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Saturday, February 4

Astrophotography tips

It was great to meet so many people last weekend who are interested in having a go at astrophotography or who are already dabbling.

Below are some useful links to software and hardware that will help you progress:
  • Registax - a freeware program that produces stunning images of the moon and planets using webcam video footage

  • Clamping arrangements to attach a compact digital camera to the eyepiece of a telescope. These can be useful to ensure the optics are aligned properly and held steady. This will allow straightforward imaging of planets and the moon through your telescope.

  • Phillips 880SPC or Phillips Toucam Pro II (SPC900) are excellent cameras for webcam imaging. Unfortunately I can't find any in stock anywhere...but keep your eyes open. Morgan Computers were selling them for £17.90 recently. All you need in addition to the camera is a nose piece and IR cut filter, which can be purchased from many astronomy shops online such as Altair Astro for example ( http://www.altairastro.com/product.php?productid=16449&cat=0&page=1 )

  • Digital SLRs are a great way to get into astrophotography if you already own one. The best are either Nikon or Canon. I use a Canon 300D which I have had modified to remove the daylight colour balancing filter as this blocks a lot of the red spectrum that we really want to record. Astronomiser.co.uk is the service I used to modify my Canon 300D and the service was first class. The camera was returned to me within 2 days. You can also purchase pre-modified cameras from Andy Ellis from about £500.

  • However, if you are going to invest a significant amount of money in a camera for astronomy you may want to consider a dedicated astro-CCD camera, rather than a DSLR. There are many brands and prices available, too many to discuss here. The two benefits of a DSLR over an astronomy CCD in my opinion are: (i) DSLRs can be used for normal daylight photography not just astronomy, although you will have to do some colour balancing if you have the chip modified and (ii) the field of view of a DSLR is much larger than many dedicated astro-CCD cameras £ for £.

  • If you are going to get into imaging stars, galaxies, etc (not planets and moon) then an image processing software is essential. Again there are many options. I use the excellent package called ImagesPlus developed by Mike Unsold (www.mlunsold.com) and selling for $230 at the moment. Tutorials and support are excellent. But as I say there are many options out there.

  • If you don't want to invest yet in image processing software then try out this freeware:
    http://deepskystacker.free.fr/english/index.html or have a go an manually aligning images in Photoshop (warning this will take a LOT of time). Deepsky Stacker is fantastic for a free package and there are some good explanations of the theory behind image stacking on the website (click on the "How To Create Better Images" link on the left hand pane of their website).

  • I also use a piece of software called NeatImage which helps to reduce noise in processed images. Be careful not to overprocess the image though.

Hopefully this will set some of you off the journey to taking your own images. If you need any specific advice get in touch via email: j.g.hunt@btinternet.com

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