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High Resolution Lunar Images with a DSLR

October 29, 2012  •  6 Comments

Imaging the Moon in high resolution is quite a challenge, at high magnifications the most difficult problem is to fight atmospheric turbulence, what the astrophotographers know as "seeing". The turbulence blurs the photos randomly and there can be quite a huge difference in detail between two photos taken just seconds apart. 

To fight turbulence astrophotographers use a technique known as "lucky imaging" you take hundreads even thousands of photos and then using ad-hoc software you select the sharpest frames from your captures. This is usually done in video mode to capture more frames per second. Now that DSLRs have video modes of good quality we can use them as planetary cameras capturing videos and processing them to create high resolution images of the Sun, Moon and planets.

This is an example of how a video looks using the 640x480 crop mode of a Canon T2i at 60 fps

You can see the effect of atmospheric turbulence in the images, some of them are quite sharp and some of them are very blurry due to turbulence. You can also use these videos to check how the "seeing" is for the night, the steadier the image looks the better the results will be. In nights with bad seeing you need to take many frames as most of them will be blurry. In general terms for the Moon I use videos from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

If you plan to do a mosaic you need to take many videos making sure you don't forget to cover any part of the Moon, I usually allow a 25-30% overlap between photos. Remember that without perfect tracking the borders of the images won't be useful.

For the "Lucky Imaging" part I use Autostakkert2! a great and free software that automatically aligns and stacks the best frames of a video. I choose the best 500-600 frames to be stacked. Before running Autostakkert you need to convert the videos to a format that AS! will recognize. I use a free utility called "super" to convert the .mov files from my Canon DSLR to .avi with a RAWloseless codec (to maximize quality).

This is the result of one of the stacked images. Once stacked I process the resulting .tiff files with Registax6 applying wavelets to sharpen the images, it's amazing how the detail just pops when you apply wavelets to a stacked image. 

Once all the panels have been sharpened I finally use Hugin to create the final mosaic.

The result has plenty of detail and depending on the telescope you use for the images it will look as good as the mosaics created with a dedicated planetary camera.

If you have a lot of time you can also add a barlow lens and then take many more videos for a higher resolution final image.

 

Example for the complete Moon Mosaic:

- 1500mm telecope (Mak-Cass 5'')

- 2x barlow lens

- Canon T2i in 640x480 @60fps mode

- 180 videos 1 minute each

- Stacked with Autostakkert2!

- Sharpened using Registax6

- Mosaic assembled with Hugin

 

And this is the final result:

Making lunar Mosaics from DSLR videos is a time-consuming activity but it is also a lot of fun and the results look great, if you own a telescope and a DSLR it's something that you can do in those nights when the Moon is too bright for astrophotography.

 


Comments

6.Allen McMurtrie(non-registered)
That is an amazing final result for a photograph. I have shot the moon myself using just a camera (Nikon D3200) and a lens (Nikkor 70-200 2.8G) and a 2x adapter. Cant wait to try this! Looks like It takes a lot of shooting, but the final image is well worth the effort.

Here is the finished photo. Single exposure, 400mm, 1/500s, ISO 2800.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/og8d40zgnvo18ua/DSC_0025-color-poster-walmart.jpg?dl=0
5.Greg Reed(non-registered)
Thanks for the tutorial!! I made my first lunar image via video using the guide lines you have here. I had a little trouble with the process, I had to add a render first with Vegas of the original Nikon .mov file rather than go directly to Super with it. Super saw the .m2v file from Vegas fine. It took me a day and a half to get the settings right for the Super conversion of the m2v file to the raw .avi file. I kept getting a distorted final .tif image. Finally got it all right - I think I got a great image for my first time video imaging!!
4.Helen(non-registered)
will this change the actual image size of the moon?
3.astrolove(non-registered)
Thanks for taking the time to write about your results. The images are amazing and inspiring to me, so I took out my superzoom camera on the 2nd month after the supermoon to take some videos, and try astrstakkert. It's rewarding to be able to create such an improvement myself. Now I am dying to obtain a Canon SX50 as the cheapest way to image the planets.
2.Eric(non-registered)
Merci beaucoup pour vos explications fort utiles et bravo pour votre résultat !
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