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Alaness

Astrophotographers Vs. Photographers.

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I've noticed that ameture astrophotographers seem to have a far greater understanding of optics and cameras than most professional photographers.

It has only recently became apparent to me after seeing some supposedly top photographers really struggle to understand how I was able to take some crude images of the andromeda galexy "with mirrors" aha.

For them, there isn't any pressure to understand much about optics or how their equipment works, they just throw money at brands and gimmicks and use them to take pictures of skinny naked woman. Whereas astrophotographers need to get their heads around so much in order to get that perfect final image.

Maybe it's just me.

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I think I can add something since my first career was as a photographer. I spent some years as an assistant learning the trade, then a few working as a "pro". Mind you this was back in the neolithic age in the early 80s but I've kept fairly up to date since and never stopped shooting in an amateur / artsy role.

First of all: "professional photographer" is not a single species, it's a family of creatures with very different skill-levels and skill-sets required.

The difference (in skill and skill-sets) for ultra-meticulous studio photographers working with large format, paparazzi, fine art photographers, news photographers, war correspondents, fashion photographers, wildlife photographers, wedding photographers and so on are vast in spite of them all being "professional". Of course since the digital age hit, those skill-sets went through a radical metamorphosis. Being a "professional" means it's your job and for most practitioners that means you focus your learning on the skills you need to do the job. Advanced knowledge of optics is an area that are important for some of these people but certainly not all.

In general I would say you are at least partially right. I think most amateur astrophotographers do indeed have a better understanding of optics in concept, than do many (not all) in the above mentioned family of "pros". But it very much depends on which sub-species you are talking about.

I have known studio photographers who was extremely knowledgeable about optics because in their trade it mattered, and in some cases simply because they were interested. I've also known pros (mostly of the action-oriented varieties) who had a very basic understanding of optics at best, because their skills was in other areas much more important to what they did for a living. For most of the "pros" the camera is just a tool, the optics needs to do the job and throwing enough money at it will get you good stuff. Technical quality is the easy part when it comes to more "action-oriented" pro photography. Skills in knowing about light, composition, exposure in different situations and other far less optics-related things are much more important. For example, go and buy a long, fast Canon or Nikon tele-lens of "pro" quality (for the cost of a decent car) and you will get all the optical quality needed, detailed knowledge not required. For a working photographer the gear is either free (if you are an employee your boss pays) or close to irrelevant (a ridiculously expensive lens to an amateur is a few days work for a pro).

Generally speaking, amateurs also tend to spend much more time splitting hairs to squeeze out the last little performance out of the gear they can afford on their (compared to a pro) very limited budget. As an example, look how much time we spend on comparing eyepieces here... if we all had unlimited budgets there wouldn't be much to talk about. You just go and buy a full set of Ethos, and some other assorted top level EPs and forget about it. Likewise the photo-forums have always been full of people debating which small-format lens is a tiny bit sharper than another small-format lens. Pros don't bother, they buy the top tier stuff and don't worry about it. Money, in that sense, replaces the need for an intimate knowledge of optics for many pros. Then again, like I said, some pros are very skilled in optics, either by necessity for their particular field or out of interest.

Steve

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Catadioptric telescopes are well regarded by amateur astronomers, yet the same basic design is known to photographers as the "mirror lens" and generally looked down upon. Fixed aperture and doughnut-shaped bokeh are inherent issues that of course don't bother astronomers because we don't often stop our instruments down and everything's at infinity focus, but besides that I suspect that because a mirror lens can be made more cheaply than an all-refracting lens they aren't made to high quality. That may well result in some "tarring with the same brush" from photographers.

Conversely telephoto lenses with many elements are well regarded by photographers, but to an astronomer that's an awful lot of glass and interfaces to put the light through.

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Photographers are working with a LOT more light than astro togs. They can get away with cheaper optics.

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Photographers are working with a LOT more light than astro togs. They can get away with cheaper optics.

Yes, they work with more light which means different optics requirements, other things matter.

But "get away with cheaper optics"? Not quite. A Nikkor 600 F/4 or Canon 600 F/4 cost around £10000, these are common lenses in wildlife, sports, even fashion photography. I'm willing to bet that the number of amateur astro photographers who have a single OTA more expensive than that are rather few and far between.

None of which has anything to do with what the OP was talking about namely "understanding of optics" but anyway.

Steve

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I'd say knowledge of light/light sources is more important for them than a deep understanding about optics.

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Plus, amateurs do it out of passion and pure interest, they enjoy learning all about what it is they are doing. Pro's do it for money, and so often lack the passion needed to delve deep into the workings of it all. I think it makes a big difference when whatever it is your doing is done for money or for fun/pure interest.

Although some pro's do have the passion, but I expect more of them don't rather than do.

Edited by Cath

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I've noticed that ameture astrophotographers seem to have a far greater understanding of optics and cameras than most professional photographers.

I would disagree with that, I see so many wanting to do AP with what is simply an utterly incorrect idea of what they need and how it works. So many what to do AP on the cheap as well, most photographers appreciate that you will have to spend money on the lens, and get the right lens, most in AP seem not to.

An f number in AP is I think rarely really understood. How many posts asking about the magnification on prime focus imaging. How many get a manual dob for imaging - big heavy long scope for visual more then a little unsuitable for imaging. The very basic of the right type of mount is lost on many.

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Steves post is as comprehensive an answer as you would want and one I agree with. Amateurs will often spend much time working out what is the best lens for a certain task and how they will get the best from it. Pros really do not need to do that as technique is proven and the kit is the best available. However in the digital age post processing is also a big part of the jigsaw and needs a good understanding. So comparing astro imagers to normal togs is like comparing apples and pears. How many astro imagers would tackle a wedding? Likewise pro or amatuer togs may very well not know how to image M42, but do they need to? One is not better, they are just different thats all.

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Some good posts. It's worth noting that I wasn't trying to compair "who's better" - just who on adverage had a better understanding of the science behind imaging.

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Thanks to computer technology, we're using our consumer optics in a way nobody could foresee. Flaws in the optics become blatantly obvious aiming sub after sub at the night sky and represent a major hurdle on the way to a good image. A bit of knowledge can help combat it.

Then again, say f-ratio, and a bunch of weird theories spring up amongs astrophotographers that a photographer can only gasp at. For the photographer it's a basic and simple matter.

/Jesper

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