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Economical options in astrophotography for shooting easy targets


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Hi. I have been following up on various discussions on this forum, on astrophotography equipment. Most of the options, though very effective,  will cost a bomb. Will appreciate if experiences and suggestions on some cost economical options can be shared.

Though visual astronomy has been my passion since last 25 years, but now I want to try astrophotography.....without cutting a hole in my pocket.

Can I use a normal low cost 3-4 inch refractor (just achromatic not apochromatic,  without much weight) on a cost effective mount ? The question in which mount ??? Polarie, Skywatcher's Sky adventurer, EQ2, EQ4 (EQ5, HEQ5 being too expensive).

I just want to start photographing some easy targets like Andromeda, Orion Nebula, Hercules Star Clusters etc.

Once I master the technique on low cost equipment, then I'll move to more specialized equipment.

Requesting valuable feedback and expert advice.

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Buy cheap, buy twice.

AP is hard enough without crippling yourself with inferior equipment. You will get inferior data which is harder to post-process. You will have a lot of lost sub-exposures, which can lead to frustration. My advice would be to try and pick up a 2nd hand HEq5 as a minimum.

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As a beginner using a barn door the cost was very small but it gives a learning environment which I am just starting and the results for my enjoyment are huge even if compared to a full on proper system they would measure up very poor.

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Buy cheap, buy twice.

AP is hard enough without crippling yourself with inferior equipment. You will get inferior data which is harder to post-process. You will have a lot of lost sub-exposures, which can lead to frustration. My advice would be to try and pick up a 2nd hand HEq5 as a minimum.

Thanks. Can you please elaborate about 'Lost Sub Exposures'. What precisely you mean by that.

I just took 100 photos of orion nebula on by 10" dobson at 0.5 sec, ISO800 with my Canon 1200D at prime focus. When I processed the Lights (100 numbers), Darks (20 numbers) and Bias (20 numbers) in DSS, a message popped up stating that only one image can be stacked. Is this what you call 'lost sub exposure?'

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The key to successful astrophotography is the mount - this is a far more important component than the telescope or the camera. The mount should be equatorial and as sturdy as possible and if you are using a telescope rather than a camera lens, an HEQ5 is really the 'base' model. Money spent on the right mount will reward you for many years.

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Buy cheap, buy twice.

AP is hard enough without crippling yourself with inferior equipment. You will get inferior data which is harder to post-process. You will have a lot of lost sub-exposures, which can lead to frustration. My advice would be to try and pick up a 2nd hand HEq5 as a minimum.

I suspect that the problem is one of being unfamiliar with equipment costs and availability in India.

From someone's previous post I gather that a mount is something like two to two and a hlaf times the cost of the same item here.

So Buy Cheap, Buy Twice may apply here but at say £600 for an EQ3-2 makes the whole situation different. It makes an EQ3-2 not a cheap item.

Also is there a used astro gear market in India ?

If there is not then buying used is not an option.

None of the previous several people on SGL from India have indicated any form of used equipment availability.

There is no reason why you cannot stick an achromat on a mount and go taking images, until they developed the ED class of glasses that is what people did.

Select a sensible scope, not f/5 I would suspect f/6.5 or f/7. Not fast but not slow and reduces CA.

A 70 to 80mm one should do well enough, but no idea what brands are avialable in India.

It would do best if you could get an EQ5 (no knowledge of the EQ4) and a set of motors, just thinking that you could use the EQ5 when/if you upgrade the scope.

Without an EQ5 then the next is the EQ3-2. I would not suggest the EQ2 as I do not think it can take a polar scope and so accurate polar alignment is not really feasible.

The problem of astrophotography is that there is a sort of sensible minimum.

To me a minimum is an EQ5 and an ED refractor, the EQ3-2 and an achro is close but you will (could) end up replacing both scope and mount. So getting one of the "better" items now then just upgrading one makes a bit more sense. The mount being the preferable item now.

I wish you luck as India seems to have limited equipment and high costs.

Any clubs or organisations to make life easier - like a university with an astronomy course and access to equipment and/or importing it?

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Thanks. Can you please elaborate about 'Lost Sub Exposures'. What precisely you mean by that.

I just took 100 photos of orion nebula on by 10" dobson at 0.5 sec, ISO800 with my Canon 1200D at prime focus. When I processed the Lights (100 numbers), Darks (20 numbers) and Bias (20 numbers) in DSS, a message popped up stating that only one image can be stacked. Is this what you call 'lost sub exposure?'

A mount that doesn't track that well, or that is unguided will lose some sub-exposures to star trailing.

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I suspect that the problem is one of being unfamiliar with equipment costs and availability in India.

From someone's previous post I gather that a mount is something like two to two and a hlaf times the cost of the same item here.

