Saturday, October 24, 2015

Obtaining Films In A "Post-Film" World

Analog photographers are passionate for their film stocks.  Emulsions are the fabric of their images, the palette conveying their work.  The technical requirements are rather important in astrophotography. Film manufacturers, although having never made an ideal film for the craft, have come close on occasion. Today there are only perhaps two films viable for astrophotography, Fuji's Acros 100 and Provia 100F.  The ideal films of yesteryear, such as Kodak's E100S and E200, or Fujifilm's Provia 400F and Superia 100 are all gone, save for the frozen stocks sitting quietly in the freezers of analog photographers.

Older stocks from the late 1990's, despite being frozen, are nevertheless decayed passed there usefulness. The latest incarnation of capable films from the 2000's will keep awhile yet.  Film degrades with time, with slower films doing well even after 10 years in the freezer.  For best storage life film must be purchased and frozen before it expires, and it must be consistently held in "suspended animation".  Therein lies the rub, finding this properly kept stock in late 2015.

Recently I have had a stroke of good luck in obtaining good film. A favorite color film of the last ten years has been Fujicolor Superia 100. I happened to come across a brick of it from an online source.  It had been frozen since new in 2008 and the price was more than fair.  Ten rolls of Superia will keep these wheels greased for some time to come.

A treasure trove!  To my good fortune, a fresh frozen brick of Fujicolor Superia 100 

The last great color film for astrophotography is Superia 100.  Not to be confused with Superia Reala 100, a great film for daylight use, Superia CN 100 defies it's specifications.  It is red sensitive, but spectral response drops off near 650nm, just shy of Hydrogen-Alpha emission line.  The manufacturers recommendation for exposures past 60 seconds is a full stop increase in exposure, not what you would expect in a good astro-film.

The beautiful region of Cygnus and Cepheus captured on  Fujicolor Superia 

Despite its apparent disagreement with its published specifications, the film performs rather well.  A 30 minute exposure at f/2.8 creates a dense negative capable of tremendous depth and fidelity.  For the best red sensitivity, Kodak's E200 has yet to be beat, however Superia's low halation allows pinpoint stars offering a more refined image.

The area of Scutum revealed by Fujicolor  Superia 100

It's time to get busy with the new stock.  I have yet to use Superia 100 on the winter sky.  I'm anticipating great results on a variety of regions of the Milky Way.  

The Messier 8 Region in Sagittarius on Fujicolor Superia 100

I believe my pursuit for film stocks is over.  Within 5 to 10 years I will complete my portfolio of astronomical images and start working on other projects.  Having photographic film originals versus digital files is a workflow choice. It is not for everyone.  May you find your methods just as rewarding.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Holding Pattern -Thoughts on the Coming Season

The winter of 2014-15 here in Maine has been the snowiest in a few years, akin to the 2010-11 season.  If that isn't enough to cancel imaging plans, February is going into the record books as the coldest recorded !  

Flanders Pond Observatory on The Last Day of February 
I've traded hobbies for the last month or so, swapping out the camera for a snow shovel.  Not much fun of course, but a break in the action gives one time to reflect on the upcoming season and the body of work to work on.  

The old observatory has seen better days and this spring will be a time for repairs.  The moist location has taken its toll since it's construction in 2003.  The floor and walls are needing attention, the roof however is good as the day it was built and can hold a good snow load and still slide with relative ease.

Imaging plans will include a fresh look at Sharpless 2-27 in Ophiuchus with an experimental technique for enhancing the capture of this very faint nebula. It is rarely imaged by any means and the combination of red sensitive color emulsion, proper filtering and clear dark skies will bring success.

Sharpless 2-27 in Ophiuchus

The emission nebula Sh2-27 is centered on the young zeta Ophiuchi, a runaway star.  This O type star excites the interstellar medium revealing the "bright" nebula.  The nebula itself is huge and if one could see it with the unaided eye would span 20 full Moon diameters!  Wide-field optics are necessary, even a small telescope cannot capture it in its entirety.  The image above was taken with a portrait lens looking just above the center halo of our Milky Way galaxy.

