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Great advice!!! Thank you for that!:thumbup:If possible get a release with a timer/intervalometer capability. One you start stacking exposures to reduce noise you’ll want one.
Great advice!!! Thank you for that!:thumbup:
Any specific recommendations for a D850 would be appreciated.
Perfect! And affordable!!!! Thanks, Craig...
Beautiful work, Robert!! Thanks for sharing!Hi Dave,
With the advancements made in sensors and glass my recent years' experiences in astro-photo work continue to be even more rewarding and hopefully some of my comments from my experiences will help provide some alternative perspectives to reduce your frustrations....
Consider that other than the weather, everything is controllable b/c if the primary subject is the night sky then all of its content at every second are known in advance - I use Sky Safari app on my phone and Mac to figure out what the sky will look like at any time in any location. This really helps with the planning. If the moon or sun are not intended to be a part of your image, then you can know in advance when they won't be around at any location at any time. But sometimes they and even the weather can work to your advantage as shown in the first image below.
In June 2015 the Trinity River that runs through Dallas was nearing peak flood stage due to a full month of rain. I knew it would be levee to levee (which doesn't happen often) and when its like that the section adjacent to downtown offers a nice reflection. I was standing outside in my yard and noted the moon was nearing full. So it became apparent that the river would peak when the moon was full and might make for a nice image. I used Google Earth and Sky Safari to scout possible locations that would include downtown Dallas and the moon. When I arrive at the general area I had chosen, while the sun was setting to my back, I used Sky Safari on my phone to dial in where the moon would rise, this to help me compose. I planned in advance to shoot a pano and used the still lit sky to fire off some tests to get the lens, overlap, and swing determined in advance before it got dark. As the moon rose I watched its path and had to move the tripod a few feet when I realized I could capture it at the apex of the Calatrava-designed bridge. But, I also noted there was a thin layer of high clouds that were beginning to drape the entire scene. While I was concerned about how that might impact the clarity of the moon, for the final print it actually resulted in a stronger image due to the diffused glow of the moon. Had it been crisp and clear it would have been lost in the bridge and confusing with the Reunion Tower ball. The result is a 7-shot single row pano using a P1645, IQ180, S-K 110mm (sorry I don't have the exposure specs on me). The final full size print is 96" wide and hangs in a number of offices and homes around Dallas.
The goal in the second image, which I made in September 2016, was to compile a pano with both sunset and Milky Way. I used the Sky Safari app to help me with the timing relative to the Milky Way, moon and sun, and chose a location that would offer some substance and composition to the foreground. I took shots when the sun was still up to determine my final composition, then once I staked my tripod, around 630pm I shot 7 overlapping images for the first row when the sun was still up but setting and providing the Golden Hour light, then the same series at 730pm after the sun had set and my camera began to see the Milky Way (my naked eyes couldn't), and then 2 series of images at 930pm to again capture the bottom row and another the capture the upper 1/2 of the dark but starry sky. So the final is a 21-shot 2-row pano with 7 images across each row, whichI started planning for weeks in advance and then spent time wandering around Southwestern Colorado looking for the location. I used a Canon 5DSR, 35mm, f1.4 and the exposure specs vary a lot due to the changing light, but the latest/darkest were shot at ISO 800, 8", f1.4.
Sorry for the long post, but its intended to convey (along with examples) that while not everything is controllable, so much is and this opens up the opportunity to be creative
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I envy those living in the south with warmer climate. This relates to astrophotography because here in Finland almost the only time to watch the stars is in January and February with crystal clear sky. The problem is that these conditions only appear when it is -15 C or -25 C. This makes my face numb and my fingers, and at least it is not fun enough or comfortable. Usually we have overcast skies from October to January and simply no stars. It's very unusual to see the stars at all and here in southern Finland we don't see the Northern lights. Light pollution is not a big problem, but what to do with overcast skies. My experience of skywatching was from a holiday to the Canary islands with every night giving a spectacular view.
Glenn!MartinN - That is known as the H2O nebula, it is typically a very large object
I got bitten by the astrophotography bug in the film days and used a medium format film camera for years (500CM and P67). There were a number of somewhat dangerous methods that could be used to hypersensitize B&W film including Ether or Hydrogen and Nitrogen and then cooking the film (or maybe it was the other way round?) - I vaugely remember the process, it was inovled. The Lumicon Hypering chamber was the tool of the day. Some refractors will cover a 6x7 image circle such as Astro-Physics refractors - they also make a complete set of 6x7 adaptors.
Having moved a while back I'm still unpacking, I'll try and dig up some samples. I'm hoping to get the X1D attached via the adaptors and try some work this summer.
