Budget astrophotograhy

We took a Nikon D5100 and Sigma 150-500 f5-6.3 to a designated dark spot in the Cotswolds. I’ve imaged Jupiter with this lens from South Manchester, at 5.1AU distance, so I figured I could get photos at least that good from a dark site, with Jupiter at 5AU distance.

Well here is Jupiter, with some motion blur due to my strong and stable tripod:

Just out of curiosity, I also tried to get some shots of Saturn. Saturn is ~10% smaller than Jupiter, and was also almost twice as far away (9AU distance), so I didn’t expect to get any detail – maybe an oval would be the best result I could manage at 500mm with glass optics?

(Click for viewer)

In the creative and poetic words of Donald Trump: “Wrong!” – Saturn’s rings are visibly distinct from the planet itself, although no moons were resolved in any of the photos I took.

That’s Saturn and rings at 9AU distance, on a D5100 body and with a Sigma 150-500mm lens, processed with RawTherapee.

Nice. Unfortunately 9AU is the closest Saturn gets so I’m unlikely to get a better photo with the budget equipment although I’ll take some with a 1metre f/5 Skywatcher when I get time. Jupiter’s closest approach is 4.5AU (10% closer than so I’ll also try Jupiter again with the telescope when it’s at closest approach – the Skywatcher should be able to resolve the atmospheric bands on Jupiter too.

Jupiter and the Galilean moons

After the 2012 RAF Waddington Air Display, I felt that my Nikkor 55-300mm lens just didn’t have the reach or quality that I needed.  The replacement (Sigma 150-500mm) is an excellent lens and was sharp enough to resolve Jupiter’s larger moons, at a distance of approximately 608,800,000 kilometres (about as close as Jupiter gets to the Earth).

Click on a photo to view it at full-size. Includes some photos of our own moon…

I saw a very bright blob in the sky, near the moon, and guessed that it was probably a planet.  I took a few photos of it out of curiosity, wondering how much detail my lens could resolve.  I didn’t manage to get any nice “marble” photos of the planet, but did notice several “streaks” following the planet in my longer exposures.  After taking some short exposures of them, I realised that I was seeing moons!