The PowerShot SX60 HS is a powerhouse performer.
It’s relatively inexpensive, will generate a big sun disk of August’s total solar eclipse and is a great family camera. Take it camping, on vacation, to graduations and weddings and even on safari. This camera will be a faithful companion for years to come. Its powerful zoom lens, equivalent to a 21–1365mm lens on a full-frame camera, is an important reason it can be an effective way to photograph a solar eclipse.
If you already own the camera, all you need to buy to photograph the upcoming total solar eclipse, is a solar filter and a Canon FA-DC67B filter adapter ring (it accepts 67mm screw-in filters) to mount the filter on the front of your lens.
If you don’t own this camera, visit the Canon store, where it is already packaged with the adapter ring and solar filter.
To make better photographs, you probably should buy a tripod too. Holding your arms up for 2½ hours, even with the small size of this camera, you will get tired. The tripod also helps prevent camera movement during exposures. Don’t buy a cheap plastic one either. Find something in a mid-range price-point that will reach eye level when you’re standing, and will last you for many years.
We mentioned in the Tripods article that a ball and socket head is best for this eclipse. Many photo tripods in camera stores come with this type of head. Be careful of tripods sold elsewhere because they may have plastic video heads, or so-called “fluid heads” on them. Don’t buy this kind of tripod, because the video head won’t be able to tilt up high enough to photograph the eclipse when the sun it directly overhead.
For the following manual references, please download the instruction manual with this link.
The variable-angle LCD screen (Pg. 20 in the instruction manual) is the best and safest way to view and photograph the eclipse.
There are two menu screens to choose from.
The Menu button at the bottom-right on the back of the camera has the traditional pull-down menus. There are three Menu tabs: Shooting Tab (Pg. 187), Set Up Tab (Pg. 194) and the My Menu tab.
The Function/Set center button (Pg. 4 number 17) opens menus on the LCD screen. This is a fast and easy way to make shooting selections.
This is a fully automatic camera that you will use for years, but for eclipse photography, you’ll want to set some of the functions manually.
Begin by setting the correct time and date (Pg. 146) depending on the time zone you’ll be photographing the eclipse from (not necessarily where you live).
Your camera has a battery saving mode (Auto Power Down) to save the battery during normal all day use. The eclipse is different. The eclipse will last about 2½ hours. During this time, you will be shooting at regular intervals (if you should decide to do so) during the partial eclipse phases leading up to the total eclipse. During the 2½ minutes of totality, you’ll be shooting continuously. If the camera shuts down due to inactivity or your battery dies, some of your shooting settings will be lost and you’ll have to re-set them, losing valuable totality time.
During totality, this could mean you might miss the event while frantically trying to turn the camera back on again. This is also why it’s a good idea to buy a second Canon-brand battery because the camera will shut down if the battery dies. Needless to say, be sure any spare batteries are fully charged, shortly before you head out for the eclipse. Do not assume new batteries will be fully charged when you first remove them from their factory packaging!
To prevent the camera from automatically shutting down, turn off Auto Power Down mode (Pg. 26 & 147) in the orange Set Up tab (Tools symbol). Scroll down eight menus and select Power Saving and press Set. Then set to Off. Understand that by selecting this setting, your camera will be on for the entire 2½ hour duration of the eclipse and you may need to change to a new battery at some point. It will be worth investing in a second battery.
If you’re within ten minutes of totality and your battery has less than half power, that would be the best time to switch to a fresh battery. After totality (about 2½ minutes) there should be plenty of battery power in the new battery to take you through the remaining partial phases to the end of the eclipse. Remember, totality is the prize. You want that more than anything else.
There are two zoom ranges offered on this camera: optical and digital. Be sure to set your menu for optical zoom, which uses the lens alone to zoom in on distant subjects — and delivers far better picture quality than digital zooming. This is accessed using the orange Shooting tab (Pg. 187) (Pg. 30 & 40). Scroll down to Digital Zoom and turn it off.
Digital zoom (Pg. 40) will interpolate quality by simply magnifying the pixels and delivering a lower-resolution image. The optical zoom with the SX60 HS will be more than adequate for filling the frame with the sun’s disc.
