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Best DSLR Cameras For Deep-Sky Astrophotography

2009-06-28 14:00
Recently, DSLR cameras have become the most popular models for astronomical photography. Intended for serious amateur photographers and all types of shooting, DSLRs have several key features that make them particularly desirable for nighttime photography. First and most important, their large sensors, especially the full-frame sensors like those in the Canon 5D Mark II or Nikon 700 offer much lower noise and cleaner images and far better signal-to-noise ratios than do compact point-and-shoot digital cameras, especially at ISO 800 and higher. In additions, the latest DSLR cameras such as Canon 50D, 40D 450D, 1D Mark III, and Nikon D3, D3X, and D300, now supports live-view focus, dust reduction, and higher bit depths, supports interchangeable lenses- or direct attachment to a telescope's focuser -making them by far the most versatile cameras for all forms of astrophotography, from panoramas with wide-angle lenses to deep-sky astrophotography includes the real jewels of the night sky - star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. These photos will be relying on the long-exposures (couple to dozens of minutes) and low-noise features of the latest DSLR cameras. The right photo consists of M31, one of he most distant objects visible to the naked eye of our sister galaxy, using Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a Televue-76 APO telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener at ISO 800 with single 8 minute exposure. Some other stunning astrophotography can be found below... [Source]

Back in February 2005, Canon's in Japan launched a version of the Canon EOS 20D designed especially for astrophotography. The camera will utilize the same image sensor as the standard 20D, but it will be designed for enhanced transmission of a specific wavelength of red light within the visible spectrum. It will able to show a live, through-the-lens view on the rear LCD monitor, which is often a necessity in astrophotography, and now commonly available as the live view features in the latest DSLR models. The camera was designed to be about 250% more sensitive to light in the 656 nanometer band than the standard 20D and make it well-suited to capturing photos of hydrogen-rich reddish diffuse nebulae. Although this model has been discontinued in 2006, it can still be found used from eBay. If you are not afraid of breaking the camera warranty, you can probably install a custom designed filters in your existing DSLR camera to enhance the camera spectrum, probably wise to get such services from professional companies such as Hap Griffin, Gary Honis, and Andy Ellis in the UK. Or you can purchase pre-modified models from Hutech Astronomical Products like the 50D or the full-frame 5D Mark II. Older available models are the Digital Rebel (300D), Rebel XT (350D), Rebel XTi (400D) Rebel XSi (450D), Rebel XS(1000D) as well as the professional level 20D, 30D, 40D, and 5D cameras. These modified cameras does come with their own warranty from Hutech. Below is the recommended DSLR cameras from Astropix for long-exposure deep-sky astrophotography:

"For long-exposure, deep-sky astrophotography, the most important things to look for in a DSLR camera are low noise, high sensitivity and a good signal-to-noise ratio in the final output data. Usability features, like live-view focusing, dust-reduction technology, and single-cable operation are also very attractive features to consider for astrophotography when choosing a camera.

I recommend Canon DSLR cameras over Nikon because of Canon's proven performance, low-noise characteristics, and ease of use. For cameras that are currently being manufactured, the Canon 50D is my top rated camera for it's balance between performance and usability. It offers good signal-to-noise, live view focusing, one-cable operation, no amp glow and 14 bits of tonal depth. The best entry-level DSLR for astrophotography is the Canon 1000D (Digital Rebel XS). It hits a very sweet spot in terms of its price-performance ratio."

If you are interested in cleaning up some of the photos for astrophotography you should look into this astronomy tools action sets from ProDigital Software. The software combine a set of professional quality actions for photoshop that produces top quality results. The set gives you the following 32 functions, each of which you can invoke with a keystroke or mouse click. You may use one or several, depending on your photo nature:

