Best telescopes deal: Multiple Celestron telescopes are available at fantastic deals



Stargazing and astrophotography have gained ground as popular hobbies in recent years, however, investing in suitable optical equipment does not come cheap. But since it’s the holiday season, there are deals on some of the best telescopes — now is the right time to bag some cool equipment.

Celestron is offering a range of telescopes on Amazon on Dec. 5 with discounts up to $100. Here are some eye-catching products from the company worth taking a look at.

Best Telescope for Beginners

Why we like it

Refractor Telescopes are beginner-friendly, and if you’re looking to purchase a well-rounded, easy to use piece, the Celestron AstroMaster 70AZ Telescope(opens in a new tab) is your best bet. The lightweight optical tool has an easy setup, and it comes with a tripod stand with adjustable height. The 70mm is suitable for gazing at celestial objects in the night sky, as well as landscapes on the horizon. One downside is the comparatively low aperture — it doesn’t make for the most detailed images while gazing. The deal includes free accessories such as two eyepieces (20mm and 10mm) and a red dot finderscope tool that makes it easier to locate objects in the night sky. Also included for free is a star diagonal, which makes for more comfortable viewing angles and prevents neck strains.

Best Compact Telescope Deal

Why we like it

Telescopes can take up ample storage space in your closet, and if you’re looking for an extremely portable telescope that’s also easy on the pocket, you’re in the right place. Observers need to simply move the tube in the concerned direction to stargaze or observe other celestial bodies. The one drawback is that the telescope has a short base, which could make it a little uncomfortable for you, but that makes it a perfect gift for your children.

Best Reflector Telescope Deal

Why we like it

The Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ-MD Newtonian Reflector Telescope(opens in a new tab) is available on Amazon for $279.99, which is its lowest price on the retailer in over two years. The 130mm glass lens provides you with sufficient brightness and great image clarity while viewing distant objects, and the German equatorial mount is better than standard fork mounts for viewing celestial bodies. This deal also comes with a motor drive, which enables more accurate tracking of objects by allowing you to maintain complete control over the scope. Additionally, a free Starry Night software package has been bundled with this deal, which is a detailed and useful guide to astronomy.



Watch the moon pass in front of Uranus today (Dec. 5)


On Monday (Dec. 5), Uranus will briefly disappear from the night sky when the moon passes in front of the faint planet in an arrangement called a lunar occultation. 

The lunar occultation will start at 12:30 p.m. EST (1730 GMT) when Uranus which will be in the constellation of Aries, begins to vanish behind the moon. At the start of the lunar occultation, Uranus will have a right ascension of 02h52m40s and be around 16 degrees above the horizon, according to In the Sky (opens in new tab). (If you hold out your fist at arm’s length, its width equals around ten degrees in the sky.)

As the seventh planet from the sun disappears behind the moon, the ice giant planet will have a visual magnitude of 5.7, meaning it won’t be particularly bright to the naked eye. The lunar occultation of Uranus will end across the globe a few hours later at 2:25 p.m. EST (1925 GMT). 

Related: December full moon 2022: The Cold Moon occults Mars

Just as is the case will all lunar occultations, or events when the moon moves in front of other astronomical objects such as solar system planets or stars, the Dec. 5 occultation of Uranus will only be visible from a tiny fraction of the Earth’s surface.

This event will be visible from Northern Europe, Northern Africa, and parts of Asia, but won’t be observable from the U.S.

This limited visibility results from the fact the moon is closer to Earth than other celestial objects. This proximity means that the moon’s position varies based on where on Earth it is observed from.

When observers in regions of our planet from which the lunar occultation of Uranus is visible see the ice giant disappear from the sky, observers on the opposite side of the planet will see the pair separated by as much as two degrees, a distance in the sky equivalent to four times the diameter of the full moon. 

That means that while skywatchers in some of these regions will miss the occultation, the position of the moon will give them a good guide to locating Uranus in the night sky.

An illustration of where Uranus will appear in the night sky throughout December 2022. (Image credit: Starry Night Education)

This will depend on Uranus being above the horizon at the time of occultation and the sky being dark enough to see the faint ice giant planet. 

Amateur astronomers lucky enough to be located in a region of the planet from which the lunar occultation of Uranus is visible can watch the event with binoculars or a telescope.

Skywatchers hoping to see the two-degree separation of the two will need to abandon the telescope. The moon and Uranus will be too widely separated as seen from these regions of Earth to be sighted in the narrow field of view of a telescope. Skywatching binoculars could help give you a closer, view, though, as they offer a wider field-of-view than telescopes.

Lunar occultations of Uranus and considered to be quite rare, but 2022 has been a bumper year for this astronomical event. Every month since Feb 2022, has seen the moon hide the ice giant at least somewhere across the globe. 

Whether you’re new to skywatching or have been it at for years, be sure not to miss our guides for the best binoculars and the best telescopes to spot Uranus and other celestial wonders. For capturing the best Uranus pictures you can, check out our recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography. 

Editor’s Note: If you catch a photo of Uranus near the moon and would like to share it with Space.com’s readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab). 



How to photograph Mars at opposition


The excitement is increasing as Mars approaches opposition on 8 December. This is because Mars oppositions are a big deal.

The term opposition describes when a planet appears on the other side of the sky to the Sun.

Geometrically, this also means we’re closer to a planet at opposition than at any other time.

For more distant worlds, the difference that makes to its appearance isn’t so significant.

Positioned on the opposite side of the Earth to the Sun, here Jupiter is shown at opposition. Credit: Steve Marsh

An exception is Saturn, but only because of the ‘opposition effect’, a phenomenon that makes Saturn’s rings glow brighter at opposition than at other times.

However, Mars is a nearer world and its opposition appearance is considerably better than at other times.

When are Mars oppositions? 

The difference in the apparent size of Mars when it’s at its most favourable opposition and when at its most distant from Earth. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Mars oppositions occur every 2.1 years. At optimal oppositions it appears to have an apparent diameter over 20 arcseconds across.

As well as appearing to expand in size through the eyepiece, to the naked eye Mars also brightens impressively around opposition.

Less favourable oppositions may present the planet with an apparent arcsecond diameter in the low-teens.

