10 Deep Sky Astrophotographers to follow

I have been doing astrophotography for a couple of years now. Along the way, I have learnt a lot through the process. The complexity and challenges associated with planning, tracking, guiding, capturing and processing an image make it a very enjoyable and rewarding hobby. It deprives me of some sleep but is fully worth it.

Astrophotography is the beautiful blend of science and art. You need have good understanding of space and science, yet you need that creative side of you bring out your best images and renders. The details of what you see in space could be very subjective and there are a million ways to render the same deep sky object, which makes this hobby very unique and rewarding at the same time.

Along the way, I have come across some really awesome people who have not only perfected their craft, but are more than happy to document and publish their mistakes which really helps everyone trying to learn. Some of them are even open to help individually. While deep sky astrophotography has been rewarding in itself, I have built a community of really awesome people who share their work and encourage others to learn.

If you are considering getting into astrophotography, or even simply interested in the art from some very talented folks, here is my list of recommendations. Of course, I follow a lot more people, but here are my top 10.


10. Astrocapetown

Some incredible images from dark skies in South Africa. I am a recent follower of this account, but have been hooked with all the amazing images on the channel.

View this post on Instagram

The Optolong L-eNhanse duo narrowband filter is a great choice for this target, especially if you don’t want to do the run around of using separate Ha and OIII filters. This image of Thor’s Helmet (NGC 2359) was captured last week using the RASA 8. ⁣ ⁣ Acquisition Details ⁣ ⁣ Lights – 180 X 90 sec at unity gain⁣ Darks – 50 ⁣ Bias – 50⁣ Flats – 50 ⁣ Flat darks – 50⁣ ⁣ Equipment ⁣ ⁣ Telescope – @celestronuniverse RASA 8⁣ Camera – @zwoasi ASI 1600MC Cool Filter – @optolongfilter L-eNhanse⁣ Focuser – Celestron focuser ⁣ Guidescope – @primalucelab 60mm guidescope⁣ Guide camera – @zwoasi ASI120MM⁣ Controller – @primalucelab Eagle 3 Pro⁣ ⁣ Main processing steps in Pixinsight ⁣ ⁣ 1. Calibration, registration and stacking ⁣ 2. Dynamic background extraction ⁣ 3. Histogram stretch⁣ 4. Morphological transformation⁣ 5. Curves ⁣ ⁣ #astrophotography #astropics #astrobin #astrocapetown #astrobackyard #astronomy #space #spacepics #apotd #photography #naturephotography #capetown #zwooptical #primalucelab #newlands #southafrica #nebulae #telescope #spaceart #astro #universe #followme #instadaily #instaphoto #milkywaychasers #milkyway #ig_astrophotography #photographerfocus #southafricaza #celestronrocks

A post shared by Peter Dunsby (@astrocapetown) on


9. Cosmic Background

While I equally enjoy his solar, lunar and planetary images, I particularly love his deep sky content.

8. Ray’s Astrophotography

I have been one of the early subscribers of Ray’s channel and while his images have all been stellar, I have seen the channel grow with quality content that really helps you learn. Some amazing content both on his instagram and youtube channel.

7. Ian Barredo

One of the accounts I have been following since the beginning. Like this unreal rendering of the Rosette Nebula, Ian has some breathtaking images in his gallery.

6. Chucks Astrophotography

Chuck has some very cool tutorials on his youtube channel and consistently produces some amazing deep sky images. Chuck has produced some stunning images that have made it to NASA’s APOD a few times!

