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Astrophotography Telescope

Radian Raptor 61 Review

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The Radian Raptor 61 is a triplet apochromatic refractor telescope for astrophotography. It features a compact design with features custom-suited for wide-field, deep-sky astrophotography.

Since the Raptor arrived in September, I have taken some of my best astrophotography images to date with it. In this review, I’ll share all of the image examples I have collected since the prototype arrived at my door. 

This compact telescope was designed for astrophotography with a camera attached, not visual observations through an eyepiece. If you’re interested in taking pictures of deep-sky objects in space, a wide-field imaging refractor telescope is one of the best options available (especially if you are new to the hobby). 

Radian Raptor 61 Review

At only 4-pounds, the Raptor 61 is suitable for portable, lightweight star trackers such as the iOptron SkyGuider Pro, or Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer. Even after adding a small autoguiding system to the mix, you will still sit well below the 11-lb maximum payload capacity of the most popular star tracker mounts.

This telescope is perfect for those that capture their astrophotography images with a DSLR/Mirrorless camera, or a dedicated astronomy camera. The large image circle (44mm), built-in rotator, and filter vault make capturing your next deep-sky project a painless experience. I enjoy pairing my Canon EOS Ra full-frame astrophotography camera with the Radian Raptor 61 most. 

Radian Raptor 61 example image

IC 1396 captured using the Radian Raptor 61 and Canon EOS Ra. Trevor Jones.

Orion Nebula H-Alpha

The Orion Nebula in H-Alpha. Starlight Xpress Trius 694 Mono CCD + Raptor 61.

My Involvement

In February 2020, I spoke to the CEO of OPT (Dustin Gibson) about the possibility of designing an “AstroBackyard signature series telescope“. The idea was to create a beginner-friendly astrophotography telescope that skipped over as much frustration as possible. 

Countless phone calls, emails, sketches, and mock-ups followed this conversation, and eventually, the Radian Raptor 61 emerged. You may be interested to know that our original idea included the AstroBackyard branding on the scope and even an actual signature. 

In the end, we decided that there were just too many people that didn’t care/know who I was! 

I was adamant about building a wide-field, compact triplet that would allow beginners to experience positive results, right out of the gate. I chose the specs that I felt were most important for my personal astrophotography needs, and the team at OPT executed the specifics of that plan in terms of manufacturing a functioning prototype. 

The final result was a sleek matte-black triplet refractor with a focal length of 275mm at F/4.5. Pride and accomplishments aside, I believe that this telescope is a serious contender for the best compact astrophotography telescope on the market.

The following video helps explain how the development of the Radian Raptor 61 materialized over time.

Radian Raptor 61 Review

The Radian Raptor 61 was designed to be the ultimate portable astrophotography telescope, and I believe it lives up to this description. There are other great refractors in this category, of course, but none quite like this F/4.5 triplet APO.

The Raptor 61 weighs just 4 pounds with the included mounting rings, meaning that it can be used on a portable star tracker mount or modest equatorial telescope mount with ease.

The Raptor is similar in size and profile to a telephoto camera lens, but with the added modularity of a dedicated astrograph. Mounting a guide scope, attaching and focusing your camera, and framing your deep-sky subject are all extremely easy tasks on the Raptor 61. 

I have found myself reaching for the Radian Raptor 61 first when my time under a clear sky is limited. In fact, I can keep the entire imaging setup intact (including the equatorial mount), and simply carry the rig in and out of the garage at a moment’s notice. 

apochromatic refractor telescope

View Complete Specs and Order from OPT. 

The Radian Hex Rings feature a robust locking mechanism that reminds me of a high-end watch. These rings were specially designed for the Radian Raptor 61 by Optec, and is probably the first thing you’ll notice when you see this telescope. 

The rings grasp the telescope securely, and the tension of the rings can be adjusted using a tiny Allan key if necessary. The rings include soft padding on the inside to protect the matte black finish of the optical tube. 

