Posts Tagged ‘Orion’

Barnard’s Loop

March 7, 2016 1 comment

When I was a kid, Barnard’s Loop was something that I saw on star charts, but it seemed so hopelessly dim, I never expected to actually see it.  And even when I started CCD imaging, it was still a somewhat elusive object: too large to capture unless you used a wide-angle lens, and even then you wouldn’t get decent resolution.  But the combination of a full-frame sensor and a very fast telephoto lens turns out to frame it nicely.

This image obviously has more in it than Barnard’s Loop.  M42/43, the Flame Nebula, the Horsehead Nebula, and M78 all sit nestled within the Loop.  But more interestingly for me, you can start to see the overall Orion Molecular Cloud complex in there: all the dim tendrils that connect each of these objects, some glowing, some blocking the view of the glow.  I regret stopping the lens down to f/2.8 now, as perhaps I would have captured more of the overall cloud that way.  I’d go back and retake the shot if I weren’t having so much fun with this new lens on other targets (and if I hadn’t spent five hours processing this one).  But I’ll consider this a success, as it’s another childhood dream accomplished.

Barnards_Loop_FINAL_50 percent

(This image is reduced to 25% of full size, as the 6D’s output is over 20 megapixels.)

Image data:

  • Exposures: 81×2 min at ISO800 – total exposure time:  2h 42m
  • Telescope: Samyang 135 mm f/2 lens at f/2.8 (reviewed here)
  • Camera: Canon 6D (modified) with Astronomik CLS clip-in filter
  • Mount: Takahashi EM200
  • Guiding: Orion Starshoot, guided using PHD2
  • Conditions:  fair transparency, calm winds
  • Processing: DeepSkyStacker -> PixInsight -> Photoshop
  • Date: Feb 28, 2016


Review: Samyang 135 mm f/2 Astrograph

March 6, 2016 9 comments


By calling the Samyang 135 mm f/2 lens an astrograph in the title, I’m giving away a bit of the conclusion, so let me just state the conclusions up front: I found this lens to be sharp from corner to corner with a reasonably flat field across a full-frame sensor. This is better performance than all but the best prime telephoto lenses, and also better than many telescopes I’ve owned claiming to be astrographs. Even more impressive is the fact that it accomplishes this at a focal ratio four to eight times faster than “fast” refractors. Finally, it’s hard to beat the price: currently just over $500.

While the performance was adequate at f/2, I found that stopping down the lens one full stop to f/2.8 improved sharpness. This is true of any lens, and even stopped to f/2.8, that’s still four times the light gathered per sensor area than an f/5.6 telescope. It’s easy to forget how fast this is, but my first night using the lens reminded me. My usual telescopes are two f/5 William Optics Star 71s and a Takahashi FSQ-106ED, also f/5. I usually shoot narrowband exposures of 20 minutes with these. So the combination of broadband and f/2.8 put me in the realm of 30 to 120 second exposures—anything longer at ISO 800 overexposed the stars.

The infinity focus point is about 2 mm left of the mark on the lens barrel, so you’ll have to carefully dial in focus. There isn’t much tolerance for error at such fast focal ratios, as the zone of focus is very narrow.

Vignetting is substantial in the corners, but it is more reasonable if you move slightly inward.  For very fast optics, this is typical, though it does lead to lower SNR toward the corners. I was able to keep the full frame images without cropping by using good flat frames, but this is essential.

Master Flat created from 33 pictures (Average)

Master Flat created from 33 pictures (Average)

The quick 99×1 minute image below of the Rosette Nebula area gives you a sense of how wide the view is with a Canon 6D. In the center is the Christmas Tree/Foxfur/Cone Nebula area, with huge dark nebula Barnard 37 prominent. This was taken without a CLS filter, so light pollution prevented me from adequately revealing the Foxfur nebula well. The Rosette Nebula shines brightly to the left, though. (Note that this image is reduced to 25% of the actual image resolution.)

Samyang 135 Rosette_widefield 25 percent size

As you can see from the full resolution close-ups below, the lens is impressively sharp across the Canon 6D’s entire field of view, with very minimal distortion even in the extreme corners.

Samyang 135 corner performance

The 9-blade diaphragm of the Samyang results in a pleasing radiant around bright stars, but the lens does exhibit some internal reflections.

Samyang 135 reflection

I look forward to using this lens as my (very) widefield astrograph. Depending on your sensor size, the ideal targets for this lens will vary, but I’m looking forward to shooting:

  • The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex
  • IC2177 and Thor’s Helmet area
  • The California Nebula to Pleiades area
  • Orion’s Head/ Meissa Nebula
  • Heart and Soul Nebulae area
  • The Rho Ophiuchi area
  • Cygnus
  • The IC405/IC410 area
  • Taurus Molecular Cloud
  • The Milky Way’s Pipe nebula region
  • Sagittarius

After complex mosaics and multi-night narrowband CCD projects, it’s a joy to throw a simple setup like this onto the mount to grab bright widefield images in a few hours.


