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Top 10 Ways to do Astrophotography


Ten ways to do amateur astrophotography plus one more for the non-amateur.

1. High-end CCDs. Companies like Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) , Apogee and others offer serious CCD cameras. They include features such as the ability to cool the camera 30 C degrees below the ambient temperature. This reduces noise in the picture. Other features make these CCD cameras scientific grade cameras. These cameras tend to start around $2,000 and that's just black and white.

2. Piggy Back Camera. Traditional film cameras still have some advantages over CCD: less noise, finer grain, and color without compromise. However, the piggy back camera needs its own lens. A serious telephoto lens can easily cost more than the telescope it's attached to.

3. Telescope as Lens. You can connect a camera to the telescope itself, effectively using the telescope as the lens. Since you don't use the eyepiece, you don't get the magnification you might expect. The only expense besides the camera and the scope is a T-mount which costs about $50.

4. Projection Eyepiece. In the category of eating your cake and having it, too; consider taking a picture of the image that your eyepiece creates. Many people simply put their camera up to the eyepiece. Fancier eyepiece and camera holders cost about $200.

5. WebCam. The January 2004 issue of Sky&Telescope showed how easy it is to get good results from a webcam that has been modified (either a lot or a little) for astronomical use. Costs vary but it will probably be around $150 for both web cam and adaptor or just $30 if you have a webcam already. Scopetronix is a vendor for both webcam adaptors and projection eyepieces.

6. Schmitt Camera. Some telescope cameras are built just for that purpose. The Schmitt Camera is an example. You can see a nice one at here. When you see a Schmidt camera it tends to have a very low f-stop number like 1.5 or 2. The cost will be north of $20K.

7. LowCost CCD, Planetary and Lunar Imager. LowCost astronomical CCD cameras are available. The Meade Pictor series is a good example. The latest Meade telescopes come with a camera called the lunar and planetary imager(LPI). The name tells you what it is best suited for. The LPI can be purchased separately for $150. An entry level CCD is available for $539 from SAC Imaging. A variation on this is to substitute your eyepiece with a video cam that sends images to your television. With other hardware/software you can capture video frames and use them as photographic images. Orion sells a color video cam for $120.

8. Internet Astronomy. Astronomy sites on the internet have lots of pictures but you can also make your own pictures via the Internet. One such site is maintained by the people who run the New Mexico Skies astronomy resort. The cost is as low as $17/hour assuming you are willing to buy a few thousand hours up front. More information is at here.

9. Sketching. It has been said (I think by John Dobson) that if you get tired of a particular astronomical view in your scope, try sketching it. This isn't photography but it often works better because of the sensitivity of the human eye and the "photoshop" in the brain. Cost is virtually nothing.

10. Photography already done. You can get a copy of the Digitized Sky Survey made at Palomar (for Northern skies) and the UK Schmidt Telescope in Siding Spring, Australia (for Southern skies). Cost is $100 from Software Bisque with occasional discounts offered with other Software Bisque products.

11. Launch a satellite. If you read the list down to here and are still not satisfied with the results, you may need to launch an observatory satellite like Hubble. Costs are high - Chandra cost about $3 billion dollars including development, launch and operations.



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