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Old 06-03-2017, 10:28 AM
AdamJL
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Please recommend - $1.5k on a guided tracker

Hi all

It's been a long time since I've been able to do any form of astro photography, but I think this year things will finally change.

I want to take pictures with lenses ranging from 14mm right up to 300mm (f/2.8).

I currently own an Astrotrac with a wedge mount.
The few times I've used the Astrotrac, it's been fun, but to be honest, one of the things that pushed astrophotograhy to the back of the pile was that it has such a steep learning curve.
Trying to polar align stuff with the Astrotrac in the southern hemisphere too... it's hard for me when I get to longer focal lengths.

But I love the end results! And as mentioned, want to get back into it.
With that said, my budget is about $1.5k (maybe a bit more if I can be convinced of the merits), and what I'd like is something that can take a DSLR + 300 2.8 lens at the heaviest, but allows for (the important bit) super quick and easy polar alignment (and all the other alignment I need to do as well!).
Anything computerised with a good interface is welcome. I would just like to "set and forget". I hope in 2017, someone makes a relatively affordable tracking mount for noobs like me, who don't have the time and/or patience to learn every bit of the ins and outs of tracking.

Thanks in advance!
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  #2  
Old 06-03-2017, 10:55 AM
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Merlin66 (Ken)
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Adam,
Sounds like you're searching for the Holy Grail of astrophotography!
Guiding a 300mm lens should be much easier than with a telescope of >1000mm focal length.
All effective photographic mounts will need to be polar aligned, and depending on the tracking accuracy may also need a guide camera and software...

Is the only real issue the polar aligning of the AstroTrac???
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  #3  
Old 06-03-2017, 11:28 AM
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dannat (Daniel)
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do you mean you want auto-align? like celestron star sense? or to use software to help you align yourself?
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Old 06-03-2017, 11:47 AM
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pluto (Hugh)
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If polar aligning is the main problem then maybe keep the Astrotrac and get a QHY Polemaster.
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  #5  
Old 06-03-2017, 01:15 PM
AdamJL
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannat View Post
do you mean you want auto-align? like celestron star sense? or to use software to help you align yourself?
I've no idea what Celestron Star Sense is, but will look it up
Software, or a mount that "does it all" would be ideal!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Merlin66 View Post
Adam,
Sounds like you're searching for the Holy Grail of astrophotography!
Guiding a 300mm lens should be much easier than with a telescope of >1000mm focal length.
All effective photographic mounts will need to be polar aligned, and depending on the tracking accuracy may also need a guide camera and software...

Is the only real issue the polar aligning of the AstroTrac???
Haha, yeah I was hoping by now someone would have invented that Holy Grail! The issue is polar aligning the Astrotrac, yes, but just at long focal lengths. I know 300mm isn't long to you experts, but once I get past 70mm or so, then I start getting issues. I just don't understand how to fine-tune it accurately beyond that, and the scope that comes with it isn't so great since the "guide stars" are outside of the polar scope's view.. so I'm just guessing, and never seem to do a good job of it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by pluto View Post
If polar aligning is the main problem then maybe keep the Astrotrac and get a QHY Polemaster.
Thanks for the suggestion! I will investigate that.
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  #6  
Old 07-03-2017, 09:20 PM
cadman342001 (Andy)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamJL View Post
I've no idea what Celestron Star Sense is, but will look it up
Software, or a mount that "does it all" would be ideal!



Haha, yeah I was hoping by now someone would have invented that Holy Grail! The issue is polar aligning the Astrotrac, yes, but just at long focal lengths. I know 300mm isn't long to you experts, but once I get past 70mm or so, then I start getting issues. I just don't understand how to fine-tune it accurately beyond that, and the scope that comes with it isn't so great since the "guide stars" are outside of the polar scope's view.. so I'm just guessing, and never seem to do a good job of it.