The 2022 Mars opposition has the Red Planet reaching a maximum apparent diameter of 17.2 arcseconds on 1 December, when Mars is closest to Earth. At this time it’ll appear to shine at mag. –1.8.

Photographing Mars at opposition

A comparison of Mars’s apparent diameter when at opposition from 2016–35. Credit: Pete Lawrence

If you’re wondering what the best way is to image Mars around opposition, the answer depends on what kit you have available.

Smartphone

Mars, three ways: captured with (left to right) a smartphone, a DSLR and then a high-frame-rate camera with a large telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence

The planet’s impressive orange-hued, star-like dot should be relatively easy to photograph with a modern smartphone, even if it doesn’t pick up many surrounding stars.

Here, a good strategy is to catch Mars low in the sky, bringing foreground objects into the view to give the planet context.

A bright Moon can be used to set the scene too. Grab a show of the full Moon near bright Mars, low above a visible horizon and you’ll have a winning shot.

Dates when this will happen are 10 and 11 November, and the nights of 7 and 8 December.

Mars is occulted by the Moon early on 8 December, so prepare to extend the evening session on 7 December into the early hours of the following morning for some real Moon–Mars drama.

For more advice, read our guide on how to photograph the night sky with a smartphone.

DSLR camera

Mars and the Pleiades, photographed by Gábor Szendrői, Hungary, 30 March 2019. Equipment: Canon EOS 700D DSLR camera, Leica APO-Telyt-R 3.4 / 180mm lens.

A DSLR or equivalent camera with a mid- to wide-angle lens will be able to capture some serious shots of Mars, with or without the Moon.

The planet is currently moving fairly slowly through Taurus, a feature-rich part of the sky.

Mid-angle lenses should capture the planet and most, if not all, of the stars surrounding it.

This includes the beautiful Pleiades and Hyades open clusters, as well as bright Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri) which conveniently, for comparison purposes, also appears orange.

A wide-angle lens could extend the sky coverage to include the Orion constellation too.

A DSLR or equivalent allows you to get a great shot of the general star-scene with Mars, using relatively short exposures on a fixed tripod.

From a dark-sky site, consider using a tracking mount to extend exposure time.

This will allow you to reduce ISO, producing better colour tone and less noise in your images.

It will also allow you to go deeper in terms of the stars and nebulosity that are revealed.   

Photograph Mars at opposition: step-by-step

Equipment

  • Camera
  • Fixed or tracking mount

UCA senior’s hobby yields stunning images


When Erik Stinnett is not in class or studying, he is spending time researching, teaching and mastering the art of astrophotography. 

Stinnet, a senior computer science major, has been interested in astronomy for as long as he can remember. When he was in elementary school, Stinnett’s grandparents gifted him a motorized telescope, but it wasn’t until he was a freshman in college that he really started to learn about all its functions. One night he decided he wanted to take a photo of the moon using the camera on his mobile phone.  

“I got my telescope out and put my phone up to the eyepiece and took a few pictures,” Stinnett said. “It wasn’t a very good image. It was blurry and out of focus, but I thought it was cool that I was able to do that. My interest grew from there.” 

Erik Stinnett

Stinnet and his father began researching the kind of equipment they would need to capture images for both deep-sky and wide-field astrophotography. Deep-sky astrophotography involves capturing images beyond the Solar System like star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. It requires a special astronomy camera that connects to a telescope and computer. Wide-field astrophotography generally refers to images inside our solar system and can be shot using a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera and a tripod.

“It was a long process of learning and figuring out how everything works together,” he said.

After a lot of trial and error, Stinnett captured a clear deep-sky image of the Orion Nebula one January night.  

“It wasn’t as clear as some of my work now, but it was the first time I could make out something. I was super excited because it was the first time it worked,” he said. 

Photo credit: Erik Stinnett

Stinnett kept shooting and improving. In 2020, one of his images placed 2nd in the 2020 Jewel Moore Nature Reserve Photo Contest. He won the 2022 contest with a panorama image of the Milky Way at Steel Creek.

This year, Stinnett and his classmates took an overnight trip to the Buffalo National River as a part of a Schedler Honors College course called “Nature’s Nation: Stewardship and Sustainability in Public Lands.” During a conversation with one of the park rangers, Stinnett mentioned his interest in astrophotography. 

“She thought that was cool and asked me if I had any pictures of the night sky at the park. She wanted to use them to promote an appreciation of the night sky,” Stinnett said. The Buffalo National River has been intentional about decreasing its light footprint. In 2019, the park became the first place in Arkansas to receive an International Dark Sky Park Designation. 

Photo Credit: Erik Stinnett

Stinnett sent some images and eventually became connected with Cassandra Johannson, a park ranger, who asked if he would do a wide-field photography workshop at Buffalo Point campground. About 20 people signed up for the first class. 

“I started out with a presentation on what astrophotography is and how to shoot. Then for about two hours after that – until about midnight – we were out by the river taking photos.” 

Stinnett has since gone back to the park to teach other workshops. Over fall break, he gave another presentation and led a workshop at Arkansas’ inaugural Dark Sky Festival at Tyler Bend campground.  He shares his images on his Instagram account and plans to keep up his hobby of capturing the night sky. 

“It is a challenging process to master, but it is certainly worth it,” Stinnett said.



Testing six AI-based noise reduction programs for astrophotography


In a detailed technical blog I compare six AI-based noise reduction programs for the demands of astrophotography. Some can work wonders. Others can ruin your image.

Over the last two years, we have seen a spate of specialized programs introduced for removing digital noise from photos. The new generation of programs use artificial intelligence (AI), aka machine learning, trained on thousands of images to better distinguish unwanted noise from desirable image content. At least that’s the promise – and for noisy but normal daytime images they do work very well. But in astrophotography our main subjects – stars – can look a lot like specks of pixel-level noise. How well can each program reduce noise without eliminating stars or wanted details, or introducing odd artifacts, making images worse?

To find out, I tested six of the new AI-based programs on real-world – or rather “real-sky” – astro photos. Does one program stand out from the rest for astrophotography?

NOTE: All the images are full-resolution JPGs you can tap or click on to download for detailed inspection. But that does make the blog page slow to load initially. Patience!

The new AI-trained noise reduction programs can indeed eliminate noise better than older non-AI programs, while leaving fine details untouched or even sharpening them.

