Jump to content

  •  

CNers have asked about a donation box for Cloudy Nights over the years, so here you go. Donation is not required by any means, so please enjoy your stay.

Photo

Beginners Advice for Astrophotography - 15 Suggestions

Astrophotography Beginner Celestron DSLR Imaging Polar Alignment Software
  • Please log in to reply
41 replies to this topic

#1 Tbear1

Tbear1

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 29
  • Joined: 21 Mar 2021

Posted 21 September 2021 - 05:15 PM

Nine months ago I decided to go into astrophotography as a hobby. Thanks to forums like this and others I have learned so very, very much. I’m still learning, but I feel compelled to ‘give back ‘ to the community, in particular beginners so that they might save countless hours of frustration and confusion as they get into this hobby. It incredibly rewarding but at the same time can be very frustrating.

 

The opinions I express are my own; I don’t represent any company or entity. Perhaps there are other opinions and I’m fine with that. These are just mine. The following sort of bares my soul with stupid and embarrassing mistakes but if it helps some folks new to the hobby, its worth it to me.

 

I wanted to photograph deep space objects but also be able to photograph the planets. Perhaps against the advice of some, and after considerable research, I jumped right in buying a Celestron 9.25 inch CST with a CGEM ii mount. I almost made the mistake ( for me ) of buying an alt/az mount with idea of getting a wedge. The more I read about it, the more I decided to get an equatorial mount which is preferred for deep space photography. Fortunately, my original order which was alt/az was back ordered and I was able to change my order to a CGEM II mount which is what I have.

 

Suggestion 1- Get an equatorial mount if you want to do deep space photography. You need it.

 

All excited, I received my scope and mount and decided to set it up on my pool deck ( limited sky view ) and give it a test drive. My first mistake was to not change the time and location in the hand controller and as a result the scope almost skewed itself into the tripod.

 

Suggestion 2 – Out of the box, don’t forget to put in your longitude and latitude and time.

 

Anxious to use my new scope, on the first clear night I set up at a location with a clear sky view and tried my first alignment for my “go to “ scope. Celestron has a couple of built in options where you skew to a star, center it in the eyepiece, and then go to the next star. I seem to recall it suggests four stars ( I haven’t used this option in a long time ).

I recall from that first night and many afterwards that I screwed around for hours trying to do this. Finding the star in the eyepiece ( must less centering it ) was very difficult using the finder scope that came with the telescope. I also realized that I always seemed to be physically contorted looking through the eyepiece ( with the diagonal ) so physically it was quite challenging.

 

Suggestion 3 – Run don’t walk to your nearest supplier and by a Tel Rad finder scope. You can’t live without it!

 

Once I had the Tel Rad scope, I was able to find the stars, center them, and at least have a shot at a decent goto skew. However, then came polar alignment.

 

The handset includes a polar alignment routine that in a similar fashion asks you to slew to  a particular star and then center it using the mechanical altitude and azimuth knob adjustments on the mount. Ok, I can do that! But guess what, after you do the polar alignment you have to start all over with the goto alignment because you have now mechanically changed your mount.... Back to square one. 

 

There is another way to do polar alignment by buying a polar alignment scope that fits into the mount. I bought one, used it, and eventually decided it was not a good solution. IMO you can not get a good polar alignment for astrophotography with this method. Also, depending on your latitude, its difficult to look through the scope without a diagonal. I wasted $100 buying one –( let me know if you would like to but it from me)!

 

Suggestion 4 -   If you need precise and quick polar alignment, buy a PoleMaster. IMO it is fantastic. Accurate polar alignment within 5 minutes and before you can visually even see Polaris ( but the camera can. )

 

Suggestion 5 -  I learned the hard way that PoleMaster didn’t seem to work on my Windows 10 laptop unless I run SharpCap in the background with the SharpCap HD Web camera option activated. One night was wasted until I found that little piece of information. Perhaps there are other solutions.

 

So now I could do a quick polar alignment, but the GOTO alignment was still taking me way too long, even with the Tel Rad finder scope. Also, if your mount shuts down for any reason ( battery for instance), or you have to turn it off in an emergency because it looks like it is slewing to Australia ( go ahead and laugh, it will happen to you too), you have to start the goto alignment process all over again. It gets old after awhile.

 

Suggestion 6 -  Buy a Star Sense Camera. Yes, its expensive but it is soooo good.  My go to alignments went from perhaps 30 minutes at best to about 5 minutes. Its awesome. Buy one. You will never regret it. It is so cool!

 

Suggestion 6a -  Make sure you use a calibration star the first time you use it to align it with your scope. If your goto objects ever aren’t accurate, first thing to do is to recalibrate that alignment. ( Learned that the hard way one night. )

 

Suggestion 7 – Make sure when you use the Star Sense Camera you take the lens cap off.  Ok, I know what you are thinking. When someone admitted on one of the forums that it happened to them, I said to myself what a dummy. Well, I did it too once but realized the problem quickly.

 

Focusing is a big deal in Astrophotography. Many software programs allow you to access a motorized focuser from within their interface which is very convenient. This is not a must have, but a really, really nice to have.

 

Suggestion 8 – You’ve spent this much money already, why not go for broke and buy a focus motor.

 

If you do, make sure you check the collar screws from time to time. I was at the darkest sky east of the Mississippi at Kathadin Mountain two weeks ago when my screws decided to loosen. It took me a half an hour and process of elimination of precious night sky to figure out what was going on.  The deceiving part was that I could hear the focus motor rotating, but the star would never come into focus and I had just changed over from wide field to prime focus...

 

You need a camera to do astrophotography. There a many choices, I decided on a Canon 6M Mark ii which is a mirrorless DSLR. After taking many photos over the first six months, I decided to have the camera modified to remove the internal  filter that blocks red. It was difficult for me to send a perfectly good camera away and have someone modify it, which voids the warranty, but my photos are so much better now when capturing Ha dominant nebula.

