Saturday, February 2, 2019

Review Of The Sky Quality Meter From Unihedron

This Post will be the "future site" of a full/detailed technical review of The Sky Quality Meter from Unihedron. As it stands now, it's more of a general review.
(As is my custom sometimes, when I review bat detectors)

The Sky Quality Meter from Unihedron also commonly referred to as an SQM, arrived here for review (from Canada) very neatly packaged:

The unit I've been loaned for this review, is The SQM-L At 3.6 x 2.6 x 1.1 inches, and 0.31 lb in weight, it's small & light enough to fit in a shirt pocket. It arrives (from Canada) very well packaged; neatly done with bubble wrap. And includes a lovely black velvet drawstring bag for storing the unit.

I also like the sticker on the front, which can serve to remind the user what the numbers represent (as far as lighter/darker skies). Excellent. 

Also, at $134.99 direct from Unihedron, it's quite affordable. The SQM-L features a built-in lens, which ensures that a proper amount of sky is sampled.

This unique instrument is very easy to use - However, one should really remember to allow the unit to acclimate to ambient temperature before taking readings. This will ensure the most accurate readings. In fact, another neat feature, is it's ability to display the actual temperature (with a certain button push sequence).

The SQM-L would be an ideal piece of equipment for someone who keeps observation logs, and/or sketches. Adding the actual sky darkness readings to observing logs. I feel as though both amateur and professional astronomers will find this unit indispensable. Frankly, I love it.


The SQM-L Meter, Sitting atop a book I'm very fond of.
You can disregard the reading of 11.44. I only pressed the button (indoors) for illustrative purposes.

Using it couldn't be simpler: Allow the unit to achieve equilibrium with the surrounding night air; then press the button while the lens is pointed towards your dark sky. Dark, as in, devoid of nearby artificial lights. As is the case with all things Astronomy: The further away you are from buildings & artificial lighting, the better.

Pros:
  • Small size.
  • Accurate.

Cons:
  •  None.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but astronomers are prone to getting obsessive over things like: Dark skies, seeing conditions, and let's not forget equipment! The Sky Quality Meter from Unihedron fits right in!

The first time I tried this unit, I made the mistake of not allowing it to acclimate to the outside temperature (I didn't wait long enough). However the readings I got, were:
  • 19.02
  • 19.28
  • 19.24
And on another occasion: 

10/18/18:
  • 19.42
  • 19.58
The SQM-L is an amazing little device, which will enable astronomers from all walks of life to measure the quality of their observing location(s). What could be better?

I'll be adding a lot more detailed information here soon - Much more to follow... 
I'll take this opportunity, to sincerely thank the kind folks at Unihedron, for the loan of the equipment.

Clear & dark skies!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Book Review - Discover the Night Sky through Binoculars

'Discover The Night Sky Through Binoculars' This is a new book, written by Stephen Tonkin.

I ordered my copy from Amazon (Here) and it arrived well-packaged, in their usual stiff, brown cardboard packaging (I order lots of books from Amazon).
It's a small book (6" x 0.4" x 9") which makes it that much easier to carry around.
The current price (at Amazon) is $13.15 for the paperback; and it's also available in Kindle format - However, I tend to like (real) paper books, and especially when it comes to books on Astronomy/observing.
 
After the Introduction, and a chapter on 'How to use this book', there is Chapter 1, which does a great job of explaining why 'Two Eyes are Better than One'. I never tire of reading about the advantages of using binoculars for astronomical observing, so I was pleased to learn some additional bits of information regarding the subject. 
Chapter 2 'Binoculars and BSOs' explains the ins and outs of binoculars themselves, and has helpful tips to ensure that beginners don't end up (unknowingly) purchasing truly awful "optics".
Chapter 3 'Effective Deployment' contains tips on the best way to hold binoculars - If you're interested in all of the different methods with which one can hold binoculars for astronomical observing - Check out another book by Stephen Tonkin titled 'Binocular Astronomy' (man, I love that book!). It's currently in it's 2nd Edition.

The table of contents features chapters for each month of observing. Using a unique method, of having 2 parts for each month. For example, there is a:

Chapter 4.1 January: The Skies of the Hunter   -and a-
Chapter 4.2 January: Starfish and Minnows
As I stated in an earlier post, about this new book on binocular astronomy, it is unique!

This book would be ideal for anyone who enjoys (or has an interest in) binocular astronomy.

I must say, that I thoroughly enjoyed the star maps / finder charts which accompany the chapters. Very nice! I don't know about you, but I really enjoy new star charts! Owners of the book are also treated to an online resource, where you may print-out your own convenient copies of the charts - Love it!

