Learning planetary photography - introduction

I'm not a good planetary photographer, but I might be a fast learner.

I've been playing with our new QHY cameras in order to help customers. That's my excuse, at least. I started with the QHY5III 178C. The small sensor and tiny pixels makes it a very useful planetary camera. The fact that it's a colour camera helps too. And unlike a deep sky camera, it's not terribly expensive.

But it involved learning.

My normal targets are nebulas: big, dark creatures that hide in the darkness of space. Planets are the opposite. Anyone who has bought a telescope and looked at one will agree: they're tiny bright creatures that dazzle us from a distance.

So I got FireCapture for getting the images (there are other programs too), and then had to learn some new tricks.

"Debayering" untangles the red, green and blue images the colour camera records simultaneously. It's not as simple as with a mono camera.

Related to this, the colour balance has to be set. My first images were very green. (Um, Mars is the "red" planet, Bill!)

I also had to save the right file type, preview in colour while saving in "raw", and process the images in programs like PIPP, AutoStakkert and Registax, etc.

I've had two separate sessions now with the camera. When you've got a new bit of kit, it's always a good idea to set it all up during the day and get a pile of test shots out. It was then that I learned about a lot of the colour tricks.

The second session was at night. It's planet season, so I used the camera with a Celestron 8" SCT on my NEQ6 equatorial mount. You can see the image train in the photo, where I used a basic saxon Barlow to get just over 4000mm of effective focal length.

I got Jupiter, then Saturn and finally Mars. None of the photos are amazing, but I reckon I could get better results quickly. I'll work on different settings in the capture software, and different processing methods. I might look at hardware as well, such as that Barlow.

Nobody gets great images on the first night. You have to do some of the hard yards. But as you can see, you can get reasonable results fairly quickly.