So Buy Cheap, Buy Twice may apply here but at say £600 for an EQ3-2 makes the whole situation different. It makes an EQ3-2 not a cheap item.

Also is there a used astro gear market in India ?

If there is not then buying used is not an option.

None of the previous several people on SGL from India have indicated any form of used equipment availability.

There is no reason why you cannot stick an achromat on a mount and go taking images, until they developed the ED class of glasses that is what people did.

Select a sensible scope, not f/5 I would suspect f/6.5 or f/7. Not fast but not slow and reduces CA.

A 70 to 80mm one should do well enough, but no idea what brands are avialable in India.

It would do best if you could get an EQ5 (no knowledge of the EQ4) and a set of motors, just thinking that you could use the EQ5 when/if you upgrade the scope.

Without an EQ5 then the next is the EQ3-2. I would not suggest the EQ2 as I do not think it can take a polar scope and so accurate polar alignment is not really feasible.

The problem of astrophotography is that there is a sort of sensible minimum.

To me a minimum is an EQ5 and an ED refractor, the EQ3-2 and an achro is close but you will (could) end up replacing both scope and mount. So getting one of the "better" items now then just upgrading one makes a bit more sense. The mount being the preferable item now.

I wish you luck as India seems to have limited equipment and high costs.

Any clubs or organisations to make life easier - like a university with an astronomy course and access to equipment and/or importing it?

Thanks Ronin. You certainly know the Indian market very well. Used products are not available...and even if these were available, I wont opt for the same as it may have some issues. 70mm - 80mm refracters are easily available from Orion and also Skywatcher.

I am planning for BK 1025 OTA (4" primary aperture, f4.9). The weight of OTA is 3kgs.

How will be EQ5 Synscan GPS for this OTA ? Skywatcher claims the payload capacity of this mount as 9kgs.

Motor type is Microstep driven 1.8 degrees stepper motor.

Slewing speed is 3.4 degrees per second (800x),

Slewing speed is 0.25x, 0.50x, 0.75x, 1x.

I really don't have an idea about the above mentioned specifications of the EQ5 mount. Your feedback will be highly appreciated.

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Thanks Ronin. You certainly know the Indian market very well. Used products are not available...and even if these were available, I wont opt for the same as it may have some issues. 70mm - 80mm refracters are easily available from Orion and also Skywatcher.

I am planning for BK 1025 OTA (4" primary aperture, f4.9). The weight of OTA is 3kgs.

How will be EQ5 Synscan GPS for this OTA ? Skywatcher claims the payload capacity of this mount as 9kgs.

Motor type is Microstep driven 1.8 degrees stepper motor.

Slewing speed is 3.4 degrees per second (800x),

Slewing speed is 0.25x, 0.50x, 0.75x, 1x.

I really don't have an idea about the above mentioned specifications of the EQ5 mount. Your feedback will be highly appreciated.

CORRECTION ---

I am planning for BK 1025 OTA (4" primary aperture, f4.9). The weight of OTA is 3kgs.

How will be EQ5 Synscan GPS for this OTA ? Skywatcher claims the payload capacity of this mount as 9kgs.

Motor type is Microstep driven 1.8 degrees stepper motor.

Slewing speed is 3.4 degrees per second (800x),

Guiding speed is 0.25x, 0.50x, 0.75x, 1x.

I really don't have an idea about the above mentioned specifications of the EQ5 mount. Your feedback will be highly appreciated.

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Hi. Attaching this photo of Orion nebula which I took through my 10" Dobsonian (non tracking, no motors). I know some may laugh on it. But still, I would like your views on the same. Please be candid...this was my first photo...post-38054-0-74875600-1422205898_thumb.j

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Considering you used a Dob to take this image Pankaj its not bad :) Theres an interesting yellow cast to the image, what camera and processing did you use?

Have you considered a small imaging reflector rather than an achromatic refractor? There is no chromatic aberration with an reflector and they are very cost effective.

Over hear you can get the Skywatcher 130pds f/5 for just 159 pounds! I don't know if you can get hold of one of these in India?

Just a thought :)

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Considering you used a Dob to take this image Pankaj its not bad :) Theres an interesting yellow cast to the image, what camera and processing did you use?

Have you considered a small imaging reflector rather than an achromatic refractor? There is no chromatic aberration with an reflector and they are very cost effective.

Over hear you can get the Skywatcher 130pds f/5 for just 159 pounds! I don't know if you can get hold of one of these in India?

Just a thought :)

Hi Chris. Skywatcher's Indian distributor sells BKP 130 reflecting OTA. Its a f4.8 OTA with 2" eyepiece and 1.25" adapter, 8*50 viewfinder. Its about Rs.20000 (327 USD) but I can afford that. Which mount should I consider with this ?? 

