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Beginner's first scope - am I being too ambitious?

Beginner Equipment Visual Imaging
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#1 sleepyskygrabber

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Posted 03 October 2023 - 12:38 PM

Hello CNers,

I recently got interested in visual astronomy and decided to dip my toe in the water by getting a set of Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars and a tripod, and from the first crisp views of the moon and Pleiades I was hooked. I immediately started doing a ton of research into a telescope, and I think I've settled on getting a computerized/go-to one, like the Celestron nexstar series. I really want something that excels at planetary viewing, but something that I could also eventually adapt and use for astrophotography of DSOs.
 

Though I've never used a telescope before, I've learned a lot in my research about how telescopes work, what equipment is needed to actually use them correctly, what results to actually expect as a beginner, etc, and I think I know what I'm getting myself into. On the other hand, I'm worried I might be underestimating how much work will go into keeping the telescope (and associated equipment) maintained without the right knowledge/experience, or that I'll get the telescope and then just not be able to figure out how to actually use it correctly. For example, I know the nexstar mount finds objects and tracks them for you, but you need to align the scope first, which means that you need some knowledge of the sky.
 

I've been looking at a lot of used nexstar telescope postings, thinking that I could start out with an inexpensive purchase (and maybe the smaller scope - the 4SE) first to make all the beginner mistakes and get some experience before graduating to a larger and more expensive scope.

I'm hoping some experienced telescope users who actually know what they're talking about will look at my ramblings and hopefully clear up any misconceptions I probably have and point me in the right direction.

 

Thanks in advance.

Clear skies!



#2 bobzeq25

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Posted 03 October 2023 - 01:24 PM

Hello CNers,

I recently got interested in visual astronomy and decided to dip my toe in the water by getting a set of Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars and a tripod, and from the first crisp views of the moon and Pleiades I was hooked. I immediately started doing a ton of research into a telescope, and I think I've settled on getting a computerized/go-to one, like the Celestron nexstar series. I really want something that excels at planetary viewing, but something that I could also eventually adapt and use for astrophotography of DSOs.
 

Though I've never used a telescope before, I've learned a lot in my research about how telescopes work, what equipment is needed to actually use them correctly, what results to actually expect as a beginner, etc, and I think I know what I'm getting myself into. On the other hand, I'm worried I might be underestimating how much work will go into keeping the telescope (and associated equipment) maintained without the right knowledge/experience, or that I'll get the telescope and then just not be able to figure out how to actually use it correctly. For example, I know the nexstar mount finds objects and tracks them for you, but you need to align the scope first, which means that you need some knowledge of the sky.
 

I've been looking at a lot of used nexstar telescope postings, thinking that I could start out with an inexpensive purchase (and maybe the smaller scope - the 4SE) first to make all the beginner mistakes and get some experience before graduating to a larger and more expensive scope.

I'm hoping some experienced telescope users who actually know what they're talking about will look at my ramblings and hopefully clear up any misconceptions I probably have and point me in the right direction.

 

Thanks in advance.

Clear skies!

You posted on a DSO imaging forum, so this answer will apply to that.  As explained below, you need to consult other forums here for other things you wish to do.

 

It's not a question of ambition.  It's a question of paying attention the the experience of others who have walked that path.  Some no doubt more ambitious, some less.

 

It's a question of paying attention to the recognized experts in the field, and their advice.  I'm not including myself.

 

It's a question of understanding that DSO imaging is an unintuitive activity, and that using your intuition is very risky.

 

Perhaps most of all it's a question of understanding the VERY different natures of:  visual astronomy, using your eye; planetary imaging, using a camera on extremely bright (sunlit) targets; and DSO imaging, using a camera on very dim things, dim because they're so very far away.

 

The fourth thing is OFTEN overlooked as being a lot different than the third.  LEARNING DSO imaging.  It has special needs.  As many people have found out.

 

Those are four different things.  What works for one activity may EASILY not work for another.

 

My specialty is giving advice about how to LEARN DSO imaging.  I base it on reading what other people have written.  So I quote them.  Here's the most important thing.

 

"The recurring theme and BEST PIECE OF ADVICE BY FAR I received over and over again was a) the mount is king and everything else comes second b) start with a widefield refractor and build your skills and go from there. There is so much involved and building good practices and habits and foundational building from the start will save you a lot of wasted time and heartache."

 

"Convincing me to start with a smaller widefield APO and get the best mount I possibly could even at the expense of the scope proved to be incredible wisdom that I have passed along."

 

"After months of learning and overcoming challenges <with the SCT>, and finally buying a shorter FL APO refractor, I really really really wish I had listened to everyone on here and started learning the imaging basics on THAT frac instead of on the SCT.   Trust me"

 

Don't trust me, trust him.  <smile>

 

But, you say you only have the budget for one setup for everything?  Visual.  Planetary imaging.  Learning DSO imaging.

