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Astrophotography and Sketching >> Beginning and Intermediate Imaging

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hcsceo
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$300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge
      #5540779 - 11/26/12 06:31 PM

So I'm basically bored and need a project. My son is 9 and "ready" for his first scope. He spends a lot of time with me when I'm imaging and I'm sure it is boring to sit there and watch dots on the computer screen when he could be looking around himself. When I say drift alignment he is ready to head for the hills. So I've come up with a challenge for myself to put together a $300 imaging setup for him. Now he won't be imaging for a good while but I've always had it in the back of my mind that astrophotography doesn't have to be expensive. So for others that might be worried this hobby is too expensive you might watch here. I'll use some DIY and parts I have laying around, etc. I'll try and list the fair values for materials or items I have. My goal is simple.. Create a package that can photo all Messier objects and planetary for under $300. I'd like to be guiding for that also. Any ideas for low cost stuff would be great. I'll update this first post with the items as I get them. This challenge will NOT include the computer and all software used will be freeware, shareware, or open source. I'm assuming that if you are reading this thread you have a computer capable of processing.

I decided to start with a scope. I figured it was probably the single largest purchase. If I was going to get to guiding I would need a computer scope. I also decided that a refractor would be the best for a beginner. No collimation to worry about and easy to use. I found a gently used ETX80 on Ebay for $145 shipped. It meets my goals for a computer scope and a refractor. It stores easily in a backpack so it'll be easy to keep in a closet. It should be here in time to get under the tree for him. Up next will probably be a DIY wedge. Any ideas for a low cost imager would be appreciated.

$300 Challenge Items
Meade ETX-80 AT TC Astro Telescope $145 Ebay shipped
Xbox 360 Live Vision Guide Camera $10 Gamestop

Edited by hcsceo (11/27/12 02:47 PM)


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Jared
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5540827 - 11/26/12 07:03 PM

The last time I tried to figure out the least expensive package that would allow deep sky guided astrophotography, I came out around $3,000 rather than $300. That was assuming new equipment rather than used, but even so I don't see how you'll be able to get it to $300. You'll need:
  • Scope
  • Mount
  • Tripod
  • Camera
  • Software for calibration
  • Software for post processing
  • Field Flattener
  • Cable release (if it's a DSLR)
  • Guide scope/Finder
  • Guide camera
  • Glue, duct tape, fasteners of various kinds, and plenty of creativity
Even with some do-it-yourself solutions like you are proposing (for the wedge, as an example), I'm not certain how you can keep it down around $300. A decent tripod--even one to hold an 80mm scope--is going to run $200+. That, along with the proposed scope, would already put you over budget and you wouldn't even have a camera, guide scope (or finder), guide camera, or software.

I can imagine with some creative solutions and looking at used equipment that you could come up with something workable in the $1,000 to $1,500 range for a total system cost, but I don't see how to get it much below that without the project moving from the "challenging" category into the "frustrating failure" category. Regardless of age of the astronomer, it takes a reasonable amount of tracking accuracy and platform stability to get a basic image of each of the Messier items. Frankly, I think it might be a better idea to get your son started with some visual observing with a 6" Dob or even with some binocular viewing. I know that nobody wants to hear that advice since it's not glamorous and exciting, but it is quite practical. If you son has his heart set on astrophotography, then I would recommend star trails, piggyback photography, constellations, or even something like the Vixen Polarie. He'll be more successful and you'll stay closer to your budget.


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Dwight J
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5540828 - 11/26/12 07:05 PM

Keeping with the Meade theme, why not a DSI color. Sell for around $100 or so but they go fast.

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Midnight Dan
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Dwight J]
      #5540914 - 11/26/12 07:54 PM

Moon? No problem. A few of the brighter Messiers - also no problem. ALL the Messier objects? And guiding? Complete package including scope, mount, camera and guider? For $300? This will be interesting indeed.


-Dan


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Raginar
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Midnight Dan]
      #5541000 - 11/26/12 08:40 PM

Someone on here was doing something very smiliar with an ETX. I think you'll need a guider though at the very least. So if you could find a DSI-c (see Mike7Mak's photos) and a finder-guider rig... you could make it happen.

