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Why is CCDing really so vastly superior to visual?

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#1 IVM

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 09:59 AM

The topic has been repeatedly brought up. What I heard, however, compared what is achievable with the two approaches. Yet lately I was given an opportunity to think more about it and realized that what is achievable is not the whole story – what is actually achieved depends at least as much on the drive for perfection. In this regard, amateur photographers and visual observers are on a very unequal ground. What I say applies to detection of detail in nebulosity (including galaxies); if construed more generally, as has been discussed on these pages, the question in the subject of this post may even be considered ill-posed.

The skill required to a) point a scope at a detailed galaxy, slap a camera on the focuser, and get a photographic image of a fuzzy blob, and b) point a scope at a detailed galaxy, put the eye to the eyepiece, and get a visual image of a fuzzy blob, is virtually the same these days. To get from a fuzzy blob to a detailed image when doing photography is a technical challenge: getting the equipment to work. To get from the fuzzy blob to a detailed image when doing visual is a personal challenge: getting yourself to see. Neither may be inherently more difficult. Yet unlike visual observers, photographers these days are never satisfied with a fuzzy blob.

One reason that I see is that to be unsatisfied, one needs to compare and have challenging examples to follow. Comparing visual observations is obscure stuff; sure there are websites with sketches and detailed descriptions, but this is all rather arcane and quite a bit of additional work to wade through. Often when looking at somebody’s sketch, I am at first lost as to which part of it corresponds to which part in mine, and will often remain lost for some time or forever. Indeed perception is individual, depends greatly on the sky conditions and equipment, and sketches are rarely precise enough. With the more prevalent verbal descriptions it is even worse, if you try to compare the details seen in a complex object.

By contrast, photographers these days compare their results whether they want it or not, because the best astrophotography is mainstream information. Even their non-amateur spouse will point to them how deficient their images are compared to what they have seen elsewhere.

“Worse”, at least half of that beautiful photography that everyone has seen is from giant professional observatories, the space telescope, and their teams of image processing professionals. By comparison, visual professional astronomy has not been in existence for a hundred years. So even if you find a visual description, wade through it, and figure out how it compares with yours, you will be comparing with another amateur, which in principle as well as on average cannot be as challenging as comparing with professional output.

Finally – and I really wonder if this is the crux of the matter – it seems to be the nature of man to be demanding of a machine. Which inner drive is applicable to achieving perfection in photography, but not in visual observing.

Some combination of these factors may be responsible for the fact that unlike the typical visual observer, an amateur astrophotographer is never satisfied with his results (especially not with getting fuzzy blobs), as well as for the fact that astrophotography is commonly declared – and, as practiced, on average actually is – more difficult than visual observing.

#2 jgraham

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 10:36 AM

Interesting thoughts, though I'm a bit puzzled by the title posing the question why one method is superior to the other. I have been blessed to have been active in this hobby for over 50 years and I've seen a lot come'n go both in terms if equipment, observing styles, and hot topics. Wow, what a neat hobby. Personally, I have never viewed different observing styles as being mutually exclusive, but rather to be richly complementary, particularly modern imaging. In my day one of the purposes of imaging was to make the invisible visible and this has never been more true given the spontaneity possible with modern imaging techiques. Many years ago I almost gave up on advanced visual deepsky observing being frustrated with what I could see with my modest homemade equipment under light polluted skies and tired of the ordeal of driving out to dark sky sites. Then I discovered what I could see from my back yard (red zone skies) with a small telescope (4.5" f/4) and a simple CCD camera (a little Meade DSI). With renewed excitement I honed my visual observing gear armed with new first-hand knowledge of what these objects really looked like and where they were located. Nowadays I often re-image old friends to see if I can squeeze out a bit more detail or pick out one more background galaxy, and then move on to meet new friends. I do exactly the same on the visual side, seeing if I can see that little red star I didn't notice before orthat little companion galaxy that I didn't notice before or that knot of stars in a far-flung arm of M33.

