Every amateur astronomer knows that the clouds will roll in as the delivery man’s van leaves your front door. This happened to me again these last two weeks.
I treated myself to a new ZWO ASI224MC camera with a Canon lens adapter, all purchased online from Bintel. Very small and compact and it is intended to help me with my polar alignment, guiding and some planetary imaging. It’s main advantage is its very low read noise which means that you can take many short images and add the individual image frames in post processing to form a longer duration image without adding significant noise in the process. I’m not planning any huge expansion into planetary astrophotography but it would be nice to have something to do when the moon is up and I cannot do long exposure, deep sky stuff.
Last night was clear with the Moon and Jupiter right overhead and I started everything up; EQ6-R mount with the ZWO ASI224MC camera on a Canon 60mm EFS lens. For the software I used Sharpcap Pro, it will cost you 10 pounds annually to get the Pro version that lets you do polar alignment. This works very well and will work with any camera that is recognized by Sharpcap. Also read one of my previous posts about SparkoCam.
You just follow instructions and move the mount az and alt adjustments to get the polar axis of the mount perfectly on the celestial pole. No guessing or frustration and a perfect result. That’s worth more than 10 pounds!
My first attempts at using the ASI224MC camera with an Orion EON 80ED on the moon and Jupiter was not great, I have a lot of learning to do and I did not spend a lot of time trying. Just a quick picture of the moon…
I then took a number of images of the Milky Way with my modified Canon 600D with a Canon 60mm EFS lens directly on the mount and took a series of 60 images of (quite short) 30 seconds exposures at f3.2 and 400ASA as well as a number of dark frames of whatever was directly overhead at the time. It happened to be the center of our galaxy. As usual, combined with Deep Sky Stacker and processed with LR4. I was sitting inside on the sofa nice and warm, watching a movie while Magic Lantern was managing the camera outside in the cold. Did I mention that it was cold?
I may have just found a great solution for achieving very good polar alignment with any telescope mount.
There is this little piece of software called “SharpCap” ( http://www.sharpcap.co.uk/ ). It’s a very clever piece of software that uses a webcam or an astronomy camera to assist with focusing, stacking, polar alignment and much more. Unfortunately SharpCap does not support DSLR cameras as a video source. It supports some of the available astronomy cameras such as ZWO, QHY, etc. If you want to use SharpCap you have to have a camera that is supported. I was on my way to purchase a ZWO camera to do this when I read a forum post on Cloudy Nights ( https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/545643-sharpcap-polar-alignment-experiences/ ) where someone mentioned that they are using another piece of software to allow them to use a DSLR as a webcam and that SharpCap actually processes the DSLR image seamlessly.
“SparkoCam” ( http://sparkosoft.com/sparkocam ) is providing the capability to use your Canon or Nikon DSLR as a regular webcam. When installed, SharpCap will recognise SparkoCam as a virtual webcam and process the DSLR live view images directly. No need to purchase a separate camera to work with SharpCap.
The process is quite simple, install the DSLR on your mount pointing towards the celestial pole. You would obviously do a basic mount alignment to get the camera view close to the pole, at least to within about 5 degrees. Now activate SharpCap and follow the instructions to get to an accurate alignment. This process will work with a tracking mount as well as a manual equatorial mount.
I have everything installed now and will test under the stars as soon as possible. It is raining outside at the moment, as can be expected….
The Orion Nebula must be one of the greatest objects in the night sky. At about 1,344 light years away it’s not close but it is visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy patch in the middle of Orion’s sword.
This nebula is difficult to photograph because of the large dynamic range in the image. The Trapezium is a group of bright stars that illuminate the nebula and the difference in brightness between these stars in the centre and the fainter clouds on the outside makes it hard to image and process the nebula in all its glory.
This image was taken at Rabbiter’s Hut in the Adelaide Hills on a dark night and processed from 5 light frames and 2 dark frames of 5 minutes each. I used the Orion ED80 (500mm focal length) and Canon 600D (modified). The Skywatcher EQ6-R was tracking on its own without any guiding but I do make an effort to get the polar alignment as accurate as practically possible.
New moon and dark skies far from the city lights for two nights.
I took a lot of photos with the new EQ6-R mount, Canon 600D (modified) camera, an Orion ED80 EON and a Meade 8″ SCT. There will be a lot of processing required over the next few weeks to get all the photos out. I experienced a lot of problems but that is par for the course by now.
The first photo is the Rosette Nebula. About 5,000 light years away and visually it’s about three times larger than the Orion Nebula. Its is not bright and require a large telescope to see it under dark skies. If you want to take a photos of it, it is a great target, not too difficult and it is located high in the sky this time of year, just east of Orion.
This image was processed from 22 light frames and 6 dark frames of 2 minutes each. I used the Orion ED80 (500mm focal length) and Canon 600D (modified).
Processing was different this time. I had a lot of noise in the light frames and tried processing each individual frame in LightRoom 4 for noise reduction before I stacked all of them in DSS and processed further in LR4. What do you think?
I tried again last night (or was it this morning…) to capture the Carina Nebula from my verandah. I have a very limited sky available from my house and at this time of year it’s Carina that is the obvious easy target. I will try to catch other objects in the same area, I can think of a globular cluster and maybe a bright galaxy.
The following image is made up of 18 x 2 minute exposures with a a Canon 600D (Modified), Canon EF-S 55-250mm lens at 250mm and f/5.6, ISO-100. I also used 7 dark frames. Processed with DeepSkyStacker, Photoshop CS2 and Lightroom 4.
I used the new laser alignment tool last night and it took me about 2 minutes to achieve polar alignment for the EQ6-R. I then used a 1-star alignment to get the mount setup.
To test, I used my trusty Canon 600D (modified) with a Sigma APO 120-400mm at 400mm and f/5.6 for a single 3 minute exposure. This is not a lens that I would normally use for astrophotography but I wanted a long focal length to test the alignment and tracking.
Well, let’s say that I was not disappointed with the result.The following image of the Carina Nebula is an unguided 3 minutes exposure at 400mm and there is not a trace of star trials, even when zoomed in. Take a look….
I was very exited about trying out the new Skywatcher EQ6-R mount but the weather wasn’t cooperating and then Xmas happened. When I tried the mount I struggled to polar align in the suburban light conditions through the polar scope.
I made a plan….
Previously I made a laser tool that I used to polar align my homebuilt tracker as well as the iOptron Skytracker.
The EQ6-R has a handle that is fixed on the RA axis with two bolts. I made an aluminium plate that replaced the handle and provides a slot for the laser tool.
Tonight I will test the setup and see if polar alignment is easier. I expect to be able to get close to the SCP very quickly with this setup.