Maybe one opening comment. With all the right
and best equipment and software, astrophotography is not easy. After my
first year, I was ready to throw in the towel. So many things have
multiple potential causes, it is difficult and frustrating to sort it out.
And that's just to get a reasonably usable picture. Then there's the
digital development, which if you want to get the most out of your
pictures, is a whole other dimension about which there are multi-day
seminars you can go to, and a number of books devoted exclusively to, And
it's all changing as fast as the digital world itself is changing. In the
few short years that digital astrophotography has been around, the gap
between beginner and the top flight amateurs has become huge. So, back
down, chill, and remember, whatever results you may get, appreciate and
enjoy them, rejoice in YOUR improvements - and take some time to enjoy the
beautiful and wonderful time you spend out
under the stars.|
This is the setup which I've been using since
the spring of 2008. It is a good combination for astrophotography. It is a
significant step beyond my 1st setup with the fork mount, stand alone
autoguider, and 1st generation digital SLR. This most recent setup
features a very high quality mount and autoguider, with a new camera twice
as good in nearly every regard as the previous one. These three items were
costly; the mount $6000, the autoguider $1500, the camera $2000. I had
reached the limits of what I could do with the equipment I had, and this
is what it took to get better. I've now been in this long enough to know
this hobby is not a passing fancy, but is something I want to continue to
work and improve on. I had accumulated many of the other items I need to
move to the next level, so I felt okay about making this investment.
Canon Digital EOS 40D, modified for astrophotography, and with
cables to connect to a laptop for camera control and picture acquisition.
Comments. Canon digital cameras with their CMOS's chips are some of the
best DSLR's for astro work. Nikon also makes DSLR's suitable for
astrophotography, but the Canon's have features that work particularly
well. Only cooled chip
dedicated astro CCD
cameras can top them, - and you have to know what you're doing to actually
get better results. In one shot, the latest DSLR's can give full color
pictures of the faint fuzzies. As mentioned, this camera has been modified
for astro, which increased the initial cost by ~50%. The original filter
over the imaging chip, that is optimized to simulate what the human eye
sees, has been a replaced by one that allows all of the red and blue
portion of the spectrum to come through, including the hydrogen alpha and
silicon 2 wavelengths which are of particular astronomical significance.
PRIMARY SCOPE: Meade 10" f6.3 SCT (LX200 "classic") model.
The f6.3 model is no longer
made but is occasionally available on places like Astromart. This is a
naturally "fast" scope, which is a great advantage for getting adequate
exposure of dim objects. However, that speed comes at a cost of coma (flared
stars) out toward the sides of an image. Baader's Multi Purpose Coma
Corrector (MPCC) does a great job of correcting this problem, making
this scope the near equivalent of many of the coma corrected scopes that
have started to appear in the last two years.
Comments. The resolution of this scope and Canon camera match each other
almost exactly. The field of view of the two (42'x28' at prime focus) is a
good fit for many of the most popular and pretty Messier, Caldwell, and
other well known objects. The field of view is just a little small for
full disk solar and lunar, but the best lunar are with crescent moon shots
anyway. I use a separate refractor for wide field imaging.
WIDE FIELD SCOPE: (Not
shown) TeleVue 101mm f5.4 refractor.
Comments: For wider field views, you need a smaller shorter focal length
scope. There are a number of very high quality scopes that have come to
market in the last few years. That has lowered the price overall for this
type scope, and lowered the price of the older top of the line scopes that
come up for resale.
ST402 camera, on Orion f5 100mm guide scope.
Comments: Guiding is needed for long exposures. This guide camera is
considered one of the best. It has a cooled chip and integrated RGBC
filter wheel, and so can be used for imaging as well. The main reason I
bought it is because it can be integrated into a fully automated imaging
session. That means that if I set all of it up right, I can get some sleep
while my equipment does the work of image acquisition for me.
Interestingly, regarding the guide scope. it is a cheap, light weight,
wide field scope barely suitable for even low power observing because of
noticeable chromatic aberration. However, the SBIG guider doesn't care if
there are bluish halo's around guide stars. light gathering power and wide
field of view matter more, and the mount appreciates a lighter load. This
cheap guide scope delivers on all three important points.
