Imaging in the Stratosphere with Tele Vue!

Air China A332 crossing the Moon (crop) by Instagram user Kacper Lechwar. Copright Kacper Lechwar. Used by permission. Air China Airbus A330-243 is captured poking its nose into the Sea of Serenity as it crosses the face of the Moon. Imaged using 254mm / 1200mm Dobsonian telescope with Tele Vue 2x Powermate™ and Canon 1200D / EOS Rebel T5 (18.1-megapixel) camera. Shot at cruising altitude (30,000+ feet). With this Powermate™ setup, Kacper takes a series of images in quick succession of each plane. He then reviews them on a computer before processing the best ones. Click to see full image.

We’ve noticed a proliferation of close-up plane images on Instagram made using Tele Vue Powermate™ image amplifiers. What is amazing about these images? They are taken from the ground with the plane at jet-aircraft cruising altitude. This is the imaging side of the hobby of “plane spotting.” It is sort of like bird watching — but the “bird” is much bigger and potentially much further away: in the stratosphere!

While imaging a bird can be serendipitous, the modern plane spotter has the advantage of free online flight-tracking software, such as FlightRadar 24 and FlightAware, to predict what aircraft are approaching their location. Aircraft identification, route, speed, altitude, and heading are just a click away. This software has also made its way to the ubiquitous smartphone. Thus, unlike birding, plane spotters can anticipate targets to observe in advance. This gives the spotter time to prepare for encounters with common and rare aircraft — like the Antonov An-225.

Antonov An-225 Mriya GML-LEJ by Instagram user Krzysztof Migo. Copyright Krzysztof Migo. Used by permission. Antonov An-225 Mriya caught flying from Kiev to Leipzig. Imaged using a Skywatcher 200/1000 (f/5) scope with Tele Vue 2x Powermate™ and Canon 700D / Rebel T5i camera (18.0 megapixel) DSLR camera. . Shot at cruising altitude (30,000+ feet).

Looking like a jumbo-jet on steroids, the first sight of the Antonov An-225 Mriya (“Dream”) in flight is startling: not four but six engines, a unique twin tail, and much larger than any plane flying today. This is a record-breaking, one-of-a-kind plane in the following categories: heaviest plane ever built, longest wingspan, and has lifted the heaviest single-item payload, and heaviest total payload. This plane was first used for transporting the Soviet Buran space shuttle and has since entered commercial cargo service. A partially-built second air-frame exists and the project to complete it has been revived and cancelled many times. So, someday a second Mriya will take to the skies.

Korean Air KAL938 by Instagram user Krzysztof Migo. Copyright Krzysztof Migo. Used by permission. Korean Air flight KAL938 (Vienna to Seoul) is a Boeing 777-3B5(ER) (tail #HL8250) painted with the winning image of the 2016 Korean Air Children’s Drawing Contest. Imaged using a Newtonian 200/1000 (f/5) scope with Tele Vue 2x Powermate™ and Canon 700D / Rebel T5i (18.0 megapixel) DSLR camera. Shot at cruising altitude (30,000+ feet).

In the world of plane spotting, standard telephoto and zoom lenses are employed to photograph commercial jets at or near the airport. But to turn glints of metal and white contrails at cruising altitude (30,000-ft  to 42,000-ft / 9,000-m to 13,000-m) into detailed portraits requires optics beyond that. Even super telephotos used at sports events won’t do for objects 8-miles in the sky! For this lofty task, many plane spotters attach their  digital cameras to a Tele Vue Powermate™ amplifier inserted into an astronomical telescope. The resulting images are breathtaking. We see these amazing machines operating  in their design environment: away from ground clutter, framed against an almost black sky

Algierian Air Force Moscow-Alger FL280 by Instagram user Rafał Pruszkowski. Copyright Rafał Pruszkowski. Used by permission. Algerian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 on flight from Moscow to Alger imaged with Newtonian 8”, 1200-mm scope using Tele Vue 2x Powermate™  and Canon EOS 40D (10.1-megapixel) DSLR.
Powermate™ image amplifiers have features beyond that offered by the common Barlow lenses: they amplify scope focal length with reduced aberrations for better  image quality. They are available in 2″ barrels (2x & 4x power) and 1¼” barrels (2.5x & 5x power). Another Powermate feature is that the tops unscrew to accept the Tele Vue  Powermate™ T-Ring Adapter. This allows any T-Ring equipped camera to solidly connect to the Powermate barrel. 




Shown above are Adapters for 4x (PTR-4201), 1.25″ 2.5x & 5x (PTR-1250) and 2x (PTR-2200).

A common telescopic setup is a Newtonian scope with 8″/200-mm  diameter mirror having a 1,000- to 1,200-mm focal length. With a 2x Tele Vue Powermate™ inserted in the focuser, the telescope focal length doubles. To understand the zoom level achieved, consider that an APS-format digital camera, attached to these 2,000 – to 2,400-mm focal length instruments, will have a horizontal frame slightly larger than the Moon. A full-frame camera would capture the whole Moon in the frame. Focusing is done on the plane and the shutter manually triggered. The result is an optical setup that turns a sky-high glint  into an airliner — complete with artwork and perhaps registration number visible.

See Łukasz Żak’s image of extreme plane spotters in action with these scopes.

Krzysztof Migo photographs planes from his garden using a Newtonian telescope with 200-mm diameter and 1,000-mm focal length mirror (f/5) that is pointed around the sky with an alt-azimuth mount. The scope is fitted with a Tele Vue 2x Powermate™ to extend the focal length to 2,000-mm (f/10). A Canon EOS 700D / Rebel T5i (18.0 megapixel) DSLR is attached to the Powermate™ for imaging. After manually focusing, he takes 10-to-15  images in RAW format. Copyright Krzysztof Migo and used by permission.

Another possibility we’d like to recommend, for those without a removable lens camera, is to use our FoneMate™ smartphone adapter on a compatible Tele Vue eyepiece inserted into the telescope. Your smartphone camera-app then displays the image on the screen. Just hit the virtual shutter or video record button to capture the moment.

Smartphones as big as the Galaxy Note 4 (shown) can be fitted to the FoneMate™ for imaging through select Tele Vue eyepieces.
Today Alitalia Rome – Tokyo FL340 by Instagram user Rafał Pruszkowski. Copyright Rafał Pruszkowski. Used by permission. Alitalia’s Rome to Tokyo (flight 340) on a Boeing777. Taken with Newtonian 8″, 1200-mm scope using Tele Vue 2x Powermate and Canon EOS 50D (15.1-megapixel) DSLR.
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