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Mark's AP Corner

  • Mark's AP Corner -- 4/29/2012 -- The Moon

    Check out one of Mark's latest Astrophotography pics, an awesome shot of the moon:

    Picture of the Moon taken with a Canon EOS 50D and Orion Telescope
    Object: Moon
    Camera: Canon 50D
    Telescope: Orion ED80 f/7.5 Telescope @ f/15
    Mount: Pier Mounted Celestron CG5 ASGT
    Accessories:

    • Vivitar FD 2X Teleconverter
    • Kenko EOS/FD Adapter
    • Orion 2" to T-Thread Camera Adapter

    Location: Waterbury, VT
    Date: April 29, 2012
    Image by: Mark Byland

  • Canon Announces EOS 60Da: Astrophotographers everywhere rejoice, "Finally!"

    Canon EOS 60Da Digital SLR Camera for Astrophotography

    Canon EOS 60Da

    New Canon EOS 60Da DSLR Camera For Astronomy Enthusiasts Captures The True Colors Of The Cosmos

    LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y., April 3, 2012 – Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, today introduced the EOS 60Da Digital SLR Camera, a long-awaited successor to the EOS 20Da that is optimized for astrophotography. This DSLR caters to astronomers and hobbyists who enjoy capturing the beauty of the night sky by offering a modified infrared filter and a low-noise sensor with heightened hydrogen-alpha sensitivity. These modifications allow the camera to capture magnificent photographs of "red hydrogen emission" nebulae and other cosmic phenomena.

    "The EOS 60Da is a testament to the constant desire to meet the needs of every customer, including those in specialized fields," said Yuichi Ishizuka, executive vice president and general manager, Imaging Technologies & Communications Group, Canon U.S.A., "This new camera enables an accurate depiction of a part of our solar system which is hard to achieve with conventional cameras but should be enjoyed and celebrated."

    The Canon EOS 60Da camera packs a powerful 18-megapixel CMOS sensor (APS-C) that produces sharp and high-contrast images of astronomical objects, a major enhancement over the EOS 20Da model's 8.2-megapixel sensor. The improved infrared-blocking filter is a modification suited specifically toward astronomy enthusiasts to achieve a hydrogen-alpha light sensitivity that is approximately three times higher than that of a normal Canon DSLR camera. This produces a 20-percent higher transmittance of Hydrogen Alpha line, or H α wavelength, allowing astronomers to capture crisp, clear images of reddish, diffuse nebulae.

    Enhanced Features

    Crisp images of the stars and planets can be viewed on the EOS 60Da's improved 3.0-inch Clear View LCD screen with 1,040,000 dots for detailed focusing. The flip-out Vari-angle screen allows photographers to adjust the screen for easy viewing without straining even while the camera is mounted to a telescope via a third-party T-ring adapter. Optimized for stargazing with friends or in an educational setting, astronomy enthusiasts can connect the camera to a TV with the provided AVC-DC400ST Stereo AV Video Cable and display the night sky on a TV monitor using the camera's Live View mode. Moreover, the EOS 60Da's Live View mode is equipped with a Silent Shooting feature that eliminates shutter-induced vibration for maximum camera stability when the camera is mounted to a telescope or super-telephoto EF lens.

    Enhanced noise reduction on the EOS 60Da sensor offers photographers the ability to experiment with the wide array of ISO settings and increased ISO speeds up to 6400 expandable to 12800. Other features include an intelligent nine-point autofocus system, full manual controls, and RAW, JPEG, and RAW+JPEG image recording capabilities.

    Accessories

    The EOS 60Da helps capture the wonders of the night sky with its use of Canon's award-winning EF and EF-S lenses along with other EOS accessories. Additionally, the EOS 60Da is packaged with Canon's RA-E3 Remote Controller Adapter, providing the ability to connect a Canon Timer Remote Control such as the TC-80N3 (optional accessory). The TC-80N3 is ideal for controlling time exposures longer than 30 seconds as well as capturing a series of consecutive time exposures that can be composited during post-processing for improved image quality. This is especially useful when the camera body is connected to a telescope or an EF super telephoto lens.

    Canon has also included an AC adapter kit with the EOS 60Da, allowing the camera to be powered through an AC wall outlet or a battery-powered inverter, ideal for long exposure image or video capture at home or in the field.

    Availability

    As a specialized product, the EOS 60Da is only available to order from select authorized dealers. The estimated retail price is $1,499.00 and it is expected to be available this month.

