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Beginner kit for DSO - Suggestions?

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#1 Toolopeth_radiohead

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 10:53 AM

Feels weird when I think "Am I even asking the right questions?". But here goes nothing.
I am a novice when it comes to astrophotography. I've been lucky enough to live in a remote area (Bortle 2-3) and I've spent almost 6 months enjoying visual only astronomy. Lately I've started imaging planets with my 10 inch dob with ASI224MC. And I'm itching to get into DSO imaging. I've done some "research" and I know I'd need a startracker, a good quality mount and a DSLR (or a dedicated deep space camera).

Definition of "Kit" to consider the following question:

Kit: All necessary equipments to get started with DSO imaging.



Now, I know it's not a cheap hobby, but there's certainly room to exponentially grow and upgrade your kit. So I would love to start off slowly, but definitely wouldn't want to spend on a namesake kit that'd ruin my experience.

So my request is -

Please suggest what mount + tripod, a goto tracker, camera (and what else?) I should invest on that'll help me enjoy the hobby at an optimum investment ($2000)?
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#2 bobzeq25

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 11:23 AM

Two good options.  One a bit below $2000, one a bit over.  In each case I'll start with the most important piece, the mount.  That fact (the mount is the most important bit) is something you need to internalize, right now.

 

$300-500 camera tracker.  I like the iOptron Skyguider Pro, there are other good options.

 

A camera.  These days you can start with an astro specific camera, with some additional work, not too bad.  But most people would start with a DSLR.  Canons and Nikons are more software compatible, so they're by far the best choice.  I have a Nikon D5500, a used 5300/5500/5600 is one good choice.   It would be great if you have a Canon or a Nikon now, don't spend too much on one if you don't.  You'll likely want to move on to an astro specific camera.

 

A lens.  Fixed focal lengths (primes) are better than zooms.  Don't exceed 200mm, 50mm is a good place to start, good ones are cheap.

 

Two.

 

German equatorial mount.  The minimum I recommend is an iOptron GEM26 or an HEQ5.  Both a bit above $1000.

 

Small telescope 51-80mm.  Bigger is not better.  Perhaps the least critical choice.  An illustrative suggestion.

 

https://www.astronom...fpl-53-f-6.html

 

Yes, you spend more on the mount than the scope.  It's more important, and they cost more to make.

 

DSLR, if you want to stay close to $2000.  The astro specific 533 color is $900, has some advantages.

 

With a DSLR you can start out with a simple intervalometer, you'll rapidly see how using computer control could be helpful.  With an astro specific camera, a computer is a necessity, they're basically just a chip and an interface.

 

The best $44 you'll spend.

 

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

 

You'll need a processing program.  The "free"  (not in terms of things other than money, like your time) option of a terrestrial photo editing program can be used, but it's a dead end these days.  I recommend Astro Pixel Processor, there are alternatives.  But APP works well now, and positions you for the future.

 

Another thing to internalize, right now.  Equipment is important, in the sense that bad choices (like an inadequate mount, or overly ambitious optics) can make this very hard.  But, beginners attribute too much importance to the equipment.  So, also internalize this.

 

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

 

There are good reasons why I'm not specifying things too much.  I've concentrated on the important points.


Edited by bobzeq25, 06 December 2021 - 11:33 AM.

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#3 matt_astro_tx

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 12:20 PM

I was very methodical going about entering the hobby as economically as possible and I arrived at the following, which I purchased earlier this year and have used for 8 months now with great joy and success.

  • Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pack Tracker Mount
  • A used camera tripod I already owned (free)
  • AT60ED 60mm doublet refractor (with field flattener)
  • ASI183MC Pro cooled astro camera which I purchased used on Cloudy Nights
  • 1.25" Baader UV/IR cut filter
  • ASIAir Pro controller
  • SV165 30mm Guidescope
  • ASI120MM-Mini Guide camera
  • Total Cost at the time: ~$2300

Some additional info:

  • The star tracker is not a "goto" mount.  You will have to manually move the scope to your targets, but this is made easy with the ASIAir Pro (more later).  The star tracker is great for DSLR cameras and small telescopes like a 60mm.
  • If you do not own a DSLR camera already, then I would recommend getting an astro camera.  It is purpose-built for astronomy and outperforms DSLRs all day.  The ASI533MC is another camera you should take a hard look at.
  • The ASIAir Pro is a controversial thing.  People who own them love them.  People who don't hate them.  I own one and love it, but I understand the other side's arguments:  There are cheaper ways to get the same if not more functionality if you're willing to put in some extra effort.  (I was not.)  The ASIAir Pro is great for a beginner because it's everything in one box:  Camera controller, platesolver, focusing aid, autoguider, and more.  I recommend it, but it's not needed if you have a laptop you can use to control everything.
  • The Guidescope and guidecam were later additions when I wanted crisper images.  Their addition was game changing, but by no means do you need them to start.

