ATIK 383L Mono CCD, my new camera

I recently purchased an ATIK 383L Mono CCD to branch out into mono imaging. I have been using my Nikon D7000 DSLR as my primary imaging camera for years but recently decided that it was time to make the step up to the big leagues and do some serious narrowband imaging. After looking around for a while I decided that the ATIK 383L Mono CCD Camera with Kodak KAF8300, 3362H x 2504V Sensor, 5.40um Pixels, USB 2.0, Thermoelectric Cooling available on amazon would make an excellent camera to start with.

ATIK 383L Mono CCD At 8 Mega Pixels it has the resolution I wanted to be able to print large, and since it is monochrome, 100% of those pixels translate into real resolution as their is no Bayer matrix like on one shot color cameras. Being able to cool it to 40C below ambient is a huge plus as well. Unfortunately the weather has not cooperated for the past six months or more so I am not sure when I will actually get to create some nice images with it but keep an eye out to see what I can do with it. Rest assured that new images are coming and that I hope to have some posted shortly. If you want one too, don’t forget you can help support this website by purchasing it with this link to the ATIK 383L Mono CCD Camera  on Amazon

Of the few shots I have made I have learned that just shooting with this thing as monochrome and not using anything but a light pollution filter creates amazing image. Sure, I like the beautiful color images you can create of celestial objects as much as the next person but the mono images this thing can take will stop you in your tracks.

I am also pleased with the size and weight of this camera. It is lighter than my DSLRs as well which is always a concern when doing astrophotography. I was amazed at how quiet it is as well considering the size of the fan.

Over all, so far I am impressed. If you get the chance to play with a ATIK 383L Mono CCD I am sure you too will enjoy it.

You can get detailed specifications on the KAF8300 sensor used in this from Kodak.

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Young moon, a slim waxing crescent

I have no idea what has me so fascinated by imaging a young moon (taking an image of the moon when only a very small slice of it is lit, a slim waxing crescent or ‘young moon phase’). Once when I saw someone else’s image it just really blew me away. Unfortunately where I am and where I shoot it is very difficult because of trees and light pollution.

Young moon, a slim waxing crescent Here is a young moon I managed to get on January 3rd which I was pretty impressed with. Sure, I would love to go younger but I was almost shooting in the trees with this as it was. This image was 25 lights of 1/250th sec at ISO 400 stacked and sharpened in Registax 6. You can see plenty of detail, have some fun trying to name the features! You could use my favorite map, the Sky & Telescope’s Field Map of the Moon to see the names of the features.

The really great thing about moon is that you get great detail way out on the edge of the moon which normally is pretty flatly lit. This flat lighting makes details difficult to see. With the edge lighting the rims of the craters, edges of mountains and crevasses really pop out either in an eyepiece or image. Another great thing is it gives you something to image right after the sun dips below the horizon. You don’t have to wait until astronomical sunset for this target!

Hopefully I will be able to get something a little younger when I find a suitable place to image with lower horizons.

Next time you get a chance take a stab at your own young moon image and see if it fascinates you as much as it does me.

More on waxing crescent and the 8 phases of the moon is on Wikipedia, more young moon photos on my solar system astrophotography page.

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Messier Astrophotography Reference released

The Messier Astrophotography Reference is a little surprise for you, as it was pretty much an unexpected book!

Messier Astrophotography Reference When I was starting out in astrophotography I was constantly hunting for images that would give me a good idea of what I would see in my images. The problem was that I was in a middle area where most of the images were either far too nice looking to compare to mine, or far too simple. Even when I found a few, they had not done all of the Messier objects so I really could not do more than a few targets.

This made me decide to write a reference book for the Messier catalog with all 110 Messier objects, example images, size estimates for the most popular telescopes, best times of the year to shoot each target, star charts showing the location, a scientific description of the target and lastly, a set of shoot notes giving my suggestions for shooting and/or processing each target.This should help you find the best Messier objects for you to shoot.

