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Canon 7D Monochrome Mod - Imaging Test Log

astrophotography DIY dslr equipment imaging
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#1 Noobulosity

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Posted 15 June 2019 - 02:42 AM

I recently ran across a thread in another forum describing a group effort to figure out how to debayer a DSLR sensor for full-monochrome conversion.  While the idea may be risky and not as good as a true, cooled monochrome CCD, it got me curious enough to give it a shot.  It seemed that numerous efforts were met with success.  And despite the pile of dead DSLR sensors scattered throughout the thread, I decided I was curious enough to try it myself.

 

I have a Canon T3i that's been astro-modified.  However, it's not the same as a full-monochrome modification.  The idea here is this:  A DSLR has the Bayer matrix (microscopic colored filters) printed over the sensor, precisely-aligned to each pixel, so that some pixels get red filters, some get green, and some get blue.  This means a color DSLR can only capture red on one out of four pixels, lower its sensitivity and resolution to the red spectrum.  The same is true for blue.  And green actually uses two out of four pixels.  These four pixels (RGGB) basically combine to interpret the colors that we see in that portion of the sensor.  If you remove the color filter array that's printed onto the sensor (Bayer matrix), this allows all pixels to gather all light.  Now all 4 pixels in each set capture H-alpha, or OIII, or SII, or whatever pass filter you decide to stick in front of the sensor.

 

There's been some debate about the merits of doing this modification.  Does it REALLY increase sensitivity to all light?  Or just some light?  If we scrape that layer off the sensor, it also removes the micro-lenses that improve the light-gathering efficiency of the sensor (QE).  Won't that negate any gains from removing the Bayer matrix?  And so on...

 

I was curious enough that I wanted to see for myself.  Sure, it's a bit pricey if you kill a sensor.  You'd better be tracking all of those tiny screws as you open up the camera!  And, if you mess up?  Well... get a replacement sensor and try again.  Or don't.  And just replace the sensor with a stock one (or astro-modified one).

 

I wasn't sure I wanted to risk the T3i.  After all, they run $300+, even now.  I ended up finding a cheaper Canon 7D to test this on.  The sensors aren't cheaper than the T3i's, but the difference in price meant if I messed up, I'd still be out less money than the T3i after replacing the dead sensor in the 7D.  Oh, and did I mention that I'd never opened up a camera before..?

 

DISCLAIMER:  If you try this yourself, I'm NOT responsible for dead sensors or cameras!  You do it at your own risk!  I'd highly-recommend NOT doing this if you want to keep your camera in working condition.

 

The process...  pull out the sensor, remove the IR/UV filters over the sensor, carefully remove the cover glass over the sensor chip, and then SCRAPE, SCRAPE, SCRAPE!  (Sounds barbaric, doesn't it?  That's not too far off, lol.)

 

Removing the filters wasn't too bad, but removing the cover glass right on the sensor had been tricky for some with other camera models.  No one had mentioned testing this on a 7D, so this was new territory.  I ended up using heat to loosen the epoxy around the perimeter (it turns white as it breaks free of the glass), and gently pried up with an X-acto blade. Very, very gently.  Very, very slowly and carefully.  With the heat, the glass popped right off in one piece.  Nice!

 

After the glass was off, I removed the original UV/IR cut filters from the filter frame and used the frame itself to help guide my efforts.  In particular, the efforts to avoid the ultra-thin gold wires around the two long sides of the sensor.  Break one of those, and the whole thing is toast.  There's also a blue perimeter around the sensor.  I guess there's some super-tiny circuitry under there you really don't want to damage.  So, avoid those things at all costs.  The frame could help keep my tool from going into areas I wanted to avoid, as well as get a little closer to the perimeter.

