Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The new mount!

This new mount is very cool (and heavy :-)!

Yesterday, I got the CG-5 mount. Took me an entire evening to assemble it. And then I wanted to try it out. But I couldn't set it up ... and then it was too late.

Today, I first replaced the finderscope with the original starfinder. And then I figured the whole setup out: 2-star align, polar alignment (without Polaris!), 2-star align. That was it! And all objects smack in the middle of the eyepiece. Can't wait to try out taking photos tomorrow!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Overcast :-(

I managed to setup the Orion Autoguider, adjust it and setup the Starshoot camera. Connected the camera to PlanCap and to PHD - both worked! Tonight, I'll play with PHD and see if I can set it up. It won't help me much with my current mount, but on Monday I'll get my equatorial mount!!!

I probably want to get an eyepiece with a reticle for better star allocation. Orion has a 12.5mm and a 20mm version. Will play with different eyepieces tonight to check if the 12.5 reduces the field too much.

And I started reading up what others did for their cable mess, I have now 6 cables on my telescope (autoguide, starshoot USB, dew heater, camera USB, camera LSUBS, camera power). It'd be nice to get them a little bit more ordered.

... and it is overcast tonight! It's never overcast here :-( Well, seems I have to wait until tomorrow night then ...

Friday, August 24, 2012

M31 without the focus reducer

Tried shooting M31 again, this time without a focal reducer and with ISO 6400. The result is ... ahem ... suboptimal:

Next I tried to take pictures with a light pollution filter, but that takes out A LOT of light. Even with ISO 6400 I could barely see anything. So, I tried again with ISO 1600 and without the filter. Unfortunately, all this messing around meant that I couldn't use my flats that I took earlier. And because the sky was cloudy the next morning (and I wanted to setup the new guidscope and the starshoot camera) I couldn't use any ...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Andromeda and NGC 129

I collimated my scope again - it did not seem to be too difficult.

Oh, and I read somewhere that the 2 start alignment is better then the 3 star. Tried it and it worked pretty well on first try. Maybe just luck, or it's really better.

Because it was so quick, I thought about an object to take photos of: Andromeda! Setup, focusing... all went well. But then I could not take 30 seconds long pictures. All of them had stripes :-( I had to go down to 10 seconds. That sucks! Will take almost an hour to get 30 minutes of exposure time!!!

... so, I broke down and ordered the equatorial mount, the finder scope and the CCD camera. All will be shipped next week. That will be fun to setup and try out.

But I didn't take any flats and flat darks - which means I'll have to get up tomorrow morning at 5 and do that :-(

... of course, it was overcast in the morning :-)

Took flats later in the day and processed my images from Andromeda. Based on the initial pictures, I'm surprised what I got out:

I said this before, I really have to get better at the post processing...

NGC 129 did not turn out that well:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Problems over problems

Today, I wanted to take photos. Took flats and flat darks and then went back outside when it was dark.

First, I had problems again with aligning my mount. Took me several attempts - I'm not sure if it's the GPS unit or something else.

When I had it finally aligned, I took a test shot of Altair and got this:

I thought that this was because I didn't collimate my scope correctly. So, I corrected it to get it to this:

But when I then checked closer, it was mis-aligned again. I asked at one of the forums and the answer was that this is most likely due to "some kind of lens flare". I wonder if it is the focal reducer. Will test this tomorrow.

... and now I have to collimate my scope again :-(

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The cullimation eyepiece sucks

Today, I wanted to see if I can eliminate the strange rings that I sometimes get by collimating my scope. Of course, I used the Celestron collimation eyepiece that I recently bought. It seemed as if my scope was completely out of whack! Took me a while to collimate it. But when I was done, I realized that I could not focus at all anymore! And then I realized that the eyepiece does not sit snug, but can wiggle around. And that of course throws the whole collimation over board. And now I had to try to undo it...

But at least I could figure out what was wrong with DSRL Shutter: I have to set the camera to BULB and to "M up". And in DSLR Shutter I have to use the "AF during exosure (D200)" setting. Then it works!

When I then went back outside, I had (again) problems to calibrate my mount. I tried several times (always the 3 star alignment method). Sometimes, it could not resolve it. Sometimes it did, but then it was either completely in the wrong position when I tried to point it to a star. Or it would think that I'm in the southern hemisphere. This seems to have gotten worse with the GPS device. I should check where the scope thinks I am.

