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Least expensive decent beginner camera?

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#1 Mitrovarr

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 02:43 PM

I'm starting to think about moving from EAA into more serious imaging. I'm trying to figure out how much I'd need to spend just to start out. I have a pretty good idea of what mounts and scopes are preferred/necessary (and I have an AVX and C6 to play around with until I could afford better) but I don't know much about AP cameras.

What is a good starter camera, and about how much should I expect to spend? I don't have a DSLR and I tend to favor going straight into a dedicated astronomy camera. I have an ASI224MC right now and I like how that works (if I went into imaging I'd probably use it to guide).

#2 bobzeq25

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 03:00 PM

The least expensive decent beginner camera is a DSLR.  Period.  They work fine, have a nice big chip, which is great.  A large number of imagers use them.  This is not a close call.

 

I recommend the D5300/5500/5600.  You can find a new one for $375, used for less.  For maybe $250, you could get an older Canon.

 

https://www.amazon.c...Z2MK29TSYT4VQEG

 

Note one thing, which is crucial.  The "best" equipment for breaking into AP of DSOs (a complex task) is that which is easy to use.  It gets out of your way and lets you learn.  You have an AVX.  The best thing you could stick on that would be a DSLR and a lens.  The AVX/C6 combination is not bad because it's not the best for imaging.  It's bad because it's a difficult setup to get working for long exposure DSO work, and will actively get in your way.  You'll be struggling with the equipment, not learning astrophotography techniques.

 

Here's a fine lens for starting out with that Nikon.  $175.

 

https://www.amazon.c.../dp/B004Y1AYAC/

 

Want something longer?  Look for a used 200mm F4.  I have, and use, both.

 

The same applies, to a lesser degree, to using an uncooled CMOS camera with a small chip.  A cooled CMOS with a medium size chip is close to $1000.


Edited by bobzeq25, 14 June 2019 - 03:03 PM.

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#3 Mitrovarr

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 03:08 PM

I have pretty much zero interest in doing piggyback photography but I could put off starting until I can buy a small apo.

#4 bobzeq25

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 03:21 PM

I have pretty much zero interest in doing piggyback photography but I could put off starting until I can buy a small apo.

You actually don't piggyback, you mount the camera directly.

 

I understand the lack of interest, but there's a lot to learn.  Here are some of the basics.

 

Precise polar alignment.  Target selection, acquisition, and framing.   Precise focus.  Proper exposure (ISO or gain, subexposure, number of subexposures).  Taking lights, bias, flats, darks.  Stacking.  Postprocessing (which is more than half the game).

 

You could be learning all that while saving up for this.  Which would pair well with your AVX.  There are a lot of suitable targets coming up.

 

https://www.astronom...fpl-53-f-6.html

 

The pretty pictures do not come easy.  <smile>

 

This book will be very helpful.

 

https://www.amazon.c...d/dp/0999470906


Edited by bobzeq25, 14 June 2019 - 03:23 PM.

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#5 kisstek

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 03:27 PM

I have pretty much zero interest in doing piggyback photography but I could put off starting until I can buy a small apo.

Don't put it off! Start with something, anything. You may never get another chance to start, life and all!

 

I have a C6 on a AVX. Started with my unmodded Canon SL1. Quickly ran into sensor temperature issues (it gets hot in AZ and 90+ second exposures don't help!) that made the low SNR problem from light pollution even worse. I switched to a ZWO ASI1600mm-pro with a 8 position filter wheel. I thought about going the going the OSC route but I want to be able to do some narrow band stuff. So I got the mono camera. Since I figured this would be the one I'm going to be using for years, I went with the best (IMHO) I could get. I don't regret that.

 

The AVX can be "challenging". The C6, ASI1600, EFW, 0.5"/pixel imaging, ... all push the limits of what a AVX was designed for. It can be made to work (most of the time!) but it does require some perseverance. And lots of Advil for the headaches from banging your head against the proverbial concrete wall. But it's also fun and rewarding when the stars align and you get a decent image.

 

I've been logging some of my "adventures" on my web page, along with some of the "better" images I've managed to capture so far. It might help to give you an idea of what the C6/AVX entails and what you might be able to produce.



#6 Stelios

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 03:37 PM

The problem with what you are asking, is that a dedicated astronomy camera should pair well with your scope and seeing. You need to understand image scale in order to figure this out. 

 

An example: Taking color cameras (mono and cheap don't fit in the same sentence):  A very good camera is the ASI183MC-Pro for $799 (if you want to spend less, then you want a DSLR). But with your C6 which has 1500 mm F/L, the 2.4mm pixels of the 183MC yield 206.3*2.4/1500 = 0.33 arcsec/pixel image scale, which is hugely over-sampled--a negative. However, with a 480mm F/L scope, it would yield an almost ideal 1.03 as/px scale (assuming normal 2-3" seeing).

