We are in the final week before the eclipse. Many people are finding it impossible to get solar film. In addition, Amazon, most people’s go to source for pre-made filters and glasses, has started to recall many of those that were sold in the last month or two. Here are some solar film alternatives that will probably keep your camera alive pre and post totality. And remember: NEVER look through an optical view finder (through your camera) unless there is proper ISO12312-2 certified solar film in front of the lens!
For more information on seeing and photographing the eclipse, check out my main solar eclipse photography article.
Sun Viewing Safety
Your eyes can not be replaced. Take no risks with them. Never look through a camera, telescope or binoculars unless there is proper ISO13212-2 certified solar film in front of the lens. These alternatives are for photography only, using live view or an electronic view finder. They will not protect your eyes from dangerous UV or visible light.
Use these suggestions at your own risk. Pointing a telephoto lens at the sun gathers and focuses a huge amount of energy onto the sensor. These suggested solar film alternatives do not guarantee your camera’s safety. However, I’ve used them with no ill effects, but that doesn’t mean you will be as lucky.
For more on safely seeing the eclipse, see NASAs eclipse safety page.
Solar Film Alternatives
Now that that is out of the way, and everyone knows how not to blind themselves, here are some solar film alternatives.
The problem with photographing the sun is that the lens focuses a huge amount of solar energy onto the sensor. It focuses so much that cameras with cloth shutters can actually have there shutters burned through almost instantly. In live view the shutter is open and all that energy is dumped into the sensor. That’s bad. These alternatives seek to cut down that energy to a manageable level.
There were thin clouds today so none of these photos show detail and the exposures are off from a true clear day. The exposure is show for reference. All were shot with the camera on daylight white balance with no color editing to show the color shifts. Levels were adjusted to show the sun only.
Neutral Density Filters
Neutral density filters are sunglasses for your camera. Most are only a couple of stops. However, you can get 10 and 15 stop ND filters. For reference, most solar film is approximately 16 stops. A 10 or 15 stop ND filter will block most of the light coming into the lens. Not all ND filters are created the same and there will often be color shifts and other artifacts. The sun is largely monochromatic to us visually so fixing these color shifts isn’t to hard (more below).
Variable Neutral Density Filter, a.k.a Two Circular Polarizers
The second solar film alternative is a variable neutral density filter. It uses two polarized filters rotated relative to each other. As their polarization approaches 90 degrees to each other, they block almost all of the light. To use these they need to be very near or at their maximum blocking state. You’ll notice that the color will shift towards the blue and purple as the polarization allows narrower and narrower wavelengths through. These are blocking much of the visible spectrum but likely allowing almost all the UV through.
Welding glass protects the welder’s eyes from UV produced during arch welding. NASA recommends strength 14 or higher for solar viewing. As such and assuming you have strength 14 or higher, this is one alternative that is technically safe for “through the view finder” viewing. Regardless, many people have welding masks around or know someone that does. Most have easily removable (and replaceable) glass panels. If you can scavenge one of these, or are willing to buy a mask to get one, you have a reasonable alternative to solar film.
The glass panels are normally long rectangles which is not an ideal shape for a camera lens. That said, as long as the sun is in the center of your frame, and is in focus, you should not notice any artifacts from the strange shape. These also produce a green tone in the image.
Other Solar Film Alternatives
In addition to welding glass, there are welding goggles and other goggles designed for using torches and the like. I’ve also seen people use portions of writable CDs/DVDs. I have not tested either of these. Just like most of the alternatives above, do not treat them as safe for your eyes. In live view or with an EVF they will hopefully block enough light to protect your camera from damage.