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Looking for an astrophotography camera

Astrophotography
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#1 emesine

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 07:49 PM

Hi. 

I'm a home schooled sophomore and have been trying astrophotography for almost a year now.  I started taking pictures of the moon using a phone mount and It took some pretty good high magnification pictures even through a 4 mm lens.  That was on the Celestron nextstar 130slt.  Next I tried taking a long exposure of the Orion nebula using an annoying app.  There wasn't much to the raw photograph but I pulled out a little bit of the cloud using the photo editor on my laptop.  Now I'm using the Celestron nextstar 8se and jamming an Olimpus tough camera into the phone mount. Last spring I got a little more out of Orion but I can't get any more than about five seconds of exposure on the camera so it barely picks up anything on other nebulae I've tried.  I'm interested to know what type of camera and corresponding accessories would work well, hopefully for planetary, lunar, and deep sky photography.  Don't know exactly how much a beginner system generally goes for, but hopefully under $500.

 

Thanks.

Attached Thumbnails

  • orion cell .jpg
  • orion 2.JPG
  • cell phone moon.jpg
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#2 bobzeq25

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 09:10 PM

This business is, unfortunately, expensive.  Under $500 is tough.

 

The best shot is an old Canon, like a T3i.  They can do a decent job on a variety of subjects, and meet your budget.  People have made lovely images with them.

 

One piece of further advice.  When imaging DSOs with one, your best optics are simple camera lenses.   That will let you do longer exposures.  Nebulae are tough targets, star clusters work better.  Or constellation photos.

 

Something like an 8se makes things both expensive and difficult.


Edited by bobzeq25, 14 September 2021 - 09:11 PM.

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#3 Sacred Heart

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Posted 14 September 2021 - 09:18 PM

Those are some nice photos.  I wish I could show you my first images,  you would laugh so hard you would cry. 

 

So, you have an 8" Celestron SCT with a goto system.  If I looked it up and seen a correct image, it has one arm holding it.   Your scope may not hold a heavy camera too well.

 

Looking to do some imaging with it, I would get a, what I call a semi small chip camera, ZWO 178 or 183 size.  The hard part is matching up pixel size for your scope.  Hopefully someone with greater knowledge will chime in.  I would recommend doing EAA imaging and planetary imaging.   All are short exposure imaging and can be done with the cameras I listed above.  Again, need to match pixel size for your scope.  EAA imaging, that's what I call it, is short exposure, 5 - 60 second exposures . and using live stack in sharpcap or a similar program.  That will let you get results as if you took longer exposures.  Planetary is even shorter exposures of say .02 to .5 seconds. Stacking 40 to 150 frames per second.  

 

For true DSO imaging,  you would be looking at around $2000 for just a mount,  plus camera and reducers etc. with a 200MM SCT.

 

For a beginner, that is where I would start.  Processing is a completely different  animal.

 

Check out astronomy tools,  match different cameras to your scope, also, in the calculator section - CCD suitability, for matching pixel size.  You want to stay in the green zone or above.  Going less that .67 you will need exceptional tracking / guiding.      Take your time,  do your homework here,  dead serious.  Astronomy gets expensive and frustrating real quick.

Bang for the buck,  look at the EAA forum in Astrophotography section.  Again,  DO YOUR HOMEWORK, PATIENCE.

    Good luck,   Joe


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#4 Simon B

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Posted Yesterday, 05:11 PM

$500 is indeed tough - my advice would be similar to bobzeq25's

 

I'd go used Canon T2i / T3i, around $200-300

 

Plus a cheap vintage lens - something like an Olympus OM 300mm F4.5, but there are plenty of options out there under $100

 

Then a cheap used star tracker, like an Ioptron Skytracker or Skywatcher Star Adventurer, ~$200-300

 

Cheap craigslist tripod, old Manfrotto models are well made, say $50

 

 

 

You could skip the star tracker at first and just put the setup on the Celestron 8SE mount, but you'll soon want the tracker after a few goes

 

Best of luck!


Edited by Simon B, Yesterday, 05:13 PM.

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#5 bignerdguy

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Posted Yesterday, 08:26 PM

OK, i see everyone here is recommending to use a DSLR camera and lens not a DSLR and your 8SE.  First let me say, that's wrong as your 8SE can do wonderful images using a lot of different camera types.  However as everyone has also said this will not be cheap.  For any photos of wide spread out objects you need several things:

 

1) camera

2) Focal Reducer/Field Flattener

3) Attachment hardware such as T-rings, T-Tubes, and SCT adapters plus any filters you may want (that last is optional).

