In the boundless theatre of the night sky, where celestial tales unfold across the eons, lies an ethereal masterpiece that has captivated the gaze of astronomers and dreamers alike. This image, a delicate two-panel mosaic, is a profound revelation of the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula, known formally by its catalog designations IC 1396A, nestled within the larger expanse of the IC 1396 complex in the constellation of Cepheus.
Crafted with meticulous dedication over the span of five months, this portrait of the cosmos was brought to life using a full-frame monochrome CMOS camera, a testament to the intersection of art and technology. The camera, acting as a modern-day alchemist, transformed the invisible into the visible, capturing the nebula’s intricate details and sweeping gas clouds that resemble an elephant’s trunk, reaching out into the void.
However, this image is more than a snapshot; it is a chapter in an ongoing saga dictated by the unpredictable whims of the UK’s weather. The journey to encapsulate the nebula’s full glory has been a dance with the elements, with many nights spent under the cloak of clouds rather than stars. Despite these challenges, the initial results have unveiled a stunning glimpse into the cosmos, showcasing the nebula’s haunting beauty and the vibrant activity within its star-forming regions.
Yet, the story does not end here. The image is a promise of what is yet to come, as there are plans to revisit the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula later this year. The aim is to deepen the exploration, to add more data to this cosmic tapestry, and to further refine the clarity and depth of this celestial phenomenon.
This endeavor, a blend of patience, passion, and precision, highlights not just the technical prowess required for astrophotography but also the enduring human desire to connect with the universe. Through this image, we are reminded of our place in the cosmos, a mere speck within the vastness, yet capable of capturing and celebrating its majesty.
The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula stands as a beacon in the dark, a symbol of the mysteries that await our discovery. With each photograph, we peel back another layer of the universe, bringing us closer to understanding the grand design of which we are a part. This image is an invitation to gaze upwards, to wonder, and to dream of the infinite possibilities that lie beyond our world.
Many people like myself have transitioned from a MONO camera to a One Shot Colour (OSC) for whatever reason, for me it was all about not being able to get the required amount of time due to weather conditions here in the UK. When I first considered moving to an OSC camera, it dawned on me that I would not be able to produce the vibrant Hubble Palette images that I could produce by imaging with specific filters on my MONO camera, specifically Hydrogen Alpha (Ha), Oxygen 3 (OIII) and Sulphur Dioxide 2 (SII) which would then be mapped to the appropriate colour channels when creating the final image stack.
Now along came Dual and Tri band narrowband filters for OSC cameras which peaked my attention, the Dual Band filters allow Ha and OIII data to pass, the Tri Band filters allow Ha, Hb (Hydrogen Beta) and OIII to pass but at a high Nm value. I reached out to my friends at Optolong who had two filters, the L-eNhance and the L-eXtreme, the L-eNhance is a Tri Band filter, but after speaking with Optolong it would not work well for me at F2.8, so I went with the L-eXtreme Dual Band filter which has both the Ha and OIII at 7nm.
After receinving my ASI6200MC Pro, I decided to start acquiring data on a 1/2 to 2/3 moonlit nights on the North America Nebula, and so far when writing this post I had acquired a total of 60 frames of 300 seconds each at a gain value of 100, I processed the image my normal way in PixInsight and below is the result of the image:
North America Nebula, 60x300S at Gain100, Darks, Flats and BIAS frames applied with the ASI6200MC Pro using the Optolong L-eXtreme Dual Band 2″ Filter
I thought that my data looks good enough to work with and experiment with trying to build an SHO (Hubble Palette) image with, and I have spoken with Shawn Nielsen on this exact subject a few times so he gave me some hints and tips especially with the blending of the channels. So off I went to try and produce an SHO image.
