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After a 20 year long hiatus - my last astrophoto was captured with a film camera in 1997 - at the beginning of 2020 I decided it was time to start again.

So, January 25th 2020 I brought home my used Sky-Watcher NEQ6 Pro and I immediately started taking photos. Obviously, my first target was M42 in Orion.

This was my first digital astrophotography. 31 subframes, 30s each, taken at ISO800 with my unmodified Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm at 300mm f/6.3 - January 28th, 2020, home front yard, Bortle 5/6 sky, no guiding, no filters. A grand total of 15.5 minutes...

2020-01-28_M42.thumb.jpg.ff3be021fbdb9d62b4da4a5af1ca5184.jpg

A couple of weeks later, me and my wife went to spend Valentine's weekend in the mountains. Of course I couldn't avoid taking advantage of the Bortle 4 sky and I took all my gear with me. Same target, 52 subframes, 45s each, taken at ISO800 with my unmodified Nikon D90, Nikkor 70-300mm at 300m f/5.6 - February 14th, 2020, Tonadico, Bortle 4 sky, no guiding, no filters. 39 minutes total integration.

2020-02-14_M42.thumb.jpg.cf19facd18eadb4acf410d5fed751e55.jpg

After I finished post-processing the second photograph, I was so happy with the result. It felt amazing that I was able to capture so many details and more nebulosity compared to the photo taken from home.

Months passed, gear was changed. First one being the camera: at the end of February I bought a Nikon D5300 and a couple of months later I astromodified it on my own, adding a UV/IR cut filter in front of the sensor, after cutting it to size.

In October the rest of the setup finally arrived: Tecnosky 80/480 APO FPL53 Triplet OWL Series imaging telescope, Artesky UltraGuide 60mm f/4 guide scope and ZWO ASI 224MC guide camera. Also, an Optolong L-Pro 2" light pollution filter.

After months of imaging and getting more experienced with PixInsight, it was just a matter of waiting before I could have another go at one of my favorite targets. And maybe give it a little more justice.

This project took me more than a month, due to the rare clear nights opportunities I have had here lately.

I started acquiring in January and finished a couple of weeks ago.

M42 taken over 8 nights, under my Bortle 5/6 sky.
Total integration time: 18h 04m 00s for the nebula. 714s (14s subs) + 2065s (35s subs) for the Trapezium and the core.

Here are the acquisition details:

Mount: Sky-Watcher NEQ6 Pro
Telescope: Tecnosky 80/480 APO FPL53 Triplet OWL Series
Camera: D5300 astromodified
Reducer/flattener: Tecnosky 4 elements, 0.8x
Guide-scope: Artesky UltraGuide 60mm f/4
Guide-camera: ZWO ASI 224MC

2021/01/12: Number of subs/Exposure time: 33@300s. Notes: L-Pro filter, no Moon
2021/01/13: Number of subs/Exposure time: 33@300s. Notes: L-Pro filter, no Moon
2021/01/15: Number of subs/Exposure time: 38@300s. Notes: L-Pro filter, Moon 8% illuminated
2021/01/18: Number of subs/Exposure time: 36@300s. Notes: L-Pro filter, Moon 30% illuminated
2021/02/13: Number of subs/Exposure time: 30@300s. Notes: L-Pro filter, Moon 4% illuminated
2021/02/14: Number of subs/Exposure time: 23@300s. Notes: L-Pro filter, Moon 9% illuminated
2021/02/15: Number of subs/Exposure time: 51@14s + 48@35s. Notes: L-Pro filter, Moon 15% illuminated
2021/02/17: Number of subs/Exposure time: 11@35s + 38@180s + 1@300s. Notes: L-Pro filter, Moon 30% illuminated

Total exposure time (main integration): 65040s = 18h 04m 00s.
Total exposure time (35s integration): 2065s.
Total exposure time (14s integration): 714s.

Pre and post-processing: PixInsight 1.8.8-7.

Full HDR Version:

1257718300_M42-HDR.thumb.jpg.11a6404f891b2fcc586f3e8588c49fa7.jpg

Masked Stretch Version:

1414293411_M42-MaskedStretch.thumb.jpg.ea8c5dbcee570d53a4192ece270ff9cb.jpg

Blended Version (50% HDR + 50% Masked Stretch):

207045930_M42-Blend.thumb.jpg.de578c44bb2c2ec90844449eef17f0bf.jpg

To my personal taste, I like the blended version the most. I think it brings out the best of both worlds (HDR and soft, less contrasty but more colorful look).

I must say, I am very pleased and happy with the result. Not to boast, but I think I have come a long way since I started.

Obviously the better gear and the much, much longer integration time helped.

I think I actually spent more time post-processing it than acquiring it. Especially since I had to do the work almost twice: I post-processed the HDR and the Masked Stretch images separately, making sure I used the same processes and with the same strenght in both, so that I could combine them effectively, if I decided I didn’t like the look of the HDR alone. I also think I managed to tame the stars a lot more, compared to my previous post-processing attempts.

As usual, here’s a link to the full resolution image(s): Orion Nebula (M42), De Mairan’s Nebula (M43) and Running Man (NGC 1977)

Thanks for looking!
C&C welcome!

 

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2 hours ago, endless-sky said:

To my personal taste, I like the blended version the most. I think it brings out the best of both worlds (HDR and soft, less contrasty but more colorful look).

Me too, lovely image.  With so much integration, the swirling dust looks awesome and the data so clean.

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Posted (edited)

Thank you for the kind comment, Lee!

Glad you liked it, too!

And thanks to everyone that liked the images!

Edited by endless-sky
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