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Equipment questions from a beginner

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#1 beckbear

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 09:15 PM

Hi!

 

I am, obviously, new to this forum and also new to this hobby. I am very interested in astrophotography (planets and galaxies) and also, eventually, in photographing the sun as well. Ideally I'd like to use some of the same setup for the two while I learn it all.   I realize that I need to crawl before I walk and that is where this post comes in because while I think I know what I need I'm not really sure brands/models to go with. It doesn't need to be inexpensive, but I also don't want to go too crazy, especially as I assume I'll need to upgrade in a few years. . I don't want anything too heavy as I'll most likely need to travel somewhere to get decent images (I live just outside Boston). Oh, I'd also like to look at the solar system "live" with family and friends.

 

So, this is what I believe I'll need:

 

- Telescope (I was looking at the Red Cat 51 or 61

- Mount (No idea where to start and assume it is based on whatever telescope I use)

- Camera (I thought a dedicated astrology camera made the most sense as I don't have very good lenses for my DSLR but again not sure where to begin)

- Autoguider (Is this needed, or would the mount have it built in? Recommendations for a beginner?)

- ASIAIR (This seems like a really cool device and helpful but, is it more of a "nice to have" and can wait until later?)

- Filters (What would I need? Obviously solar filter for that but what else?)

- Viewfinder (I couldn't find any information on these but, as I said above, I want to be able to see various items with friends and family so I'm not really sure how to go about this.

 

Also, I did say that I'd like to see planets and galaxies, but I do recognize that something good for one may not be for the other.

 

Oh, I did just order The Deep-sky Imaging Primer which looks to be a great resource as well.

 

Thanks in advance for your help! I'm really excited to get started with this!  



#2 Echolight

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 09:18 PM

Probably get better feedback in the beginners imaging forum.



#3 DeepSky Di

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 09:22 PM

Topic moved in accordance with forum rules.

 

Welcome to Cloudy Nights, beckbear!


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#4 DirtyRod

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 09:29 PM

Galaxies, even more planets, need a lot of focal length. A Redcat 51/61 is really more suited for widefield targets like nebula and the largest galaxies such as Andromeda and Triangulum. Most other galaxies would be very small and planets would be tiny. For planets, you need 1000mm of focal length or more. 
 

you can star t with your DSLR until you know more about what you need. The telescope acts as your lens.

 

An ASIAir are great for deep space objects and OK for planetary imaging. You don’t need an autoguider for planetary.

 

Solar imaging is a completely different animal. I’d suggest you pick one (Planetary, Solar, DSO) and start with that. Each requires its own techniques, cameras, and filters. If it’s planetary I’d skip filters and just focus on a good planetary camera. Some, like the 533 or 462 can do OK at both planetary and DSo but no one camera will do well with everything.


Edited by DirtyRod, 15 April 2024 - 09:31 PM.

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#5 Notdarkenough

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 09:55 PM

Agreed. Solar is completely different than any other kind of imaging. Similarly, planetary imaging is very different than nebulae imaging, which s different from galaxy imaging. You can use a scope or two for a couple of things, but no real one-size-fits-all equipment. I would recommend you get in touch with your local astro club. They will give you hands on familiarization with the different targets available for different telescope types, answer your questions in person, and most importantly, show you what it costs to get what kind of image. We all love Webb images, but that isn't realistic. One other reason to get in touch with locals - your local weather has a big part to play in what you can, and cannot do, from home. You can spend $20k on an awesome set-up, but unless your local astronomical weather conditions allow, it would all be a waste.

 

If you live in the US, check this site: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/

If you live elsewhere, check your local university or planetarium for local clubs. Or, post some kind of location information and folks here who live nearby, can help you connect. Please don't send your address! Just a regional location should be good enough.

 

Welcome to CN. Astro imaging, when it works, is a blast. Cheers-



#6 BlueMoon

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 10:21 PM

My first question, before any discussion of gear, is what is your budget? How much can you afford to spend to get started? Realistically. 



#7 gnowellsct

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 10:24 PM

Galaxies, even more planets, need a lot of focal length. A Redcat 51/61 is really more suited for widefield targets like nebula and the largest galaxies such as Andromeda and Triangulum. Most other galaxies would be very small and planets would be tiny. For planets, you need 1000mm of focal length or more. 
 

