Skip to main content

A Quantum Leap in Digital Camera Astrophotography?

When CCD cameras made their way into the lexicon of average astrophotographers some time in the 1990s, the cameras were a far cry from having large sensors and being easy to operate. With DSLRs popping onto the astrophotography scene in the early- to mid-2000s, astrophotography saw a huge jump in the number of active hobbyists and the number of excellent astro images. Suddenly, astrophotography didn't require thousands of dollars and a PhD-level understanding of quantum mechanics to produce a very decent image. But the chips were (are) color only (no monochrome option) and, of course, there was (is) no regulated cooling of the sensor. The size of the DSLR APS-C sensor was enormous relative to what was available in the astro CCD world (ST-7, ST-2000, or ST-10 anyone?). The cost of the camera was MUCH lower than the astro CCD options and it was much easier and cheaper to connect a DSLR to a telescope. But the lack of regulated thermoelectric cooling (TEC) and the lack of a monochrome option swayed (and still sways) many away from DSLRs. That's not going to change any time soon.

While DSLR manufacturers will probably never offer monochrome-only sensors nor any kind of built-in regulated TEC, the option is still enticing from a price and ease-of-use perspective. Even without TEC, DSLRs perform wonderfully when enough light is collected and dark frames are used effectively. Additionally, the increasing popularity of astro time lapse and wide field imaging with compact systems helps keep the allure of DSLRs alive in the world of astrophotography.

Anyone who is OK with one-shot color, no TEC, and is considering a large format sensor must now consider an exciting new option even before they consider the standard Canon or Nikon offerings... and it's not a DSLR:

Sony's Alpha 7S
With no mirror, a full frame sensor, a mechanical and electronic shutter, and large light-gathering pixels, it's a $2,500 alternative to the $5,200+ options from ATIK, FLI, and SBIG ($7,000+ by the time you get to some of the FLI and SBIG offerings!).

See the DP Review comparison to the Canon and Nikon offerings for yourself:

Here's a review of its astrophotographic performance for wide field imaging with relatively short exposure times:

Should be interesting.


Popular posts from this blog

The Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

American eclipses are about to be made great again! It's been about 38 years since there's been a total solar eclipse over the American mainland. And that one just grazed the northwest and northern plains before turning traitor and curving up into Canada. This time around, the path of totality runs essentially through the middle of the entire width of the continental United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. It will be one of the most witnessed total solar eclipses in history.
When: Monday, August 21st (exact times vary based on your location... more below)Where: An approximately 70-mile wide path that cuts through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.Greatest Eclipse: Near Hopkinsville, KentuckyLongest Eclipse: Near Carbondale, IllinoisEclipse LengthShortest: West coast of Oregon at about 1 minute 58 secondsLongest: Southern Illinois at about 2 minutes 41 secondsHow is all the above in…

The Ambiguously Galactic Duo

M81 and M82 are two galaxies hanging out in the constellation Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. M81, on the right, is also referred to as Bode's Galaxy (for its discoverer, Johann Elert Bode). M82, on the left, is also know as the Cigar Galaxy.

Here are the wacky things about images like this one...

(1) Every single star you see in this image is in our own galaxy. It's easy to think you're seeing individual stars in M81 and M82 but that's simply not the case. At 12 million light years away, the galaxies are fairly close to us but they're still much too far to be able to resolve individual stars. Also, while there are such things as rogue stars that get flung out of their home galaxies due to gravitational disturbances, it would be quite rare for one to show up in an amateur astronomer's image.

(2) If your monitor is bright enough and calibrated well, you can see a lot of fuzzy patches, each of which is another galaxy!

Don't look at them too closely... M81 harbors…

Prime Time for New Equipment - Paramount ME II and AG Optical Newtonian

After months of waiting for equipment, parts, and exchanging a couple parts... Everything is finally together and working! I do have to tweak collimation and dial in polar alignment a bit, but for all intents and purposes everything is operational. See the previous post for the first light image (the supernova in M82).

Mount: Paramount ME II by Software Bisque
Telescope: AG Optical 10" Newtonian Astrograph
Guider: Takahashi FS-60C Doublet Apochromatic with SBIG ST-i camera