Before we start, there are some requirements:
This tutorial uses PixInsight, I am not sure how you would acomplish this with Photoshop since I have not used PhotoShop for Astro Image Processing for a number of years
Data captured with a One Shot Color (OSC) camera using a Dual or Tri Band Narrowband filter
Image is non-linear…so fully processed
Step 1 – Split the Channels
In order to re-assign the channels, you have to split the normal image into Red, Green and Blue channels, I found this to work better on a fully processed “Non-Linear” image as above, once this was done, I renamed the images in PixInsight to “Ha” – Red Channel, “OIII” – Blue Channel and “SII” – Green Channel, this makes it easier for Pixelmath in PixInsight to work with the image names. Once this was done, I used PixelMath to create a new image stack with the channels assigned, and this is how PixelMath was configured
Red Channel = SII Green Channel = 0.8*Ha + 0.2*OIII Blue Channel = OIII
Once applied this produced the following image stack (do not close the Ha, OIII or SII images, you will need these later on):
SHO Combined image from PixelMath
Step 2 – Reduce Magenta saturation
As you can see from the above image, some of the brighter stars have a magenta hue around them, so to reduce this, I use the ColorMask plugin in PixInsight (You will need to download this), and selected Magenta
ColorMask tool with Magenta selected
When you click on OK, it will create the Magenta Mask which would look something like this:
Once the mask has been applied to the image, I then use Curves Transformation to reduce the saturation which will reduce the Magenta in the image
The result in reducing the magenta can be seen in this image, you will notice there is now no longer a hue around the brighter stars
Result after Magenta Saturation reduced using Magenta ColorMask and Curves Transformation
Step 4 – ColorMask – Green
Again using the Color Mask tool, I want to select the green channel, as we will want to manipulate most of the green here to red, so again ColorMask:
This then produced a mask that looks like the following:
Step 5 – Manipulate the Green Data
Once the Green Mask has been applied to the image, since most of the data in the image is green, we are looking to manipulate that data to turn it golden yellow, so for this we use the Curves Transformation again
The above Curves transformation was applied to the image three times whilst the the green mask was still im place, and this resulted in the following image changes:
Resulting image after green data manipulated in the red channel using Curves Transformation
So as you can see we are starting to see the vibrant colours associated with Hubble Palette images
Step 6 – Create a Starless version of the OIII Data
Now remember I said not to close out the separated channel images, this is because we are going to want ot bring out the blue in the image without affecting the stars, so for this we will turn the OIII image into a starless version by using the StarNet tool in PixInsight
Here’s the OIII Image before we apply StarNet star removal:
Default settings used in the StarNet process
This resulted in the following OIII image with no stars:
Step 7 – Range Selection on OIII Data
Because we do not want to affect the whole image, we will use the range selection tool on the starless OIII image to select areas we wish to manipulate, now we have to be careful that the changes we make are not too “Sharp” that they cause blotchy areas, so within the range selection tool, not only do we change the upper limit to suit the range we want to create the mask for, but we also need to change the fuzziness and smoothness settings to make it more blended, these are the setings I used:
Which resulted in the following range mask
Step 8 – Bring out the Blue with Curves Transformation
We apply the Range Mask to the SHO Image so that we can bring out the Blue in the section of the nebula where the OIII resides, with the range mask applied we will use the Curves Transformation Process again as follows:
Curves transformation process to increase blue, reduce red and increase saturation of image with rangemask applied
The result of which is:
Result after first curves transformation with RangeMask applied
As you can see we have started to bring out the blue data, but we are not quite there yet, with the range mask still applied, we will go again with the curves transformation only this time, just reducing the red element:
The result of the 2nd curves transformation with the Range Mask is as follows:
Resulting image after 2nd pass with Curves Transformation to remove the red elemtn in the range mask
Step 9 – Apply Saturation against a luminance mask
On the above image, we extract out the luminance and apply as a mask to the image, and we then use the Curves Transformation for the final time to boost the saturation to the luminance
Luminance Mask to be applied to image
Curves Transformation with Luminance Mask applied
I repeated the same process on my Elephant’s Trunk Nebula that I acquired the data when testing out the ASI2400MC Pro and this was the resulting image:
I hope this tutorial helps in producing your SHO images from your OSC Narrowband images, I know many of my followers have been waiting for me to write this up, so enjoy and share.
Having owned the Sharpstar 15028HNT, I decided I wanted a larger light bucket without really sacrificing on speed, so I opted for the big brother of the 15028HNT which is the SharpStar 20032PNT.