The rings also include and an ingenious slot to run your cabling along the base of the dovetail. You can channel the cords to a single source at the back of the telescope.

This is handy when wrapping a dew heater band around the dew shield of the Raptor 61, and a guide scope on top. You’ll likely leave the dew heater band on the telescope at all times when not in use, and simply connect the RCA plug to your dew heater controller before you start imaging. 

Here’s a look at my camera bag when I travel with this scope. I keep the camera in the bag as well, along with the guide scope mount and t-ring. You’ll notice I also leave the Canon EF-EOS R adapter on the camera body at all times. 

Radian Camera Bag

A look into my camera bag. 

For me, the best part of the hex ring design is the ability to easily mount the Radian Raptor 61 to the dovetail, and mount a guide scope on top. This isn’t necessary to image with the Raptor 61, but for those shooting exposures longer than 3 minutes, it’s a logical next step. 

The standard thread size allows you to mount your existing guide scope bracket on top of the Raptor. I mounted my William Optics 50mm guide scope rings securely to the hex rings for autoguiding. 

Andromeda Galaxy Radian Raptor 61

The Andromeda Galaxy. Radian Raptor 61 + Canon EOS Ra. Trevor Jones.

Adding a small 50mm guide scope adds a bit of weight to the overall imaging setup, but it is well worth it in my opinion. The ability to autoguide exposures to 5-minutes in length (with dithering) is handy for deeper projects. 

My best images with the Radian Raptor 61 were created by using 5-minute exposures at ISO 3200 with the Radian Triad Ultra filter in place. I’ve also used a dedicated astronomy camera with this telescope (ZWO ASI294MC Pro), but I think the Raptor 61 is best enjoyed when paired with a full-frame sensor. 

I expect others to pair a monochrome dedicated astronomy camera and narrowband filters to the Raptor 61 to create detailed wide-field portraits of the night sky. To date, I have only captured images in one-shot-color with this telescope. 

Raptor 61 Key Features

This telescope aims to make the process of getting up-and-running under a clear night sky as painless as possible. You do not need to go looking for a suitable mounting plate that allows you to balance your setup, or find a matching reducer/flattener to flatten the field of view.

The telescope is ready for you to attach your camera (with the correct spacing), right out of the box. You can thread your favorite 2″ light pollution filter into the filter vault, and be on your way. The attention to detail towards the needs of deep-sky astrophotographers is overwhelmingly evident with this package. 

Radian Raptor Telescope

  • Ultra-portable astrophotography telescope
  • 275mm focal length at f/4.5
  • Apochromatic Triplet Optics
  • Radian Hex Rings with integrated cable management channels
  • Full-frame image circle
  • Field corrector built-in
  • 4″ V-style dovetail & Radian 6.5″ universal D-style plates included
  • 10:1 factory-tuned rack & pinion focuser
  • 2″ Filter Vault for light pollution/narrowband filters
  • Built-in 360º rotator
  • Radian padded-insert travel backpack
  • Built-in retractable dew shield
  • Optional automated focuser upgrade available

The cost of this telescope seems to be a sore spot for some folks, at $999 USD. Personally, I think the price is competitive when you add in all of the extras like the premium rings, dovetails, and built-in corrector.

The world of photography and optics is expensive in general, and I believe anyone that’s invested in quality camera lenses will be less-shocked at the sticker price of this telescope. But don’t get me wrong, $1000 is a lot of money, and you’ll need to justify the expense to yourself (and possibly your spouse) before taking the leap. 

With that being said, if you use the telescope almost every clear night over the next 5 years, was it a waste of money? Or did it pay you back ten-fold? (Feel free to use this line on your significant other). 

Radian Telescopes Bag

First Impressions and Early Results

When the Radian Raptor 61 first arrived, it came inside of the Radian branded camera bag. I immediately noticed the stocky weight of the optical tube, and quickly mounted the telescope to the included Radian hex rings. 