 

It's helpful if you consider what a very low magnification view is: perhaps 12x to 15x.  At that magnification, classic objects like the Ring Nebula (M57) are just a small glowing dot.  If you take the picture and magnify it later in photoshop or other software, you magnify the dot.  Exposure times at these low magnifications are relatively quick, or "fast telescope."

 

If you image at 200x you get larger image scale.  With a larger image scale you typically need to collect more light to activate all those pixels.  Collecting more light poses mechanical problems in terms of having a highly accurate mount for longer exposures.  So you can get more detailed pictures of galaxies and other deep sky.  But it takes the right hardware and optics.

 

I agree that to get started in imaging, start with the moon.  It's simple and the pictures will....look like the moon.    

 

Greg N


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#8 beckbear

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 10:24 PM

Topic moved in accordance with forum rules.

 

Welcome to Cloudy Nights, beckbear!

Thank you.  I wasn't certain where to post and appreciate your moving it! 


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#9 DeepSky Di

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 10:25 PM

Now to reply:

 

This is the forum for Deep Space Astrophotography including nebulae and galaxies. Planetary is covered by the Major and Minor Planetary Imaging forum. The equipment and techniques for planetary are different, but there's a FAQ at the top of that forum that covers everything.

 

It's currently galaxy season, the time of the year when the night side of our planet is looking outside of our galaxy and mostly sees other galaxies. This goes on for about a month until the summer Milky Way nebulae start to appear - Rho Ophiuchi and the Blue Horsehead may be good beginner targets for you.

 

Here's a general grab bag of tips.

 

Start watching weather forecasts - I use Astrospheric app. Figure out when the clear days are going to happen and get ready for them.

Wildfire smoke can spoil clear nights and is not always reported on weather apps (although Astrospheric does report it). Be aware of smoke clouds as well as weather. https://fire.airnow.gov

 

Know the light pollution level for your location using the Bortle scale - there's a light pollution info website and app. Light pollution is also shown in Astrospheric.

 

Get Stellarium (free on a computer) and start exploring the sky and figuring out what targets you want to capture.

 

Set out a path for yourself and take it one step at a time.

 

If you have a DSLR, any lens and a tripod, just go out with them on the next clear night and get started trying to take long exposures with a remote control or self timer. Try different numbers of seconds at ISO 800 or 1600; see when you get star trails. Also try taking darks, biases and flats. You'll soon realize how tiresome it is to take multiple images, and see the need for automation, even with a DSLR. You need a way to run dedicated astro cameras as they don't have any controls. ASIAIR is one alternative, a Windows NUC or mini computer running NINA is another, and there are others as well, including a laptop if you have one. ASIAIR works with Canon and Nikon DSLRs (and some others) but for dedicated astro cameras and other accessories, only ZWO brand. 

 

RedCat 51 is great, but I would recommend the WIFD version with the "normal" focuser rather than the helical focuser for future fitting of an EAF. RedCat 61 seems to be overpriced compared to its peers.

 

Mount choice depends on how certain you are you want to do this. I started with a non goto Star Adventurer. There is now a goto Star Adventurer, meaning you don't spend ages trying to find the target, the mount does it for you. The Star Adventurer payload limit is 11 lb, and should not be maxed out for astrophotography - this means the RedCat 51 and 61 and similar from other brands but nothing bigger.

 

I'm now sold on strain wave mounts as they are lighter and more portable than the alternatives. iOptron HEM15. and HEM27 are lighter than ZWO AM3 and AM5 but probably more fiddly to use. Look at both, and remember they need their dedicated tripods. All mounts have a weight limit, and for conventional mounts it's good to limit the payload to 50-60% of the limit for astrophotography. For strain wave mounts, the stated payload is thought to be the limit for astrophotography.

 

The choice of dedicated astrology camera is perplexing - I guess this somehow identifies signs of the zodiac in images? Seriously, cooled astrophotography cameras are the way to go. Check out ZWO ASI 2600MC, 2600MC duo, 533MC and 585MC Pro (Pro means cooled).  If not using ASIAIR, look for the same sensors in other camera brands.

 

Guiding is necessary. I added guiding to my DSLR before getting my astro camera. ZWO 2600MC duo and MM duo have built in guide cameras and don't need guide scopes. The RedCat has a nice handlebar to fit a guide scope, as do many others.