  • Of the group tested, the winner for use on just star-filled images is a specialized program for astrophotography, NoiseXTerminator from RC-Astro.
  • For nightscapes and other images, Topaz DeNoise AI performed well, better than it did in earlier versions that left lots of patchy artifacts, something AI programs can be prone to.
  • While ON1’s new NoNoise AI 2023 performed fine, it proved slightly worse in some cases than its earlier 2022 version. Its new sharpening routine needs work.
  • Other new programs, notably Topaz Photo AI and Luminar’s Noiseless AI, also need improvement before they are ready to be used for the rigours of astrophotography.
  • For reasons explained below, I would not recommend DxO’s PureRAW2.

The three test images in Adobe Camera Raw showing the Basic settings applied.

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METHODOLOGY

As described below, while some of the programs can be used as stand-alone applications, I tested them all as plug-ins for Photoshop, applying each as a smart filter applied to a developed raw file brought into Photoshop as a Camera Raw smart object.

Most of these programs state that better results might be obtainable by using the stand-alone app on original raw files. But for my personal workflow I prefer to develop the raw files with Adobe Camera Raw, then open those into Photoshop for stacking and layering, applying any further noise reduction or sharpening as non-destructive smart filters.

Many astrophotographers also choose to stack unedited original images with specialized stacking software, then apply further noise reduction and editing later in the workflow. So my workflow and test procedures reflect that.

However, the exception is DxO’s PureRAW2. It can work only on raw files as a stand-alone app, or as a plug-in from Adobe Lightroom. It does not work as a Photoshop plug-in. I tested PureRAW2 by dropping raw Canon .CR3 files onto the app, then exporting the results as raw DNG files, but with the same settings applied as with the other raw files. For the nightscape and wide-field images taken with lenses in DxO’s extensive database, I used PureRAW’s lens corrections, not Adobe’s.

As shown above, I chose three representative images:

  • A nightscape with star trails and a detailed foreground, at ISO 1600.
  • A wide-field deep-sky image at ISO 1600 with an 85mm lens, with very tiny stars.
  • A close-up deep-sky image taken with a telescope and at a high ISO of 3200, showing thermal noise hot pixels.

Each is a single image, not a stack of multiple images.

Before applying the noise reduction, the raw files received just basic color corrections and a contrast boost to emphasize noise all the more.

THE CONTENDERS

In the test results for the three images, I show the original raw image, plus a version with noise reduction and sharpening applied using Adobe Camera Raw’s own sliders, with luminance noise at 40, color noise at 25, and sharpening at 25.

I use this as a base comparison, as it has been the noise reduction I have long applied to images. However, ACR’s routine (also found in Adobe Lightroom) has not changed in years. It is good, but it is not AI.

The new smart AI programs should improve upon this. But do they?

PLEASE NOTE:

  • I have refrained from providing prices and explaining buying options, as frankly some can be complex!
  • For those details and for trial copies, go to the software’s website by clicking on the link in the header product names below.
  • All programs are available for Windows and MacOS. I tested the latter versions.
  • I have not provided tutorials on how to use the software; I have just reported on their results. For trouble-shooting their use, please consult the software company in question.

ON1 NoNoise 2023’s control interface.

ON1 NoNoise AI 2023

ON1’s main product is the Lightroom/Photoshop alternative program called ON1 Photo RAW, which is updated annually to major new versions. It has full cataloging options like Lightroom and image layering like Photoshop. Its Edit module contains the NoNoise AI routine. But NoNoise AI can be purchased as a stand-alone app that also installs as a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s what I tested here. The latest 2023 version of NoNoise AI added ON1’s new Tack Sharp AI sharpening routine.

Version tested: 17.0.1

Topaz DeNoise AI’s four-pane view to select the best AI model.

Topaz DeNoise AI

This program has proven very popular and has been adopted by many photographers – and astrophotographers – as an essential part of an editing workflow. It performs noise reduction only, offering a choice of five AI models. Auto modes can choose the models and settings for you based on the image content, but you can override those by adjusting the strength, sharpness, and recovery of original detail as desired.

A separate program, Topaz Sharpen AI, is specifically for image sharpening, but I did not test it here. Topaz Gigapixel AI is for image resizing.

Version tested: 3.7.0

Topaz Photo AI’s control interface for its three main functions: noise, sharpening and upscaling.

Topaz Photo AI

In 2022 Topaz introduced this new program which incorporates the trio of noise reduction, sharpening and image resizing in one package. Like DeNoise, Sharpen and Gigapixel, Photo AI works as a stand-alone app or as a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop. Photo AI’s Autopilot automatically detects and applies what it thinks the image needs. While it is possible to adjust settings, Photo AI offers much less control than DeNoise AI and Topaz’s other single-purpose programs.

As of this writing in November 2022 Photo AI is enjoying almost weekly updates, and seems to be where Topaz is focusing its development and marketing effort.

Version tested: 1.0.9

Luminar Neo’s Edit interface with choices of many filters and effects, including Noiseless AI.

Luminar Neo Noiseless AI

Unlike the other noise reduction programs tested here, Luminar Neo from the software company Skylum is a full-featured image editing program, with an emphasis on one-click AI effects. One of those is the new Noiseless AI, available as an extra-cost extension to the main Neo program, either as a one-time purchase or by annual subscription. Noiseless AI cannot be purchased on its own. However, Neo with most of its extensions does work as a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop.

Being new, Luminar Neo is also updated frequently, with more extensions coming in the next few months.

Version tested: 1.5.0

DxO PureRAW’s simple interface with few choices for Noise Reduction settings.

DxO PureRAW2

Like ON1, DxO makes a full-featured alternative to Adobe’s Lightroom for cataloging and raw developing called DxO PhotoLab, in version 6 as of late 2022. It contains DxO’s Prime and DeepPrime noise reduction routines. However, as with ON1, DxO has spun off just the noise reduction and lens correction parts of PhotoLab into a separate program, PureRAW2, which runs either as a stand-alone app or as a plug-in for Lightroom – but not Photoshop, as PureRAW works only on original raw files.

Unlike all the other programs, PureRAW2 offers essentially no options to adjust settings, just the option to apply, or not, lens corrections, and to choose the output format. For this testing I applied DeepPrime and exported out to DNG files.

