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Need help with a beginner's setup!


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Just registered here so hi! :)

I'm looking to buy a beginner's setup for viewing and photographing the night sky. I have a £200 Amazon voucher sitting here so that's roughly what my budget is. I'd like something motorised that tracks objects and that I can put my digital SLR onto since I have a decent camera. I'd love to be able to finally get my foot on the astronomy ladder and take some nice photos at the same time.

I've been reading a lot over the last couple of days and quite frankly it's still a bit confusing, so any recommendations of telescopes or information on how best to attach a camera would be hugely appreciated! :)

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Hi and  welcome, beardo

That's a very small budget for your immediate requirements, however for £20  you could do no worse than obtaining this book from our sponsor site at First Light Optics, http://www.firstlightoptics.com/books/making-every-photon-count-steve-richards.html

What this book doesn't know, is not worth worrying about. Not only that, there are many members here who will also subscribe to  your budget as insufficient for your present needs.

Don't let this put you off, and don't buy next week as the Stars won't be going anywhere. You have chosen the most expensive and difficult side of the astronomy hobby, but once mastered, will become a lifelong hobby, and probably one you will become successful with. just take your time, and study a bit before you invest.

Edited by Charic
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Thanks for the reply, but I think you may have read my budget wrong! :)

Just to clarify I have a £200 Amazon voucher, but I can add a little extra if there's a better option for a bit more money. I've been looking at telescopes between around £160-£260 on Amazon but it's still very confusing as to what would be best, specifically for photography. Any help would be great!

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yeah, no worries, you will always be adding in this hobby!

The most expensive start, usually,  lies in the mounting system, get this right, and the rest will be ok, but getting this  right is where the money goes?

Once you become more familiar with the subject and what's available, there is also  the second hand market  for telescopes and accessories, 

Don't forget to browse this sites  other threads, some more specific to astro-photography. But no matter which thread your in, just keep firing away with the questions.

Also note, if your buying a new camera, telescope ect its unlikely you would go to your local supermarket, so always caution when buying from sources that don't specialize in the subject. Amazon can be one of those supermarkets?

Edited by Charic
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Hi, I'd echo what Charic says about buying from Amazon or any other big generalist store. If you have to buy from amazon because of the voucher - I'd say for your budget only consider used telescopes you  won't get anything that does what you imagine for your budget new, but you may get something really worth your while second hand. 
I just bought a C8 second hand for well under £500 and new or nearly new it would have cost me well over £1000 but it will just about be good enough to do photography when I'm ready. 

Having just purchased, I'd recommend you start your research here: http://www.scopereviews.com/begin.html

Has to be a must read imho.

Have fun deciding what to buy and welcome!

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Thanks for the replies guys, and thanks for the link!

Yeah I'm stuck with Amazon for now because of the voucher. Since I don't really buy things from Amazon I thought I'd buy a scope with it. I'm really just looking for anything around that price that tracks objects so they don't just appear as streaks when doing longer exposures. Since I've never done astrophotography before, besides through zoom lenses on my cameras, I'd just like something entry level. I'd be looking to spend more in a year or two once I have of an idea of what I'm doing.

I've been looking at this one which seems to be a scope that a lot of people have bought as beginners, but again I have no idea whether it'd be suitable for photography or not, and whether it's any good for that?

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Skywatcher-Explorer-Motorised-Telescope-Parabolic/dp/B00CYHSZ90/

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I would say avoid that telescope for now, don't be eager to spend or waste your money? have a read here to see what's capable from an 80? http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/236987-what-can-the-skywatcher-evostar-ed80-do-for-me/

Others will be along with their advice soon. take your time to study and make the right choice. I have to get some rest now for an early start at my work. 

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If your budget can stretch a leeetle - something with a bit more light gathering capacity and without the tracking -  used with stacking software may give you images more like what you are hoping for from stacked low exposures. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Orion-SkyQuest-Classic-Dobsonian-Telescope/dp/B001DDW9V6/ref=sr_1_1?s=photo&ie=UTF8&qid=1424912775&sr=1-1&keywords=telescope

The photography thread in the forum will give you more advice I'm sure. Good luck and good night - I've an early start too!

