Please Note, I am no longer offering H- Alpha Astro conversions, these conversions have proved to be much more troublesome than any other conversion I offer. The main problem is with wide field Milky Way type photography, where the gain in red sensitivity at 656nm also comes with various other problems, such as increased coma and field curvature as well as some additional IR start bloating. A lot of these problems are due to the inevitable change in filter pack thickness and optical qualities of the H-Alpha filter, which are exacerbated by modern fast aperture ultra wide angle lenses. These mainly internal focus lenses are extremely sensitive to filter pack changes and off axis angular colour shifts. The quality of the actual H-Alpha filters and indeed their delicate surfaces have also been problematic.
The following articles on Astrophotography are based on experiences of past and existing clients using full spectrum conversions, which I continue to offer, and are fine for use with scopes or long focal length lenses.
First up, here is a photo by Graham Leaver of the Horsehead and Flame Nebula in Orion, taken with a Full Spectrum Modified Sony a5000 mounted on a Celestron Apochromatic Refractor, ED100mm f9.0. The finished photo is a stack of 21x 6minute exposures.
Graham has kindly provided a brief guide to how the above photo was taken;
The total of 2hr and 6min is made up of 21 x 6min separate exposures which when put into a stacking program, the exposure times add up.
The Full Spectrum Sony a5000 camera, set to iso 800, is at the focal plane of a Celestron semi apo-chromat refractor, a 100mm f9 and through a Baader uhc filter to cut down sky light pollution.
The telescope is mounted on a Vixen atlux equatorial mount which is computer controlled and precisely guided by a secondary smaller telescope which has a smaller chip camera at its focus.
A software program (phd2 guiding program - free!) takes the picture from this secondary camera, notes where the positions of star images are and in succesive pictures say every 2-3 sec, notes if the image has moved and sends signals back to the main telescope mount making corrections to its position so keeping the image steady in the main camera.
The length of individual exposures depends on the amount of skylight that gradually fogs up the image.
Some filters are available that help reduce various wavelengths in the spectrum, ie sodium, mercury and are transparent to light transmission from hydrogen alpha and beta wavelengths.
If you're in a good dark sky area then these filters may not be needed at all.
The area in the photo is the area just below the lower of the three stars (Alnitak) in the belt of the constellation of Orion which is visible in the sky in winter, as shown in the illustration below left.
The image above on the right shows one of the single 6 min exposures straight from the camera, so you can see what a difference the extra 2 hours of exposure make when all 21 images are stacked!!
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Thank you Graham for the amazing photo and the explanation, personally I can't believe the result obtained from relatively inexpensive equipment, I was under the impression this sort of photo was only possible with huge telescopes on mountain tops or the Hubble Telescope in space. I know you can use wide angle to take amazing photos of the Milky Way, but I didn't realise that these Nebulas and stuff were so big, I have looked through telescopes in the past and not been particularly impressed, but obviously over 2hrs of exposure brings out details and colour that you cannot possibly see directly through the scope!!
A Full Spectrum converted camera is many more times sensitive to the Red light emitted by Hydrogen called the H-Alpha emmission line at 656nm. The Cyan/Blueish filter that is removed as part of the conversion normally blocks about 80% of the H-Alpha light, so it is essential that this is removed as Hydrogen is the most abundent element in the universe and it emits this red light when the gas is excited in nebulas etc.
For Astro work the Full Spectrum conversion is the first step in getting the sensor to be as sensitive as possible to all wavelengths of light, however we don't always want to photograph all wavelengths for several reasons. Firstly, most refractor telescopes or camera lenses cannot focus all wavelengths to the same point, which results in blurred stars. Secondly, light pollution from street lights and general external lighting exacerbates sky glow. A lot of this light pollution can be filtered out using specialist filters as can other wavelengths that are not required for a particular shot. These specialist filters can be added to the telescope or lens or even clipped into the lens mount of the camera. These specialist filters are mostly interference filters made by depositing very thin layers of chemicals onto glass which either transmit or reflect certain wavelengths [ Hot Mirrors ], by building up sometimes dozens of layers the filter manufacturers can tailor what wavelengths are let through and which are rejected. So for instance the emission lines of of Sodium and Mercury vapour streetlights can be completely eliminated as can unwanted Infrared. These can then increase the contrast of the desired object, by reducing the unwanted background light pollution. Which individual filters are used is beyond the scope of this article [and my knowledge], there are some excellent specialist Astro websites such as cloudynights.com etc. The photo at the top of the page by Graham Leaver is taken with a Full Spectrum Sony a5000 camera mounted on his refractor telescope, but he added a Baader UHC filter to reduce light pollution and IR, this transmits two bands of light 450-550nm and 600-700nm which between them cover most of the wanted wavelengths and reject the polluting light allowing longer exposures to gather as much "Starlight" as possible and by blocking the IR above 700nm reducing Star Bloat.
The picture above by Joris Menten is of the North-America Nebula (in the constellation Cygnus) and it was taken with the Full Spectrum Modified Sony A7 (mk I) with a William Optics Zenithstar 61 Apo telescope (360mm, f5.9) on a Skywatcher HEQ-5 computer-controlled tracking mount. No filter was used and the photograph was taken in my rather light-polluted backyard in Lommel, Belgium. 10 exposures of 3 minutes each were taken using a simple intervalometer. The exposures were combined with the program Sequator and further processed in Adobe Bridge and Photoshop, It was my first real attempt at deep-space astrophotography, so it is really not that hard to make these - imo - fairly impressive pictures. It is unbelievable what wonderful objects are in the sky, but that are hardly observable as they are so dim (even though they are quite big !). Having the full spectrum modification really helps a lot as my previous attempts (without modification) did not show much nebulosity.
Thank you Joris for sharing your fantastic image, but also for the excellent description of your technique - Alan
Inspired by the excellent shots supplied by many of my clients I have just started attempting some Astro shots myself, I ordered an iOptron SkyGuider Pro with iPolar tracker and mounted my trusty Full Spectrum Sony A7R with my Sony FE 200-600 f6.3 zoom lens. Here is the result of my second attempt of the Orion Nebula M42;
No filters were used on the Full Spectrum Sony A7R, so the image above is both visible and infrared but crucially with the maximum H-Alpha 656nm wavelength, which is why the central red zone is so intense. I should probably have used an IR Cut filter to reduce star bloating, but the results are not significantly more bloated than my first attempt with a standard camera, although the colour is much more intense. The overall sensitivity was about 1 stop better than the standard camera which allowed 1 minute rather than 2 minute exposures, which also reduces eggshaped stars. I should also probably have taken Dark and Flat exposures, but I'm not sure how yet and am pretty happy with the results so far, but there is a lot more to learn, not least how to find these Nebula things when you can't see them!! I started with the Orion Nebula as it was the easiest to find at the bottom of Orion's sword below his belt. The Sky Guider Pro takes a bit of initial setting up, but once you get the hang of that, it is brilliant, it tracks perfectly. I got mine from First Light Optics in Devon, I opted for the iPolar version, which requires connection to a laptop to Polar Align the tracker initially, I'm glad I did as I can't imagine craning my neck to actually look up at 55 degrees through a scope to align with Polaris.
ORION NEBULA - M42
Full Spectrum Sony A7R with Sony FE 200-600mm Lens at 600mm and F/6.3 for 60seconds set to 640 iso mounted on an iOptron SkyGuider Pro with iPolar. 720 seconds overall exposure from 12x Raw images loaded into Capture One, then into DeepSkyStacker and finished in Photoshop.