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Introduction and recommendations for a novice - please!

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#1 GeoNole94

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 09:01 PM

Greetings from eastern NC!  This is my first CN post, but hopefully not my last. There are three sections to this long post - please feel free to share your thoughts on any or all.

 

I am a Ph.D geologist with an above-average knowledge of astronomy, including a bit of experience teaching the basics of the topic at the university level. I have seen a fair number of “major” astronomical events over the years, but I have had very little telescope time. I have followed Hubble, Keck, and other space-related initiatives in some detail over the decades, and I read a lot of science.  I am retired, and I now live on the water in eastern NC in a relatively dark-sky portion of the region, specifically on the east shore of Bath Creek. We have one well-lit mining area perhaps 8 miles away toward the south-southeast (not directly visible to me) and a small city around 12 miles to the east that produces a glow on the horizon. My nearest neighbor is 400 feet away, and the next closest is 500 feet in the opposite direction. There are house and pier lights around 1,500 feet to the east, but nothing obnoxious.  I have a pier 110-feet long, with a 20x20 platform on the end where I envision starting my observing and (hopefully) astrophotography. I can get wired 120v power to the telescope, but I have access to an even darker area on a nearby farm that would require battery power.  I am not “rich”, but I am financially secure and I am able to buy decent equipment. I am certainly no computer geek, but hardware and software aren’t intimidating.

 

I have a big birthday coming up in a couple of weeks, and I think that it is time to take advantage of my freedom, resources, and location to try some observing. I want the capability of taking photographs, but that is a secondary interest at this time. I am very interested in the moon, partly because of my age (Apollo missions!) and my geologic education, but deep space objects are definitely on my list of early targets. I have been observing and employing star/space apps casually for several years, including spending a fair amount of naked-eye viewing time over the last 20+years in dark areas of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado at elevations between 6,000 and 10,000 feet. However, I am now living at sea level, and I don’t anticipate a lot of travel viewing. While I am not adverse to manually locating my targets, I have relatively limited time left on earth and a computerized mount makes sense to me.  I have done a fair amount of reading, research, and lurking on sites like CN. Based on all of this, I am ready to take the plunge, with your help.

 

Considering everything that I have read, an 8-inch computerized SCT seems to be what will best fill my current needs. I am leaning toward a GEM rather than an alt-az mount, mainly in the expectation of trying some photography, although I list two alt-az options below. Three mount-telescope combo units that I am considering are listed below in alphabetical order. I am a little apprehensive about buying a GEM and a OTC separately and getting everything to work together without drama.  That said, I am certainly open to alternatives, but some may be impractical for me (e.g., a 5-foot-tall Dobsonian).  I anticipate that there will be “hidden” costs to my three options below, such as a dew shield, so any thoughts, recommendations, warnings, or all-in price cautions are appreciated!

 

A) Celestron Evolution 8 (sct) 

B) Celestron NexStar 8se

C) Meade LX85 ACF

 

Best Regards, Steve


Edited by GeoNole94, 23 October 2020 - 09:04 PM.


#2 jerahian

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 09:38 PM

Hi Steve, welcome to CN!

 

Where you live sounds dreamy :)

 

I know you said you are apprehensive about acquiring the mount and OTA separately, but I actually do recommend you do that.  You will get the best products that way, and there really is no downside or complication at doing so.  Here is what I would suggest, given the parameters you mention above:

  • Celestron EdgeHD 8" SCT
  • Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro GEM

The EQ6-R is a great mount, and will serve you well for both visual AND your foray into AP when the time comes.  The EdgeHD scopes are fantastic scopes these days, and will provide you excellent views and images of the moon, planets, and galaxies.  Given the native f/10 focal ratio, you will need the reducer later on if you wish to also capture images of the larger nebulae.  SCTs will require collimation, so there is maintenance involved in ensuring your images are sharp.  Also, given it is a mass produced product, it may require collimation right off when you receive it.  I haven't had any experience with Meade, but I would probably stay away these days given their financial woes.