Thanks for the suggestion! I will investigate that.
I am in a similar position (although I don't have a tracker yet !), have a 300/2.8 and asked about what to get, the Polemaster was recommended to me also. Seems to be the go for getting PA in 5 mins with mobile rigs. It's the one thing that scares me as I know I'll do it badly, plus the tracker I was looking at (Sky Watcher Star Adventurer) you have to do the PA and THEN mount the camera/lens which sounds like a recipe for errors. If only we had Polaris to PA against !



Andy
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  #7  
Old 08-03-2017, 04:26 PM
AdamJL
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Yeah it looks like a product that's easy to use if you already know what to do

Uggh. So much jargon, I will pay good money for someone to make a relatively inexpensive mount/tracker that you can chuck your camera & big lens on, where you just press a button and it does everything.
No pole aligning, azimuth, whatever. Just a button that based on your GPS, and a CCD image of the sky will set up everything for you in a few seconds.

The Celestron Star Sense linked to earlier looked okay until:

http://www.celestron.com/browse-shop...ense-autoalign
Enables automatic alignment of your Celestron computerized telescope

I don't have, nor want a telescope. I just want something I can mount my camera/lens to, lol
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  #8  
Old 08-03-2017, 08:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamJL View Post
I don't have, nor want a telescope. I just want something I can mount my camera/lens to, lol
I think that is saying that it's for aligning the mount not the telescope, so it doesn't matter what you put on the mount.


This hobby is complicated, and personally I find much of the satisfaction and pride I have in the images I create comes from overcoming challenges like polar alignment, balance, framing, etc. Obviously that's just acquiring the data and processing has it's own challenges.

If you're not interested in the hardware setup side of things then perhaps you could look at one of the managed online observatories like iTelescope or Slooh. That way you can capture images without worrying about the hardware (or the weather!) and you can concentrate on processing the data.

I understand your frustration as the learning curve is steep, as is often the financial investment. In a few years maybe there will be a product that will do everything for you but for now we have to settle for the tools that at least make it a bit easier (like the Polemaster, autoguiders, or plate solving). Not to mention the awesome learning resource that is IIS!

Spare a thought for those who were doing this stuff a couple of decades ago and had to hand track their manual mounts and then wait days to see if their film exposures had turned out ok
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  #9  
Old 09-03-2017, 11:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamJL View Post
I don't have, nor want a telescope. I just want something I can mount my camera/lens to, lol
I get the feeling you dont yet understand the terminology so you're not understanding the answers.

Simple answer: what you want doesnt yet exist at any price.

unsimple answer: what you want does exist but requires knowledge and understanding to assemble parts and configure controling software.

What you call a telescope is an OTA (Optical Tube Assembly), a tripod is the three legs on top of which sits a Mount that the OTA attaches. Some people call different combination of the three parts to be a "telescope".

The mount is the part that moves (manually, electrically or computer controlled). Even massively expensive mounts have a limit to how fine and precise its movements are. Plus over time normal wear and tear on the gears will effect the precision. In practice this means no one can guarentee a target will be dead center in your photos. plus the tracking precision changes through the night, due to temperature changes and balance changes etc. So we need to use an addon "guider" to periodically correct and get the mount tracking precisely again. A guider is usually a low power OTA mounted on, or parallel to, the main OTA with a high sensitive camera attached to a computer where software "lock" on to a star, measures its drift in position as the mount tracking changes and it then sends an adjustment to the mount to get it back pointing precisely again.

There are some assemblies that image and guide through the same camera and OTA but typically these are separate tasks.

