Can’t afford a special filter to photograph the eclipse? Just use an iPhone

best solar eclipse glasses
To get an eclipse like this, you'll need a protective filter and a zoom lens, but since the eclipse is smaller from a smartphone view, no filter is necessary, Apple suggests. 123RF/IgorZhuravlov
The August 21 total solar eclipse is expected to be one of the most photographed events of the year — but  does it really require special gear? Not if you use an iPhone, Apple suggests. iPhone eclipse photography is possible filter-free according to the manufacturer, though the eclipse will be only a small portion of the image.

Viewing the solar eclipse requires wearing special glasses. The sun is too bright to stare at directly, a fact that, during the course of a normal day, your brain would remind you of when your eyeballs start burning. But since the eclipse darkens the sky, viewers don’t realize they are harming their eyes by glaring at the brightest part of the sun. Plop on a pair of special shades and viewers can stare at the eclipse from partial to totality without damaging their eyes.

The eclipse can have the same effect on a camera — fill the frame with just the eclipse and an unprotected camera, and you could wreak havoc on the camera’s digital sensor. That’s why, with the upcoming eclipse for much of the U.S., manufacturers are toting their protective solar filters.

But, in an interview with USA Today, Apple said that the iPhone doesn’t require using a special filter to photograph the eclipse. Why? Because with a wide-angle lens, the sun is too small to damage the sensor. If you use a camera with a zoom and fill the frame with the eclipse, that bright light hits over the entire sensor, but with a wide-angle camera, the small amount of light doesn’t overwhelm the sensor. Case in point — you can photograph the sun on a normal day with an iPhone without wrecking the camera, but you can’t use a zoom camera to photograph just the sun on a normal day without risking damage.

The iPhone doesn’t have some sort of special filter built-in. No filter is needed because of its wide-angle lens, at least according to Apple. That suggests that other wide-angle, small-sensor cameras like a GoPro or other smartphones could be safe, too.

If you don’t want to take Apple’s word for it, there are special solar filters available for smartphones — or as iPhone astrophotographer Andrew Symes suggests, simply placing an extra pair of solar glasses over the smartphone’s camera lens.

iphone eclipse photography filter free img 3578moon
If you decide to shoot the solar eclipse with an iPhone, the eclipse will be about the size of this full moon. Hillary Grigonis / Digital Trends
Hillary Grigonis / Digital Trends

The filter-free capability doesn’t mean that a smartphone is the best way to photograph the eclipse. That wide-angle view means the eclipse will be a pretty small part of the image (just try to take a photo of the moon to see just how small). To actually get the eclipse to be a dominant part of the frame, photographers will want a telephoto lens (ideally 400-800mm, though a 300mm will work too, and any of these will need a protective filter). Focusing in any dark scenarios with an autofocus camera is also notoriously tough, and a tripod is recommended for the best eclipse shots.


These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses - something no phone…

The best mirrorless cameras pack all the power of a DSLR, minus the bulk

Mirrorless cameras offer a lot of photography firepower, inside a compact body. Explore the best mirrorless cameras, from the pro-level to the beginner-friendly shooters, in this guide.

When you're ready to shoot seriously, these are the best DSLRs you can buy

For many photographers the DSLR is the go-to camera. With large selection of lenses, great low-light performance, and battery endurance, these DSLRs deliver terrific image quality for stills and videos.

Capture life in every direction with the best 360 cameras

While 360 cameras are still a new technology, that doesn't mean there's not a few that are worth a look. Whether you want to shoot from the middle or just need a simple, affordable option, here are the best 360 cameras on the market.

Adobe Spark Page makes web design easy — here’s how to use it

Using artificial intelligence and simple tools, Adobe Spark Page is designed for easy web page design. Here's how to use Adobe Spark Page to create a travel journal, event page or any other one-page website.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: inflatable backpacks and robotic submarines

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Photo FOMO: VSCO makes harsh sun look cool, Apple wants to make 360 look better

In this week's Photo FOMO, see how VSCO is trying to improve photos in harsh sunlight with new presets, how Apple thinks they can make 360 look better, and find out just how many photographers actually read licensing agreements.

From white skies to blurry subjects, how to fix common photo mistakes

You snapped the photo at the perfect moment, but the image is blurry. Understanding the most common photography mistakes can help capture better memories and more likable Instagrams. Here's how to fix these seven common photography…

How iPhone photographers connect the world using only ‘basic’ gear

August 19 is World Photography Day, marking progress from the daguerreotype to the iPhone. But how do today's photographers create a connection to viewers using basic gear? We talked to iPhone photographers and influencers around the world…

Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless is coming August 23 — here’s what we know so far

Nikon is keeping a tight lid on details surrounding its upcoming full-frame mirrorless camera, but we know it has a touchscreen, and the latest teaser is the most revealing. Here are all the teasers and analyst predictions.

From DIY to AAA, here’s how to take a passport photo in 6 different ways

If you're applying for a passport or renewing one, you need to submit a photo in your official application. There are strict guidelines, but fortunately, it's something you can do at home. Here's how to take a passport photo.

Fujifilm now has a crazy 46x zoom lens — 9.5mm to 437mm — for 4K video

If you're watching a sports game next year and see the view zoom from an extreme wide angle to up close and personal, Fujifilm's new lens may be to blame. Here's how Fujifilm technology created a 46x zoom 9.5-437mm lens.

Samyang’s first Nikon autofocus lens is an ultrawide 14mm f/2.8

Samyang's venture into autofocus lenses continues with its first option for Nikon DSLRs. The bright F/2.8 lens captures a wide 14mm view, and Samyang the focus is quiet, quick, and accurate.