Good luck!


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#4 bobzeq25

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 12:49 PM

Here's why I don't recommend the ASIAir Pro.  It has limited hardware/software compatibility.  Cameras must be ZWO (I don't know if it can use a DSLR).  It runs a crippled version of PhD2, and you can't use the good one.

 

Platesolving to locate your target is great.  But there are many other ways to platesolve, rather than using an ASIAir Pro, which does not do it better.

 

It's simple.  It's limited.  It does not position you well to get more serious, unlike APP.


Edited by bobzeq25, 06 December 2021 - 12:50 PM.


#5 matt_astro_tx

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 02:41 PM

I agree with Bob however, as an appliance, the ASIAir is good at simplicity.  If you're ok with going the ZWO-only route (which I was) and you want to get up and running quickly, then the ASIAir is a good tool.

 

If you want the more traditional, technical experience, have the time for that, and don't want to be limited in the long run, then as Bob said there are other tools available.

 

It does work with DSLRs.  Check website for compatibility. 

 

(I was trying to be as impartial as possible in my suggestion.  Here's what I use, I like it, but consider other options also.)


Edited by matt_astro_tx, 06 December 2021 - 02:42 PM.

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#6 radon199

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 03:25 PM

Seeing as you say you live in a Bortle 2-3 then portability is probably not your #1 priority.

 

I got a Star Adventurer, and I like it, but I did so because I need to drive 45 minutes to get to a dark enough site for imaging.

 

If you are imaging in your back yard then I think a mid range mount in the $800-$1500 is well worth it as a starting point, and you will have zero issues for quite some time unless you want to upgrade quickly.


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#7 Pingu

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 03:26 PM

I agree with Matt. ZWO may not the best but it will definitely get you results for cheap. Focus in the basics and when ya hit the lottery, you can upgrade to that $20M imaging set up all the big dogs got. Within the mean time, you can also work on your post processing skills if you ain't there yet.

Edited by Pingu, 06 December 2021 - 03:26 PM.

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#8 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 05:35 PM

The challenge in DSO imaging, as different from planetary imaging, is that the targets are both rather large, and incredibly dim.  So you will need a relatively short focal length scope / lens and relatively fast.  Folks often start with a DSLR and telephoto lens on a StarTracker, or an 70-80mm f/6 telescope and a computerized GEM mount.

 

The need for the mount to provide a stable and accurate tracking of the sky cannot be understated.  That challenge grows quickly with increased weight on top, and really quickly with longer focal lengths.  Fortunately, longer focal lengths also limit what you can image, due to the narrow field of view, removing the temptation to go too big smile.gif.  So given what you already own and the budget limits, I'd invest in the mount first, then the lens or scope, then the camera.  Choosing the imaging train depends on what sorts of targets you want to image.  Wide field Milky Way images favor the DSLR and kit lens; remote galaxies (except Andromeda) favor the telescope (even a 102mm f/7).  A DSLR can work well there too, especially a low-noise one such as the Nikon D5300.  The latest, massive sensor cameras are not an advantage; if you're looking for a high-end camera I'd invest in a astro-oriented camera instead of a shiny new DSLR.  It is possible, though not fun, to do some limited deep sky imaging with your planetary camera.  So if you go with a scope instead of telephoto, buy the camera last.

 

If you go with a telescope (vs kit lens) for imaging, you should budget for an autoguider solution too, especially if you're looking at a longer scope (more than 80mm f/6).  Even then, it's a good idea.  As noted, the ASIAir is a good "appliance" solution for overall control and image acquisition.  If you want lower cost, a simple Raspberry Pi 4B with Astroberry (free) or StellarMate (low cost) is a good solution, or an old laptop running either Windows or Linux, but you'll have to gather all the software pieces to pull everything together.