Version tested: 2.2

Noise Terminator’s controls allow adjusting strength and detail.

RC-Astro Noise XTerminator

Unlike the other programs tested, Noise XTerminator from astrophotographer Russell Croman is designed specifically for deep-sky astrophotography. It installs as a plug-in for Photoshop or Affinity Photo, but not Lightroom. It is also available under the same purchased licence as a “process” for PixInsight, an advanced program popular with astrophotographers, as it is designed just for editing deep-sky images.

I tested the Photoshop plug-in version of Noise XTerminator. It receives occasional updates to both the actual plug-in and separate updates to the AI module.

Version tested: 1.1.2, AI model 2

Nightscape test

As with the other test images, the panels show a highly magnified section of the image, indicated in the inset. I shot the image of Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta with a Canon RF15-35mm lens on a 45-megapixel Canon R5 camera at ISO 1600.

The test results on a sample nightscape.

  • Adobe Camera Raw’s basic noise reduction did a good job, but like all general routines it does soften the image as a by-product of smoothing out high-ISO noise.
  • ON1 NoNoise 2023 retained landscape detail better than ACR but softened the star trails, despite me adding sharpening. It also produced a somewhat patchy noise smoothing in the sky. This was with Luminosity backed off to 75 from the auto setting (which always cranks up the level to 100 regardless of the image), and with the Tack Sharp routine set to 40 with Micro Contrast at 0. It left a uniform pixel-level mosaic effect in the shadow areas. Despite the new Tack Sharp option, the image was softer than with last year’s NoNoise 2022 version (not shown here as it is no longer available) which produced better shadow results.
  • Topaz DeNoise AI did a better job than NoNoise retaining the sharp ground detail while smoothing noise, always more obvious in the sky in such images. Even so, it also produced some patchiness, with some areas showing more noise than others. This was with the Standard model set to 40 for Noise and Sharpness, and Recover Details at 75. I show the other model variations below.
  • Topaz Photo AI did a poor job, producing lots of noisy artifacts in the sky and an over-sharpened foreground riddled with colorful speckling. It added noise. This was with the Normal setting and the default Autopilot settings.
  • Noiseless AI in Luminar Neo did a decent job smoothing noise while retaining, indeed sharpening ground detail without introducing ringing or colorful edge artifacts. The sky was left with some patchiness and uneven noise smoothing. This was with the suggested Middle setting (vs Low and High) and default levels for Noise, Detail and Sharpness. However, I do like Neo (and Skylum’s earlier Luminar AI) for adding other finishing effects to images such as Orton glows.
  • DxO PureRAW2 did smooth noise very well while enhancing sharpness quite a lot, almost too much, though it did not introduce obvious edge artifacts. Keep in mind it offers no chance to adjust settings, other than the mode – I used DeepPrime vs the normal Prime. Its main drawback is that in making the conversion back to a raw DNG image it altered the appearance of the image, in this case darkening the image slightly. It also made some faint star trails look wiggly!
  • Noise XTerminator really smoothed out the sky, and did so very uniformly without doing much harm to the star trails. However, it smoothed out ground detail unacceptably, not surprising given its specialized training on stars, not terrestrial content.

Conclusion: For this image, I’d say Topaz DeNoise AI did the best, though not perfect, job. 

This was surprising, as tests I did with earlier versions of DeNoise AI showed it leaving many patchy artifacts and colored edges in places. Frankly, I was put off using it. However, Topaz has improved DeNoise AI a lot.

Why it works so well, when Topaz’s newer program Photo AI works so poorly is hard to understand. Surely they use the same AI code? Apparently not. Photo AI’s noise reduction is not the same as DeNoise AI.

Similarly, ON1’s NoNoise 2023 did a worse job than their older 2022 version. One can assume its performance will improve with updates. The issue seems to be with the new Tack Sharp addition.

NoiseX Terminator might be a good choice for reducing noise in just the sky of nightscape images. It is not suitable for foregrounds.

WIDE-FIELD IMAGE TEST

I shot this image of Andromeda and Triangulum with an 85mm Rokinon RF lens on the 45-megapixel Canon R5 on a star tracker. Stars are now points, with small ones easily mistaken for noise. Let’s see how the programs handle such an image, zooming into a tiny section showing the galaxy Messier 33.

The test results on a sample wide-field deep-sky image.

  • Adobe Camera Raw’s noise and sharpening routines do take care of the worst of the luminance and chrominance noise, but inevitably leave some graininess to the image. This is traditionally dealt with by stacking multiple sub-exposures.
  • ON1 NoNoise 2023 did a better job than ACR, smoothing the worst of the noise and uniformly, without leaving uneven patchiness. However, it did soften star images, almost like it was applying a 1- or 2-pixel gaussian blur, adding a slight hazy look to the image. And yet the faintest stars that appeared as just perceptible blurs in the original image were sharpened to one- or two-pixel points. This was with only NoNoise AI applied, and no Tack Sharp AI. And, as I show below, NoNoise’s default “High Detail” option introduced with the 2022 version and included in the 2023 edition absolutely destroys star fields. Avoid it.

ON1 NoNoise “High Detail” option ruins star fields, as shown at right. Use “Original” instead.

  • Topaz DeNoise AI did a better job than Camera Raw, though it wasn’t miles ahead. This was with the Standard setting. Its Low Light and Severe models were not as good, surprising as you might think one of those choices would be the best for such an image. It pays to inspect Topaz’s various models’ results. Standard didn’t erase stars; it actually sharpened the fainter ones, almost a little too much, making them look like specks of noise. Playing with Enhance Sharpness and Recover Detail didn’t make much difference to this behavior.
  • Topaz Photo AI again performed poorly. Its Normal mode left lots of noise and grainy artifacts. While its Strong mode shown here did smooth background noise better, it softened stars, wiping out the faint ones and leaving colored edges on the brighter ones.
  • Noiseless AI in Luminar Neo did smooth fine noise somewhat, better than Camera Raw, but still left a grainy background, though with the stars mostly untouched in size and color.
  • DxO PureRAW2 did eliminate noise quite well, while leaving even the faintest stars intact, unlike with the deep-sky image below, which is odd. However, it added some dark halos to bright stars from over-sharpening. And, as with the nightscape example, PureRAW’s output DNG was darker than the raw that went in. I don’t want noise reduction programs altering the basic appearance of an image, even if that can be corrected later in the workflow.
  • Noise XTerminator performed superbly, as expected – after all, this is the subject matter it is trained to work on. It smoothed out random noise better than any of the other programs, while leaving even the faintest stars untouched, in fact sharpening them slightly. Details in the little galaxy were also unharmed.

