Ken Hough's Website
Astrophotography

A Very Brief History

Photography has been with us since the days of "daguerreotypes" in the early 1800's and photographs of the moon were taken as far back as the 1840's. But it wasn't until the the late 1800's that photography had developed sufficiently to allow for detailed recording of astronomical subjects.

Back then, the photographic materials of the day were supported on large glass plates. The materials were not very sensitive, especially towards red light, and they suffered badly from "reciprocity failure".

Many techniques were applied to increase sensitivity, such as gas sensitisation and controlled pre-exposure to light.

It wasn't until the introduction of modern 35mm film that astrophotography became viable for amateur astronomers. Even then lack of sensitivity towards red light and "reciprocity failure" remained as problems with most filmstock. However, by careful choice of filmstock and of techniques, excellent results could be produced.

Astrophotography really took off for amateur astronomers with the introduction of digital cameras and personal computers. Mass market DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras can be used to produce stunning images of many celestial objects. Although DSLRs are quite easy to use, they still present some limitations, particularly with regard to poor sensitivity towards deep red light (ie Hydrogen alpha).

DSLRs have been developed to provide the best overall performance for terrestrial subjects. For dedicated astronomical usage, purpose built "CCD" cameras are available. These do not suffer from lack of sensitivity towards red light.

For more details about digital cameras, refer to other sections.

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22/02/13