ALLANKILGOUR
P H O T O G R A P H Y

 

 

 

Gear

 

 

My photographic journey is so varied that I require a lot of diverse and specialised equipment. What I use for my landscape and wildlife photography is very different from that required to take high resolution images of the Moon, Planets and Deep Sky Objects (DSO's).  For that reason I have split my gear resources into two specific areas listing the gear I use and the reasons behind their selection.


Landscape & Wildlife

I use Canon camera's and lenses simply becasse they are what I started with and as I have built up a selection of lenses it has become more and more daunting to make a change to anything else, which would most likely be different, but no better or worse. There is tremendous debate on the Canon V Nikon usage and I refuse to get drawn in on that. The lenses to me are the most important feature, and once you have become comfortable with your setup unless there is a specific need that your current camera does not meet then there is really no need to change.

I use a Canon 80D, which is a crop sensor camera. When I purchased this camera I chose it because it was simply the best crop sensor Canon camera available. I already had some lenses which were crop sensor specific so that helped my choice of sensor.  The 1.6 crop factor that people talk about is actually a misconception. A crop sensor does NOT increase the focal length of the camera it is simply that the size of the sensor is smaller therefore the image appears closer on your screen. If you had a large enough screen for the entire images to display at 1:1 you would find that they would be identical to look at if all other factors were the same with the exception that the full frame image would have a wider field of view and therefore cover parts of the image that were missing on the crop frame.

Another contributing factor for me was weight.  With landscape and wildlife photography, there is often a lot of walking with a number of heavy lenses. Weight was an issue.

My favourite landscape lens is the Canon EFS 17-55mm f2.8 USM lens. Its fast, has a good wide field and is not overly heavy. It lives on my camera almost all the time. I am not a fan of the wider lens setups as I find the distortion that begins to creep in, takes away from the image perspective I am trying to create.  If I have a need to go wider, then I simply grab three shots and use the panorama feature in Lightroom to make a larger image which I can then crop to size.

I also have a seldom used, 100mm f2.8 macro lens, but it is there if I need it for a macro shot.  My telephoto does a lot of my close up work as it allows me to keep further away from the subject. Appropriate rings will get it a little closer.

I have two longer lenses for wildlife. A 90-300mm f4.5-5.6 zoom lens, which is very light and is used mainly for landscape work when I need slightly more reach than my wide angle lens provides. It is fine at low focal lengths but it is slow and struggles at longer focal lengths when lighting is poor. I have used it for some wildlife when I have been unable to have my 300L with me but the results are never as good.

 My 300L prime lens is my main wild life lens. I have owned both an early sigma 50-500 APO and a Cannon 100-400L but neither was as sharp as my f4 300L even when using a 1.4 extender with it.  I do have some desire to aquire one of the new Sigma 150-600 contemporary lenses, but that will need to wait a year until covid-19 departs and restrictions ease totally. I would choose that over the sports model totally on the weight issue.  In the meantime, I continue with my f4 300L and the 1.4 extender as I find this a very sharp combo.

Processing, I use the stand alone lightroom version as I am not a believer of the subscription model that Adobe has chosen to use. Eventually, I will be forced away from lightroom as it is superceded by other software. I am already using Luminar 4 and indeed I am finding some great features that lightroom lacks but equally there are features that lightroom offers that are missing in Luminar4.  Once these features appear it is likely that I will make a complete transition.

 

Astrophotography

The most important part of astrophotography is the mount. Everything starts here.  Exposures are usually in the 2-5 minute range with multiple images taken over a period of hours or even days. During the course of a session the earth is rotating at around 15 degrees per hour, with long focal lengths this evident within a few seconds of exposure so it is imperative that the mount can accurately track the apparent motion of the stars across the sky.  Further to that, there are errors with polar alignment, tracking mount variations and altitude refraction issues that all come into play. To successfully counter these issues a second camera is employed to track a nearby star and send pulse commands to the mount to counter an error that occurs before it is evident in the image being captured.

My mount is a Sky Watcher EQ6-R pro which is one of the most popular mounts in its class. It is reliable, accurate and easy to set up. The only other mount challenge is obtaining extremely accurate polar alignment. My observatory setup requires me to erect my telescope/mount for each session and therefore alignment is required. From the Southern Hemisphere there is no handy pole star to align to. The only option Southern Observers has is Sigma Octantis which is faint and extremely hard to identify in city conditions. In stead I use a piece of software called Sharp Cap Pro  which can have me accurately aligned using my guide scope within 10 mins.

The two factors that come into play when deciding what scope to use are, like traditional photography, are focal length and f ratio. The focal length is the first consideration for me once I have identified a target for my next project.  I need to use the right focal length to give me an image scale that is right for the size of my camera chip.  Targets can range from mere seconds of arc up to many degrees making the range of focal lengths vary large. For this reason I have focal length combinations available from 17mm (using a Canon lens) up to 1500mm with a C6 SCT telescope.  Often there is a balancing act as long focal lengths normally come at the expense of slow focal ratios coupled with high demands on mount tracking.

My three prime setups are

  • A C6 SCT fitted with a hyperstar. This results in a focal length of 285mm and a super fast f1.9  This is used for wide field views such as the Horsehead Nebula and the Rosette Nebular.

  • A Sharpstar 80mm Triplet APO, with flourite glass and a focal length of 500mm and a moderate f6.25  This is used for larger, individual nebular and clusters where they are able to almost fill the camera frame.

  • A GSO RC6 fitted with a 6.7 reducer. This produces a 900mm focal length at f6. I use this set up for close up images of galaxies, planetary nebula and other small objects.

I also have the option to remove the reducer from the RC6 to move out to 1370mm fl or to remove the hyperstar from the C6 and move out to 1500mm. The problem with these focal lengths is that the f ratio becomes f9 and f10 respectively. The extra guiding demands would also require shorter exposures to reduce the number of lost frames and this only servers to further compound the issue of collecting enough light to obtain a satisfactory image.

The Cameras I am using are:

  •  ZWO 183MC pro which is a one shot colour camera with cooling ability. I shoot at -15 degrees C as I am always able to achieve this temperature even in the middle of summer

  • QHY 183 monochrome camera with cooling ability. This camera is used with either RGB filters to obtain colour images or with Ha, Oii and Sii narrowband filters to aquire hubble pallette images. Again, this camera is operated at -15 degrees C.

I use N.I.N.A. software to capture my data and Pixinsight to process the images. A laptop resides beside the telescope and mount and this is accessed from my studio using Teamviewer.