 

48065482682_0ec122c816_c.jpg

 

48065433973_9893799740_c.jpg

 

I started out by scraping with a toothpick cut at an angle to make a flat surface.  I figured the wood would be soft enough to avoid damaging the sensor.  However, it was TOO soft.  I couldn't even take off the micro-lenses.  I had to upgrade to something harder...  I tried the plastic handle of a sensor swab cut to a chisel point.  That didn't do anything, either.  I even tried adding a small amount of fine metal polish to the toothpick and it barely did anything.  That's when I got serious.  I filed a brass rod at an angle and used that to scrape.  (This was based on someone else mentioning the use of an aluminum rivet in a similar manner.  Brass, being softer, seemed a safer choice.)  Boy, did it ever work.  It went right through both the lenses and color filters without too much effort.  It did take time to get things removed, but overall the process wasn't bad.  I just scraped gently and things turned out fine.  Once I had most of it scraped, minus the very outer perimeter, I cleaned up the debris using cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.

 

48064433931_68427d456a_n.jpg

 

48064441651_87521e4838_c.jpg

 

48064483443_0608e27138_c.jpg

 

Moment of truth...  put the camera back together to see if it still works...

 

48065444228_88ed288f5b_c.jpg

 

TADA!  I see an image!  It's all red now, because the camera has no idea how to interpret the data without the filter array, but it works!  I need to run the RAW files through DCRaw right now (don't have Pix Insight) in order to interpret them without a Bayer matrix and convert them to 16-bit TIFF files.  I need to learn the command line for DCRaw better, but this is what I saw worked for others doing the same thing, so I simply copied their command for now:

 

dcraw64 -v -r 1 1 1 1 -6 -T *.cr2

 

I took some test shots and a flat or two.  Still a little debris to clean up (black specks in the image), but overall not too shabby!  Here's how they turned out:

 

48062359477_eaa66ed94a_c.jpg

 

48062264466_b2d9b6c3d5_c.jpg

 

As you can see, I did end up hitting something in my efforts, causing a single line of dead pixels both horizontally and vertically.  Fortunately, they're along the perimeter and can easily be cropped out of any images.  They may even be removed with dithering during guiding.  The corners also seem to show a little bit of something left behind.  It's faint, but it's there.  Perhaps an under-coating of some sorts?  Anti-reflective?  Not sure...  Also, the removal of the UV/IR filters and cover glass threw off the auto-focus quite a bit.  Even manual focusing with a lens doesn't work with far-away objects.  So, I'll have to look into adjusting the sensor position to fix that, if I want to test this more in the daytime.

 

Now...  will this be any better than a standard astro-modded DSLR?  I don't know.  But it was an interesting adventure.  And I'm really curious to see how using a monochrome camera changes my imaging methods.  This is so much cheaper than buying, say, an ASI1600MM cooled CCD that it's not a bad way to test the waters before fully-investing in a system and filters.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll go another step and learn about DIY TEC cooling!  But, I'll save that for another time...

 

I also think I'll play around with imaging during daylight hours and using filters (IR pass, UV pass, etc.) to see how those types of photography work.  I've never messed around in that part of photography, so it could be fun to experiment with it.

 

To end things here, the final purpose of this thread is to provide a place to document my imaging with this modded camera.  It's been really cloudy for weeks now, so no idea when first light (first night?) will happen.  But, rest assured, I plan to put this thing to the test!  I have a 2" UV/IR blocking filter on the way that will sit in the imaging train.  It'll start out basically shooting luminance frames.  However, I also have a 6nm H-alpha clip filter to test out.  So, things will get interesting!


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#2 SandyHouTex

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Posted 15 June 2019 - 09:26 AM

Nice job.


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#3 GraySkies

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Posted 15 June 2019 - 02:57 PM

Very cool, I’ve thought about doing this as well or seeing if the Companies that convert cameras will start offering a similar service...
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#4 Noobulosity

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Posted 15 June 2019 - 04:05 PM

Thanks! This is definitely NOT for the faint of heart. I'm still surprised that I decided to try it, because normally I'm risk-averse. But I couldn't help myself.

If you try this on your own camera, I'd suggest starting the scraping with a softer too, like the toothpicks. Only go to a harder material if that doesn't do the job. Every camera sensor and manufacturer seems to be different in the materials used for the color filter array, so it's better to err on the safe side. And go slow and gentle. Take your time.

Last thing... If you try this, make sure you're okay with it if you kill the sensor. There's a good chance that will happen. If you can't afford to replace the sensor, I wouldn't do it.

As for the conversions, there are companies out there that will do this for you. It won't be cheap, though. You might as well just buy a cooled CCD, like the ASI1600MM Pro.