  • Fast focal ratio
  • Sharpness
  • Flatness of field
  • Price (currently ~$529 USD)


  • Some internal reflections
  • Limited targets available for this focal length
  • Will require adapter to fit CCD cameras

Orion Rising Over Courthouse Butte

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Sedona, Arizona has the clearest, darkest skies I may ever see (anywhere near civilization at least).  Who knew there was a winter Milky Way visible too?!  Not this suburbanite.

I got one clear night to test out both my new Samyang 14mm lens and the iOptron SkyTracker.  While this image is not the best example of the SkyTracker’s abilities, since I misaligned it, the foreground framing was better than the other shots I took.  So this is the one I chose to process first.

Red Rocks combined FINAL for blog

Image data:

  • Exposures:  sky:  20×30 seconds, foreground: 1×30 seconds
  • Telescope: Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens at f/4
  • Cameras: Canon 6D (modified)
  • Mount: iOptron SkyTracker
  • Guiding: none
  • Conditions:  excellent transparency, passing clouds
  • Processing: DeepSkyStacker -> PixInsight -> Photoshop
  • Date: Jan 29, 2016

Evaluating the full-frame performance of the William Optics Star71

January 23, 2016 1 comment

I’m excited to start imaging with my new Canon EOS 6D.  Having a full-frame chip will allow some very widefield shots that would require mosaics with a 4/3 sensor, like the KAF-8300 cameras I use most of the time.  Since conditions were less than ideal, I used the first couple of nights out to run some tests.  First up is a test of the 6D with the Star71.

The obvious target:  M42.  Below is a very brief exposure (17 min total, in 15s subexposures).

M42 17 min

That is a very wide field.  5.8 x 3.8 degrees.  I didn’t even intend to include the Horsehead Nebula when I pointed the mount at M42, but the field is so wide, I accidentally captured most of it.

Are the stars sharp out to the corners?  Yes.  The image below is a crop of 100 pixel squares from each corner of the above image.  No star reduction was done in any of these images. The performance is really good.  A little distortion on the right side, but quite tolerable.


What about vignetting?  I estimate less than 10% light falloff between the center and the corners from the flat frame analysis below (the image is highly stretched to reveal vignetting).  Note that there is a dark band across the bottom.  This was consistent across my images, and I’m not sure of the source, but I suspect something to do with dcraw (this image was imported into PixInsight, which calls dcraw for conversion).  DeepSkyStacker seemed to have trouble with some of the 6D’s images too.


The 6D and Star71 are a good pair, and it’s nice to have a DSLR again for simple one-shot color imaging, especially for wide fields.  Once I get some adapters, I look forward to running the same test with the Takahashi FSQ-106ED.

Vignetting measurements for every scope I’ve owned

June 22, 2014 3 comments

In my recent review of the WO Star 71, I stated that the measured light falloff from center to corner of an APS-C sensor was 3-4%.  That got me thinking… how does that compare to other scopes?

I’ve owned and imaged with many telescopes over the past few years, thanks to the active used market for scopes.  That means I’ve taken flats with all of them, so on my hard drive, I have measurements to quantify vignetting for all of them.  Since that might be useful to people, and since there might be some lessons to be learned, I spent the morning going back through my files calculating vignetting.


  • UPDATED:  Only FITS files were used, with raw ADU counts.  (Previous methodology was unable to account for differences in file types due to gamma curve applied by FITSLiberatoror and Photoshop’s RAW import routine).  Camera-scope pairing where I had only CR2 files have now been excluded.
  • I used a 51×51 pixel average, measured in the center of the image, and in each corner.  I averaged the corners, then compared that to the center.
  • I tried to use flats where the peak value was still in the linear range of the sensor (the middle 20-80% of full well capacity).
  • Where the data were variable, I looked at multiple flats from different days and took an average.
  • All flats were taken using a t-shirt over the objective end of the telescope.
  • This is not a bench test; these are values taken from flats used in practical (read: sometimes imperfect) situations.  There could have been a wrinkle in the fabric or non-orthogonality (sensor not perpendicular to the optical axis) in the system, though I tried to exclude any flats like this in the set used for consideration.


  Light falloff from center to corner for:
Telescope KAF-8300

(18 x 13.5 mm)

Full frame (STL-11000)

(36 x 24 mm)

Takahashi FSQ-106ED at native f/5.0 11%
Takahashi FSQ-106ED at f/3.65 with 0.73x Reducer QE 35%
Televue NP101 at native f/5.4 20% 45%
Televue NP101 at f/4.3 with NPR-2073 0.8x reducer 35%
Borg 77EDII at f/4.3 with 7704 reducer 18%
Orion EON 120 at native f/7.5 22%
AstroTech AT8RC at native f/8 with AT2FF flattener * *
William Optics Star 71 at native f/4.9 12%

So have you ever looked at your flats?  I mean really looked at your flats?  I skimmed through four years of my own, and I was very surprised by some of these results.

With faster focal ratios, it gets challenging to fully illuminate the larger sensors.  The effect of mechanical vignetting on the NP101 is apparent on the full frame STL-11000M, and this is exactly what Televue addressed in creating their “is” series scopes, so I’m guessing an NP101is would perform much better here.

