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Budget astrophotography setup, my story.

astrophotography accessories beginner Celestron DIY equipment imaging mount
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#1 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 01:30 AM

As the title states, I wanted to share my experience with getting a budget astrophotography setup going with some good results.

 

Being into astronomy/telescope building/optics for quite some time I decided to put together a rig that would be capable of taking good images at the focal lengths of up to 500mm.
One rule I was planning to abide was to make it a budget setup that would not hit my wallet too hard. I also wanted it to be a portable setup as I live in a Bortle 8 zone and was planning to take the rig to a dark site.

 

The plan was initially very simple. I already had a Canon 450D and some lenses ranging from the Canon kit lens 18-55mm and up to 500mm.
I had the Antares 200mm F/5 Newtonian telescope on a CG-4 manual mount, an amazingly sharp visual telescope, as well as the Meade DS-2102 102mm refractor on an alt-az GoTo mount. I was planning to sell both as I no longer needed them, and I had other visual scopes that I was planning to keep.

 

Both telescopes disappeared very quickly gaining $850 CAD that I was planning to invest into my budget AP setup.

 

It took me some time googling and reading about all the equatorial mounts falling within the price range of up to $500-$600 CAD. I was considering the following mounts:
- iOptron SmartEQ Pro
- iOptron SkyGuider Pro
- Sky-Watcher Sky Adventurer
- ExploreScientific iExos-100

And was also looking through the ads in search of a used CG-5 GoTo or even the HEQ-5.

 

Every mount had its own pros and cons and I decided to go with the ES iExos-100 and I will explain why.
- Both RA and Dec axes have ball bearings
- Mount can be guided on both axes
- Mount has Go-To functionality
- Mount can be operated via computer
- Quiet stepper motors, didn’t want to disturb my good neighbors at night
- Wireless
- Capable of handling the weight of the heaviest lens+camera combo that I had
- Portable
- $349 USD

 

A couple of things that I didn’t like was the tripod with 1.25” legs and the fact that I was on the edge of a steep learning curve. I knew that the mount was a bit more sophisticated than its counterparts.

 

The mount arrived in a double box (box in a box).
Putting the parts together was a no brainer and I had it running the same day.
I installed the Explore Stars app on my Samsung A10 tablet and was able to connect to the mount wirelessly with no issues. I played a bit with it testing the features and making sure everything was running smoothly.
I then installed the app on my Windows 10 desktop computer and tested the mount connecting to it through WiFi and via the USB cable, everything worked flawlessly.

 

There was a bit of a backlash in both axes and without any delay I took the mount apart and adjusted both worm gears and belts to virtually eliminate any wobble in the axes.
I accidentally overtightened the RA worm and the mount started producing grinding sounds sometimes, so I just had to go through worm gear adjustment one more time. This was quite an interesting experience.

 

Alright, I got the mount, what’s next?
I decided to put the Canon 450D with the Takumar 300mm lens on the mount and just do a quick test to see if the mount was actually good enough to follow the stars. One thing worth noting is that the Polaris is not visible from my South-facing backyard and I had some troubles trying to get the mount polar aligned blindly.

 

The mount was tracking well but the little misalignment took its tall on the maximum exposure that I could do – 30 seconds. That was not enough for me and I figured I had to start thinking about adding a guidescope with everything that typically comes with it (laptop, apps, cables etc.)

 

Did I mention this was supposed to be a budget project?
I had an old dash camera sitting somewhere in a box of “good stuff that I don’t need but too lazy to throw out”. It could be used as a USB camera if connected to a computer.
So I took the camera apart, removed the lens and married the sensor with my Takumar 200mm F/4 lens. Needless to say, that guidescope looked weird but as it turned out was functioning very well. Here is the picture of my first ugly setup

 

01.jpg

 

And here is the first stacked image of the M13 star cluster taken using that setup. Multiple 90s and 180s exposures from my Bortle 8 backyard

 

02.jpg

 

After I confirmed that the mount was actually capable of working in collaboration with the improvised guidescope, old laptop and the apps, I came up with the idea of assembling a better guidescope.

 

I read somewhere that the AR0130 sensor could be used in a guidescope successfully, though the maximum exposure time was only 1/10 of a second.
But the author of the article about that sensor on another astronomy forum assured me that the sensor could work. Without further ado I went on amazon.ca and bought the sensor with a tiny lens for $52 CAD.

 

03.JPG

 

Once the camera was delivered, I took off the lens and put the sensor in a little plastic box that previously functioned as a VGA to DVI adapter. By using some random plastic tubes, I attached the sensor to an old 37mm F/3.5 monocular doublet objective lens

 

04.JPG

 

As seen in the picture, the guidescope is so small and light that it can be mounted directly on the camera using the ¼ to hot shoe adapter that I bought off ebay for $1.50 CAD.

