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$300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge

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#26 jgraham

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 06:19 PM

The #494 works fine, however if your heart is set on guiding you'll need a #497, there's no way to autoguide with a #494 that I know of. The camera is everything. What made this work for me is the high sensitivity of the DSI, particularly the DSI Pro series. The color DSI III in 2x2 binning also works well, though they are hard to come by. Mine is Craig Stark's old III. :)

Have fun!

#27 hcsceo

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 09:04 PM

BIG SHOUT OUT TO JASON. Thanks a bunch!!!!

Ok I've got a DSI color I believe. This will be the main imager. This should be a perfect fit for a budget package.

John yes my heart is set on the guiding however if it doesn't work out no worries. We'll default to short exposure altz mode. I just want to show that astrophotography can be done on a budget.

#28 hcsceo

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Posted 05 December 2012 - 09:34 PM

Ok guys I just got a 5-100mm f1.8 c mount lens for $19 NIB on eBay. So total price for CCD guide camera, lens, and adapters is $33. Will be interesting to see its capability in low light. The CCD that is on the XBOX webcam is sub 1 lux so I'm hoping for the best.

#29 Raginar

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 06:09 AM

:) Sounds awesome.

#30 Footbag

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 10:15 AM

This thread screams DSLR to me.

It's nice that you are trying to assemble an imaging rig for under $300, and seems like a fun project. Don't stop updating it because it is interesting.

But, if you buy a cheap tracking mount and a DSLR, your son will be taking nice pictures on the first night.

There is a benefit to learning AP one piece of equipment at a time. It helps wit the learning curve. Even I struggle with guiding ever so often.

#31 hcsceo

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 11:42 AM

Thanks Adam, I'm going to ease him into astrophotography very slowly. The purpose of this thread wasn't so much to get my son setup for AP work at 9 but instead show that a rig could be put together on a budget so that others might not be intimidated that AP work is too expensive. It just so happened I was buying him a scope that would fit this project I've been thinking about for some time so it's serving double duty. He's a bit further along than most kids his age as he can readily 2+4 align a CG5 and use the ASPA function to get things setup on a C8. He understands why we drift align however he's not quite ready to do it himself as he just doesn't have enough patience to sit there. For him this scope will most likely be used visually for some time to come chasing fuzzies and developing his eye while I'm next to him doing imaging runs on my rig and verifying what he is seeing. I've got three more kids behind him so it will get plenty of use in this fashion for some time to come.

My advice for others getting into the hobby is much the same as everyone else. There are a lot of baby steps you really need to take to AP. I generally always recommend a good pair of binoculars and a star chart first. They will serve you well throughout your astronomical career. The next step I like to see people take is a Dob. Then move to a EQ mounted setup preferrably a CG5 or better mount. Then start working towards AP with a DSLR at prime. Guiding is the very last thing on a very long list. For me it's a very logical progression that pays rewards and builds you up without great frustration. The last thing I'd want is someone completely new to astronomy trying to build this setup right off the bat. It is without a doubt a sure fire way to failure, frustration, and leaving the hobby. However, they could start with an ETX80 and learn to use it, then add the XBOX webcam at prime and take some video and use registax for planetary, then add a camera for prime photo work and get the results jgraham is showing here, then add the guiding later with the xbox webcam. With the right person and some guidance from here and locally this could be doable and they would know thier long term budget would only be $300 and would at least give it a go.

If you have some experience and want a budget AP setup or want to get your feet wet and can do a little DIY then give it a go. My only point is that AP doesn't have to expensive, however more money AND experience will generally always buy better results and less frustration. I'm a tinkerer, it's in my blood. A lot of what I get out of this hobby has to do with DIY and doing more with less. When I show people my photos I love to point out my C8 is 30 years old. For me the joy doesn't come from the image but the process.

#32 Thomas Karpf

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Posted 06 December 2012 - 02:43 PM

but to get the best results I saved all of the uncombined source images and stacked them offline using Registax to take care of the little bit of field rotation.


To avoid field rotation as much as possible, try to image as close to due East and due West as you can.

#33 hcsceo

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 11:32 AM

So the lens came in this weekend. As luck would have it I left my camera at work then when I got to work this morning I left my lens at home. So tonight hopefully I'll have the two together and some sample photos to show from PHD. Anyway, here is the 5-100mm lens next to a 9x50 finderscope. Also, this lens had an auto iris so the next picture is the components I took out to remove the autoiris. You can see the iris shutters in the middle and the motor and cable assembly. The 9x50 weighs 12oz and the 5-100mm weighs 7oz.

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#34 hcsceo

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Posted 10 December 2012 - 10:25 PM

Ok got it all together tonight. Here's a picture. The clouds rolled in right after I got it all setup so I didn't get to try it. I tried to focus it at a street light a couple of blocks away but hand holding it didn't work well. It did focus but looked like a sparkler on Jully 4th being twirled by a kid. I'm got to need to build the mount quickly for testing. Tomorrow night should be clear.

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#35 hcsceo

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Posted 12 December 2012 - 11:46 AM

I had a chance to use the guide scope last night. We had a nice clear night in Austin. There are some very interesting things going on with this Xbox Live Webcam that I didn't expect.

1. Every webcam that I've used did not have an exposure control to lengthen the exposure. My experience has been that you have to select the "exposure" time in PHD and it will stack a bunch of short exposures to get to the "long" exposure. This really doesn't make the camera more sensitive. This camera does have real exposure control! You can lengthen the exposure out to about 4 seconds. Because of this guide stars at the 100mm focal length I'm running at are no issue at 2 seconds. No matter where I pointed it I had at least three stars to choose from that was over SNR 4.0 in PHD.

