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Beginner AP Setup

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#1 flstf88b


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Posted 12 May 2013 - 09:26 AM

Greetings Cloudy Nights Forum!

I’m a newbie with 8 months experience observing the night skies through a Meade 12” LightBridge. My “guiding” system is an iPad and the Sky Safari Pro app. Now I’m thinking about venturing into AP, which is the subject of this post. My goal is to build a system that I can use for AP and visual observing (to supplement the Meade). After reading several posts on this forum, as well as every equipment review that I can find on the web, I’ve narrowed my ‘scope & mount search (to fit my budget) as follows, in no particular order:

A. Celestron 800 HD Edge with CGEM mount + AstroTech AT65EDQ

B. AstroTech 8” RC Astrograph + AstroTech AT65EDQ

Option B requires a mount - Celestron CGEM, iOptron iEQ45, or Orion Atlas EQ-G.

Do either of these options make sense for AP/visual use? I want to build the basic ‘scope & mount system first and learn how to use it for visual observing before I jump into AP.

Once I obtain the ‘scope and mount, what should I look for in a camera? DSLR or CCD?

#2 Wouter D'hoye

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Posted 12 May 2013 - 10:36 AM


welcome to CN :)

Right now i'd sugest you do a lot of reading end try to figure out what you exactly want to image. Astrophotography can get very expensive quickly. So you need to make sure to buy the right equipment from the start.

Mount comes first. Get the best and most solid one you can afford. I guess the EQ-G is a very good mount for it's money. Then comes the camera. I'd persoanlly recommend a dedicated CCD camera (though these are considerably more expensive than a (modded) dslr. But have much higher potential. Then you have to figure out what kind of DSO's you'd want to image mostly. Small galaxies, or broad nebulae? Both put different requirements (also on your camera by the way) and then as the very last you can then based on all the previous decisions decide on the best scope for you.

All that said. the AT65EDQ will offer a good starting point in astrophotography for wide fields of view and less prone to seeing conditions and easier to guide. A small scope can be a great tool for imaging. I use a FS60 a lot and i gives very good results for large objects.

I hope this somewhat helps you. The last advice i'd like to give you is to not rush into things. Give it plenty of time and think things over well.

Kind regards,


#3 StarDust1


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Posted 12 May 2013 - 10:39 AM

As for the mount the Atlas is a very capable mount. I would go for the Atlas instead of iEQ45. The atlas is a heavier mount. I have used both and they are different in weight and operation. I love the ease of use of the iEQ45 but the Atlas is a better mount in my opinion for imaging.

Both the DSLR and CCD have their place. The DSLR option is cheaper and has more noise compared to the CCD. You can also choose for a color CCD cameras like 8300 Kodak. They can be had second hand for 1300 USD. I love the clean images of a mono CCD camera. It all depends on your budget. If you have the funds for it, I would say go for the CCD. There are nice CCD cameras these days, though still pricey in my humble opinion.

What are your main imaging targets? Deepsky or planets ...
What is your budget?

I'm just saying for astrophotography a refractor is hassle free. Once you have the correct adapters. But both of your options will do depending on what your targets are.

#4 flstf88b


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Posted 13 May 2013 - 10:52 PM

Good Evening,

Thanks for the advice. I too have heard several good things about the EQ-G so I'm favoring that mount. In terms of the DSOs, I'll have to spend more time researching the requirements for AP. I'm interested in both galaxies and nebulae.

#5 flstf88b


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Posted 13 May 2013 - 10:56 PM

Good Evening,

I'm mostly interested in galaxies and nebulae. Time to read more about the requirements for that type of AP.

#6 astrodog73


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Posted 14 May 2013 - 06:41 AM

I'd recommend a little refractor as a good starting scope - an ED80 or something similar.... I wouldn't like to start out trying to iron out issues with long focal length scopes and the necessary focal reducers....

#7 DaemonGPF



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Posted 14 May 2013 - 10:03 AM

With one particular exception in mind, I will go against the flow here. An 8" Edge scope (mentioned in your list) has FASTAR capabilities. Strap a Hyperstar to that sucker and start off. Then you're working at a very forgiving 400mm focal length with fast optics which also reduces just how critical your alignment and tracking must be (at least to start with). It gives you time to learn the nuances at a shorter length, and then you can simply take off the Hyperstar when you want to up the game into the 1200mm or even 2000mm imaging range. Then you have a substantial amount of aperture and a dynamic instrument right out of the box. You'll want that extra focal length for smaller galaxies anyway.

