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Telescope choices, buying advice, AP?

astrophotography beginner dob equipment Maksutov observatory reflector refractor SCT
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#1 Seffer


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Posted 04 September 2020 - 02:55 PM



My wife and I are looking for land in west Texas. It'll likely be within sight of the McDonald Observatory. Within the next year or so I'm hoping to build a roll-off observatory with one or two scopes (or up to three, if you count my current 12" dob). 


I'm looking for advice on which scope or scopes to buy. I'd really appreciate the help. A few things: 

  1. I've been using my 12" Sky-Watcher go-to Dobsonian for six or seven years. I live in a city, so for deep-sky observing I have to lug it out to a darker place. Hence, I don't use it as much as I'd like. I do take it out now and again to look at Jupiter and Saturn and maybe a globular cluster or two.
  2. Right now, I'm still primarily interested in visual observing, but I would like to expand to AP. I think once I get out there, I'll want to invest the time and money into picking it up. 
  3. Budget: I'm pretty open to anything between a total of $2,000 and $12,000. This would be for one or two scopes, including some amount for AP equipment. 
  4. AP equipment: I know this is really open ended. Feel free to ballpark this. No need to list specific equipment. I don't know what I would focus on. I'd like to try photographing planets, but also DSOs. Do you need completely different setups for each? If so, I guess I'd choose a setup for DSOs first. Or both setups if they could fit the budget.
  5. I imagine I'd have at least one, maybe two piers in the observatory. Can I get a large enough pier to accommodate a big scope, even if I don't get that scope immediately? Like, use a small scope on a big pier? Stupid question, I know. 
  6. My guess is that this could come down to an apo refractor for AP and a bigger dob for visual? Although what about the SkyWatcher 190mm Maksutov-Newtonian? Does a large-aperture scope have to be a dob? That's all I see around 16" to 20" or so. 

I'm open to all suggestions. It'd be nice if you give a few reasons for your ideas. If there's an inexpensive scope or scopes that you think would suit a relative beginner, that'd be fine, but I'm also open to more "dream scope" sort of suggestions.


Thanks very much!

#2 Sandy Swede

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 03:09 PM

Greetings Seffer,


Great that you have an ample budget.


I am assuming that by 'pier' you mean mount.  If you eventually want to do AP, my advice is to invest in a high quality mount with a capacity of 40 to 50 lbs.  Say, a Losmandy 8M11G, or similar.  The rule of thumb is to spend at least half of your budget on the mount.  Accurate tracking with a mount for AP is critical.


Sorry, got a phone call and had to jump off but wanted to add:

Isn't your Dobson an f/4.9?  If so, you should be able to use that fast (wide field) scope for AP.  However, you will have an easier time learning AP (it has a steep learning curve) with a refractor.  I suggest starting AP with a modified DSLR (many offer that service here on CN).  The SW Mak would be great for lunar and planetary work.

Edited by Sandy Swede, 04 September 2020 - 03:48 PM.

#3 Kevin Thurman

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 03:13 PM

You can technically use the same setup for both deep sky and solar system if you want to shoot small targets like planetaries and galaxies but you will have better luck learning if you focus on one or the other to start.

For deep sky, people usually recommend a decent mid range mount like the HEQ5 or EQ6R and a small triplet or quadruplet refractor for ease of use. The less barriers to your learning you can have, the more efficiently you will learn. Since you've got plenty of budget and by the sound of it no need to be mobile, I think you should stick with that advice, although for many beginners with low budgets I think a small star tracker is fine. If you want a big scope in the future you might even consider skipping the cheaper mounts and go for something like a paramount. With that you'll be able to pretty much handle anything an amateur would ever need to and it'll last you a lifetime.

No need to worry about a small scope on a big pier.

The process for DSOs and planets is different but if you are on the fence I would suggest getting a deep sky camera because those can maintain a high framerate much like the ideal "planetary" cameras but the planetary cameras don't have cooling and thus aren't as good for deep sky. 