I picked up my 20032PNT from Zoltan at 365Astronomy, and could not wait to get it home and unbox it, so after removing it from not just one carboard box, but two, I was presented with a very large flight case, which evidently is a larger version than the one that came with the 15028HNT.
Once I had the scope unpacked and inspected everything, the first thing I noticed was the focuser, the 20032PNT has a large focuser, which is big enough to accomodate the reducer/corrector that has an M68 connector thread as well as an M54 and an M48 connector thread.
The scope is well built, as I would expect from the build quality of the 15028HNT, the red annodised alluminium tube rings just give that final touch of finese. The 3 inch focuser is very smooth, and will no doubt be able to handle quite a load of equipment.
The first thing I planned to do was ensure that the primary mirror was secure and did not rock back and forward as well as replace the stock fan. I have fed back to SharpStar that they should mount the fan externally and also mount it with shock absorbing rubber mounters, and have the airflow into the tube from the back, rather than drawing air down the tube from the secondary. Here are my images of the fan replacement:
Primary Mirror assembly removed from OTAFan assembly with mirror removedStock FanStock fan removed and added in a PWM fan connector should the fan ever need to be replaced, it can be replaced without removing the mirror assemblyAnti vibration fan mounting pointsExternal fan connected to PWM connectorHow the fan looks from the outside, the image is missing the fan filter which I added afterwards
Once everything was back together, I mounted my Eagle4Pro onto the top bar, as well as added an extra long losmandy plate because I wanted the OTA as far forward as I could get it in order to have the camera in the right location without it hitting the mount at all.
And here is the scope on the mighty EQ8 Pro mount
My first set of image testing did not go so well. My previous 15028HNT did not protrude above the walls of the observatory, so despite the fact that the secondary mirrors on both scopes are right up at the top of the tube, the 20032PNT was picking up stray light from my neighbour, so I had to adopt a dew shield that would extend the OTA by around 5 inches:
Scope with dew shield attached
Flats I first started to have issues with my flats that was taken with a flat panel, the flat frames would “Overcorrect” the images, but one thing I noticed that there was a lot of vignetting happening. Sky flats seemed to work better, but I was not happy with the vignetting. Now since I am using a full frame sensor on the ASI6200MM Pro, and the scope supports full frame, I was a little intrigued as to why I was getting so much vignetting, you can see from the master flat below that there was indeed a significant amount of vignetting.
Red Master Flat in PixInsight
I did some calculations and found what my problem was. Since my camera is full frame, it has a diameter of 44mm. The M54 connector on the telescope is 55mm away from the sensor, so a simple equation tells me that my light cone is larger than the M54 connector:
The internal diameter of the M54 connector is around 51mm, so the light cone was being restricted by around 10mm. So I had a custom M68 to M54 adapter made which is 28.5mm in length, the reason for this is because the backfocus from the M68 connector is 61mm, so if we apply our formula:
44 + (61/3.2) = 63.06mm, this is way below the internal diameter of the M68 connector male thread, so vignetting should be minimised. Now because I do have some M54 in my image train, I know I would not completely elliminate vignetting and this is why, using the above formula, we can work out the light cone at varying part of the imaging train:
12.5mm (EFW mating to camera) = 47.9mm 18mm (50.4mm Filters distance from sensor) = 49.62mm 32.5mm (Light entrance to EFW distance from sensor) = 54.15mm
As you can see, I should expect some vignetting to occur because the light cone at the EFW M54 connector (with around 51mm internal) is 54.15mm, so I would be clipping the light cone slightly, but the result is as follows, again red filter, you can see that the vignetting is significantly reduced:
Collimation was done using the exact same process I used on the 15028HNT, you can read the guide here.