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For a budget of £600 (is that your budget) you can pick up a few reasonable outfits, especially if (as it seems) you already have the camera.

At college the students use the SW 130pds on an EQ3 with clockwork timer on the RA axis. For the money they get some very creditable results

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Hi, you need to be careful to get the right model, it needs to be the 130pds model to reach focus with your camera. The standard 130p won't unfortunately. 

Here is the link to what the imaging reflector looks like so you can try and find a retailer over there who stocks it :)

http://www.firstlightoptics.com/reflectors/skywatcher-explorer-130p-ds-ota.html

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Mount wise EQ3 or EQ5 will basic motor drive kit will get you 60 second sub exposures, It helps if you do a good polar allignment, and load the RA axis slightly East heavy so the backlash in the gearing is reduced :)

going to an EQ3 or EQ5 Pro will get you around 120 second sub exposures unguided or much longer guided.

I probably should add that they used to have issues with the eq3 pro guide ports, not sure if this bug is fixed or not?

Edited by starfox
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For a budget of £600 (is that your budget) you can pick up a few reasonable outfits, especially if (as it seems) you already have the camera.

At college the students use the SW 130pds on an EQ3 with clockwork timer on the RA axis. For the money they get some very creditable results

Thanks Chris. You have been very helpful.

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Mount wise EQ3 or EQ5 will basic motor drive kit will get you 60 second sub exposures, It helps if you do a good polar allignment, and load the RA axis slightly East heavy so the backlash in the gearing is reduced :)

going to an EQ3 or EQ5 Pro will get you around 120 second sub exposures unguided or much longer guided.

I probably should add that they used to have issues with the eq3 pro guide ports, not sure if this bug is fixed or not?

Just read on the skywatcher website that EQ5 has a payload capacity of 9 kg. This OTA 130 PDS weighs almost 5 kgs. Will this be ok for photography in prime focus.

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Just read on the skywatcher website that EQ5 has a payload capacity of 9 kg. This OTA 130 PDS weighs almost 5 kgs. Will this be ok for photography in prime focus.

Yep the general rule of thumb is half the max capacity for imaging. The mechanics of the EQ3 or EQ5 with motor drives will be more of a limiting factor, but with a bit of careful adjustment lots of people have obtained great results with these modest mounts:)

I started imaging with the EQ5 and it was fun in a way to try and push the limits to see what you could achieve. The usual advice I give is the default HEQ5 pro, but its not always right to do so if its not even in your long term budget.

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After lots of research work and streching my budgets, I have shortlisted on three mounts -

1. Orion Sirius EQ G (payload capacity - 10kg) with a new ED 80 refractor

2. Orion Atlas EQ G (payload capacity - 18kg) with my current 10" reflector

3. Skywatcher EQ6 (payload capacity - 18kg) with my current 10" reflector

Which one will perform better for astrophotography considering that a single exposure will not go beyond 30 second.

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I would go for the sirius and ed80 as the better photograhy  setup. The atlas and eq6 will of course take your 10" for visual but its a big scope and pushing at the limits weightwise for imaging. A cheaper option is a sirius or heq5 with a 130pds and don't forget the coma corrector

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I would go for the sirius and ed80 as the better photograhy  setup. The atlas and eq6 will of course take your 10" for visual but its a big scope and pushing at the limits weightwise for imaging. A cheaper option is a sirius or heq5 with a 130pds and don't forget the coma corrector

Thanks Rowan. What if I buy Skywatcher EQ6 along with a new 130mm Skywatcher Reflector (130 P-DS) on it. This reflector will weigh maximum 5-6 kg while the EQ6 mount can support 18kg. This may put less strain on the motors, resulting in better pictures and exposures. What is your opinion on this?

Secondly, I am just worried about the performance if EQ6. Have you ever heard anything negative about this mount ?  

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I'd just start off with a DSLR and camera lens (max 200mm).  You'll learn many astrophotgraphy techniques without having to splash out on a scope.

Hi Michael. I would too love to do that. Is Polarie the only tracking option for using camera for astrophotography?

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With the light payload of the 130pds, there will be zero difference between the HEQ5 and the EQ6 in terms of tracking accuracy. The EQ6 would only be a better idea if you ever want to use a large scope or more than one scope at once. 

There are good and bad reviews of every mount from my research, but one thing the HEQ5's and EQ6's win at is online guides for fixing issues. I've learn't this the hard way. 

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I would go for the sirius and ed80 as the better photograhy  setup. The atlas and eq6 will of course take your 10" for visual but its a big scope and pushing at the limits weightwise for imaging. A cheaper option is a sirius or heq5 with a 130pds and don't forget the coma corrector

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