 

Suggestion 9 – Have your DSLR modified for Astrophotography.

 

 

Along those lines, I highly suggest buying an Ha clip in filter for your camera. Between that and the modified DLSR, the Ha comes through in spades.

 

Suggestion 9a – Buy a clip in Ha filter and learn how to combine and process HaRGB photos.

 

I use Backyard EOS to manage my picture taking chores. It is one of the best value pieces of software IMO around. There are many packages around, another is N.I.N.A which is free and fantastic, but a bit more complicated to use if you are just getting started.

 

Suggestion 10 – Start with Backyard EOS, Premium addition.

 

If you decide to  use Backyard EOS to take photos in the planetary mode using 5x magnification, you might have to turn the power saver features off in your camera. I did because the 5x mode kept dropping out when I was taking planetary photos. ( another aborted session until I solved that problem!)

Its not long before taking photos that you realize you need to add a guide camera to your telescope for any extended exposure times... perhaps more than 60 secs or so. A guide camera is essential. I bought a  ZWO ASI 174mini and the Celestron OAG ( off axis guider ).

 

 

Suggestion 11 – Buy a guide camera and off axis guider; you need one for DSOs ( Deep Space Objects ) Before you buy Celestron’s, see comment below using Field Reducers. PHD2 is the overwhelming guiding software and its free. Make sure your guide camera has a ST4 port.

 

It is crucial that the sensor from the guide camera to the visual back and the sensor of your DSLR to the visual back is exactly the same distance, else the guide stars will be out of focus. Take the time to set this up at home using a pair of calipers; it will save you lots of frustration.

 

If you have ASCOM installed ( see below ) your guide commands can come through the PHD2 software to your mount. If you don’t, you need to connect your guide camera directly to the mount using a ST4 cable. The downside to that is that you must recalibrate your guide camera when you slew to a different location. Using ASCOM, PHD2 adjusts itself because it know where you went.

 

I like to use my 9.25 SCT with a field reducer sometimes to get a bit more field of view so I bought the Celestron f/6.3 Field Reducer / Corrector. I found out the hard way that it is impossible to get the proper back focus ( distance ) from the surface of the reducer to the  DSLR camera sensor using the Celestron OAG guider. One would think this would all work together nicely; it doesn’t.  Celestron told me I had to have a special spacer made and gave me the name of the machine shop to make it. I finally broke down and ordered it but haven’t received it yet. In the meanwhile, I was able to get close using some of the parts that came with the OAG but I hope for improvement when the focal plane is in the right place.

 

Suggestion 12 – If you plan to use a field reducer, consider buying a different OAG than Celestron’s; one that is thinner to allow the reduced back focus spacing. ( Needs to be 105 MM ).

 

Plate Solving is a wonderful thing. It uses your camera to take a photo and compare where you are to where you should be ( Lat,

Long) and centers your picture for you.  This is particularly useful if you take pictures of the same object on different nights. It minimizes how much you need to crop when you final pictures ( subs ) are combined.

 

Suggestion 13 – Use ASTAP plate solver if you use Backyard EOS because they are compatible.

Speaking of software, after using several free programs that compile and post process your RAW images, I have become a fan of AstroPixel Processor and Photoshop for my DSO photography. I’m sure others are great also, these however are my current choices.

 

Suggestion 14 – Try as many different software packages as you can and choose the one to your liking. Many give free trial use so you can evaluate them. Deep Sky Stacker, AutoStakker, Gimp, Registax, just to name a few.

 

Its not long before you get tired of using the hand controller to control your scope. I use the free software from Celestron  called CPWI. You must install the ASCOM platform before installing CPWI. Just google ASCOM and it will take you to their website. ASCOM is free.

 

One neat feature of CPWI is that you can connect a game controller to your computer and use it to both slew and focus the telescope. Just be careful you don't accidently drop it off your work table because if it lands on the joy sticks.... well, you know! ( Its happened to me twice )

 

My most recent quandary has been creating a Periodic Error Correction ( PEC ) curve. CPWI did this for me once but left me hanging when I tried to replace the curve with a better one. I think this is still a bug in CPWI.

 

I downloaded the PEC tool from Celestron and had a few false starts trying to use it. You must load and run it using emulation mode ( Windows 7, I recall ). Also, you can’t use CPWI or ASCOM because PEC won’t connect to the mount ( its really old software ).

 

Suggestion 15 - To use PEC on Windows 10, connect the hand controller to the computer and connect the guide camera directly to the mount using a ST4 cable. PEC will then connect to the mount and become usable. 

 

PEC allows you to run multiple PEC correction curves and average them. I’m just now fooling around with PEC to see if it improves my guiding.

 

So there you have it, my learning curve of  9 months in a few paragraphs. I really hopes this helps someone avoid some of the many pitfalls and frustrations this hobby has to offer. 

 

It would be great if others added  their most memorable and embarrassing screwups, fixes, or advice on issues that the rest of us have not yet experienced....\

 

Clear Skies –

Tbear


  • jonnybravo0311 and pretyro like this

#2 jonnybravo0311

jonnybravo0311

    Mercury-Atlas

  • *****
  • Posts: 2,951
  • Joined: 05 Nov 2020
  • Loc: NJ, US

Posted 21 September 2021 - 05:43 PM

I started with a Panasonic Lumix G9, a couple of lenses and a tripod. Spent a couple nights taking many hundreds of very short exposures (2 seconds) to capture Andromeda and Orion. That got old quickly - especially the part where stacking all of those subs took many hours. So, I got myself a Star Adventurer. That allowed me to take longer exposures because I was now tracking. However, I still had to manually find my intended targets. After spending nearly 2 hours trying to find and frame Andromeda one night (don't judge :p) I realized I'd rather spend my night imaging and not trying to find a target to image.

