Entering Astronomy with a Camera and a Computer in a City
Amateur astronomy is sufficiently complicated that people have approached it in steps which have often proceeded as follows:
- learn the night sky by eye using sky charts
- learn to find things in the sky with binoculars
- progress to observing with a small telescope on a tripod
- get a bigger telescope with a more advanced mount that tracks the stars
- possibly choose to attach a camera to the telescope to take pictures
- start taking all this equipment on trips to darker sites for better viewing
- build a little observatory to house possibly even bigger telescopes.
Those addicted to all this call it “Aperture Fever” so it must be a lot of fun if they feel that guilty about it. However, the initial steps of learning the sky and the equipment are recognized as a barrier to entry and, in my youth, I attempted this route with a Celestron 8 and no sources of advice and failed to progress. Today, the internet and astronomy clubs would make these initial learning steps much easier.
For those who like computers and cameras, a completely different set of steps can be chosen as follows:
- get a DSLR camera, a tripod, a portable computer and some astronomy software
- if you really like computers, you already have an iPad so get some astronomy apps
- take snapshots of the brightest star zones and identify them with the iPad
- start testing the effects of exposure time and ISO settings
- learn to take multiple shots, stack them and process them in the computer
- learn to process light pollution and start pushing the limits of exposure time and ISO settings
- upgrade by choosing a telescope for photography rather than viewing and a mount with computerized “go to” ability to find celestial objects of interest
- start taking all this equipment on trips to darker sites for better shots (sounds familiar)
- realize that you just crossed over into the “Aperture Fever” zone like everyone else.
If you have no problem accepting digital experiences as reality (surreptitiously logs off from World of Warcraft), then this camera-computer approach offers immediate fun:
- the learning curve is mostly about new software and apps
- the initial shots look good even if there are better methods to get better shots
- you can nail all your friends to look at your shots on your iPad which is much easier to do than trying to drag them out at night to look into the eyepiece of your telescope.
I have attended a number of astronomy club meetings as well as the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers over Easter 2012. I was struck by the fact that I did not meet people who have chosen this camera-computer approach to get into amateur astronomy so I thought I would blog about the fun I have been having with it.