The 1999 solar eclipse video

Samma information pĺ svenska i stället

Short introduction

The 1999 solar eclipse as seen from Hungary where it was total. This recording is rather unusual, uses one camcorder for the sun and one for a view over the landscape. The latter also captures the sounds of the animals.

The intention was to document how the singing of the birds, buzzing of the insects, barking of the dogs and calling of the roosters varied with the different eclipse phases, and also show the brightness and color changes of the landscape.

Do you think the birds increase singing or get quiet during totality? In Sweden 1954 they got quiet, but check if the hungarian birds do the same. The moon entered the sun at the upper right part and the went towards the center. Can you guess in what direction it left the sun? After totality, notice how the clouds affect the brightness and color of the landscape. Do you hear the storks?

Two minutes before totality a cloud appeared and it could easily have spoiled the recording. But there were some openings in it, so it was a rather successful performance giving good pictures of the corona and the diamond ring. I also like the red rubys. They occur when valleys on the moon allow light from the chromosphere (with a strong red hydrogen line) to pass through.

Link to the eclipse video

Almost 3 hours compressed to about 8 minutes, for modem, ISDN and LAN (the higher the connection speed the better the video quality). Requires RealVideo G2 player ver 6.x+ ( RealVideo installation help).

Still images

On the first image you see 4 sunspots.

On the first corona picture, notice that there is a flare that has detached from the surface of the sun, it is a yellow spot at the right, just below the red ruby.

Equipment and technique used

The video was captured to mini-DV cassettes using a Sony TRV900 camcorder for the landscape and sound and a Canon XL1 with 16x zoom (5.5 - 88 mm) and 1.6x extender for the sun. A proffessional tripod and fluid head (Vinten 5) was used for the XL1 (I would liked to have an astronomical tripod with motor to compensate for the rotation of the earth). The TRV900 was running from batteries and the XL1 was powered from my car.

Except during totality, a Hoya 72 mm ND400 filter protected the XL1 and the internal ND filter was turned on. Exposure was 1/16000 s at f6.2 and gain -3 dB, preset outdoor white balance. During totality 1/50 s at f4.0, unfortunately I forgot to turn up the gain or turn off internal ND filter. The camcorder for the landscape had a polaroid filter (to lessen the contrast between the sky and the ground) and was set to manual exposure 1/50 s f4.8 gain 0 dB, auto white balance, for the whole event.

The whole event lasted almost three hours. From 1:20 before totality I started recording 15 seconds every two minutes. Then 20 minutes before to 20 minutes after totality the tapes were running continously. And then 15 seconds every two minutes until the end of the event. That way all three hours fit on a 60 minutes tape per camcorder.

Editing was done on a dual PII-400 computer with Canopus DVRex-M1 "capture" card and Adobe Premiere editor. A lot of tedious work to countermove the sun so it sits still (Premiere has a lousy interface for this type of work in its video move function). The sun is also enlarged 1.5 times. Except around totality, the video is time compressed 80 to 1. To keep the sound and the two video streams in sync is also somewhat tedious, becuse some of the video is time compressed but the sound is not and must be resynced every now and then. During totality the video is gained up using the Brightness & Contrast filter to compensate for my missing gain up at capture. The first corona is also slowed down to last a little longer.

As input to the RealProducer Plus converter a 384*288 pixel AVI file was created using the Indeo video 5.04 codec (I usually use Microsoft MPEG-4 V2 because it is faster, but in this case it gave very visible artifacts) and with Better Resize on. In Producer all target speeds were checked and Audio Format set to Stereo Music and Video Quality to Sharpest Image.

The full story

I was reading the NetNews group rec.video.desktop and saw someone ask for an advice on a good filter to use to record the 11 August total solar eclipse. Help, the solar eclipse! I had read about it long ago but now completely forgotten it! I still remember the solar eclipse in the south of Sweden one summer day in 1954. What made the most impression on me was that it got so quiet during the totality, all birds stopped singing. This was something I wanted experience again and this time also document on video. The sun and the corona should of course also be captured to video.

It was already beginning of August and very little time left to prepare things, definately too late to buy a filter by mail order. On Monday 2 Aug I went to a local photo shop and asked if they had a suitable filter to offer. They had a broschure from Hoya with a ND400 filter specifically for solar observations. They called the Hoya distributor, and there was one left in the 72 mm size I wanted. I could get it the next day.

