Date: September 11, 2010
Title: Amateur Astrophotography For Beginners
Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Organization: Richard’s blog – http://theastronomybum.blogspot.com/
Description: Amateur Astrophotography For Beginners
Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He’s the owner of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, an award-winning video production company. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He’s found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.
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“Amateur Astrophotography For Beginners”
Thanks again to George Hrab for his wonderful musical introduction. You can buy his book at lulu.com and his music can be purchased at both CDBaby.com if you want the disk, complete with all the fabulous packaging designed by Donna Mugavero of Sheer Brick, and also iTunes if you just want the digital file alone.
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Hello, I’m Richard Drumm The Astronomy Bum in Charlottesville, Virginia. Actually I’m not in Charlottesville right now, I’m nearer to Scottsville, Virginia, with…
Of Dogwood Ridge Observatory. And Steve and I are going to talk a little bit about the dos and donts and foibles and problems with amateur astroimaging or astrophotography. So Steve, how did you get into astronomy in the first place?
I just spent a lot of time looking up at the skies as a youngster camping with the scouts. And I bought my son a little inexpensive Tasco telescope and he had no interest in it whatsoever. Saw some of the planets etcetera then of course got aperture fever and decided we really had to get something a little bit more adequate for what I wanted to do.
Aperture fever, for those of you who aren’t familiar with amateur astronomy, is where you want a bigger and bigger telescope and then you want a bigger one still yet again. So what kind of equipment do you currently have?
Currently I’m using an Optical Guidance Systems RC, 12.5 inch f9. Image with a dedicated CCD camera that’s made by Santa Barbara Instrument Group, it’s an XT-10 XME. Using the color filter wheel, it’s a mono(chrome) camera, you have to go through the process of imaging through red, green, blue and luminance filters and then combining those in software.
Most people that get started in astronomy, the beginners seem to want to do imaging. Well maybe not most, but certainly a large number of them. What should they NOT do when they first start out?
The biggest consideration if you’re going into astronomy, if you know that you want to get into imaging the biggest consideration is the mount itself. You can’t have too much mount. The better the mount, the less aggravation you’ll have in the process of trying to, you know, get polar aligned, have it track as it should in order to stay onto the object that you’re trying to image. So the mount should be where the majority of the money is spent. That’s got to be the foundation.
All right, so uh, put a lot of money into the mount and maybe initially not quite so much into the telescope.
Personally, I’m a big fan of Astromart. Where you can usually get very good deals on used equipment, so everything doesn’t have to be new. Starting off with the absolute best is great, but most of us can’t do that and most of us don’t know what the best is to start with.
And again, there’s a lot of resources on the web that, uh, a lot of forums and Yahoo groups, astronomy forums that uh, that people are more than willing and able to give you, you know, some guidance to get where you want to go or at least get you started in the right direction.
And you can also join your local astronomy club where there are bound to be people in there who are faced with some of the same issues that you are.
The great thing about the local astronomy clubs is the fact that almost all have observing sessions during the month. It gives you the opportunity to get out and look through different pieces of equipment: refractors, SCTs, RCs (Ritchey-Chr√©tiens), see different mounts, see different cameras, you know just see a variety of different equipment. And being able to look through and see them being operated will give you a good idea as to just what their capabilities are.
A minimalist astro-imaging set up, total including the mount, the telescope and the camera, and all that. How many thousands of dollars are we talking about?
I can tell you from my experience starting out, I started with probably about four thousand in telescope equipment, without the camera. I also lied to the wife at the time and told her that I’d never need another telescope, this would last me a lifetime. Wasn’t intentional, but after having that telescope for a period of maybe 6 months, I fast realized that 35mm in the telescope I had, and most telescopes, was going to be a much more daunting experience than I expected, that digital was really the way to go and it had come into its own. Starting with that first CCD camera it was probably 2,500 to $3,000 invested in that first camera.
So it can easily run into many thousands of dollars, even just to get started. But then once you do that, then of course you have to build an observatory…
A lot of what I’m doing with the 12.5″ here I’ve, the images, some of the images I’ve taken here have been compared to those taken with a 20″ as far as resolution. So the optics play a big part of it.
The atmosphere that you’re having to shoot through is also gonna make a huge difference. It’s hard to beat those skies in the Tucson area, in Arizona and New Mexico. I’ve been out to Kitt Peak and spent several nights up on the mountain with Adam Block on an imaging run with Ed Walendowski, and I can tell you that the skies were superb. It was, it was beautiful!
And of course there are different kinds of mounts. There are the simple dobsonian telescopes that are great for visual observing, then there’s the mass-produced fork mounts that you see a lot on 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. And then there’s the german mount, formerly called the Fraunhofer mount, generally called the G.E.M. or german equatorial mount, where you have a counterweight out to one side and the telescope on the other side. Most imagers seem to prefer the german mount.
The order of importance in equipment from my standpoint would be, you know, mount number 1. Invest the most you can in the mount itself. Even if that means, you know, putting off getting the telescope you’d prefer to have for now.
Mount should be #1 priority. After that, then yes, you’d look at the optical tube itself and determine what design it is that you want. Refractors are dollar for dollar most expensive per inch. SCTs (Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes) on the other hand are fairly inexpensive in comparison and you can get a lot of aperture for not as much money as refractors. If you want light buckets for seeing the really dim objects and you’re not planning on doing imaging, you know, the dobsonians are hard to beat as far as how much aperture you can get and what you can see with them.
Once you’ve gotten hold of a rock solid mount and then you’ve gone to the optical tube itself then it’s time to consider cameras and you can use web cams to, fairly inexpensive web cams, some that are designed such as the Celestron NextImage, which is designed to be used, and built for an inch and a quarter eyepiece holder. Then you can do the bright planets, the Moon etc. and, you know, get a feel for that. And critical focus, that type of thing, is gonna be something that you’re going to have to work with regardless of how you go. So good focusing. That gets back into the optical tube itself, so if you really want to get into imaging, then make sure that the optical tube that you buy has a very solid focuser mounted to it.
But from cameras nowadays, it runs the gamut from webcams, DSLRs, to beginner, entry level CCD cameras, Orion makes them, Celestron makes them. And then you can go into the companies that are more specialized. The SBIGs, the FLIs, the Apogee cameras…
FLI being Finger Lakes Instruments, yeah.
And these are cooled astro-cameras, so where back in the days of film they would get dry ice and chill the film down so that it would be more sensitive. Now with CCDs you’re getting much better quantum efficiency as it were. Much better response to the individual photons than back in the film days. So you got a lot more bang for your buck.
Well, that comes back into the sensors themselves. Some are extremely sensitive, others are less than. The SBIG ST-10 camera that I have happens to be one of their more sensitive chips. It’s a, what they call a non-anti-blooming chip, so if you saturate from a star, a bright star, it will bloom, vertically, which you remove via software, but it’s an extremely sensitive camera.
Much to consider for you folks out there thinking of getting into imaging. Thank you for all your input, Steve. Do you have a website that you’d like to let people know about that they could come visit?
Well, my local website for my images, I post them on, it’s www.astral-imaging.com.
A s t r a l dash imaging dot com. OK!
Thank you so much!
Glad to do it, Richard.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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