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"Astrophotography for the Amateur" by Michael A. Covington

Softcover - 346 pages, 2nd edition (1999, reprinted with corrections 2000)
Cambridge University Press; ISBN: 0 521 64133 0
Dimensions (in inches): 9.69 x 7.5 x 0.69
Other Available Editions: None

Click on image at left to view enlargement (208,230 bytes)

"Astrophotography for the Amateur" is among the best of only a few books which Company Seven recommends to those persons who own or wish to acquire a telescope or other equipment that may be suitable for astrophotography. This book will instruct you about how to attach a film camera or digital camera to a telescope to capture images of what may be seen - or which may otherwise be invisible! It will also teach you what may be accomplished with relatively simple camera quipment. "Astrophotography for the Amateur" is a concise guide about taking photographs of the stars and star clusters, galaxies, the sun, the moon, comets, meteors, and eclipss. It is written and illustrated in such a manner that anyone from junior high/middle school to the experienced amateur astronomer will find the book readable, interesting, and informative. This is the most comprehensive and among the more up to date of the books written specifically for amateurs who may be beginning astrophotography, but it will also help others who have been involved in photography improve, and progress into new areas and techniques.

This book does cover a lot of material, and the subjects are well supported with diagrams, formulae, and illustrations. While no particular subject is covered in the most extensive detail, "Astrophotography for the Amateur" is a good overview of the subject matter - possibly the best overview of the subject in one readable book. This book does not "name names" so to speak regarding particular accessories; the author prefers to concentrate more on technique and less on suggesting specific products. For example under Solar Filters there is no real discussion about one of most popular, and newest solar filters - the popular Baader Planetarium AstroSolar polymer. And so, you may wish to contact Company Seven for a bit more advice about the latest hardware after reading about the general techniques in this book.

Chapters also include much practical advice as well as understandable explanations of theory, a good bibliography, and other appendices of helpful information - but it does not list Company Seven as a resource for the community - we deduct one grade point for that oversight!

Table of Contents:

Notes to the reader
Symbols used in formulae


1 Welcome to Astrophotography

    1.1 The challenge of astrophotography
    1.2 Choosing equipment
    1.3 Sharing your work with others
    1.4 Maintaining balance and enjoyment

2 Photographing stars without a telescope

    2.1 Stars and trails
    2.2 Basic Technique: Photographing stars without a telescope
    2.3 How long can you expose?
    2.4 Practical Note: How to approach formulae
    2.5 Choice of camera and lens
    2.6 Slides versus prints
    2.7 Practical Note: Getting good color prints
    2.8 Getting the most out of your film
    2.9 Keeping records
    2.10 Practical Note: Film and false economy
    2.11 Interpreting your pictures scientifically

3 Comets, meteors, aurtiae, and space dust

    3.1 Comets
    3.2 Basic Technique 2: Photographing of bright comet
    3.3 Meteors
    3.4 Basic Technique 3: Photographing a meteor shower
    3.5 Aurorae
    3.6 Basic Technique 4: Photographing the aurora borealis
    3.7 Zodiacal light, Gegenschein, and lunar libation clouds
    3.8 All-sky cameras

4 The moon

    4.1 Lenses and image size
    4.2 Using a telephoto lens
    4.3 Basic Technique 5: Photographing the moon through a telephoto lens
    4.4 Detemining exposures
    4.5 Practical Note: What is a stop?
    4.6 Afocal coupling to telescopes and binoculars
    4.7 Basic Technique 6: Photographing the moon (afocal method)
    4.8 Films and processing

