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The Astrophotography Blues On Mount Palomar

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#1 Todd N

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Posted 03 July 2019 - 04:46 AM

My high expectations for this session didn't pan out so well. I was supposed to debut hypered Kodak Tri-X but the results were horrendous; None uploaded from that lot. My testing and hypering refinement seem to show significantly more sensitivity than Fuji Acros and interestingly a very fine grain though not quite as fine as Acros of coarse; More on this later. I'll revisit it to try and determine what went wrong. Also, I cooked it a little in development. I also shot some Ilford HP5 and had to ditch most of those. But, I have uploaded a couple as a temporary reference despite poor quality. Those streaks I think are damage from the squeegee just before being hung up to dry. Both ended up more grainy than anticipated.


These were shot at Mount Palomar Observatory Campground, Monday 7/1. The sky was rather good in terms of transparency. One could see many deepsky objects by eye sight alone in addition to the Milky Way arching across the sky: M8, M31, Double Cluster in Perseus before dawn. Despite the air being calm on the ground there was some high altitude wind that made guiding very difficult. I spent the whole night playing Pong with airy-disks in a more or less 1mm arena at 264x and 162x. I have on average way easier time guiding at my home in rural suburbia. When you get up there during the day you have to battle hordes of flies and mosquitoes. Oh, some of the bathrooms are just horrendous. Hot in the day and very cold at night and idiot late comer who arrives after midnight, circles the campground twice with their bright beams on and sets up camp with a flashlight brighter than the full moon. Where's Jason Voorhees when you need him?


Sagitarius region: M8 & M20







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#2 Steven C

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Posted 06 July 2019 - 12:04 AM

I have an ancient home made gas hypering setup. Custom hypering chamber that will hold 6 rolls of 120 or about a dozen rolls of 35mm film canisters. It is insulated and wound with Ni-chrome wire as the heating element.  A commercial refrigerator compressor pulls 30 inches of vacuum. A custom built 30V/30A regulated power supply with a thermistor to control the temperature for the heating element. I even have enough forming gas remaining for a few more batches. No need to over-pressurize the chamber with 15PSI + 3PSI and just waste gas. Actually, I have found that 3 PSI yields much better results. 


Generally, I have had the best experience by purging the chamber 3 times. 30 inches of vacuum and then raising it to 3 PSI and so on on with air. I preheat the chamber to 120F.  Then I purge the chamber and introduce 3 psi forming  gas (not 15 psi + 3 psi, but 3 psi above 30 inches of vacuum. Let it sit an hour, drop the pressure to 30 inches, purge the chamber with forming gas to  3 psi, let it sit another hour and then introduce 3 psi forming gas (again, above 30 inches of vacuum, not 15psi +3PSI) and let it sit for the prescribed duration (usually 12-48 hours depending on the film). Finally, I crack the chamber open, quickly load the film into plastic canisters with a small silica gel desiccant packet in each, use electrician's tape to seal them up and off to the refrigerator. I have a sytrofoam organ transplant cooler and I buy dry ice at Walmart and that is how I transport the hypered film to the site. I shoot a frame with an off- axis flashlight to establish the frame boundaries and then shoot every other frame. Humidity will get to the film that is next while shooting the current frame so that is why I only shoot every other frame and then I generally can fit a small desiccant pack or two into the back of the camera when I load the film. Careful - the environment is dry and usually cold so advance/retract the film very slowly so you don't get static discharges. I buy my silica gel dessicant packs on Amazon for cheap. As soon as I have taken my shots, I take another "insurance shot" with an off axis quick flash with a flashlight to create another exposure with frame boundaries, then I slowly withdraw the film back into the canister to avoid static discharges and then back into the plastic film canister with a new desiccant pack and reseal with electrician's tape. Back into the organ transplant cooler and then home. Drop them off at the lab with instructions NOT TO CUT THE NEGATIVE and DO NOT PRINT but the first/last shot with the off axis flashlight usually works even if they cut the negatives because the automated machines detect the frame boundaries and won't cut the negatives with the object, usually the brightest in the frame thinking it is the frame boundary..I return home with the developed negatives, scan them with a 9600 dpi film scanner and then process them just like digital images. 


I have had excellent experiences with FUJI 400 professional, sadly no longer available. I used to waste a lot of gas with raising the pressure to 18 PSI, but not at all necessary and my current process always yields better results


BTW, if you are using an OM-1n like I am, best replace all the light seals. They are cheap out of Japan and will keep your OM-1 working for a few more decades. The original seals degenerate into goo and no longer work. The new seals are made of a different material that is less susceptible to aging.


Just what I have learned from taking emulsion astrophotos since the  early 80's


I also take a lot of shots with 2 modern Canon DSLR and an ancient STV (updated with IR block RBG filter wheel so it is an ST237A for imaging).


Nothing really, for the price, trumps film for raw resolution. We can banter about sensitivity but when it comes to raw resolution, fine grained films still are far less expensive than high resolution imaging setups - if you can find or afford them.


And, I have found that the old fixed focal length Olympus OM-1 Zuiko lenses are absolutely superb on my Canon DSLR! Inexpensive, absolutely stellar performers and with Live-View, who cares about focus issues. As if you were going to use auto-focus for astroimaging?

Edited by Steven C, 06 July 2019 - 12:27 AM.

#3 Todd N

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Posted 06 July 2019 - 02:21 AM

Thanks, some good tips, especially with "boundary shots" to establish the series of images. I develop my B&W at home but I have been thinking of doing a run with color eventually which I will most likely sent out to be processed. I usually do a  series of 4 shots in a roll that make it easier to scan. With my hypered film I'll try to remember to skip every other frame. Humidity may have been a part of my problem but I likely suspect my hypered Tri-X got moisture fogged in freezer storage despite using dessicant beads. Previous storage test for even longer had worked out. I plan on now to hyper film as need be.



#4 BillHarris



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Posted 25 September 2019 - 08:23 PM

I did a lot of deep sky astrophotography in the '80's and '90's. Took a break, and when I looked at getting back in, they had quit making TP2515, which was my film of choice. I've been working on mating a current CCD/CMOS camera to the old scope. In the meantime, I have hundreds of negatives to be scanned with my new slide scanner (I procrastinate getting that setup to my new Laptop).

Agreed about the sensitivity of hypered film to humidity. My solution was to flow air thru a canister of silica gel to remove all all moisture and then pipe it to the camera. And I fanatically kept all moist ambient air from the film.
Part of the 12v pump assy provided a slight vacuum to a perforated vacuum pressure plate in the camera. I had problems with the film not lying flat enough in the film guides.


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