Another Morning Moon

Click for full-sized image.

August 24th, 2019, 08:35 a.m. local time

These may be becoming redundant, but it was yet another great morning for capturing the daytime Moon, for as much as it is possible with a phone camera.

Today’s mage settings:

  • NightCap app on iPhone
  • f/1.8
  • 1/2075 sec exposure
  • ISO 24

More Morning Moon

Click for full-sized image.

August 23rd, 2019, 08:10 a.m. local time

Another clear morning allowed for a Day 3 of photographing the Waning Moon.  I notice a little dark spot to the left of the Moon in the above photo, and wondered if it was a speck of dirt or problem with the smartphone itself.  But while examining the series of photos I took in immediate succession, it is undoubtedly a bird, as that speck is further left in the next image.

A clear forecast all day and evening may mean being able to point the big light gun towards Jupiter and Saturn tonight.

Today’s mage settings:

  • iPhone XS
  • NightCap
  • f/1.8
  • 1/2075 sec exposure
  • ISO 24

Moon and Clouds, and Trees and Sky

Click for full-sized image.

August 22nd, 2019, 07:01 a.m. local time

Similar to yesterday’s picture – same time, nearly same location – here is this morning’s Waning Moon via the NightCap app on my iPhone.  The sky was not as hazy as yesterday, which comes through in the more vivid blue backdrop.

And like yesterday’s picture, some lunar surface detail was captured.

An aging Waning Moon means the current early evening skies are free of moonlight.  So the skies should be good for stargazing, if they are clear.

Image settings for reference:

  • f/1.8
  • 1/2075 sec exposure
  • ISO 24

Waning Moon and Clouds

Can you see the Moon? Click for full-sized image.

August 21st, 2019, 06:57 a.m. local time

There was a brief break in cloud cover over the past day, enough to reveal the Waning Moon this morning.  I took the above picture with the NightCap app on my iPhone, and did some very minor editing in PaintShop Pro.

This picture finally reveals the details of the Moon I have been looking for through the unaided iPhone camera.  I had the ISO down to 24 and exposure at 1/500s.  Here is a closeup:

Taken with NightCap.

Saturn and Overcompensating

Saturn at 1600 ISO and 1/60 exposure, from 60fps HD video.

August 9th, 2019, 11:20 p.m. local time

This evening I tried out my new camera on both Jupiter and Saturn.  I logged the experience with Jupiter here.  I will now discuss the session afterward with Saturn.

As with Jupiter, I relied on all of my past experiences for the preliminary camera settings, specifically for ISO and exposure.  In general my “go to” Saturn settings have been ISO 1600 and 1/60s exposure.

I took four sets of four videos each.  After each set, I always refocus the telescope.  Focus is really the most important variable in any of my planetary imaging sessions.  It is difficult to fine-tune focus, as it is difficult to tell how good the focus is on the camera’s LCD screen (and not to mention the object is constantly moving since I don’t use a tracking mount).  These objects are hundreds of millions of miles away; it’s remarkable we can focus in on them at all!

So the first image was “standard” and its post-processing results are at the top of this post.  As with Jupiter, I feel the final image is on-par with the best my old camera could produce.

When I refocus between video sets, I always bump up the ISO setting significantly, as this makes it much easier to locate the planet/object when manually repositioning the telescope tube.  By my own convention, I go to picture mode and use ISO 12800, which exposes a very bright dot for both Jupiter and Saturn.

I noticed on my new camera that video mode is now able to capture with ISO 12800 (the old Canon EOS Rebel SL1 could not).  Just for fun, for the second video set only, I left the ISO setting at 12800 and then took four videos.

As expected, the final, raw image looked very over-exposed.  It occurs to me that I have never posted a raw image after the video frames are stacked (i.e. before initial wavelet changes in Registax), normally because those raw images are not terribly interesting.  But this may be a prime opportunity so you can see a before-and-after comparison:

Raw image. Saturn at 12800 ISO and 1/30 exposure, from 60fps HD video.

I decided to put it through more post-processing than I normally would, to try to correct the curves, gamma, and filter out excess light via histograms.  I did this mostly in PaintShop Pro.  Here is the final result:

Post-processed. Saturn at 12800 ISO and 1/30 exposure, from 60fps HD video.

It doesn’t look too bad, and arguably may even be a much clearer image than at ISO 1600.  I really like how the planet turned out.  I only felt that color around the rings was a little off.  I tried a number of techniques but couldn’t get rid of the red/blue/green splitting that you can still see.

