Astrophotography was once limited to experienced photographers with expensive, complicated telescopes and cameras. However, less expensive technology and advances in photography techniques have made astrophotography accessible to amateur astronomers.
Taking astrophotography pictures requires the use of different techniques, depending on the subject matter of the particular photo. For example, while some astrophotography pictures focus on large subjects, such as constellations, other pictures showcase celestial objects that cannot be seen without telescopes.
Whatever subject you choose for your astrophotography pictures, you face a number of challenges. Because most celestial objects are faint, longer exposures are needed to capture them on film. A longer exposure can refer to time periods that range from little as 10 minutes to upwards of a few hours, depending on your subject.
Cameras for astrophotography must capture faint images without capturing terrestrial lights. Unless you take astrophotography pictures far away from towns, you will have to compensate for some light pollution. To block out ambient light, cameras for astrophotography often use filters to remove unwanted fogging caused by light pollution.
Astrophotography is unique in that no other type of photography has to compensate for the earth’s movement. Telescopes and cameras for astrophotography often use motor-driven mounts to move the camera as the earth rotates.
Digital Cameras for Astrophotography
Digital cameras for astrophotography are slowly replacing film cameras, although film does have some advantages over digital.
Digital cameras for astronomy need to have manual focus settings, as automatic focus cameras do not take good astrophotography pictures. Lenses can be removed from SLR cameras so that cameras can be attached directly to telescope eyepieces.
Digital cameras for astronomy are often CCD cameras. A CCD digital camera is more sensitive to light than a traditional film camera. Professional observatories now use CCD digital cameras for astrophotography pictures.
Digital cameras for astrophotography vary widely in price. For instances, while a basic CCD camera can cost between $100 and $300, a more technologically advanced CCD camera can cost several thousand dollars.
Film Cameras and Telescopes
In spite of the popularity of digital cameras for astrophotography, many people prefer to use film cameras. Film cameras for astrophotography pictures have a wider range of vision than digital cameras. A film camera is also capable of much longer exposure times. Specifically, while most digital cameras have an exposure time of, at most, 30 seconds, the aperture on a film camera can be left open all night.
Film cameras also tend to be lighter than digital cameras, making them easier to mount on telescopes. Heavier digital cameras aren’t disqualified from astrophotography because of weight, but they can prove too heavy for smaller telescopes.
As a result, experts typically prefer SLR film cameras when practicing astrophotography. A standard SLR camera sells for approximately $120 to $300 dollars.
Camera Mounts and Other Astrophotography Equipment
It’s possible to take astrophotography pictures of larger subjects, such as constellations, with nothing more than a tripod and camera. To really experience astrophotography, however, you need to use both cameras and telescopes.
Telescopes for astrophotography can be used in two ways.
- You can take astrophotography pictures directly through the telescope eyepiece. If your camera for astrophotography is an SLR camera, the lens can be removed and the camera attached directly to the eyepiece.
- If the camera has a fixed lens, it is possible to purchase a “T ring” or universal camera adapter to secure the camera to the eyepiece. T rings cost between $20 and $30. Instead of working with the eyepiece, the camera is attached to the telescope’s barrel. A special mounting bracket is needed for this style of astrophotography. A camera mount will cost approximately $40.
Astrophotography pictures often require long exposures. Any vibration or movement during exposure can result in a blurry picture. To avoid this, astrophotography buffs use a shutter release cable to take pictures without touching the camera. Depending on the camera model, a shutter release cable costs between $10 and $60.
Telescopes and Astrophotography
Telescopes are essential elements for astrophotography pictures. Starter telescopes for amateur astronomers typically cost between $300 and $400. Prices rise by a few hundred dollars for telescopes with motor driven mounts, which are needed for long exposure astrophotography pictures.
Try to match telescopes to your camera for astrophotography, especially if you intend to mount the camera on the telescope barrel. Despite their size, telescopes are quite light (the barrel, after all, is hollow). Keep in mind that, if your camera is too heavy, several hundred dollars worth of astrophotography equipment could take an expensive tumble.
Few people become astrophotography experts overnight. Chances are your first astrophotography pictures won’t be winning any prizes. With patience and the right cameras for astrophotography, however, you can produce some amazing pictures and add another dimension onto your astronomy hobby.
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