I agree though; it's gonna be tough.


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shawnhar
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Midnight Dan]
      #5541035 - 11/26/12 08:58 PM

Challenge Accepted!
Although...you ain't gettin' guiding for 300 bucks unless you find some old lady selling her passed husband's gear.

EQ Mount that will track - 125$
http://www.cloudynights.com/classifieds/showproduct.php?product=69637&sor...

80-200 F4.5-5.6 SIGMA MACRO AIS (52) 35MM SLR MANUAL FOCUS ZOOM TELEPHOTO LENS - 17$
http://www.keh.com/camera/Nikon-Manual-Focus-Non-Mfg-Zoom-Lenses/1/sku-NK0900...

Nikon lens to EOS Adapter - 16$
http://www.amazon.com/Fotodiox-Mount-Adapter-Nikon-Camera/dp/B001G4QXLE

Canon Eos-30d - 150$ - but it don't work right...
http://www.adorama.com/US%20%20%20%20524556.html?gclid=CPWL-MCD7rMCFQeynQod4x...
I found a Canon EOS XS for 125 on local cragslist but I had to look for about 6 months.

That setup will capture all of the Messiers at 200mm but planets will have no detail, you could swap the lens for a scope, but finding a scope for 40 bucks will be hard. At 200mm you can get the polar alignment good enough to get 2 or 3 minute exposures.

The little ETX cannot be auto-guided and you will have nothing but heartache if you try to hang a DSLR off the back of it. I have also read it has issues in polar mode with a wedge, the motors were not designed for that kind of stress, or the little plastic gears.

That's all I got...anyone got a better idea?


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herrindude
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: shawnhar]
      #5541066 - 11/26/12 09:16 PM

I got a Meade dsi color i,m not using, you pay shipping and its yours, pm me for contact info.

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Mkofski
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: herrindude]
      #5541116 - 11/26/12 09:42 PM

Here is a Canon 10D for well under $100. http://www.cloudynights.com/classifieds/showproduct.php?product=69621&sor...

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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Mkofski]
      #5541244 - 11/26/12 10:56 PM

Yeah I had thought of a used dslr and that 10d would work great however I need to keep the setup as light as possible since we are dealing with plastic gears in the etx mount. The Meade Dsi color was high on my list for this setup due to the size and used pricepoint. I believe with a t thread adapter this will screw right to the back of the ETX80. Thanks Herrindude, PM sent!

So this leaves guiding. Right now I'm leaning to a webcam and finderscope combo. I've got a spare 9x50. My first guider was this combo and it worked fine on my C6-N. I dropped about 50% of my subs but it worked. I'm going to look for some other smaller finders that might work. Fyi for those wondering you can autoguide the etx80. I do believe it might require a hand controller upgrade.


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kcgolden
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5542108 - 11/27/12 01:15 PM

hcsceo,

I see that you are in Austin which makes your challenge a little easier. Have you been out to Mansfield Dam with the Austin Dam Astronomers? If not, look up their yahoo group and join up. There's a guy that is a regular at the Dam who puts together these amazing electronic eyepieces made from cheap security cams he buys overseas. I'm not sure if you'll stay under $300 but you might get pretty close if you check him out (he doesn't sell them but you can see how he does it). His name is Johnny. Join the yahoo group to find out when they're going out next.

Edited by kcgolden (11/27/12 01:18 PM)


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: kcgolden]
      #5542264 - 11/27/12 02:46 PM

Thanks Kelsey, I haven't had a chance to get out to Mansfield yet. I am part of the yahoo group however I've never posted. I need to get out there one night for. This setup will be perfect for a trip like that. On the security cameras... I have one on my C8 and really like it a lot. I use it primarily to align the scope remotely and check for cloud cover. They are very sensitive and work reasonably well. I was hoping to grab a little more quality pics from this setup however and still keep it low cost and the Meade DSI Color is a good start to that.

