Deep Space Objects


Is it possible to photograph deep space objects without a telescope in a heavily light polluted city?

I wont be travelling much this year so this means I need to make the most of the UAE winter.  With only January to March (maybe April) left, that means I have just 3 months to see if I can get a decent shot of a deep space object.  I have long wanted to do DSO, but the complexity of telescopes has always put me off.  But I have all this camera kit, including a telephoto lens with 800mm focal length (with a 2x tele-converter).  And if I get off my butt and drive for an hour and a half I can get to what could be a relatively dark sky.

There is not a lot on the web about this particular type of challenge so I thought I would post my experiences and find out why for myself. :) 


I live in a red zone.  In terms of light pollution, that's as bad as it gets.  Coupled with persistent haze from ambient dust, courtesy of the desert dunes, there is way more pollution than even the most seasoned astronomer would dare to tackle.  Nevertheless, I am going to put the light pollution filters through their paces and see what I can do on the balcony of my apartment (I also happen to live at the end of the runway of a major international airport - hey, did I say this was a challenge?)


The dark sky I found faces south, which conveniently, is the same section of sky that the constellation Orion's Belt occupies in the winter months.  There are all sorts of goodies in there that are bright like M42, so hopefully I will be able to get something. 


I bought 3 new pieces of kit for this challenge.  Items 9, 10, 11 as listed below.  A motorised equatorial mount (11) is required to rotate in line with the earth's axis so that long exposures and long lenses can be used to photograph the sky without star trails.  To combat light pollution I invested in a filter that fits on the sensor of the camera (10).  This appealed to me because it means I don't need a dedicated filter for each lens filter thread size and I can use it with the Rokinons that don't have filter threads.  Just for giggles, I also purchased a (relatively) cheap lens filter (9) that will fit on my 400mm lens.

  1. Sony A7RII
  2. Really Right Stuff TVC-24 Series 2 Carbon Fiber Tripod
  3. Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ball Head
  4. Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA Lens
  5. Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC Lens
  6. Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC Lens
  7. Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens, with Sony FE 2.0x Teleconverter
  8. Tether Tools Case Relay Camera Power System (with a battery that plugs into a 10,000mAh an external battery pack and my camera)
  9. Hoya 77mm RA54 Red Enhancer, Color Intensifier Filter, supposedly to reduce light pollution.  Let's see.
  10. LPS-D1-A7 : LPS-D1 body-mounted filter for A7 Series.  Another light pollution suppression filter that fits on the sensor of the camera. (See image 2 above)
  11. iOptron SkyGuider Pro EQ Camera Mount
  12. Expodisc 2.0 White Balance Filter.  A fancy grey card to take my flat images.


I will be trialing the following programs to process my images:

  1. PixInsight - A powerful and high end astro-photography application for stacking and processing
  2. StarTools - An affordable alternative whilst still being very powerful with processing features only
  3. DeepSkyStacker - A freeware stacking tool
  4. RegiStax - A freeware stacking tool

I will be using my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (512 GB, 16 GB RAM, Intel Core i7e) to run these applications. 

And also, how come these astro programmer types concatenate their application names like that? :)