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Thorsten Westheider's picture

Andromeda in my garden with a 70-200mm and no astro gear whatsoever

Inspired by the image of the Andromeda galaxy Jimmy Zhang posted the other day I decided to give this try. The catch: Jimmy took this with a 300mm/4 and a sky tracker - my longest focal length is 200mm and I don't have a tracker. I was wondering: Can this be done?

There's no way of knowing unless you try, so I gave it a shot (pun not intended).

I have never been particularly interested in the night sky, I know how to shoot the Milky Way, but that's about it. To me, Andromeda is the literal needle in the haystack. With the help of Stellarium I managed to locate Andromeda, it took me hours. You see, the sky wasn't perfectly clear all the time, clouds kept coming and going, covering parts of constellations or whole constellations altogether. If this sounds like Mission Impossible to you, I'd agree.

Oh yeah, almost forgot, I shot this in the garden behind my house. Street lights at
my doorstep? Check.

I ignored all the if's, but's and don'ts and carried on regardless.

I had decided on the settings long before, f=200mm (surprise!), f/2.8, 2s and ISO 1600 seemed my best bet, avoiding star trails. I can still see Earth's rotation in the image, so the 600 rule might work for wide angle Milky Way shots, but I can't say it's anywhere accurate for deep sky photography. I already had added some margin of safety, because 600/200 = 3, not 2, right?

The first batch of frames (~150) went right into the trash bin. I hadn't made sure I had infinity focus. Stars looked dandy on the camera display, but on the PC it was disaster.

So I shot another batch. By that time the clock ticked in on 4am, it was cold and I was tired.

This time I had everything as sharp as can be expected with a wide open zoom lens. Then again, this is the Nikkor 70-200mm/2.8 ED FL VR and I just love the sharpness of this lens.

It took me another couple of hours to get a rough grasp of DSS, I watched a tutorial on deep sky editing in PS, messed around with 32bit TIFFs and about 30 hours after embarking on this mission I actually got a picture.

It doesn't even come close to Jimmy's picture, but still, considering the odds I think it is remarkable. I'm going to invest in a tracker and a telescope soon, the deep sky photography bug got me.

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John Vander Ploeg's picture

Very cool!

joseph cole's picture

Whoooooah....now that's some badassery. makes me wanna purchase some better glass now or at least rent it. Very cool!

Deleted Account's picture

Amazing Thorsten. I have never tried any of this. Particular impressive with nearby street lights but I guess they only make our ability to see difficult, not the camera.I'll put this on my bucket list.

Deleted Account's picture

Wow, not sure I have the faith that I would have this right through the process. But I will remember your settings if I have the urge to try. Amazing that you got those shots. If you didn't use a tracking device, I am assuming that you reframed a few times in order to keep Andromeda in your frames?

Thorsten Westheider's picture

Yes, I had to reframe once. As I only had 150 * 2s = 5 minutes total exposure it wasn't too hard to keep it inside the frame.

Dr J's picture

Wow. You did what I have tried and gave up on. Its a great picture and congratulations on it. I really did not think it was possible with out special astro gear.

Thorsten Westheider's picture

Thank you! May I ask at what stage you gave up in your attempt? Maybe I can help out there.

Dr J's picture

Sure. I used a Nikon D5000 with several different Nikon lens, from 28mm to 500mm. I set the camera do go off after a few seconds and I used auto settings. There is a lot of light pollution where I live. I did this outside and then when I had spinal surgery I tried the same thing from inside the house. After that I gave up. I thought I had to have a telescope of something much bigger than a 500mm lens.

Thorsten Westheider's picture

What's the fastest telephoto greater or equal 200mm you got? You didn't say exactly why you gave up, did you get as far as stacking with DSS or did you, looking at the raw frames, just think it wouldn't work?

Dr J's picture

I have never used stacking nor DSS. I took the picture with an aperture set at 5 on the lens. Then I let the camera decide what speed. I only took a few shots all in JPG format. I got a black sky. I did get a aircraft going by. I had to stop because the pain is so bad in my back.

Thorsten Westheider's picture

Well, that's not going to work for at least 5 reasons:

- aperture too small, too little light (light pollution is the least of your problems at this aperture)
- aperture priority mode does not know about Earth's rotation, it will try to hit the 18% gray mark and fail
- JPEG locks you out of proper post processing
- too few shots, you need 100 shots, more is better
- this isn't doable without DSS and even with DSS it's pushing it to the limits

Dr J's picture

Thank you for your input. Now I know.

Eric Zaal's picture

Never give up!

Eduardo Perme's picture

thats crazy. you cant even see this with a camera lens.
unless its hooked up to a telescope.

Thorsten Westheider's picture

Actually you can see it with a camera lens, but it's very faint. I agree, this is crazy and if anyone had just told me about it I wouldn't have believed them. But there was this post where someone had tried this with a tracker and a 300mm lens and I figured that a 300mm wasn't all that different from a 200mm. That left exposure time as critical variable, I used the 600 rule, got 3s and added some margin of safety. Then I just crossed fingers. The shots looked correctly exposed, so ISO 1600 seemed to be the right choice. The rest is DSS (3x drizzle) and Photoshop (ramping up contrast).

PS: See second half of my video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6c2Y5B9pyk&t=1s

Justin Puder's picture

Might I ask what is DSS? Thanks!

Eric Zaal's picture

Stacking software called Deep Sky Stacker

Michael M.'s picture

Great picture. For reference I did a single exposure with 200 mm F4 iso 640 and 120 seconds on a small sky tracker. I also had big problems with light pollution, but you did a better job than me with the good gear:


Ana Sousa's picture

oh cool

Robert Huerbsch's picture

I’d recommend iOptron SkyGuider Pro, it was better than the StarAdventurer head to head when I tested them.

Mariano de Miguel's picture

Please consider that I am totally new at astrophotography but I keep going back to this discussion. I can not wrap my head around this incredibly amazing image. I have to ask and forgive my ignorance : how can you get this image with a 70-200 mm lens?! Is your camera connected to a telescope? no astro gear?! I don't get it.

Eric Zaal's picture

This may help a little. M31(Andromeda) is very large and very bright as it is so close. You can see it with a pair of binoculars as it will look like someone took an eraser and smudged out the black of space. If your using a telescope with any kind of serious magnification it will be to big, which means you will only be able to capture a portion of it. (An example would the a LX200 F10 scope). Even with a F6.3 focal reducer on it the galaxy fills the entire field of view. The IOptron Sky Guider Pro should work with your F4 lens and is a much more convenient option than lugging 90lbs of telescope plus portable power. With a sky guider properly aligned you should be able to get 60 second exposures with no trailing. If you are in a light polluted area like Houston (bortle 8-9) invest in a good light pollution filter. You may have to shorten the exposure time because of the light pollution, but take several hundred shots and stack them using DSS or Sequator.
On a side note going down the telescope rabbit hole can become expensive very quickly and can be enjoyable and rewarding. Just make sure its a true passion before jumping in.