Now that I was shure to get a filter, it was meaningful to prepare everything else. Surfed the web and found the totality path and a lot of other useful info. I needed to record at a place where there are birds singing and no noise from traffic or people. That is very hard to find this time of the year, many birds sing mostly in the spring. I figured that I had to drive around and search for a suitable place several days before the eclipse event. Also I assumed that England, France and Germany were too crowded to be able to find a quiet place easily. So my prime target was Austria, with Hungary and Romania as backup. The intention was to find at least two places and watch the weather forecast the evening before the eclipse to decide which place had the best probability of a clear sky.

I called the TT-line ferry company, there were no cabins left for Wednesday night but I got a ticket for Thursday night and a return ticket for the catamaran on Friday afternoon a week later. Went to get a green card, international drivers license and such (only needed for Romania). Bought language phrase-books for German and Hungarian (found no one for Romanian) and an up to date road atlas for Europe. Meanwhile I collected all my video equipment I needed: two camcorders, lenses, filters, batteries, power supplies, a micro-TV, cables, tapes, tripods, repair tools, bags.

Just before leaving Sweden I surfed the web again for the latest weather forcasts and found that it had turned very unfavorable. Low probability of a clear sky everywhere except the great plains of Hungary and further eastwards. So Hungary now became my prime target.

On Friday morning I left the ferry at 06:10 and used the German and Austrian highways to go as far as possible the first day. Although there were quite a few roadworks going on there were not very much traffic and I reached Bruck southeast of Vienna at the Friday evening. That was better than expected. Ironically, there were intense bird song to be heard at the Eder hotel I stayed on. The backyard of the hotel had thick green ivy on all the walls and the sparrows loved it. However, there were heavy traffic just outside the hotel, so it was not to think of as a recording place. But I realized, that if I happen to find a deserted house with ivy on it, it might be a good place. Good to know.

On Saturday morning I entered into Hungary. I was somewhat worried about the customs, because I had read somewhere that you had to pay duty for all expensive equipment and my two digital camcorders and accessories were not cheap. Shure, when you leave the country you were supposed to get the money back, but I didn't like all the hassle. Well, I guess that was old info. At least this time they did not even look into the car, and the passport was checked in less than 2 seconds.

I went on the highway towards Budapest, but stopped at the first big city, Györ, to visit the tourist info center. I got a broschure on national parks and a map showing all the bigger tourist info centers i Hungary. Kecskemét city was one of them, with great plains surrounding it and within the totality zone, Szeged another one on the boarder to Romania and right in the center of the totality zone.

I continued on the highway to Budapest and then south on a new highway to Kecskemét, where I planned to stop and use it as a base for exploring the surroundings. But it worried me that it was not all clear sky, there were a few small clouds, it had been so since Györ. Probably better I go further south, I thought, so I went to Szeged. However, the sky was exactly the same there.

I wanted to find the tourist info center and tried to ask the way to it. Turned out to be hard. I didn't know hungarian and very few people could speak english or german. When I arrived there at about 3 pm I found they closed at 2 pm on Saturdays and on Sunday it was all closed. I should have stayed at Kecskemét, too late now. I would liked to have got some info on the local environment, now I had to find out myself. But the area there felt crowded, very small chance to find a quiet spot.

I drove westwards and halfway to Baja turned north to Kiskunhalas. The area felt more rural and not so crowded. But I found very few candidate spots where you could expect to find birds. Maybe at the few small lakes there were, but they were full of tourists, no chance of finding a quiet place there. I drove here and there in the area, but found nothing interesting. Did not look promising.

It was time to find a place for the night. The phrase-book suggested to try a panzió, similar to bed and breakfast. Due to the language difficulties the "talking" was by pointing to sentences in the phrase-book. But I was out of luck, it was either no vacancy or no breakfast or too expensive. So I headed for Kecskemét to find a hotell there. On the way towards the center a saw signs showing the way to Hotel Uno, I followed them. But suddenly I didn't see them anymore and the traffic was too busy for driving without knowing where to drive, so I parked my car for a walk instead.

Around the corner was a sign for hotel Apollo, two blocks away on a quiet street. Looked promising, they had a room available and the price was right (about $30 per night including breakfast). Good room, toilet and shower, telephone and TV with satellite channels, very friendly and helpful staff. And best of all, they had "swedish breakfast", which in addition to the normal things had müssli, milk, youghurt and fruit. I liked that!

