Day 3 of the SouthWest Astrophotography Seminar

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Friday, October 31, 2014

I’ve arrived at the third and final day of the SouthWest Astrophotography Seminar (SWAP) in Tucson, Arizona. Once more, all meetings will be at the Tucson Convention Center. Today, I decided to attend the vendor sessions. I want to hear what the latest and greatest products are, plus, I’m always looking for great gadgets to send out for review.

Jen Winter of DayStar Filters holds up the company's latest product, the Quark Hydrogen-alpha filter. // All images: Astronomy: Michael E. Bakich
First up was Kevin LeGore from SkyWatcher USA. Wow! This up-and-coming company has a great new product: Star Adventurer. This tiny mount weighs only 2 pounds and will carry an 11-pound payload. Designed for amateur astronomers who want to capture wide-field shots by attaching a small scope or DSLR. It allows for time-lapse triggering of cameras and various kits come with all the accessories you’ll need. For example, the Star Adventurer – Astro comes with a declination bracket and a polar scope illuminator. You can even add a counterweight kit to convert this alt-azimuth mount to an equatorial. The Star Adventurer starts at $320. Cool!

Next up was Tim Puckett, the newest staff member of the Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG), one of the leading manufacturers of CCD cameras. He gave a roundup of all the latest developments at SBIG (and there have been a lot), including the latest purchase of the company (which happened only a few weeks ago) and the manufacturing of all the company’s products moving from California to Canada. Attendees had questions about the compatibility of drivers for products, repair schedules, delivery times, and, of course, whether or not there will be any pricing changes. Puckett had no information regarding any new products.

Bob Denny from the astronomy software company DC-3 Dreams was next. He discussed changes that he’s made to the company’s product ACP Expert. For example, it now offers more integration from web interfaces. Also, for those who are moving away from laptops (tablets are just more portable), the program now integrates with Software Bisque’s TheSKY HD software on the iPad. Another cool product was Auto Engine, which will run your entire observatory. You just tell it what you want, when you want it, and you can do it from any platform – even your phone. Denny finished by showing a video of an observer using his software and TheSKY on an iPad.

Fourth on this morning’s schedule was DayStar Filters. Jen Winter gave a bit of a company update, which, few recalled, has been in business for more than 40 years. Then she launched into a description of their latest filter, the Quark, which she referred to as “the eyepiece filter” because of its small size. The Quark comes in two varieties (each costs $995): Prominence and Chromosphere, depending on the bandpass of the filter. The Chromosphere models have bandpasses less than 0.5 Angstroms. The Quark is unique because it combines a telecentric Barlow lens, adapters, the filter, and the drawtube. The company also incorporated 13 baffles into the filter, which play an enormous role because of the Sun’s brightness. One question was whether or not a pre-filter for energy rejection was necessary. Winter replied she suggest that for tracking mounts or if your telescope’s aperture exceeds 80 millimeters. She finished the talk by giving five imaging tips related to the Quark. Nice!

Bryan Cogdell, product manager for astronomy at Celestron, came in full Halloween attire as Wolverine of the X-Men. He holds the company's newest imaging scope, the Rowe-Ackerman F/2.2 Schmidt-Astrograph.
Last, and certainly not least, was Bryan Cogdell, the product manager for astronomy at Celestron. Bryan often plays up his resemblance to the Marvel Comics character Wolverine, and for this presentation on Halloween he was in full costume. The product he highlighted was the company’s new Rowe-Ackerman F/2.2 Schmidt-Astrograph. This is an optical tube assembly that doesn’t accept an eyepiece. That’s right, this one’s for imaging only. The camera sits at the front end of the tube (where the light enters). You can use a small CCD camera or a DSLR. Celestron incorporated a FeatherTouch microfocuser because that’s what most imagers want. The field of view measures out at 70 millimeters, which will cover large CCD chips in full-frame cameras. One new product mentioned was a light-pollution reduction filter Celestron developed with Astrodon Filters. Look for an upcoming review of the Rowe-Ackerman astrograph in Astronomy. And, nice job, Bryan!

Next, it was back to the big hall to listen to Christopher Go give the presentation “High-Resolution Planetary Imaging.” He demonstrated how to process an image and certainly ruffled a few feathers with his proclamation, “CCD is dead! Long live CMOS!” Apparently, some new CMOS cameras have recently appeared that challenge the resolution of the current standard, the CCD chip.

Brian Deis of Vixen Optics talks to a potential customer about one of the company's products.
After lunch, top-notch astroimager Ken Crawford talked tips and techniques in “Photoshop Intermediate.” First, Ken challenged everyone to improve their images by using masks, and he started by giving an example of how he blends in data taken through different filters (such as Hydrogen-alpha) into a color image. And he does it without affecting how the stars look. He then went through several other of his image-improving techniques, all of which involved masks. Near the end of his talk, Crawford took three minutes and created an image. In fact, it was quite a bit less than three minutes!

Adam Block runs the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter for the University of Arizona. His talk covered that facility, and he also gave some pointers related to image processing.
Finally, it was time for Adam Block of the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, managed by the University of Arizona. He began his talk describing the SkyCenter’s commitment to public outreach and by showing a video taken by using a drone to fly above his facility. Very cool. Then he chatted about the equipment available to visitors and the programs he runs. One of the popular workshops is, as you might imagine, image processing. He mentioned that he has had to adopt an economy of communication, for example, in writing his astroimaging column for Astronomy, “How do I explain this process in less than 500 words?” Block asked. That made me chuckle. He then launched into details and techniques he uses, much to the delight of the crowd. Like Ken Crawford, he also talked a bit about masks. Then he examined one of his recent images (NGC 90 and lots of surrounding galaxies) and showed how he pulled the maximum detail from his data.

So ends SWAP, which occupied the first three days of my trip. Tomorrow, the Arizona Science and Astronomy Expo begins. Stay tuned!

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