Conclusion: The clear winner was NoiseXTerminator. 

Topaz DeNoise was a respectable second place, performing better than it had done on such images in earlier versions. Even so, it did alter the appearance of faint stars which might not be desirable.

ON1 NoNoise 2023 also performed quite well, with its softening of brighter stars yet sharpening of fainter ones perhaps acceptable, even desirable for an effect.

Telescopic deep-sky test

I shot this image of the NGC 7822 complex of nebulosity with a SharpStar 61mm refractor, using the red-sensitive 30-megapixel Canon Ra and with a narrowband filter to isolate the red and green light of the nebulas.

Again, the test image is a single raw image developed only to re-balance the color and boost the contrast. No dark frames were applied, so the 8-minute exposure at ISO 3200 taken on a warm night shows thermal noise as single “hot pixel” white specks.

The test results on a sample deep-sky close-up.

  • Adobe Camera Raw did a good job smoothing the worst of the noise, suppressing the hot pixels but only by virtue of it softening all of the images slightly at the pixel level. However, it leaves most stars intact.
  • ON1 NoNoise 2023 also did a good job smoothing noise while also seeming to boost contrast and structure slightly. But as in the wide-field image, it did smooth out star images a little, though somewhat photogenically, while still emphasizing the faintest stars. This was with no sharpening applied and Luminosity at 60, down from the default 100 NoNoise applies without fail. One wonders if it really is analyzing images to produce optimum settings. With no Tack Sharp sharpening applied, the results on this image with NoNoise 2023 looked identical to NoNoise 2022.
  • Topaz DeNoise AI did another good job smoothing noise, while leaving most stars unaffected. However, the faintest stars and hot pixels were sharpened to be more visible tiny specks, perhaps too much, even with Sharpening at its lowest level of 1 in Standard mode. Low Light and Severe modes produced worse results, with lots of mottling and unevenness in the background. Unlike NoNoise, at least its Auto settings do vary from image to image, giving you some assurance it really is responding to the image content.
  • Topaz Photo AI again produced unusable results. Its Normal modes produced lots of mottled texture and haloed stars. Its Strong mode shown here did smooth noise better, but still left lots of uneven artifacts, like DeNoise AI did in its early days. It certainly seems like Photo AI is using old hand-me-down code from DeNoise AI.
  • Noiseless AI in Luminar Neo did smooth noise but unevenly, leaving lots of textured patches. Stars had grainy halos and the program increased contrast and saturation, adjustments usually best left for specific adjustment layers dedicated to the task.
  • DxO PureRAW2 did smooth noise very well, including wiping out the faintest specks from hot pixels, but it also wiped out the faintest stars, I think unacceptably and more than other programs like DeNoise AI. For this image it did leave basic brightness alone, likely because it could not apply lens corrections to an image taken with unknown optics. However, it added an odd pixel-level mosaic-like effect on the sky background, again unacceptable.
  • Noise XTerminator did a great job smoothing random noise without affecting any stars or the nebulosity. The Detail level of 20 I used actually emphasized the faintest stars, but also the hot pixel specks. NoiseXTerminator can’t be counted on to eliminate thermal noise; that demands the application of dark frames and/or using dithering routines to shift each sub-frame image by a few pixels when autoguiding the telescope mount. Even so, Noise XTerminator is so good users might not need to take and stack as many images.

Conclusion: Again, the winner was NoiseXTerminator. 

Deep-sky photographers have praised “NoiseX” for its effectiveness, either when applied early on in a PixInsight workflow or, as I do in Photoshop, as a smart filter to the base stacked image underlying other adjustment layers.

Topaz DeNoise is also a good choice as it can work well on many other types of images. But again, play with its various models and settings. Pixel peep!

ON1 NoNoise 2023 did put in a respectable performance here, and it will no doubt improve – it had been out less than a month when I ran these tests.

Based on its odd behavior and results in all three test images I would not recommend DxO’s PureRAW2. Yes, it reduces noise quite well, but it can alter tone and color in the process, and add strange pixel-level mosaic artifacts.

COMPARING DxO and TOPAZ OPTIONS

DxO and Topaz DeNoise AI offer the most choices of AI models and strength of noise reduction. Here I compare:

  • Topaz DeNoise AI on the nightscape image using three of its models: Standard (which I used in the comparisons above), plus Low Light and Severe. These show how the other models didn’t do as good a job.
  • The set below also compares DeNoise AI to Topaz’s other program, Photo AI, to show how poor a job it is doing in its early form. Its Strong mode does smooth noise but over-sharpens and leaves edge artifacts. Yes, Photo AI is one-click easy to use, but produces bad results – at least on astrophotos.

Comparing DeNoise’s and Photo AI’s different model settings.

As of this writing DxO’s PureRAW2 offers the Prime and newer DeepPrime AI models – I used DeepPrime for my tests.

However, DxO’s more expensive and complete image processing program, PhotoLab 6, also offers the even newer DeepPrimeXD model, which promises to preserve or recover even more “Xtra Detail” over the DeepPrime model. As of this writing, the XD mode is not offered in PureRAW2. Perhaps that will wait for PureRAW3, no doubt a paid upgrade.

Comparing DxO’s various Prime model settings. DeepPrimeXD is only in PhotoLab 6.

  • The set above compares the three noise reduction models of DxO’s PhotoLab 6. DeepPrime does do a better job than Prime. DeepPrimeXD does indeed sharpen detail more, but in this example it is too sharp, showing artifacts, especially in the sky where it is adding structures and textures that are not real.
  • However, when used from within PhotoLab 6, the DeepPrime noise reduction becomes more usable. PhotoLab is then being used to perform all the raw image processing, so PureRAW’s alteration of color and tone is not a concern. Conversely, it can also output raw DNGs with only noise reduction and lens corrections applied, essentially performing the same tasks as PureRAW. If you have PhotoLab, you don’t need PureRAW.