The reference hopefully will be helpful for other astrophotographers in North America who want to shoot some or all of the Messier objects. You can learn more about the book at and discuss it at Messier Astrophotography Reference is available on or directly at and is available in both print and Kindle editions.

Here is the description from Amazon:

Allan Hall’s Messier Astrophotography Reference takes the task of providing a detailed, practical, visual guide to the night sky’s Messier Objects – all 110 of them – seriously, but not without the author’s trademark approachability and goal of providing home-based astrophotographers at any experience level with the fundamental resources they need to shoot smart.

In North American skies, throughout the year, a series of bright visual bodies, groups, formations, and phenomenon are categorized as Messier Objects. 110 of these are flung across the galactic veil that we see every night. For each star: a cluster. For each cluster: a galaxy. From nebula to clouds to clusters, these astrological objects are striking, nuanced, each with its own sky path and yearly phases. The task of capturing these in images can be daunting for astrophotographers, making Messier’s Astrophotography Reference all the more impactful of a guide.

For astrophotographers: the number of factors to consider when searching out the ideal celestial shot can be daunting. From yearly charts of the night sky’s movements to sizing objects, gauging their depth, and choosing how to capture them, astrophotographers have long relied on fundamental – and luckily unchanging – guides for astrological behavior.

From the author of Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography and Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography comes a uniquely comprehensive book sure to change the way that just about any astrophotographer’s views their discipline.

A question: What do the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, the Owl Nebula, and 108 other striking astronomical bodies have in common with you? For the first time: they’re all accessible. From home. For beginning astrophotographers. Now – finally – with Allan Hall’s Messier Astrophotography Reference – the lessons of Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography and Getting Started: Budget Astrophotography are elevated, targeted, and laid out in an intuitive format meant for providing home-based astrophotographers with a practical road map for all 110 North American Messier Objects in the night sky.

From your bedroom desk to nights in the field, Messier Astrophotography Reference represents a condensed, intuitive resource. In it, each Messier Object is highlighted with a photograph and a rich entry of details, context, sizing, yearly shooting charts, and more. Hall’s approachable tone makes for a clean narrative in which the goal is the keenest understanding of these objects, their “characters”, movements, obstacles in shooting, and points of interest.

As a companion piece for Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography, this book takes on a natural supplementary role. Further developed by its author to be a full standalone resource on its own, Messier Astrophotography Reference is comprehensive, targeted, and brisk. From sizing your shot to deciding on your range of depth – Hall takes readers from step one to the final shutter snap; giving them the tools to interpret their experience with the Messier Objects.

For anyone with practical astrophotographical ambitions; whether they’re gathering supplies and waiting for that first shoot or experienced astrophotographers ready to delve into a comprehensive Messier Object guide, Allan Hall’s Messier Astrophotography Reference is essential.

You can find out more about Messier objects at Wikipedia.

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Nikon moving to single USB cable

It seems that Nikon has decided to switch from using a standard USB cable and their GPS cable to control their cameras to using just a standard USB cable like Canon does. The old method had one advantage that it could at least in theory download images faster since it could both transfer the image and send shutter commands simultaneously on two separate cables. There was also the disadvantages of requiring more equipment, being more expensive and having less support since people seemed reluctant to write software for the Nikon’s dual cable setup.

From what I am seeing, starting with the Nikon D610, D7100 and D5300 these lines of cameras are controllable for long exposure work with only the standard USB cable. This hopefully will result in a much wider availability of Nikon camera control software as well as increasing the use of Nikon equipment at the telescope.

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Orion G3 Mono for spectroscopy

I just purchased an Orion G3 Mono and thought I would write this mini Orion G3 Monochrome CCD review.