I own a Celestron Star Sense scope package and you could use it for what you want and is probably the closest thing on the market (though I believe there are competing offerings from Meade and probably others, that do the same thing). The OTA is irrelevant to them all and you can attach a regular camera with lens onto a mont instead of an OTA and it will work just fine (I've done this with my gear in the past). The star sense is a cheap solution and not ideal if you have limited sky views and lots of sky pollution. The same will effect competing products. it consists of a small OTA, well a simple lens and camera assembly that you can access as a camera, it looks around the sky and tries to work out where it is (in minutes, NOT seconds).
Plus its mount needs to be horizontal like any other imaging setup. And of course my star sense is not an Equatorial mount, its AltAz so its not much use for long exposure dslr photography. And with EQ mounts, getting polar alignment and balance precise are a must, eyeballing, or close enough is not good enough, any tiny difference at the imagine rig show up magnified in the images just wasting your time if you get lazy in set up.


All of this stuff has its limits and tolerances and I know my star sense couldn't put Mars in my cameras field of view, but it was in the general vicinity, so a 300mm lens? I doubt it, 100mm maybe.

IF you were willing to learn and operate gear you can build something to do what you're wanting, but not a simple solution that you turn on and it does everything. If you understood you'd understand how close to impossible it would be.
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  #10  
Old 09-03-2017, 02:16 PM
AdamJL
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thanks both for your answers.

Firstly, I agree, this website is a fantastic resource. And the biggest positive about it is (pardon my language) there are no dick heads. Whenever I've come here in the past, and even joined a Katoomba meet a couple of times, everyone was friendly and awesome.

Secondly, yes this hobby has a very steep learning curve. Unfortunately, I just don't have the time to spend getting too involved in learning and playing around with things. Maybe (and hopefully) one day in the future, but for now, the best I can do is the simple stuff.

Lastly, can I just touch on this point:

Quote:
Originally Posted by sil View Post
but not a simple solution that you turn on and it does everything. If you understood you'd understand how close to impossible it would be.
What I thought of was:
1. A mount. Call it whatever you want, but something that sits on a tripod of your choice.
2. This mount has GPS, or can connect via software to your phone to use its GPS.
3. Using GPS, with it's altitude data as well, the tracker instantly knows where the pole stars are, and can align, roughly in the right direction. Maybe accurate to 200mm. It's just spacial data, that's nothing new?
4. It's a sturdy mount made for photographers that can accept a tripod collar for big lenses or small.
5. Using something like the Star Sense mentioned earlier, a photographer and literally press a button and the mount uses said mini ccd/scope, compares the stars with software, and aligns the lens perfectly with the pole star region if more accuracy is required.

What am I missing, why is this so impossible?

edit:
6. Considering we can have direct feeds from DSLRs onto phones and tablets now, why can't we also just use the camera's sensor to polar-align? An app that connects to the camera, takes an X-second exposure, compares the output then shifts the mount. Once that's done, you can point the camera wherever you want.

I know this stuff can't be easy, but impossible? Almost all of it already exists, just not as a cohesive unit.

Last edited by AdamJL; 09-03-2017 at 02:46 PM.
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  #11  
Old 09-03-2017, 02:51 PM
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dannat (Daniel)
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you still have to allow for the latitude at the source, the pole sits at a diff angle for everyone depending on where you are, if you use a flat tripod -the rotation will be out slightly & you will get egg shaped or worse stars.

its getting the angle to the pole exact that can be tricky -there stars all rotate about this point, in a sphere that is the trick -if the sky was flat it would be no problem
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  #12  
Old 09-03-2017, 03:37 PM
AdamJL
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannat View Post
you still have to allow for the latitude at the source, the pole sits at a diff angle for everyone depending on where you are, if you use a flat tripod -the rotation will be out slightly & you will get egg shaped or worse stars.
Latitude is included in GPS, so if the mount had that info the angle would be accurate. If you had latitude, longitude, and altitude, what else would you need?

