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Diminishing returns over time?


rnobleeddy
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Been at this for about 18 months now. Enjoying it, but trying to work out what to focus on in the longer term. A recent observation is that it gets harder and harder to make improvements, and so I wondered what others take on this is?

 

I started with a 130PDS and a modded DSLR. Over the course of a few months my images progressed from terrible to acceptable. As it happens to help with this comparison, towards the end of my time with this kit, I imaged M33 and it was one of the better images from the time.

Fast forward a year - I have an (older) cooled mono CMOS, filter wheel, narrowband + LRGB filters and a couple of decent APO refractors. I had some mount issues that I recently resolved, and so as a test, M33 happened to be favorably located. I collected about 4.5 hours of LRGB data. I'd like to add some Ha to the image too, and get more/less moon impacted L data, but the comparison is not clear cut. I probably prefer the older one!

The new one has more color (probably too much, given they quick processing) but maybe over processed. Given the cost ratio of the setups (a £200 OTA + £150 camera vs a £1K OTA and a £1K of cameras and filters) I'd certainly choose the earlier image for the value for money award! 

The point isn't these two images in particular  - but that it seems to be getting harder to get better. Does everyone experience this? There are other benefits of course. I love narrowband images and the new setup is far more consistent - I never get to  the end and regret the fixed pattern noise of the DSLR anymore. But I might also be happier with the cheaper setup - that way if I leave it out overnight and it gets rained one, it's not quite as big a deal!

 

 

 

 

 

m33_dual_lp_filter_mixed.thumb.jpg.789c5ed44b8e55cc53df8fb5b0a50407.jpgquick_process_v1.thumb.jpg.cea23b1b81ae12008b07f09164348268.jpg

 

 

Edited by rnobleeddy
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I noticed something like this with family and friends. The first few shots i showed them were well received, but as time went on its "just another picture of a galaxy" and i would rather not bother them anymore 🤣. I do think after spending who knows how much money on the hobby that the returns are very much diminished and keep on diminishing. Still i will keep on doing it as i find it unbelievable i can take pictures of other galaxies.

I also think the internet is to blame for this feeling of the returns needing to be better than they are. Astrophotography is one hobby where a picture does not say more than a thousand words since you have no way of knowing what went on behind the scenes to get the image. Someone imaging from a place like always sunny and dry California will just flat out be better faster and produce amazing pictures compared to someone anywhere in northern europe where it is primarily cloudy. Also, some have more money than others, some have backyards while some live in tiny flats in a city (me 😆). Its not a fair hobby and never will be, but it is something i have accepted and hope to be able to keep thinking that way. Taking breaks for visual also helps to break the routine of AP.

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3 hours ago, rnobleeddy said:

Been at this for about 18 months now. Enjoying it, but trying to work out what to focus on in the longer term. A recent observation is that it gets harder and harder to make improvements, and so I wondered what others take on this is?

 

I started with a 130PDS and a modded DSLR. Over the course of a few months my images progressed from terrible to acceptable. As it happens to help with this comparison, towards the end of my time with this kit, I imaged M33 and it was one of the better images from the time.

Fast forward a year - I have an (older) cooled mono CMOS, filter wheel, narrowband + LRGB filters and a couple of decent APO refractors. I had some mount issues that I recently resolved, and so as a test, M33 happened to be favorably located. I collected about 4.5 hours of LRGB data. I'd like to add some Ha to the image too, and get more/less moon impacted L data, but the comparison is not clear cut. I probably prefer the older one!

The new one has more color (probably too much, given they quick processing) but maybe over processed. Given the cost ratio of the setups (a £200 OTA + £150 camera vs a £1K OTA and a £1K of cameras and filters) I'd certainly choose the earlier image for the value for money award! 

The point isn't these two images in particular  - but that it seems to be getting harder to get better. Does everyone experience this? There are other benefits of course. I love narrowband images and the new setup is far more consistent - I never get to  the end and regret the fixed pattern noise of the DSLR anymore. But I might also be happier with the cheaper setup - that way if I leave it out overnight and it gets rained one, it's not quite as big a deal!

 

 

 

 

 

m33_dual_lp_filter_mixed.thumb.jpg.789c5ed44b8e55cc53df8fb5b0a50407.jpgquick_process_v1.thumb.jpg.cea23b1b81ae12008b07f09164348268.jpg

 

 

Both nice shots, i guess if you're not noticing improvements its either becuase your current imaging & processing skills or the equipment is at the limits of their respective capabilities.

thats not a bad thing though, I guess even someone like david Bailey reached those limits too. 