 

The camera and focal reducer will be most of your budget as even a cheap focal reducer/Flattener is around $150.00 US or more.  The T3i would be good for a budget get-to-know-AP camera but if you had the budget for it, going with a Canon 60D or 70D would be a better option for the higher pixel count and better noise handling (FYI the 60D noise handling isn't all that great but is still better than the T3i).  You can also use some Nikon cameras if Nikon is more your style, many of them make good astro cameras too.

 

All that said the types of cameras fall into two basic groups with several sub groups each:

 

DSLR's (like the t3i) and Dedicated Astro Cameras (Like the ZWO's mentioned by others).

For sub groups you have the following:

DSLR: Modded (IR-Cut filter removed and/or replaced) and un-modded (Stock not modified)

Dedicated: B&W or Color

 

With the dedicated cameras the color camera will have an overall lower resolution like a DSLR but be easier to learn since it would be a 1 shot color where as the B&W camera would require you to learn how to take photos thru different color pass filters then combine the shots into a full color one in software.

With the DSLR, the stock IR/Cut filter built into most is very restrictive in the red frequency band and tends to cut off a lot more of the H-Alpha band that many DSO's emit light in.  So for example, the Orion Nebula in your image would look a lot less red in the core and outer bands, it would look more grey-ish and less detailed. However you can compensate for this with longer overall exposures.

 

Anyway, i wont get into the ins and out of how to do AP.  there are quite a few guides out there you can look up on the subject.  Just know that i agree in part with the others that a DSLR is the easiest way to start and the least expensive.  the dedicated astro-cameras tend to be pricey.


Edited by bignerdguy, Yesterday, 08:28 PM.


#6 PatrickVt

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Posted Yesterday, 09:06 PM

"OK, i see everyone here is recommending to use a DSLR camera and lens not a DSLR and your 8SE..."

 

 

First, it is tough to recommend much at all to someone who is trying to get involved more deeply in astrophotography with only budget of $500 yet no EQ tracking mount so, really, any recommendations will only get him partially there.  

 

Next, about hanging a dSLR on an 8se...  I don't have any experience with the mount for the 8se but I did check the Celestron website to check on the specs.  The optical tube weighs 12 lbs and Celestron is stating the capacity of the mount is only 12 lbs.  So, I'm not sure about the wisdom of recommending hanging a dSLR on the end of that combination.  What if he goes ahead with this recommendation and he strips a gear or two on the mount?  I know if I recommended that and it ended up breaking the mount I'd feel a bit responsible.  Again, I have absolutely no experience with this mount so maybe I am completely off-base here but, going by Celestron's own specs, I would not recommend hanging a dSLR on that combo.  

 

There is nothing wrong with capturing snapshots through the eyepiece.  Many people are completely satisfied with afocal imaging and I've seen some pretty stunning images even with a cellphone.  However, if someone is wanting to get involved in more challenging long exposure astrophotography (and it sounds like this OP is), I'd first recommend finding a decent EQ mount with an RA tracking motor, at a minimum.  A budget of only $500 is going to make this difficult though.  (Maybe a manual EQ mount and then add an RA tracking motor yourself?)

 

Realistically, if purchasing new, a $500 budget isn't enough for only one component necessary for long exposure astrophotography.  There is the option of purchasing used gear but even that is tough to find now at bargain prices.  

 

Because the OP is still a young teenager, I'd recommend saving more money so he can attain his goals in astrophotography rather than potentially waste money on a rushed and extremely compromised purchase.  In the meantime, he can continue to educate himself through this forum and through online research as well as at a local astronomy club (if a parent is willing to be part of transportation).  The local astronomy club might also be a good source for some low priced equipment needed to move him in the right direction.  I rarely recommend a local astronomy club but it might be a very wise decision in this particular case (depending upon availability and transportation, of course).

 

I'm not implying that someone needs to drop thousands of dollars at once to get started but there are definitely relatively low cost ways to get deeply involved in long exposure astrophotography.  A small EQ mount, a small refractor, a computer, a guide scope, a camera, a guide camera, and then all the various adapters and extensions necessary.  Later you can add filters, flatteners, and whatever you desire.  Or, as has been recommended in a previous comment, just get started with a star tracker, a used dSLR and a halfway decent appropriate lens but even this will cost quite a bit more than $500.  A $500 budget makes it very difficult to recommend anything reasonable.  There are far too many components to this type of astrophotography and all the components add up quickly.