It is a challenging object to image.  It has a low declination and even natural sky brightness cloaks it from unfiltered cameras.  It usually shows up as a rather large and faint indistinctive patch of light on red sensitive film or astro modded DSLR's.  It came to my attention 10 years ago when imaging with a simple 35mm camera and 50mm lens.

Watch this blog for more information on Sharpless 2-27.  I'm hoping to best my results from 2008 and a full write up on this interesting object.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Comet Lovejoy and a Close Planetary Conjunction

As the weekend kicked into gear Friday night, two thought were on my mind.  The first was the close conjunction of Venus and Mercury, the second was of C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy.   I dedicated Friday night to some trial images of comet Lovejoy.  The comet was speeding north into Taurus and brightening nicely.  The Moon was well past full allowing dark skies for the next two weeks.  Now was the time to strongly consider imaging our recent visitor and take in the sights as well.

Images taken Friday night with the SMC 67 200mm f/4 lens and Pentax K-5IIs were decent, but the comet remained small unless cropped heavily.  It is winter in Maine and the cold had gotten the best of me, so I planned to shoot again Saturday night with the 400 F/4 SMC Takumar.

Prior to imaging comet Lovejoy Saturday night I anticipated the close conjunction of Venus and Mercury. This night they would be at their closest, within 0.7 degrees of each other.  Because my western horizon is blocked by trees I decided to drive down to Sorrento Harbor for a clear and more scenic setting.

Looking west at Sorrento Harbor

Like a pair of jewels, Venus and Mercury adorn the western sky

Watching the tandem planets as dusk deepened was incredible.  A cosmic perspective in an otherwise ordinary earthly scene.  I would have loved to watch the planetary pair sink to the horizon, but the cold air hastened my departure.  I took in one last view before packing it in.

I took a break for dinner once arriving home.  Skies were brilliantly clear and comet Lovejoy, obvious to the unaided eye was also noticeably higher than the previous night.  I managed to get the camera and lens arrangement mounted in short order.  After a few test exposures for framing and focus, I shut off the camera and went inside to warm up and the camera to cool down.  Once I had warmed up, it was time to take some images.

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

I spent about an hour performing about a dozen images.  While guiding one image I saw a satellite pass my field of view in the guiding eyepiece.  After reviewing the image I was delighted to find it had  passed right straight into the comets tail and through the center of the coma!  It felt like one of those Heaven's Gate Hale-Bopp moments.  Thoughts of posting the image on crank websites filled my mind for a moment, but I know there are people that amazingly take that stuff seriously. The thought of people taking their own lives influenced by such an image sobered me.  

Ultimately, the next to last image was the keeper from the night's session.  The stars are trailed as I had guided on the coma for the six minute exposure with the 400 at f/6.7 and ISO 1600.

Lovejoy is not an extravagant comet, indeed it reminded me of periodic comet Halley in it's 1986 appearance, but it is nice to see a decent comet show up in an easy see location in the sky.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year

Oh to get out of bed in the morning.  It's cold outside.  It's twilight time - dawn upon the new year. Get the Keurig going and try to find some clothes in the dark without waking the spouse.   It's actually not too bad, 20's this morning and no wind.  Nice!  I can see some clouds out the living room window to the southwest drifting east, might be worth a quick trip to the pond after all.  One cup of coffee down, grab the camera bag and out the door.

A week ago the pond was completely open and not one trace of ice, the recent cold snap should have created a nice layer by now.  Flanders Pond is just north of my home and in about five minutes trekking along a camp road we arrive.   There is ice!  It's smooth too!  About an inch or so thick.  I check it with a light step.  No problem.  The sky is brightening and high clouds to the east are illuminating with golden light.  

I reach inside the bag and get the K-5 and compose about a dozen different shots as the sky changes. I'm awestruck!   Within ten minutes, the magic moment arrives.  

Yea this was definitely better than wasting the dawn on my second cup and the news on the tube.

Sunrise Upon The New Year

Happy new year.  May you all get to lose some sleep and be glad you did.