As many of you know I am pretty fascinated with spectroscopy, or the use of the spectrum of light emitted by or reflected off an object to determine its chemical makeup. I have been working on this with a DSLR for a while and it does a fairly good job for just getting my feet wet. Unfortunately the filters on the sensor of a DSLR skew the results pretty badly towards the red end, and the sensor is too sensitive to certain colors (trying to make up for the way the human eye sees).

Spectrums of various stars

I had been told that the way to do it with more accuracy is to use a monochrome CCD. One of the more popular ones to start out with in these types of spectroscopy seems to be the Orion CCD cameras including the Orion G3 Mono, so I bought one. Some nice advantages are that this camera is only about $499 retail (cheaper on Amazon) so it is fairly inexpensive as far as CCDs are concerned, it is very small and light weight, it has cooling built in so the images have less noise than an uncooled camera, and it has a 1.25″ threaded nosepiece so the grating filter I use will screw right onto it.

Orion G3 Mono

I plan on redoing all my spectral images with the Orion G3 Mono and comparing my results from it to what I achieved with my DSLR. It will be interesting to see how close they are. I may even leave the DSLR images up so you can see the comparison for yourself.

The first few runs with the camera have proven hopeful. I am not too sure I like the software which comes with it so I am going to try it with my standards imaging software and see what happens. More to come!

You can get more information, read more reviews, or purchase this monochrome CCD.

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Orion Stratus eyepieces review – worth it?

After looking through a lot of eyepieces my go to eyepieces are my Orion Stratus eyepieces. Hopefully this will help you understand why.

Although I am primarily an astrophotographer and so I spend far less time looking through an eyepiece than I do a computer monitor, I still like quality views when I do a little visual.

Like most people, I started with the eyepieces that came with my first telescope. While they did indeed provide a view, once I tried a nice eyepiece I was smitten. There was obviously more contrast making objects easier to pick out, more of the field of view was in nice sharp focus, there was a much wider field of view and last but certainly not least, it was much easier to look through the better eyepieces as they had more eye relief.

Eyepieces generally represent half of the optics in a telescope which should give you a hint as to their importance to the views that you get. The typical problem with any quality product, especially a quality optical product, is they can get very expensive quickly. One can start at the bottom of telescope eyepieces for around $20 each and then move up to the top of the line at over $600 each. I wanted as much quality as I could afford, so where was the best bang for my buck?

Orion Stratus eyepieces Above is my collection of Orion Stratus eyepieces, available from Amazon, including the 24mm, 13mm, 8mm and 5mm. At around $140 each these eyepieces have the specs to put them right in the middle of the pack so I thought they would be a good place to start.

General specifications: Apparent FOV: 68 degrees Elements: 8 Eye relief: 20mm Filter threads: Yes Rubber eyeguards:Yes Material: Aluminum Weight: Approximately 1 pound Barrel size: Both 1.25″ and 2″ without adapter

For those who have only used the eyepieces that came with their scopes these will seem huge and heavy. They average just over 2″ in diameter and roughly a pound. In comparison the typical Plossl eyepiece shipped with starter telescopes is less than 1.5″ in diameter and weighs about a quarter pound.

Size comparison of a plossl and Stratus Right off the bat you realize that the Orion Stratus eyepieces are large eyepieces and are nice to hold on to, and the rubber grips on these do not disappoint. In cold weather with gloves or in the Texas heat with sweat covered hands I had no problem holding on to these things. I have never even come close to dropping one.

Comparing two different eyepieces The most striking thing in switching from a higher powered Plossl to one of these is the eye relief, or distance your eye has to be to get a nice complete image. On the higher powered Plossl eyepieces your eye has to be over the tiny little optical window at just the right distance and any slight movement will cause image problems. These all have large optical windows and plenty of room to move around without distorting your view. Although I do not wear glasses, I can see where people who do would love these.

I primarily use these in my refractors (f6.5 and f7) and find that they provide very nice views. On faster scopes such as an f4.9 Dobsonian you can start to see some coma in the outer 10% on the wider 24mm and perhaps a little on the 13mm.