Soooo, I don't see one being superior to the other, but natural partners is a wonderful dance. As I grow old and my eyes begin to fade I susect that my last observing will be done with a camera, but hopefully that is a ways off yet.

Have fun!

#3 IVM

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 10:48 AM

John, thank you for your comment. The reason I post is that I am fascinated by the ways in which the universe is being viewed, and there is still lots to understand about these ways and how they evolve.

I understand that the title was a bit puzzling. What I implied with it was that digital imaging does not automatically yield better results compared with visual. It is superior in practice - my thesis goes - because it sets off the drive for perfection in all its practitioners that visual observing does in only a few.

#4 MikeBOKC

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 12:37 PM

Yes I think shutterbugs are bigger perfectionists overall than eyeball astronomers, but as with al generalizations, there are notabl exceptions. Just ask the owner of a big Dob how much time, money and effort he spends on collimation, with some laser tools that run into the hundreds of dollars. I also think there is one other thing that tends to separate visual onservers from APers . . . I suspect we eyeball folks have a more romantic, idealized view of the hobby. You constantly see posts here about how "I saw Saturn for the first time and it almnost brought me to tears" or how some pursue a holy grail objectlike the horsehead. I jsut don't hear that kind of "golly gee" emotion from AP folks, who tend to talk in jargon about subs and processing time. Sure AP is technicaly more challenging, but it also brings a certain level of emotional detachment for many, who spend more time behind a keyboard than an eyepiece. If you doubt this, take an AP guy to a public outreach event. Set up and ask people if they'd like to look at the moon through your visual scope. Then offer to escort them over to see the AP guy's processing software . . . no comparison.

#5 BillFerris

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 03:10 PM

It isn't. - Bill in Flag

#6 IVM

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 03:50 PM

Bill, in general I agree with you. As specified in the OP, however, here I mean bringing out details in nebulous objects. In this specific sense, digital imaging (as it is commonly practiced) is superior in my opinion.

Mike, I agree with you. And this romantic attitude is an additional impediment for the development of the visual skill. Indeed, to contemplate (romantically, one may say) what it is that we are looking at when we see a galaxy through the eyepiece engenders a pretty strong emotion - and this emotion is almost equally strong whether or not we are discerning any detail.

#7 Carol L

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 06:08 PM

It isn't.


+1

#8 buddyjesus

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 09:23 PM

I think both convert photons into fun. whatever floats your boat.

#9 Feidb

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 09:36 PM

Anyone can take a picture if they can afford it. Not as many of us can appreciate what they see through an eyepiece. It's a different mentality.

I'll elaborate on my statement above by saying that anyone who can afford it can take an image. It may be a bad one, it may be good, it may be accidentally good, or it may be technically good after much practice and expense.

On the other hand, someone can spend phenomenal amounts of money on a visual telescope and never be happy. They will want the best of the best of the best and it will never meet their expectations. Though their equipment is top of the line, they only see their money's worth maybe one night a year. The rest of the time the conditions don't allow it to perform any better than the commercial equipment around them. These people are just as obsessive and unhappy as the APers striving for perfection, just in a different way. Or, they may be happy buying equipment all the time. There ARE those that like buying equipment more than actually using it.

Then there are those of us who visually observe because we love to VISUALLY OBSERVE. That's what we do. We purchase what we can afford, are happy with what we have, and don't obsess over specs. We get our joy out of stepping up to the eyepiece and gazing at that swirling galaxy. Or, we go for the next faint fuzzy we can barely detect by nudging the scope, to see something wrong with the sky background and know we've detected an object at the limit of our seeing skill.

One isn't superior to the other as far as this hobby is concerned. Sure, scientifically, AP would be considered da bomb, but we're talking about our hobby, aren't we? Each is a different way of enjoying or not enjoying the hobby! Some people get off on self-torture. Others get off on pure pleasure.

#10 GlennLeDrew

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 11:07 PM

With a camera one can capture great sheets of faintly illuminated dust clouds which are utterly beyond visual detection. That's just one example of why imaging can be vastly superior to eye alone. Think of all we would be completely unaware of had it not been for imaging technology in one form or another.