Just another option to consider.

#8 CounterWeight



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Posted 14 May 2013 - 12:23 PM

I think looking for dual mode imaging / visual 'could' be more a problem than a help. For visual apeture is your friend and temp acclimation, collimation important but not as critical as for imaging. Light gaterhing in imaging is also important but different in ways IMO, as you need to consider the image device and as Josh points out the focal length / ratio and importantly 'image scale'. The great thing IMO about a 'fast' setup is your sub exposure time for a given level of faintness is drastically reduced (though 'depending' there 'might be' a resolution tradeoff, if and where that 'might' matter and just 'how' has been hotly debated at times and I'm not tring to start one here) Important is that it is one of the knobs you have a choice about.

Not to overlook, focusing and focusers are also something to consider - this with respect to what you will hang on it and ability to critical focus and keep the thing flat to the image plane. IMO what makes a scope an imaging platform is the focuser quality. There are a lot out there that you can add later if not happy with the stock as provided.

If you have a lot of time and energy and a lot of clear nights, all are a good choice. I think each particular 'rig' will have it's own learning curve, depending on the quality of components and your particular imaging conditions.

I do look at Fastar (or Hyperstar same thing different name?) as a sort of 'game changer' in imaging. To get an equvalent Riccardi-Honders you'll need to motgage the house. The 65 quad another game changer, relatively fast and very wide flat field as opposed to othe doublets and triplets with all the ease of small refractor imaging (I have not done imaging with or owned either) though I'm unsure of focuser and mounting req's.

There is always a caveat of some sort it seems whichever equipment direction you choose, but I guess my advice as Wouter and Josh too is to choose just one and run that all the way through the hoops to final 'happy with' image. Not all the lessons learned will be commutative and associative (some are more than others) across all potential optical/scope platforms. In ways it takes a lot to get that 'keeper' final image, and it takes very little to 'oh well, try again'. Sticking with one platfom you can one by one iron out the potential issues might be in mount, tracking, alignment, orthogonality, critical focus, and on and on...

#9 flstf88b


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Posted 18 May 2013 - 07:45 AM

Thanks to all for the advice and suggestions. I found a club in my area (I joined), I'll spend time talking to them too. I knew this wasn't going to be a quick, easy, one size fits all answer, but it's fun researching.

#10 Phil Sherman

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Posted 18 May 2013 - 04:03 PM

Don't forget to consider software to run the mount. One of the great advantages of the Atlas is the availability of EQASCOM (aka EQMOD) to run the mount. This free download, combined with the ASCOM platform (free download) and PhD for guiding (free download) and any planetarium program that talks to an ASCOM mount such as CdC (again a free download) will give you all of the software you need to run your mount with active guiding, a requirement for exposures starting in the minutes range.

Photoshop is a wonderful image processing program but it doesn't have the best tools for processing astro images unless you purchase a number of additional plugins. There's downloadable image processing programs available and full featured purchasable software like PixInsight and Mike Unsold's ImagesPlus that have the ability to do just about anything you could want when processing astro images.


#11 dhaval


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Posted 19 May 2013 - 12:53 AM

The best advice to anyone starting AP - Mount, Mount, Mount and more Mount! The scope and everything is so very secondary. If you do go beyond the mount, then, think of a short focal length telescope. Like others have mentioned, the AT65EDQ will be a terrific scope to begin AP - not only is it short FL, it is also a 4 element ED glass - giving you a flat field and color free images!

I have used both the Atlas EQ and iEQ45 mounts. While there is a lot to love about both, both have their limitations. The problem that I have with the Atlas is that night after night, it is very difficult to get the consistency that you should after having used the mount for a while. There are nights when the polar alignment is a snap, but others when it is a big pain. At least with iEQ45, you have a great polar scope which makes it really easy to PA - in fact, you can polar align in less than 2 minutes most of the times and it is significantly good PA to go unguided for at least a couple of minutes. If you add guiding, you might be able to go around 5 minutes. While, you can use the same method to PA the Atlas, the consistency factor will come to bite you.

That being said, one advice that a lot of people gave me (which I have never been able to implement) is to buy once. What that really translates into is, you should buy the best possible equipment that your money can buy and be done with it. That way, you are not spending more money than you should and definitely not spending more time trying to learn/re-learn the same aspects (but with different equipment).

Hope the above helps!


#12 Raginar



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Posted 19 May 2013 - 09:03 AM

I'll echo Dhaval. Having gone through a CGEM on my way to an Mi250, it's night and day. The chinese mounts are nice if you keep their loads light and you get 'the right one'. An Atlas is probably the best of the chinese mounts right now. I'd recommend getting a Losmandy G11.