 

My next purchase was a CEM40. Now we are in business! I can automatically slew to a target. No more wasting time trying to find things. Just push a couple of buttons and I'm there. Right, well, those camera lenses, while exceptionally good for daytime photography, aren't exactly winning awards for nighttime imaging. I'd better get a scope. Might as well get a guide scope and camera while I'm at it. That GT81 and accompanying 0.8x reducer/flattener with the 50mm guide scope will do nicely, thank you.

 

You know what's really missing from this equation? a proper, dedicated, cooled main camera. That Lumix really isn't supported. Some nice guy wrote an ASCOM driver for it, but there are still quirks and it's not exactly the nicest user experience. Well, if I'm going to buy a dedicated camera, I'm going mono. I don't live under the most light polluted skies (Bortle 6ish), but I sure would like to do some narrowband imaging. Oooh... the 294MM Pro will fit the bill nicely! Guess what? now that I've got the mono camera and filters with a wheel, I really need an auto focuser. Nobody wants to manually focus every time a filter changes or the temperature drops a few degrees, or... well... ever.

 

Of course now that I've got this entire kit... well... that 8" EdgeHD would sure make a nice complimentary scope to the GT81. Oh, and I can use it for planetary, too!

 

I'm not addicted. I swear. I can quit any time I want. Really!


  • Oyaji and 72Nova like this

#3 imtl

imtl

    Skylab

  • *****
  • Moderators
  • Posts: 4,292
  • Joined: 07 Jun 2016
  • Loc: Down in a hole

Posted 21 September 2021 - 05:51 PM

Your #13 makes your #3,6,6a and 7 redundant.


  • rkinnett and OldManSky like this

#4 Oyaji

Oyaji

    Ranger 4

  • *****
  • Posts: 365
  • Joined: 05 Sep 2018
  • Loc: Central Illinois, USA

Posted 21 September 2021 - 06:20 PM

No CN thread is complete without disagreements and contrary opinions.  Here are a few of mine. 

 

Suggestion 3 – Run don’t walk to your nearest supplier and by a Tel Rad finder scope. You can’t live without it!

 

I happily live without a Telrad.  Indeed, with plate solving for my equatorial mount and one-star alignment for my Alt-Az mount (which I sometimes use for planetary imaging), I normally don't need a red-dot or red-circle at all.  When I do use one--mainly to help me find an object to look at through binoculars after a go-to slew from my mount--I find my Baader Sky Surfer to be vastly superior to a Telrad.  Others disagree, of course.  

 

Suggestion 5 -  I learned the hard way that PoleMaster didn’t seem to work on my Windows 10 laptop unless I run SharpCap in the background with the SharpCap HD Web camera option activated. One night was wasted until I found that little piece of information. Perhaps there are other solutions.

 

Yes.  Run an mp4 file in the background.  My choice:  Bogart and Grahame in "In a Lonely Place."

 

Suggestion 6 -  Buy a Star Sense Camera. Yes, its expensive but it is soooo good.  My go to alignments went from perhaps 30 minutes at best to about 5 minutes. Its awesome. Buy one. You will never regret it. It is so cool!

 

Completely unnecessary if you learn how to plate solve.  Try ASTAP under NINA.  Works like a champ!

 

Suggestion 9 – Have your DSLR modified for Astrophotography.

 

Sooner or later, you are going to want an astrocamera that you can cool.  You can learn the basics with a DSLR with intervalometer (or a mirrorless micro 4/3 camera, which is what I learned on), but when you get serious, get a cooled camera such as an ASI294 MC Pro--which requires computer (or ASIAir) control.

 

Suggestion 10 – Start with Backyard EOS, Premium addition.

 

Only if you have a Canon DSLR.  For me, NINA is the name of the game.  You may as well start out with a general purpose capture program such as NINA (there are others) because sooner or later you are going to want a cooled camera, and Canon doesn't make one.  

 

Suggestion 11 – Buy a guide camera and off axis guider

 

Avoid off-axis guiders like an unvaccinated person avoids a COVID ward.  This is especially true when you are first starting out.  

 

But my number one suggestion is:  Read the Bible before you land in Astrophotography hell.  The Bible, you say?  Yes.  Here it is:  https://digitalstars...ess.com/primer/


Edited by Oyaji, 21 September 2021 - 06:38 PM.

  • 17.5Dob, OldManSky, maximalz and 2 others like this

#5 imtl

imtl

    Skylab

  • *****
  • Moderators
  • Posts: 4,292
  • Joined: 07 Jun 2016
  • Loc: Down in a hole

Posted 21 September 2021 - 06:25 PM

funnypost.gif


  • OldManSky likes this

#6 OldManSky

OldManSky

    Fly Me to the Moon

  • *****
  • Posts: 5,764
  • Joined: 03 Jan 2019
  • Loc: Valley Center, CA USA

Posted 21 September 2021 - 06:37 PM

I think Oyaji can read my mind...yeah, that. smile.gif


Edited by OldManSky, 21 September 2021 - 06:38 PM.

  • Oyaji likes this

#7 adosaj

adosaj

    Mariner 2

  • *****
  • Posts: 227
  • Joined: 04 Jul 2017

Posted 21 September 2021 - 07:01 PM

The one thing I would say (and mentioned above) is that adopting NINA (or similar acquisition software) sooner than later will payoff in the long run. I’m a MacOS X user and tried so hard to find something there, but this hobby is firmly entrenched in Windows if your goal is to efficiently obtain data. To that end, investing (both time and money) in good software is just as important as investing in equipment. That obviously runs counter to the edict in visual observing :)  It is a fun and rewarding hobby, I just got into it a few years back myself. 
 

Anil



#8 17.5Dob

17.5Dob

    Cosmos

  • *****
  • Posts: 7,554
  • Joined: 21 Mar 2013
  • Loc: Colorado,USA

Posted 21 September 2021 - 07:52 PM

My suggestion....you went wrong before you ever got to #1 when you bought the SCT and Celestron mount. You could have avoided the other 90%  of your problems...