#11 hbanich

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Posted 31 March 2013 - 11:41 PM

Which is better, a motor or a sailing boat? A bicycle or a motorcycle? Depends on what you’re trying to do, or prefer doing, so there are no absolutes in these choices any more than there are between CCD imaging and visual observing. As buddyjesus mentioned, both convert photons into fun - this is a hobby after all and hobbies are by definition an enjoyable pastime.
Pushing limits isn’t fun for everyone, especially in a hobby, and imputing motives on why some do and others don’t isn’t really helpful, much like the tired value comparisons between those who use goto and those who push their scopes manually. Or refractor versus reflector or any number of other comparisons that tend to become value driven way too quickly. Yuck!
That’s not to imply there are no important differences in these comparisons, but beyond noting what they are I find that trying to place absolutes on them creates artificial hierarchies that can ignore important variables.
Sure, with the proper equipment and a little practice anyone can take an image that will surpass in detail what the most dedicated, talented, experienced and well equipped visual observer could ever see under perfect conditions. Ok, but that’s just the nature of these two particular beasts.
Which is preferable? Which way more naturally drives someone toward perfection? Perhaps another way to think about this is when is a drive toward perfection enjoyable in a hobby? I think that’s up to each of us to decide based on what we enjoy.
And what’s perfection anyway? That’s different for each of us too. I see it as whatever makes you excited to get out under the stars.

#12 Tom Polakis

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 09:07 AM

Why is the sense of smell so vastly superior to the sense of taste? I could go on to explain why, but it would be wasting everybody's time.

#13 galaxyman

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 09:37 AM

Superior in detail, though not so thoroughly to human emotion.

There is an innate drive in all of us to conquer a challenge or go beyond what may deem possible.

Yes, imaging can be challenging, but to actually "see" beyond one's perceived capability is a natural quality in at least most of us.

Another is upgrading visual equipment as in larger telescopes or just a new telescope. New and better telescopes, eyepieces and other visual accessories gives us a way to see the night sky anew. Look at the faces of people at NEAF for instance when they a purchasing a new telescope or even a new eyepiece, and you see what I mean.

Our Galaxy Log series brings both together, that both Frank (the imager) and I (the observer) see as not so much one superior to the other, but a challenge and mostly a great satisfaction to both.



Karl
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#14 blb

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 09:45 AM

Why is CCDing really so vastly superior to visual? Is it? I mean realy is it? They are different and you can gain different information from each but is one realy superior to the other? Is CCDing superior to radio? How about inferred? They are all different and give different information. I think if you think one is superior to another then that tells us more about you than weather one type of observing is superior to another. ;)

#15 IVM

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 10:30 AM

Thank you all for sharing your views. I realize that it might offend some on principle, but I indeed meant to "impute motives" to digital imagers and visual observers. To these groups taken collectively of course; on average. After all, there are laws of collective behavior whether or not there is free will.

It is interesting in this connection to read about the struggles of the nineteenth-century visual observers of the deep sky to compare their observations. And scientific drawing in that time was a rather precise art - one which is no longer practiced. Still it seems that most prominent observers were bewildered about how to deduce reliably the form and nature of their objects from the disparate observations. All was settled by the ease of comparison of photographs just a few decades later. If our (the humanity's overall) visual perception of the universe has changed since that time - and I believe it has dramatically - it is almost exclusively because our visual perception became guided by the astrophotography data.

By themselves and together with their equipment, practically nobody today is a better visual observer of the deep sky than Lord Rosse was with his Leviathan, and hardly anybody is a better scientific sketcher than his assistants were. We see more because of photography, and photography in astronomy has historically overtaken visual observation not because it was initially superior, but because the ease of comparison set off the drive for perfection in its practitioners that the historical visual observers lacked. The technological potential of photography was immanent in the technique and was immanently superior to visual, but the initial results of astrophotography were not superior to visual. It is the kind of motives that I "impute" when talking about modern amateurs that made the difference then.

