Astrophotography is more than just about taking pretty pictures. In the same way that a telescope widens and deepens our view of the sky and enables us to see so much more than we can with the naked eye, so do cameras. And the camera is not only more sensitive but it can retain data and build up images. The end result is that for any telescope the limiting magnitude of a camera will typically be 2 or more magnitudes greater than what can be achieved visually under perfect conditions. We can see at least 6 times further or deeper into the universe and we can, with the use of various filters, see a far wider range of wavelengths. And it doesn't stop there because with all the clever computer software that we have at our disposal we can alter the end results in ways which will often change our view of reality.
However, as one of my friends remarked to me one day, 'we didn't realise how technical astronomy is' - and this is even truer of Astrophotography. Not only do you have to cope with all the problems involved in using a telescope, but then you have the added complications of operating even the simplest of cameras - and a whole new language to deal with. And then there is the software side of things, learning to use the various programs for capturing the images and processing them.
And all of this doesn't come cheaply, either in terms of time or money, especially if you really get involved in deep sky astrophotography, though good results can be much more easily obtained if you restrict yourself to devices like webcams and stick to the Moon, planets and brighter objects.
It is also an area where development is so rapid that even the cheapest of cameras have such a multitude of options that doing anything other than simple point and shoot at the Moon can be quite tricky. Hence the advice to beginners to spend the first year just doing visual observations and learn how use the telescope in a reasonably competent manner.
This section, like the rest of the site is merely intended to try to give a very basic, non-technical introduction for beginners as to what is possible.
The human eye is a remarkable organ backed up by the most remarkable organ of all, the human brain. This interprets everything that the eye 'sees', filling in an awful lot of the detail and often discarding a lot too. In contrast a camera, and here we are talking about the modern digital camera, webcams and their like, faithfully and accurately records everything that they 'see', including the faults in their own mechanism. But modern computer software gives us the ability to manipulate these 'photos' to an extent that amateur astronomers can produce results which even professional astronomers would not have managed 20 or 30 years ago.
If we forget camera film there are 4 main options that we have nowadays. The Afocal method which involves a compact digital camera attached to the eyepiece (point and shoot), webcams, DLSRs which come in various forms and the CCD cameras. Over time sections will be added to this site covering each of these options, but only as introductions. There are plenty of sites which cover these areas in far more depth than is possible or worthwhile for beginners.
As regards books, 'Making Every Photon Count' is highly regarded and the glossary at the end is particularly good for anyone who isn't already a photographer. However, it is concerned mainly with Deep Sky Objects rather than the 'easier' Moon and planets. For these good results can be obtained using just a cheap webcam and that is where we start.
Phillips SPC900NC webcam
Orion StarShoot G3 Deep Space Colour Imaging CCD Camera