My favorite eyepiece is the 24mm and while it certainly is no TeleVue 22mm Nagler, it provides excellent widefield views of the sky.

The attention to detail is nice, for example the white painted numbers denoting the focal length on the side of the eyepiece are very large which makes them easier to see out in the dark. The rubber eyecup seems pretty durable while being more than soft enough to be very comfortable. There is a groove machined into the 1.25″ barrel to help make sure it can not come lose from smaller telescopes. The threads for filters are a nice touch and make it convenient for using a moon or polarizing filter.

In a world filled with eyepiece choices how would I rank these in terms of performance for the amount paid? Honestly I wish they were just a tad cheaper and I would give them top honors, although I do believe they are an excellent buy.

Two alternatives are the William Optics SWANs for a little less money and the William Optics UWANs for a little more money, both of which are also excellent eyepieces.

If however you want eyepieces that will not disappoint, fit in both 1.25″ and 2″ focusers without an adapter and especially if you can get them on sale, the Orion Stratus eyepieces are a solid contender for all but the most demanding situations.

I do still have some inexpensive Plossl style eyepieces like the ones that come with some better starter telescopes that I keep around for various uses and comparisons.

Bottom line, when I want to view something in my inexpensive 90mm refractor, my much more expensive 110mm APO refractor, or the University’s very expensive 16″ SCT, I reach for one of the Orion Stratus eyepieces, get yours from Amazon.

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Using astronomy forums to get information online

Astronomy forums can be helpful as finding information online can be a challenge, particularly if you are looking for something specific like astronomy. Sure, there is a ton of easy to access information, but it never seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. After looking around for a couple of years and participating on many astronomy forums I decided I would share a little of my impressions with some of what I see as the better online forums dedicated to astronomy. Here you can not only read tons of static information, but also ask specific questions and get direct answers from people who have “been there and done that”.

stargazers lounge astronomy forums

Stargazers Lounge is my favorite general astronomy forums with tons of friendly and knowledgeable people ready to help. As one of the largest astronomy forums online (over two million posts and 1,500 unique visitors a day) you are sure to find tons of valuable information and some wonderful astrophotography as well. They round out the information in the forums with tons of user blogs and a wonderful calendar showing celestial events as well as meetings and events local to England and surrounding areas. If I could only pick one place to hang out, shoot the breeze and learn something at the same time this would be my choice.


Cloudy Nights has quite a lot of great information and some excellent reviews but also has a reputation for being a little more abrasive than other astronomy forums. Although no one has ever been rude to me in any way, I have seen a few rather heated conversations. That aside, no forum I have found has anywhere near the quantity and quality of product reviews these astronomy forums have. There are also some very knowledgeable people here so there is always great information to be had. In addition to the forums they have the excellent Cloudy Nights classifieds section with tons of items and a nice articles section with what looks like over a hundred how-to articles. If I wanted one place to learn as much as possible, and didn’t mind watching my Ps and Qs, this would be the astronomy forums for me.


Astromart is well known in astronomy circles as the place to find used astronomy equipment online. What they don’t tell you is that they have a pretty nice little set of astronomy forums there as well although it is primarily aimed at equipment information and discussion. If you have any questions such as what part fits this, or what adapters you need to mount this on that, then I would recommend trying here.


Ice In Space is a fairly good sized forum primarily aimed at Australia but still contains some excellent information for anyone. Add to that a friendly mix of people and some high quality astrophotography and it is a very nice destination. For me, this forum presents a nice change of pace since it is in the Southern Hemisphere so I get to see astrophotography that I will probably never get to shoot myself.


The Astronomy Shed is another one of those places that is well known for something other than its astronomy forums, in this case it is some excellent video tutorials. If you like video tutorials, particularly ones dealing with do-it-yourself projects, this is a great place to spend some quality time.

Hope to see you on the astronomy forums!

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