This seems like a good place to start getting back up to speed on the forum after a long spell away.
There is actually a few capture programs for Nikon cameras now including Astro Imaging software like Maxim. This is because Nikon decided about 2 Years ago to release the API for their firmware which previously they had kept to themselves unlike Canon, hence no third party software. I personally use DigiCamControl and Maxim. The only caveats with Nikon cameras for PC control are that unlike Canon, that have a generic control for all models, Nikon have different requirements depending on the level of serial control. Therefore my D7000 can be fully controlled except for Bulb exposures unless I add a USB serial adapter. The D7100 however, does have full control in bulb mode. This little oddity is now understood and even capture software like Maxim DL includes options for Nikon with / without serial control.
Mikes comment about the algorithm applied to Nikon RAW files is not strictly true and part of a myth that has grown up around Nikon and Astrophotography. In the beginning, when Canon, Nikon etc launched digital cameras and the benefits of using them became attractive it soon became apparent that Nikon cameras had a serious firmware bug, this being that when controlled via PC (only Nikon software being available) they could not be exposed for more than 30 seconds, a fairly serious limitation for Astrophotography. As Canon and Nikon were the main digital players, Canon immediately got a big head start. Ironically EOS to Nikon F adapters then came out as many short focal length Nikon lenses were considered far superior to Canons.
The problem that Mike refers to was actually only an issue on the D70, and is itself very over emphasized. The issue being faint stars in an image could be removed as they were considered noise. This was a feature of high ISO noise reduction. Only a numpty uses high ISO because its so noisy so if properly handled, even the D70 can produce good results, but it, and Nikon became the victim of forum gossip. On the other hand, almost all Canon digital cameras before the 450d suffer very badly from amp glow, and ISO performance generally has typically always been about a generation behind Nikon in terms of noise levels. Nikon actually do not doctor or compress any aspect of their RAW files now. Canon will not confirm what they do.
Canons other big advantage has also been the availability of clip filters which were introduced by Astronomik. In order to offer some support for users of cameras other than Canon with photographic lenses, I even had Astronomik make some 77mm front mounted filters for me so these could be fitted to a range of lenses. Not an ideal solution and more costly, but a solution at least. Ironically I never sold any for Astrophotography. They were all sold to Professional photographers for night time landscape photography.
Now clip filters are beginning to appear for Nikon (and also Sony) cameras. However here again Nikon have managed to make life hard. It seems that the throat of a Nikon camera varies between models. Canon use two throats. One for APS and one for Full Frame cameras. Nikon have one for the D7000/7100 but another for the D5000/5100 and so on. It means that dealers like me will have to keep multiple identical filters to fit different models.
In terms of the suitability of cameras for Astrophotography, many great images have been taken with Canon DSLR’s, but this says more about the skill of the imager than the camera. I use mainly Nikon camera equipment and have a D7000 I use for Astrophotography. I also have a fully modified (two filters removed so needs an L filter or CCD spec filters) Canon 700d. In comparison to the Nikon it is noisy, has poor white balance management and a definite lack of ISO options. On the plus side I have a load of clip filters for it and it works well with a PC application. However if want to take an image without increased Ha sensitivity, I would go with the Nikon every time. Its just a lot better.
The Nikon D70 was the camera that I used about 10 years ago… and this article sums up the issues that I saw at that time: http://www.astrosurf.com/buil/d70v10d/eval .
As regards high ISO, I certainly didn’t have the benefit of accurate tracking mounts, so high ISO was the only option to get any sort of decent image.
At the time, I only had one lens for the Nikon, so it wasn’t much of a big step to move over to Canon. So I switched, and am glad I did given the amount of free software support that Canon has enjoyed in the meantime.
Agreed that things are different today, but that hasn’t been the case for most of the past 10 years or so.
I have seen this article before but unfortunately the trouble with one camera model seems to have been taken as a negative for the brand. Plenty of serious Astrophotographers use Nikon and have done so for many years. With external timers the PC control was only a minor problem to overcome. In the last couple of years modification of Nikon cameras for increase Ha has become common. There are even brands like Primaluce that sell pre-modded cameras. The development of clips has arguably come because of the demand from people to want to use something other than Canon
Plenty of serious Astrophotographers use Nikon and have done so for many years.
That’s encouraging to read!
I’m very much in team Nikon. Just upgraded my tired camera to a full frame one and I’m keen to point it to the sky. I’m sure that I’ll never be a ‘serious’ astrophotographer but it’s good to know that there are others (who know what they’re doing) that use that brand too. The astrophotography world seems saturated with Canon users!
An example of what can be achieved with an unmodified Nikon camera. Nikon D750 full frame using 2″ Narrowband filters.