 

The first tests in PHD2 revealed that the guidescope was able to register stars at any direction that I was pointing at from my backyard. That was promising and the following days I was doing some test imaging using different lenses up to 500mm of focal length. Guiding accuracy was within 1 to 1.5 arcsec which was enough to image with a 500mm lens.

 

At some point I spent some time and did the drift alignment to align the mount precisely. Then I just marked the tripod legs’ positions on the concrete so that next time I could just bring the mount out and start imaging right away.

 

I will not get into much detail of how I set up PHD2 and Astrophotography Tool as this is not relevant to the topic. I just want to mention that the mount has been working very well with PHD2 and I had no troubles dithering in APT on every frame.

 

To avoid the mess with the cables I bought a cheap non-powered USB hub off amazon and I now have only one USB cable coming from the mount/equipment to the laptop.

 

05.JPG

 

At some point I even tried imaging using my Celestron C5 scope.

The focal length at the camera sensor was around 1300mm and I was surprised by the guiding accuracy, I was getting pinpoint stars. Although it is not really practical to use that long focal length from where I live as the air is not stable enough at the sea level by the ocean. I would say anything up to 800mm would be more than enough.

 

06.jpg


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#2 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 01:31 AM

Here are some of the example images that I took from my backyard, keep in mind that I live in the Bortle 8 zone which makes astrophotography a real challenge.

 

Takumar 200mm, Canon 450D

 

200mm.JPG

 

Explore Scientific ED80, 480mm

 

480.JPG

 

480-1.JPG

 

 


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#3 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 01:32 AM

Explore Scientific ED80, 480mm

 

480-3.JPG

 

480-4.JPG

 

 


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#4 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 01:33 AM

LZOS 3M-5CA, 500mm

 

500.JPG

 

500-1.JPG


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#5 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 01:34 AM

Celestron C5, 1300mm

 

1300.JPG

 

1300-1.JPG

 

1300-2.JPG


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#6 Ballyhoo

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 02:07 AM

I was a wee skeptical with the title and I was going to come in here and tell you to grow some and put some cash on the table, but apparently you are doing great at this the way you are!

 

 

Also,

 

All AP projects are budget projects; just as there was a budget for the most recent Star Wars movie.


Edited by Ballyhoo, 22 January 2020 - 02:10 AM.

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#7 Stelios

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 02:52 AM

Congrats on doing very well with a budget setup (and quite a bit of ingenuity).

 

The issue with inexpensive mounts is not that they can't do the job--it's the YMMV factor. You've shown however that when there's a will, there's often a way! Your witches broom image in particular is outstanding IMO.


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#8 RaulTheRat

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 05:12 AM

Excellent images and good work getting the most out of a budget setup.
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#9 Huangdi

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 05:31 AM

Great images Max! It's an awesome mount and I think it proves the "you need a 1000€+ mount to take good images" wrong 👌
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#10 Swordfishy

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 10:48 AM

Absolutely brilliantly done with what you have. As you transition from this, if it is your cup of tea, you will blossom into a great imager. Truly, these are great!


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#11 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 11:06 AM

Thank you everyone!

 

Unfortunately I have not been able to travel to a dark site with this setup yet, I can only imagine what results I could get out of it.

I also did not mention that I live in Vancouver and it's been almost 3 months of clouds and rain here. I was only able to shoot for two nights in the past 3 months, such a misery.



#12 H-Alfa

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 11:29 AM

I'm really impressed that you guide a 1300mm telescope with a ball head socket. Don't you have differential flexure?

Enviado desde mi Mi 9 Lite mediante Tapatalk

#13 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 11:42 AM

I'm really impressed that you guide a 1300mm telescope with a ball head socket. Don't you have differential flexure?

Enviado desde mi Mi 9 Lite mediante Tapatalk

I had the flexure issues in the past with a heavier setup on another mount. I was also thinking about the flexure problem with the C5 but I guess that the guidescope is so light that it doesn't cause any troubles at all. I was actually surprised that I could image at 1300mm FL with the 130mm FL guidescope.

At some point I tried to use a better guidescope in the picture below but the results were the same so I opted to use the small one. The lighter the setup the easier it is to operate.

 

Capture.JPG



#14 H-Alfa

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 12:22 PM

I have also a small diy guidescope, but even being light (235g) and attached with screws it has some remmant flexure of about 0.3"/min. Not much, but enough to be noticeable at high resolution imaging.