 

That's an extremely common wish.  We all would like that.  But it simply doesn't exist.  No more than a car which could win drag racing events, win the F1 race at Monaco, and haul thousands of pounds of freight across the country.

 

The closest two are visual and planetary imaging.  Your setup could work well for both of those.  Just not learning DSO imaging.

 

Since your budget is low, I'll close with a picture of the most economical good setup for learning DSO imaging.  In order of importance.

 

A camera tracker (the mount is the most important thing in learning DSO imaging).

 

A camera lens, short and light optics are what lets you use such an inexpensive mount.

 

A DSLR camera, which you may already have, or which can be purchased used cheaply, especially since they're out of fashion.

 

As I said, intuition is a bad guide.  Here's a good one, from an expert of many years experience, who has done it all.

 

https://www.astropix...bgda_index.html

 

The above post was written because you posted on a DSO imaging forum.  For visual astronomy, there's a Beginners forum.  For planetary imaging, Major and Minor Planet imaging.

 

Different activities, require different forums, too.

 

Last note.  Here's what you're underestimating, as most all beginners do.

 

The difficulty (and cost) of learning DSO imaging.  The pretty pictures do not come easy.  <smile>  I've been at it, hard, for seven years.  And I'm still learning.  That's a good thing, in my opinion.

 

skytracker-with-camera-and-lens-444x545.jpg


Edited by bobzeq25, 03 October 2023 - 01:35 PM.

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#3 Spaceman 56

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Posted 03 October 2023 - 04:28 PM

many of us in the beginners forum have spent thousands of hours reading these forum posts, and still are just at the start of the learning curve.

 

in order of importance in my opinion these are the things that need to be understood.

 

1. what is an EQ Mount, and how does it work ? why do I need one.

 

2. Polar Alignment. what is it, and how do to do it well ?

 

3. Types of optics, Refractors, Reflectors, SCTs and RCs. what are these and why would I choose one ?

 

4. Camera basics. Types, Colour or Mono. Which would I choose and why ?

 

5. Secondary considerations like Guiding, Collimation (if using Mirrors) and everything else that is needed to do a good imaging Run.

 

6. Processing. Software options and Computer stuff.

 

pretty sure I will have missed important things, but a basic understanding of all of the above is necessary to make good choices. smile.gif  


Edited by Spaceman 56, 03 October 2023 - 04:29 PM.


#4 Oort Cloud

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Posted 03 October 2023 - 04:57 PM

Bobs answer is comprehensive, so I'll just summarize it here:

Deep space astrophotography: big EQ mount, little refractor telescope.

Lunar/planetary astrophotography: big scope, almost any mount.

Visual: the biggest scope you can realistically afford and handle the setup for.

To extrapolate just a bit:

Visual requires aperture. You eye refreshes its view many times per second, which means you need a large aperture to collect more light per second, providing a bright image for your eye to see easily.

For photographing bright targets, like the moon and planets, exposures are very short (similar to how the eye works), so tracking is not a priority; we're talking about fractions of a second, so just about any mount is up to the task. The more important aspect here is focal length, as that decides how much magnification you will have. Planets require long focal lengths (high magnification) because they are so small, but folks often want to fit the whole moon in a frame, so less FL is often warranted here.

For photographing dim targets, you need long exposures. Because of the long exposures, tracking becomes the primary concern, since long exposures allow the light to accumulate - something your eyeball cannot do. This is easy to do at short focal lengths, and most decent made EQ mounts will suffice, especially if you add an autoguiding system. When you increase FL, you make the mount's job harder, and the change is exponential. So a short FL scope (usually a small refractor), and a mount that has a weight capacity double that of what you plan to mount on it, is how you make learning the rest of what's involved much easier because you'll have good data to work with when you start stacking and post-processing.

So as you can see, what works well for visual will not work well for imaging, and what works well for imaging will not work well for visual. If you only have the budget for one setup, you need to pick which one you want to do (imaging or visual).

If you absolutely have to do both with the same gear, I would say buy an imaging rig. You'll at least be able to put an eyepiece in it and see something, but if you try to image with a visual setup, you'll just wind up with a dark, blurry mess.

The scope you identified (NexStar) was my first scope, in the 6-inch version. Take my word, it's good for visual, good for planetary/lunar imaging, and terrible for DSO imaging. I did wrangle some decent photos out of it, but not until I was experienced at imaging in general, and not until I wasted a bunch of time and money on trying to make it do something it wasn't designed to.

Edited by Oort Cloud, 03 October 2023 - 04:58 PM.

