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Astrophotographers Here (????)

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posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 06:25 AM
I am a fairly advanced photographer, and am very interested in getting involved in astrophotography. I know several of the members here are involved in the hobby and I'd like to ask you experts some beginner (starting out) questions.

As I've begun to look into this hobby I've quickly become overwhelmed with all the considerations, pieces & parts and what have you. So, my apologies, I'll probably ask some dumb questions initially. First though, some background:

Interest - My principle interest at the moment is the photographic element of astrophotography (i.e. cool pictures). I'm not particularly interested in finding the rarest star or furthest galaxy. I would like to take some really good pictures of constellations, nearby galaxies and planets. This, as opposed to taking some blurry images of rare elusive distant stars and galaxies. Hopefully this makes sense.

Equipment I have now - Basically nothing, outside of photography equipment. My hope is to be able to develop a set up where I can use one of my full size DSLRs (likely a Canon 7D or similar) for the actual photography part.

Budget - My budget to add the astrophotography capability to my existing photographic equipment is up to ~ (US) $3,000 (approximately). I imagine this won't be all at once (but maybe it will, I'm okay either way). This budget may grow over time in the future, but this is where I'd like to start.

Location - I am located far out in the country well away from any light pollution with commanding views of the skies of the northern hemisphere. Colorado. I have no obstructions (well, very few). The principle reason for noting this is, I can probably accommodate a little less mobile set up than someone who lives in a city for example.

What I've learned so far - I understand some of this photography can be done without a telescope. However, I think I want to get further into the hobby than just what I can see with a large objective lens. So, I really don't want to waste a whole lot of time with just the camera. I'll do it (if necessary) to add experience, but outside of that I'm wanting to pair a telescope of some sort with my photo gear right 'out of the gate' (so to speak).

Experience - I do have some limited experience with astronomy, but much of this was in college on a much larger telescope (50" as I recall). I have a degree in (engineering) physics with an astrophysics minor so I have a pretty good understanding of orbital mechanics as well as constellations, galaxy make up, properties of light and the physics of stellar objects.

(whew...hope you're still with me!) That's about all of the background I can think of which might be relevant. If I left something out, just ask.

Now to my questions...

1. Based on my current understanding I've broken up my requirements into three basic areas...the telescope itself, the mount/drive, and all of the other ancillary stuff I'll need (software, filters, etc). I also understand the mount can oftentimes cost more than the telescope itself. (so I get it). How do I now go about figuring out how to match all this stuff up into one operational system?

2. My search so far seems to indicate the best set ups are a combination of pieces from different manufacturers (i.e. people who make the best mounts don't necessarily make telescopes, etc.) I've also learned some of this stuff is pretty heavy and bulky (stands don't fold, counterweights, etc.), and in some cases can exceed 100lbs+ before you even add in the telescope and photographic gear. Consequently, I wonder are there parts of some of this equipment which can be left in place (outside) when not in use? (Obviously this wouldn't include the telescope itself and camera gear (electronics, etc.)).

3. Where's a good place to start? There's so much equipment out there it's a little overwhelming to tell what's hype and what's not. From what I've found the 'one-stop-shop' do it all solutions seem to have some pretty significant limitations (weight capacity especially). I would like to get something I can build onto, not something I'm locked into one solution forever (or buy all new).

4. My limited research so far seems to indicate the best mount would be an equatorial mount. Okay, but what are the differences between the equatorial mount and the alt-az mounts (functionally)? (probably a total noob question, but I don't know the answer)

I guess I'll stop here and see what folks have to say.


edit on 3/7/2017 by Flyingclaydisk because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 06:43 AM
Just kind of a side note here also which might help clarify my 3rd question...

There seems to be a break point right about the $800 dollar mark in the telescope world. I may be wrong, but it seems like most everything below this price point is real entry-level (do it all) equipment which is designed to be highly portable, lightweight and (forgive me) kind of cheesy (i.e. plastic, cardboard, etc). There's lots of information about what these self-contained systems will do, but virtually zero capability to add on other things like cameras (beyond simple point and shoot stuff). Once you get past this dollar threshold it seems like things get much more specialized, but the information on how all these parts come together as one system is scattered from hell to breakfast and it's hard to get continuity. Then you get people adding in all their own personal opinions and I just wind up scratching my head asking WTH (???).

