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Webcam Astrophotography
Video astrophotography tips, techniques and how-to guide
To order this item outside the United Kingdom, please contact us.
Webcam Astrophoto
  • Author: Robert Reeves
  • Publisher: Willman-Bell
  • Hardbound
  • Pages: 368
  • 156 illustrations
  • 21 tables
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Table of Contents
(PDF)
Preface
(PDF)
Master Webcam Imagers
(PDF)
Chapter 1 (partial)
(PDF)

Outline
In the last few years video astrophotography has exploded onto the astronomy scene. It has rapidly evolved from short exposure six-bit black-and-white imagery into long-exposure full-colour 16-bit per channel imagery of such quality that it rivals “conventional” means of astrophotography. Indeed, webcams have become the method of choice for planetary imaging.

The message of this book is that you too can participate in the digital astrophotography revolution without spending very much money. You do not need to invest £10,000 in a CCD camera, telescope and software. A basic webcam costs about the same as a "so-so" eyepiece. Software to control the camera and process the images that will get you going is free. If you have the telescope (practically any telescope that will track) and a computer you are ready. Since you see your results instantly the learning curve is much shorter.

Regardless of how you apply a webcam to astrophotography, you will derive a number of benefits. Working with them has been accurately described as interesting, challenging, and fulfilling. Webcams are capable of producing beautiful astrophotos that create a lasting record of your astronomical experience. The book will guide you into this fascinating topic and allow you to become a participant in this latest wave of astrophotography progress.

Some of the advantages of video (webcam) astrophotography are:
  • Webcams are far cheaper than conventional cameras or astronomical CCDs.
  • Webcams use USB plug-and-play technology, meaning they are easy to install on a computer and have fast image download times.
  • Webcams provide real-time feedback. Focus and exposure are adjusted on the fly to insure best results.
  • Each webcam video imaging session produces a single unique image.
  • There are no film costs.
  • There is no need to wait for a full roll of images to be taken before developing them.
  • Webcams can create animated images and movies of changing events such as transits of Jovian moons or lunar occultations of bright stars and the planets.
  • Webcam images are digital-friendly, meaning they can be printed, posted on the Internet, or emailed without the need for developing or scanning.
  • Except with special black-and-white cameras, webcam images are in color. There is no need for combining tri-color images when doing lunar and planetary work.
  • With the use of proper software, some of which is free, webcams can be used as autoguiders for other forms of astrophotography.
  • A webcam shutter, the device that controls the length of an exposure, is entirely electronic. This gives webcams a great advantage over standard cameras in that there is no mechanical shutter to wear out or malfunction.
  • A webcam can easily take more individual exposures in a single evening of lunar photography than someone will take in a lifetime of snapshot photography. For instance, the full Moon mosaic on page 2 of this book is the summation of 28,800 individual video frames. This is the equivalent of snapping 800 rolls of 36-exposure 35mm film.
'Sky & Telescope' Magazine Review
"Robert Reeves takes you on a meticulous journey through the ins and outs of webcam imaging by covering everything necessary to modify popular camera models for all types of astrophotogrpahy His discussion includes sources for adapters and hard-to-find parts, as well as useful tricks for getting the most out of your equipment under any budget constraint. Detailed tutorials on the use of popular software for image processing are well written and thorough. They leave you with a feeling that no stone was left untruned and instill the confidence to go out any try webcam astrophotogrpahy yourself."

About the Author
Nearly 50 years ago Robert Reeves began his astrophotography adventure with his parent's Voightlander 120-format camera. His first exposure from his south-Texas garage roof was the brightest object in the sky, which turned out to be Jupiter. Unlike today's readily available books and accessories that make astrophotography more user friendly, back then the budding enthusiast was left to his or her own devices. Robert was not deterred and found a lifelong avocation of imaging the universe with his camera. His images have been published in the leading astronomy magazines and books and in 2000 he wrote the highly acclaimed book Wide-Field Astrophotography followed in 2005 by Introduction to Digital Astrophotography detailing the opportunities presented by consumer digital cameras.