Comparing AI to older non-AI programs

The new generation of AI-based programs have garnered all the attention, leaving older stalwart noise reduction programs looking a little forlorn and forgotten.

Here I compare Camera Raw and two of the best of the AI programs, Topaz DeNoise AI and NoiseXTerminator, with two of the most respected of the “old-school” non-AI programs:

Nik Dfine2’s control interface.

  • Dfine2, included with the Nik Collection of plug-ins sold by DxO (shown above), and
  • Reduce Noise v9 sold by Neat Image (shown below).

Neat Image’s Reduce Noise control interface – the simple panel.

I tested both by using them in their automatic modes, where they analyze a section or sections of the image and adjust the noise reduction accordingly, but then apply that setting uniformly across the entire image. However, both allow manual adjustments, with Neat Image’s Reduce Noise offering a bewildering array of technical adjustments.

How do these older programs stack up to the new AI generation? Here are comparisons using the same three test images.

Comparing results with Neat Image and Nik Dfine2 on the nightscape test image.

In the nightscape image, Nik Dfine2 and Neat Image’s Reduce Noise did well, producing uniform noise reduction with no patchiness. But the results weren’t significantly better than with Adobe Camera Raw’s built-in routine. Like ACR, both non-AI programs did smooth detail in the ground, compared to DeNoise AI which sharpened the mountain details.

Comparing results with Neat Image and Nik Dfine2 on the wide-field test image.

In the tracked wide-field image, the differences were harder to distinguish. None performed up to the standard of Noise XTerminator, with both Nik Dfine2 and Neat Image softening stars a little compared to DeNoise AI.

Comparing results with Neat Image and Nik Dfine2 on the deep-sky test image.

In the telescopic deep-sky image, all programs did well, though none matched NoiseXTerminator. None eliminated the hot pixels. But Nik Dfine2 and Neat Image did leave wanted details alone, and did not alter or eliminate desired content. However, they also did not eliminate noise as well as did Topaz DeNoise AI or NoiseXTerminator.

The AI technology does work!

YOUR RESULTS MAY VARY

I should add that the nature of AI means that the results will certainly vary from image to image.

In addition, with many of these programs offering multiple models and settings for strength and sharpening, results even from the same program can be quite different. In this testing I used either the program’s auto defaults or backed off those defaults where I thought the effect was too strong and detrimental to the image.

Software is also a constantly moving target. Updates will alter how these programs perform, we hope for the better. For example, two days after I published this test, ON1 updated NoNoise AI to v17.0.2 with minor fixes and improvements.

And do remember I’m testing on astro photos, and pixel peeping to the extreme. Rave reviews claiming how well even the poor performers here work on “normal” images might well be valid.

This is all by way of saying, your mileage may vary!

So don’t take my word for it. Most programs (Luminar Neo is an exception) are available as free trial copies to test out on your astro-images and in your preferred workflow. Test for yourself. But do pixel peep. That’s where you’ll see the flaws.

What about Adobe?

In the race for AI supremacy, one wonders where Adobe is in the field.

In the last couple of years Adobe has introduced several amazing and powerful “Neural Filters” into Photoshop, which work wonders with one click. And Lightroom and Camera Raw have received powerful AI-based selection and masking tools far ahead of most of the competition, with only Luminar Neo and ON1 Photo RAW coming close with similar auto-select capabilities.

Neural network Noise Reduction is coming to Photoshop. One day!

But AI Noise Reduction? You think it would be a high priority.

A neural filter for Noise Reduction is on Adobe’s Wait List for development, so perhaps we will see something in the next few months from Adobe to compete with the AI offerings of Topaz, ON1 and Luminar/Skylum.

Until then we have lots of choices for third party programs that all improve with every update. I hope this review has helped you make a choice.

About the Author

Alan Dyer is an astrophotographer and author of astronomy books based in Canada. He is an associate editor of SkyNews, Canada’s magazine of stargazing, and a contributing editor to Sky & Telescope. His work has been featured by National Geographic, TIME, NBC News, CBS News, and many more.
You can learn more about Alan and his work on his website, The Amazing Sky. He’s also on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.



Roads Less Traveled: When the moon goes red


This week’s adventure is going to be a little different.

It’s been nearly a month since the lunar eclipse on the early morning hours of November the 8th. I spent a couple hours that morning taking photographs of the eclipse, and I’ve spent the past month processing those images in between work and other adventures. I thought about just sharing the finished product, but where’s the fun in that? Why not show the ugly stuff too.

My telescope of choice is a Celestron 130EQ. It is a classic Newtonian reflector telescope that is excellent for viewing the planets and deep sky objects as well. I have it on a tracking mount to track the stars and make astrophotography a bit easier. Unfortunately, the telescope and my camera don’t get along very well. This is largely a product of poor research on my end before buying. When directly attached the camera won’t focus on what the telescope is seeing thanks to Sony’s mirrorless design. Normally this design is fantastic, but not so much when you have a telescope like mine.

So what did I do? I went to work on the adapter. I sawed it in half and reattached the ends, a project my 1.5 year old son was fascinated by. This still wasn’t quite enough, but when hooked up to a 2x Barlow Lens (a “zoom” adapter for the telescope) I could finally focus on a decent sized area of the sky, almost big enough to shoot the entire moon at once. Almost.

Anyone who saw the eclipse knows that it was both low in the sky and dim. All lunar eclipses are dim, but the combo of eclipse and low sky angle made this one appear even darker. This means that without a longer exposure you won’t be able to get a particularly good photograph. One way to overcome this is taking a lot of photos at once. This can increase the detail and make editing better. The image below is an average of 20 separate 1 to 3 second images taken over the course of a few minutes about 1/4 of the way through the eclipse.

Not very pretty is it? Dark, right? And not to mention it’s not even the whole moon. Remember when I said I could *almost* get the whole moon in one shot? This is what I meant. Here’s the other half.

So far I’m 40 images and probably 30 minutes of processing time as my feeble old laptop merges and stacks the images. Next comes making the whole moon and editing. A quick export to light room, a few clicks and….

Well that sort of worked. I now have the whole moon, you can see some detail, but the overall image is still pretty dark, and for some reason the moon is shaped like an egg.

