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My Best Images & The Gear Used

|Camera Lenses|28 Comments

On this website, I do my best to share information and astrophotography tips that provide value. I could pat myself on the back about all of the great astrophotography images I took this year, but it is of little interest to anyone if I don’t explain how I took the shot. 

In this article, I’ll share my best astrophotography images of 2020, and the equipment setups used for each image. This way, you’ll have a better idea of what’s behind each image, and how you can accomplish a similar result yourself.

Capturing the images with the right set of gear is only half of the equation, of course. If you’re interested in learning how I process my deep-sky astrophotos, consider taking a look at my premium image processing guide

astrophotography equipment

The Gear Behind My Best Images of the Year

As you know, 2020 was a strange year. I spent a lot of time at home and took most of my astrophotography images from my light-polluted backyard (Bortle Scale Class 7) in the city. I tried to capture a mix of galaxies and nebulae this year using a number of different telescopes, cameras, and filters.

I’ve included links to the equipment used for each shot, from the filter to the telescope mount. You obviously don’t need to use the exact set of gear to replicate my results, but at least you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

I have also included the software used to photograph the images with my laptop computer, and the post-processing software as well. 

For the absolute latest images, consider following AstroBackyard on Instagram and Facebook. For a behind-the-scenes look at how the images are created, you can also subscribe to my YouTube Channel

best astrophotography images

Messier 82: The Cigar Galaxy

  • Object Type: Irregular (Starburst) Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky LRGB
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

After a cloudy start to the year, I finally began my first serious astrophotography project in March. I have always wanted to photograph the Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82) with enough focal length to reveal the interesting structure of this irregular galaxy

In the past, I’ve collected light on this area of the night sky using a wider field-of-view (400mm-800mm). This allows you to create an image that features 2 distinct galaxy types in a single shot (Spiral and Irregular). 

Nearby Messier 81 always seems to get plenty of attention from the amateur astrophotography community, so I decided to give its neighbor some love. I don’t recommend photographing this galaxy on its own unless you’ve got at least 1000mm of focal length. 

Overall, I managed to collect 5 hours and 25 minutes of total integrated exposure time on this galaxy in Ursa Major. I am happy with the result (definitely my best yet), but I would have liked to capture more hydrogen-alpha data to really bring out the “fiery-looking plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out of its central regions”. 

Messier 82 galaxy

The Cigar Galaxy in Ursa Major. 

This was an early project using the Starlight Xpress SX-42 (Trius 694 Mono) CCD camera, and I was still very new to building LRGB images in Adobe Photoshop. This camera features a 6.1 MP monochrome CCD sensor with 4.54-micron pixels. 

It is my first CCD camera, and it has provided me with some of the most incredible deep-sky images I have ever taken (including my APOD in June 2020)

Starlight Xpress Trius 694 Mono CCD

I now have an astrophotography rig better suited for photographing small galaxies (Celestron Edge HD 11), but the 6-inch refractor used for this photo is well-suited for medium-sized galaxies like M81 and M82.

Each and every exposure used for this image was 5-minutes long. 300-seconds seemed to be enough for the Ha, but I don’t think I’ll shoot my LRGB sub-exposures so long in the future.

Messier 51: The Whirlpool Galaxy

  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky LRGB
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

Soon after completing my Cigar Galaxy photograph, I pointed my telescope towards the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. In the northern hemisphere, it’s an excellent project to take on in the springtime.

Again, I used my Astronomik LRGB filters and the Starlight Xpress monochrome CCD. With pleasing results on the Cigar Galaxy a month earlier, I decided to keep shooting 300-second sub-exposures on the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Unlike my image of Messier 81, I shot plenty of luminance data for this target (36 x 300-seconds). I believe this helped to keep the noise minimal, even after substantial stretching to the saturation and curves. 

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy

The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. 

The aperture of the Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 (6-inches) helps to resolve faint, detailed structures in galaxies like this. The Esprit 150 really is a dream telescope for refractor fans.

Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 APO

The Starlight Xpress filter wheel is an absolute pleasure to use with my Trius 694 mono CCD camera. After installing the ASCOM drivers on my laptop computer, I can connect to the filter wheel using Astro Photography Tool and can change filters quickly and reliably depending on the subject matter. 

It’s a 7-position wheel containing a complete set of Astronomik Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, 6nm H-Alpha, 6nm OIII, and 6nm SII 1.25″ filters. A filter wheel is a must if you plan on using a monochrome camera to build full-color images over time. 

NGC 2539: Thors Helmet

  • Object Type: Emission Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky Narrowband (HOO)
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

Thor’s Helmet Nebula is a fascinating deep-sky target in Canis Major and an object that can be difficult to capture from the northern hemisphere. From my backyard, this nebula skims the trees and rooftops of the neighborhood, allowing only a short window of opportunity.

Until this photo, I had only attempted Thor’s Helmet once before, using a telescope with a short focal length (400mm). This time, I was able to get an up-close view of this dynamic emission nebula at 1050mm using the Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 APO refractor.

I photographed this nebula in HOO (Ha, OIII, OIII). This means that I mapped the hydrogen to red, and the oxygen to green and blue. For this subject, I think it creates a beautiful result. 

Thors Helmet

The Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro equatorial mount has been extremely reliable since it arrived in late 2019. This observatory-grade GoTo mount can handle a payload of up 75-pounds, yet handles like an EQ6-R Pro with an identical user experience. 

This tracking mount has spent much of the year outside, with a Telegizmos 365 cover protecting it from the elements. It was so nice to have a deep-sky astrophotography rig already polar-aligned and ready to image when the weather allowed for it.

Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro

On clear nights, I will set up an additional rig (usually the more manageable Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro) to capture another deep-sky object at the same time.

NGC 6888: The Crescent Nebula

  • Object Type: Emission Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

The Crescent Nebula is an extremely popular deep-sky target for amateur astrophotographers, and for good reason. The problem is, it’s small. To capture a detailed portrait of this 25-light-year wide cosmic bubble, you need some serious reach. 

If you haven’t noticed a recurring theme in all of the images on this page up to this point, you should. Again, the incredible Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 Super APO refractor was used to create the image.

1050mm focal length is more than enough magnification for this object, but with a full-frame mirrorless sensor, you get some of the surrounding nebulosity too. 

Crescent Nebula

The Canon EOS Ra was my most-used camera of 2020, and it remains my favorite camera for astrophotography of all time. A full-frame modified sensor is something to treasure. The extremely user-friendly format of a mirrorless camera attached to the back of the telescope reminds me of how I got started in this hobby, and the joy it brings me.

Many people doubted my decision to purchase the Canon EOS Ra, and the critiques claimed it was overpriced. After nearly 30 image projects completed with this camera, I can safely recommend it to anyone looking for a reliable all-around astrophotography camera. 

Canon EOS Ra

The Radian Triad Ultra quadband filter is an incredible fit for the Canon EOS Ra, and this was the filter I used for 90% of my deep-sky shots using this configuration. 

It can be difficult to showcase the faint shell of oxygen surrounding the Crescent Nebula, and for this, I needed a little help. I applied a 25% layer of OIII data using my monochrome CCD camera to the image to really make that outer shell ‘pop’.


  • Object Type: Solar System (Comet)
  • Imaging Style: Broadband Wide-Field
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

Photographing Comet NEOWISE was an unforgettable experience. The tail of this evaporating iceberg in space was long and beautiful. 

There were thousands of images of Comet NEOWISE taken in July 2020, and some of them were remarkable. I did my best to capture this memorable scene from my backyard using basic equipment.

Comet photography is quite different from traditional deep-sky photography, although there are a few best practices that came in handy. I used my Rokinon 135mm F/2 lens and DSLR to photograph this comet on July 17th, 2020. 


The best part about photographing this comet was that it did not require an expensive deep-sky imaging rig. A portable star tracker and camera lens worked perfectly to capture this long icy snowball in the sky. 

