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Welcome to the Starizona Guide to CCD Imaging!  This is a comprehensive guide to CCD, digital camera, and webcam imaging.  The website includes tutorials on using software to capture and process images, plus tons of information on all aspects of imaging techniques and equipment for both beginning and advanced imagers.  This page will provide a brief introduction to digital imaging (covered in more detail in other areas of the website) and also provides new visitors with a starting point for using the website.

 

A Brief Introduction to Digital Astro Imaging

Recent advances in imaging and telescope technology have made astrophotography accessible to more people than ever before.  When I started taking astrophotos with film (you remember film, right?) waaay back in 1997, I learned mostly from a few books, a very limited number of websites, and a lot of trial and error.  Not too many people were interested in serious astrophotography due to the limited results obtained only through an astounding amount of effort.  I've made every mistake possible and had every mishap occur:  from taking 6 hours of out-of-focus photos 150 miles from home, to having a packrat eat through the power cord on my telescope.  One idea behind this website, of course, is that you can learn from the mistakes we at Starizona have made while learning imaging techniques ourselves over the years.  But a great thing about modern digital imaging is that should the Fates decide you need to make some mistakes of your own, you won't suffer nearly as much as you would have in the past.  Just five years ago, I had to take hours of film astrophotos and later get them developed before I found out I had wasted all night with the camera out of focus.  Now, with a digital image, you will know instantly if something is wrong.  And if you screw up a digital image, you are rarely out more than 10 minutes.  Film exposures could last 2 hours or more!

Above:  Swan Nebula, comparison of film and CCD.  See text for description.  Left image by Scott Tucker, right image by Dail Terry.

Compare the images above of film vs. CCD.  The left image is a 60-minute, guided film astrophoto from one of the darkest locations in the U.S.  It required an hour of accurate polar alignment, 10 minutes of focusing, an hour of exposure, two hours of driving each way to and from the site, processing at a lab, scanning into the computer, and processing in Photoshop.  The image on the right is an unguided stack of ten 30-second exposures taken from a semi-dark location.  It required no polar alignment, 2 minutes of focusing, 5 minutes of exposure, 30 minutes of driving each way, and was completely processed within five minutes of the picture being taken.  The film image was a successful shot by an experienced astrophotographer after months of learning and taking bad photos.  The CCD image was taken by a novice imager on his second night out.  The CCD image also cost half as much.  There isn't much to choose between them in terms of quality.  What a difference 5 years of technology makes!

Digital imaging includes everything from point-and-shoot digital cameras and webcams--which are inexpensive and ideal for planetary and lunar imaging--to digital SLR cameras and astronomical CCD cameras for deep-sky imaging.  Digital imaging allows instant results which makes the learning curve a lot less steep, and makes imaging a possibility for people who don't have all night to spend taking pictures of the sky.  CCD cameras are as much as 50 times more sensitive than film, making multi-hour exposures a thing of the past.  What was once a real pain in the rear is now simple, and more people than ever are getting into imaging the heavens.

 

Using the Guide to CCD Imaging

The Starizona Guide to CCD Imaging includes over 200 individual webpages (the equivalent of over 800 printed pages) containing discussions of imaging equipment, tutorials on setting up telescopes and cameras and using software, the theory and science behind digital imaging, and much more.  In other words, there is something here for every level of imager, from someone who has never taken a single picture, to advanced imagers looking for the latest information on new hardware, new techniques with the latest software, or just seeking a new imaging challenge.

The trick then is finding all this information!  The site is designed to be easy to navigate, but there is a lot of information available.  Two good ways to get started are to select the Basics of CCD Imaging link on the home page and just start reading, or visit the Site Index page for a table of contents to find exactly what you are looking for.

The website is divided into three main sections: Basics of CCD Imaging, Advanced CCD Imaging, and Software Instructions.  Within both the Basics and Advanced sections are subcategories of Equipment, Taking Images, and Processing Images.  The Advanced section also includes a section on Imaging Theory, stuff that is not essential to know but good fun for the math and science geeks (like Yours Truly).

The Software Instructions section has step-by-step tutorials for capturing and processing images using the most popular programs.  These tutorials are an excellent reference to have in the field as they walk you through each step in taking an image and enhancing it afterwards.  Many imagers find it useful to print out the appropriate tutorials to have as a reference while imaging.

Other resources include CCD Calculators which make the math of CCD imaging (from determining resolution and field of view to finding the perfect exposure time) an easy task.  There are also links to other websites including personal galleries to inspire you.  Be sure to check out the What's New page from time to time for updates on additions to the site.  As technology continues to advance and new hardware and software becomes available, the website will be updated with info on all the latest and greatest toys!

 

May you have clear skies, excellent seeing, and no packrats...

Scott Tucker

Guide to CCD Imaging Home Page



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