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Pro photographer starting deep sky imaging.

Astrophotography Beginner Equipment DSLR
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#1 Raiser

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Posted 21 April 2021 - 08:53 PM

Hey all, 

I'm a professional photographer with 10 years of experience shooting studio portraits, and weddings, and product. I'm very confident in my technical knowledge and skillset. I fully understand almost all aspects of deep sky imaging but there are somethings I'm still learning. 
I'm here to ask for some equipment recommendations. I have a 2k budget and plan to use my unmodded a7III as my main camera. Looking for to squeeze pretty much everything in here, on board auto guiding (probably a raspberry pi), a fast ~600-800mm refractor scope and recommended field flattener, guide scope and camera, an EQ mount that has some flexibility for heavier setups in the future, and a good light pollution filter.

So far, I'm leaning towards:
William Optics Zenithstar 81 
Sky Watcher EQM-35
William Optics UniGuide 50mm finder scope
ZWO ASI120MM guide camera

If anyone has better recommendations please let me know 

Here's a image I shot of M42 untracked with my a7III with a 42 year old nikkor 300mm f/4.5
Used my tripod with a tilting center post as a crude EQ mount.
Got a little bit of trailing since I used the 500 rule instead of the NPF rule (won't do that again).
Kind of got the hang of processing though.
 

Attached Thumbnails

  • T47yiAuc.jpeg

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#2 randcpoll

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Posted 21 April 2021 - 09:05 PM

The EQM-35 is a pretty light mount for your proposed setup. As has been said many times before on the site here, get the best mount you can afford, even if you have to go with a less expensive OTA to start, like a good quality 6" reflector and coma corrector. I would think at least an iOptron GEM-28 which is also a light weight mount but has nearly a 30 lb capacity.


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#3 blueplanetphoto

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Posted 21 April 2021 - 10:05 PM

As a fellow pro photographer also leaping into the void of astrophotography, I can honestly say $2K is probably going to lead to $3K before you're sort of happy. I initially was going to go with a Celestron C8 and AVX mount, but after a couple weeks of additional research, and my own expectations, changed to a refractor and heavier mount: Explore Scientific ED102 FCD100 and Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro. I've since spent well over more than 2X $2K for that setup and additional gear like field flattener, filters, cables and backup cables, battery power for field use, guide camera, guide scope, guide scope rings, solar panel to charge battery in the field, cases for scope and accessories, bahtinov masks for scope and camera lenses, dovetail for camera for widefield astrophotography, brand-particular mounting plates, dew heaters, Powerbox Advance for cable and power management, software (most are free or low cost), eyepiece(s) for occasional visual observing (and star parties - I've joined a local astronomy club), folding table, "observing" chair, etc. You get the idea....

 

I already had a laptop to use to drive everything, and Photoshop. But I'm using Astro Pixel Processor at the moment (rival to PixInsight). Oh yeah, extra HDD storage for the gigabytes of additional files generated. I'm shooting with a Canon EOS R5 and file sizes range from 36 - 100MB so far. Many dozens of them. Next purchase will likely be a dedicated astro camera for somewhat smaller file sizes and cooling. That's probably another $2K at least. 

 

I would recommend a heavier, more capable mount. It's just like having as stable a platform for your portrait/landscape photography, only about 100X more critical. It's a rabbit hole, or black hole, but I'm having a blast. Here's one of my first shots, of Orion also.

orion.jpg


Edited by blueplanetphoto, 21 April 2021 - 10:08 PM.

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#4 Raiser

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Posted 21 April 2021 - 10:51 PM

Hey Mike thanks for the feedback.I’m pretty aware it’s a slippery slope. I know I could easily throw down more than $5k at this.
As far as storage and computers go I’m all set so I don’t have to factor in those costs. I’ve got a custom built PC with nearly 18TB of storage, and a decent laptop. I use to work as a camera assistant so I’m also well aware of the costs of cables and backups, I also have plenty of pelican cases on hand!

This isn’t my end all be all rig by any means. Just something to get me started for the years to come.

Will definitely look into a more substantial mount.


Edited by Raiser, 21 April 2021 - 11:24 PM.