The package I received was a prototype and did not include the bonus items that others will enjoy. This includes the beautifully designed box with the phrase “For those who collect light in the dark“. And for those wondering, yes, that was the phrase I chose. 

My Setup:

beginner astrophotography setup

Note: For my Andromeda Galaxy image, I used the same setup, but without the Triad Ultra Filter. 

You’ll need to remove the protective cap on the interior of the Raptor 61 that covers the built-in reducer/corrector lens. This may throw you off at first, as you will not be able to look through the optical tube until it is removed. 

I attached my Canon EOS Ra camera to the Raptor 61 using a standard Canon T-ring. You simply need to secure your camera to the M48 threads of the spacing tube at the imaging end of the scope. 

The 10:1 rack & pinion focuser is robust and buttery smooth. It is one of my favorite features of this telescope because it is critically important for deep-sky astrophotography. The locking screw does not shift the image either, which again, shows you how much attention was given to the overall user experience of this scope. 

The first image I captured with the Radian Raptor 61 was the Heart and Soul Nebulae region. I managed to collect 6.4 hours of total exposure on this subject using the Canon EOS Ra camera and Triad Ultra filter.

heart and soul nebula radian raptor 61

Heart and Soul Nebulae. Radian Raptor 61 + Canon EOS Ra.

By the time the first 5-minute exposure finished, I knew that this telescope would be very popular in the astrophotography community. Seeing a large nebula region appear on the screen at a massive 275mm of focal length is an experience like no other.

The William Optics RedCat 51 offers a similar feeling, but the added aperture and slight focal length increase of the Raptor 61 make a surprisingly noticeable difference. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my RedCat, but I believe the difference in images justifies a clear line of separation between the two.

Not only did the F/4.5 optics gather enough light to reveal faint areas of the nebulae in 5-minutes, but the entire image was extremely detailed and sharp across the majority of the frame. I did see some elongated stars at the very edges of my full-frame image, but I believe this was because of the shallow Canon T-Ring I was using on the camera.

Depending on the camera you pair with the Raptor 61, you should see a crisp image edge-to-edge out of the box with the standard spacing provided on the scope. To slightly increase the spacing, you have the option of threading on a standard 48mm extension tube between your camera and the threads at the end of the Raptor. 

Those attaching a DSLR camera to the Raptor 61 will enjoy a near-perfect spacing for a completely flat image out-of-the-box. If you’re using a dedicated astronomy camera such as the ZWO ASI294MC Pro shown below, you may need to make some slight tweaks to get the spacing just right. 

ZWO ASI Camera

A ZWO ASI294MC Pro Camera attached to the Radian Raptor 61.

The combo shown above allowed me to collect the widest field-of-view I’ve ever had with my ZWO camera. I chose to photograph the Lobster Claw Nebula with this setup and I am very happy with the resulting image.

It’s safe to say that unless you’ve attached your dedicated astronomy camera to a camera lens using a specialized adapter, the field-of-view on the Raptor 61 (275mm) will be your widest yet. Image/Pixel scale will come into play here, but no matter which camera you use, you can expect an extremely sharp image at this magnification. 

I am sure many people will use the Raptor 61 with their one-shot-color and mono ZWO cameras, and I think you will be quite happy with the creative images possible using this combo. 

 lobster claw nebula

The Lobster Claw Nebula. ZWO ASI294MC Pro + Radian Raptor 61.

Optical Performance

Among the many “controversial” subjects that forum members and Facebook group users chose to focus on, was the glass material used on the Radian Raptor 61. Heated discussions took place on Cloudy Nights about whether the Raptor 61 used FPL-53 glass or not.

