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Film astrophotography: still worth the effort and expense?

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#1 wmaalouli

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 07:53 AM

I would not call myself an astrophotographer by any stretch of the imagination, just a rank amateur who likes to fiddle with equipment :)

Nonetheless, I bought my first telescope in 1991, a 114mm Celestron Newtonian with a wooden equatorial tripod upgraded with a 3rd party RA drive, and used a Pentax K1000 camera to take some basic astrophotos. Sadly, the results were quite disappointing (I was hoping for Hubble quality results!), wasting rolls and rolls of film trying to bracket exposures through shameless guess work then waiting several days to get everything developed only to throw away 99% of the pictures. I kept a few however that at least had a recognizable target (I'll try to dig out the pictures this weekend and post some).

 

And then the digital revolution happened and I started using cheap CCD cameras with equally dismal results. Now, a few decades later, I still have the Pentax camera and have been toying with the idea of giving it another try. I have since donated my Celestron to a local kid who showed genuine interest in astronomy but could not afford a scope, and substituted it with an Orion XTg-8 8" GoTo dobs as well as a rescued Meade ETX-70, neither of which remotely ideal for astrophotography, but still fun to experiment with.

 

Is it still worth it in this day and age to slug through film astrophotography? There are no longer any local places to develop film, so it's online outfits only, and even finding film is starting to prove more difficult and more expensive. I have to admit that part of my desire to reconsider film astrophotography is the pleasure of handling these old beautifully crafted fully mechanical cameras, something that cannot be matched by modern digital ones...



#2 slepage

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 08:52 AM

It boils down to one simple fact.  Do you think it is worth it so that you can satisfy some goal or desire that you have.  This is a personal question that only you can answer.  Are there easier and cheaper ways of going about it?  Sure there is.  Can you take pleasing film astrophotographs?  Sure you can. How much time, effort, and money do you want to spend? Well, only you can answer that question.



#3 Binofrac

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 08:56 AM

Apparently there's been something of a film revival similar to vinyl records so new film and processors should be available for a little while yet. If you have the kit then give it a go. Only you can know if it's worth it to you.  I completely understand the desire to use the older mechanical devices. I'm quite happy with a no electronics astro setup (visual only), and still wear a mechanical pocket watch.


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#4 Michael Covington

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 09:14 AM

The only reason to do film astrophotography is as a deliberate anachronism, to experience a technology of the past.  I do still have a darkroom and do a tiny amount of daytime photography on film (no astrophotography on film any more).

The performance of film is FAR worse than digital sensors, both because of reciprocity failure and because of limited resolution.

I know, I've done lots of both...


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#5 Topographic

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 09:44 AM

Watching a local farmer ploughing his field with a huge tractor and imagining him doing the same walking behind two oxen. Both will do the job, the former is quicker and more effective and the farmer will live longer. The latter....the oxen are really lovely beasts.

 

If you want a similar effect to film, only better, try StarTools and use the 'FilmDev' module.



#6 Michal1

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 09:56 AM

I have noted that there 2-3 groups of people who do astrophotography with different aims. In the first, people try to capture the celestial object as precisely and completely as possible, i.e. they go for fine details, capturing the faintest parts, etc. For them, film makes no sense. The second group, where I belong, does AP just to get nice pictures. It doesn't matter if it captures just relatively bright objects. Then film is a considerable medium. For me, images taken on film look nicer! High resolution or depth are rather a bonus. The last group, which seems to me the least numerous or visible, does AP just for fun. They are happy with what the other groups would consider mediocre images. For them, I would suggest to use a DSLR as it is cheap and easy.   


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#7 wmaalouli

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 11:42 AM

The last group, which seems to me the least numerous or visible, does AP just for fun. They are happy with what the other groups would consider mediocre images. For them, I would suggest to use a DSLR as it is cheap and easy.   

Yup, I definitely belong to that last group. You see, it's not just the camera used though, but also the telescope and the mount which need to be up to par in order to have a chance at capturing decent astroimages. I have neither, so I try not to take myself too seriously when it comes to astrophotography. Never underestimate the value of having fun though! 

 

As several here have stated, it will indeed fall on me to decide what is worthwhile for me and will give me the most enjoyment. In thinking about this a bit further, I think the idea of sitting at a computer tweaking digital images for hours on end does not really appeal to me, and there is beauty in the simplicity of a virgin image on film, unrefined and unfiltered, a direct testament of your efforts at the telescope end. So yes, I think I'm going to dust off that Pentax K1000, and I might even post a few fuzzy images here grin.gif...


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#8 Michal1

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 11:59 AM

Haha, you look like a person who prefers to plough his field with a pair of oxen! Welcome among us! Yes, film cameras are lovely beasts!


