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Taking it seriously



Having wanted to do astronomy properly for decades I finally took action late in 2017 and bought a pair of Canon 15x50 image stabilised binoculars.  I was absolutely blown away with what I could see using these from my garden with what I now know are Bortle 8 very light polluted skies. For the first time in my life I saw the Orion Nebula M42 - only as a small cloudy area but I knew there was more to see with better optics. 
When I saw the Pleiades, directly overhead, for the first time I knew I was hooked!

I'd been reading posts here and on other sites and blogs and I knew that I'd need to think through what I wanted to achieve and what to spend my money on.  I used a strategy that has served me well over the years - Start from where you are!
That might seem obvious but I have read so many posts - facebook is the worst - where people go out and spend thousands of pounds on equipment because it is the 'best' but they don't know how to set it up never mind use it!  I experimented with what I had so that I'd know what I needed.  I started with my wife's Canon PowerShot SX730 which takes great pictures but isn't suited to astrophotography and then I got out my old Canon SX1.  That was a bit better and I used CHDK (Canon Hack Development Kit) to allow longer exposures.  I tried taking pictures through my binoculars but would have needed some precision DIY to hold the bins and the camera together.
I wasn't getting any good images, but I was learning about aperture, exposure length, ISO and the importance of keeping the camera still!

My first purchase was a Canon EOS 7D Mark1 and a couple of lenses (18-55 and 75-300).  I got an Amazon Basics tripod - very well built for under £50 and set about trying to capture the universe.

Using the 7D with Canons capture software I was taking lots of pictures and learning the hard way about star trailing.  With the 300mm lens fully extended the longest exposure I could manage which kept round stars was 0.8 seconds - so I took lots and lots of them and fed them to DSS.

Of course DSS sometimes struggled to stack them and I couldn't see the results at first because the images were still extremely dim but I'll do a separate entry about software and how I got round these issues.

It was clear I would need to buy a mount or a tripod mounted tracker if I was going to progress but first I had to think seriously about how I planned to use it long term.

My Priorities - Transportable, sensibly priced, good quality.

As mentioned, the sky where I live is Bortle 8.  I'm fortunate that I live on the southern outskirts of Glasgow and my back garden faces south so I can do a lot of practice and get some reasonable images but I really wanted to be able to pack my stuff up and drive to better sky.  20 minutes takes me to Bortle 4-5 so it's worth doing.

I'm trying to do this as a hobby and not go overboard with the budget but I also don't want to waste my money on cheap stuff that doesn't perform well.  That's been great because it's forced me into researching options and being strict about what I need and what is just a 'nice to have'.  I don't buy stuff just for bragging rights!

I'd thought seriously about getting an Ioptron Skytracker or Skyguider sized device but I didn't want to be too restricted on what I could mount on it, and I'm not likely to take my kit on a flight very often.  In the end I saw a 2nd hand Skywatcher EQ5 Goto mount at a reasonable price and I already knew it would do what I need for now. 

I had originally planned to use the DSLR with a large zoom lens but when I costed these it was clear that I'd need to spend several thousands to get what I wanted.  That led me down the path of a short APO refractor.  Again, into the classified ads and someone here pointed me in the direction of a Skywatcher Esprit 80 which I am absolutely delighted with!

So that's me got all of the hardware I need for now... but then I saw a 60mm Guide scope and Orion SSAG for a good price... So now I have everything I need for a while.  Why am I still looking at the classified adverts?  Just in case there's a bargain :biggrin::biggrin:

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You will keep looking at classified adverts until you get a few clear skies. Then when it clouds back over you will go back to looking at all the shiny kit you shouldn't buy whilst you await the next clear night :icon_biggrin:

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