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Shooting for the Stars: Canon Rebel XSi

camera2

Is that thunder I hear? FlyTrapMan constructed a thoughtful review on the Canon Rebel XSi in terms of using it for basic astrophotography! After months and months of procrastination—the day has finally arrived. Prepare thyself!

First things first: Let’s take a quick glance at this camera’s specs:

 

  • 12.2 Megapixel CMOS chip

  • 3.0 inch LCD Monitor

  • Live View Function

  • 3.5 fps Continuous Shooting

  • ISO 1600

  • Canon 18-55 kit lens (optional)

  • Price $450-600

  • Body alone – $189.00

 

Although the Canon Rebel XSi is a bit outdated—don’t underestimate what it can accomplish within the grasp of trained hands. As an entry-level DSLR; it offers full manual control over the camera, and that’s all you need to take images of the night sky.

One aspect that I like about this camera is that all the necessary buttons to control the exposure is easily adjustable. You don’t have to scour the menus to adjust white balance, ISO, or aperture: each one has a conveniently placed button embedded in the camera body.

moonjupiter4-1

If you don’t own any lenses, I suggest purchasing the Canon Rebel XSi with the 18-55 kit lens. The lens is  slow and a bit of a pain in the ass to use in the field, but it’s better than nothing, and it’s not that bad—despite what ignorant naysayers may claim.

Every Camera Needs a Sidekit

 

Canon’s kit lens (18-55) offers a versatile range in terms of angle of view. The wide-angle is able to swallow up whole constellations, and with a convenient twist of the barrel, you can get a bit of zoom to target specific objects.

**I know I’m talking more about the lens than the camera, but bear with me: this lens is an important part of the package if you’re just getting started**

lens8

There are some things to keep in mind when using the 18-55 kit lens for night-time photography. The more you zoom into a target, the slower the lens becomes. In other words:

  • 18mm (widest angle) offers f/3.5
  • 55mm (longest angle) offers f/ 5.6

You’ll have to compensate for the slight dimming that will occur if you choose to zoom in on a target.

**Don’t forget: the longer the focal length, the shorter the exposure needs to be if you’re shooting untracked.**

In situations where you need to brighten your image, the simplest tactic to employ is to increase the camera’s ISO if you haven’t maxed it out.

Obtaining a sharp focus can be a pain in the ass with the 18-55 zoom lens. Luckily the Canon Rebel XSi has a magical ability—”Live View”. With a press of a button the mirror flips up to allow a continuous stream of photons to smack into the camera’s sensor.

moon109-1

Here are a few tips to achieve a katana-sharp focus:

 

  • Pick out the brightest object in the sky

  • Aim camera at target

  • Increase ISO to 1600

  • Open aperture

  • Turn on “Live View”

  • Focus

  • Magnify 5x

  • Focus

  • Magnify 10x

  • Focus

  • Turn on camera’s 2sec. timer

  • Turn off all Image-stabilization

 

That’s the easiest method to achieve a decent focus and a sharp(ish) image. Otherwise, you may find that the stars in your images look like they went to Chilis and stuffed their mouth with a million orders of buffalo wings. In other words: they might be bloated (and no one likes that).

Orion7-1

Atmospheric conditions will continual mess with your ability to achieve the most optimal focus possible. Some nights will be better than others—don’t be broken-hearted if your first few attempts don’t come out as visually pleasing as you expect. There’s always tomorrow night, and you know what? Those conditions might be even worse than the previous nights.

Venus890-1-1

Venus

Suck up those tears, put on your war paint, and stalk the calm nights.

Alright—allow me to shine a light on some of the cons when it comes to using the Canon Rebel XSi for astrophotography:

 

  • Sounds like a pig

  • ISO limit is 1600

 

Yes, you read the first complaint correctly. The Canon Rebel XSi sounds like a pig: It’s as if you’re yanking on the tail of a swine when you smack the shutter button. I dare you to tell me I’m wrong.

You can get by with 1600 ISO, but I wish it went up to at least 3600. The brighter image would nice when it comes to photographing stars. However, like I said, if you’re just starting out—1600 is enough.

