THE TOOLS OF TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS
Film cameras have been used for over a hundred years to take photographs
of the night sky. They produce wonderfully detailed photos of astronomical
objects, with superb resolution, in either black and white or color.
Today’s astrophotographer is less likely than in past years to use
a film camera for astrophotography, however. Film requires much longer
exposures to be taken, putting stringent requirements on the stability
of the telescope’s mount and the steadiness of the air when shooting.
Terrific photos can be and are being taken by astrophotographers, but
the difficulty of taking the shots, combined with the difficulties of
processing them for image enhancement after they are taken, have reduced
the popularity of film cameras. For the modern astrophotographer, they
are all but obsolete.
Most of us own a digital camera. Today’s cameras have large chips
and huge internal memories, and can be used to take wonderful shots of
celestial objects. Many celestial objects are difficult to view through
the lens and difficult to view in the viewscreen (the Moon and planets
are exceptions), so, though an SLR camera is nice, it is not essential.
You can also take photographs through a telescope with a webcam. Webcams
are decent at shooting the very brightest of objects—the Moon and
planets—but their low sensitivity makes them poor for shooting the
other objects in the sky. The use of webcams to shoot the solar system
has declined, recently, due to the presence of inexpensive lunar and planetary
imagers from Meade and Celestron.
CCD (Charge-Coupled Detector) cameras have also become more affordable
for the amateur of late. These have much more sensitive chips and are
specifically engineered for the astrophotographer to shoot the Universe
through the telescope. They are lighter than most digital cameras and
take better pictures, but they require the picture be immediately downloaded
to a computer in the field (to a laptop, usually). The universal availability
of these sensitive, but low cost, cameras has made the presence of laptop
computers at any star party as common as mosquitoes.