Updated: Jun 1, 2020
The California Nebula is a magnificent target full of hydrogen in the constellation Perseus. In this post, we will show you our attempt at imaging this object from our light polluted backyard using our telescope, an astrophotography-dedicated camera and the TRIAD Ultra filter (click the link to read our review). We will also show you the result we got when photographing it wide field with a cheap unmodified DSLR camera with no filter, a 50mm lens and a sky tracker!
Backyard astrophotography is something we've always dreamed of, but it never became a reality... until now!
You may have watched our "Galactic House" video where to take you on a tour of the house we just moved in. As you may have seen, we did not waste anytime setting up our telescope in our backyard.
It was now time for us to attempt imaging from the city for the very first time!
NGC 1499 is an emission nebula full of Hydrogen gas. It got the nickname of California nebula because when photographed, it looks like the state of California!
This large nebula is located in Perseus and gets its glow from the bright star Xi Persei. The California nebula, despite being a famous target for astrophotographers, is really difficult to spot with a telescope or binoculars. When framing it with a camera, getting the right angle to make the entire state fit in the frame can be a blind challenge if you are not using a hydrogen filter.
We previously imaged the California Nebula with a DSLR camera, a cheap sky tracker and a 50mm lens.
You can see a cropped version of it on the left. It isn't very crisp, especially because it is a small part of the image, but most of the gas is there! We did not use a filter for this and still got a nice result.
We will show you the full un-cropped image later in this post, with a special guest: The Pleiades!
If you are just beginning astrophotography and a DSLR camera is all you have, it is a smart idea to attempt this object wide field without a telescope. A tracking mount is definitely recommended though, and will help you achieve much more by letting you take long exposure shots. More info on that below.
Before jumping into the images we got, let's quickly discuss the filter we used that night.
The image on the right shows the TRIAD Ultra filter from OPT and Radian Telescopes attached to our ASI 071MC.
This is a quad-band narrowband filter that should allow us to easily capture nebulae such as the California Nebula easily, no matter the light pollution.
Here is our final image of the California Nebula, taken from our Bortle 9 backyard and during a full moon.
NGC 1499 using the TRIAD Ultra filter with the ASI 071MC
Camera: ZWO ASI 071MC
Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9
Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount
Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR
Total Exposure Time: 6 hours and 30 minutes
Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes
Filters: TRIAD Ultra Quad-Band
You can get our Raw files for this target and many others by supporting us on Patreon :)
How to find the California Nebula?
The California nebula can be found in the Perseus constellation, just north of the star Menkib.
Because it is filled with Hydrogen gas, the California nebula is extremely difficult to observe. The best way to spot it is by using an H-Beta filter under a true dark site, but even then it is not an easy find.
Although NGC 1499 got its name because it looks like California in photos, do not expect to see the iconic shape of the state while observing it. This is one of the hardest popular targets to see and it just looks like a patch of sky is slightly more pale.
Not too far from this nebula is the famous Pleiades star cluster located in Taurus. There is also another cluster, M34 near the bright star Algol. Another great target in Perseus is the Double Cluster NGC 869 & NGC 884. We have imaged all of these targets in the past, so click on the links to see our results!
Shaped like the U.S. state of California
Located in the Orion arm of our galaxy
Gets its glow from the extremely hot O-class star Xi Persi
Processing of NGC 1499
Like we said, this was our first time imaging from a light polluted zone, and we really expected to struggle during processing. We gathered about 4 hours of data and, after spending a couple hours processing it, we realized that we were not happy with the results. As you can see below, the nebula itself looks pretty nice and has tons of details, but the background is not only uneven, it also has artifacts.
These artifacts could have probably been taken care of with flats, but we have never bothered taking flats in 4 years of doing Astrophotography.
We decided to spend an extra night imaging this target, and added about 2.5 hours of data to it. We also decided to process it in a smoother and less aggressive way. The end result is the image you see at the very top of this post. If you compare the two, you can see that the background looks much better and, even without flats, there is no visible artifacts remaining.
You can get our full PixInsight workflow as a PDF "follow along" file HERE.
What did our single shots look like?
You may be wondering what a single shot of 5 minutes from our backyard looks like. Here is one! Remember that this is with the TRIAD Ultra filter attached. We were very impressed when seeing this pop up on our screen. The nebula pops out really well, the sky all around looks nice, and it is overall very promising.
The insane part is when comparing this single shot, with the same shot taken without the TRIAD Ultra filter. You may see the difference on our article about the TRIAD filter, go take a look!
Wide-Field Astrophotography of the California Nebula
December 16th, 2015
We have imaged the California Nebula once before, when we were just beginner astrophotographers with our cheap Canon t3i DSLR camera and sky tracker.
NGC 1499 is a pretty nice wide field target and can be photographed with a 50mm or 85mm lens easily! The image below shows our attempt at including both the California Nebula and the Pleiades in the same frame using our DSLR camera and 50mm lens.
To achieve this result, you will need to attach your camera to a sky tracker (such as the iOptron Skytracker or Omegon Mini Track LX2) or even your motorized mount if you already have one. This way, you will be able to take long exposure shots (3 minutes in this case) and really capture much more of the faint nebulosity in the object.
Make sure to read our post about photographing Messier 45 (The Pleiades). In there, we show you several different attempts at this target including this wide-field version, one with a DSLR camera on a telescope, and our newest one using our monochrome astrophotography-dedicated camera.
Camera: Canon T3i (600D)
Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.8
Mount: iOptron Skytracker
Total Exposure Time: 4 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
Our full video about imaging the California Nebula from our backyard
If you're interested in seeing how we photographed NGC 1499 from our very light polluted home, watch the video below! We show you from start to finish the steps that went into getting our final result. We also talk about the TRIAD Ultra filter which we used for this target. You can find the text version of this review HERE.
I won't lie, I did not expect to be able to get such a great result on my first time imaging from the city. Of course, the filter helped tremendously and we probably couldn't have gotten a good image without it. I'm also glad we decided to add an extra 2.5 hours of data to it as it made the final result much cleaner than it originally was.
Have you captured the California Nebula? Attach your image in the comments and let us know what you used!
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