 

To the OP, keep doing what you are doing and strive to get better at afocal imaging while you save some more money.  Also, find a local astronomy club.  Not only would this be a great source of learning but it could also be a tremendous source of very low cost used gear.

 

Patrick


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#7 PatrickVt

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Posted Yesterday, 09:24 PM

The OP says he is also using an Olympus Tough camera and jamming it into his cellphone adapter.  I wanted to point out that they do make brackets to hold compact cameras.  The cost is about the same as the cellphone adapters but the compact camera adapter bracket has more leeway in moving the camera away from the eyepiece to make room for a small lens on the front of the compact camera.  

 

I think the OP is on the right track and he should continue to strive to refine his photography using his current equipment while he saves more money.  That 8se is a nice package.  Perhaps one thing that could be purchased is the correct adapter bracket for his Olympus camera.  

 

Another option, is to get a low cost astronomy camera to drop into the diagonal (they weigh less than many eyepieces)...  connected to computer...  and see what can be learned this way.   That can be done for $500 (assuming you have a computer to use for this purpose).  

 

Continue to try to improve.  Find what is wrong...  figure out how to fix that problem...  refine the skill...  then move on to the next problem.  I suspect you might still have quite a bit of learning to utilize the full potential of the 8se.  

 

Patrick


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#8 bobzeq25

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Posted Yesterday, 09:58 PM

Yes, an expert can make fine images with an 8se.

 

But, he'd need a good mount, the minimum would be a $1500 EQ6-R.

 

And experience.

 

It's a terrible setup to _learn_ DSO imaging with.  As many have found out.  And, expensive.


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#9 ram812

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Posted Yesterday, 10:03 PM

Not to highjack the thread..but both Celestron and Orion sell video type cameras, I know the one I bought a few years ago was $60 USD, they're light, can shoot lots of frames used in solar/lunar/planetary astrophotography, and easy to use with lots of free stacking software available. I took my first pictures of the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and a lucky shot of Uranus with my XT10. Just sayin', but you have a great start. If you could just hold out a tad longer, you could snag an EQ mount for another $500 or so (Entry level, used) that would get you long DSO photography. Otherwise, some sort of tracking mount like others have proposed to you will get great photos', too! Good luck but remember, this rabbit hole can go quite deep😯!

CS, Ralph

#10 Phil Sherman

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Posted Today, 08:37 AM

Stacks of 5 ssecond exposures, with the correct software, can yield surprising astro images. Unfortunately, cell phones usually store only jpeg images which are relatively poor for the enhancement process that's necessary to make better astro images. A DSLR can store images in RAW format which keeps all of the image data that was recorded. A used Canon T3i makes a great beginner camera because it's easily controlled from a computer and its RAW image storage mode makes image enhancement much easier than using jpeg.

 

I'd also recommend you download the now free "ImagesPlus" from Mike Unsold's web site. It's a full featured astro image processing program that does both pre and post processing. I learned most of my initial astro imaging knowledge from a book "The New CCD Astronoomy" which, while a bit obselete, is still available. Over 85% of the information in the book still applies to current imaging including imaging with a DSLR instead of a CCD imaging camera.



#11 PatrickVt

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Posted Today, 09:21 AM

I had mentioned that one potential option would be to purchase a low end astro camera to just drop into the diagonal.  Sometime this morning I remembered that you had asked about us helping you choose a camera (or system).  Unfortunately, at the low end (under $500), options will be extremely limited.  

 

Also, there are two other things I want to mention that I had not mentioned above:

 

1.  The 8se has a very long focal length and when you combine this long focal length with a small sensor like we find in these sub-$500 astro cameras, your field of view is absolutely tiny.  Not many objects will fit in this tiny field of view.  This tiny field of view also makes it very difficult to find your object and stay on it.  This is not the way to begin astrophotography.  But you can utilize this combination of gear for the moon and planets.  

 

2.  Even if you purchase a sub-$500 astro camera, using your 8se mount will still limit you significantly because it is not an EQ mount.  The se mount, as delivered, isn't designed for imaging.  It is designed for observing.  So, using the SE mount, you will continue to be limited by short exposures however those short exposures could be stacked with some success.  For instance, if you continue to focus on improving your imaging of bright objects like the moon, Jupiter, Saturn, then you will have some good success with a low end astro camera and the 8se.  This route could provide you with some good intro experience in using an astro camera.  Just remember, the se mount is an alt-az so it is really meant for observing.

