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New to astrophotography

Beginner Equipment Accessories Astrophotography
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#1 Judy_Ch


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Posted 14 May 2021 - 02:26 PM



I would like to know what are the equipment required to do deep sky astrophotography (Galaxies, nebula, etc..) such as:

Which telescope, camera, filters, etc.. and which software is best to use for the image stacking.

I did an observation once and used IRAF for the stacking, but I think there are other software more practical, if I'm not mistaken there is PixInsight to process galaxies.


And if there are suggestions for some useful websites, courses, or videos that can help me with the setup.


Thank you in advance!


#2 corpusjonsey


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Posted 14 May 2021 - 02:51 PM

Welcome! These are many options to consider when starting out. It is going to take a bit of research and learning to figure out how you should start. Some start with a DSLR camera and lens on a decent tracking mount, some jump in and get astro imaging specific equipment (telescope, goto mount, cooled camera etc.). 


I would start by doing many searches on this forum and do a lot of reading to get a sense of what others have done with various budgets.


There are quite a few youtube resources out there. Here are a few I like:


Nebula Photos


Dylan O'Donnell









Good luck!

Edited by corpusjonsey, 14 May 2021 - 02:55 PM.

#3 awong101


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Posted 14 May 2021 - 02:52 PM



Can I direct you over to my Youtube channel? I am doing videos aimed to help other beginners get started.


Here is a video of me demonstrating the key events that would occur on a typical astrophotography session. I hope my videos will help, let me know if you have any questions!



#4 Islander13


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Posted 14 May 2021 - 02:53 PM

Welcome to Cloudy Nights Judy,


You came to right place. You'll get lots of advice from experienced imagers, and different opinions on what works best in a bang-for-the-buck sense.


I just started out a few months ago with very limited astro experience. When I started, I had a decent DSLR already, so I bought a relatively affordable tracker, and a wide field refractor with a 360mm focal length to attach to it. I already had several heavy tripods and I'm blessed with Bortle 4 skies and no neighbours. 


I use AstroPixel Processor as I run an iMac and they are cross platform. I love APP - it's pretty darn easy and you get good results using the default settings. They have a 30 day free trial for the software. 


If you ease into this hobby, you can get some really nice results with a relatively small investment, in a relatively short amount of time. 

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#5 Mr. Pepap

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Posted 14 May 2021 - 02:57 PM

Welcome to CN! You'll find that many people on here are friendly and willing to help out with any questions you have! smile.gif


Before I begin, I'd like to say that this is an expensive hobby. Getting the right equipment costs a lot of money, and the expenditures can get really high really fast. Please make informed purchases, and don't spend more than you can afford!


Let's start with the mount:

1) You didn't mention this, but I'm putting this first because it is absolutely essential. The single most important piece of equipment for astrophotography is not the scope, and not even the camera. It's the mount. You need a German Equatorial Mount, especially for deep-sky astrophotography. The reason for this is because it adds an additional axis of movement to account for field rotation, which is an anomaly in which objects will rotate about their center as time passes by. When stacked, the photos will come out blurry and terrible. A GEM fixes this. It needs to carry a lot of weight for all the equipment you're about to put on it. I like the SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro.


Now let's move on to your scope:

1) Don't get an SCT. People will try to tell you that they are bad scopes for astrophotography, but this is not true. They are bad to learn with. You will find its much easier to learn on an apochromatic refractor, and you will get better results because of it. I made the mistake of trying to learn on an SCT, but I still use it, so I can't really tell you exactly which refractor to get because I don't have one. I can tell you some brands though. You should check out SkyWatcher and William Optics.


2) The focal length is something that you're going to need to look at. Do you want to image large DSOs or small ones? If you want to do large ones, get a shorter FL telescope, for smaller ones, a longer FL telescope. If you want to do both, you can get a mid-range FL telescope, and add a focal reducer to go with it. Keep in mind that it will cost more money though!


Next up is the camera:

1) This depends on how much money you are willing to spend. If you want absolutely stellar, professional-quality photos and have a few thousand bucks to blow, go for a cooled CMOS camera. Pick one with a large sensor so it can capture more of your field of view. I highly recommend the ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro. On the contrary, if you are more budget-constrained, get a DSLR. They will get you very good quality photos and don't cost as much depending on what you get. They are also a fraction of the effort!


2) No matter which camera you decide on, you need an autoguiding solution. No matter how well you align your telescope, there will always be a small amount of drift or other anomaly that could mess up your entire photo! Autoguiding works by scanning the sky for an alignment star, locking on to it, then sending information based on that star's movement to your mount, which corrects for it. Since you will likely be going for a refractor, get a guide scope (not an Off-Axis Guider), which is basically a smaller telescope that piggybacks on top of your main scope. Then you'll want a guide camera. ZWO makes some good ones. You put all this together, then run a cable from your guide cam into your PC, which is running a guiding software (I use PHD2). Run another cable from your PC into the mount.


3) If you get the cooled CMOS camera for imaging, it might be a good idea to get a monochrome one as an investment for the future. They are more expensive, but they yield 3x better-quality images because they filter data through one channel (R, G, or B) vs. splitting the data through 3 channels (R and and B). However, they are 3x more effort because you would need to get LRGB filters and maybe a filter wheel if you want to automate the process.


4) About filters, the LRGB filters are needed only for mono cameras, but definitely get an Ha - OIII - SII filter set. You can unlock lots of different colors and things not seeable on the visible spectrum!