Conclusion: SharpStar have again produced an outstanding quality astrograph, with a massive focuser to take on the largest of imaging trains, as well as finishing off the product with high quality annodised OTA rings. I am extremely happy with the performance of the telescope, below is my first image which happens to be a 2 panel mosaic:
Iris Nebula, 2 Panel Mosaic, Each Panel consists of 151x60S frames at Gain100, for L, R, G and B, for the full resolution image please use this link
I recently wrote a review on the ZWO ASI2400 24mpx full frame camera, so I thought I would also do the same for the big brother which is the ZWO ASI6200 full frame camera with a mammoth 62mpx which I picked up from 365astronomy when returning the ASI2400 after the review. Looking at both of the cameras, there is no obvious difference from the outside except for the model number, both cameras are exactly the same size and feel roughly the same weight and the build quality is identicallyu exceptional.
ASI6200MC Pro One Shot Colour Camera
If we compare the specifications of the ASI6200 to the ASI2400 we can see where each camera has an advantage over the other:
Full Well Capacity at 0 Gain
High Gain Mode
Full well at High Gain Mode
So as you can see from the comparison on specification there are some differences, the ASI2400 has the edge on full well capacity, however the ASI6200 has a much more smaller pixel size as well as a higher Qe which to me gives the ASI6200 the edge over the ASI2400.
Now since both cameras are the exact same field of view due to them both being full frame sensors, the question is how does this affect resolution, clearly the ASI6200 has the upper hand having significantly more pixels than the ASI2400, but how does this translate to an image?
Iris Nebula taken with the ASI2400MC Pro, 82x150S at Gain 26, darks, flats and BIAS frames appliedIris Nebula taken with the ASI6200MC Pro 48x150S at Gain 100, Darks, Flats and BIAS frames applied
As you can see, both cameras offer the exact same field of view, however when you zoom in on the images you start to see where the ASI6200 excels above the ASI2400 with the higher resolution
On the left is the ASI2400MC Pro and on the right is the ASI6200MC Pro
As you can clearly see from the above two images, the 6200 offers a much better resolution which will allow a much finer level of detail, however, depending on your sky conditions and focal length the ASI6200 might not be possible due to over or under sampling
You can see here, that on my SharpStar 15028HNT which has a Focal Length of 420mm the ASI2400 would lead to Under Sampling in my “OK” seeing conditions
But the ASI6200 shows in the green area:
If I increase the focal length to around 1150 the ASI6200 no longer becomes suitable and the ASI2400 is more suited to this focal length and sky conditions:
So as you can see, both the ASI2400 and ASI6200 is not a “One Size Fits All” scenario, you have to work out the best suitability depending on your conditions and equipment to be used.
From a price perspective, the ASI6200 is only slightly more expensive than the ASI2400, but both cameras offer the full frame capability and a fantastic field of view, but for me personally the ASI6200 beats the ASI2400 when using the focal length of my SharpStar 15028HNT. Just like it’s smaller version, the looks, feels, sounds and operates exactly the same way. Here is another image taken with the ASI6200 and then my Synthetic SHO version which I will be writing a tutorial on how to acomplish with Dual Band Filters.
North America Nebula – 60x300S at Gain 100 using the Optolong L-eXtreme Filter on the SharpStar 15028HNTSynthetic SHO using the same data as the previous image
Either way, both ZWO cameras I have tested have been of awesome quality, and I would recommend either camera if you wish to go down the full frame route, but personally my favourite is the ASI6200MC Pro, more images to come since this is now my new camera.
I was lucky enough for 365Astronomy to offer me one of the ZWO ASI2400 full frame cameras to test and write a review, so obviously I jumped at the chance, and within a couple of days I was successfully imaging and acquiring data with it, so firstly what is the ASI2400?
The ASI2400MC Pro is a full frame 24mpx camera that utilises the Sony IMX410 back illuminated sensor, ZWO produced a similar camera before which was the ASI128MC Pro (24mpx) and they also have the ASI6200 (62mpx), so what are the differences between the cameras?
Full Well Capacity
If we compare the ASI2400 and the ASI128 since they have similar pixel sizes and offer almost a matching resolution, but the ASI2400 clearly is a better camera, with a higher full well capacity, this means that it takes a lot more to saturate out the colours around bright stars for example, but also a big increase on the quantum efficiency going from 53% to >80%.