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is a dependable, battery-powered, ultra-portable star tracker that can handle up to 11-pounds of gear. I’ve used this little EQ mount with everything from a DSLR and 50mm lens, to a Radian Raptor 61 APO. 

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i

You may be wondering why the comet is lying on its side in this image when most photos show it pointing downward. The silhouetted treeline at the bottom of the photo is actually the side of my neighbor’s tree, and I rotated the frame to capture the Comet lengthwise.

The position and timing of the comet made photographing this celestial event a challenge. It sat rather low in the sky, and there was a limited window of time to capture it in the early morning, or just after dusk. There are many things I would change if I could photograph Comet NEOWISE again, but I will have to wait until it returns to Earth in 8,786.

  • Total Exposure Time: 7 Minutes
  • Details: 32 x 14-seconds
  • Camera: Canon EOS 60Da
  • Telescope/Lens: Rokinon 135mm F/2
  • Filter: None
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
  • Guide Scope: None
  • Guide Camera: None
  • Acquisition: Remote Shutter Release Cable
  • Integration/Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

The Planet Mars

  • Object Type: Solar System (Planet)
  • Imaging Style: RGB 
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CMOS 

The Mars Opposition was another amazing celestial event that seemed to further ignite interest in astronomy in 2020. On October 13th, 2020, Mars was at its closest to Earth, and I photographed the planet shortly before this date.

Up until this year, my best photos of Mars were tiny, blurry orange orbs in the sky. I had never captured any interesting details of the planet’s rocky surface before. 

This type of astrophotography requires different acquisition software and a completely different post-processing routine as well. The results were incredible, considering I still have much to learn.

Planet Mars

High magnification planetary imaging is still quite foreign to me, although I have been photographing planets for quite some time. This time, I used a large SCT (Celestron Edge HD 11) and a dedicated astronomy camera that excels in planetary photography.

Celestron Edge HD 11

The most difficult part of the process was painstakingly removing and replacing each RGB filter in front of the camera (and re-focusing each time) to create a full-color image with my monochrome camera. This is exactly why filter wheels exist, I just did not own one at the time. 

The process becomes even more challenging as the planet slowly rotates (some, faster than others), and you realize that the rotation has created a mismatch in terms of surface details from one color to the next. 

NG 6960: The Western Veil Nebula

  • Object Type: Supernova Remnant
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: Dedicated Astronomy Camera (one-shot-color CMOS)

I took several photos with the versatile QHY268C one-shot-color astronomy camera in 2020. It was difficult to choose a favorite, as they all ended up being my best versions of each object to date. 

The Veil Nebula looked especially beautiful when captured with this camera, and I photographed it from every angle possible. The Optolong L-eXtreme filter was made for this target, and I was thrilled with my results using this combo.

The separation between the hydrogen and oxygen gases of this nebula from a light-polluted sky was impressive. If you’ve ever photographed the Veil Nebula using a broad spectrum filter, you’ll know that it can easily get buried underneath a sea of stars.

Western Veil Nebula

The sensor size of the QHY268C is APS-C (crop-sensor), which is quite large in the world of dedicated one-shot-color astronomy cameras. I thoroughly appreciated the field of view this sensor captured, in stunning high-resolution detail.

Although many of my best images of the year were captured using a monochrome camera, one-shot-color cameras continue to be a practical way to complete an image with limited time. In the case of the QHY268C, the image quality doesn’t have to suffer, either.

QHY268C Camera

Messier 31: The Andromeda Galaxy

  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Broadband RGB 
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

I rented an Airbnb under Bortle Scale Class 4 skies to photograph the Andromeda Galaxy in October 2020. This sensational broadband galaxy often looks best when photographed without the use of filters. 

Unlike most other galaxies, Andromeda is very large, and you may be surprised to find out that your current camera and telescope configuration will not fit the entire galaxy in a single frame. 