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#9 Houthans

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 02:18 PM

I've been there, hypered TP2415. Never again. I love digital, even when it lacks the magic of developing your own film and then magically seeing the image appear after exposing the paper. So I would not fond is worth it. But then again, it may be worth it to you.

#10 wmaalouli

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 04:48 PM

Apparently there's been something of a film revival similar to vinyl records so new film and processors should be available for a little while yet. If you have the kit then give it a go. Only you can know if it's worth it to you.  I completely understand the desire to use the older mechanical devices. I'm quite happy with a no electronics astro setup (visual only), and still wear a mechanical pocket watch.

I was watching a video from Ed Ting's channel on YouTube the other day and he stated that had been getting so wrapped up by astrophotography that he had forgotten to actually look at the sky. I most definitely do not want to fall into that trap...

Incidentally, I do carry a mechanical pocket watch whenever I am on service at the hospital (I'm a physician) so as to keep my hands and forearms free of rings and devices due to frequent disinfection, gloves etc... The residents always get a kick out of it he he...


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#11 Topographic

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Posted 26 November 2021 - 05:18 PM

Haha, you look like a person who prefers to plough his field with a pair of oxen! Welcome among us! Yes, film cameras are lovely beasts!

To look at...the oxen, plough a field with them....nooooooooooooo



#12 wmaalouli

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Posted 28 November 2021 - 07:41 AM

I found the only surviving picture of my setup back in 1997, here shown with a piggy back film camera, while trying to image the Hale-Bopp comet.

 

Celestron C4.5 telescope.jpg

 

 

 

 

 


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#13 wmaalouli

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Posted 28 November 2021 - 07:42 AM

Hale-Bopp in 1997

 

Hale-Bopp 1997.jpg


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#14 telesonic

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Posted 28 November 2021 - 10:20 PM

Ahh, the old Celestron C-4.5, I have one.... super sharp optics.

Very good shot of Hale-Bopp as well, I remember it... but wasn't interested in astronomy back then.

 

 

My thoughts -

 

Sure, film astrophotography can be worth the effort and expense these days... but it depends on the end user, and other factors I'd suppose.

Here is a quick list from my brain for the 'yes' factors:

 

1. Already have a film camera, might as well give it a try!

2. Finding the right film, pretty well documented on what works, what worked then, and what might work now, and what's no longer available.

Also: Black and white / Color / or slide film? Choices, and experimentation.

3. Local Light Pollution levels in your area - the darker the sky, the better.

4. Knowledge, Practice, Patience -There are some great books that were written about film astrophotography, many are still available on the used market.

 

5. This might seem odd, but an actual physical photo that you can hold in your hand, or put in an album. Sure, you can print digital images too... it's just that old time nostalgia feeling with film.

(plus a shoebox full of negatives in a closet somewhere..... it reminds me of when I was young, my father picked up nature photography as a hobby and was very good at it.)

 

Now, the big downside - (I'm not going to get into the digital vs film argument here as I also have a DSLR)

1. Do you have a local place that you can get your film developed? This is important, if you are not developing it yourself.

 

Sure, many stores like Walmart and others still develop film... kind of. They send it off somewhere and then a few days later you get the printed pictures back. Most can put the pics on a CD, which is handy. Most of the times, at least our Walmart.... you will not get your negatives back with your prints. (that sucks!)

 

There are some smaller places that you can send your film to for development, and they will send you the prints, CD and negatives - costing postage as well.  Our semi-local camera store closed last year or so ago, so I haven't ran any astro-film since.... I simply don't trust the big box places, and I have a film scanner - so I'd like my negatives back so I can scan them myself.

 

Long winded, yes - but those are my honest thoughts on film, based on my situation now. Sure, I have a few really great 35mm cameras, accessories, and a good stash of glass... mostly sentimental, until I can find a local developer, or figure out which one to send the color film to.... I'll be using the rolls for daytime stuff. That could very well change.

 

That is my personal .02c

Cheers,

T

 

 


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#15 wmaalouli

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Posted 29 November 2021 - 06:23 AM

I use the Darkroom (thedarkroom.com) for for my film developing needs and have been pretty happy with them overall. And yes, you do get your negatives back. I used to develop my own B&W film, but without a dedicated dark room (the basement bathroom was a clumsy substitute), it eventually became a hassle.

Like you, have several film cameras and associated kit, including a Kiev 88 medium format camera (quite the beast), and it's sad that they do not get nearly as much use anymore. 

I suppose in the end it's more the nostalgic factor rather than real practicality that is at play here. And as long as expectations are toned down, I think the fun factor would still be worth it :)

Thinking of medium format, on my next trip to a national park I'm going to attach the Kiev 88 to a good motorized mount (I asked Santa for a Celestron AVX!) and try to take expansive views of the sky... As you said, experiment and enjoy.


