Discovery Astrophotography with ZWO ASTRO

Astrophotographer’s Story: Vasile Unguru

Hello Vasile, thanks for accepting our interview invitation. Congratulations on winning the ASIWEEK competition in week #32/2024!

Q1: At first, congratulation that your nice image won #ASIWEEK. Can you introduce yourself to us? 

Hello and many thanks to ZWO team for choosing my image as ASIWEEK winner. It was really a very nice surprise.

My name is Vasile Unguru, 44 years old and I am a passionate astrophotographer from Bucharest – Romania. I share my astro images on Astrobin https://www.astrobin.com/users/Vasile/ and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/night_sky_adventurer/

Q2: When did you start astrophotography and how?

I started the astrophotography journey at the end of 2018 when I managed to gather basic equipment to help acquire my first images of deep sky objects. I had at that time a modified DSLR coupled with the small William Optics Z61 refractor driven unguided by the Celestron AVX mount. I quickly upgraded to a dedicated camera, the ZWO ASI 294MC Pro.

< ZWO ASI 294 MC PRO, Celestron AVX, William Optics Z61, Optolong L-eHance, 7 hours >

Q3: Why do you love astrophotography?

Firstly, I want to say that I was fascinated by the cosmos and the beauty of the night sky since I was a kid. I remember I was 12-13 years old when I was watching documentaries about the discoveries science had made using the Hubble space telescope.

And secondly, astrophotography is a great opportunity for us amateurs and enthusiasts to stay connected with the universe, to see (photograph) the unseen. There is also a big sense of achievement in practicing it which keeps me motivated.   

< ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro, Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro, TS Optics SD 102 F7, SHO Filters, 6 hours >

Q4: Astrophotography usually requires a long period of time for data acquisition as well as a long learning curve, would you consider this a difficulty for you?

I don’t find difficult anymore. I think I learn quite quickly that astrophotography is a test of patience and perseverance. In fact, I dare to say that this hobby taught me how important patience really is. I also was inspired by many more experienced photographers and amazed by their long integration times.  

< ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro and ZWO ASI 183MM Pro, dual setup, Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro, TS Optics 125mm F7.8 AND TS Optics 102mm F7, SHO Filters, 21 hours >
< ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro, ZWO ASI 533MC Pro, ZWO AM5, TS Optics 102mm F7, SHO Filters, 33 hours >

Q5: Can you tell us about the winning photo

Of course, in the winning photo we see the Messier 96 galaxy or NGC 3368, which is a spiral galaxy in Leo constellation. I had some tries at the end of last year but did not manage to complete a full sequence of mono LRGB imaging. And as I said before, patience being the key, after a long period of clouds, the skies finally cleared up and I succeeded to complete the desired integration time of 21 hours in total; 12 hours of Luminance and 9 hours equally distributed between R,G and B filters.

< ZWO ASI 533MM Pro, Skywatcher CQ350-Pro, TS ONTC 250mm F4 newtonian, LRGB, 21 hours >

Q6: How is the air quality in your region? Where do you normally take astrophotos?

I live in a capital city with very polluted skies, bortle 8-9 so I always travel to darker skies to take astro photos. Besides that, I also image remotely with one of my equipment being hosted at a remote observatory.

< First light for ZWO AM5 and ZWO ASI 533MC Pro, imaging WR 134 >

Q7: How do you normally do post-processing? Do you have any experiences to share?

