View Full Version here: : Astrophotography equipment for a beginner
04-07-2012, 02:11 PM
Hi all :)
I bought a Pentax K-x DSLR a year or two ago, when I first got it I jumped straight into a bit of photography. Obviously I had to keep my exposures very short as I only had a standard tripod. Below is a couple of photos:
The Milky Way:
You can see the limitations with short exposures so I'm now considering getting some starter equipment (which I assume is some sort of equatorial mount and a telescope) to start taking longer exposures.
Can someone point me in the right direction with what I need? I will be interested in taking shots of the planets, but I will be especially interested in nebula as they are very interesting. My budget is really only say $300-$400 at this stage, I'm guessing this won't buy me too much?
04-07-2012, 02:40 PM
in my opinion, its very difficult to get an imaging setup for that budget as there are quite a few things involved.
most important is the mount.
should ideally have the following
load capacity of atleast 8kg's
autoguiding interface port or support software guiding
without guiding you'd be limited to 1 or 2 min exposures which won't yield much.
The eq5 with goto or heq5 would be ideal but second hand, they cost upwards of $700. not sure if the ioptron packages support autoguiding but look at other brands as well.
to keep weight low (heavier gear requires a robust mount), you could look at the skywatcher ED series, again they cost $400 and upwards second hand.
or a second hand 70mm William optics or similar.
you'd need a semi-apo or an apo to avoid Chromatic aberration or colour fringing, so I'd suggest avoiding achromats.
you'd need a guidescope, lot of people use finder guiders where the 50mm finder scope is used as the guidescope, that works well.
but you'd need a guidecamera that's sensitive enough to pickup guide stars.
you could use modified webcams, but better to use a qhy5 or orion SSAG.
you could add RA motors to a cheap EQ mount to get some good widefields, or even some short exposures with a refractor and a camera but with refractors at F7, you'd need autoguiding for more than 1 min.
have a read through some of the threads in the beginners section and you'll get an idea.
keep an eye out in the classifieds as bits and pieces come up with some good prices.
planetary with a dslr at prime focus doesn't work too well, you'd need a decent barlow and a planetary cam capable of decent frame rates, you can then stack individual frames.
Focal length for nebulae are ideally below F6, else FOV would be too narrow.
For planetary, they go up to F22 with barlows, so you'd need atleast an F6 or F7 to start with, else the object would be too small.
look up philips toucams, quite a few good planetary images taken with them.
you can see how it all starts adding up.
I'd suggest starting with looking for a decent mount, then think of the scope, guidecam, accessories like dew heaters, right angled finder, eqascom interfaces etc.
04-07-2012, 06:40 PM
No problems, if I end up getting a mount only to start with (using my 200-300mm lenses for nebula etc), what's a good one? Assuming I'll skip the telescope for now. Ideally something that will allow me to easily screw the camera to.
05-07-2012, 06:27 AM
A HEQ5 would be the right start. As Alistair said you will want an autoguider as well. 2nd hand you are looking at around $1000, new around $1500 to get yourself started.
200-300mm focal length with a camera lens is a great starting point and can produce some wonder widefield vistas. It is also a lot more forgiving with guiding errors than longer focal lengths.
If you like to think strictly astrophotography (and no visual observation), you could get a Vixen Polarie.
Extremely portable (as in: it would see you under the stars more often than a bigger mount which takes longer to put together each time - by which time the clouds have rolled in, again and leave you without any photos), less money.
On the Vixen, there's even room for a small scope later on when your wallet has recovered.
I have seen photos of a Vixen polarie with a Canon mounted on it AND a Mini Borg 45ED scope - taking beautiful pictures.
The Vixen can't carry more than that.
But I reckon it would keep you happy for quite a while, there!
05-07-2012, 07:55 AM
Hmm.. probably a bit pricey. Someone mentioned the CG-5 ($300-$400 second hand) would that be suitable?
Wow, that looks like a great piece of kit to get started!
For longer exposures, would I have troubles aligning it though?
apparently not. Astonishingly easy...and lenient.