 

Lastly, I would advise against setting up your rig on the platform at the end of your pier.  At SCT focal lengths, even the slightest of vibrations as you walk around or as the water laps the deck will cause significant vibrations in your image, for visual and especially for imaging.

 

Let us know how you get on with your decision!

 

CS, Ara


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#3 GeoNole94

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 09:50 PM

Great advice, Jerahian, many thanks. I will look at your option to see how it fits “the plan”. I had read that the vibration issues for these choices can be a problem - my main interest in using the pier was more available sky.


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#4 dswtan

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 09:50 PM

+1 jerahian. Saying that it's safer to to stick to buying a telescope with an integrated mount is like saying you want to buy a terrestrial camera with an integrated tripod. No one does that. :-) 

 

There is no difficult "integration" between a telescope and the mount in this scenario (an exception is the more fully-integrated camera solutions like Stellina and the eVscope). There are practically only two sorts of mounting around in the common scopes and mounts; vixen-type (narrow) and Losmandy-type (wide). A lot of mounting plates on telescope mounts are compatible with both, and all can be made so. You don't have to worry about electronics between scope and mount. 


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#5 JohnBear

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 10:01 PM

Welcome to CN. 

 

Even for someone with you background, learning to use a GoTo telescope can be quite difficult and frustrating (it might take weeks to get it right on your own) - then once you learn it, it becomes dead simple.  The best way to do that is to have an experienced owner of a similar telescope show you how (that might take a hour or so - Way Better than days of trial and error).

 

How to find someone near you:  1) https://www.astrolea...clubs-usa-state

2) include you approximate location in your CN Profile (there is probably a member near you that can help - if seen that happen here a couple times). 

 

Of the scopes you listed the Evolution 8 is probably the easiest to use with a bit sturdier/better mount than the SE. It also has built in WiFi, so you can control the mount from an astronomy app on your phone. 

 

The  LX85 uses a the EQ mount which will be somewhat bulkier and trickier to get setup, and it probably not as fully "automated" as the Evolution (fwiw - I have not used the LX, so that is a guess). BUT if you decide to go down the AP money pit/rabbit hole the LX85 would the one to start with.

 

My own approach to "astro pictures" is a smart phone adapter over the eyepiece. If I want "Hubble like" pictures, I go to the NASA website for those.


Edited by JohnBear, 23 October 2020 - 10:09 PM.

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#6 GeoNole94

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 10:18 PM

Thanks, JohnBear, I will pursue this approach. I understand (conceptually) that there is a learning curve for the goto mounts. Also agreed on the photo goals, I mostly hope to memorialize viewings, not spend days processing stacked photos. 


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#7 StarryHill

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 10:25 PM

Welcome! 

 

Between the Evolution 8 and NexStar 8 for visual use, I would personally opt for the Evolution primarily because it offers clutches so you can move the telescope manually when desired. Manual moves are way faster and can still be done if a battery is dead. The NexStar requires that you always use the hand-controller and have power. The Evolution's built-in battery and wifi for connection to a phone/tablet is pretty nice too.

 

Make sure you understand that an 8" SCT has a very long focal length. This means it is best for small targets like the moon (and craters), planets, and smaller DSOs. It's not great for sweeping views of the Milky Way, and large DSOs like the Pleiades, Andromeda and others. From what you wrote, it may be perfect for you.

 

Successful astrophotography is challenging and especially so with a long focal length telescope. Many people starting out underestimate this and end up experiencing lots of frustration. A good GEM (or similar) is critical. Popular models for an 8" include the EQ6-R (mentioned above), a Losmandy GM8,  Ioptron 45/70 models and others. Don't go cheap here.

 

For visual use, one of these mounts will greatly complicate both your setup and use compared to the Evolution/NexStar. So, since you are mostly interested in visual use, I suggest you consider getting an altaz setup like the Evolution and then adding a good GEM later for astrophotography. Yes, it costs more but you may find yourself having a lot more fun in the long run.


