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DSLR Observing Manual

DSLR Observing Manual
Download Version 1.3 Here


This manual is a basic introduction and guide to using a DSLR camera to make variable star observations. The target audience is first-time beginner to intermediate level DSLR observers, although many advanced observers may find the content contained herein useful.

The AAVSO DSLR Observing Manual was inspired by the great interest in DSLR photometry witnessed during the AAVSO’s Citizen Sky program. Consumer-grade imaging devices are rapidly evolving, so we have elected to write this manual to be as general as possible and move the software and camera-specific topics to the AAVSO DSLR forums. If you find an area where this document could use improvement, please let us know.  Please send any feedback or suggestions to

Most of the content for these chapters was written during the third Citizen Sky workshop during March 22-24, 2013 at the AAVSO. The persons responsible for creation of most of the content in the chapters are:

Chapter 1 (Introduction): Colin Littlefield, Paul Norris, Richard (Doc) Kinne, Matthew Templeton
Chapter 2 (Equipment overview): Roger Pieri, Rebecca Jackson, Michael Brewster, Matthew Templeton
Chapter 3 (Software overview): Mark Blackford, Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein, Martin Connors, Ian Doktor
Chapters 4 & 5 (Image acquisition and processing): Robert Buchheim, Donald Collins, Tim Hager, Bob Manske, Matthew Templeton
Chapter 6 (Transformation): Brian Kloppenborg, Arne Henden
Chapter 7 (Observing program): Des Loughney, Mike Simonsen, Todd Brown
Various figures: Paul Valleli

Clear skies, and Good Observing!

Arne Henden, Director
Rebecca Turner, Operations Director
Brian Kloppenborg, Editor
Matthew Templeton, Science Director
Elizabeth Waagen, Senior Technical Assistant

American Association of Variable Star Observers
Cambridge, Massachusetts
June 2014


1.    Introduction
1.1.    Prologue
1.2.    Target audience
1.3.    The what, why, and how of DSLR photometry
1.4.    Visual vs. DSLR vs. CCD observing
1.5.    Are you ready? (Prerequisites)
1.6.    Expectations
2.    Equipment Overview
2.1.    What is a DSLR?
2.2.    Lenses and telescopes
2.3.    Tripods and mounts
2.4.    Camera settings
2.5.    Filters and spectral response
3.    Software Overview
3.1.    Minimum requirements for DSLR photometry software
3.2.    Useful software features
3.3.    Optional features
3.4.    Software capability comparison chart
3.5.    Other useful software
4.    Image Acquisition
4.1.    Acquisition overview
4.2.    Preparatory work
4.3.    Noise sources and systematic biases
4.4.    Calibration frames (bias, darks, and flats)
4.5.    ISO and exposure times
4.6.    Finding and framing the field
4.7.    Acquiring science data and tricks of the trade
5.    Image Assessment, Image Processing, and Aperture Photometry
5.1.    Overview
5.2.    Processing preliminaries and image assessment
5.3.    Application of calibration frames, co-registration, stacking, and binning
5.4.    RGB channel extraction
5.5.    Post-calibration assessment
5.6.    Aperture photometry
5.7.    Differential photometry
6.    Photometric Calibration
6.1.    Standardized photometry
6.2.    Transformation
6.3.    Submitting your results
7.    Developing a DSLR Observing Program
7.1.    Deciding what to observe
7.2.    What are some good stars to begin with?
Appendix A:  Determining Optimal Exposure Times and Saturation Limits
Appendix B:  Linearity Check (DFC) and Characterizing the DSLR
Appendix C:  Calibration Pre-assessment: Testing Dark Images for Hot Pixels
Appendix D:  Testing Flats for Uniform Illumination

Download Version 1.3 of the manual here

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