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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.


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