Edited by StarryHill, 23 October 2020 - 10:58 PM.

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#8 mrlovt

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Posted 23 October 2020 - 10:28 PM

Welcome, Steve!  

The Edge HD scopes are excellent.  I prefer the mechanics of the Meade and actually think it is better built, but the optics of the Celestron Edge HD scopes are pretty incredible.  The field of view in any SCT is quite narrow.  This is excellent for planets and close ups of the moon - so that may be right up your alley.  

 

I am also of the opinion that you'll be better served purchasing the telescope separately from the mount.  Generally the packages bundled together by the manufacturers are "under-mounted".  Purchasing a higher capacity mount will allow you to enjoy steadier views, and adding extra equipment for astrophotography or EAA won't tax the mount.

You have lots of excellent mount options, it will just depend on your tastes, budget, and goals.  For what you have described, I think an EQ mount is much more suitable than an alt-az mount.  Mount suggestions sometimes turn into party rivalries around here, but at the risk of that I'll suggest a couple additional options for you to investigate:

 

Losmandy GM811

Celestron CGEM

 

If you decide to build an observatory with a permanent mount, go ahead and get an even heavier-duty (CGE or G11).

 

Traditional wisdom says to go hang out at a few star parties to get a closer look at the equipment before making a decision.  These days YouTube may have to suffice.  There are certainly more expensive options, but none of these are slouches.  The Losmandy mounts are especially nice.

 

As for the pier - it's probably not as steady as solid ground.  What you want for observing is to have a rock-solid-steady foundation.  The other locations you described sound excellent, even at the cost of less sky to view.  You haven't described anything that sounds like prohibitive light pollution.  Also, with an interest in lunar astronomy, you wouldn't likely be bothered by it anyways.

 

Keep us posted on what you do!


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#9 bobzeq25

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 12:19 AM

Thanks, JohnBear, I will pursue this approach. I understand (conceptually) that there is a learning curve for the goto mounts. Also agreed on the photo goals, I mostly hope to memorialize viewings, not spend days processing stacked photos. 

If you want to memorialize viewings, and not spend a lot of time processing data, I _strongly_ recommend you go over to the Electronically Assissted Astronomy forum.  They'll have _much_ more relevant information for your goals.  Better recommendations on mounts, for example.

 

BII is almost entirely people who spend hours gathering data and then more hours processing it.  We gather, not only "lights", but bias, flats and darks.  Argue over the merits of Photoshop v PixInsight for processing.  Believe that the mount is more important than the scope.  For traditional imaging, it is.

 

There's none of that on the EAA forum.  The people there are doing exactly what you want to do, visual plus.  They're a far better resource for you.

 

They image multiple targets in a night.  We often take data on one object over multiple nights and combine it.  In my very best year I made 17 (count em' one seven <smile>) images.  Retired guy, spend a lot of time on this.  It's taken me five years to get decent at traditional imaging.  I spend 10-50 hours processing one image.

 

Traditional astrophotography and EAA are quite different, even though they both use digital cameras.  From what you've said, you're clearly an EAA person.

 

You may also be interested in the Solar System Imaging forum.  Images of the Moon and planets are fun, can be done with visual setups.


Edited by bobzeq25, 24 October 2020 - 12:32 AM.

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#10 SilverLitz

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 08:09 AM

Another recommending buying the scope separate from the mount.  Celestron makes excellent SCTs, but their mounts are not so hot, and they have the tendency to significantly under mount their combo packages.  For AP, the mount is the king.

 

If you anticipate getting nothing larger than an 8" SCT, SW EQ6R-Pro seems to be the best budgetary choice.  If you expect to go larger, you should step up to a mount in the iOptron CEM70 (w/ Tri-Pier) or Losmandy G11 class, these can handle 9.25" class as well.  The G11 is supposed to also be able to handle 11" SCTs.  My G11 guides my EdgeHD 925 with ease.   

