Astro ImagePowermate

Szabolcs Nagy: Powermate™ User Profile

For most people an overhead pass of the International Space Station (ISS) looks somewhat like a bright airliner crossing the sky.  Not for Szabolcs Nagy: with his 1,200mm Dobsonian scope and 2.5x Tele Vue Powermate™ he can get up-close video of this bright streak that resolves into individual solar panels, modules, and even docked capsules!

ISS with Some Details” (crop) by user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Sky-Watcher 250/1200 FlexTube Dobsonian with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™ and imaged with ZWO ASI120MM monochrome camera with ZWO red filter from London in May 2017. “Summer is full on in London, which means amazing sky with no clouds at all. We had four passes during the night, two directly over head. But couldn’t stay up longer than the first one, which climbed ‘only’ about 64° of elevation.”
Tele Vue’s 2.5x Powermate™. Our photo/visual Powermates™ pick up from where Barlows can go no further.

We noticed these amazing, awe-inspiring, close-up photos of the International Space Station (ISS) made with our Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™ on social media. They showed an amazing amount of detail for an object 250-miles / 400-km away with a maximum dimension of only 356-ft / 108.5-meters. Some of these images are annotated with the location of the hardware that made up the ISS. Including the relatively small supply capsules and Canadarm2 remote manipulator. We eventually realized all the images were made by the same person: Szabolcs Nagy from London.

So we contacted Szabolcs and asked him to tell us how he got into this hobby and a little about his imaging technique.

Szabolcs tells us he moved to London 9-years ago from Hungary and works as a minicab driver in the city. “This job gives me the necessary flexibility that my hobby requires.” He does his astro-imaging either from a ground-floor balcony or the nearby park. He’ll travel some distance to image if the ISS is predicted to transit the Sun, Moon, or a planetary body and the forecast is 50% clear or better. “One requires wizard-like skills to predict weather in and around London :)”, relates Szabolcs.

Cygnus OA-8 (Orbital ATK) – S.S. Gene Cernan by flickr user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This supply ship is only 6-m / 21-ft long. Szabolcs image on left with image from ISS  (docking arm below Cygnus) on right for comparison.  “I have been only dreaming of taking an image of Cygnus OA-8 since it departed from the ISS on the 6th December. This morning (11th December 2017) I have never imagined this will happen tonight as it was snowing till about 1pm in London. But satellite pictures showed that it might clear up so I rushed home from work, packed up and went to the nearest park. First ISS came – nice and bright as usual. Then Cygnus appeared which was quite bright too, at least much brighter than I expected (mag 2.9 according to Calsky’s [] predictions).”
He went on to tell us  how he discovered the joy of astronomy, how he became an expert on imaging the ISS, and explained his ISS imaging technique.

In my opinion, the BBC is one of the best – if not the best – television channel in the world when it comes to science and education. Professor Brian Cox is an inspirational scientist and his “Wonders of …” series tuned my attention toward astronomy for the first time in my life. When his “Stargazing Live” series came out and I saw a live video feed of Jupiter, I promised to myself to buy a telescope. I really wanted to look at it live. To observe and experience yourself these amazing wonders of our Universe is simply priceless and will transform the way you are going to look at the night sky forever. The best single decision I made in my life is to purchase a telescope.

London’s light pollution is just terrible, so it pushed me toward a certain direction to take photos. So I choose targets which aren’t hugely affected by light pollution: planets, Moon, Sun and man-made objects are my focus of interest. In particular, ISS is the target I really enjoy taking photos of. I’ve done it with several equipment setups like an equatorial mounted 8″ Newtonian, small Maksutovs on both equatorial and altazimuth mounts, and now I’m using the best type of scope for this purpose: a 10″ Dobsonian.

Comparison (Mercury, Venus, & ISS)
Cosmic Comparison” by user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Sky-Watcher 250/1200 FlexTube Dobsonian with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™ imaged with ZWO ASI120MM Monochrome camera and ZWO red filter. Uploaded September 12, 2017. Images taken with same equipment and settings. Result: Mercury, Venus, & ISS to scale.