 

Most dedicated astro cameras have smaller fields of view than a DSLR. As against that, they offer set-point cooling, which is a *huge* plus for many reasons. 

 

But, you can't just buy a camera because of price and expect it to match your scope. The pixel sizes vary widely. The field of view varies widely. The reason people say "start with a DSLR" is that a DSLR will pretty much always produce something acceptable (although not best). And the cost (you only need the camera *body*) is low, especially used. Then, after you've read this indispensable book, you'll be able to plan a *system* for your imaging, based on your preferences (people who love small galaxies like M63 and NGC7331 and planetary nebulae like M27 and M57 need different systems than those who love wide-field objects like the Lagoon, Veil and Heart and Soul nebulae).

 

You should also check field of view for your equipment choices in this site.



#7 Mitrovarr

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 03:48 PM

I'll consider a DSLR. I was a little reluctant because I really like the way Sharpcap and such work with my ASI224MC, and I assume a DSLR will work in a radically different manner, so I'll have to relearn all of that (plus relearn it *again* if I ever get an AP camera).

I don't know how I feel about using camera lenses though. Since with EAA I can already take pictures of deep sky objects (just not good ones). It feels like using a camera lens to take low power sky shots would be working backward from that point. Also, I'm planning on doing this stuff from the middle of town (at least until I get some skill at it) so the light pollution is going to kill anything I do at very low magnification

#8 GoldSpider

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 03:54 PM

I'll consider a DSLR. I was a little reluctant because I really like the way Sharpcap and such work with my ASI224MC, and I assume a DSLR will work in a radically different manner, so I'll have to relearn all of that (plus relearn it *again* if I ever get an AP camera).

I don't know how I feel about using camera lenses though. Since with EAA I can already take pictures of deep sky objects (just not good ones). It feels like using a camera lens to take low power sky shots would be working backward from that point. Also, I'm planning on doing this stuff from the middle of town (at least until I get some skill at it) so the light pollution is going to kill anything I do at very low magnification

 

Backyard EOS/Nikon is about as easy as it gets for controlling a DSLR.  The interface is smart and intuitive, and it works seamlessly with PHD2 for guiding (dithering settings).  Speaking of PHD2, your ASI224MC is a fine autoguider if you're planning on using it with a guide scope.



#9 Mitrovarr

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 04:01 PM

That's the plan! That's part of why I bought it (although I really do like EAA and planetary AP).

#10 bobzeq25

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 04:59 PM

I'll consider a DSLR. I was a little reluctant because I really like the way Sharpcap and such work with my ASI224MC, and I assume a DSLR will work in a radically different manner, so I'll have to relearn all of that (plus relearn it *again* if I ever get an AP camera).

I don't know how I feel about using camera lenses though. Since with EAA I can already take pictures of deep sky objects (just not good ones). It feels like using a camera lens to take low power sky shots would be working backward from that point. Also, I'm planning on doing this stuff from the middle of town (at least until I get some skill at it) so the light pollution is going to kill anything I do at very low magnification

There's very little to "relearn" with cameras.  There's a whole lot else to learn that's camera independent.

 

Downtown Boise is Bortle 7.  So is my suburb.  Look at my astrobin for what you can do.

 

I did the first image below from the backyard, _very_ early in my carer.  I could do the same image a lot better now.  The second with the 200mm from the backyard.  The camera was "modded" to increase sensitivity to red nebula, but that doesn't completely change the point.  Look at the stars.

 

This business is _so_ unintuitive.  Your intuition will mislead you badly.  The quality of the 2nd image is due to my learning processing skill.   Learning processing takes a _long_ time.  Look at the gain here in going from 3 years to 4 years experience.

 

https://www.cloudyni...es-a-long-time/

 

Even if you don't image you can learn a lot by getting some data from the sticky above, and using it to learn processing.  I recommend Astro Pixel Processor.  It both stacks and processes.  Has an excellent gradient reduction tool, which is crucial for any imaging in light polluted skies.  It actually works better with wide angle shots.

 

_Very_ complicated.  _Very_ unintuitive.

 

Cygnus_smaller.jpg

 

Sadr PIV5_small.jpg


Edited by bobzeq25, 14 June 2019 - 05:12 PM.


#11 kisstek

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 05:00 PM

I'll consider a DSLR. I was a little reluctant because I really like the way Sharpcap and such work with my ASI224MC, and I assume a DSLR will work in a radically different manner, so I'll have to relearn all of that (plus relearn it *again* if I ever get an AP camera).