Image quality at 1600 ISO is not too bad.

Noisestars-1

This image of the star Deneb in the constellation Cygnus is a RAW file that I have converted into a JPEG with no post-processing. Feel free to peruse the larger resolution image by clicking on it.

 

Look At Them Skinny Legs!

 

No matter what camera you have, you’re going to need a stable mount / tripod. I said it before and I’ll say it again: chicken-legged ‘pods tend to shake when a wandering pixie farts. You don’t want thatright? So get something obese. Something fat—something that won’t quiver and shake at a lovely summer breeze.

Camera6

You see that pathetic excuse for a ‘pod? Don’t go crying to your momma when you slap your camera on a weak-sauce set up like that and end up with starry images that have a case of the shakes. I bet if I think about it long enough, I could snap those puny legs with the weight of my thoughts.

Camera5

Nowthat’s more like it! Look at those MASSIVE quads! Looks like this ‘pod has been doing weighted squats, don’t it? Ignore the envious counterweights—not everyone can be born with blessed genetics.

 

I’ll reiterate it: If you equip the Canon Rebel XSi on a bullshit ‘pod—expect bullshit results. It’s that simple.

 

 

You can purchase a decent equatorial starter mount from Orion for around $149.99. This platform is stable enough to do basic night sky photography, but don’t expect to use this mount for deep space imaging.

 

UrsaMajor-1

If all you own is a chicken legged ‘pod, don’t be ashamed! Flaunt them skinny legs and use it.

 

Pop It and Lock It

 

The Canon Rebel XSi offers a special ability called “mirror lock-up“. In order to engage this ability, you’ll need to turn it on in the menu options, which is easy to do.

Mirror-lock up will cut back on vibration. Normally when you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up in one full motion. With mirror lock-up, you press the shutter button to lock -up the mirror. And then you press the shutter button again to blast off the exposure.

Jupiter - 8

Image featured on UniverseToday

The process of locking up the mirror goes a little something like this:

 

  • Engage mirror-lock up in menu options

  • Press shutter button

  • Press shutter button (again) to blast off exposure

 

Wait a few seconds after the mirror is locked up BEFORE you blast off an exposure! Don’t be like me and hit the shutter button as soon as the mirror flips! Obviously, that defeats the purpose of locking up the mirrorso don’t do it.

Keep in mind that you won’t be able to see anything through the viewfinder once the mirror is locked up.

Betelgeuse1-1

Betelgeuse

Crop a Little Off the Top

 

One thing you need to understand is that the Canon Rebel XSi is a crop sensor camera. The CMOS sensor magnifies a lense’s focal length by 1.6x.

Here’s an example of the brainbusting equation needed to calculate an accurate focal length:

 

50mm x 1.6 = 80mm

 

I know, I know, my brain hurts as well. You’ll have to keep this in mind when figuring out how much exposure times you need when shooting stars and such. If you find that your images are trailing—and you don’t know why—it could be because you’re not compensating for the 1.6x crop factor.

Tycho Crater

Tycho Crater

An intrinsic benefit of a crop sensor is that it magnifies the image. Take a gander at the full moon photograph I provided below: You’ll notice the moon’s fat face pretty much fills the frame. This is the result of a long length telescope (1300) and a crop sensor camera, such as the Canon Rebel XSi.

supermoon-1

The Canon Rebel XSi can be equipped onto a telescope via prime focus. With a magical adapter (T-ring)—it’s possible to attach the camera where an eyepiece and star diagonal would normally be.

Crescent Moon

The image is displayed through the camera’s LCD monitor. The same tactics are employed when focusing with this set up:

 

  • Focus

  • Magnify 5x

  • Focus

  • Magnify 10x

  • Focus

 

Moon - First Quarter - 2

Don’t simply look at the screen and focus the image. I know it will look like it’s in focus, but you’ll discover that once you zoom in and focus— the results are incomparable. Give it a try.