Andromeda Galaxy

This is one of the many sensational images captured using the Radian Raptor 61 apochromatic refractor telescope. This shows off the massive field of view provided at 275mm focal length. The conditions were far from ideal that night, but I am happy with how the photo turned out nevertheless. 

apochromatic refractor telescope

I used my portable Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro GoTo equatorial mount for this photo and took advantage of the autoguiding feature of the mount. The entire imaging rig was very manageable, and one that I will certainly bring on more adventures away from home in the future. 

As for the processing, I have shared an Andromeda Galaxy image processing tutorial in the past, and those techniques are largely unchanged today. 

The Milky Way 

  • Object Type: Milky Way Photography
  • Imaging Style: Wide-Field Nightscape
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

This photo was taken on a rare adventure away from home in 2020. My wife Ashley and I rented an Airbnb under Bortle Scale Class 3 skies during new moon. The night sky was jaw-droppingly gorgeous from this location.  

The core of the Milky Way was obscured by trees, but there was a large opening to the sky straight overhead on the property. Luckily, the timing was perfect as Cygnus and Cepheus are full of beautiful nebulae regions. 

The Milky Way

For this photo, I used my Canon EOS Ra mirrorless camera with a Sigma 24mm F/1.4 lens attached. This is a spectacular lens for astrophotography, particularly nightscape images like this.  Sigma 24mm F/1.4

I compensated for the apparent motion of the night sky using a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i star tracker. This portable rig is so easy to set up and record wide swaths of the night sky. It is hands-down the best Milky Way Photography setup I’ve ever owned.  

I used a different stacking software for this shot, one that is more suitable for landscape astrophotography. Sequator is a simple-to-use stacking software that does a great job of reducing noise in your image to provide an impressive file to process.

  • Total Exposure Time: 14 Minutes
  • Details: 9 x 90-seconds at ISO 3200
  • Camera: Canon EOS Ra
  • Telescope/Lens: Sigma 24mm F/1.4
  • Filter: None
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
  • Guide Scope: None
  • Guide Camera: None
  • Acquisition: Remote Shutter Release Cable
  • Integration/Calibration: Sequator
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula

  • Object Type: Planetary Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: Dedicated Astronomy Camera (one-shot-color CMOS)

The Helix Nebula is one of those deep-sky objects that remind you of why you got into astrophotography. Its iconic shape and bold colors can spark a passion for astronomy and space like few other objects can.

I photographed the Helix Nebula on several occasions in the summer of 2020, yet still didn’t manage to collect enough exposure time to truly do this object justice. This image is not technically amazing by any stretch, but it is still one of the most exciting photos I took all year. 

For this image, I took advantage of the amazing Optolong L-eXtreme filter and QHY268C color camera once more.

Helix Nebula

To achieve these colors, I had to do some selective stretching and color balancing. The outer rim of hydrogen in red/orange is pretty standard, but in my data, I had to pull the greenish/blue area in the center way up. 

The central region of this nebula was much more greenish in the “out-of-the-camera” image. The Optolong L-eXtreme does a great job of separating the important wavelengths of light associated with some of the most popular nebulae in the sky.

Optolong L-eXtreme Filter

This is quite a small target, so plenty of aperture and focal length is needed to really get a good look at the Helix Nebula. 

Final Thoughts

This was hands-down the busiest year of astrophotography I’ve ever had. There were a lot of sleepless nights, numb fingers, and long image processing sessions. My reward? The images in this article, and the countless memorable nights under a clear night sky.

I hope you have gotten some value out of the descriptions of these images, so you can tackle the job yourself. Of course, you do not need to use the exact configuration I did to achieve these results, but at least you will have a benchmark to start from. 

If you have any questions about the astrophotography equipment discussed in this article, please feel free to let me know in the comments. Until next year, clear skies!

best astrophotography images

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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. 


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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Optolong L-eXtreme Filter Review

|Nebulae|26 Comments

The Optolong L-eXtreme filter is now being used in backyards across the globe, which is great news for those that take astrophotography images in heavy light pollution.

This astrophotography filter features even narrower bandpasses than last year’s L-eNhance, making it perfect for nebula photography from the city.

