Iran flag Eclipse 1999
Totality: The Movie
Totality in Esfahan
by John Walker

Sony digital video camcorder Video camera on eclipse day The eclipse videos below were recorded on a Sony DCR-PC1E Mini DV digital camcorder. This device is certified by its manufacturer as immune to damage when pointed at the Sun as long as no auxiliary lenses are mounted. I decided to rely upon and exploit this feature in my eclipse photography program.

If a camera can handle being aimed at the unobstructed Sun, there's no reason whatsoever to worry about pointing it at the slender crescent a minute or so before or after totality. So that's what I decided to do—preposition the camera so the entire arc of the Sun's apparent motion during the eclipse would be on-screen and forget it until after the end of totality. I'd previously locked out auto-focus, hand-focused to infinity, and zoomed the lens to the maximum optical zoom. To the right is the camcorder, sitting on the rock pile and aimed at the Sun about half an hour before totality. Why are all the people looking away from the Sun? Because they're using the pinhole projection viewers published in the newspaper which were considered safer than the direct vision goggles on sale along the eclipse track. (I tested a number of goggles on sale in Eshafan and found them all to be perfectly safe, but others I didn't encounter might not have been adequate.)

So what did I get? Check out the following movies. While the camcorder was recording these, I was busy taking in the eclipse with the unaided eye while snapping slides of the event. Visit the Eclipse 1999 Photo Gallery to see the best of the slides.

View Eclipse Videos

If you'd like to view these videos multiple times without waiting for them to download each time, consider saving them to a file and then playing them locally on your own computer. To save as a file, right-click (or, on a Macintosh hold the mouse button down until the auxiliary menu appears), then choose the menu item which downloads the link to a file on your computer. These movies are large files which may take a long time to download if your Internet connection is slow. The movies are available for download from two sites: one in Switzerland, the other in North America; please choose the site closer to you. Users outside Europe will almost always get faster response from the North American mirror site.

In order to view these movies, you may need to obtain a plug-in for your browser or a compatible stand-alone player program. Both movies include sound; if you don't hear anything, be sure audio output isn't muted and that playback level is set to a reasonable value. Some MPEG players ignore sound tracks altogether; if you're using such a program perhaps you could ask a friend to play the piano while you watch the movie.

“Fortuitous Lens Flare”

Lens flare shows crescent Sun Although the Sony camera is designed so pointing it at the Sun does not cause damage, the intensity of the Sun, even when mostly eclipsed, far exceeds the autoexposure capability of the camera and results in completely overexposed images. But a bizarre piece of luck resulted in the approach of totality's being visible in this movie. The intense light of the crescent of uneclipsed Sun caused a lens flare in the camcorder's optics, which superimposed a second dimmer image (marked by the arrow in this still frame from the half-scale movie) below the main overexposed image of the Sun. By watching this lens flare you can observe the shrinking sector of the Sun's disc as totality approaches. During totality the main image is properly exposed (albeit at a default setting which shows the outer corona at the expense of prominence and chromosphere detail visible in some images in the still photo gallery).

Video Production Notes

The original video recorded on a Mini DV cassette was transferred to a computer by connecting the S-Video and audio outputs of the camcorder to the corresponding inputs on a Silicon Graphics (now SGI) Indigo² workstation purchased in 1994. The video and audio stream was captured to a hard drive with the mediarecorder utility furnished with the IRIX 6.5 operating system. The raw capture, at PAL resolution (768×576 pixels per frame) and 44.1 kHz stereo audio with 16 bits per sample (CD quality) was in excess of one gigabyte. (The Sony camera has a digital video output in IEEE 1394 “FireWire” format, but my video capture hardware supports only analogue input.)

SGI's moviemaker was then used to extract the individual frames of the movie which were uniformly cropped to a smaller frame encompassing the Sun's arc across the sky for the duration of the video. A second set of frames were prepared for the half scale movie by scaling the original frames by a factor of ½. All format conversion, cropping, and scaling were performed with the pbmplus image processing utilities coordinated by one-off Perl programs.

The cropped and cropped-and-scaled sets of frames were then reassembled into uncompressed full- and half-scale movies with the SGI command-line makemovie utility, incorporating into each a sound track which had been resampled at 22.05 kHz monaural (which saves space and is more than adequate for this video), then the interactive moviemaker was used to compress and encode the resulting movies into QuickTime and MPEG format. The entire process of producing these movies required in excess of 6 gigabytes of hard drive space.


by John Walker
August, 1999