Orion is one of the most recognisable and celebrated sights in the winter sky. The constellation has been documented, worshipped and woven into fable and legend for thousands of years. The supergiant stars Betelgeuse and Rigel are two of the brightest in the sky, and the vast amount of nebulosity in the region make Orion an excellent target.
I tried my hand at capturing the legendary Orion nebula (M42) in the sword region. The nebula is among the brightest in the night sky, so I was optimistic for a pretty good result. But seeing it final result stacked in DSS with all its stunning detail, I couldn’t help but be blown away once again!
Details: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 56 minutes (112 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.
Orion’s belt also contains the famous Horsehead nebula, which I thought would be neigh on impossible to capture due to its faintness and fairly low position in the sky as seen the UK. It’s a target made even tougher due to its red colour, which regular unmodified cameras don’t capture well.
It took the longest exposure I’ve managed to date (1 hour 12 minutes) to draw out the detail, but the final stacked image just about shows the Horsehead nebula, along with the beautiful flame nebula.
Details: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 72 minutes (144 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.
Since testing out the new Nikkor 180mm f2.8 lens on the Andromeda galaxy, we’ve been cursed with almost 3 solid weeks of cloud and moonlit nights. This is pretty typical, as anybody who’s just bought some new equipment will tell you.
The stars finally came out for an hour or so last night, allowing me to grab some shots of the Triangulum galaxy (M33). Being much smaller and fainter than the Andromeda galaxy (magnitude 5.7 vs 3.4) I went for a MUCH longer exposure, taking 50 shots at 80 seconds each, for a total of 1 hour and 6 minutes.
Details: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 1 hour and 6 minutes (50 x 80 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.
The lens did a great job once again. Below is a side by side 10 minute exposure comparison between the 50mm f1.8 with the new 180mm f2.8 lens. As you’d expect, there’s a massive difference!
First attempt at imaging the Andromeda galaxy with the new Nikkor 180mm f2.8 ED Ai-s lens. I was able to grab just 2.5 minutes of exposure time before the clouds rolled in, but the resulting image stacked in Deep Sky Stacker blew me away!
The lens is incredible. It can be shot wide open at f2.8 while still producing sharp contrasty images, with very little coma. There is more detail visible in a single 30 second exposure with this lens, than a full 5 minute exposure with the 18-105mm. The spiral arms and dust lanes stand out nicely in the final image, with the two satellite galaxies M32 and M110 easily visible. The colour the lens produces is another welcome improvement over the flat colours from the old lens, and something I hadn’t expected.
Details: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 2 and a half minutes (5 x 30 seconds) at iso 1600. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.
This sequence shows the progression over the last 2 months, from single 10 second image, to the most recent tracked and stacked image. All images were taken with the Nikon D7000 at iso 1600:
- View – Single frame with Nikkor 50mm f1.8, on fixed tripod. 10 second exposure at f2.5.
- View – 30 frames with Nikkor 50mm f1.8, on fixed tripod, stacked with DSS. 5 minute exposure (30 x 10 seconds) at f2.5.
- View – 3 frames with Nikkor 18-105mm f3.5-5.6, tracked with barn door tracker and stacked with DSS. 5 minute exposure (3 x 100 seconds) at f5.6.
- View – 5 frames with Nikkor 180mm f2.8 ED Ai-s, tracked with barn door tracker and stacked with DSS. 2.5 minute exposure (5 x 30 seconds) at f2.8.
The key to improvement was building the barn door tracker which allowed for longer exposures, along with Deep Sky Stacker to reduce noise and bring out the details. I should be able to improve on the sequence even further once the weather picks up!
After 3 weeks of bad weather and moonlight, I eventually had another go at the Andromeda galaxy. The final image (below) is a definite improvement as the galaxy was near zenith at time of shooting, so there was less atmosphere in the way. At 6 minutes and 30 seconds (13 x 30 seconds) it’s also a longer exposure. I think it would be possible to improve still further, but I’d need to go to a dark sky site and use ‘sub frame’ exposure times longer than 30 seconds.
Details: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 6 and a half minutes (13 x 30 seconds) at iso 1600. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.