On the iOS software front I like SkySafari best for iOS and Mac OS use. Another few interesting iOS applications are Scope Nights, which gives you very good weather predictions for observing sites, Clear Outside, which is similar and presents a lot of data, Moon Calendar (to track the wherabouts of the GLP = Great Light Polluter), Polar Align or PS Align Pro both can help with poalr alignement, Astro Locator can be useful for rough polar alignement aiming the mount North (azimuth) and setting the latitude offset (altitude), Observer Pro or DS Browser are both good object catalogs, what's up and observing planners. Finally on my list is Dark Sky Meter which will roughly measure SQM (sky quality)
A lot can be done with an interchangable lens camera (DSLR, mirrorless, APS-C, full-frame or medium format) using camera lenses (I prefer manually focused older lenses, however the XCD lenses seem to work fine OR using a telescope. After one explores camera lenses some folks want to move to the next level, I've seen the best luck starting with a refractor in the 450-650mm focal length range, f4 to f5.6 or f7 f-ratio, and anything from 60mm to 130mm objective size will do fine (in the telescope world that is called aperture). Refractors can be easier than reflectors but both have advantages and disadvantages. I've seen folks try and start with a Schmit-Cassegrain like the venrable Meade 8" or Celestron C8 (or Celestron 800 EdgeHD for pinpoint flat feilds), however at 2000mm focal length and f10 f-ratio these f10 aperture scopes require a really good mount or a good auto guiding system (that is another level of complexity but a significant leap in capability). You can add a focal-reducer to get these f10 systems to f7, f6.3 or even f3.3 (I never got this last option to work), however a good wide-feild refractor is easy.
Craig Stocks is doing some beautiful work with his fast newtonian reflector!!!
I use the Celestron AVX mount a lot for visual and astrophotography and it is a great entry-level mount if you keep well below it's weight capacity limits. It's engineered well and cost efffective and works well with autoguiding. Skywatcher has a solid mount with the EQ6-R. A step up might be the Vixen SXD2 or SXP2 mounts. My favorite high-end mount is the Astro-Physics AP1100GTO with absolute encoders (Dante in full swing here). We are lucky today to have so many mount choices (10Micron, Losmandy, Avalon, SB Paramount, etc.) and as mentioned earlier the mount is really important once you want to go beyond tripod and tracker - the 3 most imporatant things in astrophotography are 1 - mount, 2 - mount and 3 - mount
I won't even wander down the telescope choices list, although you'll soon be thinking aperture fever or APO fever, etc.. I'll just add that some manufacturers have such long waiting lists that you might pass away before your name comes up for an instrument (think Astro-Physics where used instruments often sell for a lot more than when new). There are so many choices today it is amazing.
Once Dante really gets a hold of your soul you want a cooled CCD or CMOS camera - cooling is key and makes a huge diffeence for smaller feild work (deep sky objects). The CCD and CMOS debate rages here as well, they both have advantages and disadvantages, however my experinece is CCD currently wins and there are a lot of CCDs still bieng made for scientific and astronomical imaging. You tend to pick a sensor first and then pick a camera vendor. In the CCD world the chips are 3200, 8300, 16200, 11000, 16802 and 50100 from small to large (there are others but these tend to be the key choices for amatuers making pictures rather than doing science). I used a 11000 for years and just unpacked it a few days ago, I will fiind out if it still works maybe this weekend. The 16200 (APS-H) and the 16802 (MF) are two really popular chips these days. In the CMOS world Sony and Panasonic rule and there are many 1", 4/3 and APS-C choices (lots of choices it is hard to follow). You can even get the 36 megapixel D810 sensor in a cooled dedicated camera by QHYCCD.
On the affordable end is ZWO (I've not had luck with their cameras YMMV), QHYCCD (they are very cost effective and work), Starlight Express and QSI (they've had some hard times lately). Meade and Celestron have offerings but since that is a side accessory for them I'd avoid them, YMMV). As you move up the food chain and into Dante's lair you find Moravian (good but hard to get since its made in the Czech Republic and they lost their US Distributor), and at the top SBIG and FLI. A lot of vendors have exited the business (Apolgee?) so these are the main suppliers today, apolgies if I've left off someone's favorite. Oh, I forgot Mallincam makes some interesing "live view" video oriented cameras which are fun (that's a segment called EAA).
Cooling is the key and how far you can cool below ambient is the competitive spec - CCDs are easy to handle here, avoiding frost is the challenge for which there are solutions (dessacants, argon chambers, etc.). CMOS can be cooled as well but that is a harder enginerering problem since they tend to want to fracture if not cooled evenly. -40C below ambient is a good goal. Some folks have tried to add water cooling (I've done that and I don't recommend it). So sensor size, cooling and interface (USB, Ethernet, etc.) and CCD or CMOS are the key factors - besides price.