There are 2 recent threads here on the forum by people who just got one for themselves. You could do a search for Polarie (Vixen is the brand, Polarie the model name) .
here are the reports I mentioned where someone put a Canon and a Mini Borg onto a Polarie:
(possibly you'll need to create an account with the website to view the images?)
and don't buy the polar scope. you won't need it in the southern hemisphere. :)
05-07-2012, 10:21 AM
Could also build a barn door tracker, save heaps !! Just search the threads and you will find out more
05-07-2012, 01:25 PM
It's been a while since I've done any sort of AP (not that I did much to begin with), why is that again?
Yeah, I tried making a barn door mount and failed miserably. I don't really have the time or patience for fiddly woodworking and setting up circuits for stepper motors etc.
I really want something "out of the box" that will just work. It needs to be quick to set up, easy to take down and portable(ish). I need to be able to chuck it in it's box/case, drive to a location and set up, take it down etc. I won't be trekking or hiking with it. Ideally something that won't become useless if I decide to get a telescope and take it all a step further as well. I'll be shooting with 200mm - 300mm lenses (I have a 500 somewhere too) so not sure if you would consider those "widefield". For longer exposures, would units such as the Astrotrac and Polarie work well? Or would it be difficult to track at that focal length? I have a few shots of Eta Carina so that would be my "test target". I'd be mainly shooting nebula, but I might stray into other areas too?
EDIT: I've been reading about the Polarie in more detail and it seems like a great unit, but perhaps it's a bit "too portable" - I.e. only really good for widefield, won't really take much of a scope. I've sort of ruled that one out for now, and looking at the Astrotrac Celestron CG-5 and the Astrotrac TT320X-AG. However, I am not sure what exactly is needed to be completely up and running with these units. I have the camera and a decent tripod (with a 6kg rated ballhead).
Something that I can control from the PC (I'm a nerd! :)) would be good as well - My desktop PC is about 8m from the area where I normally shoot from, when I'm out I'd just use a laptop.
06-07-2012, 12:56 PM
I can stretch slightly more, as long as I can get everything I need for less than four figures.
Any other suggestions?
07-07-2012, 10:43 AM
My thoughts/reasoning thus far.
Polarie: $400 unit + $250 polar scope + $200 Manfrotto 410 Geared Head = $850 total (plus postage US -> Australia)
Positives - Portable, relatively cheap, fast to set up and take down
Negatives - Limited to what I can do with it, can buy a CG-5 for the money
Summary - Considering this has actually ended up more expensive than the Astrotrac (which from what I've read, seems to be superior in most ways), I'll give it a miss.
Astrotrac: $480 unit + $150 polar scope + $200 Manfrotto 410 Geared Head = $830 total (plus postage US -> Australia)
Positives - Portable, relatively cheap, great tracking that rivals more expensive mounts (allegedly), AG port for later (still not exactly sure how this works, but it sounds cool!)
Negatives - Limited to AP (if I decide to start observing later), can buy a CG-5 for the money
Celestron CG-5GT: $750 ($659 on OPT) + $20 AC/DC adapter + $40 polar scope + ??? (plus postage US -> Australia)
Positives - Cheapest "decent" mount for beginner AP
Negatives - Hit and miss reviews, temperamental, maybe slower to align and set up? I want something that I can set up and take down quickly (I.e. set up in less than 10 mins)
Summary - Probably my first real mount choice, due to price. Unsure though, due to what other costs are involved to get started with AP - polar alignment scope (is it included?), ball head, adaptors etc. to fit DSLR onto etc. (can anyone confirm?)
Orion Atlas EQ-G / Skywatcher EQ-6 / EQ5 Pro SynScan / HEQ5 Dual Axis or GOTO: $600-$1300?? Second hand/new + AC/DC adapter (?) + ??? (plus postage US -> Australia)
Positives - Cheapest entry level "good" mount for AP
Negatives - Expensive, heavy, probably harder to setup? Further costs involved (ball head, adapters to mount camera to etc.)