  • imtl and Oyaji like this

#9 drd715

drd715

    Apollo

  • *****
  • Posts: 1,032
  • Joined: 07 Jan 2015
  • Loc: Fort Lauderdale

Posted 21 September 2021 - 08:15 PM

So many toads to go down.

I started with a simple 127mm achro F-8 on a non goto Atlas. The Telrad was my savior - it star hopped everywhere to find objects. After I got a goto CGEM it was a big help doing the star alignment as the coarse alignment while fine star centering was done with the main scope and a cross hair illuminated reticle eyepiece. Life was good - except entering data into the hand controller in the dark and poor polar alignment. Yes the scope will point at the ground if you put in the wrong information. Enter the Celestron gps cube - no more data input required. The Polemaster was the next amazing setup device . Life was great. Then came the ASIAIR PRO and a new way to get polar aligned and plate solving goto - life is fantastic


Oh and on the CGEM head to base a huge problem was solved doing the polar alignment with the addition of an expensive (but worth every penny) Starzonia "landing pad" to make the adjustments during polar alignment not shift during the final tightening.

Rig now holds an APM152ED and 90mm F-7.7 guide scope and the Telrad (and the air pro).

I wonder what's next.

Sent from my SM-N950U using Tapatalk

#10 AaronH

AaronH

    Explorer 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 86
  • Joined: 20 Apr 2021

Posted 21 September 2021 - 09:09 PM

Honestly, the biggest win for me was using Ekos/Indi (NINA does the same job for Windows).

 

It solves any and all polar alignment problems without the need to buy extra equipment. It solves Go-To problems through plate-solving. It manages my captures, whether on a mirrorless camera or cooled camera, it has great guiding, including PPEC, it manages time, location, etc.

 

Basically, one bit of software automatically addressed the root problems identified in points #2-7, #10, #13-15 above. All at a cost of $0, running on a Raspberry Pi I had sitting around anyway.


Edited by AaronH, 21 September 2021 - 09:11 PM.


#11 Tbear1

Tbear1

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 29
  • Joined: 21 Mar 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 08:50 AM

Hey everyone - Thanks for the awesome replies, contrary opinions, pros and cons etc. of everyone's comments. I really hope beginners read this thread to help them decide what to do and avoid some of the pitfalls and frustrations that can occur in this hobby.

 

As I read through the replies, a few thoughts came to mind....

 

Realize that my suggestions were somewhat of a chronological evolution of my learning curve over 9 months. Certainly if I knew then what I know now I would have done a few things differently. For example, I never use my original finder or polar scope. As a matter of fact,  I seldom use my Tel Rad unless I'm doing some type of trouble shooting but its nice to have when you need it. I do love my SCT although I admit I have no experience with any other telescope.

 

Plate solving is great but when I use my telescope at full focal length ( 2350 mm ) , plate solving doesn't always solve because often there are not a whole lot of stars present with close ups of some of the DSO's so having a precise go to becomes pretty important. The Star Sense essentially plate solves to calibrate your scope and gives really good Go To results.  When I use my field reducer, most of the time I don't have any plate solve issues because there are plenty of stars in the field of view. I use ASTAP with  both NINA and Backyard EOS; doesn't matter which programs calls on it; if it works with one, it works with the other.

 

One of the most difficult decisions I had to make was whether to go straight to a cooled dedicated one shot camera or a DSLR. I chose the DSLR not only because I was familiar with them but it would be great to have as a regular camera if I moved on to a dedicated Astro one. ( you can replace the red blocking filter that was removed with a clip in behind the lens).  I don't have the luxury of time and I have to set up and tear down every time I go out so shooting narrow band with mono and filters is not in my future. By the way, Backyard EOS has a version for Nikon also.

 

Never had any issues with my OAG ( except back focus with the field reducer ). The camera I have is very sensitive and even at full focal length never had any problem locking onto a star.... The Celestron OAG is nice because it has a fine focus adjustment knob so you don't have to manually push the camera in and out of the holder to try and focus it.

 

I have to say from personal experience, learning with Backyard EOS and transitioning into NINA was so much easier for me. I use both depending on what I'm doing...

 

One solution I found ( read on some forum ) to overcoming 'stickion' when making fine polar alignment adjustments was to cut out a piece of vinyl or plastic ( like used on a page protector ) and put it between the mount and tripod to reduce friction. It works really well. My wife has a ' Cricut ' machine and I actually designed the identical mount pattern using software and had the Cricut cut it out for me on adhesive backed vinyl. Really works well. I've never tried a Starzonia landing pad but it sounds like a great solution also from Viking 1. Thanks for that...

 

Have to agree with Explorer 1 that NINA is a great piece of software and for Free! I would still opine that a true beginner might be over whelmed by it when first starting out but I'm sure there are far smarter people out there than me!

 

Thanks so much for all the replies.... They actually confirm what I have learned over the last nine months and also confirmed, at least for me, my current methodology for what I do. Its important for beginners reading all of this that each of you have a different situation, different needs, different levels of interest, different amounts of discretionary money... so no one answer is the right one for everyone.

 

Keep the comments coming! I love the feedback.

 

TBear1 

 

 

 



#12 TrustyChords

TrustyChords

    Ranger 4

  • *****
  • Posts: 316
  • Joined: 26 Jun 2017

Posted 22 September 2021 - 02:41 PM

 My wife has a ' Cricut ' machine and I actually designed the identical mount pattern using software and had the Cricut cut it out for me on adhesive backed vinyl. Really works well.

 

Same here. Unrelated tip: you can use the cricut to make a batinov mask if you don't have one (hopefully you can fit the 9.25" diameter). There are places to create and download patterns in vector format somewhere on the internets..


Edited by TrustyChords, 22 September 2021 - 02:42 PM.