Built up of data taken in three countries! Hats off to this guy.
Awesome! The D750 is, in fact, the camera model I have. What a beautiful photo that is!
My short term aspirations are to capture something like this:
I like the fact that he has stitched photos together – little bit more challenging.
D750 eh? Must have been a good month!
Almost harder to get a good milky way than a DSO image, particularly if you want to get foreground interest. You need a really good sky (as you need the Milky Way to be quite obvious), and a really good lens (so it can be open as much as possible without seeing coma – very rare with a camera lens).
Use the 500 rule and see what happens. This is divide 500 by the focal length of the lens i.e. 500/24mm = 21 to get the max exposure length without star trails.
Then use a sensible ISO (don’t go above 1600, really 1250 because you just get lots of noise which is so obvious in images – sure you could use 25000 ISO or something and the Milky Way will appear but so will lots of nasties).
Make sure all the noise reduction options are off and you shoot a RAW file
Now start with you lens at max aperture but zoom into the image to check star shapes. If you see a fan shape around the edges this is coma. Stop the lens down until its gone. It will probably take 2 stops to do this.
Use the self timer to avoid camera shake. If you want an intervalometer then I sell the Hama ones which have a separate handset and camera cable so you can use it with different camera types. Cost is about £60
If your getting an orange cast, then light pollution is creeping in. Point the camera at the zenith and go through the procedure for a custom white balance (but using the sky instead of a white card). The tint will go away.
If you have an AF lens do not just put the camera on manual focus and set the lens to the infinity symbol. AF lenses are designed to focus past infinity because of how they work. You must manually focus using live view and zoom until you get the best focus (manual focus lenses are almost at focus when turned to the end of the focus range so much easier to use).
It is hard to get a good foreground and background well exposed. The easiest composition is to go for a silhouette rather than a foreground which is lit. If you do that then really you need to take images of both then combine with layers.
Hope this helps
You can also use ETTR or “Exposure To The Right” techniques for mildly light polluted skies.
A good explanation of this is here: http://www.lonelyspeck.com/the-milky-way-in-los-angeles-light-pollution/
With a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1Kfr8RG3zM
Personally I think ETTR is a double edged sword. The results you will get from it will be highly affected by the cameras sensor and how ISO invariant it is. Burning out data is never a good idea as it is not recoverable. It also makes gradients due to light pollution very hard to remove in Photoshop. Lots of things can be done in PS to improve or save an image, but it is better to get it right in camera first. Many pro photographers still shoot film occasionally to remind them about ‘thinking’ before pressing the shutter button.
Burning out data is never a good idea as it is not recoverable.
If you do ETTR properly, you don’t burn out the data. The idea is to over-expose without clipping. None of the data is lost.
I’m rather enjoying my new diet of dust with a side of tap water. Hey, at least I’ll be able to document it all by capturing it on camera…
Thanks so much for the tips, Rupert, and Mike. I really must get out there to put this into practice!
Rupert, thank you for the very clear and easy to understand instructions. Very helpful advice! My one and only FX suited lens is 24-120mm (f/4 aperture) and I simply can’t afford to spend money on a fast wide angle lens right now so I’m keen to see whether there’s a way to make this work. According to the 500 rule that you shared, my max exposure should be 21” to avoid star trails. I wonder whether my lens’ speed will hinder plans…
I’m still getting to grips with my camera but one of the things that drew me to it was the Interval Timer Shooting feature. I haven’t properly played with this feature yet! I think the max shots it can take is 999.
Your suggestion of pointing the camera at the zenith to set the white balance and remove light pollution’s orange tint is one that one that wouldn’t have crossed my mind! That will really be testing my skills.
As regards to a lit foreground…
you need to take images of both then combine with layers
Isn’t that cheating? 🙂
The article that Mike shared is very interesting. I’d heard of ETTR method of exposure but have never looked into it. The over exposed image in the author’s article certainly captured more detail but the longer exposure seems to have resulted in some minor star trailing. I think I prefer the normal exposure for that reason alone. I wonder what the result would have been like with 15” but more gain (something above ISO 1600)? Still, capturing that amount of Milky Way from LA is impressive!
The accompanying video (that you also linked) is really helpful from a processing perspective. Is it weird that I’m more excited at the prospect of fiddling about with my future photos in Photoshop than I am about taking them…?!
The idea is to over-expose without clipping.
This is the part that worries me about ETTR! I suppose you’d just need to keep a close eye on that histogram?
It also makes gradients due to light pollution very hard to remove in Photoshop.
The articles’ author seems to have ‘overcome’ this by cropping the image… Not an ideal solution, but a solution. I’m guessing that the only way to overcome this is to shoot in dark sky locations (which contradicts the reason for choosing ETTR)?