#5 Noobulosity

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Posted 15 June 2019 - 04:33 PM

Well...  that didn't last very long...  I tried to clean off the bits of debris on my sensor, and now half of it is lines/dark while the other half still functions.  I also have a couple more lines of dead pixels.  So...  sensor is apparently toast now.  *sigh*  Should've just left it alone...  I'll consider buying another sensor and trying once more, but I'll have to think about it a bit.  I wonder if applying cleaning solution to the debayered sensor had any affect...  I used cotton swabs, a sensor cleaning swab, and I did gently try using the brass rod to get a couple specs off the sensor.  Guess I hit something I wasn't supposed to.

 

Still, since half of it still works, maybe I can try imaging with that half of the sensor with smaller objects.  At least give it a try and see how things go.


Edited by Noobulosity, 15 June 2019 - 04:40 PM.

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#6 Noobulosity

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Posted 16 June 2019 - 05:47 PM

Second sensor on the way.  Found one on a famous auction site for $65.  I'll give it one more try and then probably call it.  I don't want to dump too much money into this endeavor, lest it become more-expensive than just buying a cooled CCD camera.


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#7 kbev

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Posted 18 June 2019 - 02:35 AM

I've done some research on this while trying to work up the courage to pull the sensor out of my astro-modded 450D one more time to do a mono conversion.  A couple of items I found mentioned were using super glue to create a protective covering for the wires (they could still be taken out if hit hard enough), and using polishing compound with a plastic scrapper tool to remove the bayer matrix after you get past the micro lenses - I think this was in a tutorial I saw on the JTW Astronomy website but I haven't been able to find it again.  

 

Good luck with the second attempt!



#8 nofxrx

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Posted 18 June 2019 - 09:39 AM

For what it is worth I found an oak wooden dowel to be the best tool for scraping.

Polishing of the bayer is a way to remove it, but I found that it does not get close enough to the edges without damaging the circuits and you are left with a considerable edge to the frame that must be cropped out.

Scraping seems to be the best way to get 99% of the bayer removed the most efficiently.

 

Your removal looks good though there is a very large border left. I can usually get down to ~5-10 pixel border without damaging the circuits and bricking the sensor. Some models you can actually remove the bayer all the way up to the gold border pixels, some you cannot as it will brick the sensor. This is one of those latter models, so if you can keep a good 1-2mm border you will increase your chances of survival. I also highly recommend an Oak dowel sharpened to a chisel tip. Then play with the amount of pressure and just keep moving it up and down like you are shading in a very small area with a pencil. Eventually you will see the Bayer give way and start to come off, just keep going like you're shading with a pencil and remove the bayer. Once you get it started (to remove) it will start coming off very easily.

This conversion is not for the faint of heart and it took me dozens of tries to get a routine down that preserves a working sensor afterwards. So this is quite an accomplishment.

The 7D was probably my least favorite (Canon) model when stock, but when converted to Full Spectrum and Mono became a very strong camera with incredible image quality for the model's time.

The best Canon to mono convert is either the original 6D or the T3i. Both seem to be very popular for this type of conversion and deliver very impressive results. I am very anxious to try this on a newer body like the 80D or T7i and compare image quality with the 'old' staples.

Good luck with the new sensor.


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#9 the Elf

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Posted 18 June 2019 - 01:40 PM

Here is a very happy mono T3i user. As I'm lacking skill when it comes to fine work I decided to get one of Brent's conversions. The key advantages are a) the higher resolution when your system is resolution limited and b) using it for real L and NB. I also think many image processing steps like deconvolution and denoise work better when all pixels are the same. See my website for examples. Other than astro you can do IR daylight as well.

The signal lost by the missing microlenses is compensated by the missing blocking of the filters so you end up with the same intensity as before. I'm using mine since more than one year now without any problems.


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#10 Noobulosity

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Posted 20 June 2019 - 02:02 PM

I've done some research on this while trying to work up the courage to pull the sensor out of my astro-modded 450D one more time to do a mono conversion.  A couple of items I found mentioned were using super glue to create a protective covering for the wires (they could still be taken out if hit hard enough), and using polishing compound with a plastic scrapper tool to remove the bayer matrix after you get past the micro lenses - I think this was in a tutorial I saw on the JTW Astronomy website but I haven't been able to find it again.  