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#16 Uwe Pilz

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Posted 04 December 2021 - 03:34 AM

There may be another reason for using film. At work I have much to do with computers. If you make astrophotography electronically, you have two computers in the field. And you need many hours in front of a computer to make the image looking nice.

At leas b/w photography is pure handicraft. I like it very much and use it for all day photography (my grandchildren for instance). From time to time I make an astrophotography shot of a bright object. More for later recollection than in competition to the digital photographs.


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#17 Trader_Vix

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Posted 20 December 2021 - 04:35 PM

Two of my Hale Bopp's on Film:

First One - HB

49mm Lens @ F/2.8
Motor Mount - Unguided
Pentax K1000 Body
Kodak PJM Multispeed, Unhypered
1 x 3 Minute Exposure
Digital Enhanced (levels) in Photoshop

 

Second One - HB

Meade 5" ED Refractor F/9
Manual Guiding
Pentax K1000 Body
Kodak PPF 400, Unhypered
1 x 8 Minute Exposure
Digital Enhanced (levels) in Photoshop

 

Third One - Rosette

Negatives - December 2001 and January 2002

Meade 5" ED Refractor F/9
216XT Autoguider
Pentax K1000 Body
Kodak PPF 400, Unhypered
7 x 50 min.
Image Stacking in Picture Window
Digital Enhanced (curves and color balance) in Photoshop

 

I haven't shot a photon since 2001...now getting ready to restart this whole endeavor again....using same tele setup for now except with a QHY268C, and a modern guider, and modern software...don't have time left in my life for oxen....look at that last shot...that was 7 times 50 min., and another 8 exposures I discarded...just in shooting time...probably another 20 hours or so of post processing time after getting the negs back and scanning them......that is film..no thanks...not anymore....btw..I have 30 rolls of PJM mujltispeed and 10 rolls of fuji 400 super G still in my freezer in air tight bags...i am sure it is trashed...but i can't bear to toss it...I have seen some great work done with digital with equipment in my range and am looking forward to getting started... again...

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#18 Trader_Vix

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Posted 20 December 2021 - 04:47 PM

My overall point was..I am the consummate dinosaur, and from what I have seen the digital folks do..can't even come close with film...and at that time I have a pro quality lab down the street and I could work with him on bath times, temps, etc...getting hypered in before it hit the reciprocity decline...waiting to see how rolls come out? Nah..not worth it..in my (narrow minded) view film (Color or B/W) should be relegated to artistic terrestrial work....too much time investment in astro work already in doing post processing to use that old medium just to suck in photons....

just sayin..



#19 Trader_Vix

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Posted 20 December 2021 - 04:49 PM

btw...that lab...he went under 15 years ago...and he was where a lot of NY and Boston show folks get their work processed...



#20 Todd N

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Posted 21 December 2021 - 12:09 AM

My overall point was..I am the consummate dinosaur, and from what I have seen the digital folks do..can't even come close with film...and at that time I have a pro quality lab down the street and I could work with him on bath times, temps, etc...getting hypered in before it hit the reciprocity decline...waiting to see how rolls come out? Nah..not worth it..in my (narrow minded) view film (Color or B/W) should be relegated to artistic terrestrial work....too much time investment in astro work already in doing post processing to use that old medium just to suck in photons....

just sayin..

 

Really nice images. You certainly put some extraordinary effort with the Rosette. But, I think film astrophotography doesn't have to require such effort. With digital you can be spending much of the night doing calibration frames and then the time for post processing. The digital workflow was one of the reasons that pushed me back to film. Spending the night collecting and organizing data I found tedious and uninspiring. I have no argument about the superior aspects of digital though. Fuji Across 100 is a superior film for astrophotography and under ideal sky conditions can produce outstanding images that exceed digital when it comes to wide-field, IMO.

 

Regards,


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#21 Trader_Vix

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Posted 21 December 2021 - 10:40 AM

Todd...I can agree on wide field, I assume exposure times are less....maybe single exposure (like my mediocre attempts at it)...it can be more "artistic" and if done within certain parameters...like milky way stuff..etc..and for wide field type work..than I can understand...but I assume you are still scanning and doing post stacking (if that is still being done with multiple exposures)...so there is still digital manipulation going on to some extent...

 

My earliest film work was all manual.....I worked with my lab on processing the negs...I then manually stacked the best useful negs using talcum powder and pins, a jewelers loupe and sticky glue, then went back to the lab and we worked his enlarger/printer settings to get a few nice pictures from the stacked negs...I still have those in frame on the wall..not that they are particularly great shots...but they are eclectic in the manual effort it took....as it was, when we moved to digital post...that really save time and made for much better images on the deep stuff with good aligning software and stacking/processing techniques...I just hit a wall time, family and interest wise back in 2002/2003 timeframe.