AstroPhysics Mach1 GTO German Equatorial Mount
Comments: At $6000 this was a huge investment for me, but it delivers. I
tried various others at around half the price with good press and loyal
followings, but this is the one that consistently delivers in all axis of
motion, and in every other aspect of it's operation. It exceeds all it's
published specs for accuracy, load carrying capacity, and smoothness of
Comments: I use just 4, and really only one 90% time. If I'm taking images
of galaxies or star clusters where all the colors of the rainbow are given
off, I often don't use any filter, and I shoot as near the zenith as I
can. If there's a lot of light pollution or I'm shooting nearer the
horizon I use the IDAS LPS filter. Among all the light pollution filters I
have used, I find it best filters out most of the commonly offending light
pollution wavelengths, enhances the astronomically significant ones, and
yet retains the most "natural" overall color appearance. This last point
is the one about which most of the other similarly advertised filters fall
short on. I always use this same filter whenever I image nebula, which
generally glow only in specific wavelengths. This filter passes nearly all
of them, again with a natural overall appearance, rejecting the common
light pollution wavelengths.
WEIGHTS AND BALANCING:
Just as info, the cheapest place to get counterweights is at your local
scrap metal recycler. The price of scrap stainless or any other steel is
about 1/3 what a purchased equivalent would be, not to mention shipping
costs for 30 or more lbs of weight. You do have to find something
suitable, drill out a proper center and put in some means of locking it in
place. If you don't have the time or tools to do this, the commercially
available ones are worth it.
FOCUS CONTROL: JMI digital readout microfocuser
Comments: exact focus is as little as +/- a few thousandths of an inch.
Fine control is necessary and impossible (imo) to achieve with the course
focus knob that comes with the scope. I bought the digital readout version
that can be controlled from either the pushbutton interface, or can be
connected and run with a computer. This was one of the key ingredients
necessary achieve good focus, and to be
able to operate this whole setup remotely or automatically.
DEW CONTROL: Astrozap dew shield, and Kendrick dew heater
Comments: Needed for my part of the country (upper Midwest) and my style
scopes with their front corrector plate or objective lens.
GLARE CONTROL: Dew shield and custom field stop improvements
Comments: Glare control helps improve contrast, especially if the moon
isn't set, or there are local ground lights, or general light pollution.
IMAGE PROCESSING: ImagesPlus, and Microsoft's Photo Editor
Comments: necessary for post production processing. ImagesPlus allows
camera control and image acquisition to laptop, as well as having many
necessary astrophoto specific image processing features. Microsoft's Photo
Editor comes free as an add in to MS Word. It's surprisingly simple and
useful photo editor.
POWER: In my
observatory I have utility power, but if I go remote, I use 2 of
22amps for 150 minutes rated deep cycle batteries, plus various power
connectors and cords, and a smart charger.
Comments: if you go to remote locations, get as large a deep cycle battery
as you can carry, and get two of them. The biggest mistake beginners make is having too small a
power supply to run their equipment for a night. An adequately sized power
source lasts longer (more charge-discharge cycles) before wearing out, and will be able
to power your scope and all your accessories, including dew heaters, autoguider,
focuser, mount, camera, and a laptop for
an entire night – including the early evening setup time. A "smart"
charger is needed, because it can more properly recharge a battery,
thereby significantly improving the number of charge/discharge cycles as
well as recharging each time to the highest level. I use two batteries.
One for steady loads that require stable voltage, such as the mount,
camera and autoguider. The other battery is for loads that may switch
on and off, such as dew heaters, laptop power and electric focuser. I quit
using the standard deep cycle lead acid batteries and went to the sealed
maintenance free lead acid gel cell style. Yes they're expensive and don't
have the same listed capacity per pound, but they simply last 3 times
longer, have no maintenance, can be tipped over without consequence, can
be discharged more deeply without penalty, and hold their charge far
SKY CHART: Software Bisque's TheSky software
Comments: Necessary on a number of levels, including scope GoTo control;
matching what you see to what you get; locating objects; finding out
what's up there tonight or whenever; as a library and encyclopedia and
note keeper about the objects.
EYEPIECES: wide field varieties
Comments: Several good wide field eyepiece, with one about the same field
of view as the field of view of my camera. It is simply of interest to
also SEE what you photograph. Also, it's handy for assessing and framing
what your camera will see. The wide field varieties are just cool to look
through because they're a lot like looking into the sky, through the power of your scope. I have found the
Hyperion line of eyepieces to be a good choice for me. They have good eye
relief (18mm), have a wide field of view (68 deg), good color correction,
good price ($129), and lend themselves easily to eyepiece projection