 

Good luck with the second attempt!

Thanks!  I found the JTW tutorial as a cached page.  It looks like it was taken down at some point, probably due to liability and people complaining when they ruined their sensors.  They suggested a glass polishing compound and a sensor swab with the cloth removed.  I had considered this approach, but decided against it for two reasons:  1. people had success with dry scraping methods, and 2. putting something that requires cleaning/wiping on the sensor worried me.  It's too easy to push a glob near the edge and clip a gold wire.

 

For what it is worth I found an oak wooden dowel to be the best tool for scraping.

Polishing of the bayer is a way to remove it, but I found that it does not get close enough to the edges without damaging the circuits and you are left with a considerable edge to the frame that must be cropped out.

Scraping seems to be the best way to get 99% of the bayer removed the most efficiently.

 

Your removal looks good though there is a very large border left. I can usually get down to ~5-10 pixel border without damaging the circuits and bricking the sensor. Some models you can actually remove the bayer all the way up to the gold border pixels, some you cannot as it will brick the sensor. This is one of those latter models, so if you can keep a good 1-2mm border you will increase your chances of survival. I also highly recommend an Oak dowel sharpened to a chisel tip. Then play with the amount of pressure and just keep moving it up and down like you are shading in a very small area with a pencil. Eventually you will see the Bayer give way and start to come off, just keep going like you're shading with a pencil and remove the bayer. Once you get it started (to remove) it will start coming off very easily.

This conversion is not for the faint of heart and it took me dozens of tries to get a routine down that preserves a working sensor afterwards. So this is quite an accomplishment.

The 7D was probably my least favorite (Canon) model when stock, but when converted to Full Spectrum and Mono became a very strong camera with incredible image quality for the model's time.

The best Canon to mono convert is either the original 6D or the T3i. Both seem to be very popular for this type of conversion and deliver very impressive results. I am very anxious to try this on a newer body like the 80D or T7i and compare image quality with the 'old' staples.

Good luck with the new sensor.

Thanks for all of the info!  I do have an oak dowel rod I can try, though it may be larger than preferable.  Maybe I'll hit up the hardware store for a smaller diameter.  But, I started with a toothpick because wood seemed to be a much-safer material to start the scraping process.

 

I do have a 7D Mark II, but I wasn't about to try this mod on that body.  Replacement sensors are too expensive, and I use it for daytime photography.  So, no way was I going to mod that one.

 

Here is a very happy mono T3i user. As I'm lacking skill when it comes to fine work I decided to get one of Brent's conversions. The key advantages are a) the higher resolution when your system is resolution limited and b) using it for real L and NB. I also think many image processing steps like deconvolution and denoise work better when all pixels are the same. See my website for examples. Other than astro you can do IR daylight as well.

The signal lost by the missing microlenses is compensated by the missing blocking of the filters so you end up with the same intensity as before. I'm using mine since more than one year now without any problems.

 

I'm excited to hear others have enjoyed success with their mono camera.  And I'm definitely curious about UV and IR photography, so I imagine I'll invest in some filters to play around with those styles.
 



#11 nofxrx

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Posted 20 June 2019 - 08:46 PM

I just bought a 1/4"x36" (or any length will do) and cut it at about 8" and sharpened one end. Wrapped a bunch of rubber bands for a small bump/grip and it feels like a high dollar pen/pencil. Very comfortable.

I tried other woods and even plastic and metal material dowels (essentially any and everything I could find at home depot). Oak is the best *for me*. Minimal chance of digging into the silicon sensor...and it's cheap. Still using the original I made 4+ years ago (although I have sharpened it up a couple times).

Starting a 6D this weekend after doing a Canon G15 last weekend. I enjoy this work way too much lol.

Sorry. Rambling on.