This is why I tried to consolidate my initial questions into one theme/post.

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 06:49 AM
Basic setup would be to get a something like a Meade LX then piggy back SLR on the optical tube for long exposure, this will get you actually out taking pics..

From there you could go many many ways, using a modded webcam is one or if you want to spend a bit then get a CCD camera with all the trimmings.

I have seen people spend a fortune with only marginal quality pics and I have seen outstanding images from fairly basic setups.

A good person to read up on would be Nik Szymanek, I have read some great articles from him over the years

It is a steep learning curve but with a bit of time spent on research you will get something that fits what you need. But be warned it is a evolving hobby that will see you spend more and more not just in money but in time also. Hence I go back to saying just something like the Meade listed above as it will get you started and would hold fairly good money if you sold it, once you find your feet you can go from there. It would also kill a few birds with one stone, they are good optical platforms for basic astro viewing, you can piggy back without issue, there is a ton of after market stuff you can get plus it has a decent database of objects.

Myself personally I am a refractor guy, I have used Vixen eq mounts to good effect along with William optics scopes but it really is very personal thing.

EDIT::: Just seen the bit you added, scope prices can be brought down sue to the eye pieces etc that come with it.. Cheap does not mean bad, I have used a scope from Bresser which are classed as entry level but the scope and setup was actually really really good and would get someone well on their way into the world of astronomy.

The avenue you are going down looking at the astro imaging side can be a money pit, but as with every hobby a lot of BS is spoken about equipment, a scope is only as good as the eye pieces etc but then over the years you get a lot more for your money know that ever before.

I have used a ton of equipment yet my favorite scope was a tiny William optic ZS 60, it did everything I could ever want..

I would say get yourself to a dark site that has meet ups with other astronomers and get hands on with equipment and see what you like working with. You will no doubt find a friendly and helpful bunch willing to help..

edit on 7-3-2017 by slider1982 because: (no reason given)

edit on 7-3-2017 by slider1982 because: (no reason given)

edit on 7-3-2017 by slider1982 because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 06:56 AM
Equatorial mounts are good for time lapse, the proper telescope a schmitt cassegrain, a good one (eight inch reflector) can be had used for under a grand.

The kind of photography, mating your existing camera with the telescope... dad and I used to take a pictures with my Celestron 8 " by using paper towel tubes cut to the right focal length so that his camera body without lens and my telescope without lens could join and focus on the moon for instance.

These weren't time lapse or tracked images using motor drives, just a hold and "shoot the moon".

They came out reasonably well.

So much for the bargain basement approach.

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 07:03 AM
a reply to: Flyingclaydisk

Eriktheawful has a few threads about astrophotography that seem to use fairly cheap components while getting very nice results. The 1st thread he did is Adventures in astrophotography

If you go to his profile page you can find the other threads he has made too. Hope it helps.

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 07:10 AM
a reply to: LightSpeedDriver

Thanks. I've actually already read a few of them already. In fact, it was some of the discussion on those threads which prompted my questions actually. I'll keep looking for more.

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 07:14 AM
a reply to: slider1982

Great information!

As I noted, I'm really more interested in the photography side of this, more so than just the raw astronomy part. Just trying to be clear about my objectives.

Someday...if I get even remotely proficient, one of the things I'd really like to do is track and photograph satellites and orbiting objects (truth be known). However, I realize that's probably a long way off and I'm content with general astrophotography to start.

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 08:47 AM
So just to avoid any confusion/redundancy, I have read through the following threads by Eriktheawful...

- Astrophotography (Adventures)
- Tripods and mounts
- Polar Alignment
- Calling all astrophotographers

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 09:12 AM
Oops,just read your post above....was linking you those threads.
Carry on.

edit on 7-3-2017 by DrumsRfun because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 09:27 AM
See all of the images related that you want to see about astro-photography (and learn and ask to a certain degree)

Ask all of the questions here that you want, it's all about Astro-talk...