 

My point was for any deep work at all...there is too much time in exposures that get eaten up quickly by all the new fleeting problems...too many satellites that weren't there in 2000, aircraft, clouds, etc. and if shooting for stacking work, you can just use the latest software to weed that stuff out and still save those imaging sessions with the other 20-40 good light frames....whereas with film I was shooting 2-3 shots a night...one or two aircraft, or a cloud interrupting guiding..and wham...wasted session....let alone sending in a whole roll thru the mail...with 16-20 hours of imaging to find out he screwed up the processing..or it got lost....etc.

Having fun is so much fun....


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#22 Trader_Vix

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Posted 21 December 2021 - 10:52 AM

I still have my scanwit 2720 negative scanner...40meg scans for each frame thru scsi into a old Dell pentium 2, windows98 or 2000, took 20 min per negative frame scan, add that to all the other time.....those were the days.....



#23 Marty0750

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Posted 24 December 2021 - 06:18 AM

My overall point was..I am the consummate dinosaur, and from what I have seen the digital folks do..can't even come close with film...and at that time I have a pro quality lab down the street and I could work with him on bath times, temps, etc...getting hypered in before it hit the reciprocity decline...waiting to see how rolls come out? Nah..not worth it..in my (narrow minded) view film (Color or B/W) should be relegated to artistic terrestrial work....too much time investment in astro work already in doing post processing to use that old medium just to suck in photons....

just sayin..

Sure, digital is superior in outstanding quality, so why bother with film?. But this misses the point.

 

Why do people still play acoustic guitars when they could play electric guitars?

 

Why sail and tack when you could motorize and use GPS?

 

Why do people still buy art materials and paint when they could just take their camera out? (see Sketching forum wink.gif)

 

Why do many airline pilots spend weekends sailplaning?

 

Why do so many people still read paper-based instead of electronic books?

 

Why do some people make their own telescopes instead of buying them?

 

You could think of many more, I am sure....

 

Marty


Edited by Marty0750, 24 December 2021 - 06:24 AM.

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#24 Michael Covington

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Posted 25 December 2021 - 04:35 PM

I've told people film will die out some time after oil painting dies out...

Some types of color film probably won't last much longer.  It's amazing that color photography worked at all, in retrospect.  Synchronizing those three layers (two of which have to be exposed through other layers)...

But black-and-white film and paper are easy to make, and moreover, they are closely related to materials that are still used widely in the printing industry, the semiconductor industry, and various other industries that involve etching an image onto a surface (using photosensitive chemicals to control it).  So I think film will stay around.



#25 Trader_Vix

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Posted 29 December 2021 - 08:35 AM

Marty
I understand what you are saying..definitely not trying to plow (get it…oxen…get it  ) the old film vs. digital ground…especially since I was always on the film side years ago…however, I believe all of your comparison examples are false equivalency from what I was trying to point out earlier….and here is why. I clearly said that IF you were using film in an artistic capacity (such as one shot wide angle sky, or shots with context like Grand Canyon skies at twilight….etc.) ) shots, or something similar (like terrestrial work) then I can see film still very valuable as a medium to achieve a visceral artistic feeling/reaction (which is the point I believe that you were trying to make). However, I believe anywhere where there is any kind of digital manipulation beyond basic fixes (cropping, etc) it is disconnected from that visceral film quality you are trying to achieve. It’s fake (so to speak). Also, anywhere where there is a goal to suck in photons…absolutely-film is dead, so that is all DSO work and the like. Way way too much time and money in equipment  to do the same thing digitally whereas better results with much less risk can be achieved with even the lower price point cameras, and ancillary equipment.

 

Now to your examples…I am a musician, play the guitar…have a D28, a Alvarez Yari a bunch of Strats, LP and others…I also was a pilot..and have flown aerobatics….and I started this astrophototgraphy endeavor stacking negs with powder and pins. I believe I know what you were trying to say…but there is no comparison…everyone one of your examples is at the visceral end of the spectrum, its not an old versus new….you are at the end product already…plucking the strings and listening to the acoustic vs. and electric (I love the sounds I can make with both at the end of the sound chain) …feeling the air passing on wings vs. the sound of the prop/engine….holding the pages of the book…etc. Here is a better example...I play albums once in a while..this has had a resurgence in recent years...however when I do it it is on my old high end stereo setup...no A/D converter, USB etc...it is on my old analog integrated amp and old Studio speakers...etc. that way I get the real visceral feeling of the analog sound, crackling, etc. That connection is at the end of the chain, not just the beginning..but it does involve the entire chain. This just doesn't compare with just talking about the beginning of the astrophotography light chain, the recording medium so to speak…apples and oranges…whereas when the goal is clearly to just suck in photons vs. creating creating an artistic image that can only be done by keeping the chain intact (almost film to paper so to speak). I am not a big artistic photographer…but I very much appreciate the work that I have seen done..I have seen the light….no stacking necessary…




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