In summary, there isn't too much more to add. It's an excellent book; I also appreciate it's easily portable size more and more. I carry it around with me, as if it were practically a new teddy bear! Seriously enjoyable to read. 


Clear skies!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Sketch Of M1 Using Garrett 100mm Binocs at 41x

An old pencil sketch I found. This is among one of my very first attempts.

Pencil sketch of M1 The Crab Nebula, Garrett 100mm binoculars, at 41x. Under the Bortle 8 skies of Bronx, NY.


M1 Using 100mm Binocular Telescope, from Garrett Optical, @41x

I'm looking forward to making pencil sketches of DSO's as regularly as possible (as soon as the weather starts cooperating). 

Clear skies!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Bought A New Scope - An Apertura 10" Dobsonian - Read All About The Experience...

Customer Service...Yes, It Still Exists Folks! ;)

Honestly, over all the years I've been into (and sometimes temporarily out of) this wonderful hobby of Astronomy, I have had the good fortune to purchase many optical instruments.
And frankly, the experience hasn't always been pleasant.

I know that we can all relate. I've purchased high-end (sometimes referred to "Alpha") optical instruments from several of the big camera stores... Hint: NYC
I would choose these places because of their low prices; and sometimes, because I happened to be working in the vicinity.  

Now I just happen to not be in the mood to rant or "bash" any of these places of business, so I'll just say that buying experiences there were..."cold".
However, to save my fellow hobbyists from truly awful experiences - I will flat out tell you to avoid "discount camera shops" located in Brooklyn, NY. Specifically:

Focus Camera
Abe's Of Maine

If you order anything from either of those places, chances are the experience will all but twist your guts. Trust me.
And just for any readers who are new to buying optics in general - Here's a list I stumbled upon, where the author has made an effort to warn the public of scam artists.

Okay, enough of that! I was beginning to feel like a needed a shower or something.

On to the good news - "Yes, Virginia, there is a great place to order telescopes from!"
(paraphrasing a Christmas movie here)
And it is High Point Scientific

I have no affiliation with High Point Scientific; I'm just a satisfied customer who happened to recently order a scope from them, and their customer service was both refreshing, and impressive. And I just thought I'd share my recent experience, so that my fellow hobbyists can know - That they are one of the good guys. 


I usually try to keep my posts brief, but allow me to start from the beginning...
Don't worry! I believe that many will find this story interesting!

Well, I'd decided to sell all of my astrophotography stuff, and buy a telescope. These dark (Bortle 4) skies warrant the acquisition of a good telescope just on sheer principle. Coincidentally, my fascination with planetary nebula has been increasing as of late.
Now, I realize, that (probably about 99.5% of the time) people go in the opposite direction - typically, selling a visual observing instrument in order to fund their foray into astrophotography. And many times, a hobbyist will all but completely leave one hobby for the other. 
 I ordered a new Apertura 10" Dobsonian telescope, along with an additional eyepiece
Just click the links above, if you're interested in seeing additional details about them.

I went for The Apertura, because the last Dobsonian telescope I owned was an Apertura 8" "Tweaker's Special" - It was awesome. It had factory-installed flocking - Unfortunately, those special packages are no longer available, but I digress...


Unfortunately, while assembling the base, I was unable to complete Step 7 -
The Bottom Base Plate was damaged. The nut which the Axle Sleeve goes around was not installed correctly (at the factory).
It prevented me from inserting the Axle Sleeve. I made some minor attempts to repair/correct - But all was in vain.
The damaged part remained unaffected, and I didn't want to risk actually damaging it.
I should reiterate - This was just a minor mishap on Apertura, and had nothing to do with High Point Scientific or UPS.

So, I informed High Point Scientific via e-mail, and later sent a couple of pics I took, illustrating the specific problem.
However, even before receiving the photos (of the off centered bolt) they were on it! They promptly set the ball in motion, to get a replacement Base Unit out to me - It arrived the very next day.
In fact, I had the damaged one packed-up and ready to swap for the new one when the UPS Driver arrived. Could it possibly have gone any smoother than that?
And that night, I was back up / scope assembled - and completely operational. It's just been a really long time, since I've had the pleasure of experiencing such swift, and competent customer service. 

Everyone I spoke to over the phone there, was helpful, polite, and accommodating. All-in-all, they went above and beyond to ensure customer satisfaction. And you just don't see that very often these days.