This site is a huge place, it's advisable to join (when you want) to learn more, but you can still look and learn.
The entire site is very helpful, but for your interests right now the links above can help guide you and there will be helpful people that are advanced and not so advanced. Going there will answer more stuff than I can type here, I don't want to bore you with my opinions.

I hope this helps, I've been a member there since 2008 and I still go there daily.

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 09:39 AM
a reply to: recrisp

Cool! I will definitely look into that site.


posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 09:43 AM
a reply to: Flyingclaydisk

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 12:50 PM
I would first look for a local Astronomy club and go there & talk to the guys and learn... before spending $$$, I see more CCD cameras with the guys at my local club.

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 12:56 PM
a reply to: Flyingclaydisk

I'll say right now I'm no expert, I have a simple setup that was not purchased to do it, I just realized I had all of the pieces and started playing with it.

-90mm Orion Starmax Mak-Cass (I got it to be able to go deep object but have decent planetary viewing as well)
-Equatorial mount, battery powered, it's even a cheapy but for the durations I did in lapse it works)
-Nikon D70 (essential to get a camera that will time lapse all by itself)
-I needed a D-ring for the camera to the scope.
-Photoshop to compile the final shots.

My Rig

The planetary shots are multiple regular exposures stacked for average noise reduction and the deep field shots are multiple 10 second exposures stacked for summation. I had a few 30 second shots but my automount's batteries were dying so they had a touch of star trail. The 10 second exposures were just fine, you just have to take more, and then you're limited by the heat built up by the camera's CCD, so keep that in mind.

Telephoto shot of the moon, much shorter exposures:

Jupiter with moons, a bit more exposure and blurry since things move!

Pleiades cluster, 10 second exposures, about 20-30 I think.

Orion Nebula, same exposures, I played around with it a few times and did a little filtering on some of the pics in the stack.

I hope those pics embed. First time linking pics, I don't post much, usually just lurk, but felt like sharing.

edit on 7-3-2017 by Singe2112 because: spelling

posted on Mar, 7 2017 @ 05:56 PM
Okay, I'm sure you don't want to hear it (most people don't and that's normal) but here is my suggestion: Try it first.

Astrophotography has a lot of science and engineering aspects to it. However: it can also be an art form with unpredictable results.

This was much more so back during the days of Film Photos, as you could end up with a batch of film that performed better than other rolls, even though you did exactly the same thing.

Sometimes that's still true even with digital photography.

Weather and temps can affect how your shots turn out. Temps can really affect how well the CCD chip of your camera operates at long exposure times. There are ways to cool the camera and keep it at a constant temp that you want, but that's starting to get pretty deep into this.

For now here is what you need: A camera, a lens 50mm or lower, and a tripod.

Experience teaches people more than any form of research from simply reading. Getting out there and doing it will teach you much more than anyone here, or anyone else can. You will be your best teacher.

Before you go and invest a LOT of money (and as your research has shown, this can take you down a very, very large money hole, with no return at all other than your own enjoyment, or getting people to say "Oooooo!" and "Ahhhhh!" over those images, it's best to see how you feel about it first, and that simply means getting out there and doing it.

To take great images of constellations and areas of the sky, you only need the equipment I listed above. Best to learn the basics of this, and this is the best way to do it.

You'll need to learn how to stack your digital images too if you want to bring out the very low light objects, and going ahead and working with the wide field images of constellations is a great way to start, because much later when you start taking deep space pictures (Nebula, galaxies, etc), you're going to need to know how to stack those images on your computer.

Going out there with just your camera and tripod, you'll be dealing with the night and what it throws at you: cold, wind, bugs, that damn jet that flew threw your shot, all manner of things. It can test one's patience.

Once you get home, take a look at your shots. Was it worth it? For those of us that love doing this, the answer is always: YES. Even if every single shot turned out horrible, because failing is what we learn from and it teaches us how to do things better.