OK so today I ran out and purchased an XBox 360 Live Vision camera from Gamestop for $10 used. It's one of the few low cost CCD type webcams still readily available. I've modified it by removing the IR blocking filter, base, and 4 LED ready lights. This is a very easy DIY modification that anyone could do. I still need to add a little fan to the rear to keep the CCD cool. My previous guide camera was a Logitech 4000 CCD webcam mounted to a 9x50 Finderscope. With that I also removed the IR filter to make it more sensitive in low light. It worked well at F5 so I'm hoping to have the same result with this camera. I have a 9x50 ready to go so I need to get the two mated. I'll figure out a good price for the 9x50 I have and add that to my list also.


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Jeff in Austin
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5542734 - 11/27/12 08:02 PM

One other thought for a guide scope - there are some c-mount lenses on ebay that sell for as little as $20 delivered from H.K. China. F.L's from 8 to 100 mm. Very small and light.

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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Jeff in Austin]
      #5542893 - 11/27/12 09:44 PM

Thanks Jeff. I'm going to look into that. If I can find a way to mount the webcam to it that would be perfect. If I had a plate that was c mount threaded I could mount the ccd board right to it in the other side. The weight of a standard 9x50 finder scope is concerning me with the etx mount.

I should be outside. It's a beautiful night.


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5544342 - 11/28/12 06:23 PM

Ok I'm going to go down the C mount lens path. This should make a very light guide scope. I found this website today Webcam C Mount which looks perfect. I also managed to score a Logitech Quickcam 4000 which is exactly what I had before so I know the sensitivity of the CCD. Best part was $7.95 on a buy it now on ebay! I need to calculate the MM lens I should get for the C mount. Any ideas? I'm thinking 50mm. I'm going to try and do a FOV calculation on both my 9x50 and a 50mm cmount.

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Jeff in Austin
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5544518 - 11/28/12 08:45 PM

Lots of ideas and adapters at Scopestuff for c mount and the DSI camera.

Link here

(I'm not connected with them but sure do like the next day service to Austin!)


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jgraham
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Jeff in Austin]
      #5544589 - 11/28/12 09:30 PM

I've actually done a lot of imaging with the ETX-60 and -80. The color DSI does okay, the Pro with a low profile face plate from ScopeStuff does better. I use a Pro III for luminance and a color III for color (duh). The stock ETX mount does not work well on a wedge, there's too much flex in the polar shaft. That's okay, with the tracking quality you are limited to 10-15 second exposures which works very well with the altaz mode. I'm away from home right now, when I get back I'll post a couple of example images. It is amazing what you can do with these little scopes, a lot of patience, and a little luck.

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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5544854 - 11/29/12 12:08 AM

Thanks Jeff I love scopestuff. The DSI will connect to the scope in prime. I think I'm good there. The c mount lens will go on the guide camera/webcam. All the little bits should be here shortly.

John, I'd love to see those photos and thanks for the advice on the wedge.

Ok so the scope came in... I'm not sure what I was expecting. Somehow I thought it would be better quality than it is. Functionally it does what it's supposed to do. Easy align on two stars and find targets. Moon was very bright so the first two stars were difficult from my location. Deneb was just behind some leaves so I guessed and calibrated on it. Calibration stars were 10-15 degrees off in altitude. i wish meade made a red dot or some crosshairs/gunsight to fit in the eyepiece holder to help with alignment. The compass/bubble level is worthless. The slews were VERY loud and I didn't expect that however they got on my three targets no issue. I was actually concerned my neighbors would come out. I chose Jupiter, moon, and Orion. Is it me or is the meade controller difficult to use? It's not intuitive at all. I finally figured it out and I suppose it will be fine. The views were nice. I could clearly see three bands on jupiter and orion was clear with slight aversion. A moonless night should provide nice views. Focus popped right in.... after 140000 turns of the knob. Is this a cruel joke meade played on us? You really do a lot of cranking. Go between Barlow and no Barlow and get ready to crank all over again. Speaking of the Barlow.. Wow I thought someone had me looking through a coke bottle! Finally the mount is very shaky. A deep exhale will send the shivers through it. So will it work for AP? Hmmmmmm. I think so? The key here is keeping the weight down and a lot of luck. If it were "my" scope and not a gift for my son I'd take the mount apart and try and improve it but for him and most beginners I don't see this as an option. So we'll keep plugging along and see how it goes.


