable at all.

Rokinon Focusing Procedure

Focus on the moon, wide open, F1.4. A crescent moon is best. Adjust the exposure so the moon highlights are not blown out.

Minute focusing variations make a difference. When you are sure you have it correct, tape the focusing ring so it can never turn. This is trickier than it sounds. It is very easy to move the focusing ring while taping it. It took me three times.

Also, make use you do not tape over the aperture ring. That’s manual too, and I did tape over it once. After you have lightly taped it over, go back out and take another image of the moon. It should look as good as the best you have. Then tape the whole thing so it can never move, again making sure you do not tape over the aperture ring.

As modified, the lens is only usable for night photography. But that’s all it was ever good for in the first place.

Rokinon 14mm F2.8

If the above is too much of a hassle, and it probably should be, forget the whole thing.

Buy a Rokinon 14MM f2.8 Lens.

The 14mm Rokinon lens is still manual focus, but it is not entirely manual. The aperture is electronic. It is coma corrected, again way better than Canon or Nikon. And it is way cheaper than the Canon and even the Rokinon 24mm lens described above.

The lens also has a hard stop, right at infinity (focus ring turned until it cannot turn anymore), and that hard stop is accurate. It has other issues, primarily with straight lines that affect day photography, but it is another go-to lens that pros use at night.

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

2 thoughts on “Monument Valley: Yei Bi Chei Milky Way and Sand dunes

  1. Check out the Sigma Art series of lenses for night sky photography. I replaced my Rokinon 14mm with the Sigma 20mm. Wish I had never wasted money on the Rokinon.

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    1. Thanks Randall. At 20mm I will just stick with the 24mm Rokinon. I got a good one right off the bat.
      And I have a specially modified Mark IV camera that adds a stop of light.
      At F2.8, I am effectively at F2.0 on a 24MM lens. The Rokinon is very sharp at F2.8. That image did not use my star-tracker. I just got it and was struggling mightily with it (my fault, I was trying to use pano and the star tracker at the same time, both for the first time.)

      I am confident I can go to about 50 seconds without trailing. That’s a lot of light gathering at an effective F2.0. If I want foreground I will have to take another image with my 16-35 at 24mm.

      I am getting good at blending so that is not an issue.
      Mish

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