Saturday, October 27, 2007

more of Holmes

Last Spring I couldn't stop taking pictures of ducklings -- this Fall it's the comet Holmes.
All of the pictures are taken with the Canon XTi at ISO 800.

Holmes is at the lower left; the bright star in the upper right is Mirfak in the constellation Perseus. 200mm, f/2.8, 4 sec.

200mm, f/2.8, 1 sec.

400mm, f/5.6, 1 sec.

Celestron 8" scope, 2000mm, f/10, 4 sec.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

comet Holmes

A most unusual comet has appeared in the northeastern evening sky. Above is a photo I took of Comet Holmes last night with my old Celestron 8 and the Nikon Coolpix 995. It is very visible to the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars will help you locate it for the first time. The comet has increased in magnitude from 17 (invisible in most amateur telescopes) to 2.5 in a few days; it is getting brighter by the day (or is it night?). You can read more about it here; a map to help you find it is here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

more moon

One night later -- same camera, same eyepiece -- but my old Celestron 8" scope. You will see that the pictures are generally of the same portions of the moon except at somewhat higher magnifications. That is because the Questar is about 1500mm focal length -- the Celestron, 2000mm. All of the pictures are full-frame, except the first one which was slightly cropped.
Looking at the prints of these same pictures, the Questar's are as good, if not better than the C's. Of course the air may have been steadier & clearer, but I'm impressed nevertheless when a 3 1/2" scope can match an 8" one.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the moon?

It seems like I can't do both, take bird pictures and the stars/planets/moon. But, it's all part of God's creation, right?
These were taken tonight with my Questar 3.5", a 24mm Williams Optics eyepiece, and my old Nikon Coolpix 995. I'm not totally pleased with the eyepiece since I see some color fringing, but I think it will be OK on birds and other subjects without as much contrast as the nearly full moon. I got the eyepiece since it screws directly on to the Coolpix and, therefore, is so easy to use.
My Q's base is at Questar Corp. for installation of a new, battery powered drive, so these shots were taken with just a regular tripod -- the exposures ranged from 1/15 - 1/60 sec. at about f/5.1. The color balance was set for sunlight and not modified in any way.
Actually, as intrigued as I am with astronomical photography, I am anxious to use this same combination of scope, eyepiece, camera on birds -- hopefully, within the next few days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Spotted Owls

The Spotted Owl controversy is still alive & well. Click here

more on Canon's new lenses

Luminous Landscape reports:
Canon has announced two new lenses, a 200mm f/2 L IS and an 800mm f/5.6L IS. The 200 is a replacement for the 200mm f/1.8L which was discontinued last year. It was one of the highest resolution lenses Canon ever made, and loved by many sports photographers as its the ideal focal length and speed for indoor sports such as court-side coverage of basketball or gymnastics. With the addition of Image Stabilization for the lucky few who can afford and need it, the best likely just got better.
The 800mm is a brand new focal length in Canon's so-called Super-Telephoto line and it's bound to be a monster. I found the 600mm almost impossible to handle comfortably in the field, and I can imagine that the 800 will require a built-in Sherpa to help schlepp it around. But I'm sure it will sell like hot-cakes to sports and serious wildlife photographers. No info yet on price or availability.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

waiting for sunshine

This past week or so, I haven't been able to drag myself outside much -- what with all of the rain, cold & wind. Instead, it is much easier to sit by my window -- look at the falling leaves -- hope for Indian summer.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Questar birder update

Last Wednesday, Oct. 10, I posted some information about the Questar birder scope that is up for auction. With 27 hours to go, the current bid is at $1111. Let me know if you decide to bid! Anything under $2,000 would be a very good price for this instrument.