In fact, I have some additional examples to share, demonstrating their great customer service; so I may be adding some more stuff to this post soon.

So, I was the owner of their 10" Dobsonian, and it was pretty impressive, for the short time I owned it. As some readers of this blog (or my Bat Detector Review blog) may recall, I happen to be disabled. Among the issues I cope with, are 8 damaged spinal discs (inoperable). So, unfortunately, I quickly discovered my mistake of choosing such a large/heavy scope as my primary observing instrument...

I listed the 10" Apertura Dob on CraigsList, and eventually had a serious buyer. The scope has now changed hands, and it's found a good home. It will also be used by Cub Scouts, etc. 

This allowed me to purchase a pair of high performance ED Apo binoculars, which will be my main observing instrument going forward. I'm looking forward to writing about them here, in an upcoming post. 
As of this writing, they still haven't has first light - Because the weather refuses to cooperate. 

Clear skies! 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

People Like To Say They Are Doing "Low-Budget Astrophotography"...

....Allow me to share what real Low-Budget Astrophotograpy looks like...


This is the lowest priced mount recommend for Astrophotography ($1,399.99):




This is the mount I use - It's a homemade, motorized barn-door tracker (which someone graciously sent me, for just the cost of shipping ($25):


I adjusted it, and added a few things... The tripod cost about $100, and the Ball head mounts (2) were about $25 each.
So, total cost for my tracking mount - $175.

And that is pretty much how it goes for each of the other components needed...
Camera, lenses, light pollution filter(s), etc., etc.

In any case, I've sold my astrophotography gear, so that I could buy a telescope. I've been really wanting a good telescope to enjoy these beautiful, dark skies with, since we moved here. And I'm very happy to report that an Apertura 10" Dobsonian was ordered from High Point Scientific 
It has been delivered, and assembly is in progress...

I am really looking forward to observing and sketching Planetary Nebulae! And I'll be sure to scan & share my results here.

Here is a great link, which I've recently stumbled upon. I hope you find it interesting: Deep Sky Watch

Clear skies!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Just Some Astrophotography Attempts...

Detailed information about each Pic will be added here soon.

Stack of 24 30" exposures , IR modified Canon T5i, inexpensive 50mm lens; homemade barn door tracker.

IR modified Canon T5i, inexpensive (Opteka) 85mm lens; homemade barn door tracker.

IR modified Canon T5i, inexpensive 50mm lens; homemade barn door tracker

Monday, December 3, 2018

Some Awesome Links - For Online "Window shopping"

As is my custom, I am sharing some Web Links which I enjoy. I'll also add some of them (the "must haves") to a new permanent Link List.

So, in no particular order, here are some links:

Oberwerk - This link will bring you straight to the 'Astronomy (Mounted)' section of their lovely site - Which, if my estimate is correct, is exactly where you'd want to be! Simply lovely instruments, which any binocular astronomer would be thrilled to use.

I mean, would you take a look at this beauty? 




What I would really love to see, is a nice, thorough, review of this intriguing new instrument! 

One of the things which I've always greatly admired, is the fact that Oberwerk checks the collimation of each binocular before shipment. Using extremely rare and expensive equipment, I might add. I've ordered a pair or two myself over the years. And it's always been a wonderful comfort knowing this. Never had a problem.
Excellent prices, on binoculars which are built to last a lifetime.

High Point Scientific I've been spending some time admiring the scopes on this site as well. Large selection, from scopes for Kids, to serious instruments. Great prices, and - They have a Pay Over Time option! 
They offer the Apertura branded Dobs (of which I had an 8" ver. once). I really liked that scope! Here are a few sketches I made using it:

 M57 The Ring Nebula, 8" Dobsonian telescope at 120x magnification


 NGC457, open star cluster.
A quick pencil sketch, using 8" Dobsonian reflector telescope, in Bronx NY.

Sadly, I was forced to sell the Apertura Dobsonian, when my Sister-in-law moved to a smaller place (with no back garden).

Teleskop Service In Germany. Now, if you live on this side of the pond, you may be wondering: "why would I want to order an instrument from Europe?" Let me tell you, I've been lusting over the unique binoculars they offer for years!
Have a look, to see what I'm referring to... Several of the pairs they offer have interesting specifications. And I've always been intrigued by the pair featuring built-in nebula filters.

OPT Corp Another Dealer of astronomy equipment, with a large selection and very good prices. 