Regarding the processing I would say that I try to be very methodical. I want the images to be clear of all unwanted artifacts, outliers or unwanted noise and gradients before I do any proper processing. For this, I always collect calibration frames like darks or flats and flat darks. I will share here the most important steps I take with all the images I process:

  • Stack the data, crop the edge artifacts and remove gradients from light pollution
  • Color combination followed by color calibration and stretch of the RGB and Luminance data
  • Combine LRGB, remove stars, remove green from stars (depending of the picture). Process the starless image as desired in term of curves, desired saturation levels and contrast. Also in the case of galaxies, take care of very bright cores. Put the stars back in and if necessary, slightly reduce the overall noise. I am not a fan of noise reduction so I rather collect more data to integrate then apply any noise reduction algorithm from different software solutions. 
  • The programs I use to process my images are Astropixelprocessor and Pixinsight; rarely Photoshop.   
< NGC 5394, ZWO ASI 533MM Pro, SW CQ350, 250mm F4 Newtonian, 23hours LRGB >

< NGC 2903, ZWO ASI 533MM Pro, SW CQ350, 250mm F4 Newtonian, 17hours LRGB >

Q8: What gear do you use? Any pictures of them? (The equipment you used to take the winning image)

For the image of M96 I used the ASI 533MM Pro camera connected through EFW and LRGB filters to a 10 ‘’ F4 Newtonian telescope and all that being driven by Skywatcher CQ350 mount. Guiding was done using an OAG and the ASI 220 mini camera. To control all the equipment I was using a mini windows pc. All this equipment is being hosted at a remote facility and controlled remotely.

But, I also image by traveling to dark sky locations. For this I use a smaller 6’’ Newtonian or the Samyang 135mm lens combined with cameras like the ASI 1600MM Pro, ASI 533MC Pro and the ZWO AM5 mount.

< my setup for remote imaging ZWO ASI 533MM Pro, SW CQ350, 250mm F4 Newtonian >
< my setup for imaging at dark sites, ZWO AM5, ASI 1600MM Pro, 150mm F5 Newtonian >

Q9: Is there any memorable story you can share with us from your astrophotography days?

Sure, I can’t forget in one of my nights out when I arrived at the dark site, the weather was not exactly what I expected. We saw that two summer storms were forming nearby but still I decided to assemble the equipment and try to image. And the best part was that those storms did not approach us and I was still able to image for 2 or 3 hours. I remember I was collecting data for a long integration project at that time, the SH2-188 The shrimp nebula, a very faint but beautiful object.

< ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro and ZWO ASI 183MM Pro, dual setup, Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro, TS Optics 125mm F7.8 AND TS Optics 102mm F7, SHO Filters, 61 hours >
< dual scope setup, Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro, 2 refractors TS Optics 125mm F7.8 & TS Optics 102mm F7, cameras ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro and ZWO ASI 183MM Pro, 2 asiair >

Q10: When did you start using ZWO’s products and which one is your favorite?

I bought my first ZWO product 5 years ago, the ASI 294MC Pro color camera. Over the years I bought many ZWO products like 4 Asiair units, cameras like ASI 183MM Pro, ASI 1600MM Pro, ASI 533 MC Pro, ASI 533 MM Pro, ZWO AM5 mount.

I would say my top 3 favorite zwo equipment are the legendary ASI 1600MM Pro, the AM5 mount and the ASI 533MM Pro. 

< ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro and ZWO ASI 183MM Pro, dual setup, Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro, TS Optics 125mm F7.8 & TS Optics 102mm F7, LRGB Filters, 20 hours >

Q11: How do you regard the development of the field of astrophotography?

The development of astrophotography equipment was tremendous in the recent years. It is still expensive, but the variety of equipment and ease of use are able to bring more and more people into the hobby. I am very impressed by the recent clean sensor cameras, the hybrid and harmonic tracking mounts and all other necessary accessories like filter wheel, focus devices, etc. Not to mention the software used for acquire and process the images which like the hardware makes the life for us so much easier and the astro experience more and more enjoyable. 

< ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro, Skywatcher Az-Gti, Samyang 135mm, HOO, 10 hours >

Q12: Do you have any advice for us?

I would say that it’s very important to keep in touch with the user community and work with their feedback, to keep innovating and improving the ZWO ecosystem. One day I would love to see an Asiair unit capable of controlling more than one camera in a multi scope setup.

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