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
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
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
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
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:
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...
Guide to CCD Imaging Home