modified vs unmodified dslr astrophotography

Modified vs Unmodified DSLR Astrophotography: The Ultimate Showdown!

Beginner Astrographers are often told to modify their DSLR. And a lot of the time it sounds like a mandatory task for astrophotography. But is it true? Amateur astrophotographers are left perplexed which is totally understandable.

Is there any difference between modified vs unmodified DSLR Astrophotography?

A modified DSLR will capture more red data in one astrophoto than an unmodified DSLR. However, an unmodified DSLR has more sense of depth than a modified DSLR. But, a modified DSLR can zoom further and take wider astrophotos than an unmodified DSLR. 

And how do you modify a DSLR? Can you do It by yourself? 

I have answered all these questions in this article. And I also described the difference a modified DSLR makes for astrophotography.

Keep reading and find out.

Modified vs Unmodified DSLR Difference

Take a look at this table to see the differences between modified vs unmodified DSLR

FactorsModified DSLRUnmodified DSLR
IR FiltersRemovedBuilt-in
Red Data captureMore defined and present with longer exposureVague 
Visibility of Deep Sky ObjectsProminentBarely visible
Hydrogen-Alpha GasProminent in IR SpectrumBarely Present

Let’s talk about the differences here in detail. 

In-Depth Comparison

Here things will be discussed in great detail. That way, you can consider whether to modify the DSLR or keep on using the unmodified DSLR.

IR Filter:

Yes, you can absolutely take great photos with a normal DSLR camera. But modification of cameras is heard so often in the astrophotography community. 

In a modified DSLR camera shooting, you can see the IR and red data more visibly. Take a look at the picture above. The below picture is taken with an unmodified DSLR. 

modified DSLR camera shooting
Source: Flickriver

Below the picture you see what the camera captures after the IR filter is removed.

IR filter is removed
Source: Wixstatic

Your unmodified camera has a built-in sensor. In front of a sensor chip, different filters are there for different purposes. 

Most DSLR cameras are capable of detecting a wider color spectrum than naked human eyes. 

And for astrophotographers, the concern is a red light. And the cameras capture much more red and infrared spectrum than our retina. Manufacturers added additional red light filters (IR filters) to make them compatible with daylight photography. 

Why? Because Astrophotography isn’t as mainstream as daylight photographs.

And I, the astrophotographers, want those red and infrared lights. Hence the IR filter is removed from the DSLR for Astrophotography.

So, what is modifying a DSLR?

Removing the filters so that the red light and infrared light are captured, is a modification. You need to remove the one filter that blocks the red light. One of the most common gases, Hydrogen-Alpha, emits light in the IR spectrum. And many nebulae glow in that spectrum. Which a camera can capture.

So, you should modify your DSLR for better astrophotos. With a stock DSLR, you will have a tough time clicking the perfect astrophoto.

Red Data Capture:

Refer to the Image above. You can clearly see the nebula in the image captured with a modified camera. It looks deep red and captures most of its appearance. 

With the unmodified camera, the picture also looks great. But it’s visible that it couldn’t capture much of the color. 

So, the red colors you’re seeing are what we call red data. Because the IR filter is removed, the DSLR captured more red data than it originally could. 

As I discussed before in the article, a camera can capture a wider spectrum of light. 

Visibility of Deep Sky Objects:

When shot with a modified camera, you’ll see a wider presence of deep sky objects. However, there’s a way to capture many deep-sky objects. I took out my Nikon D3200 for this astrophotography test.

For a photo with more presence of deep sky objects, you need some adjustments in your camera settings. You need to set the exposure and ISO. The stock photo also has to be stretched enough. 

An ideal setting would be ISO – 800, Exposure – 120 seconds, and a stock photo count of 36. 

With a longer exposure, the modified camera captures the deep sky objects much more prominently. The unmodified DSLR with the same setting doesn’t capture as much. 

Hydrogen-Alpha Gas:

This gas is the most common gas in space. And, Hydrogen Alpha gas emits within the spectrum of IR. 

And, objects in space have a great presence of Hydrogen Alpha in their composition. 

So, when the IR filter is removed, you can see more space objects. Like flame nebula and horsehead nebula appear more visibly. 

With an unmodified camera, the gas is still present but you can’t see them. It’s because the IR filter cut out the IR lights. 

So, Which DSLR Should You Go for?

After comparing the differences, the final verdict is here. As an astrophotographer, between modified vs unmodified DSLR, modified DSLR is much more astrophotography friendly.  

Because the red light, Infrared lights, and the Hydrogen-Alpha gas are what make the space object visible. 

With an unmodified DSLR, you can of course capture pretty pictures. But they aren’t the true colors. Yet, with the tricks up on your sleeves, you can take pictures like this person.

Granted it’s not possible to capture the true beauty of space. But a modified DSLR gets you closer to the truth. 

So, if you can afford it, I highly recommend you modify your DSLR. 

How to Modify a DSLR for Astrophotography?

The deep sky objects glow in a deep reddish color that our naked eyes can’t see. However, the cameras can and it’d be really nice to see their camera.

To be able to do that, you need to remove one filter within the optical path. It’s the IR filter that blocks the infrared light.

Modify a DSLR for Astrophotography
Source: ePHOTOzine

The fifth element in the diagram is what you need to remove. 

Can You Modify a Camera By Yourself?

You can surely do that. Only if you’re really good at micro-electronics, and optics. And you’re confident that you won’t mess up your camera. 

This isn’t the case for most beginner Astrophotographers. Hence, I suggest you get it done by a professional. It will cost money but it is so worth it. 

The stock camera from canon RP has roughly a transmission for H-alpha is around 25%. A modified Canon has about an 80% of the transmission rate for the remaining optical components. 

There’s another mod for Canon cameras. This involves removing all the filters and placing an IR cut filter for astrophotography. Which will bring the transmission rate to nearly 100%. However, the camera loses its ability to self-clean the dust. 

You will also need a lens filter. So, let’s see the best lens filter available on the market.

One of the best filters you can buy is Urth ND Lens Filter. You can check the price on Amazon.

For large eyepieces, go for Gobe NDX ND Lens Filter. You can check price on Amazon.

That’s all regarding the tips and tricks of modifying a DSLR by yourself. Now, let’s move on to the next segment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should I Modify a DSLR For Astrophotography?

DSLRs should be modified for deep sky photography, it is frequently advised. It might be one of the first subjects a novice encounters. Additionally, the advice occasionally conveys the impression that modification is a requirement. DSLR is modified by removing the IR filter from the camera.

What Is A Modified DSLR For Astrophotography?

In the context of astrophotography, the term “modified DSLR” refers to a camera that’s modified. Its stock IR cut filter was removed to record the red color of some nebulae. The hydrogen-alpha transmission line, to be more precise, is crucial for Astro-photography. It makes the red data appear more.

What Is A Full Spectrum Camera?

The camera sensor can view the whole spectrum of wavelengths. To which it is inherently sensitive thanks to the Full Spectrum filter. This means that the color of the image you see will be warped. Due to the presence of IR radiation. To make a full-spectrum camera, it costs nearly $300.

Conclusion

As a beginner in astrophotography, that’s all you need to know about modified vs unmodified DSLR astrophotography. 

As it turns out, all the commotion around mod DSLR wasn’t a hoax after all.

So what did you decide for yourself? Will you mod your DSLR? 

Wishing you a clear sky!

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