After only a mere 3 days of frustration of owning a telescope and not being able to use it for the purpose it was designed, I finally got a clear night to try out a bit of photography with my newest photography acquisition, my Skywatcher Explorer 200P on an EQ5 mount.
With a clear sky looking almost certain the hardest part of waiting till it was dark enough to actually see anything in the night sky on Friday night. The moon was coming up frustratingly low and was steadfastly refusing to peek over the top of the house from my back garden so I was forced to wait until the sun had at least waved goodbye for the day.
While still in a twilight sky I obviously couldn’t properly polar align, not that in a dark sky I’d probably have had any more luck either if I’m honest! I did make an attempt though, first finding north using the iPhone compass, so it was probably east or something knowing the accuracy of the iPhone compass and I did level out the mount properly too. With this being the best I could do in a twilight sky I made an attempt at balancing the telescope and that was me ready to go.
I’d spent time earlier in the day setting up the finder scope so with Venus bright in the sky that where I headed. Centred nicely in the finder scope I looked through the eyepiece to find… nothing at all. After some searching I did find Venus and even in the 20mm eyepiece it was a brilliant sight. The crescent clearly defined and even better, the tracking motors seemed to be keeping it in the field of view as well. So far so good.
With Venus in my sights I setup the MacBook pro and tethered it to my Nikon D90, fitted the t-ring and the 2x Barlow (which is needed to get the prime focus) and switched out the eyepiece for the camera and watched the scope drift off on a tangent with the extra weight fitted. Re-balancing and trying again finally I got Venus in the D90 viewfinder and switched the live view on the laptop. This gave me a chance to play with some settings and get a few shots, none of which I’d be willing to stick up online…
By this time Saturn had peeked over the top of the house so that’s where I headed next. Despite a glaring moon just below it the view wasn’t bad at all. Easy to find, find the roof and move up, Saturn was an awesome sight, the rings and some of the moons clearly defined in the eyepiece. With the tracking more or less working I got a good chance to try out some single frame shots of the ringed planet before youngest son walked into the 5m USB cable between the D90 and MacBook pro knocking everything out of line again.
This was the best I got of Saturn, not exactly epic but I was pleased enough for a first go.
Next up was Mars which was… unexciting so I skipped Mars and went in search of the Moon which was still hiding around the front of the house. Moving the scope I got a view of the Moon and within mere milliseconds of getting it in the eyepiece I realised the importance of having a Moon filter. There’s no way you should be looking at a nearly full moon without one. I worried for a bit I had damaged my left eye, the black spot the Moon left in a field of vision a bit of a worry to be frank! Thankfully it subsided and I won’t be doing that again. I did however hook up the camera and use the live view to the laptop to focus and get a few shots, the best of which is below although I’m frustrated at the lack of sharpness in the shot.
The list of questions and things to learn is still massive. Among these…
1. How can I get the whole moon in a single photograph with the camera, the 2x Barlow means only bits at a time and when I tried eyepiece projection the result was more like a lensbaby shot with selective focus!
2. How the hell do you find deep space objects without a GOTO? I’m really thinking I’ll need to invest in the SynScan controller soon.
3. The tracking motors SEEM to work but I’m not convinced, Skywatcher seem to be overly vague in their operation.
4. How the f**k do you balance a telescope for the eyepiece and camera without having to adjust where the scope sits on the rings?
5. Where the hell did all these eyepiece caps come from? As the night wore on I seemed to have more than I had places to fit them?
6. Why do I need a woolly hat, scarf and big jacket in May!
7. Why did I buy such a heavy unwieldy telescope in the first place!
These, and not doubt many more questions may or may not be answered in the coming months…
So last nights outing was a last minute run into St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. I literally got 10 minutes to get a few shots so working quick was the order of the night. St Giles is handy for a quick few shots as you can usually get parked pretty close, at night at least, and it’s generally a lot quieter than it is during the day.
The plan for the night was some low down shots with the extra wide Sigma 10-20mm lens on to capture some nice damp cobbles as foreground interest. In the event, amazingly after the snow and rain we’ve had in Edinburgh over the last few days the ground had all but dried up by the time I got there. Still, once your there make the most of it!
Like I’ve said, the Sigma 10-20mm lens was on the D90, tripod was set to it’s lowest and as it was dark, no filters at all on the lens. Shooting down low with the D90 isn’t the easiest, it’s one of those times you wish it had the D5000 flip out screen, not that live view is a lot of use at night but at least it’s better than having to practically lie down on the damp ground to compose a shot.
In the spirit of experimentation I went for ISO200, f10 and shot bracketed exposures so I had the option of HDR should I want it. This meant the last overexposed shot maxxed out at 30s but it’s usually fine for HDR work.
This was the first shot of the night, taken from the left hand side of the Cathedral next to the, thankfully no spat on, Heart of Midlothian. Why do people spit on it? Football nonsense no doubt.
Happy enough with this HDR version of the shot, just wish that Arnold Clark hire van on the right had moved off!
From here I moved over to the other side of Parliament Square and managed to get a nice wide angle, again with the tripod low and managing to avoid the van this time. Not an HDR conversion but looked so much better as a monochrome.
This was processed from the RAW file using an Adobe Camera Raw preset for high key B&W. It’s handy to have some presets in ACR, for those times you just don’t want to spend ages processing shots. There’s loads of sites out there to download them from an you’d be surprised at just what you can do with some of them.
So, that was about it for the night apart from a few last shots of the stature and Cathedral together with the tripod fully extended that I didn’t care for in the end.
Hopefully the crap weather is on its way out again, getting fed up doing night shots now this winter!