I have to confess, when I decided to take the plunge into NV I knew you could attach a camera lens, but I sort of shrugged that feature off as "oh that's nice but I probably won't actually do that much". Well...last night was my second night now using camera lenses...and man I LIKE this way of observing. Time will tell, but going forward I might actually end up logging more observing time with camera lenses than with my telescope!
Last week, I tried out several Canon camera lenses that I already owned for regular photography...35mm, 50mm, 105mm, 135mm, 200mm, nice views in them all. I have accumulated quite a few Canon lenses over the years, due to a variety of subject matter, and last night (the first clear night in a week) I decided it was time to play around with a few more of them!
I was observing from home, 3 miles from the Grand Rapids (Michigan) city center, Bortle 6 skies according to Clear Outside app. I didn't get started until after midnight due to obligations earlier in the evening, and a pretty bright moon rose shortly after I started, I would have to deal with that all night.
Last week my 200mm f/2 lens was giving great views at 7.4x, 5.4 degree FOV. This week I wanted to go higher in power. I have both the 1.4x and 2x Canon teleconverters (TC's). The 1.4x turns my 200mm f/2L lens into a 280mm f/2.8 (10x, 3.8 degree FOV). I also have the Canon 400mm f/4 DO, and I wanted to try that out with no TC (15x, 2.7 degree FOV), with the 1.4x which makes it a 560mm f/5.6 (21x, 1.9 degree FOV), and with the 2x which makes it an 800mm f/8 (30x, 1.35 degree FOV). Both the 200mm f/2L and 400mm f/4 DO take the TC's very well, and I've used the 400mm with 1.4x and 2x with great results for birds and wildlife. How about astronomy now!
10-30x are high enough powers -- and these lenses are heavy enough lenses -- where it's nice to support the lens instead of handholding it, so I grabbed my good solid tripod with fluid head. Only problem of course is trying to look towards the zenith! I could just choose to look at stuff that's not so high in the sky, but there was a lot of cool stuff pretty much overhead! Well it turns out my trusty adjustable-height observing chair works pretty well with the tripod...in addition to allowing you to be seated, it allows you to lean back somewhat, which greatly helps in looking closer to the zenith. Here's a photo of the rig, showing the 400mm f/4 with 2x TC:
Very busy background in this cell phone pic (not much of a photographer am I)! Here's a closer up photo, you can sort of see my Kendrick heaters wrapped around the OVNI-B eyepieces, with the white heater controller at left velcro'd to the tripod. Eyepiece fogging is a HUGE problem in Michigan, dew heaters have been a life-saver for many years for me, I don't (can't) observe without heaters in Michigan. The camera lens hood also helps a lot in keeping dew off the front of the lens (and I try not to leave the lens pointing straight up if I take a break). I envy those of you in dry and warmer climates!
The tripod rig above with observing chair works pretty good, all things considered! But let me also run through my other rigs for last night's session, after which I'll list all the cool stuff I was able to see during the course of the night!
So after quite a while of using the tripod rig to look quite high in the sky, I did start developing a mild case of what birders call "warbler neck"! As an alternative, I have this totally awesome binocular mount that I've used and loved for a good many years. It's an Oberwerk binocular mirror mount (long since out of production, a shame), and it's just the cat's meow for my 25x100 binoculars. It also works great with smaller binoculars (and I own several), the mount is adjustable. (Did I mention I LOVE binoculars!) Years ago I enclosed the mirror mount in a home-made combination light shroud / dew shield (total hack job but hey it's held up well)! As luck would have it, removing the binocular attachment post and replacing it with the tripod mount ring for my Canon 200mm f/2.8L lens fits the mirror mount to a "T", it's just incredibly lucky/awesome! The 200mm f/2.8L is one of Canon's most unsung lenses, it doesn't get much love, but it's small and light (and sharp), and wouldn't you know it fits perfectly on my mirror mount where a bigger lens would not. Here's a few photos (in this first one there's a black TV in the background, that's not part of it!):
Different angle, you can see Kendrick heaters on the OVNI-B eyepieces (there is also a heater on the back of the mirror itself, though it's hard to see in the photos):
You can see the mirror hiding back in there on this photo:
Closer view of the mirror and 200mm f/2.8L lens (with 2x TC installed, I can use it with 1.4x TC as well, or with no TC):
Looking down the top dew sheild:
Probably one of the weirdest-looking binocular mount setups the world has ever seen! (Somehow that fits me.) BUT...the beauty of it is...it's an absolute joy to use, extremely comfortable (with my beloved adjustable-height observing chair) to view pretty much anywhere in the sky, especially high in the sky, even at the zenith!