 

Filters - a decent duo band filter should allow you to capture emission nebulae anywhere including cities. As a beginner you may think this is for the future, but when you see just how many stars clutter up unfiltered images, it begins to make sense. I use an Optolong L-eXtreme which has generally been good but makes halos on bright stars. L-ultimate or Askar color magic D1 have less or no halos. 

 

You didn't mention mono cameras and filters. Some beginners begin there, others prefer to start with one shot color (OSC) cameras. 


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#10 beckbear

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 10:34 PM

My first question, before any discussion of gear, is what is your budget? How much can you afford to spend to get started? Realistically. 

Between $3 and $5K. My main thought is that I'd like to get a setup that is solid and will grow with me for a bit. 


Edited by beckbear, 15 April 2024 - 10:54 PM.


#11 beckbear

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 10:52 PM

Now to reply:

 

This is the forum for Deep Space Astrophotography including nebulae and galaxies. Planetary is covered by the Major and Minor Planetary Imaging forum. The equipment and techniques for planetary are different, but there's a FAQ at the top of that forum that covers everything.

 

It's currently galaxy season, the time of the year when the night side of our planet is looking outside of our galaxy and mostly sees other galaxies. This goes on for about a month until the summer Milky Way nebulae start to appear - Rho Ophiuchi and the Blue Horsehead may be good beginner targets for you.

 

Here's a general grab bag of tips.

 

Start watching weather forecasts - I use Astrospheric app. Figure out when the clear days are going to happen and get ready for them.

Wildfire smoke can spoil clear nights and is not always reported on weather apps (although Astrospheric does report it). Be aware of smoke clouds as well as weather. https://fire.airnow.gov

 

Know the light pollution level for your location using the Bortle scale - there's a light pollution info website and app. Light pollution is also shown in Astrospheric.

 

Get Stellarium (free on a computer) and start exploring the sky and figuring out what targets you want to capture.

 

Set out a path for yourself and take it one step at a time.

 

If you have a DSLR, any lens and a tripod, just go out with them on the next clear night and get started trying to take long exposures with a remote control or self timer. Try different numbers of seconds at ISO 800 or 1600; see when you get star trails. Also try taking darks, biases and flats. You'll soon realize how tiresome it is to take multiple images, and see the need for automation, even with a DSLR. You need a way to run dedicated astro cameras as they don't have any controls. ASIAIR is one alternative, a Windows NUC or mini computer running NINA is another, and there are others as well, including a laptop if you have one. ASIAIR works with Canon and Nikon DSLRs (and some others) but for dedicated astro cameras and other accessories, only ZWO brand. 

 

RedCat 51 is great, but I would recommend the WIFD version with the "normal" focuser rather than the helical focuser for future fitting of an EAF. RedCat 61 seems to be overpriced compared to its peers.

 

Mount choice depends on how certain you are you want to do this. I started with a non goto Star Adventurer. There is now a goto Star Adventurer, meaning you don't spend ages trying to find the target, the mount does it for you. The Star Adventurer payload limit is 11 lb, and should not be maxed out for astrophotography - this means the RedCat 51 and 61 and similar from other brands but nothing bigger.

 

I'm now sold on strain wave mounts as they are lighter and more portable than the alternatives. iOptron HEM15. and HEM27 are lighter than ZWO AM3 and AM5 but probably more fiddly to use. Look at both, and remember they need their dedicated tripods. All mounts have a weight limit, and for conventional mounts it's good to limit the payload to 50-60% of the limit for astrophotography. For strain wave mounts, the stated payload is thought to be the limit for astrophotography.

 

The choice of dedicated astrology camera is perplexing - I guess this somehow identifies signs of the zodiac in images? Seriously, cooled astrophotography cameras are the way to go. Check out ZWO ASI 2600MC, 2600MC duo, 533MC and 585MC Pro (Pro means cooled).  If not using ASIAIR, look for the same sensors in other camera brands.

 

Guiding is necessary. I added guiding to my DSLR before getting my astro camera. ZWO 2600MC duo and MM duo have built in guide cameras and don't need guide scopes. The RedCat has a nice handlebar to fit a guide scope, as do many others.

 

Filters - a decent duo band filter should allow you to capture emission nebulae anywhere including cities. As a beginner you may think this is for the future, but when you see just how many stars clutter up unfiltered images, it begins to make sense. I use an Optolong L-eXtreme which has generally been good but makes halos on bright stars. L-ultimate or Askar color magic D1 have less or no halos. 

