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Imaging Saturn with my new camera - Daydreaming Infinity - S. J. Halls
Imaging Saturn with my new camera

Imaging Saturn with my new camera

Last week I ordered a new camera for my telescope. Unlike my Canon DSLR, this one is specifically aimed at capturing images whilst connected to a telescope. 

A couple of weeks ago, I took some pictures with my DSLR connected to my telescope. I was moderately pleased with the results, but I am hoping to improve.

I decided to buy a dedicated astronomy imaging camera specifically designed to be attached to a telescope.

So, which one should I buy?

That, as it turns out, isn’t a simple question to answer. Like most hobbies, the amount of money you can throw at something just goes up and up. The sky is, literally, the limit!

There are a numerous astronomy cameras available on the market. They range in quality, capability, and cost. Some are designed for deep space photography, whilst others are aimed at planetary imaging.  I didn’t want to spend a fortune on an all-singing-and-dancing-mega-camera that would outstrip my ability, or my wallet. I wanted something relatively in-expensive that would also be capable of producing some decent images.

After reading lots of reviews I elected to purchased the ZWO ASI-120MC-S camera.

Z

This camera cost me just under £150 (far cheaper than a DSLR!), and although it can be used for deep-sky targets, it is really aimed at planetary imaging. 

It seemed just the right mix of quality and affordability. I could hone my imaging skills, without needing to remortgage our house.

After a few unsuitable nights, the sky on Friday seemed favourable. Saturn was visible to the South, skimming just about the roof line of the neighbouring church.  So, I setup my tripod and scope.

Although the sky was clear, the seeing wasn’t great. Through the eyepiece, Saturn was clear but it was wavering around quite a bit in the turbulent atmosphere. 

I hooked up the new camera and began.

This was the result of about an hour of imaging. Most of that time was spent finding my way around the camera and the software. 

Saturn

I also learned that USB cables in the dark are a hazard!

Ending up with this image was a multi-step process. 

Step 1: Firstly, I used a piece of software called SharpCap (link) to capture multiple frames, taken rapidly one after the other, and stored in a movie file.  This resulted in a 2.5 GB file of raw data! 

The general idea is that some frames will be better quality than others. The turbulent air changes from moment to moment. By taking images at as high a frame rate as possible you are hoping to “get lucky” in some frames.

Step 2: Then, I used AutoStakkert! (link). This piece of software aligns all of the frames in the raw data, selects the best ones, and then finally stacks them. I chose to stack the best 20% of over 1,000 frames. This resulted in a 16-bit TIF file.

Step 3: Finally, I used another piece of software called RegiStax (link) to process the image and bring out a little more detail. 

The image above was the result. I’m very happy with it as a first attempt with the new camera! It is a great improvement over the images of Saturn and Jupiter I captured a couple of weeks ago with my DSLR.

I’m hoping to get an image of Jupiter this week. It’s past it’s best for this year, but is still visible in the South after sunset. The main problem is that Jupiter is no longer visible from our garden, so I need to find somewhere else to set up.

As ever, wish me luck.