Gear8

As you’d probably guess—the telescope becomes a big-ass telephoto lens at this point. Prime targets (untracked) for a Canon Rebel XSi are:

  • Moon

  • Sun

 

If you just began your journey into astrophotography, you’ll be restricted to those two targets, until you figured out some way to track your shots. The moon and sun are bright enough to blast off a few quick exposures, and to some extent, the planets if you’re really desperate.

 

panjup

If you want to use your Canon Rebel XSi to photograph the moon, I suggest purchasing an Orion Apex 102mm. Not only can you image the moon with a proper adapter, you could also image the sun with a proper solar filter. Once you have the appropriate gear; the Canon Rebel XSi can become quite versatile.

Sunspot-2

sunspot

Sun200-1

Listen; don’t be foolish when it comes to solar photography. It’s quite easy to burn your eyes right of your skull if you’re not careful. Don’t invest in a nonsense filter! Purchase something that will embrace the aperture of your particular telescope with a snug fit.

Telescope6

The End

 

If you feel like dipping your toes into the astrophotography pool—the Canon Rebel XSi will gladly hold your hand. If you’re a savvy shopper, I’m sure you can find the camera and lens (18-55mm) for less than $500. Not a bad price for an entry-level DSLR—although the camera is outdated—don’t let that discourage you.

Vega-1

Vega

You’ll be outdated one day. How would you like it if no one gave you any love because of your age? Exactly.

Don’t allow your selection of lenses to discourage you, either. If you only own the 18-55 kit lens—use it. If you only own a 50mm macro lens—use it. I spent a solid year using the 18-55 kit lens for night sky photography (and terrestrial).

It boils down to how creative you are with the camera and the lens being used. Learn to think big if want to do scenic photographs. As you meander around planet Earth, keep an eye out for objects that will stand out against a star-infested sky. 30 seconds is enough to record starlight (given the amount of light pollution).

Should you purchase this camera? I don’t know. The body alone is pretty damn cheap for an entry level DSLR. To be honest: I don’t think purchasing this camera with the 18-55 kit lens justifies an increase in $300. Especially when you can purchase a Canon Rebel T5i for $599.99.

I would suggest saving your cash to purchase the Canon Rebel T5i if you can’t find the Canon Rebel XSi for real cheap. In the long run that would be the smartest investment, considering the T5i could shoot video, plus has a much higher ISO capability.

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About FlyTrapMan (189 Articles)
I have no idea what I'm doing.

5 Comments on Shooting for the Stars: Canon Rebel XSi

  1. The way you have written it is to the point with the right information mingled with practical use tips. And the images hold my attention as well as support your suggestions. Too many informational posts are over complicated and loaded with numbers and details that I could find in my manual. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. Yes I do have a prime lens but seldom use it. I keep my zoom on the camera since most of what I photograph is wildlife and tiny insects, animals. I will try that next time. Maybe it will also help the focus problem I have. In zoom the camera has trouble finding the focus and fixing in it in auto mode at night. I just am never certain how those images will zoom and crop. I appreciate the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    • No problem! Zoom lenses have a habit of focusing past infinity. I use a Canon EF 100mm macro lens and it focuses past infinity — for lenses like that — it’s best to zoom-in on the camera, and then focus the image.

      Thanks for reading the post! I appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is very good info but I use a Nikon D7000. I have a great tripod but am often too hasty to take the time and set it up. Now and then I get the good moon shots but nothing like when I used an old original Sony Cybershot, one of their earlier models with a variety of manual and auto settings. It was such a snap. Now I have to play with the FStop and aperature settings so much. We also get great views of shuttle launches here and I have gotten some decent shots. Still they could be better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have little experience with the Nikon D7000, but that particular camera can certainly be used for a variety of astrophotograpy purposes. Personally, I think APS-C sensors work great for imaging the night sky — they’re often underestimated. Sony also makes a variety of nice cameras, but I’m not familiar with the Cybershot.

      Do you use prime lenses? or zoom? Prime lenses are easier to focus: I recommend getting a simple 50mm prime (if you don’t have already own one) — that way you can concentrate on dialing in the proper exposure settings — and not have to worry about focusing.

      Liked by 1 person

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