 

You didn't mention mono cameras and filters. Some beginners begin there, others prefer to start with one shot color (OSC) cameras. 

Thank you so much for your detailed and informative response. 

 

I am now wondering a few things: 

1. Is some area (planets/nebulae/galaxy/sun) "easier" to view/shoot then others? Is there a general recommendation because, honestly, I'm flexible - it is all SO fascinating to me! 

2. Do these types of telescopes allow one to view the item directly through the scope (view finder?) or is that a different element of astrology?

 

Thanks again



#12 rj144

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 11:10 PM

Asronomy, not astrology.  :)

 

I would start with widefield DSO first before moving on to galaxies.  That would be, by far, the easiest path.


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#13 BlueMoon

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 11:11 PM

First and foremost, the mount you choose is of primary importance especially for astrophotography. Everything else, all your gear, any form of imaging, DSO, planetary, solar, etc. will be riding on it so it's worthwhile to spend a reasonable amount of your budget on the mount. Then see what you have left for the rest of your gear and determine what you can afford. Cheers.


Edited by BlueMoon, 16 April 2024 - 12:10 AM.

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#14 Robert7980

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Posted 15 April 2024 - 11:33 PM

Between $3 and $5K. My main thought is that I'd like to get a setup that is solid and will grow with me for a bit. 

It’s sure hard to plan someone else’s rig, but here’s a starter package example that I’m fairly sure would do the job. I don’t own any of this gear, but it’s popular and should be decent performance. 
 

RedCat 51 Scope 

ZWO AM3 Mount w tripod 

ZWO 533MC Camera 

ZWO 120mm guide camera with 30mm mini guide scope 

ZWO ASIAIR whichever one fits the bill

 

various cables and accessories to build that maybe add a battery power supply… 

 

That’ll probably be around 4 to 5k and is about the best I can come up with for a really nice starter kit that’ll be very light and portable easy to use and should give very good results. 
 

If you plan on growing in the future look at the AM5 over the AM3 and the 220 guide camera over the 120… they’ll let you build pretty much anything reasonable in the future and let you run some pretty big scopes with only some minor changes… 

 

Again I don’t own much of that package, but I have similar stuff and I wouldn’t mind having this rig myself… This isn’t meant to be a shopping list just an example of what I think would be a pretty decent use of your budget as one example of what might be possible… 

 

you don’t need a finder scope, but pretty much everything else in the list is mandatory for it to work… Finder scope and guide scope are similar but different, you need a guide scope but not a finder… 

 

Personally to build my foundation I’d start with the AM5 mount or an EQ6-R pro (heavy but observatory quality for cheap) and a mini PC running the N.I.N.A software to control everything instead of the AIR, but that’s not beginner friendly and you’ll need some basic skills in a few different areas to put that together, I have no idea what your background is, but if you’re technically inclined that’s the route I’d go and what I’d recommend. The ASI-AIR is more user friendly and does the job in one easy step… 

 

The mount is the most important item on the list by far, so I’d put whatever used scope I could find on it to stay within budget and get the best mount I could. Starter scopes aren’t very important, everything else matters more as the scope will likely be upgraded later no matter which beginner tube you choose… 


Edited by Robert7980, 15 April 2024 - 11:39 PM.

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#15 rdjamieson

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 06:55 AM

Posts 9 and 14 are why I love this place!



#16 soojooko

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 08:10 AM

Lets talk logistics.

  • Do you have a home with garden? A garage?
  • Do you have a good idea where you will be imaging from?
  • Will you be able to store your rig close to your imaging location/s - or will you need to move it some distance?

Many astro rigs are HEAVY. To the point where its very difficult to move it any kind of distance with everything is set up. So you may need to tear down and set up with each session. IS this something you could handle doing? Basically, many of the deciding factors around what rig to get have nothing to do with technical aspects of the rig - and more to do with you personally and your circumstances. Tell us a bit more about yourself. How much spare time you have. Your living situation. etc,



#17 sevenofnine

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 10:57 AM

You have a reasonable budget but you will be closer to the high side when finished. This AP guide book will answer most of your questions and is highly recommended by our most experienced astrophotographers. Good Luck! borg.gif

 

https://www.amazon.c...,aps,440&sr=8-1.



#18 Zambiadarkskies

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 11:42 AM

It’s sure hard to plan someone else’s rig, but here’s a starter package example that I’m fairly sure would do the job. I don’t own any of this gear, but it’s popular and should be decent performance. 
 