View this post on Instagram

This is the Crescent Nebula and much more faint Soap Bubble Nebula below it. The Crescent Nebula is an emission nebula in the constellation Cygnus, about 5,000 light-years away from Earth. The Soap Bubble Nebula is a planetary nebula. I captured this with narrowband filters Ha and OIII and 11.3 hours of exposure time. ____________ Here are my setup details: Imaging Telescope: Celestron RASA 8-inch Imaging Camera: ZWO ASI1600MM Pro Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Polar Alignment: QHYCCD PoleMaster Frames: Baader Ha: 210×120" (gain: 75, offset: 15) Baader OIII: 258×60" (gain: 75, offset: 15) Integration: 11.3 hours Guide Scope: ZWO 60mm Guide Scope Guide Camera: ZWO ASI224MC #soapbubble #astronomy #astrophotography #cosmos #dark #deepsky #longexposure #milkyway #nasa #natgeo #naturephotography #nebula #nightphotography #nightshooters #nightsky #outerspace #physics #planet #science #space #stars #stargazing #telescope #universe #universetoday

A post shared by Chuck Ayoub (@chucksastrophotography) on

5. CurtisMorgan

While he does a lot of film making and other cool stuff, his deep sky images are insanely cool. His lunar images as well as his deep space images are beautiful. He has some incredible animations as well which are mind blowing.

View this post on Instagram

M101 sitting 21 million light years off in the distance. Slightly smaller then our galaxy with a diameter of 170,000 LY but holding over a trillion stars (If you want your head and or calculator to melt, multiply either of those numbers by 6 trillion and you can get an idea of the mileage). With an average of one to two exo planets per star you could go ahead and assume, in this one galaxy alone, there are 1.5 trillion planets. None of which we will ever see in this life but you can imagine what’s out there. This galaxy is just one of hundreds of billions floating amidst material we have yet to understand. We are small but we are all we truly know. Forged from explosions in the sky. Crafted by a force vastly more powerful than us. Connected through love, hope, creativity and a collective, integrated desire to know where we came from. Even the most chaotic of us strives for peace 🙋🏽‍♂️We are innately control freaks but when we lose control of our intended outcome, we tend to panic. When really, we weren’t in much control to begin with. When we look at what’s right in front of us in this current season of our lives it is so easy to be fearful but when you zoom out and look the bigger picture, the fear almost strangely fades away. We were not born with fear, we acquired it over time. It may be the time to trade your fear for faith in your future. A ‘level up’ chapter if you will. I captured this 60 image / 10 hour exposure over the past week while the moon was hiding from us. Enjoy and keep your eyes high in the sky. Big things await you just beyond this mountain.

A post shared by Curt Morgan (@curtismorgan) on

4. Astrofalls

Truly one of the best astrophotography accounts out there. Each image is meticulously crafted with hours of exposure capturing every minute detail. I have seen few astrophotographers generate more details than Bray Falls.

3. Galactic Hunter

I really like the content on this channel. Antoine and Dalia image through dark skies in the desert which makes for some stunning visuals.

One of the very cool things with this channel is their quest to image all 110 objects in the Messier catalog and they are well on their way to hit that target soon.


View this post on Instagram

Unguided image 2/3 😢 One hour on the Crab Nebula (M1). We already had captured the crab 3 years ago with our old DSLR camera, also doing one hour of exposure, so we wanted to give it a go in narrowband with our ASI 1600MM-Pro camera, and we loved it! Sadly this was taken last week when our guiding camera was on strike and refused to work. Check out our full post on our website to see the difference between the DSLR and CMOS images! Visit galactic-hunter.com for a complete catalog of our astrophotography as well as videos of our adventures in the Nevada Desert. #astronomy #astrophotography #ngc884 #lasvegas #nevada #photography #ngc869 #orion #nightphotography #space #stars #longexposure #desert #canon #asi1600 #7dmii #astro_photography_ #sky #science #crabnebula #night #m1 #cluster @OPTcorp #messier1 #pixinsight #night_shooterz #APOD #OPTeam @zwoasi @photographingspace @universetoday @astro_photography_ @oriontelescopes

A post shared by Antoine & Dalia Grelin (@galactic.hunter) on

2. Dylan O’Donnell

Dylan has some amazing youtube content on planning, imaging and processing content with a dash of humor. I particularly love his ISS pass video, but his images are stunning as well.

