Film

Yeah, you know, the stuff that used to go in cameras. When preparing to write this book, some of my astrophotographer friends urged me to "keep film." I wanted to, but I just could not do it. I bow to no one in my love for the old way of astrophotography. Even after using CCDs/electronic cameras exclusively for nearly a decade, I still find myself missing the smell of darkroom chemicals. Unfortunately I decided film would go for a couple of reasons. Foremost is quality and ease of use. Today's big-chip CCD cameras can produce images of the night sky better than those the best film astrophotographers were turning out a decade ago. CCD cams are easier to use, too. Not only are exposures shorter, lessening problems with things like guiding, there's immediate feedback at the end of that exposure. Even without post-processing, it's usually clear if the shot is "in the can." With film it was necessary to wait until the roll was developed the next day. Finally and most fatally, the number of astrophotography suitable films (and all films) continues to shrink as the big names, Kodak and Fuji, abandon film for digital.

Not that there are not still things in film's favor. Very good used 35mm single lens reflex cameras that are perfect for deep sky imaging are dirt cheap now. Not sure if astro-imaging is for you? Spend a little on 35mm before spending a lot on CCD. Most of the techniques learned with film—focusing, guiding, etc.—are at least partially transferrable to the CCD world. One group i don't recommend film for? Solar System imagers. Unless the Moon and the Moon alone is the target, forget it. The best professional film images of the planets don't hold a candle to pictures produced with a webcam.

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