The Optolong L-eXtreme filter isolates the H-alpha (Ha), and Oxygen III (OIII) at 7nm exclusively. Unlike the previous L-eNhance, the eXtreme does not include a bandpass for H-Beta (Hb).

Optolong L-eXtreme Filter

The more selective bandpass transmissions are more suitable for fast optical systems, such as an F/2 RASA or Starizona Hyperstar configuration.

In this article, I will share my results using the Optolong L-eXtreme filter with 2 different color astrophotography cameras.

I have tested the Optolong L-eXtreme filter using a one-shot-color dedicated astronomy camera (QHY268C), and a Mirrorless Canon EOS Ra. The telescopes were both apochromatic refractors with f-ratios of F/5.5, and F/7.

If you have tested the performance of this filter using a contrasting optical instrument (such as a camera lens or larger Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope), please share your experiences in the comments!

Eastern Veil Nebula

The Eastern Veil Nebula captured using the Optolong L-eXtreme Filter. (Click for larger version)

Optolong L-eXtreme Filter Review

From the moment I first heard the announcement of the Optolong L-eXtreme filter on Twitter, I was intrigued. The Optolong L-eNhance filter has been one of my favorite and most well-used filters to date, and the L-eXtreme promised to be even more effective at ignoring light pollution.

The L-eNhance was a popular choice for many backyard astrophotographers looking for an affordable solution for their color cameras, and I was not surprised to see the buzz around the improved L-eXtreme version.

The most obvious difference between the L-eXtreme and L-eNhance filters are the transmission lines. The L-eNhance allows a 24nm bandpass through the OIII and H-Beta region, and 10nm for Ha. The L-eXtreme, on the other hand, is strictly 7nm in Ha and OIII.

The official language from Optolong about what makes this filter so special:

the advantage of the L-eXtreme filter is that there is no transmission between the H-beta and OIII lines and there are also no nebula emission lines there. In this case, it isn’t letting light pollution come through so it maximizes nebula signals and the sky background is made darker while imaging.” – OPT product description.

Optolong L-eXtreme Filter

I shoot 95% of my astrophotography images from my Bortle Scale Class 7 backyard in the city, and light pollution filters are necessary to capture my images. Broadband targets such as galaxies are tough, which is why I usually reserve those objects for dark sky excursions. 

Nebulae, on the other hand, are much more obtainable from a light-polluted city. The L-eXtreme excels at capturing high-contrast images with a greater separation between the nebula wavelengths and a light-polluted sky.


  • Substrate: B270
  • Thickness: 1.85mm
  • FWHM: O3 7nm+Ha 7nm
  • Blocking range: 300-1000nm
  • Blocking depth: light pollution line blocking >99%
  • Surface quality: 60/40
  • Transmitted Wavefront RMS: λ/4
  • Parallelism: 30s

transmission graph

The transmission graph of the Optolong L-eXtreme Filter (Optolong).

As you can see, the bandpass allowance for this filter is extremely (pardon the pun) selective. This is fantastic if you enjoy high-contrast images of bright emission nebulae, but less useful if your imaging projects include broadband galaxies or reflection nebulae. 

Compared to the transmission graph of the Optolong L-eNhance filter, the eXtreme blocks the Hb and region between Hb and OIII. It’s a tighter bandpass allowance in OIII and Ha overall (7nm for each).

In my personal experience, some of the most fun projects are built using multiple filters. To capture incredible astrophotography images from a light-polluted location (my backyard is a Bortle Scale class 7), you need to get a little creative.

Other Filters to Consider in this Category

Before I share my results using the Optolong L-eXtreme filter, I wanted to highlight some other filters that are in this category. 

They are all multi-bandpass, narrowband astrophotography filters that allow light wavelengths to reach the sensor in selective areas of the visible spectrum.

The purpose of this type of filter is to maximize the signal of certain types of nebula, while blocking much of the light associated with a city sky. 

I have personally used 4 of the filters on this list, and only one jumps out to me as a favorite over the L-eXtreme, the Radian Triad Ultra. However, this is a personal preference based on the look of the images it produces, and my image processing tastes. 