You can store your zoom position (Pg. 81) for future use should your camera shut down after losing power.
Turn off lens stabilization in the Shooting Tab (Pg. 192) (Pg. 90). Your camera will already be on a tripod, so image stabilization isn’t necessary.
Image Quality and Memory Cards
Image quality is very important and setting your camera to shoot RAW and JPEG (Pg. 89) is a good idea. RAW images will need image processing, while JPEG images are processed in the camera at the moment of capture. By scrolling through the menus on the left side of the LCD screen, stop at the RAW+JPEG point and scroll all the way to the right to select both.
You will be generating two images at the same time. After making that selection, scroll one more menu down and set the quality of your JPEG image; and select either M2 or S (small) file size if you plan to send them over social media that day. Remember, RAW images need to be processed in your computer before you can send them.
A 32GB memory card in the PowerShot SX60 HS will store 1,065 images made at RAW + Large JPEG. This card would probably be sufficient to document the eclipse, but if you can afford the extra expense, why not be safe and buy a 64GB card. A 64GB memory card will store 2,125 images made at RAW + Large JPEG.
Always format (Set UP tab Pg. 194 11th menu) (Pg. 148) a new memory card the first time you use it. After that, format it in the camera the next time you use it after you’ve downloaded your photos to your computer, and you’ve checked to verify they’re safely copied to your new storage location.
The SX60 HS has a flash that’s manually activated by pulling up on the small tabs on both sides of the Canon logo on top of the camera. Always leave the flash off for eclipse shooting; there’s a separate Flash OFF setting you can use to completely shut it off. Resist using the flash during totality as it will make everyone around you very angry.
Using autofocus during an eclipse will generally work fine depending how quickly you can move the focus point around during Live View shooting. During totality, this may prove tedious and time consuming. Therefore, it is recommended that you set your focus manually (Pgs. 79 and 198). The sun will always be at infinity and focus is best done off your LCD display screen in Live View. If you are unsure of your ability to do this at normal screen view, purchase a magnifying focusing loupe, such as a Hoodman™ or similar brand. This will allow you to magnify the LCD screen image and manually focus the lens accurately.
Periodically, check focus because accidental movement of camera settings is possible.
Under normal family shooting, the automatic exposure function works really well. For eclipse photography, however, you’re shooting something that most people will never shoot. You’re shooting a sun disk. The camera may or may not give you consistent exposures through all the phases of the eclipse. During partial phases, Auto Exposure might give consistent exposures, but during the last moments of partial, the Auto Exposure may think the camera is photographing a normal subject in a dark environment — thereby making the remaining sliver of the sun disk way over-exposed.
To compensate for this, it is advised that you make your exposure settings manually (Pg. 93).
To do this you will need to make some exposure tests through your solar filter the week before the eclipse. Ideally, any exposure tests should be at about the same time of day you expect the eclipse to occur, in the area you’ll be photographing it from. There are a lot of solar filters available and each will have their own density and light transmission characteristics. Correct exposure depends on the filter you use.
With the solar filter in place, and the camera aimed at the sun, begin by setting the Mode Dial (Pgs. 3 & 92 in the instruction manual) to M (manual). Then, set the ISO (Pg. 73) manually on your camera to ISO 800 as a starting point.
Shutter speeds and apertures are adjusted by first pressing the Exposure Compensation button (Pg. 4, number 13), then change settings by rotating the Front Dial (Pg. 3, number 4) on the top right of the camera. Select f/8 (Pg. 93 & 199) for your aperture setting. Correct exposure density will be determined by varying the shutter speed by redoing the above procedure but selecting shutter speed this time. Make a series of exposures beginning at 1/60 sec., 1/125 sec., 1/250 sec., 1/500 sec., 1/1000 sec. and 1/2000 sec.
One of these exposures should look good. If they are all too bright, repeat these speeds at ISO 400 or ISO 200. Ideally, you’re looking for a speed of about 1/500 sec. to 1/2000 sec. During maximum totality, you will need the higher ISO.
Eclipse Shooting, and the Different Phases of the Eclipse
We strongly recommend that your solar filter be mounted on your lens before the eclipse, and during the partial phases, as the moon begins to cover the sun.