RedCat 51 Scope 

ZWO AM3 Mount w tripod 

ZWO 533MC Camera 

ZWO 120mm guide camera with 30mm mini guide scope 

ZWO ASIAIR whichever one fits the bill

 

various cables and accessories to build that maybe add a battery power supply… 

 

That’ll probably be around 4 to 5k and is about the best I can come up with for a really nice starter kit that’ll be very light and portable easy to use and should give very good results. 
 

If you plan on growing in the future look at the AM5 over the AM3 and the 220 guide camera over the 120… they’ll let you build pretty much anything reasonable in the future and let you run some pretty big scopes with only some minor changes… 

 

Again I don’t own much of that package, but I have similar stuff and I wouldn’t mind having this rig myself… This isn’t meant to be a shopping list just an example of what I think would be a pretty decent use of your budget as one example of what might be possible… 

 

you don’t need a finder scope, but pretty much everything else in the list is mandatory for it to work… Finder scope and guide scope are similar but different, you need a guide scope but not a finder… 

 

Personally to build my foundation I’d start with the AM5 mount or an EQ6-R pro (heavy but observatory quality for cheap) and a mini PC running the N.I.N.A software to control everything instead of the AIR, but that’s not beginner friendly and you’ll need some basic skills in a few different areas to put that together, I have no idea what your background is, but if you’re technically inclined that’s the route I’d go and what I’d recommend. The ASI-AIR is more user friendly and does the job in one easy step… 

 

The mount is the most important item on the list by far, so I’d put whatever used scope I could find on it to stay within budget and get the best mount I could. Starter scopes aren’t very important, everything else matters more as the scope will likely be upgraded later no matter which beginner tube you choose… 

 

I would second this.  If you can swing for the AM5 then do it.  The Redcat is (for good reasons) often recommended but I went with a doublet Astrotech AT80ED and it was a fantastic scope with a bit more (actually a lot more) aperture and focal length for much less money. 

 

It has all been said - deep sky and planetary are totally different beasts and right now to get started you have to choose one or the other.  Starting deep sky allows you to get the bigger galaxies, but not the tiny faint fuzzies, that is for sure. 

 

My kit is very beginner friendly and could be easily carried in and out of a house or even apartment when setting up (although my gear is permanently set up):  

 

- AM5 (capable of much more, which is why I got it) 

 

- ZWO FF65 (short focal length but high quality optics, re-branded Askar PHQ 65).  At 416mm it is just right for nebula - many of which are huge. 

 

- 533mc pro. Very easy to calibrate and work with.  Small sensor but great performance.  Occasionally I will image with a full frame DSLR which the scope handles well. 

 

- ASIair (makes starting out easy and it suits my circumstances).  

 

- 120mm mini guide camera (as it was relatively cheap and is used by tons of people).  

 

- I used the 30mm ZWO guide scope but as of today have gone for a 50mm with a better focus system.  The 30mm just seemed to be the weakest point in my rig.  

 

- Dual band filters are popular for good reason.  

 

The redcat comes with a bhatinov mask for focusing, if you choose another scope then get one.  They are very useful.  Alternatively an EAF (electronic focusser) makes life easy, but with the redcat and it's helical focus you will need some sort of aftermarket bracket and belt system.  

 

 

The redcats are great scopes, but they are on the pricey side.  The mount is everything.  If you hear that a lot it is because it is true.   and many of us have found out that cheap mounts very quickly limit progress in terms of image quality and gear upgrades.  



#19 Sctom

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 01:00 PM

I agree with everything said here; great advice.

One thing to add is if you are going with a color camera, then you need an Apochromatic (APO) scope otherwise your image will not be as good as you expect, and you may become disappointed. An APO brings all the colors together at focus, required for a color camera.  However, if you go with a black and white camera and add color filters then a regular Achromat scope could work and is cheaper. It does not bring all the colors together, but since you would image only 1 color at a time, it does not matter as much.

That said, the one shot color camera (like the suggested ZWO ASI 533 MC Pro) on an Apochromatic scope may be a little more expensive, but will be much easier to master and will give you much faster satisfaction, which is important when you’re going up a steep learning curve.  And there are many good 50mm-70mm APO scopes available, both new & used.  It is the current sweet spot of the market.  Plus you may be able to carry the whole setup outside in one trip.



