I've just returned from my very first Advanced Imaging Conference. It's a safe bet it won't be my last. Great fun, saw some friends, made some new ones, learned a lot.
Anyway, I've had an epiphany while there. I _am_ an advanced imager. Yep, no doubt about it. Now, don't think me vain for making such a claim. Being an advanced imager (at least in my mind) only means that I am applying advanced techniques in my pursuit of images. It's like saying "I'm a graduate student"… not the same as saying "I'm a PhD". I still aspire to being an "expert", or keeping with the metaphor, earning my doctorate (my first APOD!) one day.
I took my first image of the moon um…about 13 years ago. I used film. I had a crappy scope, but the moon was bright and at least one or two images per roll were decent enough to make my family proud and impress my co-workers (not yet working in the astronomy industry mind you). I graduated to digital, and experimented with short exposure deep sky, and built a web cam planet imager. Results were less than promising for a few years. I finally got an equatorial mount, learned to polar align, and started at least having something that represented a galaxy or nebula from time to time. Once of course I got a Paramount ME, I really started spending more and more time imaging, and devouring books by Wodaski, Ratledge, Berry, Burnell, etc. I'm even giving talks about astrophotography at star parties now. Saying I'm a beginner is just hiding from the fact that I'm not especially skilled. Well, I'm getting there, slowly, and I've been at it a while now. The last two years, almost manically.
<Warning, I am now channeling Andy Rooney… if you don't know who he is/was, your life is the poorer>
This makes me "advanced". But I'm still not an expert. I do have a modicum of confidence now though, and it's high time I spoke up for myself. A number of friends and colleagues have been patting me on the head like a good little boy because I'm a one shot color imager. To make matters worse, I use a DSLR.
Oh heavens. Might as well be using a TASCO 60mm refractor.
(Mine was red!)
So here's the thing. I know that the cooled monochrome cameras have VASTLY better noise characteristics, and are HUGELY more sensitive. I also just don't care, because it doesn't matter. Have I lost my mind? Nope, it's all a matter of your goals and environment. I suspect that a great many of our customers and many people in the astroimaging community at large are in the same boat I am. Two things:
1. I want color images (not monochrome, not Hydrogen Alpha).
1.b. Okay, I admit Ha is pretty frigg'n cool… but back to the _color_ part.
2. I'm a portable imager.
Frankly, it's just plain silly to think that I'm ever going to switch to a monochrome camera and use a color wheel. #2 is why. If I had an observatory, or was imaging almost exclusively from my back yard, that would be one thing. But I'm imaging in my back yard, I'm imaging from at least three other locations in Florida, a spot in Georgia, Tennessee, and two places I like in North Carolina. Now that I can go all night on battery, I plan to explore some even darker sites in Florida this winter.
So… given my experience with portable imaging, here's what my common sense tells me that someone with a spot at New Mexico Skies just doesn't get. I set up at dusk. I do my alignment and am ready to go by Astronomical Twilight. From there…. sometimes I've gotten as little as an hour before clouds move in. Sometimes past midnight, sometimes till dawn. Next day, I'm gone. No way to know for sure how long your going to get. Clear sky clock and the water vapor satellite doesn't know about the pond down the hill, or the recent rain storm that has left the ground wet, and will raise a nasty fog as soon as it cools off. Or, oh gee, I blew a fuse and the night is over. If I can get an hour of imaging in (then some darks), often I can at least salvage something. What am I going to do with two hours of luminance, and 30 minutes worth of blue filter?
Zip. That's what.
So, spare me the monochrome camera's are better song. Oh, sure I could image blue in Florida, green in North Carolina, and then get some Red and luminance in Tennessee. Yeah, that's going to happen, and I'm going to balance against all those sky conditions, align them and spend three months getting one picture? I don't think so. That's not "advanced", that's being a masochist. Monochrome camera's and filter wheels, just don't _always_ make sense.
It's possible that from my back yard I can image a given object over several nights and make it work (I have actually done a two night image), but most of the time that's just not going to be the case. A red image under really dark skies, a blue image under somewhat light polluted, etc. Just goofy to try and make that work. Until I have my own observatory, and as long as I'm traipsing around with an MX, I'm probably always going to be a one shot color imager. I suspect many present and future customers are too. This doesn't mean I'm disinclined to use a one shot cooled CCD camera instead of a DSLR mind you… in fact I have my eye one one in particular. But for the foreseeable future, one shot is definitely where I'm going to be.
Of course, all opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else at Software Bisque and/or is not an official statement from Software Bisque on the topic. Oh, and don't look at the sun, it can blind you.
11-08-2011 1:12 AM