Oh but wait, I forgot color versus monochrome!!! Color or OSC One Shot Color uses a Bayer Matrix and can produce interesting results. Monochrome is just that and that's where I would point folks who want a dedicated cooled astro-camera. If you want to make color images then you use a filter wheel and filters - filter wheels can have 5, 7, 8, 9 or 10 slots (some can do more). Then you have a big decision - broadband (LRGB) or narrowband (Ha, OIII and SII). Broadband or LRGB is traditional tri-color imaging, luminance, red, green and blue: 4 sucessive images and then combined in post processing that cover pretty much the entire visible spectrum. Narrowband uses dichroic filters with very narrow passbands (or even multiple pass bands) centered on Hydrogen-Alpha, Oxygen III and Sodium II passbands - again 4 sucessive images (including L) and combined in post processing. But wait there's more you can do Hydrogen-Beta, Nitrogen and Red Continium - all varients to extract the most data. The Narroband Ha, OIII and SII is how the Hubble Telescope images and is essentially false color.
Broadband imaging is limited by light pollution and is hard to do when the Moon is up, but it can be done. Narrowband imaging can be done from highly light polluted areas. Look up work by Richard Crisp or Robert Gendler (sorry typing this on an iPhone so don't have their links). Filter wheels aren't cheap but the real hold Dante has on you will be the filters, which range from about $600 to $4,000 for a full set (or more). Chromix is cost effective and good, Baader, Astronomik, Custom Scientific and Astrodon are the high quality players.
Then you'll want some form of automated focusing, so a focus motor adapted to your telescope, preferably with a termperature probe and that guide camera I mentioned earlier, which can either be built into your main camera or often a separate camera (albiet lower cost) and a separate small telescope for it. ZWO, QHYCCD, Orion SX, Lodestar and SBIG all make great guide cameras. The guide scope hooks to a computer, which watches a star you or the system picks move and as that star moves the computer guiding software sends adjustments to the mount to speed up or slow down to compensate - it is very cool, complex and takes some work to get running well. If you don't want to use a computer SBIG has a nifty device the SG-4 which is a self-contianed auto-guider for $1,000
Finally (well actually early on) you'll want some software to control all of this and agian the choices and price ranges are astonishing. There is a lot of software for both PCs and Macs and even Raspberry Pi's. Here are some to check out SB The Sky, Kstars/Ekos (my current favorite), CCDWare, ACP (and it's author is a truly wonderful person), APT, Sequence Generator Pro, PHD2/Nebulosity - I'm sure I've forgotten someone important and here I'm talking about software that can control the entire process - imaging, guiding, focusing and the filter wheel, etc.
Then there is the post-processing software, you can use Photoshop but you might also want MaximDL, Pixinsight, Nebulostiy, Starstax, etc., etc., etc. - there is a lot of great softawre to chose from and for some the learning curve can be steep.
Finally when Dante goes for the final 5% of your soul that's left you'll want a permenant observatory - dome or roll off roof (RoR) and a cloud and rain sensor to decide if it is worth even opening the observatory or knowing when to quicly shut it down in case the H2O nebula makes an appearance. I'm not at this stage yet, but hope springs eternal!!!
There are a number of websites to help you find dark sites or rate your own site - Scope Nights the iOS app I mentioned earlier includes a feature to get a light pollution map for your site - amatuer astronomers use the Bortle scale to describe a site from a 9 which is red (heart of big cities) to a 1 which is grey (middle of no where). I'm lucky to now live in a 3 to 4 area so I need to get off my duff and get all this stuff setup again. I used to image in an 8 area (Northern California in the hills above Redwood City).
So you might as well spring for that dedicated SQM meter approx $450 (Sky Quality Meter) so you'll really know your situation
Oh and I forgot to mention dew control (a small industry segment in itself), eyepieces for visual astronomy - yes it is still fun to look at the grey faint fuzzies in person - those Televue Ethos 100 degree at about $850 each are nice, solar filters from the simple white light to exotic Hydrogen-alpha filters (not to be confused with the earlier Ha Narrowband filters), planetary photography is a whole different animal, spectroscopy, a never ending array a mechanical adaptors all machined to NASA standards and pricing, mouting plates, counterwieght and balance systems, power supplies or lithium-ion batteries, and the list goes on. You live in a light polluted city? No problem just rent time on a remote telescope (several choices for this) or better yet locate your gear at a remote site hosting facility like New Mexico Skies or Deep Sky West, etc.
You can of course do stunning work with very little and you can easily spend $50,000 or even $100,000 - Dante is waitng and grinning horn to horn!
Apologies this was long, the advice so far in this thread has been excellent and the work excellent as well - I hope you all either got a chuckle or enjoyed this quick trip through Dante's levels of astrophotography. Now get out there, look up and shoot!
Kind regards, Glenn (apologies for the typos they are the iPhone's fault)