Keep doing this for a while. How long is up to you, but the more you do it, the more you get a feel for it, and the longer you can take to research and make your plans for that much more expensive equipment......all of which will take more time to learn how to use properly, and introduces that many more things that can go wrong and mess up whatever it is you might be trying to do. If you take this step by step, you'll know right away what went wrong, or at least will be able to cross off things you know for a fact you did right.

To me here is how your path should go:

Camera on a tripod --- Camera mounted on a tracking mount (I recommend an EQ mount the most) ---- Telephot lens on a tracking mount (if you have them, they are expensive) ---- Camera through the telescope.

You could spend years using nothing but the camera and tripod. Many do, and that's all they like to use. Some, get to the tracking mount, and that's as far as they end up wanting to go. And of course others move on even further.

The best advice I can give you is: Baby steps. Take your time. The stars up there are not going anywhere, and the more you take your time with it, the easier it will come, and the more often you end up with amazing pictures.

The worse thing, and again, just my opinion, that you can do is to go out and drop a large amount of money on equipment that you'll have to learn how to which you may discover that you don't really want to go that far with it, or may even loose interest in it.

posted on Mar, 8 2017 @ 05:57 AM
a reply to: eriktheawful

Okay, I'm sure you don't want to hear it (most people don't and that's normal) but here is my suggestion: Try it first.

Don't be so sure...

Good advice, and appreciated. Yes, there certainly is something to be said for reducing the number of variables at first, and I readily acknowledge this notion.

Truth be known, I've already done just a little bit (not exactly how you suggest, but some) in the past. My results were 'okay'. That was before I had some of the lenses I have now. You mention focal length, but not f-stop and one of my earlier observations was lens speed seemed to have a lot to do with it as well.

I think I will take your advice and go see what I can accomplish with the gear I've already got.

I found this quick little video, and this guy seems to have done a pretty nice job...

Though it may not seem like it, I really am genuinely interested and would like to get some presentation quality shots. I'm willing to work for it. And yes, I realize it will take time, but honestly...all decent photography takes time and practice. I've spent a great deal of time already with photography, this is just a new area and it too will take time.

Thanks for the reply. thing I neglected to note in my OP is I do understand the whole concept of 'stacking', and I understand the reason why. That part I get, it's just some of the other parts where I'm a complete neophyte.

edit on 3/8/2017 by Flyingclaydisk because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 8 2017 @ 06:07 AM
a reply to: Singe2112

Great response! Thanks!

Question - What's the LCD screen just to the (lower) left of your camera? What does it show and what is it connected to?

Is that a smart phone?

ETA...I'd really like to see that last picture...the whole picture. What posted is only about 2/3rds of it. That looks like quite a picture.

edit on 3/8/2017 by Flyingclaydisk because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 8 2017 @ 07:28 AM
a reply to: Flyingclaydisk

F-Stop is important, and is one thing I tend to forget about.

For my EF-S lens, it's automatic and not something I can override. The lowest I can make it is 3.5 with that lens, because it's controlled electronically.

That's certainly one thing I miss about the old FD lenses for Canon, being completely mechanical and having full control over things like the F-Stop.

That and infinity focus. All the new auto focus lenses go past that point and can make it a royal PITA when trying to focus for star shots.

posted on Mar, 8 2017 @ 02:38 PM
a reply to: Flyingclaydisk

That's actually the LCD of the camera itself, on the D70 it can flip out and rotate. I had it out to set up the intervals of the timed shots and to focus the telescope the best I could. I blanked off the eyepiece to keep any extra light from going backwards into the camera from my house, just in case. Not as necessary, just a precaution.

FYI, there is no real F-Stop on the telescope in line like my setup, it's actually just connected straight to the body of the camera and defaults to a dash I believe, it's been a while since I shot... My set up is more about just letting the light soak in to the CCD and controlling how much by the shutter timing based on a little trial and error. The moon would be fast shutter of course, and deep field I found best results with 10 seconds each and then I stack and stack.

Here's the last picture again, let me see if it shows up fully...that's odd, I see the whole thing on my screen.


edit on 8-3-2017 by Singe2112 because: spelling

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