My takeaway is that I plan to try slightly higher ISO settings for both Jupiter and Saturn on my next attempts.  I’m thinking ISO 3200 and 6400.  This may require tweaks to the exposure as well.  I’ll be back to my original methods of logging settings in my journal after every refocus.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600 and 12800
    • Exposure: 1/60 and 1/30
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from multiple videos of about 25s each, best 60% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for final minor touchups

No Meteors for Me

Day-to-day, night-to-night, same clouds and overcast right now. Click to see full-sized image.

August 13th, 2019, 6:58 a.m. local time

It may be better this way.  Middle of the work week is not a good time to try getting up at 4 a.m. to watch for meteors.  The clouds have had their say.  Hello Perseids Meteor Shower 2020.

Correspondingly, over the last few months I have missed the Moon occulting Saturn, every time, due to bad weather, and this month was no different.

Overall, the weather has been very good for stargazing this past month, but some pinpoint timing has been disappointing.

New Jupiter Options


August 9th, 2019, 9:45 p.m. local time

This was the first test of my new, mighty Canon EOS Rebel SL3.  It operates very similarly to the SL1.  I had to go into the menu options to disable the “fluff” to get back to the bare-bones menus.  Once I did this, the SL3’s menu interface was near-identical to the SL1 interface that I am very familiar with.

The first benefit I noted was the rotatable viewfinder.  When looking down the viewfinder sights of my Dobsonian reflector, I was able to aim the LCD back towards the rear of the telescope.  This saved time and the normal frustration of finding the target in the viewfinder and then having to stand upright again near the front of the scope to make “blind” adjustments to pinpoint the target.

With the SL1, I settled on an ISO of 1600 and exposure of 1/125 for Jupiter.  For this session, I kept with those settings, though I did try HD videos at 30fps and 60fps.  In later analysis, the 60fps final imaging was slightly better.

Above is the best post-processed result from the night.  You can see the festoons and marginal detail in the cloud bands.  I feel this compares with the better range of images I produced in the past few years with the SL1.

For reasons I will get into when I post about Saturn from the same night, I feel this camera can produce better, likely by increasing the ISO above 1600, increasing the exposure, or both.  I will need to experiment with these settings in my next session.

With the SL1, I had been stacking the best 60% frames, but for this session, I noticed that 30% looked better.  Whether this was due to the new camera (needing less frames for a clearer final image), or a quirk of the night’s conditions, I can’t say.

Another benefit, I believe, of the new camera is that I can finally process a Drizzle in Autostakkert.  I have rarely mentioned the Drizzle feature, but have a hunch I will be experimenting with it more.  All it means is that when the best video frames are stacked into the initial raw image, the picture is blown up by three times.

Drizzle can help to see detail if your base images are in good focus.  Here is my test Drizzle image, processed at three times the size of the normal image above.  Its size is reduced to fit the confines of the blog, but you can click on it to see the full image.  And it is not a coincidence that both images in this post, the normal and the Drizzle, may appear exactly the same size, as I reduced this one to show at 400×400 pixels like the normal one above.

“Drizzle” Jupiter. Click for full-sized image.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 125
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 30% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for final minor touchups

Heading for Jupiter

From left to right: Moon, Jupiter, Antares, telescope.

August 9th, 2019, 9:30 p.m. local time

Getting my telescope ready to look at Jupiter tonight, with two of the brightest objects in the night sky paired close.

Equipment Obsession

I am not a photographer.  I don’t even consider myself an amateur photographer.  I consider what I do to be an incredibly small niche in the large field of camera work.

I am not an astronomer.  I wouldn’t even consider myself to be an amateur astronomer.  I may strive to have a basic level of proficiency to allow for that designation, but I don’t feel I am there.  I only know that there is much I don’t know about stargazing and astronomy and even astrophysics.

I am not a blogger.  At least, it normally doesn’t feel that way.  I’ll read bloggers that can explain details better than me, or can express their thoughts and motivations in ways I cannot, or simply can engage and interest their readers like I never have, and it ends with me questioning what I have to offer at this site.

A non-photographer taking pictures in a hobby he knows little about, and then writing about it all in a venue not his forte!

I’ll take it as a leap of faith that we all have such doubts, all the time, whether it be in our hobbies, or jobs, or relations.  The real question becomes, what lengths are you willing to go to improve your deficiencies?

Arguably more importantly, do you know how to set your own limits towards achieving those goals?

Anyone who has dabbled in photography knows that it is affirmatively a money sinkhole.  There is always a better camera, lens, filter, tripod, or other miscellaneous accessory that, if you just get that one more item, it will make you so much better a photographer!

In astrophotography it is worse, as there is always a better telescope or Barlow or tracking mount than is going to make your images all the better.

This mode of thinking is extremely easy to fall into line with.  It offers a material gratification with minimal effort on your part to improve your end results.

The problem, though, is that this is an acute focus on materialism.  No purchase of equipment will improve your own skills or your understanding of a field of knowledge.  You will gain some marginal expertise in operating the equipment, but there is also going to be diminishing returns as you spend more and more.