#5 Applal

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 07:53 AM

Hey all, 

I'm a professional photographer with 10 years of experience shooting studio portraits, and weddings, and product. I'm very confident in my technical knowledge and skillset. I fully understand almost all aspects of deep sky imaging but there are somethings I'm still learning. 
I'm here to ask for some equipment recommendations. I have a 2k budget and plan to use my unmodded a7III as my main camera. Looking for to squeeze pretty much everything in here, on board auto guiding (probably a raspberry pi), a fast ~600-800mm refractor scope and recommended field flattener, guide scope and camera, an EQ mount that has some flexibility for heavier setups in the future, and a good light pollution filter.
 

I too, came from a long long hobby/career with conventional photography.

It was humbling how much it did not translate well to astrophotography, and to some extent, how much of that I had to let go of to adapt to a completely different way of imaging! True, we may understand some of the nomenclature, but to go from being very comfortable with every aspect of conventional photography, to feeling like a nooby was unsettling to say the least.

Good luck with your endeavor though! As another poster said, this will cost more than you think it will!


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#6 DRK73

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 08:09 AM

I think the hardest lesson for traditional photographers coming into this hobby is that neither your camera nor your glass are the most important parts of your gear. If your mount isn't up to snuff then it doesn't matter how good the rest of your gear is. 


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#7 Lucas.Maguire

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 08:52 AM

As a fellow pro photographer also leaping into the void of astrophotography, I can honestly say $2K is probably going to lead to $3K before you're sort of happy. I initially was going to go with a Celestron C8 and AVX mount, but after a couple weeks of additional research, and my own expectations, changed to a refractor and heavier mount: Explore Scientific ED102 FCD100 and Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro. I've since spent well over more than 2X $2K for that setup and additional gear like field flattener, filters, cables and backup cables, battery power for field use, guide camera, guide scope, guide scope rings, solar panel to charge battery in the field, cases for scope and accessories, bahtinov masks for scope and camera lenses, dovetail for camera for widefield astrophotography, brand-particular mounting plates, dew heaters, Powerbox Advance for cable and power management, software (most are free or low cost), eyepiece(s) for occasional visual observing (and star parties - I've joined a local astronomy club), folding table, "observing" chair, etc. You get the idea....

 

I already had a laptop to use to drive everything, and Photoshop. But I'm using Astro Pixel Processor at the moment (rival to PixInsight). Oh yeah, extra HDD storage for the gigabytes of additional files generated. I'm shooting with a Canon EOS R5 and file sizes range from 36 - 100MB so far. Many dozens of them. Next purchase will likely be a dedicated astro camera for somewhat smaller file sizes and cooling. That's probably another $2K at least. 

 

I would recommend a heavier, more capable mount. It's just like having as stable a platform for your portrait/landscape photography, only about 100X more critical. It's a rabbit hole, or black hole, but I'm having a blast. Here's one of my first shots, of Orion also.

orion.jpg

I cam from photography and I'd say 3-5k is a more realistic number lol.gif


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#8 blueplanetphoto

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 03:24 PM

I cam from photography and I'd say 3-5k is a more realistic number lol.gif

lol.gif lol.gif  I've put in around $6K on my current setup and have just ordered a second EQ6-R Pro mount and associated gear for the Celestron C8, which has been on order since December (hopefully arriving in May). The new mount is on backorder and I found out this morning I shouldn't expect to see it at my door until Oct-Dec. I'd hoped to have two setups running at the same time this summer, but I'll have to wait, and only use one scope at a time this summer. I'm looking forward to some solar shots with the C8 as well as galaxies. Maybe give the ED102 a rest. One of the primary issues is all the COVID-based backlog. Some things are in stock while others are months behind demand. Difficult to put together an imaging set up when camera is in stock and will arrive next week, but scope is months away. So, anyone getting into the game now, your best option is to try and locate a used mount if you want to get anything done this summer. I expect there will be an influx of used equipment over the summer from people who bought last year to have something to do, without maybe realizing the work required. Then, it'll be a battle of "who finds it first", because there are still a lot of people out there looking for gear.