    Canon EOS 60Da Digital SLR Camera with 18-135mm Lens for Astrophotography

    Canon EOS 60Da with 18-135mm Lens

  • Mark's AP Corner - 03/18/2012 - NGC2244/46 - The Rosette Nebula

    NGC2244/46 - The Rosette Nebula

    NGC2244/46 - The Rosette Nebula

    I had a chance to get set up for the night of 3/18 for about half the night. Clouds started to take over at around 11:30pm and I remained positive and stuck with it until 2:00am, at which point I could see flashes of lightning off in the distance. Time to pack up the lightning rods! Before that all happened, I was able to get some time on an object I hadn't imaged since February of 2011. I was hoping for at least 3 solid hours of shutter time on NGC2244. Unfortunately, for some reason, I was having guiding issues from the very beginning of the night. It's been a very long time since I've had any issues of any kind with autoguiding. Things sort of ironed themselves out over a period of time, but I ended up throwing out about half of the data I had captured due to trailing stars. I'm already on to solutions, and a new guide scope ships tomorrow.

    I shot in ISO800 Sunday night because it was pretty hazy in Waterbury for most of the evening. As the sun was setting, I could see the low hanging reddish/brown through the valley that's a good indicator that there's going to be some interference, and I know from experience it's going to show up in the frames pretty easily. I used a short 30 second Custom White Balance (CWB) for all the frames in order to get a more isolated color balance on things and it seemed to work pretty well in dealing with sky glow. The CWB is a regular practice to deal with the night-to-night varying sky conditions. It's too bad I had to toss half of the frames out due to autoguiding issues...that was rough. You win some, you lose some in this hobby. Luckily all was not lost and it ended up being a worth while night.

    Considering that I knew I had some usable frames from the Rosette last year, I decided to combine both nights and come up with an image of greater dynamic range. Last year's attempt was a little flat in terms of color, and I over-edited to make up for it. But seeing that it was generally good data, it could still be used with the new stuff from Sunday night. On Monday, I combined the files in a folder, moved them over to another machine, loaded up all of the noise calibration frames for both ISO settings, started the process, and walked downtown to go eat lunch as I knew I wouldn't be looking at a workable image for about 45 minutes.

    When I got back, I saw the screen and was immediately pleased with the straight-out-of Deep Sky Stacker initial image. I started with boosting the saturation and fine tuned the histogram to properly balance the RGB levels and was looking at a decent image for the two nights. After levels, and shifting the output midpoint ever so slightly with CS4, I opened the image in Nebulosity 2 for very minor star sharpening. Not too much, or it makes dark circles around every star. There's a very comprehensive plugin within Neb2 that's called GREYCstoration, and with some adjustments, you can coax some details out of the information there that otherwise wouldn't have been quite so 'defined'. Instead of the eye wandering, being attracted to noise from the camera, it tends to move more seamlessly from detail to detail with only a minimal amount of information missing. Without it, noise replaces those details and the eye tends to gravitate towards the noise and the image looks too busy. It's a powerful yet delicate plugin to use that can either make an image look twice as good, or over average the details and then it looks like you're peering through a frosted glass shower door. I try and keep on the lighter side of averaging and let the eye make the choice between what's noise and what's part of the object. This was a short edit by normal standards, which mainly has to deal with getting good data when things are actually going right.

    All of the images in this article were taken by Mark Byland and are his property. Please do not copy or distribute these images without his sole permission.

  • Mark Byland and Astrophotography: "My God, it's full of stars!"

    Andromeda Galaxy & M32, M110 Satellite Galaxies

    Andromeda Galaxy & M32, M110 Satellite Galaxies

    When I see images like the one above, I am immediately stopped in my tracks. It is hard for me to comprehend the surreal reality conveyed by such an image, and yet I find it so beautiful. Questions like, "How can this exist out there, beyond the sky?", "What is this?", and, ultimately, "How was this taken?", all start to fill my head. I always assume a massive telescope planted in an observatory on top of a mountain with a team of scientists must have captured an image like this one. The truth behind how this image was taken is very different, however. If Mark Byland, the individual who captured this image, never started working for us several months ago, I probably would still assume capturing this image was only possible by a dedicated, professional team. Don't get me wrong, dedication is absolutely required (as you will see in how long it takes to capture and compose an image like this one), but obtaining images like the ones Mark captures of the night sky are closer within reach than I, and I assume many others, would think.

    The Pleiades

    The Pleiades

    Astrophotography, or AP, as this type of photography is called, is a serious hobby for Mark. Yet, when you talk to him about his AP passion, he is very humble about the whole experience. He has an "anyone can do this" attitude and is happy and eager to talk about AP with anyone.