Now the first thing I noticed was that the ASI2400 was only slightly cheaper than the ASI6200, but the ASI6200 is offering a much higher resolution, so why would people not just go for the ASI6200? Well it comes down to pixel size, the ASI6200 has a pixel size of 3.76 so it would be better suited to a short focal length scope, if I attach the ASI6200 to my SharpStar 15028HNT which has a focal length of 420mm at F2.8, this will give me around 1.85 Arc-Seconds per Pixel which for UK skies is an ideal figure, the ASI2400 has a bit more flexibility with the focal length of telescopes because of the larger pixel size, so whilst the ASI6200 offers a higher resolution image sensor of 62mpx, the ASI2400 offers more flexibility of a higher focal length telescope.
When I unboxed the ASI2400 I was very impressed with the quality, this was the first ZWO Camera I have ever actually seen in the flesh, the red finish matches my SharpStar 15028HNT, but one thing that I noticed straight away was the two additional USB Ports on the top of the camera which I sat and thought to myself that it would certainly help with tidying up my cables around the scope. In the box was a couple of adapters to obtain the very common 55mm back focus, two USB Cables, and a USB 3.0 cable, and the camera arrived in a very nice case too.
I removed the camera sensor cover and revealed the massive full frame sensor and compared it to the APS-C sized camera I have and was like wow, that’s a big sensor, here’s a picture of the sensor:
Size matters, the Full Frame sensor on the ASI2400MC Pro
I noticed too that there was a special tilt plate on the camera which in my opinion is a critical point, my other camera has a tilt plate that is very cumbersome to use, so after a while of looking at the sensor, I decided to start adding my ZWO filter drawer and M48 extension tubes in order to get it connected to the mount, I am using the ZWO M54 2″ Filter drawer which has a 2mm M54 to M48 adapter too, threading the filter drawer on the camera was very smooth, but I would not expect anything less than that with ZWO kit connecting to ZWO kit, here’s a picture with the filter drawer and the Optolong L-Pro 2″ filter connected to the camera:
ZWO M54 Filter Drawer connected to the ASI2400MC Pro
Once connected to the telescope, I had to find out where the camera was facing when connected at the optimal distance of 55mm as all of my image train is threaded on, once identified which direction the top of the camera sensor was facing I could rotate the focuser and then re-check the collimation with the laser before putting the camera back on and connecting the cables.
Identifying which side of the camera the top of the sensor was is so easy on this camera, there’s what looks like a black plastic button on the side of the camera, it is obviously a cover of some sort, but this also indicates which side the top of sensior is located, something I wish all camera vendors would do.
One of the first things I do when testing out a new camera is dark frames, all vendors claim they have zero amp glow, so this is always my first test, and the ASI2400 didn’t let me down, indeed there was zero amp glow and I tested with various exposure times and gain settings, here’s a 300S exposure with Gain 26 which has had a Screen Transfer Function auto stretch applied:
After connecting it all up to the telescope, and acquiring some darks, flats, and BIAS frames, and the skies were clear, it was time to put the camera under a proper test, I had set a couple of targets up, the Cygnus Loop and the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula using the Optolong L-eXtreme Narrowband filter and here are the results:
Cygnus Loop – Eastern Veil, Western Veil and Pickerings Triangle – 29x300S at Gain 26, ASI2400MC Pro on the Sharpstar15028HNT using the Optolong L-eXtreme Dual Band FilterElephant’s Trunk Nebula – 19x300S at Gain 26, ASI 2400MC Pro on the SharpStar 15028HNT using the Optolong L-eXtreme Dual Band Filter
So you can see the camera performed really well, stars are almost perfect in the corners (a little fine tuning required on spacing), I am hoping to get a few more clear nights over the next few days to build on the above images and really show off the performance of the ASI2400, and I can’t wait to test it out on the Iris Nebula.
Conclusion: The ASI2400 is in my opinion an awesome piece of kit, that massive full frame sensor has the adaptability for longer focal length telescopes due to the larger pixel size, the advantage of the USB Hub built into the camera, the adjustable tilt plate on the front of the camera is the most advantageous aspect, would have saved me so much time trying to rectify tilt instead using copper shims, but also the smaller things that are equally as important like having something to identify which way round the sensor is rather than trying to figure it out with images in my opinion is what sets this apart from other similar cameras from other vendors.
