Tromsø Notes

2014-02-19

Notes to myself about Tromsø

Small town on Island. Kind of reminds me of Kauai as their populations are similar although I don't know if the population I read is just Tromsø city or if including the surrounding area makes it much bigger

The first most amazing thing about Tromsø is it's Crazy Amazing Tunnel System!

Tromsø is built on a hill and from just outside the airport all the way downtown there's a system of tunnels. It would be amazing enough if it was just a long tunnel into town but instead it's several tunnels with intersections (roundabouts) underground. There's also a few parking lots.

Tromsø's Tunnel System

Once in town it's a relatively small town, about 5x3 blocks of "downtown". I wonder what it would be like to live and grow up in a place this isolated at the top of the world. The area around Tromsø is made of lots of islands and fjords connected by bridges.

Tromsø's Public Library

It was really cloudy and the night I got in I saw that that night's tour had been cancelled. Looking at the weather forecast it seemed like my tour, scheduled for the next night, might also be cancelled. It drizzled all day but I kept checking the website and it never said "cancelled today" so I went over to the rendezvous point and off we went.

And...I got to see the Northern Lights.

Photos of the Northern Lights

I have to admit these are the images the camera sees with 1−20 second exposures. To the naked eye most of the activity we saw that night was very dim. In fact except for a 2 or 3 very brighter (but still dim) displays I'm not sure I would have even noticed if someone had not pointed it out. The aurora was basically dim and looked like clouds. The guide used his camera to find them because the camera sees the aurora in different colors.

The entire sky had some kind of glow but in that you could see the clouds but it would have been easy to dismiss as the moon somewhere or the sun being so far north or something but I'm pretty sure that glow was also the Northern Lights. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

There were a few really beautiful ones where they looked like the curtains of light often seen in pictures. We asked the guide if it ever got as bright as the pictures to the naked eye and he said "yes. You just never know each night what they are going to be like or if you'll even find them."

I wish I had been more prepared photographically.

Some things are minor. Note to self, when planning to take night pictures consider setting up everything before going out. I brought all my equipment and then the first place we stopped I had to attach the tripod mount in the dark, focus the camera in the dark, adjust all the settings, get the shutter release ready, etc.. All stuff I could have done before I left. It only took a few minutes so not a big deal but it was silly to fumble around in the dark trying to use my phone to light up stuff without getting the light in other people's pictures, and miss the first few minutes of the display.

If you really want to take good pictures you need an ultra fast wide angle lens on a good full size sensor camera like a Canon 5D Mark III or a Nikon D800. Those cameras are around $2500 and a 24mm F/1.4 lens which will cost between $1800−$2000. That's so you can set the shutter speed to something fast and still get a picture. My camera only went to F/4 so I needed to take 1−20 second exposures depending on how bright the lights were and I was at ISO 6400 so I got lots of noise. I filtered out the noise in Lightroom but it would be nice not to have the noise in the first place. I suspect an F/1.4 lens would have also allowed video. I did manage to take a few image sequences but around 4 seconds between each frame.

I sold my Canon 60D because it and all its lenses were too large to lug around traveling. But, arguably while that would have been slightly better than what I had it wouldn't have been much better. A 60D (and similar APS−C cropped sensor cameras) have a smaller sensor so when you put a normal lens on them they only use a smaller center portion of the image. That means I would have had to rent or buy a 24mm F/1.4 lens it wouldn't actually give me a wide angle image on a 60D or similar camera. To do that I'd need a lens designed for the smaller sensor but the fastest wide angle lenses for the cropped sensor cameras are only F/2.8 which is a long way away from F/1.4

The next day I rented a car and drove to Sommarøya (Summer Island) which is about an hour away. There's nothing there but it is nice drive and I got to see some of the countryside.

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