On quick inspection I am left with a few options. The Astrotrac for about $830, the CG-5GT for ~$660 (plus whatever else is required) or a second hand EQ-G or EQ-6 (plus whatever else is required). I'm leaning towards the CG-5 (pending costs) or the Astrotrac, at the moment. I don't think I have the knowledge to safely buy second hand. I want to be free of headaches.
The first concern is set up and alignment time. I need something that's not going to required fiddling about with setup, alignment etc. Ideally if any of this can be set up in under 10-15 minutes. Anything more and I'm much less likely to actually bother using it as often as I should be (considering the price tag).
The second concern is total costs for the mounts. To assist, could anyone please let me know what additional components I would need to start imaging with both the CG-5GT and the EQ-G/EQ-6/HEQ5 mounts? I imagine there would be at least a few bits and pieces, including AC/DC adapter as minimum, as well as whatever is required to actually mount the camera to the mount. I am assuming that both these units do not come with a facility built in, therefore a decent ball head will be required? If so, what would be good to start with?
I assume that both mounts would have whatever is necessary to align (polar and GOTO) built in, would this be correct?
EDIT: Seems like the CG-5 polar axis finder scope is additional, and costs $40.
Until I have a realistic idea of complete costs for both of these units to start AP, I can't really make a choice. Any assistance would be appreciated!
07-07-2012, 11:57 AM
have you considered the ioptron cube series. cheap, portable. cheaper if you buy from the states. dont come with a dovetail but you could get one of a local supplier, would be easy to make a bracket for you dslr and screw it to a dove tail. downside is the cheaper ones cant handel any more than about 12 llbs(more realisticly half that for photograthy).
I have been partly down the alley where you find yourself, now.
An impressive list of thoughts you have put together. :)
Good Hunt! :thumbsup:
If you want to keep today's decision open for a future telescope you also need to consider the weight the mount can carry and what your possible scope and gear will weigh together.
Reduce the manufacturer weight limit by one third and you have a realistic number.
A mount that is overloaded will not be stable enough for astrophotography and will soon suffer mechanically, too.
I decided against the Celestron because of the bad manufacturing and aftersales support reviews I had read.
Vixen Polarie: shipment within Australia not from US.
not useful in southern hemisphere because Octans is hardly visible. (alternative means to align to South Celestial Pole: solar noon method, compass, trial and error, drift alignment )
Star alignment with an equatorial mount requires a visual aid - either the life view of your camera mounted directly on the mount - or a scope of some sort - either a finder scope or a real telescope.
Auto-Guiding the mount with a computer running "PhD" (for example) and a supported camera for really loooong exposures:
My Sony camera is not supported and I didn't want to buy an extra one - so I didn't read up on that matter at all.
If yours isn't supported, either, your star alignment, leveling and SCP alignment has to be spot on to ensure that the tracking really works well for a while.
You will need power to run your computerized mount if you are in the field. A 12V 900Amp jumpstart battery does it for me.
Re your shipment cost for items from US:
Australia has several shops and you would find all mounts you mentioned in your country.
Orion's Atlas is branded Skywatcher NEQ6 and Orion's Orion is branded Skywatcher HEQ5 (Pro).
I am a noob so I need more time, still.
I have marked tripod legs locations in my drive way.
And since I have leveled the mount correctly for that location and done the rest of the preliminary setups, I am up and running with my camera within 15 minutes.
I am still improving the tracking by tweaking the alignment and balancing and everything.
My 200mm lens can do 10-13 seconds exposures before star trailing. I want to reach 30 seconds.
With 18mm, I am at almost 2 minutes. I want to reach 3.
I also only want to do AP and needed a better mount than my barn door mount.
I had decided for a HEQ5 (Pro) (the GoTo version) to have room for a telescope for when I wanted to take the next step.
The HEQ5 would have been able to carry the biggest scope I ever would be able to lug around on my own: an 8" Newtonian.
I wouldn't be able to carry a bigger scope - so I didn't need the NEQ6.
- but fate threw a used EQ5 and 8" newt my way, 6 weeks ago.
So that's me: after 6 weeks of learning the ropes of what can go wrong, I have reached a pathetic 10 secs with 200mm.