I believe this thread may even still be alive if you’ve got a few hours of free time. I have no idea what glass type the factory uses, in this design. If this is a pivotal factor in your telescope buying decision, then you will likely have a hard time justifying the purchase of a Radian Raptor 61 (or a Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 for that matter). 

objective lens

I am not going to pretend to be an expert in optical design, but I can tell you that the apochromatic lens design of this telescope has been carefully designed to meet the highest imaging standards of today’s astrophotographers.

My personal results with this telescope should help put your mind at ease about image quality, but I have a feeling that any uncertainly will be further addressed when others begin to share their images with this scope. 

With the correct spacing and no issues with tilt in your imaging train, you should be able to achieve an image field that is completely flat and free of coma and chromatic aberration. 

As I mentioned in my video, I did experience some coma at the very edges of my full-frame images. This not an issue for me, nor was it anything I haven’t seen before with my wide-field imaging refractors. 

Radian Raptor 61 telescope

Electronic Focuser Upgrade

Although the package I received included the optional motorized focuser, I have only ever used the Raptor 61 with the manual focuser. Although I have not tapped into the automated focusing system via ASCOM for this scope, I did install the electronic focuser upgrade on the scope to see how it fits.

Installing it to the telescope in place of the focuser knob was a straightforward process with the help of an Allan key. Those that demand critical focus over long periods of time will appreciate this automated option for their system. 

electronic focuser upgrade

The Optional Electronic Focuser Upgrade attached to the Raptor 61.

Complete Specs:

  • Aperture: 61mm
  • Focal Length: 275mm
  • Focal Ratio: F/4.5
  • Image Circle: 44mm
  • Tube Rings: Radian Modular Hex Rings
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Carrying Case: Radian Padded Insert Backpack
  • Corrector: Integrated Corrector with three-element design
  • Dew Shield: Included
  • Dust Caps: Front and rear caps included
  • Filter Attachment: 2″ / M48 Filter Vault
  • Focuser Knobs: 10:1 Dual Speed with Locking Knob
  • Focuser Design: Non-Helical Rack & Pinion
  • Included Dovetails: 6.5″ universal Losmandy D Style and 4″ Vixen V Style
  • Optical Design: Apochromatic Triplet Refractor
  • OTA Length: (Dew Shield Retracted) 235mm
  • OTA Outer Diameter w/o Hex Rings: 80mm
  • OTA Outer Diameter: 90mm with Dew Shield
  • Rear Camera Connection: M48 x 0.75 (wide T Ring compatible)
  • Recommended Back Focus: 55mm (can be reached with included adapters)
  • Rotator: 360º with Locking Knob

Final Thoughts

The Raptor 61 has a lot going for it, and I am not just saying that because I hold a sense of pride and ownership of this product. I believe that the added features and attention to detail have earned the reputation of “best portable astrophotography telescope”, but that’s not for me to decide. 

I have taken my personal best images of the California Nebula, Heart and Soul Nebula, and IC 1396 using the Radian Raptor 61. This is a subjective decision, but I can tell you that the optical system did not hold me back from creating my best work in any way.

An included Bahtinov mask would have been a nice touch to this package, and a number of people have expressed this. For now, you’ll have to use your own focus mask, or simply fine-tune the focus on a bright star. 

The Radian Raptor 61 was not meant to be used for visual astronomy, nor is it suitable for small galaxies or planet photography. If these are your aspirations, a much larger telescope with more magnification is a better fit. 

But if you’re like me and prefer to capture large nebulae regions in the sky in a single shot, the Raptor should be a serious contender for your next wide-field astrophotography telescope.

California Nebula

The Radian Raptor 61 is Available at OPT.

Most importantly, I believe the Radian Raptor 61 package removes many of the early headaches amateur astrophotographers face when getting started.

Backspacing issues, mounting hardware, and focusers that aren’t up to the demanding challenges of deep-sky astrophotography are just a few of these hurdles that don’t exist with this telescope. 

A positive experience from the beginning will help ease the astrophotography learning curve. The Raptor 61 is probably the easiest astrophotography telescope I’ve ever used in terms of finding focus, and framing targets.