 

The transition from terrestrial photography to astro photography isn't that difficult for me, in terms of the equipment and exposures, etc. It's the processing that is the learning curve for me. I've made several single exposures processed in Photoshop, even a couple stacks. But learning the specialized processing software and procedures, like in Astro Pixel Processor, is something new.


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#9 blueplanetphoto

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 03:31 PM

Hey Mike thanks for the feedback.I’m pretty aware it’s a slippery slope. I know I could easily throw down more than $5k at this.
As far as storage and computers go I’m all set so I don’t have to factor in those costs. I’ve got a custom built PC with nearly 18TB of storage, and a decent laptop. I use to work as a camera assistant so I’m also well aware of the costs of cables and backups, I also have plenty of pelican cases on hand!

This isn’t my end all be all rig by any means. Just something to get me started for the years to come.

Will definitely look into a more substantial mount.

Certainly, the mount will be the important piece in your arsenal. If you have any aspirations of using something larger than the Zenithstar 81, payload capacity will be used up fairly quickly. It's interesting that I tell my photography students to put their money in lenses before bodies because a good lens will outlast several bodies, but in astrophotography the mount is the key part. Payload capacity and accuracy/precision, especially for deep sky objects, will make the effort so much more enjoyable. That's why I switched from the AVX to EQ6 (the same mount is marketed under different brands, as you may know). Good luck!



#10 nitegeezer

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 05:06 PM

I consider good guiding at something under 1 arc-sec. Since that is hard to relate to, that is approximately the width of a dime when viewed at a distance of 1.6 miles. That is what the mount must contend with.

#11 rj144

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 05:23 PM

I'm not a pro photographer, but I've had a DSLR for about 16 years now and do it as a hobby.

 

It does help with astrophotography, but I thought with my years of editing pics it would be fairly seamless.  The post processing was not as seemless as I anticipated.  It's nearly a completely different game with a tiny bit of crossover.

 

I'm not knocking your first pic... it's good, but wait until you try something with a lot less signal.  It was lot to learn in terms of processing when I started a few months ago.


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#12 Neinball

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 06:40 PM

Like others have said the mount is by far the most critical piece, and coming from personal experience you should expect on spending at least $7-10K once its all said and done if you plan on having a full setup with all the nickel and dime bits. I'd also suggest looking at different mounts and scopes than what you have listed.

Small cheap-ish mounts like the EQM-35 have zero QC or consistency in performance, and will leave you more frustrated than satisfied, not to mention wimpy payload capacity, which for imaging duty is usually about 50% of the stated max, except for Losmandys. I'd look instead at something like the EQ6 or the Losmandy G8 w/Gemini, G8s in particular are stellar performers that you won't outgrow, plus they are quite common on the used market.

A doublet like the Zenithstar, even a good one, is not a true APO, and will suffer from CA and star bloat to one extent or another, I'd instead suggest going for a triplet, which are true APO designs, FPL-53, FPL-55, OK4, and FCD100 are the glass types most desirable for imaging, but if the cost of one is more than what you are wanting to spend I'd stick with your 300 f4.5 for now, it has plenty of reach for most beginner targets and will keep you occupied for a long time, especially if its the non-IF version, which is one of the best astro lenses ever made, essentially being a mini triplet with a built in field corrector as the fourth element in the rear.

Don't forget to factor in the nickel and dime bits into your budget, besides the scope and mount you'll need T-rings, backspace adapters, focusing aids, dew heaters, field flattener/corrector, dovetail bars, cables- which if you plan to run things via ASCOM are mount specific, and a tub or box to shield your laptop from dew and moisture, among other things.

Also I've known a few who've dismissed dew control as non essential but I can't stress it enough, doesn't take but one good night of dew to ruin a scope's optical coatings, which are not near as durable as those used on camera lenses. I've also had dew get so bad it shorted out my camera a few times. To prevent damage and dry things out I put my optics and cameras into a big plastic container with a lid and stick a dehumidifier rod made for gun safes in and run it for 24-48hrs, works like a charm and only costs like $50, 

 



#13 kel123

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 07:11 PM

Just as others have said directly and indirectly, that mount , EQM-35 is the weakest link. When your scope is more expensive than your mount, you know there is something wrong. Please don't put a Zenithstar 81 on top of that mount for astrophotography.

