This is the setup with which I got most of the
pictures on this website. It is a nice combination
of equipment for astrophotography, and works very well for observing too.|
Canon Digital Rebel, (300D) modified, with double battery pack, and with
cables to connect to a laptop for camera control and picture acquisition.
Comments. Canon digital cameras with CMOS's chips are some of the best
cameras for astro work. Lately, the Nikon D50 and D70 are proving they can
take even longer exposures before becoming too noisy. Only monochrome cooled chip
dedicated astro CCD
cameras can top either of them, - and they need 4 exposures through various color
filters just to get one picture. In one pass, these Canon and Nikon cameras can take some of the longest low
noise exposures of any digital SLR camera. Canon now makes the 20Da, which
has been optimized for astrophotography, and still works very well as an
everyday camera. Among other things, it has a modified
filter that allows the deep reds, including the hydrogen alpha wavelength
(a particularly important astronomical wavelength) to come through. I have
removed the filter that Canon puts in front of its CMOS chip. That allows
the camera to see astronomically important wavelengths that otherwise are
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, but 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, and making
this scope the near equivalent of Meade's new RC400 (coma corrected
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. With a Barlow,
it is suitable for planetary and the smaller deep space objects.
WIDE FIELD SCOPE:
AstroTech 80mm f6 scope.
Comments: For wider field views, you need a smaller shorter focal length scope, generally mounted piggyback (as above)
on the primary scope. The AstroTech refractor is an inexpensive choice
with, compared to similar scopes just a few years ago, a much improved
degree of achromatic correction. It is a naturally fast
f6, with excellent and sturdy construction, and a wonderful 2 speed
high precision focuser. There are a number of similarly priced and
refractors that have come on the
market lately. One of the more popular (but not as fast) ones is the Orion ED80.
AUTOGUIDER: SBIG's STV (attached
to the wide field scope)
Comments: To get the most out of this scope and it's mount, guiding is needed for
even short exposures. The SBIG STV is considered one of the best, with a
price to match. However, without it long exposure photography would not be
MOUNT: Milburn wedge on
concrete pier, or when mobile, on stock tripod, resting on antivibration pads.
Comments: My style scope requires a wedge for polar alignment. The wedge, by Ken Milburn is a solid, well regarded, and reasonably priced
WEIGHTS AND BALANCING:
You will notice a couple of weights on this scope. One is on the "elbow"
of the east fork and the other is on a rail on the bottom opposite the
wide field scope and autoguider. Proper balancing is important for smooth tracking. The east fork
weight keeps the RA gearing firmly but gently engaged, and the bottom one ensures that the Dec gear is always settled into place.
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 know that comes with the scope. I bought the digital readout version
that can be controlled from either the interface, or can be connected and
run with a computer. This was one of the key ingredients necessary to be
able to operate this whole setup remotely.
DEW CONTROL: Astrozap dew shield, and Kendrick dew heater
Comments: Needed for my part of the country (upper Midwest) and my style
scope (with front corrector plate).
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: 150 minute deep cycle battery, various adaptors, smart charger.
Comments: if you go to remote locations, get as large a deep cycle battery
as you can carry. It'll last longer before wearing out, and will be able
to power all your accessories, including dew heaters and your laptop for
an entire night – including the early evening setup time. A "smart"
charger is a very good investment, because it can more properly charge a
battery, thereby significantly improving the number of charge/discharge
cycles as well as recharging each time to the highest level.
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, with 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
Maybe one last comment. With all the best and right equipment and
software, it still can be frustrating. Astrophotography is not easy.
There's a lot of learning to do. Remember, whatever results you may get -
take time to enjoy the beautiful and wonderful time you will spend out
under the stars.