  • Construct RGB Image from Channel Files - Build full color image from red, green, blue data
  • Synthesize Green Channel from Red and Blue - Create synthetic green channel
  • Soft Color Gradient Removal - Remove a color gradient across the image
  • Hard Color Gradient Removal - Remove a severe color gradient across the image
  • Light Pollution Removal - Remove light pollution gradient and background noise
  • Select Brighter Stars - Select only stars in your image for further processing
  • Make Stars Smaller - Make bloated stars smaller, bring out DSOs
  • Less Crunchy More Fuzzy - Smooth oversharpened images, bring out star color
  • Space Noise Reduction - Noise reduction for the darker areas of the image
  • Deep Space Noise Reduction - Noise reduction for only darkest areas of the image
  • Color Blotch Reduction - Remove only color noise, leaving fine detail intact
  • Horizontal Banding Noise Reduction - Remove sideways streaks in the dark parts
  • Vertical Banding Noise Reduction - Remove up and down streaks in the dark parts
  • Fade Sharpen to Mostly Lighten - Remove dark halos from aggressive sharpening
  • Reduce Small Blue/Violet Halos - Remove small blue/violet rings around bright stars
  • Reduce Large Blue/Violet Halos - Remove large blue/violet rings around bright stars
  • Increase Star Color - Brings color back to whited-out stars
  • Local Contrast Enhancement - Increase contrast between dark and light
  • Lighten Only DSO and Dimmer Stars - Lighten Nebula or Galaxy while keeping stars small
  • Enhance DSO and Reduce Stars - Bring out Nebula or Galaxy and reduces star size
  • B&W -> Ha False Color - Convert to color as though through Hydrogen Alpha filter
  • B&W -> Ha False Color Black Space - As above but makes open space blacker
  • B&W -> OIII False Color - Convert to color as though through Oxygen III filter
  • B&W -> OIII False Color Black Space - As above but makes open space blacker
  • Star Diffraction Spikes Tiny Stars - Put diffraction spikes around most stars
  • Star Diffraction Spikes Small Stars - Put diffraction spikes around many stars
  • Star Diffraction Spikes Medium Stars - Put diffraction spikes around larger stars
  • Star Diffraction Spikes Fat Stars - Put diffraction spikes around the largest stars
  • Astro Frame - Add a background color border with room for captioning the image... [Source]

Some other stunning astrophotography... [Source]

Omega Centuari

One of the most spectacular deep sky sights are the big globulars with NGC5139 being the biggest of all. A spectacular swarm of stars in a mind bogglingly tight ball. Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a Televue-76 APO telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. Single 2 minute exposure at ISO 800. Taken at Casitas de Gila, outside of Silver City, New Mexico.

The Eagle and the Swan

Along what I call 'Nebula Row' in Sagittarius are the two great star nurseries of M16 and M17. Beautiful sights in the telescope and great photographic targets. Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a Televue-76 APO telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. Single 8 minute exposure at ISO 800. Taken at Casitas de Gila, outside of Silver City, New Mexico.

The Lagoon and Trifid

At the lower end of Nebula Row is the large Lagoon Nebula, another star birth nebula with innumerable stars sprinkled across it. Above it the iconic Trifid Nebula a beautiful combination of red emission and blue reflection nebula. Visible in this photo are M8, M20, M21, NGC6544, NGC6553, B88, B89, B91, B303, IC4685 and IC1274. Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a Televue-76 APO telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. Single 8 minute exposure at ISO 800. Taken at Casitas de Gila, outside of Silver City, New Mexico.

Baade's Window

Just above the spout of the 'Teapot' of Sagittarius is a bright cloud of stars well known to stargazers. This area is of particular interest to astronomers as well. The area is relatively free of dust clouds and provides an almost unobstructed view into the vast star clouds at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Visible in this photo are NGC6522, NGC6528, B289, and B298. Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a Televue-76 APO telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. Single 8 minute exposure at ISO 800. Taken at Casitas de Gila, outside of Silver City, New Mexico.

The Snake

The center of our galaxy is a mass of stars and dark clouds of dust. When the dust obscures the stars we can see the enigmatic dark nebula silhouetted against the stellar background. Visible in this photo are B72, NGC6369, B68, B69, B70, B71, and many others. Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a Televue-76 APO telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. Single 8 minute exposure at ISO 800. Taken at Casitas de Gila, outside of Silver City, New Mexico.

Andromeda Galaxy

One of he most distant objects visible to the naked eye is our sister galaxy M31. Together M31 with M33, our own Milky Way and about 30 odd small dwarf galaxies make up the local group. Visible in this photo are M31, M32 and M110. Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a Televue-76 APO telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. Single 8 minute exposure at ISO 800. Taken at Casitas de Gila, outside of Silver City, New Mexico.

Total Lunar Eclipse

A total lunar eclipse on the night of August 27-28, 2007 with the Moon deep in the Earth's inner shadow. A dark eclipse, this exposure shows a number of stars surrounding the Moon. Canon 20Da DSLR camera mounted on a 90mm APO f/12 telescope with a 0.8x focal reducer/field flattener. Single 30sec exposure at ISO 200. Taken at Hale Pohaku, Mauna Kea, Hawaii.



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