 

But before any of this, do get the Charles Bracken book that Bob suggests, or something like it.  The book by Allan Hall ("Getting Started:  Long Exposure Astrophotography") is also good (I have both); Hall also has one on Budget Astrophotography that looks good.  The main things these books do is explain the concepts, terminology, and equipment involved with taking effectively-hours-long exposures of moving targets that are barely visible above the background noise.  Much of the intuition you gained in doing Planetary imaging with your big Dob will lead you astray when you switch to imaging the deep sky.  It's a whole different hobby.

 

Good luck!


Edited by TelescopeGreg, 06 December 2021 - 05:37 PM.

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#9 Toolopeth_radiohead

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 10:43 PM

Two good options. One a bit below $2000, one a bit over. In each case I'll start with the most important piece, the mount. That fact (the mount is the most important bit) is something you need to internalize, right now.

$300-500 camera tracker. I like the iOptron Skyguider Pro, there are other good options.

A camera. These days you can start with an astro specific camera, with some additional work, not too bad. But most people would start with a DSLR. Canons and Nikons are more software compatible, so they're by far the best choice. I have a Nikon D5500, a used 5300/5500/5600 is one good choice. It would be great if you have a Canon or a Nikon now, don't spend too much on one if you don't. You'll likely want to move on to an astro specific camera.

A lens. Fixed focal lengths (primes) are better than zooms. Don't exceed 200mm, 50mm is a good place to start, good ones are cheap.

Two.

German equatorial mount. The minimum I recommend is an iOptron GEM26 or an HEQ5. Both a bit above $1000.

Small telescope 51-80mm. Bigger is not better. Perhaps the least critical choice. An illustrative suggestion.

https://www.astronom...fpl-53-f-6.html

Yes, you spend more on the mount than the scope. It's more important, and they cost more to make.

DSLR, if you want to stay close to $2000. The astro specific 533 color is $900, has some advantages.

With a DSLR you can start out with a simple intervalometer, you'll rapidly see how using computer control could be helpful. With an astro specific camera, a computer is a necessity, they're basically just a chip and an interface.

The best $44 you'll spend.

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

You'll need a processing program. The "free" (not in terms of things other than money, like your time) option of a terrestrial photo editing program can be used, but it's a dead end these days. I recommend Astro Pixel Processor, there are alternatives. But APP works well now, and positions you for the future.

Another thing to internalize, right now. Equipment is important, in the sense that bad choices (like an inadequate mount, or overly ambitious optics) can make this very hard. But, beginners attribute too much importance to the equipment. So, also internalize this.

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

There are good reasons why I'm not specifying things too much. I've concentrated on the important points.


Thank you Bob, I've always received valueable advise from you on CN. Appreciate all you do.
I think I will start off with Option 1, as I want to absorb this experience slowly and expand gradually so that I can appreciate the upgrades later.

#10 Toolopeth_radiohead

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 10:44 PM

I was very methodical going about entering the hobby as economically as possible and I arrived at the following, which I purchased earlier this year and have used for 8 months now with great joy and success.

  • Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pack Tracker Mount
  • A used camera tripod I already owned (free)
  • AT60ED 60mm doublet refractor (with field flattener)
  • ASI183MC Pro cooled astro camera which I purchased used on Cloudy Nights
  • 1.25" Baader UV/IR cut filter
  • ASIAir Pro controller
  • SV165 30mm Guidescope
  • ASI120MM-Mini Guide camera
  • Total Cost at the time: ~$2300
Some additional info:
  • The star tracker is not a "goto" mount. You will have to manually move the scope to your targets, but this is made easy with the ASIAir Pro (more later). The star tracker is great for DSLR cameras and small telescopes like a 60mm.
  • If you do not own a DSLR camera already, then I would recommend getting an astro camera. It is purpose-built for astronomy and outperforms DSLRs all day. The ASI533MC is another camera you should take a hard look at.
  • The ASIAir Pro is a controversial thing. People who own them love them. People who don't hate them. I own one and love it, but I understand the other side's arguments: There are cheaper ways to get the same if not more functionality if you're willing to put in some extra effort. (I was not.) The ASIAir Pro is great for a beginner because it's everything in one box: Camera controller, platesolver, focusing aid, autoguider, and more. I recommend it, but it's not needed if you have a laptop you can use to control everything.
  • The Guidescope and guidecam were later additions when I wanted crisper images. Their addition was game changing, but by no means do you need them to start.
Good luck!

