Trying to Image Saturn


Jay Albert - March 22, 2006


Planetary photography isn’t easy.  I never had any success with it back in the days of film photography.  Exposures of even a few seconds inevitably smeared and blurred fine details and it always seemed as though I could see more in the eyepiece and sketch more than I could photograph.  So I never got into planetary photography and stuck with pencil and paper.

I kept reading about the advances in digital photography in recent years and thought it might be worth trying.  When my granddaughter was born a little over two years ago, I decided the time had come to buy a digital camera for use on vacations, taking family pictures…and planetary photography.  I took my first image of Saturn shortly after getting my Olympus C5050.  As the following image shows, I learned that planetary photography still wasn’t easy.  This picture of Saturn was taken with my Celestron NexStar 11GPS using eyepiece projection through a 9mm Orthoscopic eyepiece.  The camera was attached to the eyepiece with Orion’s Steady Pix camera mount.  This mount is a bracket that holds the camera over the eyepiece.  Only it didn’t.  I positioned the camera as best I could, used the “program” mode and shot.  As you can see, the result sucks and I never showed this to anyone.  I also returned the camera bracket to Orion.

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After the above fiasco, I didn’t try to image Saturn again for about two years.  The picture below was taken March 8th of this year under seeing conditions similar to those of the above shot (~5/10).  While the telescope and camera are still the same, this time I attached the camera to a Scopetronix 40mm Plossl which was stacked on a Klee 2.8x Barlow.  I zoomed the camera to its 3x maximum optical zoom, set the ISO to 200, used the shutter priority mode to set shutter speeds of 1/8 (too bright), 1/10, 1/13 and 1/15 (too dim) seconds and manually focused at infinity.  I shot 76 exposures in high resolution jpg format (2560x1920 pixels) and processed them in Registax 2.  Based on the parameters I selected, Registax picked 45 frames and aligned and stacked them.  I did some further processing and sharpening in Registax and saved it in Microsoft Picture It where I sharpened it just a little more.  The result is still a bit fuzzy and too yellow.  I need to work more on improving focus when shooting and experimenting more with the tools provided by Registax.


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Although I still have a long way to go before I get the kind of photos my scope is capable of delivering, I’m encouraged by my progress and not as ready to give up as I was two years ago.

Jay Albert 3/22/06