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Advice for the newest of newbies from the newest of newbies.

astrophotography beginner imaging dslr equipment mount refractor
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#1 Northrim


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Posted 10 November 2019 - 09:38 PM

Advice for the newest of newbies from the newest of newbies.


I'm new to Astrophotography but I'm an old guy so I'm writing some advice that's more life advice than technical advice.  I like the fact that this hobby is so complex.  There's a lot to learn.  Also, I think Astronomy and Astrophotography are a lot like the movie Sixth Sense.  In the movie  - SPOILER ALERT-  there are ghosts everywhere but only a few people can see them.  The night sky is just like that.  It's filled with all these wonders, some of them huge in the sky, that only we few can see.  So some advice/rules for those who want to start seeing the wonders of the night sky.


Rule 1  Have fun.


2  Don't get overawed by all the different choices when you are deciding on equipment.  Do your research but don't get freaked out that you might get the "wrong" thing and remember, if you ask three people on a forum or youtube about something you'll get five different opinions.


3  Watch your budget.  Especially in the beginning.  Don't beggar yourself for a hobby that you think you "might " be interested in.   Astrophotography is an expensive hobby (a bottomless money pit) and can get REAL expensive but you can start out without spending a fortune.  You can (and everybody does) upgrade.  Personally I wouldn't spend several thousand dollars on my first mount if I wasn't really sure I wanted to commit to this hobby.


4  Take everyone's advice (especially mine) with a grain of salt.  There are a lot of variables that dictate what equipment you get.  Here are some examples;

a.  Your financial situation:  I'm a school teacher (Science) and have to do this on a school teacher's salary.
b.  What you want to do/photograph:  I decided that I mainly wanted to photograph Deep Space Objects and I already had a scope for observation (see d.)
c.  Where you live:  I live in New Jersey which has a lot of light pollution (my viewing location is Class 5 Bortle for those keeping score).  More importantly I live in an apartment.  I have to load my gear into my car and drive to a nearby state park where I have a good view of the sky and they don't mind if astronomers are there late at night.  Which means that  the size, weight, ease of setup and overall portability of my gear is critical to me.
d.  What equipment you already have:  I had a Celestron 130 SLT which is fine for observation but I could not connect my Canon digital SLR to it and achieve focus.    Since I already had the SLR.  I wanted a scope that would handle that kind of camera.  I considered a SCT for awhile (Edge HD 8") but when I looked into it I found that I'd have to jump through hoops to get my camera to achieve focus with a flattener, off axis guider, etc.  After more research (including reading questions/answers on this forum) I ended up getting an Explore Scientific ED 80, an AVX mount and an Orion Magnificent Mini Autoguider package (which I haven't used yet - learning one thing at a time).  I also bought a cheap red dot finder that makes it easy to align the scope without having to contort my back to see through an actual finder scope (did I mention I'm old?) an inexpensive light pollution filter and odds and ends like a bahtinov mask for focusing.
I'm not recommending ANY of these things for anyone else.  I'm just noting that for me and my specific budget/situation they are great.  Your mileage my vary.  You'll find that a lot of people on forums don't like Canon SLRs, the ES ED 80 and REALLY don't like the AVX and you should hear out their reasons, but for ME they have all been just fine and allowed me to get started within my budget.  Will I upgrade at some point?  Probably - (bottomless money pit).  But right now I'm getting nice results and I'm learning a lot.  I was jumping up and down for joy at 3:00 am when I saw my first picture of M42 - Orion on my camera's screen.  (See rule 1)  If I did not already have the SLR and a scope for observation my choices might have been very different.  I might have made different choices if I was going to be mainly setting up in my backyard and could leave my rig set up in a garage and just roll it out on a dolly.  Your particular situation will dictate some choices


5.   Do your research:  The forums and youtube are a great resource (with the caveat mentioned in number two), there are a lot of articles online and your local Astronomy club will be full of very friendly and very knowledgeable people.  Then think about what you really want/can afford.  Take the time to be thorough and be sure it's what YOU want.


6.  When you've done your research and gotten advice;  pull the trigger and don't look back.  After you've bought your setup don't get into equipment envy.  No matter what you've got, someone somewhere has a bigger, stronger, faster, blah, blah, blah.  Remember, no amateur can match the Hubble.