Planetary scope-wise the standard for amateurs seems to be basically the biggest EdgeHD you're willing to purchase. For deep0sky there are lots of options for refractors and I've seen a lot of success with the Esprit series from skywatcher and the takahashi scopes although I don't own either yet so I won't comment too much on specific models. That's where I'd look if I were in the market right now, though.


#4 sg6



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Posted 04 September 2020 - 03:15 PM

I would say planetary and DSO are different enough that you need one for each. Oddly planetary imaging could use a visual scope - in the form of an SCT.


My perpetual concern of planetary imaging is the rather small number of planets. How many images of Jupiter do you want?


So I leave that to you.


DSO imaging?

I like small, and I would almost say a WO ZS81, sits at a nice place. And you could look through it also.

Mount is the eternal question.

If you are intending more advanced imaging then assume guiding and possibly mono. Guess combined weight 8Kg, so plan on a mount capable of around 12Kg.


Means an iOptron CEM25 could just do, but I expect the 30 or the 40 is better.


So how about: WO ZS81, iOptron CEM40, and all the extras you find necessary, probably want a camera in there somewhere I suppose. If budget allows one of the no ampglow ZWO's seems a good choice. If no amp glow present you don't have the problem of removing it.


The GT81 may be better as it is a triplet, costs more however. Have picked WO's as WO seem to have dedicated themselves to the imaging side so imaging bits are easy from and for them.


Apologies for spending your hard earned cash.

#5 astrodom


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Posted 04 September 2020 - 03:21 PM

Hi,  I agree with the earlier suggestion to get yourself a good quality mount, that you can use with multiple scopes for Planetary and DSO's.  If I were in your position, I might buy an equatorial mount with at least a 60-70 lb capacity to allow for flexibility in your OTA.   For AP, remember a small refractor on a big mount is much better than a large perfect APO on a shaky mount.  Good luck.

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#6 rkinnett


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Posted 04 September 2020 - 03:35 PM

If you're going so far as to put in a pier, and given your budget, I wouldn't bother with the 40lb class range of mounts.  CGX-L is the minimum I would get; basically anything supporting 75lb+.  That will keep far more options open in the future.  C14s are very popular among some of the best planetary imagers.  As others have said, you could certainly use a long focal length scope such as a C14 for DSOs but you'll be limited to relatively small objects and may be challenged by pointing stability and exposure time.  A C14 with a Hyperstar could be a good compromise if you want just one scope, though you would have to swap out the secondary with the Hyperstar to convert from long to short focal length.  I would rather have a good apo triplet to complement a long focal length SCT or CCT.


Wider field refractors are much easier to learn on than longer focal length scopes.  Consider starting with a good apo with as much aperture as you can afford, with focal ratio in the neighborhood of f/5 to f/7.


Before committing in any particular direction, try and identify which DSOs you're most interested in capturing.  Peruse astrobin for top picks to find some images you like and see how they were captured and with which equipment.  You can do the same on telescopius.com which has an excellent telescope simulator which lets you see what the view would like of various targets through various equipment.

Edited by rkinnett, 04 September 2020 - 03:36 PM.

#7 D_talley



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Posted 04 September 2020 - 03:56 PM

What I did was to build two piers inside the observatory, one for the Meade 14 SCT and one for the TEC 140 APO refractor.  I then built a pier outside of the observatory for my long gun, the Antares 105mm F/15 for visual work while the other two scopes are imaging. 

A year later I was able to purchase a good used AP1200 mount and put the Meade and the TEC on the same mount and freed up some room in the observatory.  The mount can handle a lot of weight and does not seem to mind the two scopes. 


Something to think about. 

#8 Second Time Around

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 05:13 PM

Have you considered a night vision device for deep sky? There's plenty of advice on the relevant forum here.

#9 bjulihn


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Posted 04 September 2020 - 05:17 PM

Hi Seffer;


You obviously have tapped into a hidden energy source afflicting all astronomers. This thread has almost become the "If you had the budget, what would be your dream set up!"