View this post on Instagram

This image is a little unexpected. I had a small window this evening before the moon rose after 8pm and started shooting around 6:30pm with the “wrong” telescope and the QHY-247C colour camera. I knew it would be super wide and not very detailed with this focal length, but shot it anyway. After drizzle, stack and a severe crop it’s still pretty wide but I can also see a lot of the background clouds in the area that I’ve never seen in other shots of this weird galaxy (Centaurus A) before. Plenty of small galaxies pepper the field as well as undulating light and dark patches which I’d normally be tempted to darken away but it looks quite interesting I think! I assume the dark patch is real because it’s not in my last image with the same unchanged setup, but can’t find another reference image stretched this way. Anyway, just a little surprised to get an image of decent quality so quickly. 75 minutes of total integration in 60 second exposures with the Celestron RASA 11″ #nofilter. #astrophotography #celestronrocks #qhyccd #qhy #truecolour #centaurusa #galaxy #starstuff

A post shared by Dylan O'Donnell 🎓 (@dylan_odonnell_) on


1. Astrobackyard

At this point, anyone that is into Astrophotography knows Trevor Jones and his Astrobackyard channel. A big reason could be that Trevor inspired them to take up the hobby.

Trevor not only produces once in a lifetime images of deep sky objects from his backyard, but creates detailed youtube content that really help you learn the nitty gritty aspects of the craft.

Even if you want nothing to do with astrophotography, I will still recommend his channel. You can see some incredible work with deep sky imaging and the science and meticulous planning behind each image.

View this post on Instagram

The Horsehead Nebula This image was captured using a Canon 60Da 📷 and William Optics Zenithstar 73 refractor. My latest effort includes just 2 hours of total exposure time using the Radian Telescopes Triad Ultra filter. This was the project happening on rig 2 in my latest video (link in bio). I replaced 10 "moonlit frames" with 10 new 5-minute subs captured Sunday. 24 x 5-minutes @ ISO 1600 15 Darks Canon EOS 60Da William Optics Zenithstar 73 Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro William Optics 50mm Guide Scope Altair GPCAM 2 Mono Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox (Dew Heater) Astro Photography Tool PHD2 Guiding DeepSkyStacker Photoshop 2020 #astrophotography #nebula #space #astro #stars #nightsky #stargazing #astronomy #telescope #canon #canon60da #horseheadnebula #deepsky #deepspace #backyardastrophotography #nature #outdoors #beautyinnature #AstroBackyard @optcorp @williamoptics @skywatcherusa

A post shared by Trevor Jones (@astrobackyard) on


Lastly of course, if you want to see where I am with my journey with astrophotography, you can checkout my instagram channel, BackyardStarman. I feel my images have come a long way, but clearly going by the above, I have a really long way to go! 🙂

Clear Skies! 🙂

Capturing the Dumbbell Nebula through a Telescope

The Dumbbell nebula, also known as AppleCore nebula or Messier 27 or NGC6853 is a popular beginners astrophotography target.

Dumbell Nebula 3h30mins stacked 


With an apparent magnitude of 7.2 and distance of just 1300 light years us, it generously allows you to capture enough detail with very short exposures.

I recently captured the dumbbell nebula on a 98% moon night, which means that the sky was illuminated with a lot of the moon’s glow along with lots of light pollution.

I started my imaging sequence at about 12:30am since I wanted to ensure it was high enough on the horizon and ran my sequence till 5am, practically till the break of dawn.

My guiding worked great and I captured 3minute subs to gather enough details. Needless to say, I captured a lot of noise, but I had enough subs even after I discarded several subs. I kept my ISO really low given how much light pollution I already have plus the sky being too bright with the moon. That predictably captured lesser detail, but helped in keeping the noise down.

Here is what a single 3minute unprocessed sub frame looked like. You can faintly see the nebula, but good enough to verify framing, guiding and starting your image sequence.