#14 StarmanDan

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 08:32 PM

The EQM35 will be very limiting and will not give you any upgrade path to a larger/heavier scope, it will barely handle the weight of the equipment you listed once you add all the other little accessories needed. Realistically, the Skywatcher HEQ5 is considered the minimum mount to get for AP, preferably the EQ6R.

As a rule, the mount is the most important piece of equipment in AP. It doesn't matter how expensive the scope and camera are, if the mount can't perform to the requirements of the equipment you put on it, you will have a bad time.

2K may seem like a lot to most folks, but in this hobby you are barely scratching the bottom of the barrel. A good beginner mount for AP will easily cost you 2K.

#15 JamesTX

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Posted 22 April 2021 - 09:38 PM

LIke everyone else is suggesting.. I recommend spending more on the mount.  Try for at least an HEQ5.  If you can't stretch the budget then I would find the savings in the optics.  You can easily shave $50 or more by going with a different guide scope.  I'm using a generic 50mm off of amazon thats been working fine.  For the scope.. going with something like an AT72EDII will save a good chunk on the scope so you can spend more on the mount.



#16 bobzeq25

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Posted 23 April 2021 - 12:11 AM

Here's a very decent setup for getting into this for $1700+a DSLR (which you have).  Scroll down to the picture of this very experienced astrophotographer.  That's a $500 70mm refractor on a $1200 Sirius (aka HEQ5 Pro) mount. 

 

https://www.astropix...bgda/index.html

 

He did not choose those because he had them lying around.  <smile>  Both the prices and the appearance tell you what you need to know about the relative importance of mounts and scopes.

 

You'll be spending more on bits and, very soon, an autoguiding system.   Set aside at least $2200.

 

Something to know about CN equipment advice.  Experienced imagers here have a _strong_ tendency to recommend equipment that they have (or want to have).  So you get estimates like $7-10K.

 

Another thing to know.  This is very different from terrestrial imaging (terrible signal to noise ratio, long lenses on a moving target, perhaps the biggest noise is atmospheric turbulence, "seeing").  So while terrestrial experience can help, it's not as much as you think, and sometimes it can lead you in the wrong direction.  And DSO AP is _often_ unintuitive.  The antidote is knowledge, far better acquired from books than from short posts here.  This will be the best $40 you ever spend on DSO AP.

 

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

 

Beginners often overemphasize equipment.  Dustin Johnson's clubs will not put you on the PGA tour.  <smile>

 

Here's a place to go wrong.  Processing is at least half the game.  And astro has different needs than terrestrial.  An astro specific processing program, particularly one the combines calibration and stacking and processing, beats the stuffing out of trying to warp a terrestrial editing program into doing astro.  BTDTGTTS.

 

I recommend Astro Pixel Processor.  You're spending a couple or a few thousand on the first 50%.  $200 to do the second half better (and to learn how to do it better, better) is less than trivial.

 

The other possibility is the best program, PixInsight.  Here's what to know about that.

 

PI doesn't magically process better.  It provides you with a vast array of extremely adjustable tools so that YOU can process better.  Thing is, you have to put a lot of time into learning how to use PI.  And you have a lot to learn.   So, I recommend APP.  It is somewhat "PixInsight lite".  Time spent on APP is not wasted if you later move to PI, much transfers.

 

About the second half.  Do the calibration frames (bias, flats, darks) from Day One.  Without them you'll learn bad habits in processing, and processing is difficult enough, without having to unlearn bad habits.

 

Do enough total imaging time (how you break it into subexposures is less important, provided you're somewhere in the large ballpark).  My rule of thumb is one hour minimum, 2 is better, 4 good.  Did I mention that the signal to noise ratio is terrible? <smile>

 

Here's the math that shows why you need total imaging time.  And the best noise reduction techniques I've ever seen, but those can wait.

 

https://jonrista.com...duction-part-1/

 

Don't go bigger than the 81.  Minor point.  Your first images will have lousy stars at the edges (field curvature).  You'll want a flattener, making it a flattener/reducer will help you learn faster.


Edited by bobzeq25, 23 April 2021 - 12:29 AM.

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