A danger is that the need to improve yourself will be supplanted by the false goal of improving the performance of the equipment.

Another hobby I rarely mention is that I play the guitar.  I have been playing for less than a decade.  I’m probably more than a novice at this point, but I merely play for the sake of playing, and continue to learn new techniques as I can.  I own two guitars, an acoustic Alvarez that I bought for around $300 and an electric Squier Bullet Strat, which is essentially your lowest-tier Stratocaster.

How do I make the guitars sound better?  If I had the option, I could hand the Bullet Strat to Eric Clapton to play, and it would sound amazing!  Conversely, I could replace it with a $3000 Gibson and let myself play it.  I’m sure the new guitar will sound fractionally better than my current entry-level Strat, but is that worth the price?

There are times that you should spend money on new equipment.  I started guitar on a sub-$100 training acoustic, and I held onto it for far too long, about three years.  When I bought the Alvarez, the difference in playability and sound was noticeable, making that first guitar feel like a toy.

My equipment for astrophotography may be in about the same situation.  I’ve been using a Canon EOS SL1 for my lunar, planetary, and wide-field images of the night sky.  That EOS model is quite old now and was stock entry-level to begin with.  Its sensor size is small compared to its modern counterparts.  And if you know about photography equipment, the SL1 doesn’t even have a full-frame sensor, almost considered a must-have for astrophotography.

So with the exception of my smartphone images, everything on my blog was taken with this sub-par DSLR camera.  I know that, in many ways, its an achievement to produce images of objects hundreds of millions of miles away.  I’m also fully aware of the context of history, that even contemporary, feeble equipment is well beyond what was possible by professionals and amateurs decades ago.  We should be thankful to live in such an era when deficient megapixels is such a concern.

Moreover, when it comes to astroimaging at the telescope, I don’t have a proper tracking system.  Of my two telescopes, one rides on an Alt-Azimuth (simple up/down and left/right) mount and the other is a Dobsonian.  Neither of these are geared for long-exposure photography.

So I am taking astronomical pictures with a camera not designed for astrophotography and telescopes not intended to track the night sky for imaging.

Recently, I came into a gift of several hundred dollars, and immediately my attention turned towards the photography money sinkhole.  I could use that value to help upgrade my equipment!  But what should I get?  A new camera?  New lenses?  An equatorial mount?

I seriously considered getting a new full-frame digital camera.  There were a number of problems, though, in leveraging all my existing equipment if I went this route.  For one, the camera would be much heavier than my SL1,  This would make use on my Dobsonian, which relies on proper telescope tube balance, far more difficult.  It may also not work on the Alt-Az mount properly with that weight.  And it would make several of my camera lenses obsolete as they are designed for the smaller APS-C sensor instead of full-frame, including my most expensive f/2.8 lens.  I’d probably be looking at a few thousand dollars to get everything I would want for this arrangement.

I then thought about getting either an equatorial tracker for my tripod or a full equatorial telescope mount as a replacement for the Alt-Az mount.  This too would require continual expenditures in such accessories as counterweights, and likely other items I had yet to consider.  Plus, it would be a lot heavier than my current telescope tripod, and I would have to find the space for it.  Likely, the needed mount/tripod would have started at $500-600 and gone up from there with accessories.

Well, how about getting both a new camera and a new equatorial mount!  I imagined all the great new pictures I could make with that equipment.  My award-winning interpretations of the Andromeda Galaxy felt within grasp!

I then paused.  Do I really need all of this?  Why isn’t my current equipment sufficient?

Hopefully you see, that when the door opens a crack, and you have an opportunity to spend some cash, it can quickly spiral into far more money spent, either now or later, which you may not have.

After considering all of these options for a few days, I did decide to buy a new camera.  I didn’t go with a full-frame digital, but made a lateral move with the Canon EOS Rebel SL3.  It’s still expensive but not anymore than I paid for the SL1 several years ago.  Most importantly, it has a larger APS-C sensor than the SL1, along with other conveniences like a rotating LCD screen.  Its weight is comparable to the SL1 as well, so it should work on my Dobsonian telescope just fine.

I also added a few more wide-angle lenses.  In all, the total price tag was under $1000, which I could live with as a modest upgrade with a few small additions, that will allow me to leverage all of my other equipment as before.

A new Canon EOS Rebel SL33 and lenses.

Someday I may get a full-frame camera, and an equatorial mount, but for now, I would rather keep at my existing techniques while leveraging the bulk of the equipment I have already purchased over the last several years.  It’s very important to stop, think, and assess the situation before throwing a lot of money at any endeavor, always remembering that you can’t buy happiness and gratification.  You have to earn it.