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.
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.
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)
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.
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!)