Back to your regularly scheduled program 

 

Again, good luck. I bet the second one will turn out much better. Cheers


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#12 the Elf

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Posted 21 June 2019 - 01:57 AM

Brent Oliver modded T3i, Canon EF 35mm 1:2 IS USM, HOYA Infrared R72 filter (67mm):

 

IMG_6019.JPG

IR.jpg

 

The filter is available at Amazon. Not all lenses can deal with IR optically and some lenses cast IR light from their internal electronic into the optic path and ruin long exposures. The Canon 35 is fine, though I have not tried very long exposures yet. Have fun!

 


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#13 calypsob

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Posted 27 June 2019 - 09:59 AM

I just bought a 1/4"x36" (or any length will do) and cut it at about 8" and sharpened one end. Wrapped a bunch of rubber bands for a small bump/grip and it feels like a high dollar pen/pencil. Very comfortable.

I tried other woods and even plastic and metal material dowels (essentially any and everything I could find at home depot). Oak is the best *for me*. Minimal chance of digging into the silicon sensor...and it's cheap. Still using the original I made 4+ years ago (although I have sharpened it up a couple times).

Starting a 6D this weekend after doing a Canon G15 last weekend. I enjoy this work way too much lol.

Sorry. Rambling on.

Back to your regularly scheduled program 

 

Again, good luck. I bet the second one will turn out much better. Cheers

Have you ever tried using a small end mill like a proxxon to polish off the sensor in an x,y axis? It seems like that would help get a very clean border if you could use the right medium, id think polish on a narrow felt dremel tip.



#14 Noobulosity

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Posted 27 June 2019 - 10:16 AM

I've been out of town for a few days, but heading home tonight.  The replacement sensor tracking shows it's been delivered.  I anticipate I'll give this another shot this weekend with the replacement to see how it goes.  I think I have an oak dowel I can use for this.  It may be a little larger than I'd prefer, but I can try reducing the tip a bit with some whittling to make something more akin to a pencil point.  I'm both excited and nervous to start this replacement sensor.



#15 the Elf

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Posted 27 June 2019 - 02:00 PM

I wonder if either heat or cold might make the process any easier. Heat might soften whatever keeps the Bayer pattern on the sensor. Cold might cause a tension between the materials making it easier to lift it off. Or both does not help at all or makes it even worse. Brent, did you try?



#16 Noobulosity

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Posted 27 June 2019 - 06:15 PM

I'd worry the heat could melt the micro lenses. I believe they're a polymer of some sort.

I spoke with someone just yesterday, and he mentioned photolithography often uses light to expose and remove areas of the applied film. The part being kept is masked off. The bits being removed are then washed off with a chemical solution. But I'd have to figure out what light spectrum and wash to use for this process.

Right now, I plan to stick with the mechanical removal process. But it's something to think about.

Edited by Noobulosity, 27 June 2019 - 06:16 PM.


#17 nofxrx

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Posted 28 June 2019 - 02:32 PM

Have you ever tried using a small end mill like a proxxon to polish off the sensor in an x,y axis? It seems like that would help get a very clean border if you could use the right medium, id think polish on a narrow felt dremel tip.

The oak dowel works so well, and I am so used to it, I am hesitant to try anything else for the time being. But I may in the future with a test sensor...

It's worth a shot.

 

I've been out of town for a few days, but heading home tonight.  The replacement sensor tracking shows it's been delivered.  I anticipate I'll give this another shot this weekend with the replacement to see how it goes.  I think I have an oak dowel I can use for this.  It may be a little larger than I'd prefer, but I can try reducing the tip a bit with some whittling to make something more akin to a pencil point.  I'm both excited and nervous to start this replacement sensor.

I would suggest you start with the oak you have or buy a new ~1/4" one (they are very cheap).

Once you get the hang of how much pressure to use and how fast to move it will go quick (sort of).

It still takes me more than 3-4 hours or so to really do the whole CFA removal and clean it up and check for missed spots...I usually dont do it all in one sitting. (especially full frame sensors...very long process)

 

I wonder if either heat or cold might make the process any easier. Heat might soften whatever keeps the Bayer pattern on the sensor. Cold might cause a tension between the materials making it easier to lift it off. Or both does not help at all or makes it even worse. Brent, did you try?

Heat does help make it pretty easy. But I know from experience that too much heat will melt the gold wires on the perimeter very quickly (I have done it with a soldering iron on ~400°C, not sure why it melts, but it does..)