But worst of all: with all these problems, I couldn't take any pictures :-(

Monday, August 13, 2012

Photos from M2

I captured quite a lot of meteorites last night. I can probably get ~10 pictures with the tree and a meteorite. I also tried to make a movie - but somehow some frames were recognized differently (bigger/smaller) then others. Also, I have to find a way to color correct all these images in batch.

I also did some straight overhead shots to the Lyra (again). These also have the same orange hue, but interestingly enough after stacking them (including flats, flat darks and darks) the orange is almost gone! So, I guess I will be able to take some good pictures from our backyard.

In the evening, I went back to taking pictures with the focal reducer. Had a lot of problems with taking pictures without trails. I think have to do something about all the cables that are hanging from the telescope - most of these were due to me (or something) wacking the telescope.

And then I could not get DSLR Shutter to work properly. If I set the camera to a fixed exposure time, DSLR Shutter would not override it. If I set the camera to BULB, DSLR Shutter took a VERY short picture (1/30s or so). And if I set “Lock Mirror”, it took 2 photos! I’m pretty sure that this worked better before. Have to ask at a forum if there is some setting in the Nikon that I have to remember.

Some test photos of Altair that I took showed the weird “ring” again. I think I will have to cullimate the telescope.

My main object was then M2. The photos turned out much better then I expected. Even after my oversimple post-processing:

While taking the photos, I researched on better guiding. First, guiding scopes only work on equatorial mounts (makes sense). Second, some more basic cameras can function as guiding scope or also to take images of sun, moon and the planets. Thinking about getting these:

Read some more about PHD - that sounds like an awesome method to guide the scope while taking long exposures. But all-in-all $1,100. I think for now, I’ll stay with my current equipment and do some more shots like the one from M2. Maybe when we plan the next trip to an area with better visibility where I can take much longer exposures, I should get it.

What I should rather to is to focus on my post-processing skills. I’m sure that I could get much more out of my pictures. Maybe I ask if there are some folks in the bay area that would let me watch or would work with me on some of my pics.

One thing I might buy though is a wider lens for my camera for wide-angle shots, e.g.

Maybe next time we’ll visit Dr. Statti (or go to any other site where I will have better conditions) I’ll rent the first two to compare.

* Celestron has a guiding camera too (NexGuide), but unfortunately it doesn’t work with PHD or other guiding software.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

That eyepiece projection - yes, let's not do that for now

Tonight, I really want to try out some of my new equipment (Bahtinov mask, tele-extender...) I’ll have to figure out which object I will try - should be some larger, brighter nebula. Maybe I’ll try to take photos of sunspots with the tele-extender during the day to figure out the setup.

Read more about taking pictures:

  • Only need short pause - apparently, the heating noise of the camera is less bad then having more pictures taken. So, 10 secs - just to download the images.
  • Histogram should peak at 20 - 40%. That’s a great way to gauge exposure time.
  • The Nikon D7000 has an external power source (maybe I’ll go over to the camera shop this afternoon and try to get it)
  • people use pretty high ISO’s (up to 6400!), 1600 seems to be a good thing.
  • Need to check again how long my exposure time can be to not get rotation!

But I also want to try to take some photos of the Perseids. Maybe what I’ll do is to shoot first some pictures with the new equipment. And then leave the camera out there and just take lots of 30 sec pics with DSLR Shutter throughout the night (just with the 50mm lens). To make things easier, I’ll just put it on the tripod and point it somewhere where I’ll get one of the big trees into the picture too. Will try max. apperture, 6400 ISO, 30 secs - will have to try this first to make sure that the sky stays somewhat dark.

Couldn’t get the AC adapter for the Nikon at San Jose Camera - ordered it online.

Tried to take some pictures of the sun with the tele-extender. But to set the orientation just with one object (the sun itself) is very accurate and it gets out of focus quickly. But focusing the telescope with the tele-extender isn’t too difficult - that’s good! But then my Power Tank was discharged again. So, I’m recharging it and will take photos later.

… OK, eyepiece projection photography is probably out of my league for now. Took 50 pictures of M10. Even with ISO 6400, not much to see :-( I doubt that this was a problem of not having an equatorial mount. Next time, I’ll go back to the normal t-ring and the focal reducer.

I set then my camera to take photos through the 50mm lens for the entire night - some 1400+ shots (10 secs each). They are have a red/organge hue - I think from the street lights. But I should be able to get rid of that. In the morning I took the darks, flats and dark flats. Well, that will be fun

Friday, August 10, 2012

Still trying to get the hang of Photoshop

I don’t seem to get much improvement with Photoshop - compared to Nebulosity. Maybe I’ll send my picture to some of the mailing lists and ask for feedback.