If you have used one of the filters on this list, please let me know how it compares to the Optolong L-eXtreme example images on this page.

astrophotography filters

The Setup

I have slotted a 2″ Optolong L-eXtreme filter into the camera adapter of my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 rig. The filter sits in front of the QHY268C color camera, and the 550mm focal length Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 APO. 

A filter drawer is a better solution, especially for projects that involve capturing images over long periods of time through various filters. No more threading the filters in ad out and changing the rotation of your imaging train. 

I originally began photographing the Veil Nebula using the Starizona 0.65 reducer/flattener on my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100, but spacing issues led me back to the native focal length of 550mm. Even without the reducer, the APS-C (crop-sensor) of the QHY268C provides an impressive field of view through the Esprit 100. 


The imaging configuration used for my tests.

The QHY268C is an ideal candidate for the Optolong L-eXtreme filter. This cooled, one-shot-color camera collects images full-color images at once, and colorful emission nebulae can be recorded using only one filter.

Yes, building an image with a monochrome camera using LRGB and dedicated narrowband filters may yield a higher-quality result, but this process is not always convenient or accessible to many imagers. 

I’ve also tested the Optolong L-eXtreme filter with my Canon EOS Ra mirrorless camera. In this imaging configuration, I simply threaded the 2″ filter inside of the adapter that attaches to the focuser of my telescope.

Canon EOS Ra

The location of the 2″ filter in your imaging train will vary depending on the equipment you use. I find 2″ round-mounted filters to be the best overall choice in terms of format, no matter which camera you use. 

Who Needs This Filter?

If you enjoy photographing nebulae with a color camera, the Optolong L-eXtreme is an exciting option. One of the most challenging aspects of deep-sky astrophotography early on is dealing with large, blown-out stars, and horrible gradients in the sky.

A narrowband filter (or this case, dual-narrowband) corrects these issues to a large extent by isolating the important wavelengths of light we want to collect on the sensor.

With these impressive narrowband capabilities comes some additional challenges for amateur astrophotography enthusiasts. For example, if you are accustomed to using a DSLR camera and a simple broadband light pollution filter (such as the Optolong L-Pro), you may find the process of focusing your camera and telescope much more difficult using this filter.

The narrow bandpass emission lines mean that much less light is reaching the camera sensor overall, meaning framing and focusing your target can be challenging. If you are using the live-view focusing method on your DSLR camera, don’t be surprised if only the brightest stars are visible. 

one-shot-color astronomy camera

A one-shot-color astronomy camera like the QHY268C is a great match for this filter.

With that being said, those using older DLSR models such as a Canon Rebel series body older than the EOS T3i may find it very difficult to frame and focus your targets. 

Modern DSLR’s and mirrorless cameras (such as the Canon EOS Ra) have higher ISO settings and improved LCD display screens that make using the “live-view” function of the camera easier. 

Image Test Results

Testing a camera filter requires clear conditions and time. I managed to “complete” 3-4 impressive images, with relatively short integration times. 

Since the Optolong L-eXtreme filter specializes in isolating the Ha and OIII wavelengths of gas in an object, I chose to photograph a bright emission nebula target that emits a strong signal in both bands. The Lagoon Nebula contains plenty of h-alpha and oxygen III details:

Here is the version of the image I shared on Instagram.

Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula. Canon EOS Ra and Optolong L-eXtreme Filter.

Image Details:

  • Integration: 21 x 5-minutes at ISO 3200 (1.75 hours)
  • Calibration: 15 Dark Frames, 15 Flat Frames
  • Stacking: DeepSkyStacker
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020
  • Camera: Canon EOS Ra
  • Telescope: Sky-Watcher Esprit 150
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro

As you can see in the image, the intense regions of hydrogen and oxygen are well separated from a light-polluted sky. I find this particular deep-sky object to be one of the best overall test subjects for a dual bandpass filter. 