Table of Contents
  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix
  Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .xi
  Master Webcam Imagers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  xv
  Chapter 1 Introduction to Webcam Astrophotography . . . . . . . . 1
    1.1 Some Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .1
    1.2 A New Imaging Era . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .4
    1.3 Minimum Requirements for Imaging . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
    1.4 Advantages and Disadvantages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
    1.5 Comparison of Imaging Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
    1.5.1 Cost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
    1.5.2 Flexibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
    1.5.3 Complexity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
    1.5.4 Low “Frustration Factor” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
    1.5.5 Ease of Use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
    1.5.6 The “Tinker Factor” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
    1.5.7 Satisfaction Factor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
    1.6 How Digital Imaging Works . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
    1.7 Color Arrays and Image Sensors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
    1.8 Interpolated Resolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
    1.9 A Look at Two Popular Cameras . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
    1.10 An Astrophoto Philosophy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
  Chapter 2 Basics of Webcam Astrophotography . . . . . . . . . .. 29
    2.1 Pixel Counts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
    2.2 Exposure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .32
    2.3 Gain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .35
    2.4 Amp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37
    2.5 Frame Rate. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38
    2.6 Dropped Frames . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..41
    2.7 Noise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44
    2.8 White Balance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48
    2.9 Video Time Length for Lunar and Planetary Imaging . . . . .49
    2.10 AVI File Size Limit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
    2.11 Dust on the CCD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
    2.12 Cleaning the CCD Sensor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
  Chapter 3 Astrophotography Techniques and Optical Limitations . .59
    3.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
    3.2 Fixed-Tripod Photography Introduces the Camera to the Sky .60
    3.3 Piggyback Adds Tracking Capability . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
    Table of Contents
    iv Table of Contents
    3.4 Prime Focus Telescopic Imaging. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63
    3.5 Barlow Projection Telescopic Imaging . . . . . . . . . . . 67
    3.6 Eyepiece Projection Telescopic Imaging. . . . . . . . . . .69
    3.7 Resolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
    3.8 More on Dawes Limit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75
    3.9 Determining Image Sampling Needs . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
    3.10 Effect of Seeing on Aperture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78
    3.11 Increasing Air Mass at Lower Altitudes . . . . . . . . . .79
    3.12 Atmospheric Dispersion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
  Chapter 4 Accessories for Webcam Astrophotography . . . . . . . .83
    4.1 Webcam Adapters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .83
    4.2 Filters for Webcam Astrophotography . . . . . . . . . . . .84
    4.2.1 Filters and the Wave Nature of Light . . . . . . . . . . 85
    4.2.1.1 The Importance of Infrared Cutoff Filters
    in Webcam Astrophotography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
    4.2.2 Popular Infrared Filters for Webcams . . . . . . . . . . 91
    4.2.3 Exceptions For Infrared Filter Use . . . . . . . . . . . 92
    4.2.4 Infrared Pass Filters for Planetary Imaging. . . . . . . 93
    4.3 Useful Filters For Imaging. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .93
    4.4 Broadband Light Pollution Rejection Filters . . . . . . . .95
    4.5 Hydrogen-Alpha Filters Block Light Pollution . . . . . . . 97
    4.6 Flip Mirrors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
    4.7 Parfocal Rings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .101
    4.8 Barlows and Powermates. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
    4.9 Focal Reducers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
    4.10 Filter Trays and Wheels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .113
    4.11 Wedge Prisms for Atmospheric Dispersion. . . . . . . . . 115
    4.12 Camera Lens Adapters. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .116
    4.13 Spectrographic Star Analyzers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
    4.14 T-Mounts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
  Chapter 5 Telescopes and Accessories . . . . . . . . . . . . . .123
    5.1 Types of Telescopes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .123
    5.2 Telescope Mounts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .127
    5.3 Optical Collimation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
    5.4 Newtonian Collimation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
    5.5 Schmidt-Cassegrain Collimation . . . . . . . . . . . . . .133
    5.6 Telescope Temperature Equilibrium . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
    5.7 Aiming the Telescope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .136
    5.8 Star Diagonals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .138
    5.9 Schmidt-Cassegrain Mirror Lock . . . . . . . . . . . . . .139
    5.10 Optical Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
    5.11 12-V Power Supplies in the Field . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
    5.11.1 Gel Cell Batteries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
    Table of Contents v
    5.12 Portable 120-volt Power in the Field. . . . . . . . . . .148
    5.13 Flashlights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .150
    5.14 Accessory Carrying Cases. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .151
  Chapter 6 Using a Webcam for Astrophotography . . . . . . . . . 153
    6.1 Keys to Getting Good Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
    6.2 Familiarization with Camera Controls . . . . . . . . . . .154
    6.3 Focusing Aids . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
    6.4 Manual Focusers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
    6.5 Electric Focusers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162