#13 unimatrix0

unimatrix0

    Apollo

  • -----
  • Posts: 1,137
  • Joined: 03 Jan 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 03:09 PM

Honestly, the biggest win for me was using Ekos/Indi (NINA does the same job for Windows).

 

It solves any and all polar alignment problems without the need to buy extra equipment. It solves Go-To problems through plate-solving. It manages my captures, whether on a mirrorless camera or cooled camera, it has great guiding, including PPEC, it manages time, location, etc.

 

Basically, one bit of software automatically addressed the root problems identified in points #2-7, #10, #13-15 above. All at a cost of $0, running on a Raspberry Pi I had sitting around anyway.

I've been trying to use Ekos/Kstars for many months now. I tried it on 3 different Pi-s and I'm unable to have it stable enough not to crash or not to have driver problems. Ekos hates Sesto Senso 2 focuser, because , upon reading a bunch of threads in the Indi forums, I have to disable a bunch of stuff via the terminal before I can use my focuser.  And when I get it working, 30 min. later it crashes. 

And it isn't only the focuser. My QHY camera is randomly not recognized or telling me it's not attached,  when I attach it, it works for maybe 20 minutes and Kstars crashes again. 

 

If i wouldn't like the idea I wouldn't keep trying but trying to use Kstars and Ekos - just to get to the point to take an image has been the biggest challenge ever since I started astrophotography. 

It really bothers me that I can't get this thing working and I hate keep failing not to have this thing working. I probably cursed all the devs involved with Ekos and the drivers to hell about 1000 times too, no offense, but I doubt this is all my fault, when I'm perfectly capable doing imaging on any windows software and I think I'm good at dealing with electronics and software and so on. 

 

I was even thinking about wiping one of my laptops and installing ubuntu and try it that way.  I wasted about $350 already (3 raspberry pies) just to get Kstars working and here I am on Windows still. 
 


Edited by unimatrix0, 22 September 2021 - 03:12 PM.


#14 Alex McConahay

Alex McConahay

    Voyager 1

  • *****
  • Posts: 10,788
  • Joined: 11 Aug 2008
  • Loc: Moreno Valley, CA

Posted 22 September 2021 - 03:26 PM

I wonder what TBear1's advice would be if he wrote this three years from now, after all these goofs (like we have all had) are not such a big part of his or her overall experience.

 

What advice would come with even more experience? If instead of just making one piece of advice every time there is a goof, a whole body of three years of experience was used as the foundation of the suggestions. (And they were suggestions to solve particular problems instead of "advice to ALL BEGINNERS." I think experience shows that these individual goofs are not, generally, the things you most need advice. And, while the goofs were solved in a way that became advice, perhaps in the overall experience, TBear1 would have found an even better way to solve the problem---and that would have been better advice. 

 

Each piece of advice seems to be reactions to some goof. Well, if other people make other goofs, then the "Advice" would not really be appropriate.  And TBear1 talks about one way to avoid that goof as if that is the best, and perhaps even the only way to solve the goof. 

 

I appreciate the advice---and yeah, each of the pieces of advice help with that particular goof. But, please take the advice Tbear1 gives as only one suggestion. Balance it with all the other advice one can gather.  There are more ways to get the job done, and perhaps better ways. 

 

Alex



#15 maximalz

maximalz

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • Posts: 32
  • Joined: 12 Nov 2019
  • Loc: France

Posted 22 September 2021 - 04:38 PM

Hey, thanks for that thread man, I think everyone appreciates people giving back to this awesome community.

 

I'd like to add my piece to this too, by giving my set of advices. I had a gigantic number of questions between when I started out with a DSLR pointing up and taking 10-15s exposures, and now, doing DSOs. My list is going to be geared towards lessons learned (which sometime override previous lessons) rather than chronological, which is also fine by the way!

 

1. Use what you have available for now. If you have a stock DSLR and a wide lens, just use that and see for yourself if the end result (which AP is all about) is worth the fiddling around in the dark, the sleepless nights, the long drives sometimes, etc... See if this is for you.

 

2. When you figured this is for you, DOCUMENT yourself. CloudyNights is a fine place, but I'm part of the youtube consuming crowd, and I'd be nowhere near my humble level of comprehension of AP without consuming lots of videos on gear, processing, softwares, etc... Every time there's something I'm interested in, I google and youtube at it in the hope of understanding it before getting in on it, or at least hitting the ground running, and it's been mostly frustration-less to work this way. No huge surprise at least!

 

3. Finally, buying your first pieces of gear. Get a small refractor. Lots of people will agree, lots of people will disagree, but a small refractor is the least maintenance required. I feel that early on, the most important thing is to get results with the least amount of pain possible. Reduce potential pain points, simplify as much as possible, so you get results, and you get hungry for more. Get a small refractor, an equatorial mount (like the HEQ5 Pro or any celestron/CEM equivalent), and just go. Learn to polar align manually first.

 

4. Start gradually improving your automation as soon as you can, provided this is something you enjoy in the hobby. This mainly means learning softwares, documenting on new products often, and so on. Why? The easier it is for you to acquire data, the more chance you'll get to it even after a long day at work, when the sky is clear. You'll get more use out of your nice gear if everything is easier to use, that's a given for many people. Point 1 was see if the efforts are worth it, I do think quality automation comes at the cost of great efforts too, which end up letting you do less efforts in the end. It's a big transition but a rewarding one.

 

5. Speaking about automation, learn platesolving NOW. The earlier you master this tool, the less gear you'll buy to emulate part of what this does. Platesolving is the answer to 50% of your present, future and past questions about AP. At least was for me. How does your mount know where it's pointing? Platesolving. How do you speed up/step up your polar alignment? Platesolving. How do you frame objects exactly like you want? Platesolving. How do you do multiple nights imaging? Platesolving. Each of these is generally a major step up in final image quality.