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5554776 - 12/04/12 10:32 PM

Well darn it. I can't update the first post with more totals. Anyway here is an update. I got in the Logitech Pro 4000. It was not the CCD version but the CMOS version. There is no way to tell which you have till you take it apart. So I opted not to use it. I have now modified the Xbox live CCD camera to accept a C mount lens. The focal flange distance for C Mount is 17.5mm. I haven't measured it yet but I can tell I'm about right with the two 5mm spacers I have installed. Here is a picture of the modified camera. It is very small and light and will take a c mount lens or nosepiece. I'm looking for a lens now. Lots of used c mount lenses to choose from. I'm looking for one that gives me the same pixel ratio my last setup did.



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jgraham
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5554837 - 12/04/12 11:16 PM Attachment (28 downloads)

As I mentioned above, I've done quite a bit of imaging with my ETX-60 and a bit with my ETX-80. The ETX-60 is so easy to use I've spent most of my time with this little scope. Here are a couple of examples that I happen to have on the computer I'm using right now. These three examples were all taken on the evening of January 18th, 2012 (local time).

-----------------------------

Moon - 1/29/2012 0h UT ETX-60
Telescope: Meade ETX-60, #497 Controller, #884 tripod, AC adapter
Luminance: 50x0.0005sec, Meade DSI Pro III, Baader Semi-Apo Filter
Color: None
Guide scope: None
Software: Envisage, Registax 6, Photoshop

Since it only takes a few minutes to get my ETX-60 set up and ready for imaging I had a bit of time to burn waiting for it to get fully dark, so I slewed over to the moon and took a quick set of images. Aligning and combining the images in real-time works fine, 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.


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jgraham
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5554839 - 12/04/12 11:18 PM Attachment (28 downloads)

M35 – Open Cluster in Gemini ETX-60
Telescope: Meade ETX-60, #497 Controller, #884 tripod, AC adapter
Luminance: 28x5sec, Meade DSI Pro III, Baader Semi-Apo Filter
Color: 16x10sec, Meade DSI III, Baader Semi-Apo Filter
Guide scope: None
Software: Envisage, Autostar Imaging Processing, Photoshop

M35 is a rich patch of stardust lying in western Gemini. The object is a great match for the wide field of the little ETX-60. Note the open cluster NGC2158 just to the right of M35.


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jgraham
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5554841 - 12/04/12 11:18 PM Attachment (56 downloads)

M42/43 – The Orion Nebula, ETX-60
Telescope: Meade ETX-60, #497 Controller, #884 tripod, AC adapter
Luminance: 23x5sec, Meade DSI Pro III, Baader Semi-Apo Filter
Color: 12x10sec, Meade DSI III, Baader Semi-Apo Filter
Guide scope: None
Software: Envisage, Autostar Imaging Processing, Photoshop

This is my best picture of M42/43 yet with my little ETX-60. I caught just a bit of the outer loop (swinging around to the lower left) as well as NGC1977 (upper right). The Baader Semi-Apo filter did a great job reducing the violet halo around the brighter stars.


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jgraham
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5554853 - 12/04/12 11:26 PM Attachment (47 downloads)

This is my favorite picture of my ETX-60 configured for imaging. This was taken after a particularly brutal night of bitter cold and heavy frost. I'll set my ETX-60 out on nights that I wouldn't risk cold-soaking my Atlas EQ-G. The ETX-60 is a surprisingly tough little scope. The real trick to making this work is a lightweight, sensitive camera along with a little luck and a lot of patience.

