As I have recently written, I have been enjoying lunar photography with my Canon DSLR camera. My first night was a bit disappointing. However, I did learn a lot which is a lesson of what not to do… However, my second night images dramatically improved from first night, in my humble opinion.

Apollo Moon - Take 50 years after the Apollo 11 mission.  The qualify of the image is dramatically improved 24 hours after my first lunar photography attempt.
Apollo Moon – Take 50 years after the Apollo 11 mission. The qualify of the image is dramatically improved 24 hours after my first attempt.

So, what a difference 24 hours can make. In both images, you can clearly see shadows caste from mountains and craters. The focus in the second nights image is in better focus. The exposure and composition are better in the second nights image. Most importantly and interface between the moon and darkness of space is sharp and well defined.

The First Night

First Moon image take with my lunar photograph setup.
First Moon image taken with telescope.

The first night of imaging resulting in a full frame image which was a bit blurry and unimpressive. This image was taken using a 700 mm National Geographic entry level telescope and Barlow Lens connected to a Canon EOS Rebol XS Camera with a T-ring Adapter. The precarious nature of the camera attachment forced me to utilize a second tripod of the camera. This was done to eliminate my fears of a dropping the camera.

The 700mm telescope is equivalent to an 1120 mm when connected to my camera and the use a 2X Barlow brings us dramatically closer. The telescope mounted to a lightweight tripod with height or roughly 40 inches. When everything connected I was attempting to compose the image and manually focus a camera at the same time. The moon was moving very fast in the view finder while under high magnification. This caused me great difficulty as I adjusted two tripods. The eye piece being 18 inches off the ground, and my height being over six foot, did not help matters.

The dual tripod setup from my first lunar photography attempt.
The dual tripod setup from my first lunar photography attempt.

The final results of my first lunar photographs where large blurry images that did not really do anything for me. However, I did something very wise in hindsight. I set a benchmark and the imaging threshold was rather low.

The Second Nights

So, why the difference between the two nights photography. The answer is undoubtedly user error on my part. Although I am using inexpensive equipment, the user error in my first night was very high. There was no way I was going to be able to get a decent image with the technique I was using on the first night. In order to resolve this problem I made two essential changes.

The first item on my list was to remove the Barlow lens. In my imaging system, the system contained the moon, atmosphere, telescope lens, Barlow lens, eye piece and my eye. The setup was uncomfortable to use. I know that the atmosphere can be an issue, however both nights where cloud free and there is nothing I can do about that atmosphere. The primary lens is from an inexpensive telescope but appears to be constructed from glass. However, the 2X Barlow lens is a weak link.

You know it is quality item when there is no manufacturer label and simply a sticker to tell you the devices function

James Rathbun
The National Geographic Telescopes Barlow Lens.

This 2X Barlow lens came included in a Kit from National Geographic. The entire kit retails for just over 100 dollars and includes the telescope, trip and trip head along with two eye pieces and this 2X Barlow lens. I do not want to destroy the good people at National Geographic, however I am pretty sure the protective covers for the 2X Barlow lens are of higher quality. You know it is quality item when there is no manufacturer label and simply a sticker to tell you the devices function.

Removing the 2X Barlow lens made an improvement in three distinct ways. The first is that the low quality lens does not introduce any noise into the system simply because it is inline with the light. Secondly, the 2X magnification also magnifies any errors. I suspect that the blue hue seen in my first image is caused by the low quality Barlow lens.

The final benefit to removing this lens is that it bought me time. The moon no longer filled my viewfinder. This reduction in magnification allowed me to take several images before the earth rotated the moon outside of the view finder. This time allowed for better focus, exposure, etc…

Going Digital

The second improvement I made on the second night was to address my own limitations. On the first night, I was manually focusing while moving and adjust tripods. The view finder of the camera was well below my waist. This was just an uncomfortable position to be in and the time crunch was daunting.

For the first 100 years of photography, a camera was a box with a hole in it. In the age of digital photography, that is no longer true. ISO is no longer limited by the chemicals on the film and with computer chips embedded in modern digital camera allow for a variety of new features. One such feature is live remote shooting. This feature allows the camera operator to connect the Canon camera body to a computer and control the camera remotely with a computer.

On my second night of lunar photography, I connected my Canon camera to my Lenovo laptop and instantly, I have a 10 inch remote view finder which I could use to bring the moon into clear focus and experiment with different exposures. Additionally, it allowed me to share the experience with my wife and son at the same time, which I hope will continue to evolve as we look deeper into the solar system.

Whats next?

On my second night of lunar photography, I have partially address the focus issue discovered in my first attempt. I have much happier with my results, however, there is still sharpness available within this primitive imaging platform.

While I was taking photographs using my laptop, I noticed some shaking. At no point during this shaking was a touching either the tripods, camera or the telescope. The platform was setup on our concrete patio so we were as solid as can be. The answer is simply the wind. As a very slight breeze. and I mean very slight breeze. shook telescope and the tripod. This caused a very slight vibration which was then magnified by the 1120 mm telescope into the camera.

The National Geographic telescope which I am using included a very light weight tripod. The tripod head was never very good at locking the telescope down to be free from movement and a camera connected to this configuration only exacerbates the problem. So the next step beyond more photography is to address the dual trip setup and develop an stable telescope tripod with a heavier duty tripod, tripod head and telescope imaging system. If nothing else solving this problem should make it easier to use the platform and perhaps image objects such as Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.