Let's talk about stacking:

1) OK, you've gotten all your equipment, set it up, and had a nice photographing session. What do you do with all that data you just collected? Processing is the second chapter to this journey, and it will take just as much effort to do as it will for getting the actual data! Generally speaking, there are three steps to processing an image: preprocessing, stacking, and post-processing. There are a bunch of different software for each step, and it can be an ordeal figuring out which one to use. Preprocessing is useful especially for planetary processing, because it essentially takes a video of a few thousand frames, then weeds out the best-quality frames of that video, which are then stacked. Stacking does exactly as it says it does, layering the photos on top of each other to boost image quality. Post-processing stretches and touches up the image, and you are left with a lovely, Hubble-like photo at the end! Its actually more complicated than that, but you'll figure it out eventually smile.gif


2) You can play around with different software and see what works, but for planetary I use PIPP, Autostakkert!, and GIMP as my preprocessor, stacker, and post-processor, respectively. For Deep Sky, I use Siril for everything. I like these software because they work just fine, and best of all, they're FREE!


Ok, I think I've covered the basics. Everything you outlined above are topics of their own, so don't be afraid to laser in on one at a time and ask questions! There is some effort involved, there may be tears, but eventually, this will work out, and it is one of the best hobbies one can ask for!


Good luck, and clear skies!

Edited by Mr. Pepap, 14 May 2021 - 02:59 PM.

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#6 David Boulanger

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Posted 14 May 2021 - 03:03 PM

All it takes is a camera and a lens for some of the bright objects.  A tracker or mount is helpfull.  YouTube is your friend.  You may be able to entertain yourself with minimal equipment for a while.

#7 Northrim


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Posted 14 May 2021 - 03:54 PM



Welcome down the rabbit hole!  Below  is a post I wrote some time ago giving free advice   (worth every  penny).  I'd  add Astrobackyard to the youtube channels  that are very useful.






Clear  Skies.

#8 Stelios


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Posted 14 May 2021 - 05:19 PM

You would get much better advice here if you would give us a budget. Astrophotography is not an inexpensive hobby, and the cost of a full beginner-level setup can come as a bit of a shock.


As I dislike vague advice, I'll make some concrete recommendations, that may be outside your budget (although they still fall under "starting" equipment).


Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5. Provides good tracking for refractors up to 100mm, and you should not even get that high.


Telescope: AT80 EDT. You can get cheaper, but this is a *triplet* which will result in color-free images. Do not start with larger, and do *not* think the images with this one will be in the least disappointing.


Camera: Nikon D5300 DSLR (body only) *or* ZWO ASI533MC-Pro


Guiding: ZWO ASI120MM-mini + Orion 50mm guide scope. (I consider guiding essential--start it as soon as you can get *something* to image).


Software for acquisition: N.I.N.A. is probably the easiest and is free.


For polar alignment (an essential skill) I recommend Sharpcap Pro. $13/year and worth it many times over. No additional hardware needed. 


Software for processing: Pixinsight is excellent, and despite the cost, it's hard to recommend anything else. 


You can spend less, but you will probably want to upgrade after a few months. And you can spend *much*, *much* more--if you have a big budget, don't be afraid to ask. 


Finally, this is a most recommended all-around book for AP: Deep Sky Imaging Primer.

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#9 kathyastro



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Posted 14 May 2021 - 05:28 PM

Hi, Judy.


The equipment you need depends a lot on what objects you want to take pictures of. 


Planets require a long focal length and a camera with a high frame rate.  They are not too demanding of the mount: people have even used Dobs for planetary imaging.


Deep sky objects (DSOs) require a precise, well-aligned mount and fast (low focal ratio) optics.  There is a large size range of DSOs, and no matter what focal length you go with, you will find that some objects are too big and/or others are too small to image easily.  For starting out, I would recommend a short-ish focal length, since it makes learning the process easier.  There are plenty large objects that a short scope will handle very well. 


The mount is by far the most important piece of equipment for DSO AP.  Most scopes can take decent pictures on a good mount, but no telescope will take good pictures on an inferior mount.

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#10 droe



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Posted 15 May 2021 - 12:57 PM

There have been some outstanding posts in this thread explaining the different area you need to focus on.


A good mount is very important and you should get the best you can get but the are things to consider; is it going to be a fixed setup or do you need to take it down ever session. In my case I started with a celestron CGX. It is big and heavy and is an awesome mount. I need to move it from the garage to the driveway every time I used it. It is just to heavy for me to move to the backyard for some better southern viewing, so I got a celestron AVX which is smaller and much lighter so I could carry that to the backyard. I also travel to dark sights and the AVX is to big for that so I got an Ioptron Sky Guider Pro which I can fit in a suitcase and travel on a plane with it. So 3 situations required 3 different mount solutions.


Every area described in previous posts needs to go this kind of scrutiny and that is why there is no 1 perfect solution for everyone. That is why this is described as a 'Rabbit Hole'; I started with the perfect mount for me and ended up with 3 different mounts. Don't even get me started with why I own multiple cameras and multiple telescopes (hint: scopes, its all about the focal length)  


My journey was completely backwards from what I would advise others. My advice to beginners, start with a SkyGuider Pro and DSLR. Learn post processing with it. (post processing is just, if not more, important the your equipment)

Starting this way will help direct you forward with equipment choices that will help you image targets you are most interested in.


hope this helps.

Edited by droe, 15 May 2021 - 01:18 PM.

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