I can see your point about flat/level tripod. What about if the entire mount was in a gyroscope that leveled out? That might be adding complexity, and I guess leveling out a tripod isn't so hard, as it can even be done digitally.

btw, I'm not trying to be difficult here, I am just trying to understand why is hasn't been done before. The technical reasons for it. Happy to learn that, if anything!
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Old 09-03-2017, 04:43 PM
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Merlin66 (Ken)
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Adam,
Not a problem.... give me $50k and I'll design one for you!!!
Not sure it's viable as a commercial venture, but I'll give it a go for you.
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Old 10-03-2017, 12:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merlin66 View Post
Adam,
Not a problem.... give me $50k and I'll design one for you!!!
Not sure it's viable as a commercial venture, but I'll give it a go for you.
Not sure it'll be as accurate, or pocket sized, it could however sit on one of those vibration isolation tables you find expensive turntables hovering above.

And don't forget rendy watercooling and blue LEDs
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Old 12-03-2017, 01:34 PM
DarkKnight (Kev)
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Some great info here.

Before you start throwing money at possible solutions have a look at SharpCap Polar Alignment.

http://www.sharpcap.co.uk/sharpcap/polar-alignment

Google 'Astrotrac - SharpCap' for some user experience.

I had a very long, hard look at the Astrotrac, mainly for it's portability, but eventually decided to go more mainstream with a HEQ5 Pro with no regrets. I think the dicky polar scope turned me off although there seems to be work- arounds. The add-ons weren't cheap either.
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  #16  
Old 12-03-2017, 02:12 PM
JA
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AdamJL View Post
thanks both for your answers.

Firstly, I agree, this website is a fantastic resource. And the biggest positive about it is (pardon my language) there are no dick heads. Whenever I've come here in the past, and even joined a Katoomba meet a couple of times, everyone was friendly and awesome.

Secondly, yes this hobby has a very steep learning curve. Unfortunately, I just don't have the time to spend getting too involved in learning and playing around with things. Maybe (and hopefully) one day in the future, but for now, the best I can do is the simple stuff.

Lastly, can I just touch on this point:



What I thought of was:
1. A mount. Call it whatever you want, but something that sits on a tripod of your choice.
2. This mount has GPS, or can connect via software to your phone to use its GPS.
3. Using GPS, with it's altitude data as well, the tracker instantly knows where the pole stars are, and can align, roughly in the right direction. Maybe accurate to 200mm. It's just spacial data, that's nothing new?
4. It's a sturdy mount made for photographers that can accept a tripod collar for big lenses or small.
5. Using something like the Star Sense mentioned earlier, a photographer and literally press a button and the mount uses said mini ccd/scope, compares the stars with software, and aligns the lens perfectly with the pole star region if more accuracy is required.

What am I missing, why is this so impossible?

edit:
6. Considering we can have direct feeds from DSLRs onto phones and tablets now, why can't we also just use the camera's sensor to polar-align? An app that connects to the camera, takes an X-second exposure, compares the output then shifts the mount. Once that's done, you can point the camera wherever you want.

[B]I know this stuff can't be easy, but impossible?[/B] Almost all of it already exists, just not as a cohesive unit.
Not impossible, thoroughly feasible, on the face of it but, just not worth doing, for the anticipated market and/or potential performance compromises, compared with performance from current state-of-the-art and/or even high performance commercial alternatives I expect. However something along those lines, with compromises is ....

an all in one type solution the Pentax Astrotracking feature on some of their new digital cameras (Penatx K-1, Pentax K-3ii, Pentax K-5 with OGPS-1) , moves the image sensor, up/down- left/right one pixel at a time to track the heavens and allows use of a fixed tripod instead of using a conventional tracking mount and interfaces with an in-camera GPS to do so. Obviously with such an arrangement there are limitations with tracking duration /focal length and tracking accuracy, but .....

Unfortunately not much detail on the astrotracker function, but the camera reviews are here>>>
Pentax K1 review: https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/pentax-k-1
Penatx K3ii review: n/a

EDIT: I haven't looked, but it would be good to see some long duration exposures from these cameras, perhaps on Astrobin. I had read somewhere that 300s (???) was something of a maximum, but not 100% sure what focal length that was suggested for (probably ultrawide)....... Ok I couldn't resist I searched and found a 90 second exposure of Orion using a 200mm f/4, which if untracked would have been good for no more than 3 seconds (rule of 600). the image may not be perfect but, it's at 200mm and anything wider would be just dandy I suspect. Quite incredible really....
https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/5...-smc-200mm-f4/

Thoughts?