#20 Sacred Heart

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 01:55 PM

Hi!

 

I am, obviously, new to this forum and also new to this hobby. I am very interested in astrophotography (planets and galaxies) and also, eventually, in photographing the sun as well. Ideally I'd like to use some of the same setup for the two while I learn it all.   I realize that I need to crawl before I walk and that is where this post comes in because while I think I know what I need I'm not really sure brands/models to go with. It doesn't need to be inexpensive, but I also don't want to go too crazy, especially as I assume I'll need to upgrade in a few years. . I don't want anything too heavy as I'll most likely need to travel somewhere to get decent images (I live just outside Boston). Oh, I'd also like to look at the solar system "live" with family and friends.

 

So, this is what I believe I'll need:

 

- Telescope (I was looking at the Red Cat 51 or 61

- Mount (No idea where to start and assume it is based on whatever telescope I use)

- Camera (I thought a dedicated astrology camera made the most sense as I don't have very good lenses for my DSLR but again not sure where to begin)

- Autoguider (Is this needed, or would the mount have it built in? Recommendations for a beginner?)

- ASIAIR (This seems like a really cool device and helpful but, is it more of a "nice to have" and can wait until later?)

- Filters (What would I need? Obviously solar filter for that but what else?)

- Viewfinder (I couldn't find any information on these but, as I said above, I want to be able to see various items with friends and family so I'm not really sure how to go about this.

 

Also, I did say that I'd like to see planets and galaxies, but I do recognize that something good for one may not be for the other.

 

Oh, I did just order The Deep-sky Imaging Primer which looks to be a great resource as well.

 

Thanks in advance for your help! I'm really excited to get started with this!  

Beckbear,  Welcome to CN and astronomy.

 

With any beginner who is starting from ground zero, no equipment, I recommend research, astronomy clubs / star parties, and patience.

 

I'm not going to ask about a budget, astronomy, especially imaging is a rabbit hole. So, my experience is a budget only pertains to this purchase. There will be other purchases.  So maybe it is a starting budget you are working with.  You know that staring budget, here is where your research, star parties and patience comes in.

 

My rules of astronomy,  #1 the mount / tripod.  If the mount / tripod can do it, you can to. If it is easy for the mount, it is easy for you.  Mounts have specifications, payload - this can be exaggerated in cheaper mounts, there are no rules on governing manufacturers claims.  Generally, the better class of mounts this spec is closer to true, premium mounts are true if not conservative.  Physical size and focal length also affect the mounts performance.

 

Strainwave mounts, AM3 /5 and others, are great at carrying off balance loads, the tripods are not. Secure the tripod, no spills.

 

#2 the optics, Aperture is still king, but the quality of the optics, glass used, design, assembly also plays a huge part in it too.  So does your seeing conditions.  Aperture theoretically can resolve it, but can you see it clearly.  It all works hand in hand.   This goes for eyepieces too, get some good ones if doing visual.

 

Optics must not exceed your mounts capabilities in weight, size or focal length.

 

Dead last in my book is the camera.  Though important, your camera must match your optics  for field of view, it is okay to crop with a larger sensor, and image scale must not exceed your mounts periodic error, guiding error.  Elongated stars.

 

Consider, set up / tear down time, portability, storage and periodic maintenance.

 

It is my opinion, if you follow these guidelines you will be in for some fun memorable times.

 

This is why I stress research and patience.  I'm sorry, did I forget to mention patience.

 

Good luck and have some fun,   Joe

 

PS   This is all my opinion.


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#21 beckbear

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 08:39 PM

Yes, I have a house with a backyard. Also, a deck although it is not covered. I would, most likely be imaging from our deck or the backyard. Yes, weight is important to me as I will need to do move it around a bit.  

 

Lets talk logistics.

  • Do you have a home with garden? A garage?
  • Do you have a good idea where you will be imaging from?
  • Will you be able to store your rig close to your imaging location/s - or will you need to move it some distance?

Many astro rigs are HEAVY. To the point where its very difficult to move it any kind of distance with everything is set up. So you may need to tear down and set up with each session. IS this something you could handle doing? Basically, many of the deciding factors around what rig to get have nothing to do with technical aspects of the rig - and more to do with you personally and your circumstances. Tell us a bit more about yourself. How much spare time you have. Your living situation. etc,



#22 beckbear

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Posted 16 April 2024 - 08:41 PM

Thank you everyone for this great information and advice!  Lots to digest and think about. I did order The Deep Sky Imaging Primer book that was recommended. Should be here tomorrow. 