Dumbell Nebula single 3minute ISO100 sub

I stacked these on DeepSkyStacker with no darks, flats or bias frames and got this final stacked image.

Dumbbell Nebula (m27) 3h30mins unprocessed stacked image


I then processed it with photoshop to crop, remove noise and bringing out details by doing levels and curves adjustments to arrive at my final image. Considering I had imaged this object long ago, I see a big difference especially with my stars and with structural details.

Here is my final image.

Enter Dumbell Nebula — Stacked, Processed final image — 210minutes @ ISO100a caption

Total Exposure : 210 minutes (3h30)

Light frames : 70 * 180s

ISO : 100

Filters : None

Capture tool : AstroPhotographyTool

Camera : Canon Rebel T3i

Guide Cam : ZWO 120ASIMC-S

Mount : Celestron AVX GEQ

Scope : Explore Scientific ED102CF

I will be sure to pour a lot more data into this object. I am yet to image a single object over multiple nights. I will be sure to, very soon 🙂

You can view more of my images on my instagram page, Backyardstarman.

Clear Skies!

My Astrophotography Gear


I’ve only been doing astrophotography for about 6 months now and I’ve fallen into the cliched trap of “buying your way out of problems”. Its the constant desire to see more and more with your gear that makes you impatient and convince yourself to buy more equipment. All this while you know you can fine tune the heck out of your current gear and get a LOT more without buying more. I have had one more pass at upgrading my equipment, thanks to my lovely wife, who encouraged me to capitalize on some neat thanksgiving deals. I upgraded my scope, mount and bought a filter.

Sure enough, ever since I bought my new equipment, clear skies have been rare and with an infant son at home, I don’t get a ton of time to be out there capturing photons with my rig.

I thought i’ll write about my rig instead. Here is all I have with my astrophotography gear, its a combination of new and used stuff. I also sold every old component I had so I only had to pay for the difference with the new equipment. It also means that I dont have any redundant equipment with me, which is great!

So heres a quick look at all the gear I have accumulate over the last 6 months and I have decided not to upgrade in some time, until I truly make a significant amount of progress with my images.

Mount – Celestron Advanced VX German Equatorial Mount
Cost – $799 (highpointscientific.com)

This is a great entry level (yeah, entry level) mount for long exposure astrophotography. Its sturdy enough to support gear up to 30 lbs, although I wouldn’t push it to its limits. Its a good balance between sturdiness and portability. Its not very hard to load up into your trunk (or frunk) and be mobile.
It comes with a polar scope that lets you do some quick polar alignment and does a great job finding objects for you as well as staying at them when you have aligned accurately.Image result for advanced vx transparent

The Nexstar 5 hand controller has a database of 40,000 objects which you probably need a lifetime to exhaust, but it also has a neat Dec/RA co-ordinate entry system, so literally can find you any object for you. Its also super simple to connect it to your laptop with a MicroUSB cable and use an app like Stellarium or Cartes Du Ciel.

Recently, I was able to quickly point it to comet wirtanen/46p/christmas comet just buy pulling its coordinates from stellarium.

Although I havent tested this out fully on this mount, it does have support for autoguiding, which is pretty standard on newer EQ mounts and can help you get a lot more out of your exposures.

Scope/OTA – Explore Scientific ED102CF Triplet Apochromatic Refractor f/7
Cost – $999 (highpointscientific.com)

Now one of the main reasons I bought this was because this was Trevor Jones @ Astrobackyard’s primary scope for a long time 🙂

That said, this scope is very highly reviewed, ULTRA portable and has very very impressive optics.

At f/7 it is reasonably fast although not as good as an astrograph, still it’s way faster than my f/10 Nexstar 5SE so I can get a lot more out of my exposures that makes for much better-stacked images.

Screen Shot 2019-04-20 at 11.36.37 AM

It is also a wide field lens so given its short focal length, its a great fit for deepsky images. Here is an image of the Cigar and Bode’s Galaxies captured with this scope.