#16 nytecam

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 10:45 AM

There so many facets to our hobby it's absurd to suggest any one is superior to another or for anyone to be crestfallen for not following a particular route. The important point is to enjoy whatever you're doing and maybe share some of that enthusiasm with fellow astronomers via these pages.

For me, in a hobby spanning 60yrs plus, things evolve. Nowadays, due to poor eyes and even poorer LP city skies, I resort to CCD imaging in very brief exposures from my yard obsy to get my deepsky fix - sample from Friday night through cloud gaps below. :grin:

I've honed my Meade scope to suit and explore my pics on download much as a visual DSO observer would do live at the EP. Dedicated astroimagers after hours of exposure seek 'perfection' and gloat over colour palette, technique etc oblivious to actual content such that a new supernova in the field, for example, becomes 'invisible' :o

Peace :rainbow:

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#17 buddyjesus

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 02:18 PM

nice catch on the m65 sn nytecam

#18 JayinUT

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 06:32 PM

Modified from the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged under a darken sky,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that night equally lay
In space no view was worn out.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I took for me the road less traveled and that was the visual road. For others it is the imaging road that is less traveled so they choose that. It's a choice, no biggie. Yet I think for me, it will be many paths, many avenues of visual observing before and if I return or try to return to the path of imaging. I fear by then, it may be too late except perhaps a mallincam.

#19 azure1961p

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 07:28 PM

I'm not getting the OP really. Clearly CCDs have it head, shoulders and ankles over the best visual on deepsky. But there is an ethereal nature you can't capture in an image. Globular clusters fail miserably and the Veil does on that note too. Visual is our experience with the genuine article - the sheer presence of the observation is something no CCD image can manage. It collects more data - but there in lies the problem - IT - isn't I and it can never bridge that .

Not to say imaging isn't a thorough rewarding blast - merely that visual is into itself. Its not a competitor, but merely a different avenue when spiritual reward is of account.

Pete

#20 Feidb

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Posted 01 April 2013 - 11:30 PM

I appreciate a good image as well as the next person, but I prefer the less perfect ones, the ones that are closer to what one might see visually. A lot of the images submitted to our Observer's Challenge are like that. I really admire Nytecams images. They are not Hubble shots, not overprocessed and more real to me.

Yet, I have no interest in ever going that route or spending that kind of money. Photos may help confirm something I saw through an eyepiece or give me a slight moment of awe as in a Hubble image occasionally does, but otherwise, I'm a lot happier at the eyepiece. Neither is superior to the other in the context of enjoyment of the hobby except within our own minds and motivations.

In the context of the original question, CCDing isn't vastly superior to visual observing as far as the hobby is concerned because it's such an individual thing. However, as far as scientifically, or for literally gathering photons, well, of course.

#21 IVM

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:24 AM

Thank you all for additional comments, and for some beautifully crafted passages about our hobby. I am really getting more than my money's worth for my lengthy post with a sensationalist title. Thanks to your responses I am sharpening my argument and will present it to you again one day ;)

Pete: I meant - as a hypothesis - that if photographers exhibited the relaxed attitude toward their results that visual observers tend to exhibit, photography would not be superior to visual in detecting nebulous details, because the technological potential would not be realized.

#22 curiosidad

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 08:30 AM

Hello,
I prefer my vastly inferior visual observing of.. for example ,the MilKy Way !

#23 azure1961p

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:52 PM

Thanks !

Prte

#24 azure1961p

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 07:53 PM

Thanks !

Pete

#25 stevecoe

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Posted 03 April 2013 - 02:04 AM

I have a 500 hour exposure of the Orion Nebula. I can't show it to you because it is inside my brain, but I can tell you about it. It does get better with every telling;-)

It is also interesting because it was made with a wide variety of instuments from naked eye to binoculars to telescopes up to 36 inches in aperture. From a variety of locations and among many friends and some nights just me. I might not be able to show it to you, but I can tell you how to start your own.

BTW, I also have them of the Lagoon, Trifid, Veil and Eta Carina...it is, after all, a really BIG universe. And, a beautiful one. I love the universe and the good news is that it loves me back.

Clear skies;
Steve Coe






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