Muhammad Ali is the winner of ZWO 2019 ASIWEEK #35 and has brought us many extraordinary astronomy photos. To make our ZWOers know this excellent astrophotographer better, we make this interview. Let’s all take a look now.
Q1: At first, congratulation that your nice image wins #ASIWEEK. Can you introduce yourself to us?
Hello, my name is Muhammad Ali. I am a 50-year old Pakistani-American from California and a software quality assurance engineer by profession. I consider myself a newbie in the field of astrophotography. My other interests are traveling, fishing, cooking, vinyl record collecting and photography.
With my son at Grand Canyon National Park
Q2: When did you start like astronomy? And when did you have your first telescope? What’s the feeling in first observing?
In my high school days when I was a teenager living in Pakistan, I watched the original Cosmos TV series by Carl Sagan which got me fascinated about space and astronomy. Having very few resources and almost no place to buy a telescope, I decided to build my own by grinding a 6-inch glass blank. It took me almost a year to turn that glass blank into a mirror and build a 6-inch Newtonian reflector. It was a great experience to see Saturn’s rings and moons of Jupiter. Later on, when I moved to US in late 90’s, I bought my first telescope which was an 8-inch Meade SCT LX-50.
Q3: When did you start DSO imaging? Can you remember your first DSO image? What’s the feeling?
My very first DSO was Andromeda galaxy which I shot with a DSLR and a 200mm lens. I knew very little about image stacking and post processing so that wasn’t a very good photo. I started serious DSO imaging about 2 years ago after I went to see and photograph my fist total solar eclipse of 2017 in Madras, Oregon. That experience changed my life and I decided to invest in this hobby and learn the art and science behind DSO imaging.
Solar eclipse 2017 – Meade LX-50 .6x reducer, Canon 5D Mark III, solar filter
Q4: we know DSO imaging is hard, you need dark sky, good mount & scope, good camera to capture, stable guiding, post-processing skill, what is the most difficult part for you? what is the most important part for you?
Yes, DSO imaging is hard. You need a good setup for sure but even after buying good quality products, you are still at the mercy of nature. I would say that guiding has been the most difficult part for me especially when I am using a longer focal length telescope. A little bit of wind gust can throw your guiding off. I usually end up throwing away 30% of subframes when I am shooting with my Edge11HD (1960mm focal length with .7x reducer) and less than 10% with my Esprit 100ED (550mm focal length) telescope.
M31 Ha+LRGB, Esprit 100ED+ASI1600MM-C, 12.2 hours, Bortle 6
Q5: Astrophotographer usually travel long distances to the darkest places to do DSO imaging, can you tell us about your past unforgettable experience?
I mostly image from my backyard, a Bortle 6 suburban sky but I have been to a Bortle 2 dark site in North-Eastern California which is a 5-hour drive from my home. This location is amazing and you see so many stars that it becomes difficult to point out the constellations. On clear moonless nights in summer, one can even see the shadow of objects on white surfaces cast by Milky Way and starlight.
NGC 7635 Ha+OIII+SII, Edge11HD+ASI1600MM-C, 12 hours, Bortle 2 Dark Site
NGC 281 Ha+OIII+SII, Esprit 100ED+ASI1600MM-C, 18.7 hours, Bortle 6
Q6: What equipment are you use currently? Can you show us some images of your setup?
My main setup is Skywatcher Esprit 100ED telescope with ASI1600MM-C v2 camera for widefield. I switch to Celestron Edge11HD for smaller DSOs. For both telescopes I use Software Bisque Paramount MyT and accessories like ZWO OAG and Starlight Xpress Lodestar X2 for guiding. My filter set includes Astrodon 36mm LRGB, Astrodon 36mm 5nm Ha and OIII and ZWO 36mm 6nm SII. The filters are all mounted on ZWO EFW 7x36mm filter wheel. I also upgraded my focuser on Esprit 100ED to Moonlite CFL 2.5 for refractors and added Moonlite CFL 2.5 for SCT for my Edge11HD. For image capture I use SGP and SkyX and for guiding, PHD. Image processing is done with PixInsight, Lightroom and Photoshop.
IC 434+NGC 2024, Ha+LRGB, Esprit 100ED+ASI1600MM-C, 9.4 hours, Bortle 6
Q7: What kind of telescope is your favorite? Why?
I am most happy when I am imaging with my Esprit 100ED refractor. It has a shorter focal length and is easier to handle than Edge11HD. For galaxies and smaller DSO, Edge11HD is definitely better but requires good guiding and collimation which I am still learning how to do properly.
IC 1805 Ha+OIII+SII, Esprit 100ED+ASI1600MM-C, 18 hours, Bortle 6
Q8: When did you know about ZWO? And what’s the first ASI camera you have? Can you tell us your feeling when you get your first ASI camera?
When I was researching for cameras, I read good reviews about ZWO and decided to purchase ASI 1600MM-C. I absolutely love this camera! Even with my Edge11HD, which many consider not a good match for this camera due to oversampling, I get great results.
M82 Ha+LRGB, Edge11HD+ASI1600MM-C, 10.5 hours, Bortle 6
M51 LRGB, Edge11HD+ASI1600MM-C, 4.5 hours, Bortle 6
Q9: Which ASI camera is your favorite? And why do you choose it? Do you have any user experience share to user who wish to buy an astro camera?
I chose ASI1600MM-C after reading customer feedback on various forums. If you are looking to buy a mono cooled camera at an affordable price, the later version, ASI1600MM Pro is your best bet.
NGC 6888 Ha+OIII, Edge11HD+ASI1600MM-C, 7.2 hours, Bortle 6
Q10: Did you know our ASIAIR? If yes, what features do you like? Any new features you like to add?
Yes, I’ve read a bit about ASIAIR but haven’t dug deep enough to form an opinion about this product.
Q11: What’s your impression of ZWO?
My experience with ZWO products has been awesome so far! I absolutely love ASI1600MM-C camera. The ZWO OAG and EFW work flawlessly for me. ZWO’s other ASI cameras have great reviews as well. They have a huge selection of cameras for novice as well as skilled astro photographers at a very reasonable price point.