I went to the center for an evening meal, looking for something typical Hungarian. Found three Greek restaurants, three Italian ones, one Chinese, two with typical international menus, and MacDonalds, but no Hungarian restaurant. Finally saw a dish a la Transylvania, which was stuffed paprika, kind of Hungarian. It was interesting to sit and watch all the people that had gathered in the center square. Everybody seemed to be there, all of the family from small children and teenagers to parents and grandparents. Went to the tourist info center and saw that it was to be open on Sunday, hurray!

So on Sunday morning I went to the tourist info center hoping to get help on finding places where there are birds at this time of the year. But they didn't know very much about the environment. However, I got a detailed map over the area west and south of Kecskemét that proved to be very useful.

I selected a couple of candidate bird spots and drove there. No luck, no birds. The broschure on national parks I'd got in Györ mentioned a place where migrating birds rested and it said there are look-out towers from where you can observe the birds and that they could be reached from Kelemen-szék. This might be something useful, and on the new map a saw the place mentioned. But the map was not detailed enough to show how to get there. I first tried to reach the place from the east. After driving for quite a while I ended up on a big farm and had to return to the main road.

I then tried to reach the place from the west, but once again ended up on what looked like a big farm, named Sósér. On returning back I noticed a small hill with weeds and shrubs that looked promising, so I stopped. Yes!!! There were birds: sparrows, starlings and swallows, and they were singing. And it was reasonable far away from big roads and other disturbing noise. The totality at this place would last two minutes. This was a good place to do recording of the total solar eclipse with the sound of the birds. After two days searching this was the only suitable place found so far.

Suddenly I noticed that up on a mast there was a solar powered video camera of the type used for security and surveillance. Hmmm..., if the owner is so security minded, what will they think when I unload the bag with tripods, it looks just like a bag for a grenade-thrower. One thing I did not want to happen while recording the eclipse, was to be interrupted by a guard with a couple of dogs. I decided that if I did not find another better place, I had to ask for permission in advance to be here. Could have been easy, but as I didn't know the language it was actually rather difficult.

The rest of Sunday afternoon I drove to different candidate spots in the area east and south of Dunaföldvár, but didn't find anything useful, too many people or no birds. In the evening I returned to Kecskemét.

On Monday morning I went to the tourist info center and wanted to hire an english speaking guide that could help me ask for permission at the Sósér place (about 45 km west of Kecskemét). But they only had references to city-guides and they would not do service outside the city. Well..., maybe there was one that could, here is the address, the info guy said. It was about half an hour walk and when I arrived there nobody was at home. I returned to the center and went into the biggest hotell and asked if they knew any english speaking guide. They did not, but said I could ask at the Cooptourist travel agency. I did, and indeed they managed to find a guide willing to go to Sósér. It would cost 3000 Forints (about $15) per hour. She had no time today, but at 10 o'clock on Tuesday she was available.

In the afternoon I went to the Karikás Csárda at Bugac to see the famous horse-show there, out on the Hungarian puszta. Very skilled horsemen and skilled horses too. Impressing to see a group of 6 horses gallopping with the rider standing with his feet on the back of two horses. They could also make very loud cracks with their whip and the horses were trained to completely ignore it.

Later that afternoon I searched south of Dunaföldvár and west of Kiskunhalas for an alternative to the Sósér place. I was driving on really small roads, often on gravel or sand. Found a beautiful forest not far from Kiskunhalas. It was a mix of coniferous trees and broad-leaf trees and hilly open surfaces covered with grass. There were some juniper shrubs that smelled very nice in the 33 centigrade heat. And I have never seen so many butterflies at the same time, only a few kinds though. But not a single bird to be seen or heard. Maybe because there were no flies or mosquitos either. Probably too dry for them (sandy soil, no streams or lakes). A very nice place but not what I wanted for the recording.

Instead of returning the same way I continued on the small sandy road, because according to the map it was the shortest path to a main road. There were now a lot of crossings with equally small roads. Somewhere I must have chosen the wrong way, because after driving a distance far enough to reach the main road, I was still far from it. Worse was that the sand was not firm any longer, the wheels sunk down deep and on places the car was gliding on its belly. I had to increase speed not to get stuck on those places, which were repeating regularly.

Should I continue, with the hope that it became better further ahead, but also the risk it became worse and I will get stuck. On the other hand, if I stopped to turn now I would surely get stuck, because the firm parts were too short to gain speed to glide over the deep parts. If I got stuck, I had an electric winch to help pull me loose. But that is a very slow process and it was soon getting dark, would have to sleep in the car waiting for the dawn. Then breakfast (I did have some emergency food) and several hours of winching. I would most probably miss my appointment with the guide and any new opportunity in time for the eclipse was unlikely. I was in trouble!