I am just starting out with imaging & for me its not necessarily (at this moment) about the quality of the shot but the excitement of taking it by myself with my own equipment.

for years I've had a fascination with deep space & exploration of our universe & marvel at the shots our professional scientific community pump out to us plebs, we now have for the most part that capability from our own back yards. 

People like trevor from astrobackyard are the reason I've just spent so much money to go & do it for myself and if i can get images anywhere near the detail you and others capture I'd be over the moon.. Pun intended. 

I guess it comes down to if you love what you're doing & you're getting consistent results that you're happy with do you need to improve further? 

If the answer is yes then it will mean spending more, learning more or both. 

 

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Just had this conversation with somebody who is into astro-landscapes (ie camera, tripod, sometimes a simple tracker)

I actually prefer astro-landscapes to look at, and in some ways it is more demanding in respect of the creative aspect (composition, timing, foreground/background etc)

However there is something that I personally like about DSO. The thrill of the chase, perhaps. 

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There are so many variables that go into making a deep sky image that, in my opinion, it is rather unfair to compare two images at all really, especially those that are taken at different times, under different conditions and with different equipment. So many things have the potential to change the 'quality' of the outcome, and it is not necessarily indicative of better/worse equipment. Not to mention processing. The same image processed differently can look like two VERY different images in my experience. And we all have slightly different ideals about how each image should be presented. 

If you spend enough time with anything, regardless of how impressive it is, it will soon become the norm too. And that is when you start to not appreciate your own work, but it doesn't mean it is any less of an achievement. I am still in the honeymoon phase where I think it is remarkable that I can take such amazing quality images with simple equipment (DSLR + refractor + Sky guider pro). And I often find myself looking through the forums and marveling at other peoples work, as they are considerably cleaner and sharper images again! 

I took my first ever image of the Orion nebula the other night at the end of a session on the California nebula, I have been waiting for it to get higher in the sky. 45 second sub at ISO 1600, and the image appeared on the back of the Cannon 600D's screen and the nerd in me said 'Wow, look at that, remarkable how clear and detailed a single image is!' while the astrophotographer in me said 'Wow, how the hell am I going to control that crazy bright core in processing..' :D

I have weekly meetings with project supervisor/lecturer about my undergraduate final year thesis, topic is the motion of stars around a supermassive black hole (Sgr A*), and we probably spend about 5-10 minutes actually talking about the current lit review I am doing, or having more of an introduction to the mathematics of general relativity, and after the work is out of the way, the remaining 20-25 mins is me sending my latest astro images over the Teams chat and discussing the process of image acquisition :D Everyone I have ever met is amazed by it.

Anyway, your images seem remarkably clean and well gathered rno, a solid foundation to enjoy exploring the night sky. Maybe try some new projects, targets you have never imaged before. I quite enjoy trawling through the night sky on stellarium and checking FOV against telescopious for new targets to explore!

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I've commented before that we need to enjoy the journey, the whole experience of learning something new and understanding what might help improving the images we produce.  There is enough to learn to keep me going for the rest of my life probably.  My wife cant understand why that slight improvement in the image is worth buying that new camera (so I wont worry her about it).  For me I can learn about the physics and why the signal to noise ratio is so much better as well as learning how to improve processing to take advantage. 

I agree about 'value for money' though Using the tripod and camera you already have to capture the Orion nebulae is always going to be better value than using expensive mounts, scopes and cooled cameras.  

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2 hours ago, Jerry Barnes said:

 My wife cant understand why that slight improvement in the image is worth buying that new camera (so I wont worry her about it).  For me I can learn about the physics and why the signal to noise ratio is so much better as well as learning how to improve processing to take advantage.

Actually pretty funny that i had a similar experience. A work colleague of mine asked what could possibly be better in the new camera i bought compared to the old one when they are the same size. I then started trying to explain things like read noise in electrons and thermal dark current and they just left the room mid explanation 😂. Now i just say that its better and leave it at that.

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On 05/12/2021 at 01:01, rnobleeddy said:

Been at this for about 18 months now. Enjoying it, but trying to work out what to focus on in the longer term. A recent observation is that it gets harder and harder to make improvements, and so I wondered what others take on this is?