I don't know how I feel about using camera lenses though. Since with EAA I can already take pictures of deep sky objects (just not good ones). It feels like using a camera lens to take low power sky shots would be working backward from that point. Also, I'm planning on doing this stuff from the middle of town (at least until I get some skill at it) so the light pollution is going to kill anything I do at very low magnification

Several of the local guys use DSLRs on their scopes, ranging from a 8" Newt to a C11. (I think one guy might have a C14.) You can get a modified DSLR on CN's classifieds for $400 or so.

 

A ZWO ASI294MC-Pro has nice big 4.64um pixels which are nicer on a long focal length scope like the C6. But it's $999. Trevor from Astrobackyard on Youtube uses (used?) one for some examples.



#12 Mitrovarr

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 05:16 PM

It's also a little bit tempting to get a ZWO camera because I could dual-use it for better EAA when I'm not settling in for a serious AP session.

#13 bobzeq25

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 05:46 PM

It's also a little bit tempting to get a ZWO camera because I could dual-use it for better EAA when I'm not settling in for a serious AP session.

Absolutely.  You asked for least expensive.

 

An alternative ZWO would be the 071.  $1480.

 

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

 

The QHY163C has a slightly smaller chip, still decent.  $900.

 

https://www.highpoin...-imaging-camera


Edited by bobzeq25, 14 June 2019 - 05:53 PM.


#14 Mitrovarr

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 06:44 PM

Well I do appreciate the suggestion of the DSLR. I guess I thought they were more expensive than they are, possibly because the ones modified for AP are pretty expensive.



#15 Stelios

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Posted 14 June 2019 - 08:38 PM

Well I do appreciate the suggestion of the DSLR. I guess I thought they were more expensive than they are, possibly because the ones modified for AP are pretty expensive.

If you have a scope, all you need is a body. The old Canon T3i makes a very inexpensive (but quite decent) entry point. The newer Nikon D5300 with low dark noise is a standout. 

 

I wouldn't modify the DSLR. If you would spend for that, I'd save some and get into a dedicated astro-camera. 

 

But really--don't rush into a decision. You need to learn a bit more for you to be sure not to do the wrong thing.



#16 james7ca

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Posted 15 June 2019 - 03:43 AM

The least expensive and still decent dedicated astro camera is probably one base upon Sony's IMX178 sensor. You can buy these from either QHY (maybe, see below) or ZWO and even one or two other vendors (the latter direct from China).

 

However, as was mentioned earlier the C6 isn't the best scope for a beginner (if interested in DSO imaging) and given that scope's fairly long focal length it doesn't pair that well with the small pixels on the IMX178 (or the similar, but larger and more expensive, IMX183).

 

However, I note that the OP said, "although I really do like EAA and planetary AP" and in that case the IMX178 is a fairly good fit (particularly for planetary imaging). You can also use a simple camera lens on the IMX178 to do wide-field imaging. Of course, you'll need a lens adapter to mount camera lenses to the t-threads on the IMX178 but if you are interested primarily in one-shot-color that isn't a particularly difficult thing to get (more difficult if you want to use filters between the lens and the camera, given the limited space available between the camera lens and the sensor).

 

The uncooled version of the color IMX178 is only about $300 (QHY5III-178C, if you can find one, they may have been discontinued and replaced by the cooled version of that same sensor). However, the uncooled ZWO ASI178MC is still available at $350.

 

Below is an image of the Trifid Nebula that I took at a dark site using an uncooled QHY5III-178C on an unguided AVX mount with a Stellarvue SV80ST refractor at f/4.8 (that's with a reducer). Note, this is a fairly easy target and it was taken from a location with pretty dark skies, although I've used this same camera for DSO and planetary imaging even from my red/orange-zone, light-polluted driveway. The image has also been rotated to allow upload since CN limits the height of images to 1200 pixels (why? as they allow a 1600 width x 1200 height image, but not a same-size 1200 width x 1600 height).

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  • Trifid Nebula.jpg


#17 nimitz69

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Posted 15 June 2019 - 10:45 AM

5D0A6EED-FC13-41DC-A55E-BCB0A4B80DB8.jpeg

 

this was my first successful image taken with an unmodded Nikon D5300 I bought used on EBay for $375 from my backyard (SQM 19. With only 90 minutes of integration.  After learning the basics & getting comfortable with the techniques required for capturing good subs I was ready to move to a dedicated Astro camera (294 MC pro).  I sold the D5300 for what I paid for it and put it toward the 294 .... as you been told, learning AP is complex, taking things one step at a time ultimately will make the experience much less frustrating

 

 


Edited by nimitz69, 15 June 2019 - 10:46 AM.

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