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Can't Forget the Best Camera of All - Your Eyes!

04 Sep, 2019 21:44
"I want to see the rings of Saturn!" my friend exclaimed. We were in my backyard on a blazing summer night in Houston, TX. I had invited him over for dinner with my wife and my 2 year old son after which we got the scope out (along with some adult beverages). My plan was to show him how I captured photos of far off galaxies and nebulae, beginning with the Eagle Nebula. I had gotten my 9.25" Celestron EdgeHD out along with my ZWO ASI 294 single shot color camera coupled with my Hyperstar lens. All was installed and we were staring at my HP Omen laptop screen waiting for the first exposure to complete when he made the exclamation above.

I assumed it was the whiskey talking as I tried to explain to him how much cooler the Eagle Nebula would look once the countdown completed. Upon finishing my very well thought out argument (at least I thought so) he exclaimed "but I want to SEE the rings". It finally dawned on me that he was talking about the computer. To him, we weren't really seeing anything exciting because we were looking at it on a laptop screen.

Begrudgingly I disassembled my awesome setup, reinstalled my secondary mirror, and commanded my CGEM II mount to take us to Saturn. I fumbled around in my study for a few minutes before I finally found my eyepieces that I had purchased as a "nice to have" about a year ago and brought them out. As I was walking out my wife caught me and asked what I was doing (I'm assuming because she'd never seen me with eyepieces). I quickly explained that our guest "wanted to see the rings of Saturn with his own two eyes for some reason" and darted out. At this point I figured I would quickly show him the rings and then get right back on schedule with my imaging agenda.

Man was I wrong..

Upon installing the mirror diagonal and the eyepiece I checked to make sure that Saturn was dead center… And oh my goodness… I froze and didn't budge. It had been years since I looked at Saturn through my tiny 3" Mead and I had never looked at it with my EdgeHD. What I saw was absolutely stunning. It was like seeing Saturn for the first time all over again. I could clearly see the Cassini Division and I could even make out one or two of Saturn's larger moons (Titan and one other I'm guessing). "Well!" my friend exclaimed, "Can I have a look?". Begrudgingly I stepped aside and let him marvel at 6th planet in our solar system. "Wow," he exclaimed, "now this is awesome!" I couldn't agree more.

By this time my wife and my parents (who had also come for dinner) came out to see what all of the ruckus was about. I directed them to the eyepiece and they too marveled. We ended up looking at Jupiter, Mizar, and the Butterfly Cluster for the rest of the night. I had forgotten all about my "very important" imaging session as we talked about the different planets, the Milky Way, the constellations, and the mysteries of the Universe.

To this day I haven't been able to recreate that experience with my camera and laptop. Only after the fact did I realize that, while I do very much enjoy creating works of art with my camera, laptop, and software, I thoroughly enjoyed that experience more than any of my other imaging sessions.

That experience had a profound effect on me and I wanted to share it with you because it (re)taught me that our eyes are the best cameras of all! Up to that point I had always scoffed at those astronomers online who encourage people to actually "look" at different celestial objects and dismissed their suggestion as preposterous. "There's no way that actually looking at stuff could be better than taking an awesome photo" I would tell myself.

In closing I would encourage you to (every now and then) leave the camera and laptop inside and dust off those eyepieces because there's no experience like seeing with your own two eyes and sharing with those around you.

I hope Astrobin doesn't accuse me of trying to steel their thunder smile

I'd love to hear your similar experiences so please post them.

Clear skies!

04 Sep, 2019 22:53
I remember the first time I saw the Moon through a telescope, I was 13 years old, my Dad had bought me a telescope from Sear & Roebucks (now just called Sears). It was maybe a 2 or 3 inch scope and I had to keep moving it to keep up with the Earth’s rotation. It was amazing. I would take it out in the street (not a problem where I grew up) each time the Moon was out. Then one night, I don’t remember the year, I was watching the Moon and some clouds were starting to cover the Moon yet I could still see it. It took a long time before I realized I was seeing a lunar eclipse. From that point on I was hooked. At my second to last year in high school I took a photography class, B&W only. I got an old Argus 35 mm film camera somewhere and found an adapter to hold the camera lens to the eyepiece. I shot several but only three were in focus. I developed them myself at school. The sad ending to this story is I can’t find those three images. When I went into the military they disappeared from the house. I so wanted to post them here but that won’t happen but the memory is very strong in my mind.

Like Brad said, once in a while (I do it every clear sky night) go outside and look up. The put your gear together and look through the eyepiece. It will be something you will never forget.

Clear Skies to All.

Van   smile
05 Sep, 2019 07:22
Hi Brad,
I do love such stories.
Saturn is an astonomer-maker, indeed :-)
05 Sep, 2019 08:36
Thanks Van for prompting me to look at Brad's very nice story and provocation. I enjoyed yours too :-)
I do a lot of planetary imaging, but I have my diagonal and eyepieces at the ready to look visually. If the seeing is really good, and I will know because I can see the planet on the monitor, I will also look at the planet visually. The view through a C14 can be absolutely mind blowing, for both Jupiter and Saturn, but also Mars when at a favourable opposition….and when there aren't dust clouds. :-)
In terms of Brad's provocation that your eyes are the best camera of all, I always find it interesting looking at Saturn for example. Through the eyepiece, I can see the planet and the moons at the same time perfectly clearly. Yet if I image the planet such that it is correctly exposed the moons are not visible, whereas if I raise the Gain to see the moons, the planet is a white over exposed blob. So the dynamic range of the eye and brain is much better than the camera.
Also I realise when I look at Jupiter both on screen and in the eyepiece I see it much clearer than an individual photograph. Therefore I concluded my eye and brain are doing a sort of lucky imaging integration of what I am seeing.
Our eyes and brains are cleverer than we realise.

CS Niall
05 Sep, 2019 14:12
Thanks for all of the great responses so far!

Van I really enjoyed your story, especially the surprise lunar eclipse! I also really like how you were taking photos without all the technology we have today. It takes a lot of dedication to try and focus a 35 mm through an eyepiece! I'm glad the memory is strong; that will outlast any photo in my opinion smile Also thank you for your service!

Robert, thanks for the comment! I I think Saturn is everyone's favorite planet at one point or another smile

Niall, thanks for your story and I couldn't agree more! The eye and the brain will (in my opinion) always be better than any sensor or image capture apparatus out there. Not only can they expose detail that a sensor can't, but the memories will be with you forever and will outlast flood, fire, crashed hard drives, etc.

Hopefully others will share their stories as well!
05 Sep, 2019 21:08
Thanks, Brad, for sharing your wonderful story!  I don't bother showing anyone images on the computer screen anymore - it really is a letdown compared to looking through the eyepiece, especially if nice visual targets like Saturn are in view.
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