top of page

Using a Modified DSLR/Mirrorless Camera for Astrophotography - Is it Worth it?

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

For the first time since starting Astrophotography, we finally tried a camera that has been Astro-modified... and wow, we were impressed!


In this post, we'll show you some comparison examples between a stock DSLR camera and a modded mirrorless camera. We'll also advise you on whether you should get your own camera modified, buy a pre-modded one, or jump to an astronomy-dedicated camera straight away.



We would like to thank Daniel Amado from Astrogear for letting us try a modified camera for this post! If you are looking to modify your DSLR or mirrorless camera, or purchasing a pre-modified one, we are very pleased with Astrogear's services and recommend them to you as well 😀 Daniel's astro conversions will mainly give your camera increased H-Alpha sensitivity results, which is a useful addition especially if you like to image nebulae!


Tables of Contents

  • What is the advantage of an Astro-modified camera?

  • Photographing the Orion Constellation with a modified mirrorless camera

  • Stock vs Astro-Modded - How much of a difference can you see?

  • Our full video comparing a stock DSLR camera with a modded mirrorless camera

  • DSLR or Mirrorless - Which camera to pick for Astrophotography?

  • Can you use an Astro-modified camera for daytime photography?

  • Where to get your camera modified or buy a pre-modified camera?

  • Final Thoughts


 

What is the advantage of an Astro-modified camera?


What is the point of modding a camera? If you are a beginner astrophotographer, you might be wondering why someone would decide to modify their camera for this hobby. To make it simple, modding a camera allows you to make it much more sensitive to gases like Hydrogen-Alpha, which is present in thousands of nebulae and galaxies in the night sky. This is achievable by removing the IR cut filter, which cuts most of the faint red color from most emission nebulae from reaching the sensor.


A vast majority of the popular nebulae in the night sky are filled with hydrogen-alpha gas, and the IR cut filter present in unmodified DSLR and mirrorless cameras is to blame for making that sweet HA wavelength barely visible in long exposure pictures.


Some examples of emission nebulae full of hydrogen-alpha include the Rosette Nebula, the Orion Nebula, the Horsehead Nebula, the Heart Nebula, and pretty much anywhere in Cygnus as seen on the fourth picture below with the Sadr region.



The comparison shots below, taken from Astrogear show the difference in signal captured between a stock and a modded camera, on a target full of HA gas. The difference is insane!


Before and After modifying a camera for astrophotography

First of all, you modify DSLR or mirrorless cameras, not astronomy-dedicated ones. The main difference between a DSLR/Mirrorless camera and an astronomy-dedicated camera is that the astronomy-dedicated camera is built for astrophotography. A stock DSLR/Mirrorless camera is built for everyday photography.


There are a few exceptions to this, for example, the discontinued Canon Ra or the Nikon D810A which were built for astrophotography. They are almost identical to their regular non-astro versions except they come pre-modified from the factory. This is great, but also way pricier than it should be.


Note that there are several types of astro-conversions. Some mods will affect the color balance of your camera when used for daytime photography, while some others won't impact it much. For more information on the different types of astro conversions, check out THIS PAGE.


camera low pass filter
The low pass filter removed

Stock Canon cameras have by default an ultraviolet and infrared blocking filter, as well as an anti-aliasing low pass filter. In our case, the Canon M200 we received has the anti-aliasing low pass filter removed.


The advantage of removing this filter is for the camera to achieve its maximum native sharpness. The camera also has a Baader luminance sensor filter installed inside the camera body, right in front of the sensor.



Now on top of this, the main modification done to the camera is the removal of the UV/IR sensor filter. Taking this filter out of the camera is what allows the sensor to gather much more Hydrogen-Alpha signal! All there is in front of our sensor here is a Baader luminance sensor filter.


 

Photographing the Orion Constellation with a modified mirrorless camera


Shortly after receiving the modified Canon M200 from Daniel, we went to a Bortle 4 zone to record a video and, of course, image a nebula! Our plans kind of went to the trash when we unexpectedly encountered an abandoned dog. We canceled our imaging session and went home with it as it was crying non-stop by the car. You can read the dog's full story on our website.


A few nights later, I went back to that same spot for a quick imaging session using the Canon 200M on my small star tracker.


Sadly I realized I had the wrong cable for the camera, so what I did was manually tap the shutter button every 10 shots to take pictures.

This was of course tedious but somehow fun as it reminded me of my astrophotography beginnings!


I decided to image Barnard's Loop, which is a huge nebulous area spreading across most of the Orion constellation. This is a challenging yet popular wide field target for amateur astrophotographers.

Due to its size, this is best imaged without a telescope so I instead used a 50mm camera lens set at f/4.


For faint nebulosity like this, you ideally want to take long exposures (5 to 10 minutes) and spend several hours or even nights to get a nice and clean image.

That night, I only spent one hour on this target and, because I had the wrong cable, could only take 30-second exposures... I honestly was not expecting much from the data, but WOW! What an impressive result!


Barnard's Loop with a modified mirrorless camera

Want to process your images following our own workflow? Get our guide HERE!


GEAR USED:

Processing: Pixinsight



ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 1 hour

Exposure Time per frame: 30 seconds

120 lights, calibrated with Darks and Bias

ISO: 3200


Now, this is beautiful and all but... how much of a difference is there really compared to a stock camera?

Well, find out below!


 

Our full video comparing a stock DSLR camera with a modded mirrorless camera


We went out to the desert to image Barnard's Loop with the modified M200 camera, watch the video below!



 

Stock vs Astro-Modded - How much of a difference can you see?


Lucky for this post, we actually imaged Barnard's Loop with our unmodified DSLR camera a few years ago... so we can show you a great comparison shot! Back then, we photographed this target with our stock Canon 7D Mark II for about 3.6 hours, and then added an extra 3.6 hours with a hydrogen-alpha filter, later on, to bring much more of the hydrogen alpha gas out.


What you are seeing below is our final image (without the help of the HA filter) totaling 3.6 hours. Click on the arrow to the right to quickly compare this shot with our image taken with the modified Canon M200. The difference is incredible!


Remember that the shot taken with the 7D Mark II is more than triple the exposure time, so it's even more impressive to see how much better the Canon M200 image looks with just one hour of exposure!


Image 1:

Stock Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens | 3.6 hours of exposure

Image 2:


 

Right before imaging Barnard's Loop, I also took the time to take some quick 30-second test shots of a few areas of the sky with both cameras. Note tha