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Aye, take note of what Charic has said. I'm not an astrophotographer but I've read enough on SGL to acknowledge that before anyone begins they had better do a fair bit of reading. As Charic says, start with Richards' book Making Every Photon Count.

Another point which I have gained from reading the imaging threads is that AP is really quite crazy from an observer's perspective. I mean, the telescope is the least important of the three main necessities :shocked:. In the crazy world of imaging, priority is first the mount, then the camera, and only then the telescope.

But it gets worse :cheesy: Aperture doesn't seem too important either. Well it is, but only in terms of how it affects the scope's focal ratio and imagers just love fast ratios. They'll be performing absolute wonders with tiny 3" bits of glass running at f5.

If you were a visual observer, I'd stress the importance of checking out sketches and taking note of the kit used. By like manner, if one were inspired by imaging, they ought to have a look at the imaging section and see what kit is being used.

Finally, whether wishing to try out visual astronomy or imaging the general percept remains. The universe is going nowhere in a hurry, so there's no need to rush. In a perfect world, one should take their time in building an informed decision before purchasing astro gear :smiley:

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Thanks for the replies and links once again, some lovely photos in that thread.

I can definitely stretch to £300. I mainly just wanted to use the £200 voucher to buy a scope that I can play with and learn with, since it's £200 that I got for free so it's either buy a scope or waste it on something silly. I'd definitely be looking to upgrade in a year or so judging by what it seems you can do with quite a modest budget, and looking at the photos in the thread Charic linked!

The photo below is about as close as I can get to anything with my current setup, so any improvement on that would be awesome.

Again, thanks for your help, if anyone else has any advice that would be great too! 

8145888490_3e7c11eccc_o.jpg

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Just seen your reply Qualia, thanks for that!

I've been reading quite a lot the last couple of days (I take information in pretty quickly), and I've been meaning to jump into this for years and years, so rather than procrastinate any further I'd like to buy something, and then I have some equipment to play with while I read more and figure out what the hell I'm doing. At the very least I'll have something I can look through, even if it's not a very good AP setup.

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Just as a thought provoker, why not get just a motorised equatorial mount for your camera and forget the scope for now. You can fit your camera to the mount and track with it for, say, 30 seconds with a 200mm DSLR lens without autoguiding. With shorter lenses you can track a bit longer but smaller objects wont show up so well.

A quick look at Amazon has a Skywatcher EQ5 mount in your price range but you'll also need to get at minimum the single axis drive add-on.

If you do get a decent AP scope later on this mount will probably NOT be good enough. But I think if you go with anything else for the price now you will be sorely disappointed.

Here's an example of an "okay" shot I took of Centaurus-A with a 210mm Tamron lens and Atik-420 CCD camera on a Super-Polaris mount in suburban level light pollution.

15 sub-frames of 2 minutes each with no darks, bias or flat frames stacked with Deep Sky Stacker. Then a bit of post processing to enhance contrast and crop down to highlight the galaxy. I was able to get to 2min exposures by some painstaking drift alignment.

I want to move up to using my 6inch Newtonian but I first need to sort out the periodic error in the tracking by adding some autoguiding. So the limiting factor is in the mount. The EQ5 mount is equivalent to the Super Polaris. So this is representative of what you could expect with modest gear but better than the gear you've been looking at.

CEN-A_zpsgw9i304w.jpg

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I got a clearance EQ3-2 and added an RA motor for about £200, and mount a 70mm ED refractor on that for AP. It works pretty well, but, as everyone says, I am itching to upgrade to an HEQ5 so I can get into bigger and better subs and guiding.