I also agree that you'll hate imaging through a SCT to start with. Start out with something like an AT65 or a ED80 for nice widefield targets. They're very forgiving on guiding and you can learn how to acquire data and the nuances involved. Then, as you get more experience you can move on to longer focal lengths and their unique challenges.

Good luck, AP is alot of fun.

Just like every building, your AP has to start with a good foundation.

#13 hytham


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Posted 19 May 2013 - 02:17 PM

Skip the SCT for imaging unless you plan on going the hyperstar route where the imaging platform becomes much more versatile - widefield nebulae, long focal length for galaxies and solar system (sun, moon, planets, comets ...). It's great, but does have its limitations.

Some things to keep in mind:

1) Long focal length imaging (galaxies, clusters, planets) requires a stable mount. It is an absolute necessity. It's the difference between having a nightmarish headache and total bliss for an evening. A great mount will cost you quite a bit, but will more than likely be your last.

2) When diving into long focal length imaging the quality of skies you have in your area will make a difference. It's very rare that the skies here in MN will dip below 3.5" with the best I personally measured around 2.8". When the seeing finally dips down to what I consider unheard of levels (such as the 2.8" mentioned), it does not last for very long throughout the evening. The shorter focal lengths are far less dependent on seeing conditions when compared to their higher maintenance higher focal length big brother.

3) Mono CCD is far more superior and more costly than OSC CCD and/or DSLR due to the sensitivity that is offered (every pixel in a mono camera is capable of gathering light in a given wavelength whereas OSC reduces that number based on a bayer matrix), and more appropriately the small market for them. If you live in a heavily light polluted area, the benefits of mono increase significantly where the use of narrowband imaging can come in to play - Ha, OIII, SII, NII. Keep in mind that by going the mono route additional costs and complexity must be realized due to the increase in equipment; filters, filter wheel, additional software (some is very cheap and others not so cheap at all) and the learning curve that comes with it.

4) OSC DSLR. Fantastic, cheap, mass produced multi-function which can be used for daytime and astrophotography. Downsides: 1) Not very sensitive in its stock form and needs to be modded. You can do this yourself or pay someone about $300 to do it for you. 2) If you live in hot areas, DSLR imaging is almost pointless even with all of the calibration techniques due to thermal noise. You can have it cooled, but that too is costly if you're not technically inclined. There are some folks out there that have produced some AMAZING images with a modified cooled DSLR, but at that point it's of no use for day time and may as well have invested in an OSC CCD.

5) OSC CCD. The only advantage over OSC DSLR as far as I'm concerned is the regulated cooling. Again beautiful images have been produced with this path.

As Wouter stated make sure you know what it is you want to image exactly. I knew I wanted to get into widefield astrophotography and didn't care for planetary or galaxy imaging and recently purchased equipment for that purpose. I was given some very bad advice at a star party where everyone told me the SCT was by far the best purchase and only one lone crazy man said; "Get a short focal length refractor with a great mount". I should have listened to that crazy man because he knew what he was talking about and saved myself several thousand dollars.

If I could have gone back in time I would have done the following:

1) High quality mount
2) A small short focal length refractor like the AT65EDQ. This thing is awesome and I'm looking to get one for its portability, and heck ... a quadruplet refractor for $600 that has a built in flattener (hence ... quadruplet).
3) If you already own a DSLR, stick with it. You can always have it modified for higher receptivity to the red side of the spectrum. If you own a Canon, purchase BackYardEOS for acquisition and sequencing. No other software compares, IMO. If you own a Nikon... I'm sorry ;). I believe, Guy (inventor, creator, French Canadian dude extraordinaire) is currently working on the Nikon version of it. I'm sure he'll tell me I'm lying if inaccurate.
4) Buy an LPS filter. Astronomik and IDAS make excellent products and will serve you well. The Astronomik version is a clip-in model, but will not work with a certain line of Canon cameras. The IDAS produced comes in a mounted model (I own this one) and a pseudo clip in version. This will help negate the effects of light pollution and further help improve the contrast in your images.
5) Learn how to do polar alignment with the above equipment. It's so very easy and one of many necessary skills in this hobby.
6) By following the above I could have easily saved $5000+.

AP can be VERY expensive both in terms of time and economical investment. Be very patient and be sure to know what it is you want to do in the future with this hobby as it will save you so much down the road.

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