It’s lightweight, and easy to balance, meaning you’re much less likely to run into any issues in tracking, even on an entry-level equatorial mount or portable star tracker.

The bottom line is, when you just need everything to go right (like when you’ve booked a last-minute Airbnb under dark skies to photograph the Andromeda Galaxy), you need a telescope that won’t let you down. That is the Raptor 61’s specialty. 

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I Captured My Most Detailed Portrait of the Wizard Nebula Yet

|Nebulae|6 Comments

Last week, I photographed the Wizard Nebula with my camera and telescope in the backyard. The final image includes 24 individual exposures of 4-minutes each, for a grand total of 1.5 hours.

Despite a bright moon interfering, it is by far my best image of the Wizard Nebula to date. In this post, I’ll explain how I captured the Wizard Nebula, and what to expect if you’re new to the world of deep-sky astrophotography. 

You don’t need the latest and greatest gear to capture this nebula, although I’ll admit, it helps. Along with a few best practices, I’ll share a few ways that you can accomplish this goal with budget-friendly gear. 

For a behind-the-scenes look at how this image was taken, be sure to watch the video on my YouTube channel. 

Wizard Nebula

The Wizard Nebula in Cepheus. Photo by Trevor Jones. 

The image above includes 1.5 hours of total exposure time captured through a 150mm refractor telescope (Sky-Watcher Esprit 150). The camera was a QHY268C (Photographic Edition), one-shot-color CMOS dedicated astronomy camera. You can see a larger version on my Flickr profile

A dual bandpass narrowband filter was used (Optolong L-eXtreme) to ignore light pollution and isolate the light that is emitted by this deep-sky object. The pixel scale of this image is 2.11 arcsec/pixel, and the radius is 0.507 degrees.

Related Video: QHY268C Review

Photographing the Wizard Nebula

If you’re a seasoned astrophotographer, capturing deep-sky images in space with your telescope almost starts to feel “normal”. But the reality is, photographing a sensational object like the Wizard Nebula is quite an accomplishment.

Capturing any deep-sky object is an accomplishment, whether it is a distant galaxy, bright emission nebula, or even an open star cluster. Aside from understanding the basics of long-exposure astrophotography through a telescope, you need to plan your projects based on things like image-scale and apparent altitude. 

Don’t believe me? Have a look at my first attempt at capturing the Wizard Nebula from 2014. For this image, I used a DSLR camera (Canon EOS Rebel XSi) and an 80mm refractor telescope (Explore Scientific ED80).

It’s not that this image is bad (I was quite proud of it at the time), it’s just that is overwhelmed by stars and there is not enough resolution to showcase its true structure. 

Wizard Nebula DSLR

My first image of the Wizard Nebula from 2014. 

I remember this night well. I brought all of my equipment to a friend’s house (now my brother-in-law), as I did not have an outdoor space of my own to set up in at the time. 

In the photo below you’ll see my 80mm refractor telescope riding on top of my Sky-Watcher HEQ5 GoTo mount. Some of the biggest upgrades in my imaging setup now are increased focal length and aperture, and the use of a dedicated astronomy camera. 

telescope

My old astrophotography setup in 2014.

My latest version was captured with a 90% illuminated moon shining brightly. Ideally, I would capture all of my deep-sky images on a moonless night, but clear nights can be hard to come by.

Even though you’ll get better results during the new moon phase, certain deep-sky targets such as emission nebulae can be captured successfully using narrowband filters that ignore most of the visible light spectrum.

NGC 7380: The Wizard Nebula

This nebula lies 7,200 light-years away, and the fact that we look back in time to photograph it through a telescope is truly amazing.

Like all of the other deep-sky objects in the night sky with a common name, the Wizard Nebula gets its name from a resemblance of a recognizable figure on Earth. When the image is turned the right way, you can clearly see the wizard’s face, arms, and signature wizard’s hat. 