If you HAVE to spend for a scope on Amazon, and you want something for AP, would a scope like the 130PDS be a better option? I'll wait for other experts to chip in!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sky-Watcher-Explorer-Parabolic-Reflector-Telescope/dp/B00B0BYT78/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1424939514&sr=1-1&keywords=130pds

You will still need to figure out the mount options and that will add a few hundred to your budget, but you can probably save a bit going second hand.

Perhaps the suggestion of mount and widefield is a good way to start while you save up for a scope?

Be warned.....once you start, your wallet will shrink....rapidly! :-)

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I'd if me look at what mount I could buy from Amazon to use my existing dslr and lenses on.

Maybe a Polarie or other similar mount. Gives a very portable solution for traveling to dark sites.

Maybe a heritage 100p for the observing need.

The 130pds nice images taken with that and could be used to observe with as well. Didn't realise that was on amazon now.

Edited by happy-kat
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There is a simple truth about astrophotography:- it is expensive.

There is a basic requirement and that amount to a driven equitorial mount (EQ5 as a minimum), then a decent scope.

The start for a scope is something like a 130PDS or 70mm ED.

Then add a few bits like T-rings and adaptors, flateners and coma correctors and your DSLR - you want a remote timer for the DSLR.

I assume that you have a good sized PC. Most AP is image processing.

That is the sort of minimum requirement, and really the mount should be goto, it saves you time and effort and the goto motors are more accurate then the simple dual drive ones.

You are looking at £800-£1200 to get going in the field.

The next step up of guiding, better scope, camera etc will you find come in at around  the £4000 area.

Many of the images that you see around will be on equipment costing £15,000-£20,000. One imager around here will say his set up is £10,000 to £12,000 but if presseed the admission is £16,000 to £20,000.

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Thanks for all the replies everyone.

I mainly want to see some stuff a bit closer up, and take a few photos. It doesn't matter hugely at this stage if the photos aren't the best in the world, to be honest I'd be happy with some photos of the moon and Saturn right now. I use a 200mm Tamron at the moment and I quite like the photos it gives me, but I'd like to see things a bit closer.

It's not a case of saving up or anything, it's more that I don't know what I'm doing so wouldn't want to dive into spending thousands straight away. I thought since I had a £200 voucher I could start cheap and get something to learn on, then give the scope to someone with a kid or something when I figure out what I'm doing and feel more confident in spending a few thousand. I already do photography so I'm used to spending money on bits of glass and equipment, but just didn't want to dive in and spend thousands without having at least played around with something first, taking simple photos of the moon and planets.

I've been reading reviews of the Skywatcher Explorer 130M which I was looking at, but it says it's terrible for attaching a camera to. Does anyone have any recommendations of something within my budget that I can actually attach an SLR to without too many problems? I'm used to multiple exposures and stacking images, but I'd just like something with tracking so I don't lose what I'm watching, and also so I can do some time lapse for stacking.

I'll definitely look into buying a mount to put my cameras on as an option, but I'd love to get an actual scope and see things closer :)

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The problem you face is that seeing things closer puts more demands on the mount because everything in the sky is moving. So as you increase the magnification they are moving faster across the eyepiece. It can be a problem enough for visual observation but more demanding again for astrophotography of any sort. 

Now if you were happy to concentrate on visual observing and ignore photos for now I'd be thinking about a dobsonian with the biggest aperture you could afford. You'll get much more aperture for your money and in turn will be able to view many more objects. But photography is pretty much out of the question.

Another option for you if you just want to see things closer would be a decent pair of binoculars and suitable tripod.

On the other hand, if you were more interested in the photographic aspect the you must have an equatorial mount but at your price range you'd be pretty much restricted to planetary work and in that case a video cam is a better medium. And if you want to get really close you are getting into the realms of eyepiece projection and all the complexities that brings.

In a nutshell, there really isn't any scope/mount combination in that price range that is suitable for a DSLR. Sure, you could hook one up anyway and take some shots but I'm pretty sure you would be very disappointed in the results even if you don't have high expectations. I also don't think you would learn an awful lot from the experience as the whole setup is so limited.

But at the end of the day it's my (and others)  2p against your 200 quid.