As the moon has nearly covered the sun, there’s a brief moment where a small section of the bright sun remains visible. It’s called the “diamond ring” effect, because there’s a thin ring of the sun’s light surrounding most of the moon, and a small section of visible sun that looks like the stone of a diamond ring.
This phase lasts only a few moments. When it’s concluded, and that section of bright sun is covered, there are a few more seconds called “Baily’s beads,” where a small sliver of sun appears in a rough shape through the craters of the moon’s surface.
Experienced eclipse photographers will want to photograph the diamond ring phase, and Baily’s beads, and will want to remove their solar filter from the lens to do this. But understand that any viewing or photography of the sun’s brightness without a solar filter is risky.
Totality begins approximately 15 seconds after the diamond ring effect. To photograph the diamond ring and Baily’s beads you need to remove the solar filter. After a few seconds Baily’s beads will disappear and you will be in maximum totality. Make sure you re-read our articles on Totality and Exposure so you’re completely familiar with the filter removal process. Once Baily’s beads and the diamond ring reappear, maximum totality is over and partial eclipse begins again so, re-attach your solar filter.
For users who don’t want to take the risk of camera or eye damage, our recommendation is to leave your solar filter on until you see Baily’s beads disappear, and the roughly 2½ minutes of total eclipse has begun. At this point, the solar filter can be safely removed. Cautious photographers will re-attach their solar filter to the front of the lens immediately as Baily’s beads re-appear, after totality.
For those users who want to photograph Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect, both occur for a few moments again after eclipse totality has ended, and the sun begins to re-appear from behind the moon. If you want to assume the possible risk of shooting with the sun’s brightness beginning to reappear, you can leave the solar filter off and continue to shoot pictures until the diamond ring effect has concluded. As the light becomes more intense in the diamond ring, quickly replace the solar filter on the lens, and reset the camera to partial phase exposure values. Wait a moment for the camera and lens to stop vibrating, then continue shooting continuously for a couple minutes.
During maximum totality, with the solar filter removed, leave the camera set to ISO 800 and f/8. Begin shooting exposures from 1/500 sec., 1/250 sec., 1/125 sec., 1/60 sec., 1/30 sec., 1/15 sec., 1/8 sec., ¼ sec., ½ sec.
This will give you a wide variety of exposure of maximum totality showing the sun’s corona. This phase will only last about 2½ minutes depending where you are in the country, so you may get one or two of these cycles completed before you must prepare to reattach the solar filter. As soon as Baily’s beads appear you MUST reattach the solar filter before shooting more photos. Again, cautious photographers will want to reattach their solar filter as soon as totality ends, as Baily’s beads begin to reappear.
Remember to re-set your partial phase exposure.
At this point, you’ll be shooting partial phases again for about an hour and a half until the eclipse is completed.
Consider buying a spare battery to be safe, and also consider buying an accessory Canon Remote Switch RS-60E3, so you don’t have your finger pressing the shutter release during the eclipse. That could make the camera move, causing image blurring during the slow shutter speeds in maximum totality.
With normal photography, you could fire the SX60 HS remotely using your smartphone (Pgs. 123, 125) and the Canon Camera Connect app. But shooting an eclipse, both hands will be occupied because you’ll be moving the camera constantly to keep up with the rotation of the earth to keep the sun in the middle of your screen. The other hand will either be on the shutter button or your Remote Switch RS-60E3.
After the eclipse, sit back and scroll through all your images and prepare to send off a few JPEGs to your social media and friends.
Soak up all your impressions and make it a point to remember everything. You might want to write them down before they fade away with time.
You did it!
If you have questions you'd like Dave and Ken to address in an upcoming article, email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more information on photographing the solar eclipse!
SAFETY FIRST: Never look at the sun without accredited and approved solar filtration over your eyes. Permanent, irreversible eye damage and/or blindness can result in seconds. Never point your camera into the sun without an approved solar filter over your camera lens(es). Not using a solar filter at eclipse magnifications will ruin your camera in seconds. Never improvise, modify or use general photography neutral density filters.