 

If you go the SCT route, Celestron's EdgeHD series seems to be the best of the lot for AP.  These are best for the small targets, such as most galaxies, planetary nebulas, and planets.

 

But, do not ignore shorter FL APO refractors, as the many beautiful nebulas fit these FLs much better than the long SCT FLs.  These are also significantly faster (low f/ratio), which is a HUGE advantage for DSO AP.  These shorter FLs are also much easier to guide, and as Bob (and others) reiterate, MUCH easier to learn AP on.  If I could have only one scope, it would NOT be my Edge, but my Esprit 100 (or if money was no object, a Tak FSQ-106).


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#11 GeoNole94

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 08:24 AM

Wow, such a wealth of great information and kindness. Correct, I have very limited options for in-person help, although I am working on it.  Correct, I am currently interested in “snapshot” quality photos, so it is an add-on to the prime objective of observing. I am aware of the focal length limitations for a SCT, it just seems like the best all-around choice for me at the beginning. I actually have a great “permanent” location idea for a Dob, but that is down the road. I will focus on my farm access in preference to the pier idea, which does mean power supply considerations. I am still leaning toward the GEM because it will always be useful, and I will investigate the suggested mount alternatives to the Sky-Watch. I understand that $1,500+ for a mount isn’t a big deal for many people here, but it is a significant investment for a novice (me) who may or may not move to the next level. That said, I have never regretted buying quality up front, but I sure have had regrets for going the other direction. frown.gif Thanks again for the advice and encouragement, keep it coming!


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#12 ShortLobster

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 08:31 AM

Lots of people get into astronomy thinking that astrophotography will be secondary, then before too long decide to take the plunge. This may be particularly true of those with technical backgrounds. 

 

I'd recommend you look at EQ mounts instead of a GOTO Alt-az like the Evolution. I have an Evolution and it never leaves the basement. It is more difficult to use than an entry-level GEM, the goto's are hit or miss, the add-ons like Starsense don't really make it any easier, and it is not useful for astrophotography. You also can't put a refractor on it. 

 

Setting up an EQ mount for visual takes me less than 10 minutes. For visual, polar alignment is not so critical, and there are mounts that come with built in polar alignment cameras and software. You can use any type of scope within its payload capacity, and you will be all set with a mount if you want to get into astrophotography. 


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#13 GeoNole94

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Posted 24 October 2020 - 11:49 PM

Update: I am rethinking the goto SCT, in part because of the mount discussions and (great) advice. I am wondering if there might be compromise on my desire for relatively quick transitions between viewing targets. Perhaps something akin to a “pushto” Dob that would still let me take memorializing photos. Dunno, thinking out loud I suppose. Thanks again for all of the advice.


Edited by GeoNole94, 24 October 2020 - 11:50 PM.