2. At the longer exposure the stars are a little bit bloated and focus is very fine. It was very difficult to get it spot on. The bloating seems to help in this case. However, just inside or outside focus resulted in coma. It was interesting because I found I could use the coma to determine when I was in focus. With focus spot on the coma was not noticeable. I suspect the CCD is not exactly parallel to the lens. Not a huge issue if you get the focus spot on and I suspect each camera will have different levels of this going on depending on how it was manufactured. It is all plastic mounting and because we are using the case to hold the lens and not the CCD mounting plate like it came stock these little tolerance issues add up.

3. This camera runs hot. It was a cold night for us so this wasn't an issue but inside at ambient 70 degrees the casing gets warm. It really will need a fan I suspect. I have a 5v fan on order and am just waiting on it. With the fan it should not require an additional power supply. I'll power it right from the USB.

4. This camera is noisy. I've seen a bunch of images online from this camera and processing seems to take the noise out of the picture. There is much more noise than a Logitech Quickcam Pro 4000. Using the "take dark" feature in PHD seems to do a good job at correcting this.

5. PHD does not control the Long Exposure. You must go to the "Cam Dialog" button and set the exposure manually. A setting of "1" results in a 2 second exposure. Once this exposure is set you have to set PHD to the same exposure length. I'm going to check with the PHD group and see if I can find out why this is so. It would be nice if setting the time in PHD automatically adjust the exposure length.
6. At 100mm there is vignetting. I suspected this would be the case with such a wide zoom range. It isn’t horrible and not noticed under the stars but under daytime conditions it is apparent. Ideally I think a non-zoom 100mm lens would be ideal. However, at $10 for this lens it is a minor sacrifice.

So overall this guide scope combination shows promise and at under $40 it’s a steal. Again it would be for shorter focal lengths like 400-800mm perhaps. I have not guided with it yet as the telescope is "under the tree" for my son. I might hook it up to my C8 and see what happens. I did expect it to be a little more sensitive than it is, but with the exposure control it works better than webcams without exposure control. I still need to monkey with all the settings provided by Microsoft. There are gain settings, contrast, brightness, white balance, etc. still left to check out. Now I need to try and get a mount together for it. Sorry I didn’t get any screen shots because for whatever reason my computer would not take a screen shot using “ctrl-alt-prt scrn” last night and I didn’t have time to sort it.

#36 hcsceo

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Posted 12 December 2012 - 05:48 PM

OK fan came in this afternoon and I got it installed. For those curious here are some pics of the installation. It runs much cooler now.

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#37 hcsceo

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 09:19 PM

I got the clamp part of the mount done. There is a 1/4-20 tap at the base for tripods or the scope. It's still rough and needs corner rounding and bead blasting. That's 3/4 Delrin I used. As luck would have it the entire deal is perfectly balanced at that mount.

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#38 hcsceo

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 05:26 PM

I thought I'd do a quick update on price. I'm unable to edit the first post to do this. Once I get everything complete I'll see if I can get a Mod to open it up to let me update. The only things left to purchase are a 497 Controller, small piece of scrap aluminum stock to attach the guide scope to the etx, and perhaps some bearings for the mount if I choose to modify the plastic bushings out to improve PE, and some parts to make the wedge. We will be very tight on $300. I need to find a 497 for no more than $50 delivered.

$300 Challenge Items
Meade ETX-80 AT TC Astro Telescope $145 Ebay shipped
Xbox 360 Live Vision Guide Camera $10 Gamestop
5v 30mm Ball Fan $7.95 Amazon Shipped
C Mount to CS Mount 5mm Spacer $3.44 Ebay Shipped
CCTV video camera lens, 5-100MM $18.99 Ebay Shipped
.75x3x3 Delrin $3.00 (This was free scrap but you can expect to pay this on ebay)
Meade DSI Color $50 (This was a free gift but you can expect to find them used for this)

Total $238.33

#39 hcsceo

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 05:56 PM

WOOOOHOOOO! Got lucky and scored a 497 controller just now for $50. Never hurts to try and talk a seller down. We are now at $288.33

#40 Jeff in Austin

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Posted 14 December 2012 - 10:19 PM

Great! Lookin forward to seeing pics of the whole set up.

#41 hcsceo

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 12:04 AM

The 497 controller made it today and works fine. I'll build the computer serial cable for it tomorrow and start loading an old freebie P4 laptop I have laying around. Hopefully it has enough power to guide and image. I also have the old 494 controller that came with the scope that I'm going to list in classifieds for $25 to give me a little breathing room in my budget.

#42 hcsceo

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Posted 25 December 2012 - 11:18 AM

Happy 9 year old! Now we can finish this project! Merry Christmas Everyone!

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#43 jgraham

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Posted 25 December 2012 - 11:30 AM

Now THAT is a nice picture! I hope that he enjoys it!

#44 NeilMac

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Posted 25 December 2012 - 12:12 PM

Awesome !

#45 hcsceo

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 04:12 PM

OK guys I got the guidescope mounted today. The challenge was trying to mount it and balance the scope at the same time. Currently it balances with the DSI and Guidescope attached and the focus set to about the half way position. Fine balancing can be done with the cable routing. In any case the balance is much better than stock. Total weight added to the scope was 1.5 pounds exactly. This is the total weight of the DSI color and the Guidescope/webcam and mounting hardware that you see. I still need to sand and paint the guidescope mount but this should give you a good idea. That is 22 gauge mild steel and is solid as a rock. Will it all work? I don't really know. I have some serious doubts about the mount now that I've used it a good bit. I'll need to go through it at some point and try and improve it. I'll take some PE measurements along the way and use that as a guide to see how well we are doing. Here are some photos of todays work. All that is left is to build the computer cable and reload this old laptop I have and install software.

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