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#23 Cymrych79

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Posted 17 April 2024 - 12:34 AM

When I see a post like this, I can't help but think back to when I was first getting into the hobby and the amount of stuff I knew I didn't know much about, but even worse, the stuff I didn't even know I didn't know. I was maybe a year or two in before I discovered Cloudy Nights and some other forums, and wow, did my knowledge level increase exponentially after that. It still takes doing, actually getting out there in the dark with equipment experimenting with techniques and processes, not just arm-chairing it... but the research potential on CN helped save me from making some... less than ideal decisions that a typical beginner is tempted to make. In my case, I had already made those poor decisions. And to some degree, those poor choices really hindered my progression for the first several years in the hobby, especially as I ended up trying to make a challenging set-up work but without really having the requisite skills or knowledge to make that happen. I can't say those first two years were a total waste, as I definitely learned a lot. But I really became disillusioned with the hobby until I pulled the trigger and completely rebuilt my gear kit new, with better goals in mind.

 

So, if I could tell my younger self what to do, what would I say?

 

First, never stop researching! CloudyNights.com is great for, go figure, cloudy nights. Read a ton, look at lots of pictures here and on astrobin, get a feel for what you might like to try and what is likely less important to you. Read up on the differences in DSO imaging, planetary imaging, and galaxy imaging, and the different pieces of kit they need. Find a local club, talk to folks there, see their gear in person. 

 

Second, to parrot what everyone else already said, get a decent mount that you can grow into early. All the ones that have been mentioned would do you well for several years while you build your knowledge and skills in whichever form of astronomy most appeals to you, and if you start with a quality mount from day one, you really only need to upgrade when you decide to increase your telescope size/mass.

 

Third, and here is where I likely diverge a bit from some other recommendations, is to just get some relatively cheap telescope, a couple eyepieces, and maybe research what you'd need to hook up a Canon or Nikon DSLR camera (assuming you already have one), and just get outside and use that gear for a bit. Spend time learning the mount, get good at polar aligning it, do a ton of Go-Tos and see what's out there, get used to setting up the gear and breaking it back down. The scope and the camera almost don't matter at all here (although I'd probably get a scope in line with your goals in the hobby, so maybe a 60-80 mm refractor if you're leaning DSO imaging, or a small SCT or Newtonian if you're leaning more planetary/galaxy), the point is more to get familiar with the basics of telescopes and mounts. Any photography you do at this point will be mostly just to get used to acquiring the data and learning about the basics of processing, which even with just a DSLR will be a mountain of new information and skills that will take you time to get accustomed to. If you want to do some Electronic Assisted Astronomy, which let's you see more at the scope than what you can normally see through just an eyepiece, adding on an ASIair will let you control your camera and build what's called a "live stack", which is also great for sharing with the family in the moment. But really, this whole step is all about getting acquainted with the fundamentals more than anything else, and just enjoying being under the night sky at your rig. I cannot overstate how cool a feeling it is when the basic fundamentals start coming together and it all just makes sense what you're doing and why it works the way it does. (But I'm an applied sciences nerd at heart, and the technical challenge of astrophotography is what really got me hooked in the first place, so YMMV. But I still recall seeing my first stack of DSLR raws come out of Nebulosity... that stacked frame, and the resultant postprocessing I absolutely hammered it with, was truly atrocious! But it was MY data acquired on MY gear that made that frame, and that was just the coolest thing... I had captured that gentle rain of photons from a faint-fuzzy that I couldn't even spot with my naked eye, and made something of a pretty picture of it!)

 

If I had to do it all over, I'd probably advise myself to stick with just these for the first 3-6 months. In my case, I totally failed on step 2 and had a horrendous time trying to make astrophotography work regardless of the money I tried to throw at the problem, and even to a degree on step 3, because when I corrected my issues with step 2 I still focused more on the scope than the mount, and ended up with a system that worked... but just barely and with unnecessary complexity that made things harder (and more costly, ultimately) on myself.

 

At any rate, when you are ready to up your game, you'll be in a position to leverage your experience on a good mount which you can just keep on using. I would just go incrementally wherever possible. Maybe first add in tracking for the mount. Then maybe switch from a DSLR to a dedicated astro camera. If you hadn't yet added an ASIair or something like it to your rig, now might be a good time for that as well. And so on.