I got the carbon fiber version since it is a lot lighter (at 7 lbs!) and looks way sexier!

The scope comes with a built-in dew shield which is handy and also has extension tubes which help you get focus. It also has dual focusers that allow precise focusing.

Imaging Camera – Canon T3i Rebel
Cost – $180 (Used)
Nothing fancy here. I got a good deal on Cloudynights.com and I mainly switched to Canon to ensure I can use it with tools like Astrophotograhy Tool and BackyardEOS.

Filter – Astronomik CLS Filter
Cost – $100 (Highpoint Scientific)

Astronomik CLS Canon EOS Clip Filter

I live in a Bortle 8/9 location and I do most of my imaging from my backyard, so this surely seemed like a logical buy. There’s a stark difference in images and I can capture a lot more detail without worrying about noise.

GuideScope – Solomark 60mm scope 190mm focal length @ f/3.4
Cost – $109

This is a simple, portable scope that does a great job of finding objects as well as focusing stars for an app like PHD. It comes with a double helical focuser so finding stars and focusing on them is a breeze.

Guidecam – ZWO ASI120MC-S
Cost – $125 Used

This is my primary planetary imaging camera but I think I exhausted what I wanted to do with this camera quite early as I imaged Saturn and Jupiter a couple of times. This now serves as my primary guiding camera. It talks well with the mount with the autoguider port so does the job for guiding adequately well.

Image result for zwo asi120mc-s

Primary Imaging Laptop
I use my old Dell Latitude e7240 as my imaging laptop. It is small and has 3 USB ports which help in connecting the mount, imaging cam and guide cam all at the same time.


AstrophotographyTool (APT) – Is my primary imaging software. I have created sequences for lights, darks, flats, guided, unguided and several other combinations

PHD2 – Super easy to use guiding software
Stellarium – I use this to find objects and slew to them. This also comes in handy at times where the objects may have slightly drifted and I can simply run the slew command again to center.
Adobe Bridge – I use bridge to compare frames and cherry pick the frames that are stackworthy
DeepSkyStacker – My primary stacking software. Open source, super simple to use and has excellent features
Pixinsight, Photoshop, Lightroom and Snapseed – I primarily use pixinsight for the initial processing of stacked images but I also add finishing touches with one or more of Photoshop, Lightroom and Snapseed
TeamViewer – This allows me to do all that I do post my initial setup from the warmth of my house. I usually remote into my imaging laptop from another laptop (or even my phone if I’m feeling lazy!)


Switching to a German Equatorial Mount – A whole new world!

I ran up the limit on my alt-az quite soon, simply because I was limited to the 10s exposures and even with a lot of stacking, I could get only about 10-15 minutes of meaningful data on any given night.

Here is a cool video by Junk Pile that shows the basic difference between Altazimuth mounts and equatorial mounts.

Alt az mounts are good to keep an object in the general area so work great for planetary astrophotography and perhaps some bright Deep Sky objects at best.

Equatorial mounts on the other hand let you get longer exposures, since they follow the earth’s rotation (reasonably well). This makes them a great fit for any kind of galaxy, nebula, star cluster or other deep sky objects that require really long exposures.

I picked up an old used GEQ mount on cloudynights.com and instantly saw great results. While It took me some time to figure out polar alignment and get accurate tracking, once I got the hang of it, the difference was cloudynights and clearskies (See what I did there? :D)

Even simple short 30s exposures gave me tremendous improvements in image quality.

Here is a quick comparison of images I was able to capture of the Dumbbell nebula with my Alt-Az mount (20 minutes of data) vs my EQ mount (40 minutes of data). Both objects were captured with the same Nikon D3200 unmodified DSLR with the same Nexstar 5SE SCT scope. They were both processed with Pixinsight and Photoshop so I didnt really change any other parameter other than the mount itself.