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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5555320 - 12/05/12 09:05 AM

John thanks for the pics. Those help me a lot. Looks like you have the 497 on there and the same backpack tripod I do. Like you I am excited to have a scope I can setup quickly when weather conditions are changing during the night. My C8 although not large by any means takes a good while to setup for imaging.

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jgraham
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5555474 - 12/05/12 10:57 AM

Yeppers. I mixed and matched controllers to put the #497 on my ETX-60. I control everything from inside my house and the #497 is much easier to use that way. I have also used the #494 'remotely' kinda sorta; I extended the handset cable with a 14' Ethernet cable so that it would reach inside my house. Be warned; 14' is as long as you can go before you get a motor fault on startup.

Oh yeah, speaking of setup time... with the ETX-60 in altaz mode there's no polar alignment or guiding to fool with. You're generally limited to 5-15 second exposures anyway, so this kinda forces you to keep things simple.


Edited by jgraham (12/05/12 10:59 AM)


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5556054 - 12/05/12 05:36 PM

John thanks for that info. I'm still going to chase guiding only cause I feel like I'm going to need to get to 1 minute subs in order to get the entire range of Messier objects. My biggest concern is the RA axis and the plastic bushings. I guess we'll see how it goes. I'll run some PEC graphs. I suspect it is going to take some modifications to work correctly. I'm still shooting for $300 with guiding but I believe the 497 controller might put me over. If I had to do it over I might have tried to find a ETX90 with 497 for around $200. Even then I'd be really pinched to make $300 but at least I wouldn't have an RA issue to deal with. Everything depends on the camera selection at this point and what kind of deal I'm able to get. Honestly I need to be at $50 for imager and $50 for 497 controller to make this happen. That will take an amazing used deals on both the imager and controller.

OK guys I had a chance to check the flange distance on the Xbox Live Webcam converted to C Mount and I'm right at 17mm with 2-5mm adapters. The C Mount specs at 17.5mm so I should be good with infinity focus here. Now for the lens. I'm going to need about 100mm in focal length to get this going right. That should put me at about 10 arc seconds per pixel which is double the ETX80/DSI of 5 arc seconds per pixel. I've run this as high as 3 times with no issues on other setups so this gives me a little headroom for a better imager if one comes available.

I've got the mount for the guider all figured out. It will be made out of aluminum and should work fairly well. It will allow me to move the guidescope in AZ to help find stars. I figure the entire setup... Aluminum mount, Guide Camera, and Guide Lens should be below 1/4 pound. I'm thinking about removing the built in Barlow and mechanics to save some weight. It's not a good barlow anyway so I don't see myself using it. I figure I'll be close to a wash in weight if I do this.


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jgraham
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5556128 - 12/05/12 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!


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5556420 - 12/05/12 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.


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5556470 - 12/05/12 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.

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Raginar
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5556924 - 12/06/12 06:09 AM

Sounds awesome.

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Footbag
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Raginar]
      #5557205 - 12/06/12 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.


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Footbag]
      #5557349 - 12/06/12 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.

Edited by hcsceo (12/06/12 11:43 AM)


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Thomas Karpf
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5557667 - 12/06/12 02:43 PM

Quote:

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.


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Thomas Karpf]
      #5563994 - 12/10/12 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.





Edited by hcsceo (12/10/12 11:33 AM)


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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5565019 - 12/10/12 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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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5567399 - 12/12/12 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.


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5568014 - 12/12/12 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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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5569968 - 12/13/12 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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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5571200 - 12/14/12 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


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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5571234 - 12/14/12 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

Edited by hcsceo (12/14/12 05:57 PM)


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Jeff in Austin
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5571683 - 12/14/12 10:19 PM

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

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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: Jeff in Austin]
      #5578191 - 12/19/12 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.

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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5588340 - 12/25/12 11:18 AM

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



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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: hcsceo]
      #5588357 - 12/25/12 11:30 AM

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

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NeilMac
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: jgraham]
      #5588399 - 12/25/12 12:12 PM

Awesome !

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hcsceo
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Re: $300 Astrophotography Bundle Challenge new [Re: NeilMac]
      #5594676 - 12/29/12 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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