    6.6 Software for Focusing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
    6.7 Hartmann Mask . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166
    6.8 Diffraction Focusing Aid. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
    6.9 Using Webcam Characteristics to Achieve Good Focus. . . . 169
    6.10 Determining the Field of View . . . . . . . . . . . . . .171
    6.11 Targets for Webcam Astrophotography . . . . . . . . . . .174
    6.12 Lunar Photography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .185
    6.13 Solar Photography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .186
    6.14 Verifying Fine Detail. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
  Chapter 7 Webcam-Style Astrocamera Variations . . . . . . . . . 191
    7.1 Long-Exposure Modified Webcams . . . . . . . . . . . . . .191
    7.2 Atik . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .195
    7.3 Celestron NexImage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .197
    7.4 Meade Lunar and Planetary Imager . . . . . . . . . . . . .198
    7.5 Meade Deep Sky Imager . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
    7.6 Orion StarShoot Solar System and Deep Space Cameras. . . .204
    7.7 SAC IV and SAC8.5 Cameras . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206
  Chapter 8 Image Processing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
    8.1 The Laws of Astronomical Image Processing. . . . . . . . .211
    8.2 Don’t Overdo It . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
    8.3 Color in Astronomical Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .215
    8.4 Dark Frames and Flat Fields . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
    8.5 Gray Scale and Color Space . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .219
    8.6 Basic Processing Operations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
    8.7 Good Results with Basic Equipment. . . . . . . . . . . . .221
    8.8 Importance of Stacking Images. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .222
    8.9 How Stacking Works. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 224
    8.10 Monitor and Printer Output . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226
  Chapter 9 Polar Alignment and Guiding . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
    9.1 “Tracked, but Not Guided” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
    9.2 Principles of Polar Alignment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
    9.3 Telescope Mechanical Checks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233
    9.4 Basic Polar Alignment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
    9.5 Other Factors in Polar Alignment . . . . . . . . . . . . .239
    vi Table of Contents
    9.6 Star-Drift Polar Alignment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .240
    9.7 Improvements on Star-Drift Alignment. . . . . . . . . . . 241
    9.8 Using a Webcam to Assist in Polar Alignment . . . . . . . 242
    9.9 Guiding Corrects Alignment Errors. . . . . . . . . . . . .244
    9.10 Problems With Accurate Tracking. . . . . . . . . . . . . 244
    9.11 Causes of Guiding Errors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .248
    9.12 Choice of Guidescope or Off-Axis Guider . . . . . . . . .249
    9.13 Webcam Autoguiding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252
    9.14 Illuminated Reticle Eyepieces . . . . . . . . . . . . . .257
    9.15 Manual Guiding Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .259
    9.16 Final Check List for Polar Alignment and Manual Guiding .261
  Chapter 10 Computers for Webcam Imaging. . . . . . . . . . . . .263
    10.1 Desirable Computer Features. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263
    10.1.1 Monitors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 267
    10.1.2 Video and Image Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .268
    10.1.3 Compact Disc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 268
    10.1.4 Digital Versatile Disc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 270
    10.1.5 CD and DVD Storage Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .272
    10.1.6 USB Interface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .273
    10.1.7 Computer Mouse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276
    10.2 File Formats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276
    10.2.1 AVI Format . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277
    10.2.2 BMP Format . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
    10.2.3 FITS Format . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .279
    10.2.4 JPG Format . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280
    10.2.5 TIF Format. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .281
    10.2.6 PNG Format. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .282
    10.3 Troubleshooting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .282
  Chapter 11 Environmental Factors in Celestial Imaging . . . . . 287
    11.1 Seeing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .287
    11.2 Macro-, Meso-, and Microscale Weather Influences. . . . .289
    11.2.1 Macroscale Influence. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .290
    11.2.2 Mesoscale Influence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .290
    11.2.3 Microscale Influence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 291
    11.3 Good Results in Spite of Poor Seeing . . . . . . . . . . 294
    11.4 Predicting Seeing and Transparency . . . . . . . . . . . 295
    11.5 Light Pollution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .298
    11.6 Dewing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .299
    11.7 Dealing With Dew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 300
    11.8 Mosquito Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301
    11.9 Mosquito Repellents and Traps . . . . . . . . . . . . . .301
    11.10 Other Nighttime Pests and Critters . . . . . . . . . . .303
    11.11 Keeping Warm at the Telescope . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303
  Table of Contents vii
  Appendix A Using K3CCD Tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .305
  Appendix B Using RegiStax . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 311
    B.1 Tips and Tricks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 317
    Appendix C Using GuideDog Autoguiding Software . . . . . . . .321
  Appendix D Assembling Wide-Field Lunar Mosaics . . . . . . . . .325
    D.1 Basic Equipment Used . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .325
    D.2 Acquiring the Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .329
    D.3 Creating the Mosaic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .331
  Appendix E Webcam Astrophotography Resources . . . . . . . . . .333
  Appendix F Personal Websites of Photo Contributors to this Book 337
  Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .339
  Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 341


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