Postcard from the Universe – Andromeda

So I shot M31… yet again. I admit I enjoy this target, it is just so much fun. I always think I can do a little bit better. It is color balance that has been my bugaboo lately, I have really been playing with my technique to achieve a decent color balance. Something aesthetically pleasing and something that bears at least a little resemblance to reality. I understand how objective these criteria are, but still… I try.

Be sure to click on the image to get the large version…

The Andromeda Galaxy, M31, taken 9Aug2013 at the Oregon Star Party, M32 and M110 are also visible, TV-76 with Canon 60D, 17x480s + 10x60s

A Dummy Battery Adapter for the Canon 20Da

Another quick project to solve a little equipment issue. I realized I had a problem the morning before I was planning to spend a night shooting astrophotos up on the mountain. The batteries for my 20Da are old and do not hold a charge, no way I was going to be able to use the camera through the night.

The Regulator Installed
The regulator circuit installed inside the battery shell and connected to the existing contacts
The camera is an older model that remains quite valuable to me as it has been adapted to shoot astrophotos. The 20Da model differed from the standard 20D in having live focus and a re-tuned red cutoff filter that allows the glowing red of nebulae to reach the sensor. After seven years I still use the camera regularly.

I have the AC power supply for the 20Da, this is what I have been using for some time now. Shooting astrophotos in the driveway allows access to AC power. For field use this will not do, I need to operate fully from battery power. The camera batteries that I do have for the camera are now at least six years old, and do not hold enough charge to last.

Without AC power available I needed something that could plug into one of my 12V field battery packs. I really did not want to cut up the existing AC power supply to create a version to be used with an external battery. Plus, Canon used odd, proprietary connectors on the supply. (I really hate it when they do that!) I can not even use parts of the AC supply without modification.

With only a few hours available I came up with a plan. A little digging showed I had all of the needed components on-hand. Off to the work bench!

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Postcard from the Universe – Galactic Center

The last time out I fitted a camera ball mount to the counterweight shaft of the Losmandy mount. This allowed me to shoot an additional camera at the same time, along with the camera attached to the telescope. The second camera can be aimed at a different target completely. With a relatively wide angle lens, tracking errors become insignificant.

With the center of the Milky Way high overhead it made an obvious first target to test this wide-field setup. The results are quite nice, a series of one minute exposures reveal the star clouds in fine detail. The camera for this run was the Canon 60D, as the 20Da was shooting the Lagoon at the time. I need to swap places and try the shot again with the 20Da to see what the Hα sensitivity reveals, capturing more of the nebulae that is mingled with the stars.

The lens was an older Nikon 50mm f/1.8 stopped down to f/2.8, nice round star images right into the corners of the frame. Yes, a Nikon lens mounted to a Canon camera, you can do that. A very nice lens, I will be using it again for this work.

Galactic Center
The galactic center region on the Sagittarius-Scorpius border

The Canon 60D

A box was waiting for me when I got home. A long awaited box. A box that represented hours of reading, weighing and wrestling with the question…

A new camera!

I now have a replacement for my venerable Canon 20Da that I have used for over six years. Not that I will be getting rid of the older camera. It is still invaluable to me for astrophotography, a role it is specifically modified for. Nor will it replace my Canon G11, a camera I have carried every day for well over a year now. The G11 will remain my day to day camera, a role for which a compact is well suited.

Canon 60D
The Canon 60D DSLR camera, image credit: Canon USA

No, the 60D will be there when the smaller camera is simply not enough. There have been a few recent instances when I had opportunity for a good photo. An image I knew the camera in my hand simply could not capture. There was that pueo sitting on a lichen covered boulder last week. Or the summit under a blanket of fresh snow, lit by the full moon. Or… To many instances.

Another primary reason for the 60D… High quality HD video capability. This is something I have come to truly miss in my existing cameras. There have been a number of occasions when I really could have used that capability! Unfortunately now that I have a camera capable of truly good HD video, our backyard volcano has stopped producing photogenic lava flows. At least I know that will not last.

The decision was made more difficult by the choice of cameras available. A dizzying array of options now exist. A number of very capable DLSRs, the new mirrorless designs, this was a decision without a simple answer. In the end it came down to a choice between the Canon 60D and the very similar 7D. The newer 60D sports a flip out screen (something I love to have), better movie controls, and while it gives up a metal body it is also much lighter to carry. Both cameras use the same sensor and feature essentially the same image quality.

My thanks to Baron. I ran into him at the ROV competition last week. And lo… he was carrying both the 60D and a 7D. Even better, he let me fondle his gear while we chatted about the relative merits of the two cameras. Nothing like a hands-on look at the gear and the opinion of someone who uses the cameras extensively.

Even when holding a brand new camera I am wondering what will replace it in a few years. Maybe a mirrorless compact? That is a market segment to watch. What about my veteran G11 camera? Deb is making less than subtle suggestions about my getting a G12 so she can have my G11, mostly for underwater I suspect. Cameras are one place the technology is still changing rapidly enough to make these decisions difficult.

For now I need to learn a new camera and find its limits. A good low light session is in order, and I have a night on the summit coming up… with lasers!