 

Which astro camera to choose...  as I said, above, the options will be very limited.  I'd probably aim for the 178 series by either QHY or ZWO (EDIT:  Svbony might also have a 178 series camera, costing less than QHY/ZWO and they are gaining a better reputation...  not at the level of QHY/ZWO but they are gaining more respect of the astro community).  Again, remember, you will need to use these cameras with a computer of some sort so you can control the camera.  So, if you need a laptop too, then there goes your budget.

 

I hope this helps you understand a bit more about the complexities and costs of astrophotography.

 

Patrick


Edited by PatrickVt, Today, 09:24 AM.


#12 PatrickVt

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Posted Today, 09:32 AM

Well, I just checked the Svbony website to see if they had a 178 series astro camera and they do not.  I should also explain why I recommended the QHY178 or ZWO178...  this might actually be the largest sensor you will get for under-$500 (I don't know for sure without more research but, off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure...).  Smaller sensors with such a long focal length (over 2000mm) are a bad matchup for a beginner so I would recommend the largest sensor you can find in an astro camera, if you go that route, while still keeping it under your budget of $500.  They are all tiny sensors in this price range but the 178, I believe, has the largest of the tiny sensors.  Larger sensors at over 2000mm focal length will provide a bit more field of view.  It will still be absolutely tiny and difficult to work with for a beginner but this would be your best option, in my opinion.

 

Patrick



#13 bobzeq25

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Posted Today, 10:58 AM

People (there's more than one) are suggesting impractical solutions for this new beginner on a small budget.  They could work for some, for him it's sending him up a creek without a paddle.  <smile>

 

He needs an old DSLR and a lens.  This is not a close call.



#14 PatrickVt

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Posted Today, 01:26 PM

People (there's more than one) are suggesting impractical solutions for this new beginner on a small budget.  They could work for some, for him it's sending him up a creek without a paddle.  <smile>

 

He needs an old DSLR and a lens.  This is not a close call.

 

Yes, that is certainly an option but...  what will he mount this new dSLR and lens on to shoot images?  This option is also sending him up a creek without a paddle because I wouldn't recommend either of his current mounts for this purpose.  So then what is he to do with the dSLR and lens?

 

He already has approximately $1800 worth of kit in his 8se and 130slt.  Perhaps it would be wisest to run these two kits through the ringer for another few years doing what they will do best while constantly nudging them to their hard limits before pushing them aside and starting anew with a completely different kit. 

 

He doesn't say who purchased these two kits (Did he buy them himself?  Or, did his parents buy them?) but, if it was his parents, I highly doubt they would be too happy everyone here recommend he go a completely different route by purchasing a whole new kit so I'm certainly not going to recommend that route.   In essence, that is implying the $1800 was wasted for his interests and intentions.  

 

He asked what camera will work well for lunar, planetary and deep sky.  I agree that deep sky will be a problem with his current kits but he could still do two of the three things he mentioned with a sub-$500 astro camera and his 8se.  (I don't know if an astro camera will come to focus on the 135slt.)  And again, that is assuming he has a computer to utilize for this endeavor.  

 

For beginner deep sky imaging, I certainly agree that his current kits are not suited for this.  He'll need a different mount, for sure and that alone puts him well above his stated budget so that isn't an option.  For $1000 he could probably get started with minimal gear (which could include a used dSLR/mirrorless camera and a lens).  Realistically, in the end it would probably be in the range of $1500-2000 though after all the bits and pieces are added into the total and then higher as he advances.  In the meantime, he should get the most he can out of the $1800 worth of gear he has now and that would mean focusing on planetary and lunar. 

 

He really only asked about a camera, presumably, because he expects to continue to use his current telescopes.  Because of his age, I suspect that budget is a hard limit so we should advise a minor change in goals so he can stay within that limit. 

 

Patrick



#15 Sacred Heart

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Posted Today, 02:54 PM

emesine,   If it was me, with a C8 telescope and a $500 budget.  For now, planetary.  Jupiter and Saturn are coming.If you are happy with eyepiece projection and a cell phone, maybe look into getting an eyepiece cell phone holder.  Or maybe look into a QHY or ZWO 224, 178 color camera or similar.  For planetary or short exposures for the Ring Nebula in Live Stack you do not need a cooled camera.  If you do not have a dew shield, make one.  Roll up thin cardboard or plastic place mat or something and tape it together.  

 

With the QHY or ZWO camera you may even could get images of M57, Blue Snowball and other small stuff.

 

This should get you started without trying to hang a DSLR off of the C8, I'm thinking weight, tracking issues.  And you are within tour budget.   What you do next is up to you,  focal reducer for the C8,  small refractor / camera / mount???  That rabbit hole is deep.    Patience and do your homework.      Joe


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