The Wizard Nebula is a collection of interstellar gas and dust with an open star cluster (NGC 7380) embedded within it. For a more elegant description of this nebula in Cepheus be sure to see this incredible APOD image by Andrew Klinger.

  • Classification: Nebula with an embedded star cluster
  • Magnitude: 7.2
  • Cataloged: NGC 7380, Sh2-142
  • Constellation: Cepheus
  • Distance: 7000 light-years from Earth

You may get a better understanding of the astrophotography equipment I used to photograph nebula in the night sky by watching the following video:

Location in the Night Sky

If you are trying to find the Wizard Nebula in the night sky with your telescope, you can use the star map shown below as a reference.

The northern constellation Cepheus is full of incredible deep-sky astrophotography targets. From my latitude (43 degrees North), this constellation is circumpolar, meaning that it never sets below the horizon.

From mid-northern latitudes, the best time to observe and photograph the Wizard Nebula is from August to November, when it reaches high into the northern sky.

You will have a hard time seeing the Wizard Nebula visually through the eyepiece of your telescope (or binoculars). At magnitude 7.2, it is just too dim. A camera, however, can record long-exposure images that reveal its dynamic structure.

Where is the Wizard Nebula

Wizard Nebula star map. Sky and Telescope, IAU.

Now that you have a better understanding of where the Wizard Nebula is located, let’s focus on how to photograph it with a camera and telescope.

How to Photograph a Nebula

Astrophotography is a rewarding and awe-inspiring hobby, but it certainly isn’t easy. 

If it weren’t enough that the night sky is a moving target, the steep learning curve of the hobby demands patience and perseverance. When you’re starting out, things like learning how to attach your camera to a telescope, and focusing on stars can be challenging.

Add in the endless amount of new equipment to learn how to use (and the cost of these items), and astrophotography begins to feel like a mountain to climb.

I vividly remember the early stages of my astrophotography journey, and how impossible photos like the one shared on the page seemed. The good news is, if you’re not overly technical or experienced, there is hope for you if you’re willing to be patient.

For a timeline of my images, be sure to follow AstroBackyard on Instagram. I upload new images each week, with a description of how they were taken. You can also take a look at my premium astrophotography image processing guide for a deep-dive into how I create my images.

Related Video: Nebula Photography Basics (Start-to-Finish)

My Deep-Sky Astrophotography Process

If you’re a frequent visitor to my website and YouTube channel, you already know how the process works. However, I realize (usually after making a post on Reddit), that the art of deep-sky astrophotography is still foreign to a large number of people.

If you’re unfamiliar with how the entire process works, the most important element is the tracking of the apparent motion of the night sky. I use an equatorial tracking mount to move at the same speed as the night sky to freeze the Wizard Nebula in place.

AstroBackyard telescope

The telescope and mount used for my image.

For this image, I used the heavy-duty Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro, but you don’t need a massive observatory-grade telescope mount like this to take amazing astrophotography images. A compact star tracker like the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer or the iOptron SkyGuider Pro is more than adequate for an entry-level imaging configuration. 

Because the exposure times tend to go long for a deep-sky image (longer than 30-seconds), you’ll need the tracking mount to be spinning with the night sky at sidereal rate. The longer the focal length of the telescope (magnification), the more accurate the tracking must be.

For accurate tracking, the equatorial mount needs to be polar aligned with the north or south celestial pole. In the northern hemisphere, we have the good fortune of having the North Star (Polaris) as a helpful point of reference. 

With the tracking platform compensating for Earth’s rotation, you can focus on capturing steady, long-exposure images of dim targets in space like the Wizard Nebula.

