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8SE Imaging (again)

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#1 Alex Post

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 09:46 PM

Going to extremes with "cheap" scope.

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#2 Alex Post

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 09:46 PM

300x 10second raw frames.
NexStar 8SE with f/6.3 FLR, Canon 450D, Hutech IDAS LPS filter, 1600ISO

In previous installations of DSO imaging with 8SE I have tried to go for very long exposure times (60s+). Careful balancing, alignment and some tricks with picking appropriate time for imaging were pretty rewarding.

This time I decided to go for short exposures but lots of them. I did initial run with 100 shots and I liked what I saw. Weather cooperated two nights in a row and I took 300 last night. The result is above.

Tonight, the weather cooperated once again. I am trying to capture 1000x 10 second images. That should be fun :)

Edit: comparison of old (2009) and new (2010) method:

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  • 3662618-m42_comparison.jpg


#3 Midnight Dan

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 11:09 PM

Ok Alex, you've GOT to stop this! You're making it VERY difficult to tell people that the 8SE is not an imaging scope! :lol:

-Dan

#4 tvader

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 11:46 PM

Alex - That is AWESOME! You are an inspiration for 8SE owners.

#5 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 12:09 AM

The question is: can we close the southern loop with 8SE?

I would say a cautious yes. What is needed is a mosaic, nothing extravagant, just a 2x2 matrix, a couple of hundred samples per cell.

#6 Tel

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 03:20 AM

Excellent once again, Alex !:bow: :bow: Pure skill ! :bow: :bow:

Unless it's a closely guarded secret, I think you ought to publish details of this unique talent you have for coaxing such great images from the alt./az mounted 8SE, (if not just to bring tears to my eyes for investing in a sophisticated and expensive GEM for the purpose) ! :bangbangbang:

Best regards, :waytogo:
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#7 Peter9

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 05:10 AM

Gosh Alex, abslotuely awesome. Many thanks for posting.

Peter.

#8 TonyDralle

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 08:23 AM

Careful balancing, alignment and some tricks with picking appropriate time for imaging were pretty rewarding.


Alex,

Do you credit careful balancing and alignment as components of your success because the tracking was thereby improved?

Also, could you say a little about your sky conditions, i.e., how much light pollution you have?

You are truly an inspiration to those of us who think trying AP with an 8SE isn't worth the effort. Great work!

I concur with Tel's suggestion that you publish details of your work, either here or as a Cloudy Nights article.

- Tony

#9 Bob Griffiths

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 08:29 AM

Alex:

I still say you CHEAT....You have to be, I know you are... LOL

Please do not take up drag racing with your family car....you could be running 8's if you get the kind of results you do out of the 8se for imaging...

Bob G

#10 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 10:26 AM

Thank you all for comments. I will document my process. Regarding sky conditions: I am right on the boundary of orange and red zones. This is where I am taking pictures since I purchased IDAS LPS filter, based on recommendations of many good people of CN (specifically Samir's comparison charts were helpful Samir's filters for heavy light polution ). I also have a remote site, some 80km from my home that is deep in blue zone. I would say that IDAS filter allows me to do very comparable if not better pictures from light polluted site. I am yet to try this filter from the blue zone.

Picture below was taken at midnight facing (south) away from red zone at ISO1600 2 seconds, half moon was rising to the left (east). Orange glow at the horizon is from another red zone south of my home location.

M42 images were taken between 19:00 and 23:00 local time. First images were taken with M42 being about 42 degrees above horizon and last images about 14 degrees above horizon.

I did not make it to 1000 images last night. I finished at 780 with camera battery flashing low. 582 were selected by DSS for final stacking. I am currently on image 201 for stacking :) The processing has been running on my laptop since 10 hours ago. I would say another 4-6 hours and I'll have results from last night.

As far as alignment and balancing for this latest run - no, I am taking opposite approach: disregarding both.

My reasoning for this experiment was that 10 sec shots should produce very little motion even if tracking is less than perfect. When I document my process you will see that (and how) I spend about 2 minutes for alignment.

In my previous attempts I would spend up to two hours carefully setting up balance and alignment and then go with 60-90 second exposures to minimize tracking errors. An hour or two of the setup was eating into my data collection time, which is precious given poor weather conditions at my location.

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  • 3663328-backyard_with_light_map.jpg


#11 Skip

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 12:57 PM

Wow, Alex. Once again you do great work with your 8SE. From now on I am going to start advising anyone I respond to that imaging with a DSLR and the 8SE is possible as long as you take a multitude of 10 second shots and then stack them.

One question, is your 450D modified? If not, the reds came out pretty well in your finished image.

OK, I lied, one more question. Did you do any post processing in PS (or something else)?

Thanks for the excellent image.

Cheers,

#12 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 01:35 PM

I will start my documentation here and will collect everything in a paper. Your questions are guiding me with what I should be paying more attention to.

I personally like "picture guides" and will do the same here.

First image is my initial state. That's how I store my 8SE so that it's ready for DSO imaging. Note, that all heating wires, power cables, and USB cable are already attached. This really helps when you are outside and it's cold and dark. I finally gave up on nice mounting options for just about all attachments - Velcro is my friend. I wrapped 4cm wide velcro pieces around all three tripod legs, so that I can throw any thing I am holding and they would not fall/dangle in the air.

You may also notice a counter weight that I made out of steel washers attached to the sliding rail. I did not really use it in this experiment, since balancing of the scope was not important. I slid all the way to the back side so that it did not get in the way when I attach dew shield. The reason I decided to keep it was that I thought it would not hurt since scope is back heavy and some counter balancing would be a plus. No deep science here.