7.  All of the above also applies to software.  There are some programs that pretty much everyone uses like DSS and PHD 2 but even for these there are alternatives that you might prefer.  Many programs are free or have a free trial you can check out.  Do the research, (youtube has great tutorials on photo processing), try them out but don't get overwhelmed or stressed.   If you don't like one program you can try another one.


8.  I'm also an artist and I think processing is a lot like doing a painting.  It's all about your own taste and judgment.   Two quotes I remember about painting:  "Every painter needs a large man to stand behind him with a mallet to make him stop"  Lots of paintings can be ruined by over painting.  The same can be said for photos and over processing.  "Paintings are never completed, they are abandoned"  When it's time to walk away, walk away.  A lot of artists give the same answer when asked which of their paintings is their favorite.  the answer is "the next one".


9.  Remember Rule 1.   Always remember Rule 1.


Clear skies

Attached Thumbnails

  • M42 Orion ISO 800  9-21-19  plus 3-15 stack done small.jpg

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#2 wrnchhead



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Posted 10 November 2019 - 09:48 PM

I use that same camera still, and have had results I love. My friends and family and myself are the ones I am trying to impress, that goes a long way. After I starting using something beyond DSS to process, I realized the year of data I got from my AVX wasn't all rubbish, that was nice to see. (DSS default settings need adjusted, for anyone using it or getting results they don't like. I had already moved on before I learned that was what was causing my problems)\


Also, you will find your SSAG easy to use. 

#3 fewayne


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Posted 11 November 2019 - 04:05 PM

Well said, Northrim. While equipment is very important in this hobby, it's not determinative. You probably can't do 10-minute unguided exposures on an AVX, but you know what? You've proved that you can get a nice Orion on one! (Ain't that a kick?!)

Chiming in as another oldster, I used to do on-hill training for the Ski Patrol. I'd hear (younger) candidates complain about how limiting their two-year-old skis were, then demonstrate a skill and make a point of showing them my ten-year-old, beat-up, HIGHLY unfashionable gear. It ain't about the skis, it ain't about the bike, it ain't about the telescope. The question is, how can you challenge yourself, learn, and have fun with the equipment you have, tonight?

My mount is broken -- won't power up. I dug out the old Pentax AstroTracer, went out to the park, and shot a bunch of frames of the Pleiades. Not my best work, but it was really delightful to just be out there.

I think "don't get overawed" is your best bit of advice. Don't look back, but especially avoid sitting there, imagining yourself in the future looking back! Don't agonize that you might regret a purchase. Just get something and start producing the best images you can with it.

Edited by fewayne, 11 November 2019 - 04:06 PM.

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#4 rnyboy


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Posted 11 November 2019 - 05:22 PM

Hi Northrim,


I just went through the "1st good scope" thing and you're comments are quite similar to my thoughts after going through this.  Nice to see somebody put them down in writing to help others.


I got lots of help and opinions (all good by the way) around a scope purchase and other possible items to get with it.  Was very very close to getting the 102SLT for DSO and starting with some "simple"  afocal smartphone imaging.  Thanks to a $100 price drop and ongoing discussions in my "noob" post I sprung for a Nexstar 6SE, which, if the snow and cold don't interfere, should be arriving this Wednesday.


I think perhaps one of the best pieces of wisdom coming out of the affair was...  First just get the scope, get used to how it functions, observe for awhile just using the OEM supplied EPs, AND put off making additional purchases or upgrades until you understand more of the capabilities of the scope and where your interests are going.


I confess I didn't quite do it that way because there was a sale on a Meade Plossl eyepiece/filter kit so I purchased that before I ordered up the scope.  The second reason for springing for the kit were the numerous postings about the EPs that come with most telescopes not being particularly good.  For the 6SE the eye piece range is pretty good actually so no harm done. 

Edited by rnyboy, 11 November 2019 - 05:29 PM.

#5 PatEire


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Posted 16 November 2019 - 01:29 PM

Hi Northrim, definite food for thought, thank you, I am getting a NexStar 8 SE and it has been niggling at the back of my mind that there are better scopes with similar portability but you are right, no matter which scope I got, there is always a better one.

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