Sunday, April 20, 2008

How to Become an Astrophotographer?

Once you get hooked on looking through a telescope, sooner or later you’re going to want to start recording what you see. One very enjoyable activity is to make drawings, but many serious amateurs sooner or later turn to photography. Astrophotography can be done with any good single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, the right kind of adapter to mate it with your telescope, and a sturdy tripod and mount with a tracking motor to compensate for the rotation of the earth during the long exposures are usually necessary.

As digital technology has greatly simplified and expanded the possibilities of finding objects in space, it has also simplified and expanded the field of professional as well as amateur astrophotography. We discussed how charge-coupled devices (CCDs) have largely replaced conventional photographic film for most astronomical imaging through major earth-based telescopes as well as such space-based instruments as the Hubble Space Telescope. Just as, in recent years, the cost of go-to technology has been greatly reduced, so now is digital imaging within the reach of serious amateurs. The operative word is “serious.” Meade’s Pictor 1616XTE CCD system costs more than $6,000, but the more “entry-level” Pictor 415XTE comes in at just under $2,000. And a very respectable camera from the Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) called the SBIG ST7 can be purchased (at the time of this writing) for under $3,000. It is likely that, over the years, the cost of CCD imaging will fall even further.

If you are interested in astrophotography, whether using conventional film or with CCD imaging, check out Michael A. Covington’s excellent Astrophotography for the Amateur (Cambridge University Press, 1999) or Jeffrey R. Charles’s Practical Astrophotography (Springer Verlag, 2000)

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