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Beginner digital AP camera suggestions

astrophotography imaging
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#1 joseph.gagnon

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Posted 25 April 2019 - 06:56 PM

I have been involved in amateur astronomy for over 40 years, but am completely new to digital astrophotography. I currently possess an AstroPhysics StarFire 155 and have recently acquired a Losmandy G11 mount. Our plan is to retire to Costa Rica in the next couple of years and with the extra time and different lifestyle, I would like to look into doing some AP. It is possible at some point that I might acquire a second scope, smaller and faster.

 

I am looking for suggestions and recommendations on cameras to use for this purpose. As I've said, I'm completely new to digital AP and realize there's a lot to it and a lot to learn. I guess the choices are DSLR or dedicated CCD, with lots of variations in each category. Since I'm starting out, I would assume that going the DSLR route is probably the logical choice, and then (possibly) migrating to CCD as skill increases.

 

I would appreciate any information with regards to both types of cameras, their pros and cons and what features/capabilities/criteria I should think about and look for. The current array of equipment available is overwhelming and I don't know what matters most. Suggestions of useful information sources, online or in print would also be appreciated.



#2 scadvice

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Posted 25 April 2019 - 07:25 PM

I think your right starting with a DSLR and spend a year or so learning to use it. If the budget is tight, start by looking at a used Canon T3i. Be sure it's a T3i not the T3. Nikon is another choice but someone else will have to tell you which ones to look at.

 

Decide how your going to guide your mount. Most of us start with a guide scope but there is a group that says guide with a OAG (Off Axis Guider). I understand the OAG are harder to learn and use for a beginning imager. Both can have challenges I believe the guide scope/camera route is easier.  We tend to under spend on the guide camera sometimes. The Altair GPCAM3 290M Mono and the ZWO ASI174MM Mini Mono are considered good long term choices.



#3 Joe G

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Posted 25 April 2019 - 09:09 PM

Funny, I have the same name.

 

I'd suggest you start out with a one shot cooled color camera.  The advantage of the astro camera (versus a DSLR) is the cooling which allows you to control the temperature so you can get darks that match as best as possible.  Also, the astro-cameras are more sensitive to Ha wavelengths because the filter that is in a DSLR is not present.

 

The ZWO ASI 071 is an APS sized chip.  That is the chip that was used in the Nikon D7000.  Here is a link:

 

https://astronomy-im...ct/asi071mc-pro

 

It gets a lot more complicated with mono cameras.  You have to do with filters and all that stuff.  Much more complicated.  Please be aware you can do narrowband with a OSC camera too.  It is not as efficient but is doable.

 

Please be aware that CCD technology is giving way to CMOS which is somewhat controversial here.  The advantage of CMOS cameras is the chips are more recent technology-wise and have lower read noise which is a big deal.

 

Your mount should be fine.  Your existing refractor is likely too long to start.  A shorter focal length refractor makes it much easier, and with the current small pixels of most current cameras gives you plenty of resolution.

 

Try "The Deep-Sky Imaging Primer" by Charles Bracken. 

 

Software is very important as well.  There are many free programs to start.  You need a stacking program.  Deep Sky Stacker is free.  I prefer Astro Pixel Processor which does more.  And then you need a processing software such as Photoshop, StarTools or Pixinsight.  Many prefer Pixinsight which is user-unfriendly.  The same can be done with PS or StarTools.

 

Good luck.



#4 scadvice

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Posted 25 April 2019 - 10:55 PM

Your going to see post where you have Joe's perspective... and then mine. Neither of us is wrong, just a different approach. I actually like the camera he suggest and have the ZWOASI071 as my main astro camera (along with the T3i DSLR). There is nothing wrong with what he suggest I was looking at a more economical starting point.

 

From his signature info he uses StarTools and PhotoShop. I have StarTools but just couldn't get my head around it. That doesn't mean it's bad, just not for me. I ended up trying PixInsight and loved it and I'm a guy who has trouble figuring out how to turn the computer on. lol.gif  I found a series of twelve video's on you tube that taught the PI basics and never looked back.

 

"The Deep-Sky Imaging Primer" by Charles Bracken I agree is great book.

 

Your telescope is a wonderful instrument and F7 is at the upper end to start AP. However your going to want a field flattener at some point point. Astro-Physics makes a field flattener/reducer (telecompressor) which brings your F stop down to F 5.2...much easier to learn on.

 

In fact if funds are available, I would consider starting out using with one these on your mount and once your comfortable with guiding and imaging then step up to the 155mm. 

 

https://www.stellarv...escope-system/ 


Edited by scadvice, 25 April 2019 - 10:57 PM.


#5 Kendahl

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Posted 26 April 2019 - 01:00 AM

Your telescope is a wonderful instrument and F7 is at the upper end to start AP. However your going to want a field flattener at some point point. Astro-Physics makes a field flattener/reducer (telecompressor) which brings your F stop down to F 5.2...much easier to learn on.

