A recent trip to the Spanish island of Menorca gave me an chance to see Sagittarius at the heart of the Milky Way, a rich region of sky not easily seen from the UK.
Despite a full moon, and Sagittarius hanging low above the Mediterranean, on the final day I couldn’t resist having a go with the D7000 to see if Deep Sky Stacker could pick out some of the detail.
The final processed image nicely captures the golden mass of the galactic core, intersected by the Great Rift. Objects visible include four bright nebulas; the Lagoon nebula (M8), Trifid (M20), Eagle (M16), and Omega nebula (M17) along with globular cluster M22 and several open clusters.
I’m happy with the result given the conditions and lack of barn door tracker, which limited shot time to 2-5 seconds. The images below show how well the stacking technique works, even on a bright moonlit night.
Here’s another close up of the Lagoon and Trifid nebulas taken at 105mm with the Nikkor 18-105mm lens. It picks them out reasonably well, with quite a bit more close up detail than the longer 50mm shot. However, I’ve realised if I want to improve these shots than I’ll need to use a lens better suited to the job. I have my eye on the ‘legendary‘ Nikkor 180mm f2.8 ED.. I’ll have no excuses then!
This is easily the best astro shot I’ve managed to date. Taken using a combination of the cross filter and the new didymium / red enhancing filter which really draws out the nebulosity in Cygnus. The North America nebula, Pelican nebula and Butterfly nebula can all be seen in this 1000 second (10×100 seconds) exposure.
I’ll probably try the same shot again, but without using the cross filter. I think it can work well in single exposures, but Deep Sky Stacker has a hard time with multiple exposures, and the effect gets a bit too distracting.
A few days later I had a go at imaging the North America nebula with the Nikkor 18-105mm/f3.5-5.6 lens. I accidentally took the photos as 70mm, so there isn’t much difference to the 50mm; just a lot less light gathering power!
Since purchasing the Nikkor 180 f2.8 lens I’ve had another go at the nebulosity in the Sadr region. I’ve been experimenting with ISO settings, taking this image at ISO 6400. However I think I’ll stick to lower ISOs in the future (1600 and below) as the results at higher ISOs begin to deteriorate.
Rummaging through some old camera gear, I found a neglected looking cross filter from back in my old film camera days. I guess it’s more of a novelty effect filter, but I was intrigued as to what it might do to my star shots. It polished up nicely with a microfibre cloth, so I laid it on the 50mm lens (the filter size is way too small) and took a few shots straight upwards in the direction of Deneb.
I think the effect works well as long as there aren’t too many bright stars in the frame. Here’s another shot I took of Cassiopeia with several more bright stars, which perhaps gives it a slightly cheesy/tacky look. I think using a 4 cross filter instead of an 8 cross would improve the effect, but overall I like the result. The colours of the stars really stand out with the diffraction of the filter.
As an added bonus, the barn door tracker worked really well tonight, even with longer exposures the stars showed up as sharp pinpoints, without a hint of trailing.
Looking to test the newly improved ‘barn door’ tracker to its limit, I dusted off my old Sigma 75-200mm/f3.8 with 2x tele-converter. But with a hefty 600mm 35mm equivalent focal length, I was prepared for the worst.
After less than a minute of polar alignment, and unable to frame the shot through the viewfinder (due to an awkward angle), I pointed the camera vaguely in the direction of the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, and opened the shutter for a 30 second shot. Without a watch to count the seconds, I manually moved the dial round, counting the seconds off in my head.
Checking the screen, to my amazement, there it was! Not only had I centred the cluster first time, but there were virtually no trails. I know the shot is pathetic compared to most, but for a home-made, hand guided barn door tracker, cobbled together for under £10, I was blown away by the result.
Shown here is a single 30 second exposure (iso 2000) without the didymium filter, giving it much more colour than the final stacked image.
First attempt at shooting with the home made ‘barn door/scotch mount’ star tracker – I’m amazed how well it works!
This single 3 minute exposure was taken using a borrowed lens in the amazingly clear skies of the North York Moors. The detail shown in the shot at full resolution is amazing (click here for a larger view). The Tokina 11-16mm also worked extremely well. Much sharper and faster, with less distortion and vignetting than the Sigma 10-20mm.
I’m hoping a new ‘didymium’ filter/red enhancer I recently bought from eBay (for £15) will help bring out the nebulosity, while also combating light pollution at the same time. I’ll give it a try near my over illuminated home town in the nights ahead.
The current solar maximum is on track to become the weakest in over 100 years. That is pretty disappointing news (and slightly worrisome!) if you’re a fan of auroras, solar flares and sunspots. But despite the low activity, I have put the bargain £12 sigma and 2x tele-converter to use with some solar shots. Here are a couple which make use of the ND filter and the £3 Hoya 80B filter. The lens and converter combo is surprisingly sharp when stopped down to f8.
I had to wait patiently for a few days to get this shot of a passenger jet transiting the sun. It’s always been a mini aim of mine as it really adds some scale and drama to the shot.
It’s been many years since we last had clear skies for the peak night of the Perseid Meteor shower. Thankfully that run came to an end last night, when skies were as clear as the come around these parts.
Making use of the D7000’s ability to take a long series photos automatically, I set it up to take 50 10 second shots every 11 seconds. Capturing a grand total of 3 meteors from a total of 400 shots is not the best ratio, but I’m happy with shot no.347! In hindsight a wider angle lens would have captured more, but I wanted the light gathering power of the 50mm f1.8 lens to be sure the meteors showed up.