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Astrokev

Best DSLR for astrophotography?

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Hi All

I currently have an aging Nikon D300 and a collection of Nikon / Nikon format lenses.

I'm starting to think about the benefits of upgrading this specifically for astro use. It would mainly be used connected to a scope (for deep sky and high frame-rate planetary imaging), but I also would want to use it for wideangle sky shots using standard lenses. Since I already have Nikon glass, it would seem sensible to get another Nikon, but I'm aware that Canon are (arguably) ahead of Nikon. So, what model should I consider?

The D810 and 810A are reportedly designed for astrophotography - I believe due to higher H-alpha sensitivity, but I'm not sure what other benefits these offer, or whether these models can be used for daylight photography (would daylight use give a strong red bias?). I'm also not sure of the difference between the standard and "A" version. Also, how does this model compare to Canon?

Canon had better software to allow PC control of the camera, but has Nikon improved in this area? This is something I maybe should consider?

Rather than the DSLR route, should I consider investing in a better CCD/CMOS camera instead? I currently have a ZWO120MM B&W camera, which is currently used for guiding.

Thanks for any thoughts / suggestions!

EDIT - I've just realised I should have posted this in the Equipment-Cameras forum. Apologies. Admins - is it possible to move this to the correct place? :) 

 

Edited by Astrokev

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APT controls Nikon's just fine and free/ Donate ware.

D5600 has nice sensor or used 5300 / 5500

They are very ... Small compared to your D300 (lovely camera) so a D7200 would be more of a direct replacement 

APT link https://ideiki.com/astro/Default.aspx

Edited by knobby
added link

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I would consider cooled astro CMOS (either mono or OSC, depending on your needs) over DSLR if you have the funds.

Depending on your budget, here are some options:

4/3 format:

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/zwo-cameras/zwo-asi-294mc-pro-usb-30-cooled-colour-camera.html

APS-C format:

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/zwo-cameras/zwo-asi-294mc-pro-usb-30-cooled-colour-camera.html

Full frame (no longer available due to limited run, but you could maybe still find it in stock somewhere, or second hand?):

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/zwo-cameras/zwo-asi094mc-pro-cooled-usb-30-colour-camera.html

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/zwo-cameras/zwo-asi128mc-pro-cooled-usb-30-colour-camera.html

There are a few CCD models out there in these sizes (mostly mono, but OSC is also available).

You can use appropriate adapter to attach regular lens to such camera. Since you will be working with computer - these can only work with computer and support is very good (in form of ASCOM drivers or similar).

CMOS will be usable on Moon/Planets/Solar for lucky imaging as well (with ROI).

 

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1 hour ago, Astrokev said:

...(for deep sky and high frame-rate planetary imaging)...

I'm probably wrong, but I don't think DSLRs are recommended for high frame rate planetary imaging!

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2 hours ago, knobby said:

APT controls Nikon's just fine and free/ Donate ware.

D5600 has nice sensor or used 5300 / 5500

They are very ... Small compared to your D300 (lovely camera) so a D7200 would be more of a direct replacement 

APT link https://ideiki.com/astro/Default.aspx

Thanks for the link!

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1 hour ago, Stargazer33 said:

I'm probably wrong, but I don't think DSLRs are recommended for high frame rate planetary imaging!

Thanks. Why is that?

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Just now, Astrokev said:

Thanks. Why is that?

DSLRs have ability to record movies but do that with use of compression algorithms - creating .mov or .mp4 files. Maximum frame rate is usually in 30-60fps range.

For planetary imaging, lucky imaging type - you need extremely high frame rate - order of 100-200fps or even more, and it's important that you get raw frames instead of compressed movie. Movie compression creates artifacts which hinder quality of resulting stack. DSLRs can do raw capture in burst mode - but that is usually limited to 3-5fps for certain period of time.

You can certainly do DSLR type lucky imaging with compressed movie and 30fps for example, but results will simply be much much better with astro CMOS sensor capable of 200fps+ and USB3.0 capability, by recording raw format frames (usually .ser format or such) on your computer.

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3 hours ago, Astrokev said:

 

Rather than the DSLR route, should I consider investing in a better CCD/CMOS camera instead? 

 

Yes.

Olly

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1 hour ago, ollypenrice said:

Yes.

Olly

Brief, yet to the point! Care to expand Olly?

Edited by Astrokev

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😁

Sure. If you use something super-fast like a Tak Epsilon the drawbacks of the DSLR will be minimised and you may get results like those of my friend Maurice Toet.  https://www.mauricetoet.nl/

Don't bank on it though, Maurice is not an ordinary astrophotographer!