A few more clicks, some trial and error and…

There we go! A much better view of the moon and it’s round this time instead of shaped like an egg.

To date this is by far the best photograph I have ever gotten of a lunar eclipse. It was a fun first attempt and I will hopefully be more seasoned by the time the next one comes around in 2025.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into photo processing.

I’ll be back next week with a trip to one of my favorite places in the southeast: Linville Gorge.

Have a great week, and perhaps I’ll see you on the road…..

Travel trend: Why Astro Tourism is growing among domestic travellers in India? | Travel


Travel enthusiasts, who crave a holistic astronomy experience to give voice to their curiosity about the vast skies beyond our stratosphere, can gain an integrated astronomy experience through Astro Tourism, a trend that has seen an increasing number of travellers who are keen to get to experience activities such as stargazing, sun observations, stargazing parties with friends, experiential science activities and much more. The spike in Astro Tourism could be a result of the post pandemic world where many people are looking for less crowded and nature driven experiences or the offer of a sense of discovery as when you look up at the sky, you may see a big white moon or two bright stars that never twinkle but when you look at them through the telescope, the moon suddenly has massive features (craters, flat grey surfaces, highlands, etc.) of varied colours and the two bright stars are no longer stars – one is Jupiter, a big disc with a giant red dot on it (which in itself is a storm three times the size of the Earth) and the other is Saturn, with many rings around it.



You literally cannot believe your eyes and you realise that the universe is so much more complex than what you see, with so much left to discover hence, a number of resorts and hotel chains are now offering stargazing as one of the activities for their guests to treat them to a flashback to their childhood. For a large number of people, the last time they looked at the skies and enjoyed the stars was when they were kids and ever since they turned into adults, they moved to a city and neither got the opportunity nor the time to experience the cosmos but looking up at the skies lets them relive their childhood.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Paul Savio, CEO and Co-Founder of Starscapes, revealed that Astro Tourism is seeing a spurt for three reasons:



(1) With higher disposable incomes and a more liberal view of living a wholesome life, people are on the lookout for new and exciting experiences that are beyond the usual offerings available. Anything new piques a huge interest, and today people are more willing to try them out than before.

(2) Millennials have, due to access to the internet in their formative years, a much more global exposure to life and career than previous generations. As parents, this demographic is open to encouraging their kids to look at radical career options, and therefore get exposed to such experiences that could kindle an interest in the kids becoming astrophysicists, aerospace engineers or even astronauts.

(3) Space is in the news, with NASA going back to the moon (Artemis), India sending humans to space (Gaganyaan) and space tourism kicking off with private enterprise (SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin). So it is currently top of mind.



He shared, “Lots of people, especially in metros, are beginning to step out to nearby dark sky locations to get a glimpse of the starry sky. Apart from the usual suspects (Ladakh, Spiti, Kodaikanal, Kutch, Coorg, Jaisalmer, etc.), myriad sites exist within 2 hours of all metros which can give a great dark sky experience. However, daytime astronomy as a concept is slowly picking up too.”

According to Neeraj Ladia, CEO of Space Arcade, there is a lot of interest in Astro tourism all over India. He said, “One major reason is social media. More and more people are showing people where they can travel. Places which were accessible for very few people earlier, like mountaineering and trekking, are now common among people. There are videos, reels on social media accounts where there is a lot of conversation around offbeat activities such as astro tourism. People have become more aware of these kinds of things. Astro tourism has gained more popularity post lockdown mainly because people want to be closer to nature and want to do something new and offbeat. Similarly, like wildlife photography/nature photography, people are developing an interest in astro photography too.”



Talking about some of the common activities under astro tourism, Paul Savio highlighted stargazing, sun observation, astrophotography (where you learn how to photograph the night sky and even deep sky objects using different cameras and mounts), astro tours (trips to dark sky locations for an enhanced night sky experience), workshops and activities to understand different phenomena associated with astrophysics and space exploration.

For a person who has never experienced astro tourism, Neeraj Ladia suggested stargazing as one of the most exciting activities to do. Secondly, he recommended, “If it is a starry clear night, guided telescope view of planets and deep sky objects along with an astrophotography session can be quite exciting. With astro tourism, people have an opportunity to see and learn the names of the stars and constellations. They can also go much deeper into understanding these concepts.”



Paul Savio concluded, “Astro Tourism is the sunrise segment of the experiential tourism industry. Massive interest is being shown by luxury resorts across India to incorporate astro-experiences in the bouquet of offerings for their guests. Today, the customer base is overwhelmingly of people who are looking for a new experience and not necessarily an astronomy experience. We expect this to flip in the next 3 years – people will travel with an intent to have an astronomy experience. This will be driven by the springing up of dark sky parks (the astronomy equivalent of national parks) and other dark sky places equipped to service this interest.”

Star trek, a passion sky-high- The New Indian Express


Express News Service

CHENNAI: The white, tiny dots winking their eyes up above the sky are posing with a bright smile on their face. Lying on the terrace of his house, with the back of his head resting on palms, Bhavanandhi Babulal tells himself and the astrophotography camera lying nearby: “It’s time to sleep. Come on, let’s go.” But as usual, agony of indecision kicks in. He lies there gazing at the skies as if he is under the influence of a strange force, and, like that in a movie, his entire life starts playing in front of him, episode by episode.

“It’s captivating,” 31-year-old Bhavanandhi’s eyes gleam with joy whenever he speaks about his bonding with the celestial objects. For this resident of Kolathur in Chennai, stars and the moon are the best companions and stargazing his world.

Call it the tryst with destiny. Otherwise, an ex-banker who pursued his bachelor’s degree from Loyola College in Chennai would not have entered into the world of stars, Milky Way and the universe, ultimately leading him to establish a startup –  Starvoirs – six months ago. Bhavanandhi has a friend of his to thank for the initiative, as he is the one who kindled the passion in him during a camping trip to Nagalapuram in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh seven years ago, in 2015.

He was so engrossed in the beauty of the new-found world that he decided to gather interested people and organise star-gazing trips. “I quit my banking job in 2018 as I was finding it difficult to juggle my job and passion,” he says. During the second wave of Covid-19, he went a step ahead and started teaching stargazing free of cost.