 

6. Save money for guiding. This is your next step and it will most likely help you more than you think.

 

7. Use dew heaters on both your guide and imaging scopes. I'd suggest taking a look at smart controllers like the Pegasus Pocket Powerboxes, they have many advantages over a simple dew controller.

 

8. Now you'll be faced with one of the toughest decision yet: do I go modified DSLR? Or dedicated cooled camera? I'll ALWAYS suggest going the dedicated route whenever you feel like you need to go to the next step. There definitely is an upgrade path, but sooner rather than later you'll want that dedicated cooled camera. In my country, getting your DSLR astro modified is between 250 and 400 euros depending on brand and model, which is close to half the price of a ZWO ASI 533MC Pro. With today's market, I really think that astromodified DSLR, unless being your first camera, is too granular of a step up. Don't get me wrong, lots of people do wonders with those. But money wise, it's just not worth it anymore IMO. Some people even go the mono route, I don't recommend that right away unless you really know what you're getting into.

 

9. Give Pixinsight a try. I believe you can still get a 30 days trial licence. I highly suggest you get a multi-videos course on it and just go to town with your data or anyone else's during the trial. It's a steep learning curve, but oh my, it made the biggest difference for me out of most of these points. Their licence is extremely fair too : free lifetime upgrades, can be used on an infinite amount of computers.

 

10. This one is very fresh to me. Do post-processing in a way that YOU love. Lots of people argue about how a target SHOULD look and all, but most people know what most targets are supposed to look like already. If you wanna try a funky color combination, do it. If you develop a signature post processing technique, hold it tight. Many of my favourite imagers are people doing something very differently, and ending up with their own style you can spot miles away. Eventually, you'll develop an idea of what you want your image to look like before you're even processing it, and that's a good thing IMO, regardless of if it looks like someone else's or not at all.

 

11. When you're good with most concepts of AP and your gear starts to get complex, give N.I.N.A a try. I'm kind of fanboying over it, but I don't believe there's any piece of paid software that will even come close to the work an open source software like this can provide. Ultimately, I'd say try as many softwares as you can, and pick the one you prefer. But don't sleep on N.I.N.A.

 

Thanks for the opportunity to share all of this, really makes me reflect on the last years that have passed and how the hobby changed for the better with new tech all the time.


Edited by maximalz, 22 September 2021 - 04:39 PM.

  • roygav, mariemarie and sbharrat like this

#16 Tailspin45

Tailspin45

    Mariner 2

  • *****
  • Posts: 254
  • Joined: 10 Mar 2012
  • Loc: Carlsbad CA, near San Diego (Bortle 8)

Posted 22 September 2021 - 04:44 PM

My two cents worth (YMMV):

 

Astrophotography is all about data collection and processing. I spend more time with my computer than my telescope.

 

Start with the best mount you can afford, then match scope and camera based on what you want to image. Getting started, buy used. Needs/wants will change.

 

I didn't spend a fortune on scopes, but a good camera was expensive even used.

 

ASIair is the best astronomy development since the telescope for backyard astronomers.

 

Polar Alignment is easy and fun with ASIair, plate solving is magical, and you can sleep while it follows your multiple target plan, guides, focuses, and does a meridian flip. It won't make your morning coffee.

 

PixInsight is the standard for comparison but Astro Pixel Processor and StarTools got me 90% there with 10% of the aggravation and 50% of the cost.

 

Astrophotography is an incredibly knowledge-intensive, fiddly pass time. If you don't like learning and solving problems consider another hobby.

 

I spent far more money than thought I would, and have found even more satisfaction than I anticipated.


Edited by Tailspin45, 22 September 2021 - 05:20 PM.


#17 unimatrix0

unimatrix0

    Apollo

  • -----
  • Posts: 1,137
  • Joined: 03 Jan 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 05:10 PM

Advice 1 through 15: 
Do not buy cheap and questionable stuff, otherwise you gonna be buying it twice! 

This also applies to nearly anything that is sold. 



#18 AaronH

AaronH

    Explorer 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 86
  • Joined: 20 Apr 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 07:15 PM

I've been trying to use Ekos/Kstars for many months now. I tried it on 3 different Pi-s and I'm unable to have it stable enough not to crash or not to have driver problems. Ekos hates Sesto Senso 2 focuser, because , upon reading a bunch of threads in the Indi forums, I have to disable a bunch of stuff via the terminal before I can use my focuser.  And when I get it working, 30 min. later it crashes.
And it isn't only the focuser. My QHY camera is randomly not recognized or telling me it's not attached,  when I attach it, it works for maybe 20 minutes and Kstars crashes again.

I haven't had any major issues, but I didn't follow the online install guides for setting it up on a Raspberry Pi either, because they seemed a bit iffy. I just threw a standard Ubuntu 20.04 install on a Raspberry Pi 4, added in the Indi PPA, downloaded the QHY SDK, and installed it all. When I bought an EQ6-R it required a newer kernel for its USB interface, so I did an update to 21.04 via do-release-upgrade, and it all just worked. I think this kind of "vanilla Ubuntu" approach works pretty well, because it doesn't introduce extra complications and keeps things pretty close to what the developers are likely to be using.

 

However, I use Linux predominately anyway, so I'm a lot more comfortable setting it up when compared with Windows. If I was less familiar with Linux, I'd either go for Stellarmate (to get a packaged, supported solution on a standard environment), use NINA on a NUC, or if I was willing to go ZWO-exclusive, just get an ASIair.

 

Either way, some kind of software for doing three-point polar alignment, platesolving, controlling cameras, guiding, etc. really seems a no-brainer.


Edited by AaronH, 22 September 2021 - 08:44 PM.