I think once you have the data collection largely sorted it is all about the processing. I can now pretty reliably set up my kit for a night of imaging (when the sky is clear), go to bed and get up to a good few hours data. Other than clouds I need to throw away very few subs. So, other than improving the kit - in particular the scopes, the only way to get a major improvement is what you do with the data. Ultimately it is diminishing returns but it is how far you want to improve. My aim is to 'compete' with the quality of the best imagers on the forums. I'll never quite get there as my sky quality is not so good and I have 'budget' equipment - but I will enjoy the challenge of trying.

I'm also a nerd and enjoy learning the intricacies of imaging and processing.

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I’ve been at this game for ten years and I’ve never got to the stage of being confident of setting everything up, setting it going and then going to bed. Apart from anything I think I’m too concerned that rain will set in, or the equipment will play up (in fact it always does).  Plus the fact that every time is a new adventure. Kit has an almost infinite capacity to invent some new way of playing up. Now maybe that’s because I set up from scratch each time. It’s like building a house of cards. You carefully set it all up and hope it stays up and running for the several hours necessary to get some good data. So I feel compelled to baby sit it through the night. That does mean I can watch the data as it comes in. Read about the object I’m photographing on line. Stroll about the garden with binoculars looking at the sky etc. But I miss a night’s sleep. 

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10 minutes ago, Ouroboros said:

Kit has an almost infinite capacity to invent some new way of playing up. Now maybe that’s because I set up from scratch each time. It’s like building a house of cards. You carefully set it all up and hope it stays up and running for the several hours necessary to get some good data

True - but I find it normally does this at the beginning. The only other time is at meridian flip. But if it a choice of staying up all night or missing a flip - I'll take my chances. No sleep is not an option!

 

13 minutes ago, Ouroboros said:

rain will set in

I use a rain alarm app and I now have a rain sensor that sets off a buzzer if it rains. I am currently re-making it but it is £20 well spent. (You can actually buy a 12v rain sensor on line for £25 - if I had known I would have just brought it).

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2 hours ago, Clarkey said:

True - but I find it normally does this at the beginning. The only other time is at meridian flip. But if it a choice of staying up all night or missing a flip - I'll take my chances. No sleep is not an option!

 

I use a rain alarm app and I now have a rain sensor that sets off a buzzer if it rains. I am currently re-making it but it is £20 well spent. (You can actually buy a 12v rain sensor on line for £25 - if I had known I would have just brought it).

Now I’ve recently moved over to using an ASIair and ZWO cameras I am more confident that my set up will keep working. EQMOD in Windows and then KStars/Ekos on Mac were more flaky.

Your rain app sounds good. Is it just on your phone or wherever or does it involve using a widget outside detecting the rain? 

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If you feel you need something new then theres plenty try some eclipsing binaries, variables, photometry, outbursts, asteroids. Theres a lot of image processing software out there but its easy to forget the things that the like off  astroart and astrometrica can also do. Take a good look around the BAA and you soon be challenged again. 

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8 hours ago, Clarkey said:

I think once you have the data collection largely sorted it is all about the processing. I can now pretty reliably set up my kit for a night of imaging (when the sky is clear), go to bed and get up to a good few hours data. Other than clouds I need to throw away very few subs. So, other than improving the kit - in particular the scopes, the only way to get a major improvement is what you do with the data. Ultimately it is diminishing returns but it is how far you want to improve. My aim is to 'compete' with the quality of the best imagers on the forums. I'll never quite get there as my sky quality is not so good and I have 'budget' equipment - but I will enjoy the challenge of trying.

I'm also a nerd and enjoy learning the intricacies of imaging and processing.

I think integration time is main factor I underestimated.  Of course there are exceptions to everything, but the difference between 2 hours and 20 is massive, and many of the images I struggle to match have at least 2x the integration time. I've tried to be less greedy with the number of targets I try to work on at once!

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7 hours ago, Clarkey said:

True - but I find it normally does this at the beginning. The only other time is at meridian flip. But if it a choice of staying up all night or missing a flip - I'll take my chances. No sleep is not an option!

 

I use a rain alarm app and I now have a rain sensor that sets off a buzzer if it rains. I am currently re-making it but it is £20 well spent. (You can actually buy a 12v rain sensor on line for £25 - if I had known I would have just brought it).

Similar here. I haven't had a lot of luck with the meridian flip even though others with the same equipment have. I tend to choose a target that is past the meridian before I go to bed. I'm very cautious about weather forecasts (multiple apps, no clouds etc) but one day I will be caught out! 