#14 jprideaux

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 08:28 AM

If you plan on setting up on your platform at the end of your pier,  there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Others have mentioned the issue of vibrations of the pier structure.  This won't matter much for visual (looking at the moon) unless there are people walking around on the pier but will matter for taking longer exposures.  If you set-up an sequence of images and then walk back to your house, you might lose the first couple unless you delay the start.
  2. You will need a good cart or a way to get your set-up down the pier.  
  3. Platforms at the end of piers are also more exposed to wind.  Sometimes, though, a little wind is good to keep mosquitos away!
  4. Being at sea-level in Eastern NC, you will definitely need a dew heater.
  5. Eyepieces and other cylindrical objects will find a way to roll off.
  6. The moon is so bright that many are just happy to view it visually (with a binoviewer) for best effect.  If you do this, you will probably want a longer focal-length scope. 
  7. For nebula, many are large, and a shorter focal length scope is desired (optimally operating at a lower F-ratio).  It is possible to reduce some longer focal-length scopes (like an SCT) to have both long and short focal-lengths.
  8. As others have mentioned, there is another way to use cameras (EAA) that has quite a different approach than conventional astro-photography (AP).    For EAA, many take what was originally a visual set-up, reduce it, add a camera, and with the use of appropriate software, stack very short exposures - enough to get a reasonable image to "view".  Many "get away with" using an alt-az mount for this.  For (AP), as others have mentioned one is better served with an equatorial mount so each of your "single subs" can be longer.  There will be an optimal single-exposure time for best results that those that do EAA typically cannot meet.  Other differences (between EAA and AP) is the how long one wants their total integration time to last (both approaches stack images).  AP has the option to collect data with various filters (one at a time) and combine the data later.  AP also has a lengthy post-processing step.  So EAA is for those that want a more simple set-up with less effort and "see" something fairly quickly.  AP is for those that want the final image to be the best they can get and are content with not seeing it for a day (or two or three, or longer) after they collect the data. 
  9. There is also the saying that the best telescope is the one that you use the most.  With this in mind, a simple (but not as "good") setup could be better than a "better" setup that is harder to deal with every time you consider setting-up.  It is all up the individual and your goals.

 

if you are sure that AP is not your goal (but just want to capture some lower-quality images), then a good visual/EAA set-up for both the moon and other things would be to get an 8" CST with an alt-az tracking mount that can be reduced (or barlowed).  Get a camera, due heater, reducer, and perhaps also a binoviewer (for the moon) and have fun.  If you want to do AP (with the ending picture the goal), then the smart money is to get a nice equatorial mount and learn the ropes with a small nice APO refractor and then later get a longer focal-length scope if you want an optimal setup for small galaxies...


Edited by jprideaux, 25 October 2020 - 08:43 AM.

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#15 bobzeq25

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 10:32 AM

Update: I am rethinking the goto SCT, in part because of the mount discussions and (great) advice. I am wondering if there might be compromise on my desire for relatively quick transitions between viewing targets. Perhaps something akin to a “pushto” Dob that would still let me take memorializing photos. Dunno, thinking out loud I suppose. Thanks again for all of the advice.

Ask your question on the EAA forum.  If anyone has done EAA with a Dob, that's where they'll be.  And they know _all_ about rapidly switching targets.

 

I haven't gathered data on more than one target in a night, for a long time.  I get to the target, frame it as desired, and gather data for as long as conditions permit, and that the old man can stay up.  <grin>  Total imaging time on a target rules for traditional astrophotography.

 

I'd think that would be true of many (most?) here.  And true of almost no one (no one?) at EAA.

 

I also don't know of anyone here that's imaged DSOs with a Dob.  It would be very rare for a traditional astrophotographer to do so.


Edited by bobzeq25, 25 October 2020 - 10:36 AM.

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#16 GeoNole94

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 11:15 AM

If you plan on setting up on your platform at the end of your pier,  there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Others have mentioned the issue of vibrations of the pier structure.  This won't matter much for visual (looking at the moon) unless there are people walking around on the pier but will matter for taking longer exposures.  If you set-up an sequence of images and then walk back to your house, you might lose the first couple unless you delay the start.
  2. You will need a good cart or a way to get your set-up down the pier.  
  3. Platforms at the end of piers are also more exposed to wind.  Sometimes, though, a little wind is good to keep mosquitos away!
  4. Being at sea-level in Eastern NC, you will definitely need a dew heater.
  5. Eyepieces and other cylindrical objects will find a way to roll off.
  6. The moon is so bright that many are just happy to view it visually (with a binoviewer) for best effect.  If you do this, you will probably want a longer focal-length scope.  <snip>

 

Thanks, I appreciate the thoughtful reply. I do need to direct some of my questions to a different group, as several folks have suggested. To clarify your pier comments, it is not your father’s wooden pier, but proof of concept will require a scope grin.gif  The pier is concrete, 6’ wide, and each 10x5 section of concrete weighs roughly 1,500 pounds. It only has perceptible motion on the platform when a sizable boat wake passes, and that is almost never at night. We generally have minimal wave activity, unless the wind is whipping out of the north. FWIIW, I am rethinking everything, in particular the choice of scope type and my perception that an auto-tracking mount is my first. Again, many thanks to all!