I'm just going to say that most people find their interests shifting as they proceed further in this hobby. Many of us have been contaminated with "aperture fever" at one point or another. When I started into AP, I took people's advice and started with an 80mm triplet refractor. I'm glad I did. What has surprised me is the large size of a lot of targets. I even had to get a reducer to get a wide enough field for a number of popular targets with my current camera. I then bought a 6" f4 Newtonian with a focal length of 610mm to give me more reach for what I would call mid-size targets like the Whirlpool Galaxy or the Pacman Nebula. I still don't have enough magnification for smaller galaxies and planetary nebula. BUT . . . that will likely require a heavier mount and a camera with larger pixels to maintain a reasonable pixel scale.


All I'm trying to say is that there is no perfect setup. Your interests and abilities change over time. That is why people's advice to buy a mount that can grow with you is excellent advice if you can afford to start with one. Good luck with the adventure. We are all drooling at the thought of a dark sky and permanent observatory such as you are contemplating!



#10 Seffer


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Posted 04 September 2020 - 06:17 PM

These are really great answers, everyone! Thank you all for giving me much to consider. I’ll write a longer response over the weekend!

#11 SonnyE



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Posted 04 September 2020 - 07:37 PM

When I was beginning, first I had to decide IF I wanted to go here. And WHAT I wanted to image.

Well, I blame Orion. I found the Great Orion Nebula one night with my Redfield Spotting Scope and got hooked.


So I found the what I wanted, then spent 4 months mining down to how to do it.

DSO, Nebula specific is my delight. And I asked those who were doing it. They were encouraging.

Tiny scope, BIG mount.

Unfortunately, the BIG mount came 4 years later when the inadequate mount finally died for it's 3rd and last time in 4 years of fighting it.

So listen to the advice about a huge mount, and a tiny scope.


The camera doesn't lie, and it will tell of any activities going on around it. A simple footfall by an imaging telescope/mount will bloat your stars. Or elongate them.

So a Pier is a good base to have if possible. I don't have the real estate for that, so I use a Losmandy GM811G HD with a 12" extension in a portable pier configuration.

And my ED80T CF (80 mm ) imaging telescope sits on it like a fat fly on an elephants back.

Because I want to image. And I don't do all the post processing and Skittles pallet stuff others do.

I use to do extensive OSC imaging (one shot color), because my first camera was so poor it was what I had to learn to do with the piece of gar-bage.

Then a Friend talked me into borrowing his Atik Infinity OSC camera, which stacks images itself, and the Universe opened up to me.


So my advice is to decide where your interest lies in space objects. Then look into how to pursue that type of imaging.

Different stuff for different results. One size does not fit all. I can get lucky and grab some amazing DSO's with my 80. But planetary rather stinks. Wrong telescope.

Still, on brilliant Moonlit nights, I can go grab some mediocre images like Jupitor and all 4 moons, if my timing is good, my luck holds out, and I hold my tongue just right. tongue2.gif


DSO works well with highly refined Triplet refractors. Planets are great in the huge cumbersome SCT's.


But every facet of it is fun! Go suck the light out of something!


Jupitor and 4 Moons

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My Nebula chaser
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#12 Stelios


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Posted 05 September 2020 - 03:31 AM

For photographing planets, you want something like a barlowed C11 (no need for that to be an Edge--even a used one will work fine). You also want a planetary camera, something like an ASI224MC, and a UV/IR-cut filter.


For DSO photography the options are varied. For wider fields and for learning, nothing beats a quality 70 or 80mm F/6 APO refractor. For smaller objects you want something like a 115 to 130MM APO, or even an Edge HD 800. With any of these scopes you will need a guiding solution (OAG is best, around $430 including camera), a reducer and/or flattener, and an autofocus system. Highly recommended is a cooled camera (mono is best, around $2,000 including filter wheel and filters).


Both scopes (the planetary and the DSO one) can ride on the same mount. Minimum: EQ6R-Pro. Recommended: iOptron CEM70 or Losmandy G11G. 


You will need acquisition and processing software, but those will at most set you back around $500 for everything, probably less. 


Note that what you choose for DSO photography as far as camera and scope go, depend on your interests, your seeing, and your willingness to devote effort in learning processing well. DSO AP is *not* a simple hobby, a few years into it and you barely graduate to "advanced beginner."

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