Twenty-eight Years of Progress! (more or less)

Depicted here are comparison images of The North America Nebula taken on film in 1985 with those obtained with a digital SLR camera in 2011 and a cooled CCD camera in 2012. The first was with a 300mm f4.5 Auto-Nikkor camera lens, the second with a Canon EF300mm f2.8L IS lens and the last with a Canon EF600mm f4.0L IS lens. My imperfect record keeping indicates the film version was a single 15 minute exposure, painfully and inexpertly hand-guided. The type of film is, alas, lost to antiquity. I believe it was gas-hypered, as was the rage back then, but perhaps not freshly so and the full benefit of hypering might not have been realized.

Below is another fifteen-minute film frame from 1985 compared to a stack of digital frames comprising 5 hours and 15 minutes total exposure time with a modern, cooled astronomical camera. When viewing, bear in mind it is the camera and digital stacking technique making the difference here, not the optics. Both were captured with rather similar 300mm camera lenses although the exposure values are drastically different. The availability to hobbyists and amateurs of sensitive digital detectors, autoguiders and computer software to stack and process multiple exposures results in images that even professional observatories, with huge telescopes, could not match in the days of film.

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