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#17 StarryHill

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 03:49 PM

Update: I am rethinking the goto SCT, in part because of the mount discussions and (great) advice. I am wondering if there might be compromise on my desire for relatively quick transitions between viewing targets. Perhaps something akin to a “pushto” Dob that would still let me take memorializing photos. Dunno, thinking out loud I suppose. Thanks again for all of the advice.

I'm happy to read this from you. There are so many choices and each involves a significant set of compromises... it's very good to take the time to explore them all before purchasing. If you want fast transitions between viewing targets AND awesome views, it's hard to beat a large dob (i.e. 12") with DSCs for push-to. Or simply attach a green laser and use a good app like Sky Safari. Visual-heaven.

 

This will not be a good platform for imaging though. Visual and imaging are really different and trying to do both with one setup will unavoidably involve lots of compromises for one or both pursuits. 

 

Somethings to consider: you can do incredible imaging with just a camera/lens on a fairly inexpensive tracking mount... or with a small refractor on a  inexpensive mount like a CEM25. Imaging heaven.

 

By getting two different setups, you can better enjoy the best of both worlds. The total outlay wouldn't need to be that much more. 


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#18 bobzeq25

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 04:43 PM

I'm happy to read this from you. There are so many choices and each involves a significant set of compromises... it's very good to take the time to explore them all before purchasing. If you want fast transitions between viewing targets AND awesome views, it's hard to beat a large dob (i.e. 12") with DSCs for push-to. Or simply attach a green laser and use a good app like Sky Safari. Visual-heaven.

 

This will not be a good platform for imaging though. Visual and imaging are really different and trying to do both with one setup will unavoidably involve lots of compromises for one or both pursuits. 

 

Somethings to consider: you can do incredible imaging with just a camera/lens on a fairly inexpensive tracking mount... or with a small refractor on a  inexpensive mount like a CEM25. Imaging heaven.

 

By getting two different setups, you can better enjoy the best of both worlds. The total outlay wouldn't need to be that much more. 

I quite agree with the last as a general statement.  I just don't think it applies here.  The OP does not strike me as someone who'd be interested in traditional astrophotography.  At all.  Why I directed him to EAA.  I think he was unaware of the two separate things, and the differences.


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#19 goldtr8

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 05:41 PM

I agree that EAA is what you seem to be describing.

 

I would suggest that you look at this thread     and if you click on the links most of these live viewings have been recorded.

 

If I could go back I would have purchased an 8 inch HD SCT from Celestron instead of a standard Orange tube.    Plus using focal reducers and a hyperstar gives you signficantly more options for field of view when you do want to use a camera.

 

The changes to software, cameras and auto alignment systems (Starsense) is changing the hobby and making more things available compared to just a few years ago.   

 

Good luck and have fun.

 

Note: I also think you will have significant vibration on the end of the pier so be prepared to set up on terra firma. 


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#20 StarryHill

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Posted 25 October 2020 - 08:28 PM

I quite agree with the last as a general statement.  I just don't think it applies here.  The OP does not strike me as someone who'd be interested in traditional astrophotography.  At all.  Why I directed him to EAA.  I think he was unaware of the two separate things, and the differences.

You may be right and recommending EAA is a good thing. But as soon as you add a camera to the equation that involves primarily visual use, it impacts the decisions and this often means compromises. So I still stand by my suggestion to the OP to consider getting the desired visual setup at first -- like a large dob with DSCs -- and then adding a 2nd setup later for a camera, whether for astrophotography or EAA. No compromises -- the best of both worlds. It doesn't have to cost a lot more.


Edited by StarryHill, 25 October 2020 - 09:54 PM.



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