I will give you here some recommendation and advice on the equipment that you need to photograph the Aurora.
First of all I highly recommend to use a digital reflex camera. The make and the model do not really matter, as long as you can control all the settings manually. Recent models perform (much) better in dark conditions. Of course you will manage to take some shots with compact “point and shoot” cameras but you might be extremely disappointed with the results. A cheap reflex camera will do an incredibly better job.
My cameras: two Canon digital reflex cameras (5D Mark III and 1D X Mark II). With two cameras I have a spare in case something happens.
Be careful with your batteries. First of all you should always travel with at least one spare battery. In cold conditions, batteries get drained much faster losing very quickly their capacity. Therefore I recommend you travel with many spares. Imagine the disappointment if the aurora shows up and you don’t have power in your camera!
My tip: do not leave your batteries in your camera when you are not using it. Keep them in a pocket near your body where they will stay warm and fully charged.
As far as lenses are concerned, I recommend using an ultra-wide angle lens. This would be a focal length between 14mm and 24mm (equivalent on full frame cameras). For cameras with a 1.6 crop factor, you will need a lens with a focal length smaller than 15mm. You can also use a fisheye lens but I personally get bored by the “curved horizon” effect. It’s nice but only for a couple of shots. The other important parameter for lenses is the maximum aperture in order to catch as much light as possible. Most of these (ultra)-wide angle lenses come in apertures of f/2.8 which is excellent. If you have a lens with an f/1.8 aperture, it is even better.
My favorite lens: I love the Samyang 14mm F2.8. It is quite inexpensive, and it can capture a huge portion of the sky with nearly no coma effect.
You must use a tripod as you will be taking long exposures. The tripod is the basis of everything: this is where your camera stands and on which it must be absolutely steady. Avoid tiny and light models that will just fall down on uneven grounds or with the slightest wind. To increase the stability of my tripod, I usually hang something heavy underneath, like my camera bag with the equipment that I don’t need (remember: batteries must stay in your pockets!)
My tripod: Benro C2682 Travel Angel II (carbon fiber)
Ideally you will also need a remote control for your camera, in order to avoid vibrations when you release the shutter. I personally prefer cable remote controls. Some photographers complain that the cables freeze and become inflexible in very cold temperatures, which does indeed happen, but I never felt any hinder from this. For timelapse shots, you need to use an intervalometer. We’ll come back to this in another article.
My accessories: Canon RS-80N3 remote switch and Canon TC80N3 Timer Remote Control (intervalometer)
Get to know your camera before leaving! You will be taking photos in almost complete darkness, sometimes in extremely cold conditions, this is not the time to start wondering “how do I change the ISO setting”! Some practice at home before your trip, in the dark and using your tripod will prove very valuable once you are in the Arctic.
Filters: NEVER use a filter on your lens when photographing the auroras. Filters will produce a series of concentric circles in the centre of your image, which will be ruined.