If you are looking for a full frame camera and have a short focal length telescope, the ASI2400 or the ASI6200 full frame cameras will do just the job,but any longer focal length scopes, then the ASI2400 is the right choice.
Additional image taken since writing this post:
M31 – Andromeda Galaxy – 51x90S frames at Gain 0 using the Optolong L-Pro Filter, darks and flats applied
As many of you know, I have been using QHY cameras for a while, but with my plan to move to a RASA telescope next year and wanting to image with a bigger sensor than the QHY183M I decided to go for a bigger sensor but moving away from Mono, the latest addition to the QHY familly is the QHY268C Photographic Version. I had been talking to the QHY team for a long time about this particular camera, and finally I have one.
The QHY268C is a once shot colour camera based on the APS-C Sized back illimunated Sony IMX571 sensor, the camera has a true 16-Bit Analog to Digital Convertor (ADC), now there are a few camera models out there using this sensor, cameras such as the ZWO ASI2600, but one thing that sets the QHY268C apart from the others is the ability to have a 75ke full well capacity which is 25ke higher than the ZWO ASI2600. In my opinion, when imaging at fast focal ratios, a higher full well is desired to protect the colour around bright stars for example.
Opening the box I was greeted with a camera that was bigger and heavier than my 183M, but then the sensor is much bigger than the 183M anyway so this would be expected, but what I did not expect is the additional items that came with the camera:
Inside the box was:
QHY268C Photographic Version
UK mains plug for 12V AC adapter
12V AC adapter
Car 12v power cable
Self locking power cable
1.5M USB 3.0 cable
Dessicant drying tube
Self centering adapter plate
M54 to M48 adapter plate
M54 to 2″ nose adapter
A range of spacers to give you from 0.5mm to 13.5mm spacing
Associated screws for spacing adapters
QHY cameras have come along way since I bought my QHY183M, one of the things QHY has really worked on is amp glow, my early version of the QHY183M was renowned for was amp glow, which could be removed in image calibrations, but the QHY268C produces no amp glow whatsoever, below is a dark frame of 600S taken at -13.5C and you can clearly see there is no evidence of amp glow.
Single frame 600 seconds, Gain 26, Offset 30, -13.5C – Mono (Not Debayered)
Attaching to the telescope was pretty straight forward as I had already planned the imaging train before the camera arrived, since I will be using the SharpStar 15028HNT F2.8 Paraboloid Astrograph which has an M48 thread, I decided to keep the whole imaging train at M48 except for the camera of course which has an M54 thread, so I did not actually need to use any of the adapters that came with the camera, the reason for this is because I wanted to include a filter drawer, so my image train consists of the following (from telescope to camera)
As you can see with all the above I reach my desired back focus of 55mm perfectly, if I was not going to be using a filter drawer (For my Optolong L-Pro and L-eXtreme filters), I would probably have stuck with the spacers that came with the camera. Below is a picture of the camera successfully connected to the telescope.
As far as settings go, after speaking with QHY on this at great length, I will be imaging in Mode 0 (Photographic mode) to avail of the massive 75ke full well, offset I will leave at 30, but Gain I will use two different settings, I will use Gain 0 for most bright objects with the L-Pro filter, but for the L-eXtreme, I’ll probably set a gain level of 26, luckily with SGPro I can set the gain level per object. From a cooling perspective I always image at -20C, one thing I have noticed is that this camera cools to exactly -35C below ambient, I tested this when the ambient temperature was 20.10 degrees, and the camera cooled down to -14.9C, it was always 25C lower until the ambient dropped below 15C and the camera remained at my setting of -20C.
The build quality of the camera is as expected having owned a QHY183M, one thing I did notice is that the fan in the QHY268C is much quieter than the 183M. Technical Details of the camera:
I can’t wait to get imaging with this camera, I have a very aggresive target list for this year in both RGB and Narrowband with the Optolong L-eXtreme filter, I will write part two of the review once I have some actual imaging data. Time to build my dark library.