 

 

I'd worry the heat could melt the micro lenses. I believe they're a polymer of some sort.

I wouldnt worry about the micro lenses, they are on top of the CFA so you will lose them regardless.



#18 Noobulosity

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Posted 30 June 2019 - 11:03 PM

They main reason is worry about the micro-lenses is if you melt them, they could be harder to remove. But I may try gently warming up the sensor surface to help. The 7D sensor send hard to scrape clean.

I tried the second sensor. I slipped a bit while removing the cover glass and scratched the sensor surface. Too deeply, it seems. No gold wires were harmed, but the sensor gives a half-dark image. The "good" side has dark, wide lines scrolling up through it. So, that sensor is toast.

I have a third sensor on order. Now, I'm debating about trying this again, or just selling off the camera. But I'd have to adjust the autofocus so that the buyer would find it usable.

I have time to think. The sensor is coming from Asia, and shipping will take a couple weeks.

The sharpened oak dowel went through the lenses easily. The CFA, though, not so easily. Some areas came up, others just smeared. I still had to use the brass rod for some areas. But I tried to leave plenty of border to avoid damaging any circuitry. Practice. Expensive practice...

Edited by Noobulosity, 30 June 2019 - 11:05 PM.


#19 Noobulosity

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Posted 15 July 2019 - 05:16 PM

New sensor showed up in the mail today.  I'm still not 100% sure on this, but I have a feeling I'll be making at least one more attempt at this. It's hard to stop trying once you've started.  I really want to succeed at this!


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#20 Noobulosity

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 01:10 AM

Ended up giving it a shot, and huzzah!  It works!  I notice there's a little unevenness in the coating removal, particularly near the edges.  But, now that I have a working sensor, I'll just give this a try to start.
 
I found that, once I got the coating mostly removed with the sharpened oak dowel, I could use some fine metal polish to gently take off any leftover bits and smooth things out.  While I wish there was less border left around the frame and specks of debris in the frame, I'm happy with this for now.  I'm sure most of it will come out with proper flats.  I'll try to do some some tests to see how it comes out for astro images.  Tomorrow night looks like it should be nice and clear, and the full moon shouldn't be an issue if I use my H-alpha filter on something, most-likely the Lagoon Nebula.  But, if anyone has any other suggestions for around N40° lattitude, I'm all ears!
 
https://live.staticf...ff911f970_o.png
 
48294708451_f777069a95_h.jpg
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#21 kbev

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 01:19 AM

Looks pretty good! So do you have a rough guesstimate of how long it took you to get it to that point?

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#22 Noobulosity

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 02:22 AM

Looks pretty good! So do you have a rough guesstimate of how long it took you to get it to that point?

Thanks! This time went a lot smoother than the previous attempt. I didn't time it, but I'll try to give estimates for each step.

 

  • Disassembly and removal of the sensor assembly, 5-7 minutes (I left it partially disassembled from the previous attempt.)
  • UV/IR  filter removal, 3-4 minutes
  • Cover glass removal 2 minutes, this time, but usually a fair amount longer on the previous two tries. Maybe 10 minutes each.
  • Scraping the micro-lenses and Bayer matrix, 75 minutes
  • Fine cleanup and polishing, 30 minutes

All said and done, I probably had it reassembled and took a test shot in about 2.5-3 hours this time around.


  • kbev likes this

#23 JohnH

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 10:15 AM

You could try polishing the surface with a Qtip charged with cerium oxide compound.

#24 Noobulosity

Noobulosity

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 10:24 AM

You could try polishing the surface with a Qtip charged with cerium oxide compound.

I could, but for now I'm just going to leave it until I have a chance to test it.  The last time I tried to make things better I ruined the sensor.  lol.gif


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#25 the Elf

the Elf

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Posted 17 July 2019 - 01:44 PM

What scope and mount do you have? Suggestions for objects really depend on your focal lenght and f-ratio. If you like, have a look at my homepage (signature) and pick one of the objects there. I can offer a link to my mono stacks taken with the Brent Oliver conversion T3i, if you are interrested in a comparison. I'm still trying to convince Brent of taking astro images with his cameras but we are not making any progress. LOL.


  • nofxrx likes this


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