Orion Last, but not least is a place which everyone is familiar with. Very nice selection of instruments. Their easy Payment Plans are what I find most attractive. I wish more dealers offered similar, easy, payment plans.
The selection of binoculars, well-suited for astronomy, is what keeps me going back.
Frankly, I'm surprised I hadn't already shared the links above...since these days, I spend a lot of my free time, admiring the lovely binoculars - Looking forward to the day (~January) when I'm able to order one :) 

Clear skies!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Arrived - 'Discover the Night Sky through Binoculars' by Steven Tonkin

I'm happy to report that This book, from Steven Tonkin (an Author whose work I've always admired) has finally arrived! (I was a bit behind schedule in actually ordering it) - But, it's here, and I highly recommend it!

A full review of the book is in the works...
For now, I'll say that all binocular astronomy enthusiasts need to add this one to their collection.
One of the things that stood out to me, was how there was quite a bit of unique information, which I've never read in any book or astronomy magazine before.
Things like:
  • Unique observing methods/approaches.  
  • Simple and effective methods for finding objects.
  • Lots of interesting facts about the stars themselves, as well as some DSO's.
I'm enjoying the book overall. You owe it to yourself to check it out.
If you're a fan of binocular Astronomy (as I am), then it's a no-brainer!




Projects which are currently in progress, are:

Clear skies! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review Of The Astronomik CLS Clip-Filter (EOS APS-C)

The CLS Clip-Filter  (for The Canon EOS APS-C)




The CLS (City Light Pollution) Filter, from Astronomik, is designed to clip-in to (many models of) Canon EOS DSLR cameras. The specific filter which I was loaned for this review, is The CLS CCD Clip-Filter EOS APS-C.The CCD designation indicates that the filter is designed for use with CCD cameras (obviously!), but also IR-Modified DSLR cameras as well as Black & White film astrophotography.
Recommended for use with optical instruments/lenses of all apertures, with a focal ratio of f/3 or higher.

This particular offering from Astronomik would be of great interest to the increasing number of astrophotographers using infrared modified DSLR cameras. 

The filter fits in front of the sensor/shutter area of the camera (the area exposed whenever a lens is removed). Be advised: These types of filters don't always produce an audible "click" when inserted. It's important to take your time and use care whenever installing or removing these filters. Ensure the filter is properly seated; I sometimes test to see if it's snugly in place, by slowly tilting the camera. It's a good idea to have a clean microfiber cloth (or other suitable clean material) held directly underneath, in case the filter does in fact slip out.

The Clip-In Filter arrives very well packaged; in a foam-lined plastic case. It looks like it would be right at home even in a Professional observatory.

The Astronomik CLS CCD filter features an integrated IR blocking layer, which is very useful (and convenient) for use in Astro-modified DSLRs. 

The filter is available in many different configurations and sizes. As you can see on the links below, you should have no trouble finding the filter housing you need for your specific purpose.
I found the Clip-In Filter very easy to use. However, I would have preferred to have it actually snap into place - with an audible "click". So that I could have an additional indicator, as to whether it is completely seated or not. 
On a related note: I've learned of some hobbyists, using a very small (Jeweler's size) flat-head screwdriver, to carefully expand the two small tension "fingers" on the black filter housing - To ensure a snug fit when inserting in camera. I have not had the need to try this "work around" on my filter. Nor would I in any case, as this filter was (graciously) loaned to me for review, by the kind folks at Astro-Shop in Germany.
Here's the Link to the (Google-translated) English version of this Site.

Again, the detailed specifications of The CLS series of filters, may be seen on this page of the Astronomik site.
These are basically high-quality light pollution filters, which are available for a reasonable price. They are simply ideal for anyone imaging from an area with light pollution.

My former residence, where I made my astrophotgraphy attempts, was under Bortle 8/9 skies. Very close to the worst possible level of light pollution. Under skies like that, The CLS CCD Clip Filter is a necessity!

It would be very difficult to get any good sub-exposures, without a good light pollution filter in place. In use, I've found the filter to do an excellent job of eliminating light pollution. And more importantly, without any multi-color gradients in the resulting images; as I've experienced with both the IDAS Light Pollution Filter from Hutech and The "CLS" CCD Clip-In Filter from Optolong.

I plan to add a few more examples of astrophotos, taken with The Astronomik CLS CCD Filter, The Optolong "CLS CCD" Filter, and possibly even The Hutech IDAS Filter; so that you'll be able to better form your own conclusions, etc.
As for my recommendation, when it comes to light pollution filters for photographic use, I'd simply stick with the products made by Astronomik - And avoid the others.