With the flattener/reducer, focal length will be 806 mm. In my opinion, that's not too long for a beginner. My first and only refractor is a William Optics GTF102 with a focal length of 783 mm. Image scale with my T3i camera is ~1.1 arc-secs/pixel. My mount is an iOptron iEQ45. When I started out, RMS guiding error was 1.0 to 1.5 arc-secs on a good night and up to 2.0 on a bad night. Recently, I've gotten it down to 0.9 to 1.0 arc-secs/pixel on a calm night. The secrets are accurate polar alignment, no flexure between autoguider and scope, cable routing to avoid drag, and a slightly east heavy balance to keep the gears meshed. Someday, I may buy a refractor with a focal length between 300 and 400 mm but it will be for the image scale, not to make guiding easier. You're starting out with a better mount (and a better refractor) than mine.

 

I bought a T3i (used with a 6-month warranty from KEH) because I already owned some Canon lenses. If you're not tied to a particular brand, Nikon's D5300 has an excellent reputation for astrophotography. KEH has a couple at $349 and $379. The biggest disadvantage to a DSLR is the lack of temperature control. You have to build a library of master dark files over a range of temperatures for each combination of ISO and subexposure duration you use. I bought a tiny refrigerator for this purpose. Backyard EOS, my image acquisition program, lets you embed sensor temperature in the file name which makes matching easy. (Backyard Nikon for Nikon cameras.)


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#6 Stelios

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Posted 26 April 2019 - 01:14 AM

Piling on:

 

The challenges:

 

Focusing.

Flattening the field.

Guiding.

Noise (cooling reduces it).

Processing.

 

Seriously suggest getting this often-recommended book (with great justification) before you make any purchases.


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#7 joseph.gagnon

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Posted 26 April 2019 - 07:50 AM

With the flattener/reducer, focal length will be 806 mm. In my opinion, that's not too long for a beginner. My first and only refractor is a William Optics GTF102 with a focal length of 783 mm. Image scale with my T3i camera is ~1.1 arc-secs/pixel. My mount is an iOptron iEQ45. When I started out, RMS guiding error was 1.0 to 1.5 arc-secs on a good night and up to 2.0 on a bad night. Recently, I've gotten it down to 0.9 to 1.0 arc-secs/pixel on a calm night. The secrets are accurate polar alignment, no flexure between autoguider and scope, cable routing to avoid drag, and a slightly east heavy balance to keep the gears meshed.

This shows an example of what I mean about what I need to learn. Image scale, guiding error, "east heavy" - I understand the basic concepts, but not how it applies to AP, nor how important (or not) it is. It is old hat to those of you who've been doing this for awhile, but it's right over my head for the most part.



#8 joseph.gagnon

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Posted 26 April 2019 - 07:52 AM

I think your right starting with a DSLR and spend a year or so learning to use it. If the budget is tight, start by looking at a used Canon T3i. Be sure it's a T3i not the T3. Nikon is another choice but someone else will have to tell you which ones to look at.

So, what is the difference between the T3i and the T3? What does the T3i have that is more suited for AP than the other model?



#9 scadvice

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Posted 26 April 2019 - 11:13 AM

The T3 is basically a stripped down T3i with fewer features and a slightly lower price.

 

 

The main difference:

 

12 vs 18 megapixels

 

Other not as important to AP

Longer battery life by as much as 60%

3 vs 3.7 frames per second

2.7" low-resolution  fixed LCD screen vs 3" high-resolution flip out LCD screen (the flip out has the advange of running cooler when the screen is kept open)

9.2m vs 13m flash range

No option for wireless off-camera flash

Fewer video recording options

No external microphone jack

No self-cleaning image sensor (Always turn off for AP)

Lighter and smaller

 

 

The T3i is no longer made but still one of the Canon lines best low priced starter and still available on the used market. The T6i I understand is the next one up the line to consider. Of course you can also look at the Nikon cameras but I can't tell you anything about them.

 

Jerry Lodriguss post here and I believe he uses a Nikon and he may be able to tell you more about them forr AP use.

 

He also has a series of web books out of which I have the first  on the basic's... very good I thought to read first then Bracken's book.

 

www.astropix.com/bgda/bgda.html


Edited by scadvice, 26 April 2019 - 11:38 AM.


#10 GraySkies

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Posted 26 April 2019 - 11:44 AM

If you are moving south (Costa Rica) you will want to explore a cooled camera option as DSLRs are great up to the point when they operate in hot environments and that extra heat causes them to induce more noise... I know this because in the summer my DSLR photos are "good" but in the depth of winter (-36C) they will go 1-on-1 with a $2000 dedicated mono cooled astro camera and get very similar results.




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