The dumbbell nebula, m27 is one of the easier targets for a beginner astrophotographer given its brightness and relative closeness at 1360 light years. This comparison shows the same image taken with an Alt-Az mount and a GEQ mount.

This of course, is still a basic image since I havent done any autoguiding with my GEQ. With the GEQ mount, you can get good 30s exposures (60s if youre lucky) without seeing star trials (or your object shaking in the final image). Beyond this time frame, you are bound to run into atmospheric abberations, tiny imperfections in the gears of your mount and similar factors that dont let you take longer exposures.

This is where Autoguiding comes into the picture.

Autoguiding is a technique that helps you pick a “guide” object, like a star and track its movement, thereby sending feedback to your mount on small corrections that need to be made to keep the object well focused.

My next attempt at capturing DSOs will be with my autoguider camera and guidescope which I am yet to give a spin. I’ll be sure to share my learnings once I stumble upon a millions errors 🙂

My first Deep Sky Images

Surveying the night sky is one of my favorite activities now and I am usually sitting here outside with my templatized astrophotography gear, flask, and equipment. I live in a heavily populated area surrounded by houses and businesses that brings a lot of light pollution. I usually wait for a couple of hours post-sunset to start imaging since I see the views get progressively clearer through the night. I also have a relatively limited field of view from my backyard so can follow an object for a few hours before it hits a tree or a building.

I absolutely love my Nexstar 5SE as it has been a great starting point giving me rewarding visuals, but at the same time wasn’t too intimidating. I could plant the mount in my backyard, level it, do a 3 star align and get to imaging in a matter of minutes. Using a planetary camera meant I had to work with a laptop which limited my mobility a bit, but it wasn’t bad at all.

After a few nights of imaging planets, as much as I loved seeing/imaging the great red spot on Jupiter, the Cassini Divisions on Saturn and mountains on the moon (like Montes Appeninus),  I realized that I was craving for more, which was some deep sky action. Having seen some mindblowing visuals from the likes of Astrobackyard (Hat-tip to you, Trevor, if you’re reading this – You’re the reason, Im, pursuing this hobby!) I knew that I was in a totally different league and had a really long way to go, but I wanted to take baby steps.

I realized that I would get star trails with my alt-az mount for anything over 10-15s exposures. In good atmospheric conditions, I would get as much as 30s, but usually, I would stick to a 10-20s view. It was essentially like trying to look at a pebble at the bottom of the pool! With my f/10 scope, it meant that I could capture very little light in a 10s span. Stacking a LOT of 10s subframes could get me some views and that is exactly what I did for several nights, with a lot of failures. Often times, I would end up getting my alignment incorrect and notice that I kept imaging the wrong spot in the sky! Or in other cases, I would get star trails even for very short exposures. And there were other nights where I set everything up but would forget to charge my DSLR batteries. I fumbled through this phase for many nights and eventually got a recommendation from one of my Instagram friends to use a pixel tw-283 intervalometer.

This enabled me to program a sequence of captures without needing to be physically present to click each image. I used this approach to click about 30-40 minutes worth of data on my initial few deep-sky targets, like the dumbbell nebula and the ring nebula.

While the processing on pixinsight or photoshop has been a steep learning curve, I was quite pleased with my first captures. Considering that these were captures I got from a stock Nikon DSLR from my heavily light polluted backyard, with ‘0’ experience in doing this, was incredibly exciting and fulfiling. I was literally speechless the first time I saw the final stacked images of the dumbbell nebula show up on my screen.

I knew I had a long way to go but I was mighty impressed with my first few deep sky images with a mount that wasn’t necessarily meant for deep sky astrophotography!

Then again, I hit the limits of my trusty Alt-Az mount very soon and realized that I had to go for a GEQ mount to do any more deepsky astrophotography.