#19 jonnybravo0311

jonnybravo0311

    Mercury-Atlas

  • *****
  • Posts: 2,951
  • Joined: 05 Nov 2020
  • Loc: NJ, US

Posted 22 September 2021 - 07:25 PM

I've been trying to use Ekos/Kstars for many months now. I tried it on 3 different Pi-s and I'm unable to have it stable enough not to crash or not to have driver problems. Ekos hates Sesto Senso 2 focuser, because , upon reading a bunch of threads in the Indi forums, I have to disable a bunch of stuff via the terminal before I can use my focuser.  And when I get it working, 30 min. later it crashes. 

And it isn't only the focuser. My QHY camera is randomly not recognized or telling me it's not attached,  when I attach it, it works for maybe 20 minutes and Kstars crashes again. 

 

If i wouldn't like the idea I wouldn't keep trying but trying to use Kstars and Ekos - just to get to the point to take an image has been the biggest challenge ever since I started astrophotography. 

It really bothers me that I can't get this thing working and I hate keep failing not to have this thing working. I probably cursed all the devs involved with Ekos and the drivers to hell about 1000 times too, no offense, but I doubt this is all my fault, when I'm perfectly capable doing imaging on any windows software and I think I'm good at dealing with electronics and software and so on. 

 

I was even thinking about wiping one of my laptops and installing ubuntu and try it that way.  I wasted about $350 already (3 raspberry pies) just to get Kstars working and here I am on Windows still. 
 

Why are you doing that to yourself? If Windows software works for you and your equipment... why continue to struggle with another solution that causes nothing but pain, grief, frustration, etc? I mean, sure, I understand wanting to figure something out, but this is a hobby, not a job. Nobody's paying you to solve this problem. By your own admission, you've already burned more cash than it would have taken to pickup a nice little scope-side mini PC like a Beelink (and had some leftover). Not to mention all the time you've lost fighting with software/hardware. Start enjoying imaging instead of constantly fighting it :).



#20 rgsalinger

rgsalinger

    Cosmos

  • *****
  • Moderators
  • Posts: 9,829
  • Joined: 19 Feb 2007
  • Loc: Carlsbad Ca

Posted 22 September 2021 - 07:35 PM

So, my most embarassing moment came when I moved to California and set up my trusty Celestron CGE mount by using a compass to find north. Where I lived before magnetic and true north were within a couple of degrees of one another. So, I would always see Polaris in the polar scope and could go from there. Polaris was missing. I had to manhandle the system around to get it into the polar scope. Next time out, same thing. This went on for quite a while, I must admit. I would not load the OTA onto the mount until I could see Polaris roughly centered in the polar scope. Eventually I did figure it out.................

 

Now as far as advice is concerned. The first thing to do is to join a local club. You will make rapid progress if you can find people to help you on the spot. You could also do with a good book and AP. I like the Charles Bracken book The Deep Sky Imaging Primer. 

 

I would not use anything other than Windows 10 Pro.  My computers (all 3 of them) cost under 250 dollars and are dedicated just to astronomy. That means that there's nothing to interfere with my AP software. I would strongly recommend a full imaging suite even to start out. However, APT is well regarded as a simple to use imaging suite. I find that the Backyard stuff is just a bit too weird. I have a Nikon DSLR that I expermented with and I really had trouble. 

 

Finally, think long and hard about how to cable up the system. I only now have mounts with factory installed through the mount cabling for power and USB. So, it's easy for me to set up and get going. If you don't have such a mount, using a quality hub keeps the USB cabling down to minimal lengths. There are a number of appliances like the Pegasus Power Box that give you both power and USB on the OTA or on the tripod. Your best friend when imaging is short USB cables. Period. 

 

That's all folks..........................

 

Rgrds-Ross



#21 AaronH

AaronH

    Explorer 1

  • -----
  • Posts: 86
  • Joined: 20 Apr 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 08:26 PM

I would not use anything other than Windows 10 Pro.  My computers (all 3 of them) cost under 250 dollars and are dedicated just to astronomy. That means that there's nothing to interfere with my AP software. I would strongly recommend a full imaging suite even to start out. However, APT is well regarded as a simple to use imaging suite. I find that the Backyard stuff is just a bit too weird. I have a Nikon DSLR that I expermented with and I really had trouble. 

I think this is really personal choice.


Whenever I’ve set up a Windows box for testing Windows-only image processing software, I’ve ended up infuriated, and switched back to my usual Linux/Mac combo before long. But then, I don’t normally use Windows, so I’m not used to it.

 

I think the best advice is to just use what you’re comfortable with. Astrophotography is hard enough without dealing with an unfamiliar operating system as well.



#22 Tbear1

Tbear1

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 29
  • Joined: 21 Mar 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 08:40 PM

 

 

I appreciate the advice---and yeah, each of the pieces of advice help with that particular goof. But, please take the advice Tbear1 gives as only one suggestion. Balance it with all the other advice one can gather.  There are more ways to get the job done, and perhaps better ways. 

 

Alex

Alex

 

Totally agree with your comment! No doubt there are many and better ways to solve particular challenges and issues other than the way I did it. I certainly didn't mean to imply that its my way or the highway - which is why I encourage as many people to chime in to this thread as possible!

 

Thanks for taking the time to offer your opinion.

 

Tbear1



#23 Tbear1

Tbear1

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 29
  • Joined: 21 Mar 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 08:48 PM

Hey, thanks for that thread man, I think everyone appreciates people giving back to this awesome community.

 

I'd like to add my piece to this too, by giving my set of advices. I had a gigantic number of questions between when I started out with a DSLR pointing up and taking 10-15s exposures, and now, doing DSOs. My list is going to be geared towards lessons learned (which sometime override previous lessons) rather than chronological, which is also fine by the way!

 

1. Use what you have available for now. If you have a stock DSLR and a wide lens, just use that and see for yourself if the end result (which AP is all about) is worth the fiddling around in the dark, the sleepless nights, the long drives sometimes, etc... See if this is for you.