Thanks a lot Matt for the inputs and the justification behind your choices. I'll definitely take it into consideration.

#11 Toolopeth_radiohead

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 10:46 PM

I agree with Matt. ZWO may not the best but it will definitely get you results for cheap. Focus in the basics and when ya hit the lottery, you can upgrade to that $20M imaging set up all the big dogs got. Within the mean time, you can also work on your post processing skills if you ain't there yet.


You're precisely correct when you said I have to work to improve my post processing skills. Thanks for your input.

#12 Toolopeth_radiohead

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 10:47 PM

The challenge in DSO imaging, as different from planetary imaging, is that the targets are both rather large, and incredibly dim. So you will need a relatively short focal length scope / lens and relatively fast. Folks often start with a DSLR and telephoto lens on a StarTracker, or an 70-80mm f/6 telescope and a computerized GEM mount.

The need for the mount to provide a stable and accurate tracking of the sky cannot be understated. That challenge grows quickly with increased weight on top, and really quickly with longer focal lengths. Fortunately, longer focal lengths also limit what you can image, due to the narrow field of view, removing the temptation to go too big smile.gif. So given what you already own and the budget limits, I'd invest in the mount first, then the lens or scope, then the camera. Choosing the imaging train depends on what sorts of targets you want to image. Wide field Milky Way images favor the DSLR and kit lens; remote galaxies (except Andromeda) favor the telescope (even a 102mm f/7). A DSLR can work well there too, especially a low-noise one such as the Nikon D5300. The latest, massive sensor cameras are not an advantage; if you're looking for a high-end camera I'd invest in a astro-oriented camera instead of a shiny new DSLR. It is possible, though not fun, to do some limited deep sky imaging with your planetary camera. So if you go with a scope instead of telephoto, buy the camera last.

If you go with a telescope (vs kit lens) for imaging, you should budget for an autoguider solution too, especially if you're looking at a longer scope (more than 80mm f/6). Even then, it's a good idea. As noted, the ASIAir is a good "appliance" solution for overall control and image acquisition. If you want lower cost, a simple Raspberry Pi 4B with Astroberry (free) or StellarMate (low cost) is a good solution, or an old laptop running either Windows or Linux, but you'll have to gather all the software pieces to pull everything together.

But before any of this, do get the Charles Bracken book that Bob suggests, or something like it. The book by Allan Hall ("Getting Started: Long Exposure Astrophotography") is also good (I have both); Hall also has one on Budget Astrophotography that looks good. The main things these books do is explain the concepts, terminology, and equipment involved with taking effectively-hours-long exposures of moving targets that are barely visible above the background noise. Much of the intuition you gained in doing Planetary imaging with your big Dob will lead you astray when you switch to imaging the deep sky. It's a whole different hobby.

Good luck!


Thank you Greg. I'll definitely have to read Allan's book now.

#13 theKCW

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Posted 06 December 2021 - 11:51 PM

I’ll also second Bob, though I’m also just starting out. Bob gave me similar advice when I purchased my equipment a year or two ago, but now that I finally have some time I’ve been enjoying it. I’m using a Nikon D5500 with the Star Adventure and a couple fast prime lenses and while the results need some work, it’s nice having reduced exposure times from fast optics assuming you can get the focus. I also recommend the Charles Bracken book as well.
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#14 Sheridan

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Posted 12 December 2021 - 04:53 AM

I have the ioptron skyguider pro and it works well for what it does however it's completely manual you have to find the targets on your own. I love this setup because it's a grab and go. As for cameras I've got a couple of nikons I use along with a couple of prime lenses. The Rokinon 14mm F2.8, for MW. Mitakon 85mm F2 and 135mm F2.8 ( Fully manual budget lenses the camera doesn't even think a lens is attached). If I were to do it again today I would probably go with a beefier go to mount, key word being goto. If you have a camera and try pod already just take it out and shoot it see what you get it's a lot of fun either way. Guys have shot really nice photos of M31 with just a camera and tripod.

#15 terry59

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Posted 12 December 2021 - 07:26 AM

Purchase equipment you can grow into, not out of. 

 

Learn your equipment before making changes

 

Automation is the holy grail of those that want the best data

 

Ask questions but experiment on your own

 

Your local environment is yours, others won't have the same environmental conditions


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#16 jonnybravo0311

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Posted 12 December 2021 - 03:38 PM

Purchase equipment you can grow into, not out of. 