I'm almost to the list of cool stuff I saw this night! But there was one more setup I used this night, it was also a lens I had not tried out before, and for this one I just went handheld, it's a cute little lightweight (and sharp!) Canon 85mm f/1.8, also a great lens that used to be a staple of many photographers kits, but is now older and not very sexy and consequently gets little love these days. But it's a great lens. It was really fun handholding this, I actually had this little rig in operation both early and late in the night, I had to come back to it, it was so cool. Here's a photo, isn't it cute:
So WHAT could I see with all this crazy gear? Here's my list from this session:
1) California Nebula!!! I kept coming back to this ALL NIGHT LONG with EVERY lens, it was so good. Just insane that I had never seen it (except in pictures) prior to NV, and now I can't believe how bright and easy this thing is with NV, it's like one of the easiest things in the sky! It looks great at low power, and at higher power you just feel like you've been transported into space and are INSIDE it!
2) The Pleiades. What, who needs NV to see the Pleiades? Nobody I guess, but I have to say it looks pretty darn good with NV!
3) Andromeda Galaxy. Again, bright naked-eye object, who needs NV? Well, first of all, I never really thought M-31 was all that uber bright, due to its size. But with NV, it's REALLY bright. AND I can see some structure (with higher power) that I never saw without NV. So once again I'm learning that NV can still benefit "ordinary" objects that don't "require" NV. NV isn't just reserved for the impossible targets.
4) I had to head over to Cygnus while there was still time, my view of the western sky is largely blocked here at my house, and Cygnus was slipping away from me. The Veil was already too far west, but Holy Smokes the Gamma Cygni region...it's just sick! Mind-blowing. I already gushed over it in a previous post, I'm repeating myself, but man it's good. North American and Pelican, along with Sh2-119 (the Clamshell I guess they call it?) were all looking very good as well.
5) Another sick region of the sky for nebulae is Cassiopeia and Cepheus. I got a taste of it before, but last night I was coming back for more! The Pacman is a good jumping-off point, then to Ced 214, NGC 7822, NGC 896, the Heart and Embryo. Fantastic!
6) Slide a very short ways over to Cepheus, this is where I followed -- several times during the night with different powers -- a large string of 6 objects in a large arcing line, in order they were:
- IC 1396 (contains Elephant Trunk) just S of Hershel's Garnet Star, this was my starting point for the string (arc) of objects.
- Lion Nebula (Sh2-132).
- Wizard Nebula (Sh2-142).
- Lobster Claw a.k.a. Californietto Nebula (Sh2-157).
- Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635).
- NGC 7538.
This was a really cool line/arc of objects, and low power helped to establish the sequence, but once you know how it goes, it can be followed pretty easily in higher power camera lenses too.
7) By this time it was getting late, and Orion was rising! So of course I had to feast on the Orion Nebula, who could ever get tired of it? Normally that's all I get, but THIS time I had NV, so there was more: the Flame and Orion's Dagger containing the Horsehead. I wasn't really making out the Horsehead, I think my power was too low, but the Dagger was easy, as was the Flame.
8) From Orion, I slid over to the Rosette, then the Monkey Head, Lower's Nebula, and Sh2-273 (Christmas Tree Cluster region). When viewing the Monkey Head, I was super careful not to look at the Moon, which was JUST outside the FOV...I could see at the edge of the FOV this incredible brightness, the Moon must have been just a gnat's eyelash away, yikes! I was actually worried that if I looked at the Moon then the OVNI-B might vaporize and/or my head might explode or something! Just mind-numbing that I'm observing a nebulae under such conditions! I also tried for the Jellyfish, but I couldn't get there, the Moon was like RIGHT there if I moved ANY farther over!
By the way, for most of the night my favorite filter seemed to be the 6.5nm, it got the most use by far. Funny that just last week I was preferring the 3.5nm to the 6.5nm. This week it was the opposite. Temperature and humidity were definitely different, maybe sky conditions/transparency had something to do with it. Last week I was using all very fast lenses (f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.4, f/2, f/2), whereas this week I was using almost exclusively slow lenses due in part to the TC's (f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8). Last night I spent a LOT of time observing at f/8 and also at f/5.6, way more than any others. Maybe that explains my preference this night for the 6.5nm instead of the 3.5nm??
Observing this week and last with such a wide array of camera lens speeds (f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8), and with different filters, REALLY makes me appreciate more than ever having a continuous manual gain control. If you are reading this and shopping for an NV device, I encourage you to make sure the device you buy checks that box!
Observing with the 800mm was very cool, I spent a lot of time with that and a 6.5nm filter. Astronomy is maybe not your typical application an 800mm camera lens, but it works! Actually there was also a time (this past spring) hiking with my wife and son in Talladega National Forest in Alabama where I carried that lens with 2x TC along for bird photography, and at a rest stop I told my wife & son let's do a quick portrait...I ran over to what seemed like the next zip code just to be able to get an upper-body portrait of them hugging, haha! Photo turned out great...can there ever be too much compression for portraits. So anyway who says 800mm has to be used a certain way...use it for whatever you want...even NV!
I finished off the night handheld with the 85mm f/1.8 lens, seeing for the first time in my life...Barnard's Loop. How freaking cool is that! That -- and one more look at the California Nebula -- was a pretty awesome way to cap off the night.