My own view is that, in more 'normal' optics, a set point cooled mono camera will give you the best-calibrated, most optimally captured data possible. OSC versus mono has been debated to death on here and is available by search. My own view is in there but has no more validity than anybody ekse's.

Olly

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5 hours ago, Astrokev said:

I'm starting to think about the benefits of upgrading this specifically for astro use. It would mainly be used connected to a scope (for deep sky and high frame-rate planetary imaging), but I also would want to use it for wideangle sky shots using standard lenses. Since I already have Nikon glass, it would seem sensible to get another Nikon, but I'm aware that Canon are (arguably) ahead of Nikon. So, what model should I consider?

Almost nobody in the amateur astronomy community upgrades their kit because they have exhausted the capabilities of what they already own. If you have the cash and just want something new, then yes: a "proper" astro camera is an option.
But it is not your only one!

If you want to retain the ability to use lenses then the simplest solution is to stick with a compatible Nikon. You can also find outfits that will modify your existing camera to image further into the red end. This has two advantages: first, a modified camera lets a lot more light through, so it acts as if the sensitivity has been boosted (or if you like, as if the lens / aperture is bigger). Second, there is a lot of interesting stuff in the Hα line. That will give your images a different look.
Most modern modifications retain the ability to shoot ordinary (non-astro) images, too.

If you want a cost-effective way of getting more out of the kit you already have, then modifying your existing camera is probably the cheapest solution. But for many, the chance to spend some money and the thrill of a new toy is a big attraction 🤨

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1 minute ago, pete_l said:

Almost nobody in the amateur astronomy community upgrades their kit because they have exhausted the capabilities of what they already own. If you have the cash and just want something new, then yes: a "proper" astro camera is an option.
But it is not your only one!

If you want to retain the ability to use lenses then the simplest solution is to stick with a compatible Nikon. You can also find outfits that will modify your existing camera to image further into the red end. This has two advantages: first, a modified camera lets a lot more light through, so it acts as if the sensitivity has been boosted (or if you like, as if the lens / aperture is bigger). Second, there is a lot of interesting stuff in the Hα line. That will give your images a different look.
Most modern modifications retain the ability to shoot ordinary (non-astro) images, too.

If you want a cost-effective way of getting more out of the kit you already have, then modifying your existing camera is probably the cheapest solution. But for many, the chance to spend some money and the thrill of a new toy is a big attraction 🤨

This post is worthy of respect. No doubt about that.

However, I started (as astrophotography's number one numpty) with a dedicated mono CCD and remain convinced that this was a good decision.

Olly

 

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2 minutes ago, pete_l said:

Almost nobody in the amateur astronomy community upgrades their kit because they have exhausted the capabilities of what they already own. If you have the cash and just want something new, then yes: a "proper" astro camera is an option.
But it is not your only one!

If you want to retain the ability to use lenses then the simplest solution is to stick with a compatible Nikon. You can also find outfits that will modify your existing camera to image further into the red end. This has two advantages: first, a modified camera lets a lot more light through, so it acts as if the sensitivity has been boosted (or if you like, as if the lens / aperture is bigger). Second, there is a lot of interesting stuff in the Hα line. That will give your images a different look.
Most modern modifications retain the ability to shoot ordinary (non-astro) images, too.

If you want a cost-effective way of getting more out of the kit you already have, then modifying your existing camera is probably the cheapest solution. But for many, the chance to spend some money and the thrill of a new toy is a big attraction 🤨

Thanks Pete. Yes the thrill of new kit is something I think we all recognise!

Thanks for your thoughts and the suggestion. Certainly worth considering. I have an ancient Nikon D70s that I had considered modding, but the chip in that is pretty low res compared to modern sensors, so probably not worth doing. I would be nervous about modding the D300 as I feel sure this would adversely affect it's daylight sensitivity bias. This could be compensated for in software I suppose, but that's a faff. Unless the mod could be to fit a user-removable filter?

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2 minutes ago, Astrokev said:

 Unless the mod could be to fit a user-removable filter?

Well, since the mod extends the capabilities of the camera by removing a filter that the manufacturers insert to limit the colour range, then it is quite possible to take a modded camera (that has had this filter removed) and add back a clip-in filter to revert the camera. Somewhere I have a Canon D20 that was modified and I got a filter that clipped in front of the CCD to use for normal, daylight photography. I don't know if there is something similar for Nikon. But the camera software can simulate it with a custom White balance, which would be a menu option.

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4 minutes ago, pete_l said:

But the camera software can simulate it with a custom White balance, which would be a menu option.

