DSLR Modification

Same modified Canon T1i took both of these pictures.

My first DSLR was the original release of the Canon Digital Rebel. I hated digital cameras, primarily because of the long delay between the button press and the shutter click. I was a normal photography enthusiast before I was an astrophotographer (really, there are normal one’s?), and I loathed that sluggish response at my kids soccer games, or when I’d try and shoot a bird or animal at just the right moment. The digital rebel was the first digital camera I’d ever tried that didn’t have this problem, and I was sold. I’ve been a Canon fan boy ever since.

I remember the first time I put it on the back of my Meade 8″ LX-200 and pointed it at the Orion Nebula for 15 seconds. Dear God, I do NOT see a nebula on my preview screen!?!? This is of course my incident zero, you know, where the zombie bites you on the arm and it’s just a slow but inevitable slide into the daily stupor of the sleep deprived astrophotographer. My choice of an alt-az scope delayed my entry into deep space astrophotography for years. I shot the moon frequently, and occasionally the planets. My deep space efforts were an abomination. A few attempts at using a wedge led me to some late night antics and language I was not proud to have had my young son a witness to.

Today I have two Paramounts, but I learned to polar align on something much more affordable, and a bit more rickety. Gradually I pushed my exposure times as high as a minute and really one minute on a polar aligned scope opens a lot of doors that were previously closed to me. I started taking some images with my digital rebel, and now that zombie virus was really starting to take hold. I used that camera until the auto-exposure sensor stopped working. Well, then I used it some more shooting in the day on Manual, and it still brought out the faint fuzzies for me on the telescope. Eventually it died completely, and I needed a replacement. I selected the Canon T1i.

As a daytime instrument it was a fantastic upgrade. I sprung for the image stabilization on the lens, and then ended up upgrading my 300mm lens as well. Living in Florida I love to shoot the amazing variety of birds here, so astrophotography aside, I was a happy camper. From the time I first started using the original camera for astrophotography at star parties many friends and star party attendees would ask if my camera was modified. I’d heard of this. They remove the IR filter so it’s more sensitive to red light… sounds like a great way to ruin a camera I could barely afford in the first place!

For YEARS I delayed. “No, no”, I’d explain. “I use my camera too much during the day to do that to it”. Finally repeatedly being told that I could shoot in RAW and fix it in processing, and/or use a custom white balance began to sink in. After some research I found Gary Honis’s web site with instructions on how to replace the filter yourself. Again… sounds like a great way for me to ruin a camera. I decided to cough up the money to have Gary modify the camera for me. I selected the Baader UV/IR filter option, which gave me the much needed red light sensitivity, while retaining the ability to shoot during the day. The difference for astrophotography is phenomenal.

Before and After

Same camera and scope, before and after modification.

The image shown here is the Lagoon Nebula. Taken a little over a year apart, using the exact same scope and camera… but the image on the right was after having the camera modified. Bear in mind, there is another years worth of practice for what it’s worth, but no amount of processing is going to bring out that bubble gum pink color of hydrogen alpha from the image on the left!

What about my daytime photography? Well my fears were put aside after literally a single walk in the park. I shot an image of a white surface and set it for my custom white balance. With the camera in JPEG mode, I then went bird hunting. A nice white egret posed nicely for me, and I was very happy with the resulting image shown here as well.

With custom white balance you'd never know the camera was modified.

Of course I did some of the normal color balance thing we all do when the picture falls out of the camera, but I did not start with a red hazy image, it looked very close to this to begin with. When I shoot in RAW, the Adobe RAW importer let’s me remove any excess red with ease as well. I’m happy to say, my modified camera see’s no less service at zoos, birthday parties, and nature hikes than it ever did before it was modified. My fears were totally unfounded, and now of course I want to reshoot every astronomical object I’ve ever imaged all over again.

I’ve added a Canon 5D Mark II, and a QSI CCD camera with filter wheel to my arsenal of imaging equipment. I did not hesitate to have the 5D modified the very next day after it arrived. I sent it off to Hap Griffen (Gary does not do 5D’s or I’d have given him the business again) and had it modified as well. There are trade offs and pros and cons when it comes to DSLR vs. CCD. The topic of a future post… but if you don’t have your DSLR modified, there’s not point in playing at all. I wish I hadn’t waited, what are you waiting for?

Richard

PS. Gary’s web site and modification service can be found here: http://ghonis2.ho8.com/
Hap Griffin’s is also here: http://www.hapg.org/
They both did a great job on my camera’s.

 

 

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