Tracking and guiding are two different things, but some people get confused about this. Guiding refers to autoguiding that utilizes a separate camera for improved tracking accuracy. You don’t need to autoguide for a successful image, but it will certainly let you shoot longer.

night photography

Using a Dedicated Astronomy Camera (Color)

I have used nearly every type of astrophotography camera available, from a sophisticated monochrome CCD camera to an entry-level DSLR. For my latest image of the Wizard Nebula, I used a one-shot-color (OSC) CMOS camera.

For beginners, I typically recommend starting out with a DSLR or Mirrorless camera. These cameras are versatile and remain a relevant option for astrophotography of all kinds (Milky Way Nightscapes, Deep-Sky, etc.). Some of my best images were captured using a DSLR camera.

The selection of dedicated astronomy cameras available now is staggering, and these cameras have the advantage of being designed for long exposure imaging. Back-illuminated sensors, thermoelectric cooling, and improved quantum efficiency are 3 important features that separate this breed from a standard daytime camera.

One-shot-color (OSC) dedicated astronomy cameras have the advantage of collecting full-color images in a single shot, even if they leave a significant amount of signal on the table (which monochrome cameras do not). 

The QHY268C has proven to be an excellent performer for my style of astrophotography, particularly when coupled with a dual-bandpass narrowband filter. This camera has an APS-C (crop) sized sensor, which is quite large in the world of OSC astrophotography sensors.

one-shot-color astronomy camera

The camera used for my photo of the Wizard Nebula (QHY268C dedicated astronomy camera).

The camera includes a cooling function to help keep thermal noise at bay and several other astrophotography-specific features that a daytime photography camera does not have. 

Although a dedicated astronomy camera may seem like an obvious choice for deep-sky astrophotography, be warned that the complexity of the image acquisition stage grows as well.

No longer can I focus the camera using the display screen on the back, I must employ dedicated software to run the camera and control settings such as gain, offset, and binning. 

These days, I am still using Astro Photography Tool to control my imaging sessions, as it does everything I need reliably.

The Ultimate Light Pollution Filter for Nebulae

My backyard suffers from horrible light pollution (Bortle Scale Class 7), so a light pollution filter that helps me isolate a nebula from a washed-out sky is essential. 

The Optolong L-eXtreme filter is especially useful because it isolates two key areas of the visual spectrum. The Ha bandpass, and the OIII bandpass, both at 7nm each.

Although you can achieve better results using a monochrome camera and dedicated narrowband filters (narrowband imaging), a dual bandpass filter makes the most of your limited time under a clear sky.

For emission nebula targets (which there are plenty of), a filter that helps isolate Ha and OIII is incredibly useful. Instead of capturing a grayscale image using one narrowband filter at a time, you can produce color images with dynamic details in a single shot.

Once captured, you can process the data in many interesting ways, including new methods of extracting the data to produce synthetic Hubble Pallete images.

Essentially, the data you see in the red channel is the H-alpha, and the blue channel contains the OIII. It should come as no surprise that the red channel is the strongest, but you can extract the signal from this channel for a luminance layer as well.

My Image of the Wizard Nebula

My final image of the Wizard Nebula contains only 1.5 hours of total exposure time. In the realm of deep-sky astrophotography, this is a very short integration.

I stacked 24 individual light frames of 4-minutes each to produce an image with a stronger signal-to-noise ratio than a single exposure. I used dark frames to calibrate the image (reduce noise), and flat frames to correct uneven field illumination.

All of the integration and calibration takes place in DeepSkyStacker. When the intermediate file has been created, I can then bring it into Adobe Photoshop for post-processing.

I make slight adjustments to my image processing workflow depending on the subject matter, but there are a number of key actions that take place on each one:

  • Levels Adjustment (Balance Background)
  • Curves Adjustment (Masking the Highlights)
  • Saturation Boost (Selective Color Boosting)
  • Star Reduction (Multiple Iterations)
  • Topaz DeNoise AI (Opacity Adjusted)
  • Sharpening (Selective)

For a complete, detailed breakdown of these adjustments, please see my premium image processing guide. You can also view many useful image processing tutorials on the astrophotography tutorials page.