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On 05/12/2021 at 12:03, Jerry Barnes said:

I've commented before that we need to enjoy the journey, the whole experience of learning something new and understanding what might help improving the images we produce.  There is enough to learn to keep me going for the rest of my life probably.  My wife cant understand why that slight improvement in the image is worth buying that new camera (so I wont worry her about it).  For me I can learn about the physics and why the signal to noise ratio is so much better as well as learning how to improve processing to take advantage. 

I agree about 'value for money' though Using the tripod and camera you already have to capture the Orion nebulae is always going to be better value than using expensive mounts, scopes and cooled cameras.  

Definitely still enjoying it. I guess I maybe caught in the cycle of buying new equipment at a rate that exceeds the number of clear nights we have! I don't think I'm the only one, and the 2nd hand sales here and ABS make it pretty affordable, as long as you periodically part with the stuff you don't use!

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On 05/12/2021 at 01:01, rnobleeddy said:

A recent observation is that it gets harder and harder to make improvements, and so I wondered what others take on this is?

Thats true of all aspects of life, isnt it? Take football - to move from being a champ amongst your friends to being a player in league will be a massive step, but after that the small incremental gains will be harder and harder to achieve. There is even a law of economics I think... the law of diminishing returns 🙂

But you are absolutely right.. we need to decide how much its worth to you. I am a good example for that, I started AP in March ish and I am still happy with working away with my low budget equipment, adding few small bits and bobs at each step. But you can see several folk here who go for the plunge and spend thousands of pounds to get started in the hobby.

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21 hours ago, Ouroboros said:

Your rain app sounds good. Is it just on your phone or wherever or does it involve using a widget outside detecting the rain?

I use an app called 'rain alarm' which uses rain radar info. I think it is about £2 per year. I also have a rain sensor based on one of these https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moisture-Regulator-Detector-Automatic-Irrigation/dp/B07JNNP4GN/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=Rain+sensor+12v&qid=1638895170&sr=8-3. You can buy ready made ones for about £25. Mine just sets off a buzzer.

https://cpc.farnell.com/kemo-electronic/m152/module-rain-sensor-12vdc/dp/HK01173?mckv=sUdlkZf5r_dt|pcrid|224646539664|kword||match||plid||slid||product|HK01173|pgrid|49734053271|ptaid|pla-925784216154|&CMP=KNC-GUK-CPC-SHOPPING&s_kwcid=AL!5616!3!224646539664!!!network}!925784216154!&gclid=Cj0KCQiAqbyNBhC2ARIsALDwAsCyrJYK2XytQeAAdLpCeHTX00IT-3g9s6zmmwPoc8SL6l2w0rpS9NQaApYgEALw_wcB

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It's a funny old hobby. There's a tendency to spend ones way out of trouble when one first starts on this path, and whilst there is an improvement to be made fairly rapidly early on, I have made a conscious decision to pause at this point and hone my data collection and processing skills.

The equipment I currently have is more than capable of getting good data. I am the weakest link :)  

  

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1 hour ago, 900SL said:

It's a funny old hobby. There's a tendency to spend ones way out of trouble when one first starts on this path, and whilst there is an improvement to be made fairly rapidly early on, I have made a conscious decision to pause at this point and hone my data collection and processing skills.

The equipment I currently have is more than capable of getting good data. I am the weakest link :)  

  

It's an interesting comparison with other hobbies. I cycle a lot. Whilst I don't enter races, I was recently told about the guy who won the local clubs hill climb - he chose not a super lightweight carbon bike, but an older heavy bike that was a large disadvantage. He just happens to be on a different level of fitness to the other members. 

That never happens with deep sky astrophotography. You can do very well with limited kit, and there is definitely a lot of skill involved, but the laws of physics dictate that my 6" newt in my back garden will never be able to produce better images than the 12" newt on the top of a mountain in Chile.

This was most apparent on a recent trip to an astrophotography exhibition in London. I was pleasantly surprised how little kit some of the winners needed in some categories, e.g. for earth based images of aurora, or for the more artistic images. There was some planetary and solar images that were taken with kit many people here will have. But move to DSO's and almost without fail, they were very long exposures with very large telescopes in very dark places with very good seeing.

I don't disagree at all - but there are limits!

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I've found that real limiting factor (in the UK  at least) for imaging quality is seeing. Yes, you may have a scope/camera combination that can do sub arc second resolution, but with average UK seeing in the 2-4 arc sec  range - or even worse early in the evening-  its a matter of finding those very very few nights where the equipment can perform anywhere near its best.

Alternatively, find a specific area to concentrate on - e.g. planetaries, colliding galaxies or even planetary.

Clear skies (We can only hope)

Neil

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