Yes, that's a thought. I've not seen clip-in filters for Nikon, but that doesn't mean they are not available of course. Most DSLR's shown for astro use tend to be Canon, with various clip-in filters being available. Worth a google.

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14 minutes ago, Astrokev said:

Thanks Pete. Yes the thrill of new kit is something I think we all recognise!

Thanks for your thoughts and the suggestion. Certainly worth considering. I have an ancient Nikon D70s that I had considered modding, but the chip in that is pretty low res compared to modern sensors, so probably not worth doing. I would be nervous about modding the D300 as I feel sure this would adversely affect it's daylight sensitivity bias. This could be compensated for in software I suppose, but that's a faff. Unless the mod could be to fit a user-removable filter?

No camera chip is either high res or low res. A camera chip has only one value in this respect and that's pixel size. When mated to a set of optics, and only then, does it have a resolution. The only meaningful value for describing this resolution is arcseconds per pixel. If that value is too low it is impossible to turn into real resolution in the final image because seeing or guiding or other damnable nuisances will trash it!

What a game!

Olly

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7 minutes ago, ollypenrice said:

No camera chip is either high res or low res. A camera chip has only one value in this respect and that's pixel size. When mated to a set of optics, and only then, does it have a resolution. The only meaningful value for describing this resolution is arcseconds per pixel. If that value is too low it is impossible to turn into real resolution in the final image because seeing or guiding or other damnable nuisances will trash it!

What a game!

Olly

Quite true - but camera chips have a feature that is sometimes referred as to "resolution" - in same sense we use image resolution or computer/phone screen resolution - that is number of pixels or pixel count.

I would say that Nikon D70s is pretty useful as astro camera given the specs - both in pixel count (resolution) and pixel size (possible resolution in arcseconds per pixel) - first being 3000x2000 (this is considered low resolution in pixel count sense by today's standards) and second being 7.8um - I would not mind using it, if it was there and I did not have better option available (like cooled camera :D )

 

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9 minutes ago, ollypenrice said:

No camera chip is either high res or low res. A camera chip has only one value in this respect and that's pixel size. When mated to a set of optics, and only then, does it have a resolution. The only meaningful value for describing this resolution is arcseconds per pixel. If that value is too low it is impossible to turn into real resolution in the final image because seeing or guiding or other damnable nuisances will trash it!

What a game!

Olly

Technically you are correct, but you get what I meant! My comment was inferring that the D70s has a lower resolution when compared to the D300 assuming common optics (whether my Nikon lenses or scope).

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4 minutes ago, vlaiv said:

I would say that Nikon D70s is pretty useful as astro camera given the specs

 

Maybe I should dig it out and give it a try!

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Just now, Astrokev said:

Maybe I should dig it out and give it a try!

What scope are you planing to use it with and what would be intended targets?

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1 minute ago, vlaiv said:

What scope are you planing to use it with and what would be intended targets?

Mainly my SW Esprit 100 (f5.5). Targets mainly extended deep sky stuff. Another drawback of the D70 could be it's relatively poor ISO noise handling compared to more recent Nikon firmware?

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3 minutes ago, Astrokev said:

Mainly my SW Esprit 100 (f5.5). Targets mainly extended deep sky stuff. Another drawback of the D70 could be it's relatively poor ISO noise handling compared to more recent Nikon firmware?

With that scope, it would be good match for extended nebulae at 2.93"/pixel (a bit of undersampling - but that is really not concern in wider field shots).

Yes, one of the reasons I love dedicated astro cameras is precisely noise control. Set point cooling allows for proper calibration of frames, and one is certain there is no "firmware" to "adjust" or "minimize" noise (in camera noise removal for example) - something that does more damage than good with astro imaging and stacking. If modding is not too expensive - then sure give it a go, but if it is, then some of above mentioned cameras would be much better choice in my opinion. You don't have to go crazy and spend a lot of money (compared to your initial idea of d810a) - a £1000 will get you dedicated astro CCD with exactly the same specs as d70s: 3000x2000 pixels, 16bit raw support, 7.8um pixel size, set point cooling with deltaT 40C. As a bonus - you will be working with "modded" camera and get to keep DSLR type of workflow for processing.

https://www.modernastronomy.com/shop/cameras/cooled-ccd/qhy-cooled-ccd-cameras/qhy8l/

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Be aware that many DSLRs have an added anti-alias filter in the light path. While this is there to reduce Moire fringing by adding blur, it makes a mockery of pixel count claims and the camera's ability to capture fine detail. (example here) If a person is considering buying a Nikin DSLR for astronomy work, the better choice is one that doesn't have the AA filter included.

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