5 Eclipses

    5.1 Lunar eclipses
    5.2 Lunar eclipse dates and times
    5.3 Lunar eclipse photography
    5.4 Videotaping a lunar eclipse
    5.5 Basic Technique 7: Photographing an eclipse of the moon
    5.6 Solar eclipses - partial and annular
    5.7 Eclipse safety
    5.8 Practical Note: How eclipse eye injuries happen
    5.9 Basic Technique 8: Viewing a solar eclipse by projection
    5.10 Safe solar filters
    5.11 Photographing partial solar eclipses
    5.12 Basic Technique 9: Photographing a partial solar eclipse
    5.13 Solar eclipses - total
    5.14 Shadow bands and other phenomena
    5.15 Basic Technique 10: Photographing a total solar eclipse
    5.16 Session planning
    5.17 Videotaping solar eclipses
    5.18 The 1999 total eclipse in Europe


    6 Coupling cameras to telescopes
    6.1 Prime-focus astrophotography
    6.2 Telescope types and optical limitations
    6.3 Image size and field of view
    6.4 Afocal coupling
    6.5 Positive projection
    6.6 Practical Note: Measuring S2 for eyepiece projection
    6.7 Negative projection
    6.8 Compression (focal reducers)
    6.9 Combinations of projection setups
    6.10 Diffraction-limited resolution
    6.11 The subtle art of focusing
    6.12 Camera viewfinders
    6.13 Practical Note: Does your SLR focus accurately?
    6.14 Aerial-image and crosshair focusing
    6.15 Knife-edge focusing
    6.16 How accurately must we focus?
    6.17 Focusing Schmidt-Cassegrains and Maksutovs

7 The solar system

    7.1 Film or CCD?
    7.2 The challenge of high resolution
    7.3. Tracking
    7.4 Vibration
    7.5 Unsteady air
    7.6 Dew
    7.7 The sun
    7.8 The moon
    7.9 Planetary photography
    7.10 The individual planets
    7.11 Basic Technique 11: Photographing a planet (afocal method)
    7.12 Basic Technique 12: Photographing a planet (by projection)

8 Deep-sky photography

    8.1 Piggy-backing
    8.2 Basic Technique 13: Piggy-back deep-sky photography
    8.3 Basic Technique 14: Polar alignment procedure
    8.4 Barn-door trackers
    8.5 Lenses for deep-sky work
    8.6 Scale enlargement and edge-of-field fall-off
    8.7 Magnitude limits and surface brightness
    8.8 Guiding
    8.9 Practical Note: What do you mean by 12 volts?
    8.10 Polar alignment accuracy
    8.11 Periodic gear error, PEC, and autoguiding
    8.12 Choice of film
    8.13 Light pollution and nebula filters
    8.14 Practical Note: The campaign against light pollution
    8.15 Deep-sky photography through the telescope
    8.16 Basic Technique 15: Deep-sky photography with an off-axis guider
    8.17 Keeping warm while observing
    8.18 Safety and etiquette at the observing site
    8.19 Mosquitoes and other vermin


    9 Cameras, lenses, and telescopes
    9.1 The 35-mm SLR
    9.2 Choosing an SLR
    9.3 Olympus SLRs
    9.4 Nikon SLRs
    9.5 Other SLR makers
    9.6 Buying used cameras
    9.7 Camera maintenance and repair
    9.8 Some miscellaneous SLR hints
    9.9 Other types of cameras
    9.10 Special astrocameras
    9.11 Lenses
    9.12 Lens quality and performance
    9.13 Lens mounts
    9.14 Buying lenses
    9.15 Basic Technique 16: Testing lenses
    9.16 Lens repair
    9.17 Choosing a telescope
    9.18 Practical Note: Does a lower f-ratio give a brighter image?
    9.19 Telescope quality and performance
    9.20 Basic Technique 17: Star-testing a telescope
    9.21 How to clean optics

10 Film

    10.1 How film works
    10.2 Spectral sensitivity
    10.3 The characteristic curve
    10.4 Film speed
    10.5 Reciprocity failure: theory
    10.6 Reciprocity failure: measurement
    10.7 Practical Note: Does film "give up" after a certain amount of time?
    10.8 Hypersensitization
    10.9 Graininess and resolution
    10.10 Some specific films
    10.11 Practical Note: Film: What's in a name?
    10.12 Practical Note: Is "professional" film better?
    10.13 Bulk loading