 

2. When you figured this is for you, DOCUMENT yourself. CloudyNights is a fine place, but I'm part of the youtube consuming crowd, and I'd be nowhere near my humble level of comprehension of AP without consuming lots of videos on gear, processing, softwares, etc... Every time there's something I'm interested in, I google and youtube at it in the hope of understanding it before getting in on it, or at least hitting the ground running, and it's been mostly frustration-less to work this way. No huge surprise at least!

 

3. Finally, buying your first pieces of gear. Get a small refractor. Lots of people will agree, lots of people will disagree, but a small refractor is the least maintenance required. I feel that early on, the most important thing is to get results with the least amount of pain possible. Reduce potential pain points, simplify as much as possible, so you get results, and you get hungry for more. Get a small refractor, an equatorial mount (like the HEQ5 Pro or any celestron/CEM equivalent), and just go. Learn to polar align manually first.

 

4. Start gradually improving your automation as soon as you can, provided this is something you enjoy in the hobby. This mainly means learning softwares, documenting on new products often, and so on. Why? The easier it is for you to acquire data, the more chance you'll get to it even after a long day at work, when the sky is clear. You'll get more use out of your nice gear if everything is easier to use, that's a given for many people. Point 1 was see if the efforts are worth it, I do think quality automation comes at the cost of great efforts too, which end up letting you do less efforts in the end. It's a big transition but a rewarding one.

 

5. Speaking about automation, learn platesolving NOW. The earlier you master this tool, the less gear you'll buy to emulate part of what this does. Platesolving is the answer to 50% of your present, future and past questions about AP. At least was for me. How does your mount know where it's pointing? Platesolving. How do you speed up/step up your polar alignment? Platesolving. How do you frame objects exactly like you want? Platesolving. How do you do multiple nights imaging? Platesolving. Each of these is generally a major step up in final image quality.

 

6. Save money for guiding. This is your next step and it will most likely help you more than you think.

 

7. Use dew heaters on both your guide and imaging scopes. I'd suggest taking a look at smart controllers like the Pegasus Pocket Powerboxes, they have many advantages over a simple dew controller.

 

8. Now you'll be faced with one of the toughest decision yet: do I go modified DSLR? Or dedicated cooled camera? I'll ALWAYS suggest going the dedicated route whenever you feel like you need to go to the next step. There definitely is an upgrade path, but sooner rather than later you'll want that dedicated cooled camera. In my country, getting your DSLR astro modified is between 250 and 400 euros depending on brand and model, which is close to half the price of a ZWO ASI 533MC Pro. With today's market, I really think that astromodified DSLR, unless being your first camera, is too granular of a step up. Don't get me wrong, lots of people do wonders with those. But money wise, it's just not worth it anymore IMO. Some people even go the mono route, I don't recommend that right away unless you really know what you're getting into.

 

9. Give Pixinsight a try. I believe you can still get a 30 days trial licence. I highly suggest you get a multi-videos course on it and just go to town with your data or anyone else's during the trial. It's a steep learning curve, but oh my, it made the biggest difference for me out of most of these points. Their licence is extremely fair too : free lifetime upgrades, can be used on an infinite amount of computers.

 

10. This one is very fresh to me. Do post-processing in a way that YOU love. Lots of people argue about how a target SHOULD look and all, but most people know what most targets are supposed to look like already. If you wanna try a funky color combination, do it. If you develop a signature post processing technique, hold it tight. Many of my favourite imagers are people doing something very differently, and ending up with their own style you can spot miles away. Eventually, you'll develop an idea of what you want your image to look like before you're even processing it, and that's a good thing IMO, regardless of if it looks like someone else's or not at all.

 

11. When you're good with most concepts of AP and your gear starts to get complex, give N.I.N.A a try. I'm kind of fanboying over it, but I don't believe there's any piece of paid software that will even come close to the work an open source software like this can provide. Ultimately, I'd say try as many softwares as you can, and pick the one you prefer. But don't sleep on N.I.N.A.

 

Thanks for the opportunity to share all of this, really makes me reflect on the last years that have passed and how the hobby changed for the better with new tech all the time.

 

Awesome post! It took me quite awhile to write the opening to this thread, so I appreciate how long it took you for yours. I've offered my views and certainly have no intention of giving my opinion ( pro or con ) on each one yours one by one. Its great input for beginners to think about as they jump into DSO photography.... and formulate their own decisions.

 

Thanks for taking the time...

 

Tbear1


  • maximalz likes this

#24 Tbear1

Tbear1

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 29
  • Joined: 21 Mar 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 08:52 PM

So, my most embarassing moment came when I moved to California and set up my trusty Celestron CGE mount by using a compass to find north. Where I lived before magnetic and true north were within a couple of degrees of one another. So, I would always see Polaris in the polar scope and could go from there. Polaris was missing. I had to manhandle the system around to get it into the polar scope. Next time out, same thing. This went on for quite a while, I must admit. I would not load the OTA onto the mount until I could see Polaris roughly centered in the polar scope. Eventually I did figure it out.................

 

 

 Ross - Thanks for sharing your embarrassing moment - we all have them and its sort of fun to laugh at ourselves in hindsight. 

 

Your comment about joining a club is also spot on - I belong to one in my community in Florida.

 

Tbear1 



#25 Tbear1

Tbear1

    Sputnik

  • -----
  • topic starter
  • Posts: 29
  • Joined: 21 Mar 2021

Posted 22 September 2021 - 08:53 PM

Advice 1 through 15: 
Do not buy cheap and questionable stuff, otherwise you gonna be buying it twice! 

This also applies to nearly anything that is sold. 

Amen to that comment. Soooo true! Thanks for your reply!

 

Tbear1




CNers have asked about a donation box for Cloudy Nights over the years, so here you go. Donation is not required by any means, so please enjoy your stay.


Recent Topics





Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Astrophotography, Beginner, Celestron, DSLR, Imaging, Polar Alignment, Software



Cloudy Nights LLC
Cloudy Nights Sponsor: Astronomics