Photos ‘n Stuff offers many categories of photos to choose from. When you visit photosnstuff.net/shop, you see them, depending on your screen format, device, operating system, and browser, on the right or at the bottom of the screen. Today we’ll present one of them and tell a story about it.
It contains pictures I shot in the first few years of my astronomy hobby. When I started, I didn’t know much about how to make pictures of stars, or even much about telescopes! I thought telescopes were expensive equipment belonging to research organisations, universities, NASA and ESA, and such. Well, they do, but I didn’t know there was an emerging market for hobby astronomers.
So, when I first started making pictures of stars, I used the same camera I took with me on vacation. Through the years, they were different cameras, but I always looked for a digital camera with as high an optical zoom as possible.
(Optical zoom is contrary to the “digital” zoom a camera may have. The optical one is what you see when the camera lens actually moves outwards to zoom in on something, it keeps the same photo resolution and just zooms in onto what you want to see. The “digital” zoom is mostly taking a picture without the zoom, and then zooming in within the picture itself, instead of zooming onto the actual object. This will typically reduce the resolution, or the number of details you can see in the picture, while the optical zoom keeps the original (maximal) resolution).
At first, I used a Panasonic DMC-TZ10 camera which has a decent 12 time optical zoom. I shot a photo of the Big Dipper hanging low in the evening sky over a beach in Croatia. It was published as as Astrophoto of the day on Sept 5th, 2011, by universetoday.com!
Later on, I shot a photo of Jupiter and its 4 largest satellite moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto), also with the Panasonic DMC-TZ10, and again, without any telescope, just using the camera’s optical zoom and a tripod. This photo was also featured as Astrophoto of the day on UniverseToday on Oct 19, 2011, because it demonstrated how little can be enough to make astronomical photography. A (digital) zoom in into that picture produced another picture where the moons are clearly visible as separate bodies!
Of course, this motivated me to improve and I found two distinct opportunities: the first was a better camera, with a 50 times optical zoom compared to 12 times of the Panasonic – it was a Sony DSC-HX400V which now lets me take really neat pictures of the moon!
The other opportunity was even better: I found that there was an amateur astronomy club near me, STAV (I live in Austria, so the web site is in German). Needless to say, I became a member! At STAV, we have the largest publicly accessible telescope in the province of Styria, with 50cm (or 20 in) diameter, and several other scopes we can use for astrophotography. That’s when my adventures really got a big boost! I was given a course on how to use the telescopes and started taking pictures through the telescope. There’s a big difference! Just compare the Jupiter taken through a telescope with the one described above, taken with the Panasonic! Soon, I took many other interesting pictures, such as an exploded star (the term is “planetary nebula” but we can’t see planets there), a supernova, star clusters, and beautiful, colorful dust clouds where the stars are born.