Layers? Cheating? You can’t do much without layers and layer masks. All digital photography is cheating! You have to cheat because even today digital sensors do not have the dynamic range of traditional B&W film.
Like I said there is no substitute for getting as much right in camera first. The ETTR method has a place but noise is always an enemy. If you use high ISO, you get noise. If you stretch an image, you get noise. The whole idea behind stacking images is that it allows you to stretch with less noise becoming visible.
You can stack Milky Way shots but if there is a foreground then you have a problem with that feature being static while the sky moves. It then makes layers a bit more tricky.
What I would highly recommend is looking at these links.
The first is a link to a presentation by Tony Hallas for an event in the US. He is a master DSLR Astrophotographer who knows a great deal and is a bit further up the food chain than either me or the milky way ETTR guy. This video is an overview of using Camera RAW in PS to do most of the work for you.
Next is this site
This is the site of Jerry Lodriguss. He is a professional photographer who got into DSLR astrophography. His site has a lot of info on it and he sells CD’s. I have his Beginners Guide to DSLR Astrophography I can lend you. Its very informative and covers all the basics very well.
Finally there are a couple of sites that offer some processing short cuts through actions plug-ins for PS
The first is Astronomy Tools
This is very useful. The second is
These are ‘Annies Actions’. These are from Anna Morris who is another well known DSLR Astrophotographer. This site includes her M42 Image that was shortlisted for the APOY 14
This was taken with a D7000. There is also a step by step processing tutorial of this that uses the actions.
Your lens is fine. Learn from it. Start at F4 and stop down. Even F5.6 would be quite a fast telescope so learn what you can do with it and sensible ISO (max 1600). Then learn to process. You will be surprised at what you can do. There is no real shortcut to good photo’s. They all take time.
Don’t be afraid to ask advice. I am working on a big solar mosaic of 50+ panels. I have had some issues with processing. I am on several Facebook groups and asked for help. I got plenty and even a phone call that introduced me to some new controls in PS. To use a phrase normally reserved for martial arts, Photoshop is an endless journey. Your learn something new everytime you use it.
Now you have to get out there and do it!
Wow! Tony Hallas is a genius!
Thanks for all those links, Rupert! I’m slowly looking through everything. The Tony Hallas presentation is really helpful and his dithering solution is very clever. The red, green blue blotches have been a source of great frustration in the past when taking photos of the sky. They ruin everything! Until now, I just thought that this was my camera being old and not something that could be eliminated. I’ll definitely be putting that into practise when I step outside.
His Camera Raw tip on starting from the right side of the menu and looking at lens correction first is interesting too.
The one thing that spoils my plans is RegiStar as it seems to only be available for Windows… Is there a mac alternative to this software?
The PS actions interest me though, I’ve never been entirely happy with the results of actions when I’ve used them in the past (I’ve not used them in astrophotography, of course). I’ve found a plug-in for removing green in astrophotography so I thought I’d share it here for anyone interested in giving it a go… It’s free:
Photoshop is an endless journey
Yep! I use PS professionally and always pick up tips and tricks to improve workflow – there are so many different ways to achieve the same result. Lots of online tutorials out there. There is always something new to learn!
Excellent resources, guys…worth putting on “Useful resources” section on the forum.
I also have two of Jerry Lodriguss CD courses, Dslr Astrophotography and Guide to DSLR Planetary Photography. Really informative as Rupert says and includes lots of video workshop to accompany the html Ebook. He goes into lots details which I have to admit goes over my head sometimes but that’s only because I am thick.
Look forward to your future masterpieces, Christina!
Just a couple of notes.
Registar is just stacking software that I guess Tony Hallas endorses. Deep Sky Stacker is basically the same but free.
Dithering is something that can only done with a tracking mount that is linked to a PC and a capture application that supports it. It does not need to be guided, and for images with your camera lens, you won’t need to anyway. The best value example is APT (Astro Photography Tool) http://www.ideiki.com/astro/Default.aspx which is dirt cheap and very powerful, but its only Achilles heel is it only supports Canon DSLR’s at the moment.
Support for dithering, Nikon, stacking and some specific Astro based processing is all in Maxim DL. This however is not free. The ‘DSLR’ version is $399 (about £280 at the moment). Having said this it is offering the features of lots of separate bits of software.
As far as Mac OS goes. Very little Astro anything is available for Mac OS for a variety of reasons. If you want to use a Mac then you need Bootcamp / Parallels so you can use Windows. The world is then your oyster. I know its all money, but the cost of Bootcamp plus Windows, I would add a bit more and get a Windows laptop just for imaging which will be less than £300. It will be better.
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