It’s worth noting that all dual bandpass/tri-band filters seem to create a pleasing result on this subject. A better performance indicator for the Optolong L-eXtreme is to shoot something less bright, in the direction of the light dome. 

For my next test, I chose to photograph the Western Veil Nebula in Cygnus. This supernova remnant is very large and includes many interesting areas of nebulosity around the “witch’s broom” element (Cygnus Loop). 

The prominent gases in this nebula jump off of the screen, as the filter is only allowing the light from the Veil Nebula complex to pass through to the sensor.

Veil Nebula

The Veil Nebula in Cygnus. 

Image Details:

  • Integration: 23 x 4-minutes at Gain 100 (1.4 hours)
  • Calibration: 15 Dark Frames, 15 Flat Frames
  • Stacking: DeepSkyStacker
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020
  • Camera: QHY268C
  • Telescope: Sky-Watcher Esprit 100
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro

In both cases, the stars in the image are recorded rather colorless. This is one of the main drawbacks of a dual-bandpass narrowband filter. For accurate star colors, a broadband filter must be used.

It is possible to correct the star colors synthetically (to a degree), but this can be a painstaking process and difficult to accomplish effectively. I recommend re-shooting the target with a broad-spectrum filter such as the Optolong L-Pro

The Optolong L-eXtreme filter keeps stars exceptionally small, which creates a pleasing effect on most nebulae targets. For those struggling with bloated, fat stars in their images, a dual-bandpass narrowband filter like this may be a great solution for you.

Below, is an up-close look at a section of the Veil Nebula image that shows just how subdued the stars are with this filter. No star minimizing actions have been applied to this data.

smaller stars

The dramatic separation between the nebula and a light-polluted sky.

Have a look at the individual color channels of my RGB image. Here, you’ll notice a strong signal in each channel, recorded in a single exposure.

For anyone looking to maximize their limited time under a clear night sky, I think you’ll find it hard to top the L-eXtreme / One-shot-color astronomy camera combination. 

If you would like to take a closer look at data captured using the Optolong L-eXtreme filter, feel free to download my stacked image of the Veil Nebula. 

RGB channels

The RGB channels of my image using the L-eXtreme filter.

The Stacked Image

The following image displays the output from my short integration on the Lagoon Nebula in DeepSkyStacker. This image includes 21 light frames (5-minutes each), and 10 dark frames.

I was thrilled with the preview image shown on my computer screen, as this often indicates some impressive details are in the image, and will just need to be teased out further in Photoshop.

deep sky stacker

The stacked, linear image in DeepSkyStacker.

I share this because I don’t often see such an impressive looking image ‘out of the box’. Normally, a lot of stretching and separation between the deep-sky object and the sky must take place in Photoshop to achieve this look.

The Optolong L-eXtreme filter creates a truly remarkable image exposure out of the camera, and 5 years ago I would not have believed it were possible. The object is well defined against the sky, and balancing the colors in post is a straight-forward process.

For a better idea of what the linear image looks like before stretching occurs, have a look at the before-and-after of my Veil Nebula image.

It is very normal to start out with a green image when using a color CMOS camera with an RGB Bayer filter. But once the colors are balanced out, a beautiful deep-sky image is revealed. 

Optolong L-eXtreme filter test

Final Thoughts

You’ve seen the images, and you now know what you can expect with a one-shot-color camera. It’s designed for contrasty nebula photography, and it’s in a completely different class than a broadband filter like the L-Pro.

The Optolong L-eXtreme is still very new, but amateur astrophotographers have already had incredible success using this filter and have shared their results. 

L-eXtreme vs. L-eNhance

If you were planning on purchasing the L-eNhance filter, and now have the opportunity to buy the L-eXtreme, I would spring for the L-eXtreme. 

I believe that the Optolong L-eXtreme filter is an improvement over the L-eNhance. The added bandpass allowance of the L-eNhance did not add any extra meaningful signal in my experience.

The 24nm bandpass in the OIII and Hb region has been reduced to 7nm in OIII only, and I think this is a better fit for most users.

I’ve heard others mention that the blue channel, in particular, looks much cleaner in one-shot-color data with the L-eXtreme.