    Mark started his journey into Astrophotography with an interest in Astronomy as a kid by a common interest with his father. It wasn't until 2009, however, that his interest in non-Earth objects propelled him into Astrophotography. He recalls:

    I managed to photograph the Lunar Eclipse in February of 2009 with a cell phone camera held up to the eyepiece of a 76mm reflector telescope. The feeling that overcame me having just captured my first ever pictures of a distant non Earth-based object has been the same feeling that compels me to do what I do every time.

    Lunar Eclipse

    Lunar Eclipse Captured by Mark in 2009

    Now Mark uses a setup that is a bit more advanced than a cell phone held up to a telescope. As he explains:

    I use a simple setup consisting of a two telescope "piggyback" rig on top of an automated, electronic mount that tracks the sky as it passes overhead (or as we move underneath it to be more technically proper). One telescope is sending information to a laptop via a CCD camera tracking a chosen star, which guides the electronic mount. The other telescope sits on top and has a camera hooked up to it for making the images.

    I use a modified Canon EOS Rebel XT digital SLR camera. The IR/UV filter has been removed from the camera to enable the capture of a fuller spectrum of light frequencies. A Baader Type II clear glass filter has been re-installed to keep the autofocus working, just in case I want to use the camera for every day shooting, which requires a Custom White Balance. I shoot unfiltered on the scope, but there is an image style called 'narrow band' that refers to using a set of filters to isolate certain light frequencies and create more accurate LRGB images. For what I'm doing, and the level that I am currently at, my setup suits me well and I do my best to push it to it's maximum capability.

    Telescope Imaging Rig

    Mark's Rig

    This setup wasn't acquired as a "ready-to-go" rig for the images Mark captures. It has taken him a lot of time and trial with different equipment and hardware to get it to where it is now. Still, Mark is humble about the image capture of distant objects:

    Image capture is the easy part after you get to know the setup process and understand the equipment capabilities. Most of the time, it's literally 'set-it-and-forget-it', just maybe check on things every hour or so to make sure nothing has gone wrong.

    And, check on things he does. Mark was telling me the other day that he was up until 4:30 in the morning working on some image captures the night before.

    Many people may think that the images Mark creates are a single capture. In fact, they aren't, and are actually a composite of many captures stacked and edited into one image. And, this is the part of Astrophotography that is perhaps the most difficult, and artistic.

    "In Astrophotography, it's the processing that will challenge any individual through most of their early years."

    The Horsehead Nebula & NGC2024

    The Horsehead Nebula & NGC2024

    Mark explains the process involved in creating the above image:

    This Horsehead Nebula image is from just a few weeks ago. When looking out at the night sky on a clear night, this time of year, the Orion constellation is very visible high in the sky during most evening hours. If you take a look at Orion's 'Belt', the far left star is called Alnitak. That's the brightest star in this image. The red glow you see is actually gas, mainly consisting of Hydrogen Alpha or Ha, for short. It shows up mainly red in images and this is what my modified came is geared to capture now that the factory IR/UV filter has been removed. The exposure consists of about 3 total hours of exposure at 3 minutes per frame, so there are actually many images captured of this scene. The captures were stacked and calibrated for noise in a program called Deep Sky Stacker. I then did output stretching and color level editing in Photoshop CS4 to come up with this final image. Total time to produce this one image was 4 hours for imaging and 4 hours for editing, for a total of 8 hours. I'm conservatively estimating the edit time, and that's for one single image. On a night where you may get 2-3 good images captured, you can spend the next week in edit mode stacking and tweaking to get things just right. Needless to say, I find it fun and much more a learning experience in gathering information about what I shoot.

    Mark encourages everyone to get in to Astrophotography and capture the night sky:

    It's really as easy as taking the camera outside on a tripod on a really clear night. Compose a shot with the sky, set the Camera to manual mode, set a 20-30 second exposure, ISO 800-1600, and stop the lens down to f/8-10 and see what the sensor brings in. For all of it's meaning, that's Astrophotography.  Some of my favorite shots consist of no more than doing this type of AP. It's easy to get cool results to load up on the computer screen. With a little practice you can compose some really cool shots like star trails, or time lapse movies using still frames, etc..

    If you have any questions for Mark, please feel free to contact him at mbyland@gmcamera.com. Also, Mark will continually post AP photos and updates in the category on the right labeled "Mark's AP Corner".

    All of the images in this article were taken by Mark Byland and are his property. Please do not copy or distribute these images without his sole permission.

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