Dipping my feet

During the past weeks, I’ve been trying some astrophotography at my place. Not for the first time, because I have done it (not very successfully) before, but now a friend of mine (who is also into astronomy and photography) lent me this cool camera support for backyard telescopes. Although it is designed to work better with smaller cameras and cellphones, I can attach my Nikon DSLR into it by taking out the lenses and using it in the primary focus. So this is the good news. The bad news is: well, if you ever tried astrophotography, you will know better than anyone how frustrating and painful it can be at first.

Astrophotography is difficult. It is probably one of the biggest challenges I had in my life, one that I could not perform well yet. It’s not like you just stick a camera into a telescope, press a button and a beautiful picture magically comes out ready to be published and admired. There are many, many steps to do before you get something worth showing. In regular photography, I would say that your performance depends a lot on your mood, on how well you can frame and capture an image, on the ability to work your way around lighting, how well you know your own camera and even on your luck. Astrophotography, on the other hand, has so many technicalities and small details, that it can drive one person crazy. It’s not just a question of practice, because you’ll be seriously limited by your gear. For instance, it’s not every telescope that can take good planetary images, and it’s not every camera that can be controlled by a computer (I’m looking at you, Nikon). These are the bad news. But I know I shouldn’t expect much, since all my gear is among the lowest end available, but I guess it’s a good place to start, right? Another issue that I have not mentioned yet is that astrophotography is expensive, especially if you intend to buy things in Brazil. Just so you can have an idea, a telescope that costs US$ 100 in the US costs 4 times much here.

So, here are the main problems I am having, in order of importance:

  • Terrible telescope mount: probably the worst issue, because even my own steps around the scope can shake the exposure and create smudges and star trails. Also, aligning the scope with the south pole is a HUGE pain in the ass
  • Light pollution: very problematic too, mainly due to the large number of light poles around my house (I live in one of the main streets of the neighborhood)
  • Lack of software support for Nikon DSLR: seriously, if I knew that there was no software that could fully control a Nikon DSLR, I would have bought a Canon. I wish I had researched this better before I made the purchase

Notice: if you know a way to work around these issues (mainly the lack of software support for Nikon DSLR), please let me know in the comments or through an email!

But enough of the frustration and rant. I thought I would talk about it first so I would have an excuse for my pictures, which are not… that good… I mean, it’s not wallpaper quality but, hey: baby steps. One day I will have a good scope and live in a place with less light pollution. Until then, I will keep practicing. Another option that I want to try is to make movies with my camera and stack the frames using Registax. In fact, I have tried that with the Moon, but I could not get Registax to work well. I guess I need to learn how to use it beyond just clicking a few buttons. Anyway, here you go (click them for a 1080 px version, even though I don’t recommend for some of them):

Testing the magnification of my gear
The Ptolemy Cluster, located near the tail of the Scorpion. The red stains are due to light pollution invading the exposure. Exp. time: 5 s; ISO 3200; prime focus; processed on GIMP.
Another shot of the Ptolemy Cluster. Exp. time: 4 s; ISO 3200; prime focus; processed on GIMP.
The Moon on September 4th. Exp. time: 1/60 s; ISO 200; prime focus; unprocessed.

And here is my favorite picture of them all. For this one I didn’t actually use the telescope, just the camera on my standard tripod. But it turned out to be cool, even though the light pollution hurt a lot of it.

The galactic bulge of the Milky Way. It is located towards the constellation of Sagittarius, which hangs out overhead here at the southern hemisphere during winter. Exp. time: 15 s; ISO 3200; focal length: 18 mm; no tracking; processed on GIMP.

If you’re interested, this is my gear (as I said, these are very low end stuff for astrophotography):

  • Telescope: Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ
  • Nikon D3100
  • Camera tripod Hama Traveler Compact Pro
  • Camera telescope support that I don’t know the brand (see picture)
Camera-telescope support that I’ve been using
Dipping my feet

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