On this page I would like to share the motivation behind my attempts at "DSO photography for dummies and lazy people" and make some introductory remarks. Technical details, examples, and experiences (if available ...) can be found on the pages for the respective devices.
Astronomy is a great hobby and interests quite a few people. However, many beginners are soon disappointed with what they see in their telescopes (let's assume everything else is OK...). This is because it bears little resemblance to or is only a faint reflection of what can be seen in books and on the Internet on photos that were taken with large or even space telescopes, such as the Hubble telescope: There are no colors, and details are difficult to recognize. Often, you can only see a faint glow, provided you see anything...
The founders of Unistellar, who designed the eVscope (more on this below), describe this "disappointment" as follows:
In contrast to photographic emulsions and sensors, our eyes cannot store light and therefore cannot produce a picture impression corresponding to long-exposure photos. In addition, the eye is sensitive to color only at the center (called "yellow spot"). But the cones there are far less sensitive to light than the rods in the outer regions of the retina. Therefore, the light of faint sky objects is not enough to recognize colors. The rods, however, cannot recognize colors, are also distributed more loosely (Stoyan speaks of a 2 to 3 times lower resolution) and are not present at the center of the eye.
Hobby astronomers therefore learn "telescopic" or "indirect" vision to recognize details with the peripheral rods. They do not look directly at the object, but a little past it, as already mentioned, at the expense of color and sharpness. One has to practice this kind of seeing, and one should also observe an object over a longer period of time in order to discover new details. Probably, only a few have the patience that this is required for this - I, at least, have it only to a lesser extent (after all, I have found that movements of the eye help to detect details, because the rods are sensitive to movements) ...
Many hobby astronomers have therefore turned to astrophotography, especially since it has become digital. Today, many telescopes are already tailored to astrophotography (different focal position, different sizes for the secondary mirror of reflector telescopes, etc.), which in turn annoys purely visually-oriented observers (as I read in forums...), which meanwhile feel to have been "abandoned" by telescope manufacturers. Anyway, the possible compromises (a telescope for both uses) seem to be unacceptable for those who always strive for the optimum...
In the simplest case, you can hold a camera (or mobile phone) to the eyepiece to get photos of celestial objects, but that works only for bright objects like the moon and the planets. If you really want to take beautiful photos of deep sky objects, you have to use a DSLR or system camera, a suitable tube, a (heavy!) equatorial/parallactic mount, and extensive accessories. In addition, a lot of patience and time for the recording and post-processing of the photos are needed. This scares me, and certainly many others as well, from pursuing this route. And since I do not have any experience of my own in this area, I do not want to go into more detail here. After all, a hobby astronomer, from whom I acquired my used Skymax-127, showed me that already with a 6" Newton tube similar to mine and a normal DSLR (and other equipment of course ...) beautiful photos of deep sky objects are possible.
All in all, my situation was as follows:
So my problem was that I would like to do "deep sky photography and observation for dummies and lazy people", albeit with little effort and using mostly what I already own (of course, a camera is needed...). But the question was: Is that possible at all, and, if so, how?
In the following, I present two solutions as possible answers to my question, "Is that possible at all?". One, however, requires completely new gear... Both solutions can be assigned to the label "electronically augmented astronomy" (EAA), sometimes also called "video astronomy" (but there seem to be subtle differences that I do not want to go into here - the two solutions described here do not create a video image anyway).
With these solutions, one regrettably, has to abandon the idea of purely visual observing. Both solutions are based on the fact that the incoming light is no longer received by the eye, but by a high-sensitivity CCD sensor, further processed by software, and displayed on a screen, be it a computer screen or an electronic viewfinder. Exposure times are typically in the range of seconds, and incoming images are overlaid one after the other, called "image stacking", to reduce image noise and show more detail.
Unlike traditional astrophotography, these solutions offer a kind of "live" viewing experience and you do not have to wait until the end of the observations to see the results. The processing is already "live" and not done afterwards, even though that is also possible. The differences to astrophotography are due to the sensors used: DSLRs have large high-resolution sensors (16 MPx and more, APS-C or full frame), these solutions use small, low-resolution sensors (about 1 MPx) with relatively large pixels for increased sensitivity. These sensors are also different from the small sensors of digital point-and-shot cameras, whichhave exorbitant resolutions (10-20 MPx) and tiny pixels.
The two solutions that I will introduce here differ in many details, ultimately in how "dummy-friendly" they are, but in my view they have enough in common to be able to speak of "one approach."