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.
-- William Blake

Monday, October 15, 2007

2 new Canon telephoto lenses

The first is an f/2 200mm -- interesting & heavy, but probably of little use in bird photography. The second is much more fascinating -- an 800mm f/5.6 lens; the key to this one may very well be the weight -- a lot of photographers do not use the current 600mm because it is so difficult to carry for long distances. Not much information is available yet, but you can read a little more here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

just for fun

Questar birder

Last week, October 6th, I posted some pictures and a description of my Questar telescope. I also mentioned a special model called the Birder, specifically designed for bird watching. Well -- one is up for auction on Astromart (I think you will be able to view the posting, but not bid unless you register on the site -- $12).
If you would like to read more about this scope and compare prices of new equipment, check the Questar site, and follow the links that will get you to the Birder. A site with a more elaborate description is Company Seven; prices are listed here, starting at $3,650. With the additional eyepieces, etc., I'm sure the list price of the one up for auction would exceed $4,000. My best guess (and that's all it is) is that it will bring in a little more than 1/2 of list.
Let me know if you bid on it (I won't be competing against you). The Questar optics are fantastic for such a small (3.5") scope.

Monday, October 8, 2007

morning break . . .

. . . on their way South.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

it ain't just birds

As you could tell from yesterday's post, in addition to my interests in birds & photography, I also consider myself a novice amateur astronomer. I say "novice" because I have not actively pursued this avocation for more than 30 years -- and so much has happened in the meanwhile that I very much feel like a beginner. That's OK though, since I'm having a lot of fun.
This morning an unusual event took place -- Saturn, the Moon, Regulus, and Venus came within 5 to 6 degrees of each other. (For another shot of this, take a look at my other blog.)
When I got up at about 5 a.m., I was sure that I wouldn't see anything -- thick clouds covered the sky -- not a star was in sight -- not even the moon. But when I checked again at 6, the clouds were beginning to part. The picture on my other blog was taken first (the moon looks full there since I overexposed in order to catch an image through the clouds and to emphasize the star & planets). I'm not sure if the contrast and resolution in the above picture will show them on your monitor -- if not, and if you are interested, let me know & I can e-mail a larger picture to you at higher resolution than gets posted on the blogs.
For more information about this heavenly occurrence, click here and you will get a more detailed description at the Sky and Telescope web site.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

toy #2

Some time ago I mentioned that I had bought several toys for myself. The first was the Handheld Birding software for my Treo from National Geographic (see my Sept. 23 post).
The second is something I have lusted for since looking at the ads in Scientific American as a teen ager -- a Questar telescope.
I finally took the plunge and risk by buying one, sight unseen, on eBay. I figured that if I got it at a low enough price it would still be a good buy since the Q factory is in the United States and they will readily do repairs and renovation to the extent of even replacing the optics. None of this comes cheap, of course, but at my age I figure I can splurge on some of my childhood dreams.
I've had the scope for about a month now and have no regrets about getting it. The only problem I've experienced so far is a sticking drive mechanism (which automatically follows any star, planet, or the moon) once the scope is aligned and pointed at the object. I talked with the factory yesterday and they gave me some suggestions for solving the problem. If they don't work, I will be sending in the base for repair or replacement with a battery powered rather than the household current motor it presently has.
I'll be posting some of the pictures I've taken so far and let you judge for yourself whether the Q is something you could use in birding, amateur astronomy, or super telephoto photography.
Let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to answer them.

What has all this got to do with birding?
Well, the Q is also a great spotting scope. My model is a Duplex, which means the barrel with the scope can be removed from the mounting (see below).

The bottom of the barrel assembly has treads for either a 3/8" or 1/4" standard tripod fittings. Actually, Questar makes a model specifically designated for birdwatching -- appropriately called the Questar Birder. The main differences being that the Birder has faster focusing and a finder with greater magnification (8.5x). The standard eyepieces give you 40x and 65x magnification -- but optional eyepieces can carry you beyond 200x.
The Standard and Duplex models have controls which allow you to switch from the finder mode to the eyepiece -- and if the magnification isn't great enough -- to a built-in Barlow lens, which increases magnification by a factor of 1.7x. The neat thing is that you can do all this without moving your eye from the eyepiece.
The center cover can be unscrewed from the back plate above and an eyepiece inserted. This would probably be the most common way the Q would be used as a spotting scope. In addition to the eyepiece, there are various camera adapters that can be used so that one could take pictures while looking through the eyepiece on top. A very versatile (though expensive) scope!
You can read more about the Questar on their web site.