RingThe Ring Nebula or Messier/M57 in the constellation Lyra is one of the most recognizable deep sky targets relatively high on the horizon and easy to spot. This image is about 40 minutes of exposure time with 10s subs
DumbbellThe Dumbbell Nebula or Messier/M 27, a planetary nebula in the Vulpecula Constellation is a common deep-sky target since it is relatively bright and close at 1360 light years. This image is 45 minutes of exposure time with 10s subs

Here is a quick challenge for a flat-earther. Just literally sit in your backyard and chill for a few hours looking at the night sky, and you will see objects moving in a predictable pattern around the earth every night, proving that the earth is a sphere. Then again, who am I kidding?! Its all a conspiracy and NASA has a giant LCD in the sky a la The Truman Show 😀 

 Image result for banging head gif

Getting Started with Astrophotography

I’ve been moderately interested in astronomy for quite some time but never really ventured into it. I’ve always loved gadgets and like tinkering and playing around with stuff. I usually have a high appetite for new products, phones, cameras, sensors, anything smart, you name it. I have tons of these lying around at home, some dead, some useful, some in between. I’m also a huge space enthusiast. I follow every launch done by SpaceX and most of Nasa’s events.
Recently, my wife wanted to gift me a gadget for an occasion (Thanks, V 🙂) and out of the blue, I thought a telescope makes a lot of sense! At the time, I hadn’t given it much thought and I figured it would be cool to see the craters on the moon and perhaps get to see the rings of Saturn.
This led me on an endless youtube spiral and my, my, was it an epiphany! I discovered what I am truly passionate about. I have always had an inherent appreciation for space and almost at a philosophical level, it is a great reminder of how insignificant we all are and how transient our lives are. Our timeline is a mere speck in the vastness of the multiverse. Venturing into this hobby was a great way to explore the cosmos first hand and learn new things everyday. The learning curve seemed steep and that was the best part!
Researching telescopes was fun but also daunting. It’s like buying your first car. You will enjoy it no matter what, but you do want to make an informed decision.
As I started working through what factors to look for, I just arbitrarily started with a budget of $500. I agree that is a tad higher for a hobby you are about to set foot into, but I figured that if I had to pay $100 for my nephew’s kids telescope that showed decent results, $500 could fetch me some good gratification.
Budget aside, I then started looking at what people actually like about telescopes and the different options there are, which is where I truly discovered my real love, which is astrophotography! The pure combination of art and science put me at the absolute zero on the learning curve. I was never artistic and other then my biology sketches in school, I couldn’t draw to save my life. Combine that with my very very limited knowledge of astronomy presented me with a great opportunity to learn.
I ran into some really really accomplished astrophotographers like Trevor Jones from Astrobackyard.com, Dylan O’Donnell and even some ridiculously talented rising stars like Astrofalls. The depth of knowledge these people had was astounding and it gave me a good goal to chase.
So I set out to buy an astrophotography compatible telescope, easy right? not really.
Typically when we think of a telescope, we just think of a long tube that you look through. Those are refractors and the good ones are REALLY expensive! Other than refractors there are reflectors and catadioptric optical telescope assemblies (OTAs) as they are called.
Another important aspect is the base of your telescope. You wouldn’t expect to hold the OTA in your hand while you view things in the sky, so the mount is essential. There are several kinds of mounts – manual, computerized, equatorial, alt-az and so on.
I researched all of this for 2 weeks and by the end of it, just wanted to get started at some point. So I went ahead and bought the Orion Starblast II 4.5mm Newtonian reflector. This one came with a “manual” equatorial mount.

Finding Objects

One ready challenge I faced with a manual mount was that I had to find the object myself. While finding the moon was simple enough, finding other objects were relatively challenging. I found the app Skyview to be particularly helpful where I could spatially orient my phone and the AR built into the app would not only help me figure out where an object was but would also tell me if an object was behind a tree or building or better yet, tell me where an object would be at what time of the day, with a clear trajectory, right through my phone. That said, I would choose to leave the “finding” to a computerized telescope mount and still use an app like Skyview to figure out whats a good time to view a given object

Staying at an object

Now finding an object was reasonable and it was quite rewarding to look at the moon and its craters with a 20mm lens and a Barlow lens, but one instant challenge I noticed was that the object flies out of your frame very very quickly!


