Ever been out under a beautiful night sky, and tried to take a picture of it with your smartphone or a handheld camera? If so, you know how bad the results usually are: the sky-filling moon in a sea of bright stars reduced to a smudge of silver in a lightless void. But the Tiny1 is a new digicam that aims to change that, helping amateur star gazers to take stunning photos of the night sky, while at the same time telling you exact what astronomical wonders you're shooting.
The reason most consumer cameras are bad at taking pictures at night is pretty simple: night is dark. The reason the human eye can soak in the details at night is because our pupils dilate to let in as much light as possible, while our brain fills in some of the details. Comparatively, most consumer cameras have tiny "pupils" (also known as apertures), and can't fill in the details when they don't get enough light, resulting in night pictures that are usually filled with dark, pixellated noise.
The Tiny1 isn't going to fill out the details of a star or planet where it doesn't see one, but it takes better pictures at night thanks to a few smart design choices. First of all, it has a much bigger aperture than the camera in your smartphone or most digicams: at between 1.2f and 1.4f, the optics of the Tiny1 are equivalent to some of the best SLR lenses you can buy. That means more light is hitting the sensor, capturing more clarity and detail. You can also attach any commercial lens, or even a telescope, to the Tiny1 with an adapter, giving it even more vision.
The Tiny1's sensor, though, was also wisely chosen to optimize night shooting. It's only 4 megapixels. In the consumer camera space, where digicam marketers have tricked the public into believing more megapixels equals more quality, 4 megapixels sounds pretty bad. Actually, though, the opposite is true. In digital cameras, the larger the pixels on a camera's sensors, the more sensitive to light they are. By using fewer pixels, but making them bigger, the Tiny1 can capture more light, more accurately. Couple that with a patent-pending noise reduction system, and the Tiny1 can take much better pictures of the night sky than most cameras at its price point.
According to Grey Tan, its creator, the Tiny1 was inspired by his own love of astronomy, and his disappointment with the photographs he took when he tried to capture what he was seeing in the sky.
"I was always curious about the stars and the galaxies. I used to play Starcraft as a kid and the cinematic scenes of the other worlds got me pretty curious about what's out there," he says. Eventually, this led him to take an astronomy course in university. "During the course, I went on a school trip to Malaysia to do visual observations as part of the course work. Some of the seniors were very kind and helped me to setup the telescope for astronomy imaging. I took a photo of the Great Orion Nebula through the telescope. I still vividly remember how strange and beautiful the nebula looked through a 9.25 inch telescope." When he got home, he tried to take the same picture with his own camera. "The results were pretty dismal."
Eventually, as his skills as a photographer (and his camera bag) grew, Tan says that he learned enough to take really great photographs of the sky with his SLR... enough that friends asked him how he did it. And since dropping a few grand and a few man years wasn't an ideal solution, Tan decided to use his knowledge to make a sub-$500 camera that made taking beautiful space pictures painless.
The camera also has some great software that facilitates photo astronomy. Not only does it include an array of presets that optimize the camera's settings for different types of pictures, like a photo of the moon or the Milky Way, the Tiny1 even contains a built-in star map, which will tell you exactly what that tiny twinkling object in the sky is when you point the camera at it.
Now on Indiegogo, pre-orders for the Tiny1 start at $449. And while Tan admits that if you want to take truly Hubble-caliber photos of space you'll need a telescope, even without one, the Tiny1 should make it easy for nearly anyone to take a picture that is as breathtaking as space itself, just by aiming their lens up at the sky.
[All Photo: via TINYMOS]