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#5 Son of Norway

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Posted 03 October 2023 - 05:27 PM

The experienced imagers have given you good advice.  I, on the other hand, started out imaging with a Nexstar 8se on a wedge with a Starsense camera.  With the camera and the CPWI software, alignments and goto's were a breeze.  I was limited to 30 sec. exposures.  But that's not a great limitation, because you have to consider where you are imaging from.  Look at my sig.  Any attempt at longer exposures will just get washed out with light pollution.  So it is certainly possible to start with a Nexstar.  Take a look at Felldisulfide Astro on Youtube.  I'm amazed at what he can do with his Nexstar on a wedge.  When I got some extra money however, the first thing I bought was a SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount.  In my backyard I'm still limited to 30 sec. exposures because of light pollution.  Dark sites are a different story.



#6 unimatrix0

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Posted 03 October 2023 - 05:32 PM

There are 2 ways to get into it and get a hang of it. 

 

The "I just want pretty pictures route"- then welcome to 2023! 

 

ZWO Seestar is your answer.  Stick it on the ground; fire up the phone app and follow the guide what to do.  You gonna get a pretty picture  in 10-20-30 minutes. 

 

 

 

The "I want to learn a new hobby, but I want to start from the basics" 

 

Bob recommends his star tracker and DSLR thing, which is a good way and cheap way to start. 

 

Let's say you got more cash to spend (throw away for a hobby) 

 

I'm putting together a foolproof design here, based on what's available and ease of use: 

 

1. Mount - AM5  - you can expand on this to larger scopes later 

2. Scope -  W.O. Redcat 51-  Petzval design- no struggle with backfocus stuff. 

3. Camera - ASI533mc pro + 1pcs of UV/IR filter + 1pcs of Duo Narrowband filter   (both can be either 1.25 or 2" . (OR 2600mc pro with 2" filter/filter drawer)  

4. Asiair Plus +  a very good power adapter. 12 Volts 5 amps, not the cheapest from amazon. 

5. ZWO ASI120mm pro for guiding + either ZWO 120mm guider scope or Svbony 120mm guider scope. 

 

Download Stellarium to your pc or mac or linux, study what's on the sky and when. 

Figure out your Field of View, what fits or what is worth to photograph. 

Use appropriate filters for appropriate targets. 

Get an autofocuser, learn how to use it. 

 

Here is a forum member's setup, not mine. Looks pretty nice! 

 

 

gallery_207194_20874_41372.jpeg

 

Watch a gazillion youtube videos how and what to do,  - Astrobackyard, Nebula Photos, Peter Zelinka, Cuiv the Lazy Geek, - just to mention a few.  You can do those when not imaging.  Watch those, instead Netflix or amazon prime stuff.  Learn stuff from it. 

https://www.youtube....rZelinka/videos

Buy that book that someone sooner or later gonna recommend. (I never got it). 

Read about Pixinsight, Siril, Astropixel processor and watch another gazillion videos how to use them. 


Edited by unimatrix0, 04 October 2023 - 07:46 AM.

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#7 Astro_Art

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Posted 04 October 2023 - 11:28 AM

Before spending a lot of money, I recommend reading a few books first, watching a few YouTube videos, visiting astronomy-related websites, and reading posts in various CN forums. Also, join your local astronomy club if you have one. Go to a star party and see what equipment other people have and ask lots of quesitons.  

 

A few books to read: 

 

  • The Backyard Astronomer's Guide, fourth edition, by the late, great Terence Dickinson - great overall book.
  • Turn Left At Orion by Guy Consolmagno - great book for learning how to observe.
  • NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe also by Terence Dickinson - there is a new 5th edition that was just released!
  • The Deep-sky Imaging Primer, Third Edition by Charles Bracken - great somewhat technical astrophotography book.
  • The Astrophotography Manual: A Practical and Scientific Approach to Deep Sky Imaging by Chris Woodhouse - another more technical astrophotography book.

 

Keep in mind that the information in some of these books might be a little outdated as equipment, software, and techniques are constantly evolving, but these books will give you a really good baseline to start with.

 

Please take your time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You don't want to spend a lot of money only to find out you went in the wrong direction or bought the wrong equipment or bought something that is more complicated than you anticipated. That's a quick way to kill the enthusiasm for a fun hobby.

 

As you have already discovered, ask questions on the CN forums. The people here are very generous with sharing their information and their interesting stories. Just make sure you are in the right forum to maximize the quality of answers and advice you receive.

 

Finally, have FUN! There is nothing like seeing the rings of Saturn or the Orion Nebula through a telescope for the first time! Taking your first real photograph of a nebula or galaxy that is thousands or millions of light years away using your equipment in your own backyard is an absolute thrill!




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