To see the stars and planets clearly, Bhavanandhi says, a place free of light pollution is required. “That’s why I organise several trips to Ramanathapuram, Sayalkudi, Chidambaram, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Kodaikanal, and Poomparai after collecting lowest-possible amount from interested people as the telescope I use is very expensive,” says the star-lover who has read astronomy books despite being a commerce degree holder.

“I want more women and children to develop interest in the heavenly bodies as it would help mould a knowledgeable future. The trip fee for women is cheap and for kids it’s free,” he points out.Ask Dharmadev Kumar Singh, a staff at the hotel where Bhavanandhi stayed during Covid, he would say he considers learning from the “master” about stars as a big achievement. “It gives me immense pleasure to watch Saturn and the Milky Way,” says the man who studied only up to class 10.

Bhavanandhi suddenly woke up from the half-sleep and looked around. His camera is still lying there, with its lens pointing upwards. It’s past midnight. He stood up on the terrace, thinking about the excitement he had seen in the eyes of people after he showed them the bands on Saturn’s rings and craters on the moon.
“I should try bringing all those interested in stargazing under one roof and make it a grand movement,” he resolved while drowsily walking to his bedroom.

“It’s captivating,” 31-year-old Bhavanandhi’s eyes gleam with joy whenever he speaks about his bonding with the celestial objects. For this resident of Kolathur in Chennai, stars and the moon are the best companions and stargazing his world.

Call it the tryst with destiny. Otherwise, an ex-banker who pursued his bachelor’s degree from Loyola College in Chennai would not have entered into the world of stars, Milky Way and the universe, ultimately leading him to establish a startup –  Starvoirs – six months ago. Bhavanandhi has a friend of his to thank for the initiative, as he is the one who kindled the passion in him during a camping trip to Nagalapuram in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh seven years ago, in 2015.

He was so engrossed in the beauty of the new-found world that he decided to gather interested people and organise star-gazing trips. “I quit my banking job in 2018 as I was finding it difficult to juggle my job and passion,” he says. During the second wave of Covid-19, he went a step ahead and started teaching stargazing free of cost.

To see the stars and planets clearly, Bhavanandhi says, a place free of light pollution is required. “That’s why I organise several trips to Ramanathapuram, Sayalkudi, Chidambaram, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Kodaikanal, and Poomparai after collecting lowest-possible amount from interested people as the telescope I use is very expensive,” says the star-lover who has read astronomy books despite being a commerce degree holder.

“I want more women and children to develop interest in the heavenly bodies as it would help mould a knowledgeable future. The trip fee for women is cheap and for kids it’s free,” he points out.Ask Dharmadev Kumar Singh, a staff at the hotel where Bhavanandhi stayed during Covid, he would say he considers learning from the “master” about stars as a big achievement. “It gives me immense pleasure to watch Saturn and the Milky Way,” says the man who studied only up to class 10.

Bhavanandhi suddenly woke up from the half-sleep and looked around. His camera is still lying there, with its lens pointing upwards. It’s past midnight. He stood up on the terrace, thinking about the excitement he had seen in the eyes of people after he showed them the bands on Saturn’s rings and craters on the moon.
“I should try bringing all those interested in stargazing under one roof and make it a grand movement,” he resolved while drowsily walking to his bedroom.

Poll: Do you own a mobile tripod for your smartphone?


Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

Today’s smartphones come with some smart imaging tech, allowing you to shoot night mode snaps and even some long exposures without the use of a tripod.

There are still times when you might need a mobile tripod for your smartphone, though. So with that being said, we wanted to know whether you indeed owned a tripod for your phone. You can give us your answer by voting in the poll below.

Do you own a mobile tripod for your smartphone?

1132 votes

There are a few reasons to mount your phone to a tripod. For one, astrophotography modes and astro timelapses require this option. You might also want to use a tripod to reduce blur when shooting at night, or when using dedicated long-exposure/light painting modes. A tripod is also handy for group shots or to simply keep your phone as still as possible for recording video clips.

Then again, most phones deliver high-quality night shots just fine when in handheld mode. We’ve also seen devices like the Pixel series offering long-exposure/motion mode effects without the need of a tripod. So a mobile tripod doesn’t seem like a necessity for most situations.

Huge discounts on these Sony Alpha cameras in the Amazon Black Friday sale


Black Friday is a great time of year for photographers as there are usually many amazing deals to be had. Photography is not a cheap hobby or career at the best of times, and as we are going through a cost of living crisis it’s more important than ever to save money where you can. 

Thankfully, Amazon have some fantastic deals on Sony cameras this year, so if you’re looking to make the switch to a full frame or a mirrorless camera, look no further.  

Currently, Amazon are selling the cult favorite Sony A7iii for $1698 (opens in new tab) (save $300), the Sony A7ii with a 28-70mm lens for $998 (opens in new tab) (save $720) and the amazing Sony A7R IV for $2998 (opens in new tab) (save $500). 

Whether you’re looking for the best astrophotography cameras or a stunning wildlife photography camera, Sony is a brand you can rely on.

The Sony A7R IV (opens in new tab) is the world’s first-ever 61MP full-frame mirrorless camera, and the price reflects that. The image quality this camera can produce is astounding and would make an ideal camera for landscape or astrophotography because it gives so much detail. It can shoot up to 10fps with Sony’s impressive real-time AF tracking, making sure human and animal eyes and faces are consistently in sharp focus. 

Amazon are also offering a huge saving on the Sony A7ii (opens in new tab) when you purchase it with the 28-70mm kit lens. They’re both currently on offer for just $998, down from the original price of $1718.26. This would be an amazing deal if you’re making the switch from APSC over to full frame because full frame bodies and lenses are both very expensive in their own right, so finding a great deal where they’re being sold together is quite rare.

Finally, we couldn’t mention Sony cameras without mentioning the cult favorite Sony A7iii (opens in new tab). This is an incredibly popular camera among all types of photographers, and for good reason. In our Sony A7iii review we described it as being a “swiss army knife” of a camera, as it’s a powerful camera with superb image quality at an affordable price. It’s still $1698 even in the Black Friday sales, so it’s not the biggest discount we’ve seen, but it’s still a great opportunity to pick up the camera everyone is still raving about years after its release.