Butterfly Nebula

They are both fantastic filters for one-shot-color astrophotography in the city, but the L-eXtreme does a slightly better job at creating an impressive contrast between the Ha and OIII wavelengths and a light-polluted sky.

Compared to some of the other filters on the market, the Optolong L-eXtreme filter is quite affordable, too. I think anyone that invests in this light pollution filter will get plenty of use out of it for years to come.

I’ll continue to use the L-eXtreme in my backyard, as it will replace my L-eNhance in situations where this filter is well utilized. The only other filter I would consider as useful as the L-eXtreme is the Radian Triad Ultra, but I realize that this filter is much more expensive.

At the time of writing, this filter only comes in the 2″ round mounted option, and I don’t expect to see clip-in DSLR/mirrorless versions in the future. 

The following image of the Eastern Veil Nebula captured by John Michael Bellisario is a testament to the quality of this filter.


The Eastern Veil Nebula shared on Instagram. John Michael Bellisario.

“The L-eXtreme is a huge jump in OSC narrowband technology. A lot of community feedback from the L-eNhance was addressed in the development of this filter.

This improvement was apparent in my first time processing L-eXtreme data. Many of the struggles with noise, gradients, and the blue channel which were common with the L-eNhance were no longer an issue.

The data it produces is very forgiving making it perfect for both advanced and beginning astrophotographers. In addition to producing excellent images right out of the stack, the 7nm bandpass allows you to image under heavy light pollution.”

Be sure to check out his Instagram account to see some more fantastic examples using this filter. 



  • Dynamic separation between nebulae and the sky
  • Largely ignores city light pollution all together
  • Captures full-color images in a single exposure
  • Can be used during a full moon
  • Improved performance over the Optolong L-eNhance 


  • More expensive than the L-eNhance filter
  • Star colors are not recorded accurately
  • Not suitable for broadband subjects (galaxies, reflection nebulae, etc.)
  • May be difficult to frame/focus targets with a DSLR camera
  • Not available in clip-in DSLR/Mirrorless format (currently)

Helix Nebula

The Helix Nebula. Optolong L-eXtreme filter + QHY268C. 


I asked my good friend Ruzeen Farsad (AstroFarsography on YouTube) if he would be willing to share some thoughts on the Optolong L-eXtreme filter, as I know he has been using one for a few months now. 

He graciously accepted, and had the following to say about this filter:

“When I heard about the L-eXtreme my ears perked up. Having had used the L-eNhance alongside the ASI 533mc Pro and having had amazing results, I was keen to see what this filter was capable of. I received one to review and then set to work.

The first night of testing I decided I needed to go for the low hanging fruit. Being summertime, it’s all about Cygnus and the veil nebulae. I was using my Sky-Watcher Evostar 80ED and a modified Canon 600D.

The first images were a bit of a let down though. I was expecting a learning curve using this filter.

filter test

The Eastern Veil Nebula by Ruzeen Farsad. Canon 600D (modified) and L-eXtreme filter.

But having had used 7nm Hydrogen Alpha filters before with the same setup, I was prepared to shoot longer exposures. Really though, the weather wasn’t helping as the temperatures were in the high 20s Celsius.

That, with long exposures on a DSLR aren’t your friend. However I eventually pulled an image out from the noise and I could see some definite – and very intricate – separation between target and sky.

The light pollution had all been eliminated in my Bortle 6 skies and even with a small refractor some of the finer details were visible to see. It was a very impressive use from this filter and got my blood pumping for more.”

Ruzeen Farsad

Be sure to follow Ruzeen on Instagram for his latest photos, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more honest reviews.

Helpful Resources:

Shawn Neilson (Visibledark Astro on YouTube), shared this video on his channel about the Optolong L-eXtreme filter. Shawn has found a way to separate the color channels of the images shot using the Optolong L-eXtreme filter to create images that resemble the Hubble Palette

The effect is truly remarkable, and I am actually quite blown away with his results using the QHY268C color camera.

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