I bet you will be quicker ;)
08-07-2012, 11:49 AM
Is the NexStar/Celestron software any better than the Skyscan (or EQMOD) software in terms of ease of polar and star aligning? Remember that I will only be using a 200-300mm lens and a DSLR to begin with, so alignment does not have to be critical.
08-07-2012, 08:39 PM
I think I have decided on a HEQ5 Pro, simply because it's the cheapest serious mount that I can buy. Celestron pricing is Australia is very expensive.
Anyone got any idea of what else I need for this mount? I will need whatever is required to mount my DSLR, run it off AC power and not sure what else?
11-07-2012, 11:28 AM
Not trying to discourage you but you're trying to do something on the cheap that people fail to do expensively. Widefield with a smaller mount or tracker will work at your level of $$$.
I have an EQ6 on a pier in an Observatory which I am still trying to get an almost perfect alignment so I can take longer widefields for a starter. My limit is around 20 secs with a 55mm lens. I have spent over $5000 now (and umpteen hours) to get to this point and still not happy with the results. As soon as you add any magnification (500mm ?? !! ) you suddenly magnify the tracking problem immensely. Unless you have guiding (my next step) to correct the tracking then you are underestimating the issues involved.
The HEQ5 is a good starting point, it will easily carry your gear and acheive good results with widefield and long term can carry a small scope. A designated (marked) position on your driveway\backyard where you can repeat and practise your setup and alignment without having to readjust your setup all the time is a good start. ( I still have my tripod yellow paint spots on the driveway out the front ).
Once you have mastered all that you can start to move up the capability ladder and improve your gear and expertise but methinks you are trying to run before you can even walk. Astrophotography is a huge leap in technical requirements and investment, both money and time.
Hope this doesn't put you off, it hasn't me but it's a big challenge and a long path to get the magic pix some people on here get .
11-07-2012, 01:03 PM
I'd second Brent's advise.
Costs for AP does add up, so do the research and plan for long term rather than short term as you'll quickly find you'll want to do more with what you have.
I have a HEQ5 Pro and it does the job very well.
As for polar aligning, I started with the drift alignment method, but finally ended up with using alignmaster. for $20, its worth every penny and makes polar alignment a breeze. good alignment is a must even if you're guiding.
As for list of bits and pieces,
for the heq5 pro,
12v/2A power adaptor with the correct pin polarity for the heq5
Dovetail bar/dslr mounting adaptor - you'll have to check with the supplier for what's out there.
good to have - GPUSB cable. you can connect it to the hand controller port and your USB port and avoid using the hand controller. everything's done from the laptop/software.
wired/wireless gamepad controller - helps with slew/centering if you're using eqascom as the primary means (i.e not using the hand controller)
once you decide on the OTA,
Right angle finder - must to save your neck
if refractor like an ED80 - tube rings, dovetail bar, Dew controller, dew heater straps x 2, diagonal, dslr T adaptor
if reflector, possibly an 8" F5 newt - tube rings, dovetail bar, collimator -cheshire/laser, decent focuser, T adaptor, longer mirror bolts and springs to move mirror up, possibly larger secondary to fit the light cone, dew controller, dew heater x 1 for the finder.
as others have mentioned,
guidescope - finder guider works well
dew heater strap
bracket to fit onto tube rings
Seriously? Only 20 seconds with a 55mm? Surely that can't be right?
You should be able to do much longer than that with a 55
The photo below is a single 10min exposure with a 105mm lens, which would be close to 20mins with a 55!
The crop shows only a few pixels of trailing.
It was done on a portable rig with about 30min spent polar-aligning thru the Astrotrac's notoriously dodgy polar scope. For longer exposure times/focal lengths I would obviously need to drift align.
12-07-2012, 11:17 AM
Yes, seriously. I have alignment issues in that I only see a Nth\Sth slice of the sky, no East or West horizons at all so getting a good alignment is proving elusive. My East is about 80*, my west at 40* and I've only had the OB going properly over the last month or so. The weather has not been very cooperative either. Couple that with family commitments and you don't get too much time to spend fiddling with gear.