But, for now, I'd like to share a couple of the images (from 2 different filters) for comparison:
A section of Cassiopeia, featuring NGC 281 (The Pacman Nebula) in the center of the FOV.
Bear in mind, that these are single frame / sub-exposures of 30 seconds each, using an 85mm lens, with ISO 1600. Everything was the same, except for the clip-in filters. 
Camera used, was my IR-Modified Canon T5i. A simple, homemade motorized barn door tracker was used as the mount. No additional filters were used, these are as shot, directly from the SD card:


Wide Field NGC 281
Optolong CLS-CCD Filter 30" NGC 281


Wide Field NGC 281
Astronomik CLS-CCD Filter 30" NGC 281


The first difference you've probably noticed between these results, is the strong red/magenta hued gradient throughout the exposure taken with The Optolong CLS-CCD Filter in place.
I always do my best to avoid light pollution filters which produce these unnatural color gradients, etc. 
As you can see, The Astronomik CLS-CCD Clip-In Filter does not produce any of these unnatural colors. Which translates into having more accurate sub-exposures for stacking, from the start. I have a couple of more examples, which illustrate the same differences as those above. Including images processed (identically) in Adobe PhotoShop and other photo editing software applications. As well as stacked & processed images (I look forward to adding them here soon).

As for The Astronomik CLS-CCD Clip-Filter, it was originally designed, produced, and named (CLS-CCD) by Astronomik in Germany. It is manufactured using very high-quality materials and processes. And the effort put forth by Astronomik is obvious when one looks at the results.


The Astronomik CLS Clip-Filter may be purchased from:
This particular review was not as lengthy as I originally envisioned it. However, I have acquired some additional images, as well as data in the form of notes, etc. So, I do hope to add some additional technical details here in the near future.

Clear skies!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Some Awesome Books (with Links) - All highly recommended!

Here are some wonderful books; which I've owned, read, and enjoyed!
Each of the following books are very good - However, I cannot praise 'Touring The Universe Through Binoculars' enough! I simply adore the book.

I hope to post more book recommendations in the near future - There are several more must-have's. Some of which I've written about (mini-reviews) on this blog in the recent past.

If you happen to own a 4" refractor, this one is a must have! Because the Author used a 4" refractor for the observations when writing this book - Excellent!
'The Messier Objects' By Stephen James O'Meara

If you enjoy binocular astronomy (as I do) you should already have this book! If you don't: Get yourself a copy immediately - You will thank me for it! 
'Touring The Universe Through Binoculars' By Philip S. Harrington

If you enjoy sketching the objects seen through your telescope (or binoculars), this is THE book to get - It features multiple (expert/experienced) Authors, each highly skilled in the art of Astronomical Sketching!
'Astronomical Sketching A Step By Step Introduction' (By Various Authors)
  
...And - This book, from Steven Tonkin (an Author whose work I've always admired) has recently been announced. You owe it to yourself to check it out.
And if you're a fan of binocular Astronomy (as I am), then it's a no-brainer!




Also, I believe I've written about this book here before (also by Stephen Tonkin) it is called 'Binocular Astronomy'.

Projects which are currently in progress, are:

Clear skies! 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Recent Move To A Dark Sky Location - Reviews Are Coming!

Please note - That the next full review posted here, will be of The Astronomik CLS-CCD clip-in filter...
I apologize for the delay, I'm in the process of un-packing at our new residence (under Bortle 4 skies!).

However, I'm very happy to announce, that I will be testing and reviewing The SQM-L (Sky Quality Meter) from Unihedron

A sincere thank you, to the nice Folks at Unihedron, for loaning me a new unit to review! The device has arrived, and I find it (as well as the whole idea of it) fascinating! 
Well, there will be a lot more on all of this soon!

I also just stumbled upon another neat blog - Small Telescopes 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Waiting For The Awful Weather To Clear Up...

Finally, the wait is over - I've been anxiously awaiting for clear skies, in order to get some test shots with the new CLS Filter from Astronomik/Astro-Shop.

According to the Clear Sky Clock the awful weather will finally clear up tonight!

I was able to test The CLS filter a bit tonight, and for now, I'll just add: 
When using the new (original) CLS Clip-In Filter made by Astronomik (supplied by Astro-Shop), I immediately noticed an absence of color gradients. None visible in the sub-exposures, or the post-processed Subs (as seen when using The Optolong CLS filter). So far, so good. 

A nice (and very thorough) blog I just came across: Ten Minute Astronomy, here is one of the pages regarding sketching.

Here is an excellent Site I must share: TieDyeAstronomer

More to follow...

Clear skies!