But the scope itself was the first baby step. Soon I’ve realized the need for excellent accessories too. You can have the best scope in the world, but have poor results if the small accessories don’t deliver on the potential of your equipment. After trying out a few Barlow lenses to increase magnification, I found Tele Vue and their brilliant Powermate™ line. Looking back now – one of my best investments was my 2.5x Powermate™ from Tele Vue. I have a 2x Barlow lens as well, but the Powermate™ is my go-to amplifier whatever I’m about to photograph the planets, airplanes, or the ISS. It simply delivers quality photos without distortion or chromatic aberration. The 10″ Dobsonian, a mono ASI 120MM camera, and the amazing Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™ are the equipment for the purpose. Of course there is always room for improvement: that’s what astronomy photography is about, tiny improvements here and there.

In the absence of a motorized mount capable of following the rapid movement of the ISS, I do my tracking manually. Not an easy task for sure, but like many things in life, with a little practice it is readily doable. At the beginning I used my right-angle finderscope to follow ISS, but the upside-down view drove me crazy: I Just couldn’t force my brain to get used to it. Then I discovered the Telrad (similar to a red dot finder), a very simple tool which made my life so much easier. No magnification though, but looking through the concentric circles is very helpful to keep ISS in my field of view.

International Space Station
ISS – 8 frames stacked by flickr user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Eight frames stacked in Autostakkert 2 from December 10, 2017.
For the first time I’ve managed to stack a few frames. They’ve been taken in a very short period of time, then stacked in Autostakkert 2. Some convincing result came out of it eventually, more details and less sensitivity for extra saturation. This way solar arrays have a faint, but steady orange colour, Progress-67 cargo vehicle and other elements of the station are somewhat more realistic.
ISS Overhead Pass ”  (crop – click for full frame) by user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Sky-Watcher 250/1200 FlexTube Dobsonian with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™. Imaged with ZWO ASI120MM Monochrome camera with ZWO red filter in October 2017.

This photo will be a memorable one, because Randy Bresnik and Mark Vande Hei were just about to finish their successful space walk whilst I was taking photos of the ISS :). After the pass and a quick check of the video for possible good frames, I took my time showing Saturn, Albireo and the near full Moon to my neighbour. After I packed away the equipment, I saw them taking off their spacesuits on live video stream from station. It felt like I was part of a small success (:D).

Uranus” by user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Taken October 28, 2017 through a Sky-Watcher 127/1500mm Maksutov-Cassegrain with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™. Imaged with ZWO ASI224MC color camera from London.

I’ve missed Uranus’ opposition (19th October), but it got only 1.7 million km farther away since then :). This also was a test of the ASI224MC camera and I pretty much liked the end result. I sold my color planetary camera about a year earlier, replaced it with a ASI120MM mono which does a better job in terms of details, but lack of color took my enthusiasm from planetary imaging. This photo reactivated my passion.

Jupiter by flickr user Szabolcs Nagy. All rights reserved. Used by permission. “Jupiter this morning between 05:52 and 06:40. The Great Red Spot (GRS) was watching us :)”. Taken February 26, 2018 through a Sky-Watcher 127/1500mm Maksutov-Cassegrain with Tele Vue 2.5x Powermate™. Imaged with ZWO ASI224MC color camera.

We congratulate Szabolcs on his imaging success and wish him clear skies for his future astro-imaging attempts.

More Info
Powermates™ are photo/visual amplifiers -better than Barlows.

To increase the power of your favorite eyepiece, or for serious planetary / solar imaging though your scope, consider our Powermate™ amplifiers (mobile site). They increase the focal length of your scope with freedom from aberrations, greater magnification potential, and compact size.

Most any commonly available DSLR, astro-camera, and even some industrial cameras will work with Powermates™. Cameras just need a slip-in 1¼” or 2” nosepiece or T-Ring  for attachment with the optional Powermate™ T-Ring adapter .  Powermate™ can be stacked with no adverse impact.

Tele Vue Powermates™ are available in 2″ barrels (2x & 4x) and 1¼” barrels (2.5x & 5x). The visual tops all unscrew to accept a specific Tele Vue Powermate™ T-Ring Adapter for cameras and T-thread accessories.

PTR_2200: 2x Powermate™ T-Ring Adapter.
PTR-4201: 4x Powermate™ T-Ring Adapter.
PTR-1250: Powermate™ T-Ring Adapter for 2.5x & 5x Powermates.

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