 

Final bit of advice: Never be afraid to ask questions! There is a TON of new knowledge coming your way, and a lot of it is non-intuitive. It's beyond easy to get confused and overwhelmed, and if you're feeling lost, you probably aren't having a great time with the hobby. And if you aren't having fun, you probably aren't getting out to the scope, and the only scope worse than no scope is the scope you're too dejected to use. So, fire away! This is a great community here, and chances are, someone will have been in your shoes and can offer good, logical suggestions.


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#24 Zambiadarkskies

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Posted 17 April 2024 - 12:59 AM

Talking of use, probably the biggest impact on my astrophotography - not in terms of an image quality jump - was a cover and permanent pier construction.  The pier cost me very little - some old drainage pipe and some concrete.  But having your gear set up and ready to go is huge.  Really huge.  It doesn't have to be a pier, just if you can safely leave your gear assembled and covered will help massively.  If you come home from work tired and can just whip off a cover and throw a switch (and then set up from the couch over wifi) you will build hours way faster.  

 

I found that setting up and tearing down each night (or early in the am before work) got really old really quickly.  Carrying out an am3 all set up with a small refractor (and having marked tripod locations to get onto a good polar alignment as quickly as possible) is of course quite easy, but a big heavy rig can be a pain.  

 

The best scope is the one you actually use.  And if the gear gets in the way and holds you back then over time it means it is less and less likely you will image with it.  


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#25 Cymrych79

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Posted 17 April 2024 - 10:52 AM

I found that setting up and tearing down each night (or early in the am before work) got really old really quickly.  Carrying out an am3 all set up with a small refractor (and having marked tripod locations to get onto a good polar alignment as quickly as possible) is of course quite easy, but a big heavy rig can be a pain.  

 

The best scope is the one you actually use.  And if the gear gets in the way and holds you back then over time it means it is less and less likely you will image with it.  

1000%, this. I definitely ran into exactly this with my first rig, a fork-mounted SCT on a wedge. It was just such a pain to get set up, usually have something annoying happen that I needed to diagnose and fix, then when I was finally ready to throw the Canon on, the summer fog would start setting in and I'd have to break it all down and try again another night. I was fighting my gear and/or the weather so much, I'd bet only 1 in 3 nights actually resulted in any useable exposures. I felt so tired, beat down and disillusioned after about 8 or 9 months of trying, I eventually just stopped using it, period. It was maybe a year after that that I finally decided I wasn't done trying with the hobby, but I definitely needed something A) less of a pain to set-up/break down, B) less cobbled together with spit and chewing gum and more designed for what I wanted to actually accomplish, and C) somewhat more portable. In my case, that something new ended up being a nice, mid-range 80mm APO on a ZEQ25, which was infinitely more practical for the DSOs I was aiming to capture.

 

That said, 12 years later and I'm still in the set-up/break-down daily routine, at least for now. There is definitely a pier in my future, hopefully over the winter. But unlike the old days when I had to drive elsewhere to set up, at least for the last year or so I only have to shuffle my gear about 15 feet in and out of the garage and can leave it mostly assembled for the 30-ft round trip (at least on my main rig, but I travel extensively for work and live out of hotels for months at a time, so my smaller travel rig still needs a full set-up/break-down every time I go image).

 

So I couldn't agree more, if the gear set-up/break-down is a royal pain, it'll be hard to maintain your determination to get out there and capture something. I know we all like to think that we won't loose that determination and enthusiasm even in a less-than-great circumstance, but trust me, that "new toy" excitement can only carry you along for so long. That's not to say that a less-than-great situation can't be 100% successful, it absolutely can and regularly is... just ask any of the folks that have to make special trips hours away to darker skies to reach their imaging goals. But there are just so many new skills to acquire as a beginner, you really want to minimize your points of potential failure, otherwise it's very easy to bite off more than you can realistically chew, and become overwhelmed and lose that motivation. 

 

That's why I advocate to really put the imaging part of the plan on the back burner, at least at the very beginning, and focus more on just getting out there with a scope and mount, figure out your workflow and the logistics for simply setting up, using the thing, and then break-down/storage for it. Then when you add a camera, or tracking, or whatever, you can really concentrate on that new task and not have to worry about the basic stuff. 


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