11 Developing, printing, and photographic enhancement

    11. 1 The darkroom
    11.2 Developing black-and-white film
    11.3 Black-and-white printing
    11.4 Practical Note: Color negatives on black-and-white paper?
    11.5 Making high-contrast prints
    11.6 Unsharp masking
    11.7 Processing color film
    11.8 Practical Note: Help! The film is scratched!
    11.9 Slide duplication
    11.10 Rephotography


12 Computer image enhancement

    12.1 How computers represent images
    12.2 Resolution and image size
    12.3 Practical Note: How images get resized
    12.4 File compression
    12.5 File formats
    12.6 Getting images into the computer
    12.7 Scanner artifacts
    12.8 Practical Note: Taking pictures that scan well
    12.9 The ethics of retouching
    12.10 Manipulating the characteristic curve
    12.11 Working with histograms
    12.12 Manipulating color
    12.13 Enhancing detail
    12.14 Practical Note: An example of digital enhancement
    12.15 Combining images
    12.16 Printing out the results
    12.17 Image enhancement theory: spatial frequency
    12.18 Practical Note: Signal and noise
    12.19 Convolutions, 1: smoothing
    12.20 Practical Note: Median filters
    12.21 Convolutions, 2: sharpening
    12.22 The Laplacian operator
    12.23 Practical Note: Convolution or deconvolution? 12.24 Maximum-entropy deconvolution

13 CCD imaging

    13.1 How CCDs work
    13.2 Video and digital cameras
    13.3 Astronomical CCD cameras
    13.4 Field of view
    13.5 Aiming and focusing
    13.6 Exposure
    13.7 Optimal focal length
    13.8 Basic Technique 18: Imaging the moon or a planet
    13.9 Flat-fielding
    13.10 Calibration frames
    13.11 Deep-sky work
    13.12 Choosing a CCD camera


    A Exposure tables
    A.1 How exposures are calculated
    A.2 Obtaining B from photometric brightness
    A.3 Other systems for calculating exposure
    A.4 Practical Note: Why don't my results agree with the tables?
    A.5 Moon and lunar eclipses
    A.6 Sun and solar eclipses
    A.7 Planets
    A.8 Faint objects

B Mathematical analysis of polar-axis misalignment

    B.1 Summary of the most important results
    B.2 Declination drift
    B.3 Field rotation
    B.4 Computer algorithms

C Plans for an electronic drive corrector

    C.1 How it works
    C.2 Circuits and parts list
    C.3 Adaptation to 240 V, 50 Hz
    CA Drive rates
    C.5 Line power supply
    C.6 Other designs

D Film data

    D.1 Kodak Technical Pan film (TP)
    D.2 Kodak Professional Ektachrome Film E200
    D.3 Kodak Professional Ektapress Films

E Photographic filters

    E.1 High-efficiency yellow, oranges, and reds
    E.2 Other sharp-cutoff filters
    E.3 Color balancing filters EA Other filters

F Organizations and resources

    F. I Organizations
    F.2 Internet resources
    F.3 Magazines
    FA Manufacturers
    F.5 Dealers
    F.6 Camera repairs and modifications
Colour plates
Price $30.00 (U.S.D.); please add $4.00 for domestic postage, or $6.00 for international postage.

The Author:

Michael A. Covington: an avid amateur astronomer since the age of 12, Michael Covington has linguistics degrees from Cambridge and Yale. Currently, he is engaged in research at the University of Georgia's Artificial Intelligence Center, where his work won first prize in the IBM Supercomputing Competition in 1990. His current research and consulting areas include logic programming, computational linguistics, and computer security. His other pursuits include amateur radio (his call sign is N4TMI), electronics, computers, ancient languages and literatures, philosophy, theology, and church work. He is the author of several books and over 200 magazine articles, mainly about computers. He lives in Athens, Georgia, USA, with his wife Melody and daughters Cathy and Sharon, and can be visited on the Web at


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