Just in case you want to, you can calculate it by taking a sequence of exposures guiding but without dithering and blink them with pixinsight. If the stars move during the sequence, there's differential flexure and you can (roughly) calculate it.

Enviado desde mi Mi 9 Lite mediante Tapatalk

#15 asanmax

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 01:31 PM

I have also a small diy guidescope, but even being light (235g) and attached with screws it has some remmant flexure of about 0.3"/min. Not much, but enough to be noticeable at high resolution imaging.

Just in case you want to, you can calculate it by taking a sequence of exposures guiding but without dithering and blink them with pixinsight. If the stars move during the sequence, there's differential flexure and you can (roughly) calculate it.

Enviado desde mi Mi 9 Lite mediante Tapatalk

Thanks, good to know that! Never thought of that method. 



#16 calypsob

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 02:40 PM

I tried out a 50mm cmount lens as a guidescope last night, although i did not update settings in phd from my usual 200mm lens I still got nice tight stars and it weighs ounces, and only cost $27
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#17 AussieGazer

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 03:26 PM

This is truly impressive Asanmax. Well done.

I have spent $2500 AUD, and still haven't got it working.

Edited by AussieGazer, 22 January 2020 - 03:26 PM.

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#18 zxx

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Posted 24 January 2020 - 04:50 PM

Vary nice results, I got great results adding a guide port to my CG-4 HC.

 

Capture cg4.PNG

 

Cheap mounts work fine if you have a little patience.



#19 asanmax

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Posted 24 January 2020 - 04:56 PM

Vary nice results, I got great results adding a guide port to my CG-4 HC.

 

 

Cheap mounts work fine if you have a little patience.

That's a smooth ride, correct me if I'm wrong but there are no ball bearings in the original CG-4 mount which makes your results even more shocked.gif



#20 zxx

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Posted 24 January 2020 - 05:20 PM

That's a smooth ride, correct me if I'm wrong but there are no ball bearings in the original CG-4 mount which makes your results even more shocked.gif

You are correct, though IMO a sleeve bearing can work as well as a ball bearing, or at least it does on the CG-4.

I did a lot of research on this mod and found the few who did it had good results. The RA motor shaft for the CG-4 connects directly to the worm gear shaft, I believe this is a big +, No spur gears or belts.



#21 asanmax

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Posted 25 January 2020 - 12:48 PM

And here is the current setup with the recently received LZOS 500mm F/6.3 lens, waiting for a clear night to test.

 

Capture.JPG



#22 moxican

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Posted 31 January 2020 - 07:25 PM

And here is the current setup with the recently received LZOS 500mm F/6.3 lens, waiting for a clear night to test.

 

attachicon.gifCapture.JPG

I am planning to get this very same lens. Definitely update me on the outcome please!

How long are your exposures? Are you limited by light pollution much?



#23 asanmax

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Posted 31 January 2020 - 07:48 PM

I am planning to get this very same lens. Definitely update me on the outcome please!

How long are your exposures? Are you limited by light pollution much?

I already had the 3M-5CA and ordered the 3M-6A off ebay in December. It took 1 month to be delivered.

Once received, I took it all apart just out of curiosity, cleaned it up and removed the factory grease. Then I added some dumping grease that I used for an equatorial mount to make the focusing a bit stiffer.

After all the cleaning and mirror locking ring adjustment I attached a 2x barlow with a 6mm eyepiece to the lens and looked at an artificial star.

As usual with all LZOS lenses the 3M-6A produced a nice Airy disk.

 

I was able to shoot a quick test session on California Nebula and processed the images today.

I screwed up with the focus though, I think I didn't wait enough for the lens to cool down, so half of the frames were just a bit out of focus. But nevertheless I used all 52 frames.

I live in a Bortle 8 zone which is pretty bad for AP, that's why I started using the Svbony CLS filter recently on emission nebulae.

You can find a quick review on it here: 

https://www.cloudyni...lter-for-canon/

 

I am very limited by the light pollution in my area, without the filter I can only do 90-120 second exposures, with the filter I typically go for 150-240 sec.

 

Here is a quick review of the lens, this article actually made me buy one myself.

http://forum.mflense...ror-t77391.html

 

Here is the article on how to adjust the mirror ring, common problem with mirror lenses.

https://www.flickr.c...57629758572451/

 

I hope this helps.

 

Here is the image I processed today, not the best quality of course. I need to get used to the lens.

Canon T3i modded

CLS clip in filter

LZOS 3M-6A, 500mm F/6.3

iExos100 mount

52x240sec exposures

 

Final.JPG




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