Monday, 20 January 2020

Testing a new lens for GEO and HEO (SamYang 2.0/135 mm)

The past week brought some clear skies. It also brougt me a new lens, a SamYang 2.0/135 mm ED UMC.

This lens had been on my wish-list for a while, as a potential replacement for the 1979-vintage Zeiss Jena Sonnar MC 2.8/180 mm I hitherto used for imaging faint Geosynchronous (GEO) and Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) objects, objects which are typically in the magnitude +10 to +14 range.

The 2.0/135 mm SamYang lens has gotten raving reviews on photography websites, several of these reviews noting that the optical quality of this lens is superior to that of a Canon 2.0/135L lens. And this while it retails at only half the price of an L-lens (it retails for about 460 to 500 Euro).

While I have the version with the Canon EF fitting, the SamYang lens is also available with fittings for various other camera brands.

Focussing is very smooth and easy with this lens. Unlike a Canon-L lens, the SamYang lens is fully manual (both focus and F-stop), but for astrophotography, manually focussing is mandatory anyway. The general build of the lens is solid. It is made of a combination of metal and plastic.

While not particularly lightweight, the lens is lighter in weight than my 1979-vintage Zeiss (which is all-metal and built like a tank, in true DDR fashion). The SamYang has a somewhat larger aperture (6.75 cm) than the Zeiss (6.42 cm), meaning it can image fainter objects. It also has a notably wider field of view (9 x 7 degrees, while the Zeiss has 7 x 5 degrees).

So for me, this seemed to be the ideal lens for GEO and HEO.

And after two test nights I can confirm: this SamYang lens indeed is spectacularly sharp. The first test images, made on January 15 and 16, have truely impressed me. Even at full F2.0 aperture, it is sharp from the center all the way to the edges and corners of the image.

Here is a comparison of the image center and the upper right corner of an image, at true pixel level. There is hardly any difference in sharpness:

click to enlarge

The images below, taken with the SamYang on a Canon EOS 80D, are crops of larger images, all but one at true pixel level.

The first image is a test image from January 15, a nice clear evening. It shows two objects in HEO: a Russian piece of space debris (a Breeze-M tank), and the classified American SIGINT satellite TRUMPET 1 (1994-026A). Note how sharp the trails are (this is a crop at true pixel level):

Click image to enlarge

The next night, January 16, I imaged several geostationary objects (which at my 51 degree north latitude are low in the sky, generally (well) below 30 degrees elevation). While the sky was reasonably clear, there were lingering aircraft contrails in the sky, locally producing some haze. Geostationary objects showed up well however, better than they generally did in the Zeiss images in the past.

The image below, which is a crop of a larger image, is not true pixel size, but slightly reduced in size to fit several objects in one image. It shows the Orion Nebula, several unclassified commercial GEO-sats, the Russian military comsat KOSMOS 2538 (BLAGOVEST 14L), and the classified Italian military communications satellite SICRAL 1B (2009-020A):

Click image to enlarge

The images below are all crops at true pixel level. The first one shows the US classified SIGINT satellite PAN/NEMESIS I (2009-047A), shadowing the commercial satellite telephony satellite YAHSAT 1B. It also shows a number of other unclassified commercial GEO-sats.

PAN/NEMESIS 1 is an NSA operated satellite that eavesdrops on commercial satellite telephony (see my 2016 article in The Space Review).

Note that this image - just like the next images- was taken at very low elevation, and from a light-polluted town center.

click image to enlarge

The image below shows another US classified SIGINT satellite, Mentor 4 (2009-001A), an ADVANCED ORION satellite. It shadows the commercial satellite telephony satellite THURAYA 2 (more backgrounds on this in my 2016 article in The Space Review). At magnitude +8, it is one of the brightest geosynchronous objects in the sky (note how it is much brighter than THURAYA 2):

click to enlarge

The last image below again is a classified US military SIGINT satellite, MERCURY 2 (1996-026A). While 24 years old it is, together with its even slightly older sibling MERCURY 1 (which I also imaged but is not in this image), probably still operational:

Click image to enlarge

After these two test nights, I am very enthusiastic about the SamYang lens. It is incredibly sharp, also in the corners, easy to focus, goes deep (in terms of faint objects), and overall performs excellent. I also like the wide field of view (compared to the 180 mm Zeiss which I previously used to target GEO). Together with the equally well performing SamYang 1.4/85 mm, it might be the ideal lens for imaging GEO and HEO.

Astrometric data on the targetted satellites from these test images are here and here. The astrometric solutions on the star backgrounds in the images had a standard deviation of about 2".

Added 20 Jan 2020:

This last image (reduced in resolution to fit) was taken this evening (20 January) and shows Trumpet 1 (1994-026A) passing the Pleiades:

Click image to enlarge

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