Best
JA

Last edited by JA; 12-03-2017 at 03:05 PM.
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  #17  
Old 24-04-2020, 10:43 AM
AdamJL
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Hi all. So I made this thread years ago... looking for that "holy grail" for a mount that can auto-align and guide with simple software without having a user spend time setting it up manually.

Just wondering if my dreams are yet a reality? Any good news to share? haha.

edit: genuinely curious, I know nothing of programming.. I wonder how much of a market there'd be if someone (hmm, me?) were to create a product that does this with only a few presses on a very simple to understand app from the user.

Last edited by AdamJL; 24-04-2020 at 10:56 AM.
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  #18  
Old 24-04-2020, 05:13 PM
Xeteth (David)
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As far as I know there's no mount that does this as an all-inclusive type thing. However, I will say that polar aligning my EQ6-R takes a matter of minutes through the use of Sharpcap's polar alignment tool. It requires a guide scope (or you can use your main camera if it downloads quick enough) and it's very easy to do.

Personally, I would be wary of any all-inclusive type product. The main point of a mount is to track the night sky, the extra bells and whistles would likely increase the price tag significantly and if anything breaks it could be a costly repair. Having your own guide setup gives you the flexibility of choosing equipment that will suit your needs.

Also I really enjoy the process of setting up for a night of imaging. Maybe that's because I'm still fairly new to astrophotography, but a fully automated setup that I just plonk down and press 'go' sounds a bit too easy.
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Old 28-04-2020, 02:51 PM
AdamJL
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Thanks Xeteth

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xeteth View Post
However, I will say that polar aligning my EQ6-R takes a matter of minutes through the use of Sharpcap's polar alignment tool. It requires a guide scope (or you can use your main camera if it downloads quick enough) and it's very easy to do.
Sounds great... except for the price.


Quote:
Personally, I would be wary of any all-inclusive type product. The main point of a mount is to track the night sky, the extra bells and whistles would likely increase the price tag significantly and if anything breaks it could be a costly repair. Having your own guide setup gives you the flexibility of choosing equipment that will suit your needs.
There's no real extra bells and whistles though; that's why I find it perplexing no one has done it. It's just a motor driven wedge and mount combo that rotates, controlling all axis of motion based on GPS. All of this stuff already exists, just not in one unit. The hardest thing, IMO, is the software side...

Quote:
Also I really enjoy the process of setting up for a night of imaging. Maybe that's because I'm still fairly new to astrophotography, but a fully automated setup that I just plonk down and press 'go' sounds a bit too easy.
I get that, and then you wouldn't be the target market. Just like how Apple created an easy to use product in the iPhone and iPad, they tapped into a market of people with interest but no desire to spend time setting up things and fiddling around. There's a reason HTPCs have been replaced by streaming boxes, or CDs now a small market compared to Spotify, etc etc.

I'd imagine a lot of people don't have the patience to setup these things otherwise the hobby would be much bigger than it is; I'd much prefer to set it up in 5 minutes in my backyard to show the kids, rather than spend half an hour or longer making guesses.

The complexity (perceived or real) of astronomy and astrophotography is a barrier to entry.
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Old 28-04-2020, 03:24 PM
Xeteth (David)
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Back to your original post from way back - are you still after a package under $1500 that's easy to use?

If so, I think that something like a Star Adventurer paired with a QHY polemaster would make polar alignment an absolute breeze. But since I don't own either I'd research whether they would work easily together.

The other option if you're after something with more payload capacity is a second hand HEQ5 (they go pretty cheap) with a QHY polemaster as well. You'd have great results with that.
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