It's coming right. I upgraded the handset to 3.28 for the Polar Realaignment feature but I don't have enough sky for it to find suitable stars at enough displacement to complete the task so it's all been a trial and error process ( and getting to understand the EP vs reality movements relationship ). I think I need to improve the scope collimation as well, more tools to build.
Also settling in new computers and power, lights, setup processes etc. About to explore the vagaries of PHD guiding soon which should finalise the system.
Considering virtually all of the system has been built by myself except mirrors and some electronic components it has been a very entertaining and successful project.
All part of the fun to keep me busy and occupied ... :P
12-07-2012, 01:07 PM
Have you tried EQAlign or Alignmaster?
Both make it very easy. try out an eval of alignmaster with the extended star list. just my personal preference, I find it very easy now.
12-07-2012, 01:48 PM
I'm an eq6pro owner and I would go for the Astrotrac for widefield. You will use it 10x as much as the HEQ5 for widefield. Faster and lighter to setup, way less power hungry, you will just chuck it in the car and use it wherever you go.
If you don't like it, or upgrade later you can probably sell it for close to your purchase price.
I have both, the AT is great for overnight stints at dark sky sites.
For a permanent pier at home or if you're spending a whole weekend or more at a dark site, the EQ5 or 6 is a better option.
12-07-2012, 03:15 PM
In that case, just get a north south bearing, use an inclinometer to set your mount correctly, and then do a drift alignment.
Even with your small slice of sky you can knock it over in one evening, and it won't vary much in an obs.
Have a look at the links I posted in this thread, or invite someone over to give you a hand and make a fun evening out of it.
I'd be tackling getting aligned before doing anything else, the fun really begins at that stage :)
Just a note that there is no way you need to be spending that much on a Polarie. That's the first time I have seen it priced more than the AT anyway.
I just had a quick look and you can get the complete kit(Polarie,tripods & ballheads) from astroshop.au for under $800 and even then you would be paying far too much for the set up that you really need.
As it's been mentioned it is already in Oz, you don't need a manfrotto geared head or a polar scope down South and assuming you already have a tripod depending on what type all you would need is one or two ball heads and if you already have that then you just need the unit.
But as you say it does have other disadvantages if you are after something else.
13-07-2012, 11:12 AM
No, I don't have computer control of the mount yet, something else to add to the 'To Do' list. I seem to be playing around with all sorts of bits and pieces. I had it almost perfect but I then misaligned the mount by failing to notice an incorrect setting in the handpiece so ended back at stage one again. :shrug: I'll chuck the Android Inclinometer at it again but it's a matter of finding time as much as anything else.
Guiding is also the next big 'To Do' which would also ignore a perfect alignment requirement.
This weekend is out of action, big dinner party at our place and heaps of clouds predicted so patience is the other necessary prerequisite in this game.
13-07-2012, 09:16 PM
I'd recommend that you keep saving for no less than something like an EQ5.
The portable mounts (Polarie, Astrotrac, etc) are really fantastic - but they can be very challenging to learn on. Trying to get pixel-perfect tracking on these will seriously drive you nuts ;)
However, it can be done: these are my best deep sky photos taken with an AT (http://www.iceinspace.com.au/forum/showthread.php?t=91077).
Also, when you start out you tend to think of the equipment as being the biggest piece of the puzzle. Until you acquire something suitable, that's certainly true... but there's a LOT more skill, learning, and dedication involved than you might imagine!
I agree - you can be imaging within minutes on the Astrotrac, and get some wonderful shots. I think an EQ5 might be a good option here, though, because there's a longer upgrade path (e.g. add an ED80 down the track) and having a dual axis drive plus GOTO makes life easier.
This sounds very strange? :screwy: How are you performing your alignment?
Polar alignment on the EQ6 is adjusted by tweaking the altitude/azimuth knobs on the mount itself (not the hand controller) - it shouldn't have anything to do with the 2 or 3 star alignment process?
By the way, your 40° W sky is more than enough for performing drift alignment.
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