Thinking so far, I found the only reasonable option was to continue, or I was sure not to be able to record the elipse with sounds from birds. I increased the speed further, to decrease the risk to get stuck. It did increase the risk of stones breaking the gearbox case (happened a few years ago, took two weeks to repair), but fortunately there seemed not to be any on this road.

After 5 to 10 minutes drive, the road became firmer and I thought I was saved. But after continuing past a few crossings, always choosing what seemed to be the most used road, I ended up on a meadow with no way to continue. Although I spotted a rare bird there, I wasn't in the mood to stay and watch it. Returning to an earlier crossing I choose another road and after a while I finally saw a few small farms. It was still far from the main road, had to drive about 10 km before approaching it. Then I got a donkey driven hay-cart in front of me. Took a while until there was an opportunity to overtake it. I was surprised the driver didn't seem surprised to find a foreign car on this small road. Finally I reached the main road and went back to my hotell in Kecskemét.

On Tuesday morning my english speaking guide arrived at my hotell close on 10 o'clock and I started to drive with her to the Sósér place. While driving, I told her all about how I planned the recording and the requirements to make it work: A firm ground for the tripods, no noise from people or traffic, that I needed the car close to the cameras to feed electricity from it, that I wanted to do a two hour rehearsal today to find out all the settings for magnification, exposure, and such. And that if they were curious on my equipment, they were welcome to visit me during the rehearsal today, but that they were not at all welcome during the actual eclipse recording.

The road to Sósér ended in front of a high wall with a gate. Behind the gate was a guard. That is promising, the guide said. She had been afraid of that we might not find anybody to talk to. The guard couldn't say anything on permissions, but he called his boss. The boss arrived just two minutes later driving a Vespa. She looked to be the kind you don't argue against her words. The boss and the guide started to talk. And they talked, and they talked, and continued to talk without interruption for probably more than 5 minutes. As I didn't know hungarian I didn't understand what they said, but I felt her face said no all the time. I thought the guide had a hard time trying to persuade the boss to give me permission to record.

Finally they stopped talking, the guide turned to me and said that there were no problems at all, I was very welcome to record at the place I had chosen. Wow! What a relief! I went to the recording place to check that the birds were still there, and they were. While returning to Kecskemét my guide told me that initially the boss had refused permission, because she thought I wanted to go inside to record. It was not a farm, but the entrance to a national park, no people allowed, no exceptions. But as soon as she understood my recording place was outside the park, although close, there were no problems. In fact, she said, I had chosen the most suitable place because it was the only place she knew where there were birds singing now. And she had also promised that her staff would not interfere at the eclipse recording. We were back at the travel agency before 12 o'clock, so the cost became 6000 Forints.

In the afternoon I went to Sósér again to do the recording rehearsal. The camcorder for the landscape had to be close to the birds but still with a view over the surroundings and also close to the camcorder for the sun, as I needed to be able to start and stop both simultaneously. The tripod for the sun camcorder had to have a firm ground, or else the recorded sun would vibrate too much. I had to test three places before finding a suitable one. The counter weight spring in the Vinten 5 head is too strong for the weight of the XL1. Normally it doesn't matter, but pointing to the sun the elevation was so high that I had to fit the power supply on the handle as a "counter-counter" weight.

Listening to the sound, I found that the GSM cellphone interfered with the audio every now and then. I told myself not to forget to turn off the GSM tomorrow, but I realized it was very easy to forget. Full zoom (88 mm) with the 1.6x extender turned out to be just about optimal, giving some space for the sun to move or show the corona during totality. I found that if I lowered the exposure somewhat compared to my first setting, I could see 4 sunspots. They were very useful for focussing. But it was too windy for a good recording, the sun seemed to vibrate and the sound was mostly wind noise. Tried to put a sock on the microphone, but it didn't help very much and also caused motor noise to be picked up.

Back at the hotell on Tuesday evening I connected the camcorders to the video in on the TV to look at the trial recording. Found the sun was very blue, I had forgotten to set white balance to outdoor light instead of indoor light. Otherwise it looked like what I had expected. To facilitate editing, I wanted to set the camcorder clocks and my wrist watch to be within a second from true time. I used the text-TV function for this, but found that different channels had different times! They differed by as much as 5 seconds. I surfed all 15 channels and found that 5 of those, including CNN, showed equal time, so I assumed that was the correct time.

To be continued....


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