Wizard Nebula

Image Details:

  • Total Exposure: 1.5 Hours (24 x 240s @ Gain 102)
  • Integration/Calibration: 15 Darks, 15 Flats, 15 Bias
  • Camera Control: Astro Photography Tool
  • Integration Software: DeepSkyStacker
  • Post-Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020
  • Tools: Astronomy Tools Action Set, Topaz DeNoise AI

Equipment Details:

astrophotography equipment

Final Thoughts

Through the process of capturing and sharing this image of the Wizard Nebula, I am reminded of just how far I have come. For me, astrophotography has been a slow and rewarding process. 

I still remember the first time I tried to photograph the Wizard Nebula using my 80mm refractor telescope and DSLR camera. The image scale was all wrong, and the process of building an image using specialized filters was foreign to me.

However, I was just as excited to see the faint shape of a wizard appear on my camera screen then as I am now.

So, what exactly did I do to make such an improvement over the last image? It’s impossible to summarize everything I’ve learned in 6 years of deep-sky astrophotography, but here are some key improvements I made:

  • I shot the image with more focal length (higher magnification) and aperture (light-gathering power)
  • I used a duo-narrowband filter that isolates the prominent gases in this target (and keeps stars small)
  • My guiding accuracy and tracking (polar alignment) have improved
  • I now know how to take proper calibration frames to avoid excessive noise, dust, and vignetting
  • My image processing skills have improved with new techniques for pulling out faint details

Over time, your standards will get higher, and what you deem “a decent image” will change. But as long as you are making small improvements in at least one aspect of your process along the way, astrophotography will continue to reward you with memorable nights, and images that make people say “Wow! You took that?”

astrophotography progress

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Cocoon Nebula with an 80mm Telescope

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IC 5164 – The Cocoon Nebula

Imaged with an 80mm Refractor

We have had a stretch of clear nights this summer, and I have been taking full advantage! This year I decided to spend some time in the sweet spot of the sky, Cygnus the Swan. This area of the night sky rises high overhead throughout the night, free from the Earths atmosphere.

My first target was IC 5164, The Cocoon Nebula. I have never attempted this object before because I heard it was quite difficult to image, and to be honest, I just didn’t like the look of it!

Cocoon Nebula 80mm

The Cocoon Nebula – Imaged with an 80mm Refractor Telescope

That all changed once I stacked my first night’s worth of images into DeepSkyStacker and saw the beautiful pink nebulosity and dust lanes start to appear. I became obsessed with adding as much time to this deep sky object as possible. I imaged the Cocoon Nebula for 3 consecutive nights, June 30, July 1 and July 2.

Photography Details

Total Exposure Time: 5 Hours (60 x 5 Minute Subs)

Telescope Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Camera and Telescope: Canon Xsi (stock) Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo
Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

NGC 6960 – The Western Veil Nebula

Western Veil Nebula

NGC 6960 – Western Veil Nebula

Next up is the gorgeous “Witch’s Broom” Nebula, or more specifically, NGC 6960 – The Western Veil Nebula in the constellation Cynus.  I haven’t shot this object since 2012, with lackluster results back then.  This time however,  I photographed it under darker skies, with better guiding and focus.

Photography Details:

Total Exposure Time: 4 Hours, 41 Minutes (61 Frames)
Camera and Telescope: Canon Xsi (stock) – Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet Apo
Telescope Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

Canon Rebel Xsi: Now Modified

Now with a “Naked-Sensor” for better Astrophotography

I have some exciting news about the advancements in my astrophotography!  My next post will talk about my recent modification to my Canon Xsi to remove the IR Cut Filter. Stay tuned for a full post and description of this process!  I’ll give you a hint, I used the How to modify your Canon DSLR for Astrophotography tutorial video.

80mm Refractor Telescope

My astrophotography rig at dawn

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