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Thanks for the reply kens.

From all of the replies and reading around a lot more this morning, it feels like maybe my best option with a "beginner budget" is to get something I can use visually, and literally just play around with in terms of photography, even if that's just photos of the moon for now (I do quite like the moon). I've managed to take some pretty decent photos just with my camera and tripod, and I realise astrophotography is a steep learning curve and quite expensive if you want good results. Luckily I do have a sensitive camera with high ISO capabilities, and I'm used to stacking multiple exposures to get rid of noise, so I might just be alright with good viewing capabilities and bad photography capabilities while I take some months to read up on what I need to invest in to take some decent photos?

I guess it seems I could procrastinate and "save up" continuously really, building increasingly good but theoretical setups on paper. But I do want to get stuck in, even if that's in a very "off the shelf" way. I can afford to pay a lot more for a scope, but was trying to limit myself to the £200 voucher I have (roughly) so I don't go mad without having any experience of what I'm doing. When I started photography many years ago I spent ages figuring out what I needed, in the end I went for a lower end camera around £500 and it was a good choice because it let me play around and get experience of all the pros and cons.

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I think your progress would be best served by considering a 150mm Dobsonian either new if available through Amazon or secondhand elsewhere resulting in no financial loss when you outgrow it. The 150mm will keep you occupied for ages visually and you would still be able to take photos of the Moon and planets. To try and do suitable exposures for other objects on your initial budget would just lead to disappointment.  :smiley:

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Guess I'm a bit late to this party but here is my 2 cents worth and I'm sure most will disagree.
You have a £200 voucher to burn and want to improve on what you have already got to hand so I would look at getting the EQ5 mount from amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Delectronics&field-keywords=EQ5 at £214.99. That's an additional investment of only £14.99.
This is a minimum requirement mount for astrophotography really that can be upgraded at a later date and is excellent for visual.
This will allow you to practice required skills such as polar alignment and balancing, not much fun but part of the steep learning curve.
If you can push your budget to £440 then get the EQ5 with 200p Sky Watcher from Amazon. This would be a good investment as you already have £200 towards it or search for a cheaper OTA on ebay.
The 200p will serve you well over the early years of your new hobby and a T-ring is all you need to attach your DSLR to the focus tube (depending on brand of DSLR).
With the EQ5 & 200p, great images of the moon and larger planets are obtainable with the use of a web cam, laptop and free software, this is another skill set to learn.
So for the extra investment of £240 plus cost of a T-ring you could be up and running with a reasonable/upgradable entry level AP set up as I did.
Everything else will follow as you learn, read, question and explore your new hobby. You will always be skint, frustrated and confused but never a loan ha ha!

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Thanks for the reply Nebula! Not late to the party at all, I'm still reading a lot of stuff so any advice is still super helpful.

After your recommendation I've had a look at quite a few reviews, videos, images etc of that scope and I've added it to my short list. Looks pretty decent and seems like I'll be able to take quite a few half decent pics, and upgrade it later if need be. I'm using a Sony A6000 right now which is a really lightweight camera compared to a lot of SLRs, so it shouldn't impact too much on the weight. I've added a T-ring to my Amazon wish list too. Seems like it'd save me a little anyway since it has a "direct" SLR connection so 1 less adaptor.

I'm used to processing photos, and stacking them too, so the software side is no problem for me at all. I'm sure I can pick that up pretty easily, and it looks fun to learn anyway. I'm also (weirdly?) looking forward to stuff like polar alignment, I quite like techy things so I'm sure that'll be fine too!

Another thing I'd like to ask anyone who can answer, is what's the best way to be able to take photos of the sun? Do I simply need to get a Baader sun filter and fashion it into a circle to stick on the front? I've read you just need to keep it a bit loose to work effectively. The partial eclipse that's coming up seems to be coinciding well with me getting a scope so it'd be awesome to be able to take a decent photo of that. I've done so with my camera, but obviously I'd love to get closer shots.

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