Why? Due to the earth’s rotation. You are looking at a specific point in space, but the earth’s rotation moves that object out of your viewing area very quickly. To compensate for this, my telescope mount had manual levers which I could move slowly to turn against the rotation of the earth. This way, my object of interest would stay in the frame for a longer duration. While this was workable, it was incredibly frustrating to learn and understand.
This was a very quick ceiling I hit and it was very apparent that I surely need a tracking german equatorial mount. I didn’t want to throw money at the problem as I wanted to earn my upgrades so I ended up getting my current scope, the Nexstar 5SE which came with an Alt-Az mount.
If you want to know more about the type of mounts there are and the differences here is an amazing video by Forest Tanaka on it.
Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 10.44.27 PM.png
I got this on an Amazon warehouse deal for $450 which was quite a great deal considering a new one costs $699
To sum up what to look for, here are a few things to consider.
  1. Cost – Of course, your starting point. The more you shell out, the more you can get but if you are an absolute beginner, I’d say a $500 budget gets you a good starting point. You can get lots of deals on sites like highpointscientific.com, cloudynights.com and so on.
  2. Type of optical tube – This one is tricky and a lot of it has to do with personal preferences. Personally, Id love to get a triplet APO refractor, but it costs $$$ which is why I want to wait it out. My simple rule was to combine cost, portability, aperture and speed (focal length) and given all factors, I landed on the SCT since it was a good combination of portability, aperture, and the cost wasn’t bad.
  3. Focal Length and Focal Ratio – your focal length determines your field of view and how long you need for the light to reach your viewpoint. Having a smaller focal ratio means you can capture more detail in the same amount of time compared to a high focal length OTA. For starters, I would suggest doing something f/10 or less. Of course, the faster, the more expensive it gets.
  4. Aperture – The more light you let into your telescope, the more you get to see! A good sweet spot is about 100mm where it captures enough but doesn’t get too heavy or bulky. Again, 100mm refractor > 100mm  SCT > 100mm reflector, cost wise.
  5. The Mount – This is probably the most critical aspect, where having a capable mount can make your experience really rewarding. I would highly recommend going for a computerized go-to mount. This takes all the guesswork and frustration out and it’s so much easier when you simply do an initial alignment and the telescope does the finding and tracking for you. It’s initially fun to search for a target and find them in the vastness of a clear sky but as you do more and more stargazing, you just want to remove this out of the equation and a tracking mount completely takes all of that load away so you can simply observe and shoot!
  6. Camera – I just used my Nikon D3200 DSLR which I had purchased many years ago and it served me just fine but then again, I pushed it to its limit pretty quickly and I realized that for planetary imaging, a CMOS camera was best, so I ended up getting a ZWO ASI 120MC-S which has served me well
Given all of this, my experience with the Nexstar 5SE has been quite rewarding and it’s great for planetary astrophotography. I did, however, learn that you exhaust your planetary views very quickly given the time of year, weather and several such factors and if you’re like me and more interested in deep sky objects, you do want to make further upgrades.
Here are some pictures I took with my current scope.
Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 10.54.18 PMScreen Shot 2018-11-09 at 10.54.10 PMScreen Shot 2018-11-09 at 10.51.31 PM
All said and done, I’ve realized this is a time consuming and expensive hobby but boy am I glad I chanced upon this. I’ve traded sleep and other social activities for this and every time the weather is clear, I’m sitting in my backyard marveling at what’s out there and constantly being reminded of how incredibly amazing the universe is. Too bad I didn’t start this much much earlier, but now there is no looking back. In fact, I’m always looking up.
Clear Skies 🙂