But today, I received my Bahtinov mask. Can’t wait to try to take some photos again. I’ll definitively do that Sunday night. I should try to take much more photos to create a much longer shutter speed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Photoshop is complicated!

Started working with Photoshop - boy, that’s one complicated product...

I wanted then to play with some of my photos and noticed how flat (aka monochrome) they were. I compared them to the originals - and yes, they have much more color! Tried to convert them to tiff’s and then run them through DSS. Suddenly DSS finds way more stars, but the resulting image is almost completely white.

Googled “Deep Sky Stacker Nikon Raw” and found several people who have problems with processing Nikon Raw’s with DSS. But nothing terribly helpful.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

More gadgets

Spent my weekend to process all pictures that I made as good as possible:

And I bought a lot of stuff:

  • New T-adapter and Nikon T-ring (yes, the old one is broken),
  • a tele-extender and another Nikon T-ring (for eyepiece projection photography),
  • a case for the telescope (really can’t wait to go to Dr. Statti next time!),
  • a Bahtinov mask,
  • a heated dew shield + DC adapter (it’ll also help with keeping all the other light out), and
  • a collimation eyepiece

None of these will improve my skills (or lack thereof) of post-processing my images. But they should improve the images that I take.

Reading more about post processing, there is just so much to learn and read - not 2 instructions or tutorials seem to have anything in common. But the more I read, the more Photoshop seems to be the tool that many people use and also many tutorials are out there (this seems to be an amazing collection of tutorial!) I’ll probably try it out. But will wait until I have a few more great pics.

Friday, August 3, 2012

More photos - M80

Want to try out more with the focal reducer. Took pictures of M80. I’m still amazed how much easier it is to take photos with DSLR Shutter - it’s just doing everything itself!

Noticed that the t-adapter for my Nikon seems to be loose :-( That might be the reason for the strange artifact from yesterday’s picture. Will check it out later.

Got a response for using a barlow with my camera. Apparently, I need a tele-extender and then use my normal lenses (plus barlow) with the camera. The magnification will go up A LOT (but also the brightness down, but for moon, sun and planets that’s apparently not a concern). Will order it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Using the GPS unit and the focal reducer - great improvements!

… left it running the entire day and it’s still not done. Weired. It finally finished in the evening, but the result was pretty bad (had some bad artifacts). I’m sure that something went wrong. But for now, I’ll probably stick with RegiStax - it also only requires one transformation, not two.

Today, I picked up the focal reducer and the GPS unit from work. Played with both.

The GPS unit makes the initial alignment process much easier - just one time confirmation. Done. Though my alignment wasn’t great. Have to try this out again, I hope that it was because I picked up wrong stars or such.

Tried also the focal reducer. Makes the Image half as zoomed.

Did a longer session with the Polaris start (took the lights with DSLR Shutter - MUCH easier). Took 50 pics.

And then I took another moon movie.

Pre-processed both. Results are OK, but I really have to start figuring out the post-processing process to get more details, color and sharpness.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

First movie stacking experience

Spend a lot of time looking for better webcam solutions. Found the NexImage from Celestron and a whole range of others that are medium to expensive. But then I found someone who had the same problem that I had (can’t convert .mov files from the Nikon D7000 to process it with RegiStax). He found that Canon’s ImageBrowser works for Nikon .mov files too and converts a movie to a series of jpg images. Wanted to try it out, but to download it, I have to enter a serial number from a Canon camera. Will try that with my old Canon Rebel at home.

I also found the web site from Robert Reeves and his book Introduction to Webcam Astrophotography - unfortunately, it’s not available on Google Play :-(

Started to play with DSLR Shutter and my new DSUBS cable. Simple and sweet - I think this is great. At least for the beginning. Maybe at some point I need something more complicated. I should try this later this week

Earlier today, I found out how I could process my movies with RegiStax or AviStack:

  1. Create a .avi file with MPEG Streamclip - this can be handled by RegiStax
  2. From the .avi file, create individual images with the Canon ImageBrowser - this can be handled by AviStack

So, tonight, I shot a 2 min video from the full moon. Somehow, these images were not overexposed at all, but looked perfectly.

Import and pre-processing was easy (after the conversion to the .avi file). Unfortunately, the tutorial that I found is for an earlier version and doesn’t apply anymore. This one is for RegiStax6  - will try it out tomorrow for a better result.

Pointed Avistack to the folder with all the individual images that ImageBrowser created and then pressed “Batch Processing”... boy, and then it takes a LOOOONG time. My computer went to sleep over it...