In November 2017, I came across the Unistellar eVscope via the Abenteuer Astronomie Newsletter. For quite a bit of money, a solution to my problem actually seemed to take shape, even though it would not be available before November 2018 at the earliest. I supported the respective Kickstarter project (it's over now), unfortunately already at the highest possible price, and now I am in anticipation of the "wonder telescope", with which EVERYTHING should be very easy, because it aligns automatically... It is a 4.5" Newtonian telescope that has a sensitive Sony CCD sensor in place of the secondary mirror, and instead of an optical eyepiece it has an "eyepiece-like" device for viewing an electronic screen (such as an electronic viewfinder for digital cameras). It is mounted on a simple AZ GoTo mount (sic!).
The image can also be transferred to smartphones, tablets, and computers, so that you can also show your pictures parallel to the observation and share them later. The image is in color, but compared with DSLR photos has a much lower resolution. This is simply for people who want to have a very easy solution, but still want to have a "live" impression similar to the one they saw on photos. The telescope is also quite insensitive to light pollution. More about this telescope on page Unistellar eVscope.
I asked my telescope dealer about the eVscope and his answer was not really encouraging: He considered it as a toy (but he might buy one when it becomes available...). He also said that an Atik Infinity camera on a 6" Newtonian tube would be a more flexible solution. Thus, he had given me a cue, which I continued to pursue, because it should still take at least a year until the eVscope will be delivered and I do not want to wait that long.
I quickly realized that I had read about this camera before, but without realizing what its particular value was (and it seemed too expensive for me at the time ...). My dealer also said that the camera was too expensive and advised me to buy one second hand. That is why I created search ads in two astronomy forums - and received an offer from an obvious fraudster (as I learned on request from a French radio amateur Website, where this guy was already well known...). Then I came across the Website of a hitherto unknown telescope leasing company and was able to use a "Christmas offer" for a good second-hand purchase. Now the camera is mine, but because of the weather it was not really used up to now. This camera, also equipped with a CCD sensor from Sony, continuously records images that are superimposed in real time (this is called "image stacking") on a computer with the Atik Infinity software, so that one has more or less the impression of a "live" observation on the computer monitor, whereby the images improve continuously by overlaying old images with newer ones (the eVscope functions similarly). The images can be recorded and subsequently edited. And what was also important for me: The camera can be used with a scope on a simple AZ GoTo mount! Unlike the eVscope, all this looks much more "technically", also because you have certain options for changing the camera settings. All in all, this delivers an idea of what you can expect at eVscope.
Photos: Atik Infinity Colour camera, ditto with additional screw-in 12 V power adapter (bottom left), complete equipment with Heritage 100P (bottom center, may not work because of focus issues...) and with Explorer 150 PDS (bottom right)
What does this solution look like in practice? In fact, it is not much more complicated than if I work with the GoTo mount only. After telescope and mount are aligned, I put the camera into the eyepiece mount, connect it to the 12V power supply, which has two sockets (one is occupied by the mount), and connect the camera via USB cable to my laptop computer, on which I am running the Atik Infinity software (on the Mac with the Windows emulator Parallels Desktop). On the monitor, I can see more or less "live" what I observe, and the image is iteratively getting better and better thanks to "image stacking."
Basically, the whole affair is a kind of "kit solution" (I also have to align the telescope myself...) in comparison with the "ready-to-go" solution of the eVscope. The sensor of the Atik Infinity camera has a slightly higher resolution and larger pixels than the eVscope's sensor. Therefore, the results should be marginally better (especially if I use my 6" Newtonian tube). I think that the effort for using the Atik Infinity camera is absolutely acceptable. And it is also considered a "beginners' solution"...
I would also like to add that I have learned by now that there are similar cameras like the Atik Infinity, but the Infinity is probably the simplest and most widely used solution.
If you are willing to spend some money, but only in this case, there are indeed solutions that can be described as "deep-sky photography for dummies and lazy," including "quasi-live observation." By the way, "real" astrophotography is not really cheap either. Above, I presented two solutions that I own or will own at the end of 2018. They by no means deliver results comparable to those achievable with "true" astrophotography, but they provide a "live experience" that can also be had more or less quickly. They do not require you to wait for the results for a long time, or to put a lot of time and effort into post-processing. Of course, you can post-process the images and share them , but you cannot expect any "miracles" in terms of image quality, especially resolution. As soon as I will be able to present examples, I will do so, but you can find quite a lot of them for both solutions on the internet.
I own already one of the two solutions, but I was not yet able to try it out properly. For the other solution, I will have to wait until, at least, November 2018. Therefore, I cannot offer any experiences here...