Two heating strips also attached. One to the main scope and one to the green laser pointer (GLP). My GLP is really cheap and does not work well when it's cold. Heating strip gives me a few more minutes before it stops working. GLP is attached to the finder scope also with velcro: it allows very fast steering to alignment stars within 2 or so degrees.

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  • 3663695-step01_initial_conditions.jpg


#13 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 01:48 PM

Second step after getting scope outside and un-wrapping/connecting cables is to enter time and place information into 8SE computer. Since I got my first smart phone (droid) I use a nifty free application, called GPSTest. It provides me with very quick location and time as demonstrated in the image below.

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  • 3663722-step02_time_and_place.jpg


#14 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 01:53 PM

I use 2-star align method:

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  • 3663730-step02_time_and_place_8se_comp.jpg


#15 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:13 PM

Next step is alignment. This used to be very tricky, wasting enormous amount of time. Not anymore, due to 1) GLP 2)Live view in DSLR camera.

Here are the steps:
Connect DSLR to computer with USB cable. Start application for remote control. Go into Live view.

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  • 3663753-step03_setup_liveview.jpg


#16 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:22 PM

Now I am ready to align first star: holding GLP button down I steer scope in vicinity of first star, Sirius in this case. Once I am in the area, I look through the finder scope to get within 1 degree, which is roughly what my field of view is, given f/6.3 FLR and camera attached at prime focus. While I am doing that, I am looking at the computer screen to see that the first alignment star indeed came into the view.

When I see the star on the screen I push enter and start finer alignment, per standard 8SE procedure. In this case I was even ignoring Up-and-right rule for final approach. I caught myself doing in involuntarily anyway, thanks to a year long training that I picked up right here on CN forum :)

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  • 3663766-step03_align_first_star.jpg


#17 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:38 PM

Second star alignment was identical to the first star. Note, that I just wanted to see alignment stars roughly in the middle of the center white box, no precision required.

Once I had second star aligned, I hit final Align and scope starts tracking. I am ready for focusing.

Focusing is exceptionally simple with Live view.

First I switch in the Zoom view and then grab my Motofocus controller to adjust focus. Focusing takes about 30 seconds.

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  • 3663783-step04_focus.jpg


#18 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:47 PM

We are ready to point to the target object and start doing some imaging.

Simply hit M on the controller and enter "042", Enter. M42 comes into view. On the Live view screen it looks like a three star pattern, which I used to do "framing" of the nebula: I placed the star pattern in the upper left corner of the center white box every time when I was doing re-alignment.

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  • 3663793-step05_target_alignment.jpg


#19 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:54 PM

Taking pictures. Computers are good at that. First, setup where images will be stored (important step!). Then set up 200 shots, 10 second each. Give extra 2 seconds for image download to computer, otherwise program generates "missed" shot errors.

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  • 3663801-step06_automated_sequence.jpg


#20 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:57 PM

At this point I go away for 200x12 seconds = 40 minutes to watch a movie with my older daughter or read a book with the younger one :) Or play a game that brings me more trouble than one might think possible. Hi, EK.

I would come back every 30-40 minutes to make sure that the three star pattern did not drift too far away. I would actually push 8SE Move buttons while pictures were taken to get three-star pattern roughly in the original position. One image would get thrown away by later automated process. So what? Any attempt to "save" an image would lead to even more time wasted.

In 4-5 hours, I have around 800 images taken. I put the front cover on and take additional 20 dark frames. Dark frames need to be taken at the same temperature as normal (light) frames. I will take flat images later, since I can move the scope without disturbing light path (my home site).

At this time, I take my laptop inside the house and start with pre-processing of the images. I will add step by step instruction what exactly I do with (free) DSS.

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  • 3663803-step07_dss_processing.jpg


#21 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 03:19 PM

FITS Liberator.

DSS generates FITS files among other formats. I am pretty neutral on this whole FITS path, but it seems to be convenient for me. I used to process files with built-in DSS functions with little complaints. FITS Liberator plug-in for Photoshop saves me time, on average.

Liberating FITS is as simple as opening FTS files in Photoshop. I am presented with the interface that allows me to choose planes (color planes that is), setup intensity normalization function, and finally save single color (R,G, or B) into a TIFF file.

The idea here is very simple: use your human computer (brain) to evaluate what function is the best for intensity normalization (Log and Arcsin used most often) and then adjust little Level triangles at the bottom of the histogram. The goal here is to see as much details as possible while keeping Blue (black clipping) and green (white clipping) as minimum.

I immediately switch to Green channel (plane 2) to get rough estimate on parameters. And then tweak Red and Blue based on initial Green setting.

Note that each color is stored SEPARATELY in a gray 16-bit monochrome file

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  • 3663830-step08_fits_liberator.jpg


#22 astronomania

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 03:21 PM

Thank you Alex for all your hard work!! :bow: :bow: :bow:
This is very timely, as the weather here is breaking and
I have a mostly unused 1000D waiting to catch some photons!!
Great work man!! :waytogo:

#23 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 03:33 PM

Once each color plane is stored in a separate file it's time to bring them back to single RGB image. I use Load Files in Stack that I believe came with FITS liberator package, but it could be a standard Photoshop function.

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  • 3663854-step09_load_color_planes_in_stack.jpg


#24 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 03:45 PM

Once three planes are loaded in a single file, we need to apply appropriate color to each plane (layer). It is done through a "Colour Composite" script that I think came with FITS package as well. There are multiple ways of bringing individual colors into a single file. This description is just one of many possible.

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  • 3663875-step10_merge_colors_in_single_image.jpg


#25 Alex Post

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 03:50 PM

After all three color planes are combined in a single RGB image, I flatten image (remove layers). At this time, the image is ready for Level/Curves, followed by a special kind of treatment (Noel Carboni's Astronomy tools).

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  • 3663886-step11_flatten_image.jpg



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