 

Learn your equipment before making changes

 

Automation is the holy grail of those that want the best data

 

Ask questions but experiment on your own

 

Your local environment is yours, others won't have the same environmental conditions

This.

 

Like Matt, I purchased a Star Adventurer. Unlike Matt, I didn't like it and upgraded to a GOTO mount about a month later. The Star Adventurer has been sitting in its box for over a year now.


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#17 matt_astro_tx

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Posted 13 December 2021 - 06:00 AM

Yes, the star adventurer is a mount you'll outgrow.  How quickly depends on how much you're using it, and how quickly you'll itch to get a new scope.  Had I purchased a "real" mount, I would've had to spend another $1k.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) my budget determined my choices.

 

I absolutely agree that you should buy the best GOTO mount you can afford.  It will serve you for years to come and be the basis for all else.

 

But I think it's worth noting that when I was deliberating what to purchase, I had people advising me to put all of my $2k budget into a mount.  Had I taken that advice I would be sitting here today with a shiny and very capable mount, with nothing to put on it.  Let's get real for a minute: With five kids life this year has not afforded me the extra funds to put into a hobby.  Well, not a hobby as expensive as astrophotography anyway.  I knew that $2k budget would be my one-and-done opportunity this year to begin astrophotography and I believe I made the most of it.

 

Ok, back to advice:  Star trackers are called trackers because that's what they are and that's all they do.  They are not true mounts.  They have many limitations, and using one requires compromises and a dash of ingenuity.  But like anything if you're dedicated to learning how to use it well, you'll get admirable results.  I think people tend to buy a tracker, get frustrated with it, buy a real mount, and then point out how much better the mount is.  But they are two different things entirely.  There is no comparison.  They were designed for different purposes.

 

I guess what I'm saying is, once you make your choice of equipment (whatever that may be), fully commit to it, and learn how to use it for everything it's got.

 

You should probably buy a mount though.  I've been eyeing the EQ6R and GEM45 for a year now.


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#18 jonnybravo0311

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Posted 13 December 2021 - 09:10 AM

You certainly can create images with a tracker. I've done it. Matt has been doing it for a year. It's quite possible that a tracker scratches your itch for astrophotography.

 

In my case, I knew I wanted a bit more of a scope than could be managed effectively by a tracker. I knew I wanted a way to automate my processes. I knew that with my relatively limited patch of sky, I would want to switch between targets on a given night. I knew I wanted a mount that was also relatively portable. These considerations led me to the purchase of my CEM40. I bought used from a local seller. I already owned a camera and lenses, so I could image immediately.

 

At the end of the day, if the entire budget is $2000 for camera, glass and mount, you're going to need to accept some compromises. If you want a capable mount like the EQ6-R Pro, that's going to leave you very little for the camera and glass. On the other hand, you can get a setup very comparable to Matt's for around the same price. This will have a dedicated, cooled astrocam, tracker, guider, scope side computer, etc. The compromise here is that you're going to be dealing with the limitations of the tracker. Which makes more sense is only a question you can answer smile.gif.


Edited by jonnybravo0311, 13 December 2021 - 09:11 AM.


#19 matt_astro_tx

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Posted 13 December 2021 - 10:37 AM

Well said JB.  I've heard it said multiple times that $2,000 is the average price of entry into AP, and that was certainly my experience.  Also, that's just for entry: A bare bones setup.  A more capable and "future proof" setup will cost more.  Hopefully the OP can afford some more premium componentry than I could at the time.


Edited by matt_astro_tx, 13 December 2021 - 10:38 AM.


#20 terry59

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Posted 13 December 2021 - 11:32 AM

Well said JB.  I've heard it said multiple times that $2,000 is the average price of entry into AP, and that was certainly my experience.  Also, that's just for entry: A bare bones setup.  A more capable and "future proof" setup will cost more.  Hopefully the OP can afford some more premium componentry than I could at the time.

With $2000, given the current state of AP equipment availability, I would buy an Orion Sirius new (in stock), the modded D5300 kit listed on here for $500 and the Nikkor 180ED listed on here for $350. Slightly above $2k and will carry you until you know if you want to go further. The Sirius can easily make the transition to computer controlled automated imaging along with you if you move forward


Edited by terry59, 13 December 2021 - 11:36 AM.



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