I’ve shown the light fall-off between the center and the worst corner I could find.  When the vignetting gets significant, the slightest bit of tilt between the sensor and the objective is revealed, so one corner or side was usually a few percent worse than the best.

It’s also clear that the Takahashi lives up to its stellar reputation.  At the native f/5, it easily covers the full frame sensor.  At a crazy f/3.65, it’s probably pushing the limit of acceptable vignetting for the full frame chip.

The new WO Star 71 holds up very well in terms of vignetting, at least with the ST-8300 chip.  I previously tested it with an APS-C DSLR, but those data are not comparable to the FITS data here.

I’ve long since sold the Orion EON120, but I was surprised it didn’t perform better due to its higher focal ratio.  I didn’t have good data on this scope with reducers.

Finally, the AT8RC is an interesting case, and I’ve excluded the data because it was harder to make sense of.  I’ve always taken it as gospel that the AT2FF was the flattener to use with this scope.  Taking a good look at my own flats, I saw two things:  1) it looks like there is a bit of a “ring” shape in the brightness, which may be introduced by the flattener’s  (which was, after all, designed for refractors) interaction with the RC optics;  2) there seems to be some non-orthogonality in my system that is making one side brighter than the other.  Or maybe the mirror need to be re-aligned a little.  In some cases one corner was slightly brighter than the center.  Either way, this made it harder to state a simple center-to-corner ratio, so I’ve left the data out.

Lessons Learned

This was an exercise I should have done a long time ago.  I took away several important lessons from it:

  • Look at your flats.  Why put all of the effort into taking good lights, then undermine it by introducing gradients due to poor flat fielding?  I got more careful over time, but some of my early flats left me shaking my head, thinking, “rookie.”   Some days I was taking flats where the peak value was uncomfortably high or low, which experience has since taught me to avoid.
  • It gets harder to maintain even illumination with faster focal ratios.
  • There really is a difference with quality scopes.  The Tak easily upholds it reputation here, which makes me feel better about its price.
  • With smaller sensors (I’m looking at you, Sony 694’s), you can save a lot of money by buying a scope that would be otherwise less acceptable for larger sensors.
  • Conversely, when you buy a larger sensor, you need to support it with better optics.
  • With significant vignetting, non-orthogonality is exaggerated in the flat.

Call for Data

Does this represent your experience with your scopes?  Am I crazy?  Have I missed something here?  I’d love to hear what other people have found looking at their own flats.


The Horsehead Nebula in H-alpha

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

The 1983 National Geographic cover featuring this nebula really captured my imagination as a child.  I’ve always thought it was one of the coolest things in the sky, and it’s amazing that amateurs can now take images from their backyard that rival the best professional observatory pictures then.

This grayscale image represents 27 ten-minute exposures through a Hydrogen-alpha narrowband filter. This filter captures only deep-red light produced by ionized Hydrogen (and Nitrogen) in the nebula.  Consider that the visible light we see ranges from about 400 to 700 nm in wavelength.  Here, you are only seeing the light from a tiny sliver of the spectrum from 653-659 nm which, fortunately for us, is where nearly all of the light from this object is emitted.

The Horsehead Nebula in H-alpha

Image data:

Exposures:  27 x 600s Ha, a total of 4h 30m, taken 17 Feb 2012.

Software:  guiding by PHD, stacking in DeepSkyStacker, processing in Photoshop CS3

Telescope:  Borg 77EDII w/ f/4.3 reducer

Camera:  SBIG ST-8300M with Baader filters

Mount:  CGEM

M42 Orion Nebula in Narrowband

February 5, 2012 1 comment

Some weeks, everything goes wrong.

To quench the never-ending thirst for more concentrated photons, I sold my previous scopes so I could trade up to two high-end, fast refractors:  a Borg 77EDII at f/4.3 and a TeleVue NP101 at f/5.3.  I seized rare opportunities to get both used and at great prices.  Only if a Tak FSQ came my way would I have room to improve in the short focal length department.  But with all new scopes come new problems.  The NP101 needed rings to sit on my mount, and an adapter for my stepper motor to control the focuser — $200 and two weeks.  The Borg needed precise spacers to fit my camera, and I’m still working out other kinks — $100 and at least two weeks.

Now I find out that my SBIG’s cooling is not functioning correctly, so basically every piece of imaging equipment I have is “in the shop,” in one way or another.  But sometimes even with adversity, something fun or beautiful slips through.  I took the NP101 out on a hazy, moonlit night because I really wanted to start working with narrowband data.  The obvious, reliable target sat just above my roof:  M42.

The world needs another image of M42 like a hole in the head, but I couldn’t resist.  Before it set, I grabbed two hours of narrowband exposures, and here is my very first narrowband image:

Stats:  SBIG ST8300M, Baader filters, TeleVue NP101 on a CGEM

6x300s H-alpha, 10x300s O-III, 12x300s S-II, 25 flats, NO darks

Stacked in DSS, process in Photoshop CS3.

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