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Look (at the stars) before you leap


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Just a few words of caution…

I can’t help noticing a lot of people like to start with astronomy and want to jump into astro photography right away, without (sufficient) experience with visual astronomy or insight in the basic techniques or equipment for stargazing. Though there are a lot of people on the forum who can give you very good advice and a headstart, nothing works better then a step by step approach and granting your self the time to learn from experience and enjoying to look forward to your next step.

When looking at all the beautiful images the seasoned astro photographers make and the way it is described, it looks simple, but it is everything but that!

The pitfalls are plenty and the learning curve is steep and expensive. In many cases the end results will be frustration, loss of selfesteem and loss of quite  some money and no images that come anywhere close (if any) to what you expected.

I don’t mean to discourage anybody, but look before you leap…

I.m.h.o. it is a far better approach to start with observing, get familiar with the night sky, get a grip on the basic techniques  and equipment and read, read, read. And not to forget, visit your local Astronomy club and star parties. Lots of knowledgeable experienced people there who love to give you advice.

Of course you know yourself best where you stand on this ladder...

If you plan for AP (in the (near) future), it maybe smart to invest most of your budget in a mount that will be suitable for that. Mounts for AP will do very well for observing too, the other way around it will be a bummer.

If this sounds harsh, it may be because English is not my native tongue. Sorry for hat.

In no way this is meant to keep you away from AP, just to spare you a lot of disappointments.

Waldemar

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Just to offer a different point of view, I'd hardly ever looked through a telescope before jumping into imaging and I don't think it hindered me really. Learning to use an equatorial mount is a common skill but that's about it. Learning the sky is always useful but good imaging targets often differ from good observing targets. I've still hardly done any observing, initially through lack of opportunities but these days because I'm too busy looking after two mounts and cameras when conditions are good. It's something I'd like to do a lot more of as it's a very different experience - the Pleiades are utterly spectacular through a modest scope.

The most common mistake for new imagers, I'd guess, is starting with too much focal length.

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Just to offer a different point of view, I'd hardly ever looked through a telescope before jumping into imaging and I don't think it hindered me really. Learning to use an equatorial mount is a common skill but that's about it. Learning the sky is always useful but good imaging targets often differ from good observing targets. I've still hardly done any observing, initially through lack of opportunities but these days because I'm too busy looking after two mounts and cameras when conditions are good. It's something I'd like to do a lot more of as it's a very different experience - the Pleiades are utterly spectacular through a modest scope.

The most common mistake for new imagers, I'd guess, is starting with too much focal length.

I think the most common mistake is unrealistic expectations - in equipment, skill and cost

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Just to offer a different point of view, I'd hardly ever looked through a telescope before jumping into imaging and I don't think it hindered me really. Learning to use an equatorial mount is a common skill but that's about it. Learning the sky is always useful but good imaging targets often differ from good observing targets. I've still hardly done any observing, initially through lack of opportunities but these days because I'm too busy looking after two mounts and cameras when conditions are good. It's something I'd like to do a lot more of as it's a very different experience - the Pleiades are utterly spectacular through a modest scope.

The most common mistake for new imagers, I'd guess, is starting with too much focal length.

I'm with the Knight on this one. I have very little interest in observing, I went straight into AP. Ok, my first mistake was buying an AZ as my first scope. Great for moon/planets, and great portability, don't regret getting it, and ended up with decent planetary stuff. From this I learned about rotation, and why I need an EQ, and then went onwards and upwards from there. This is a personal view, and I am not putting a downer on the observers at all, but for me I would like to keep a record of what I have looked at and found.

Below is the first tracked image I took, using a dslr on a Star Adventurer. From this I've learned that 6 mins of data isn't enough, not to have the aperture wide open, take darks and flats, etc. etc. I had to observe and find the object first of course, so observing and AP can go hand-in-hand right from day 1.

post-30409-0-54590800-1446735380_thumb.j

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Each to their own a they say. The main point of any hobby is to get enjoyment from it. I do this by learning the night sky and how to navigate my way round it, even when the target turns out to be a grey fuzzy and not particularly an inspiring view. Others will use goto, an imaging system and hours at the computer to produce the stunning photos they post. I greatly admire this but have no real wish to join the dark side.

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Yes, it's a case of deciding what you want to do. I'd certainly never knock visual, it has its own unique appeal, but if imaging is really your thing you'll only learn by getting out there and doing it. So I can't quite agree with all the points made by the OP. I do agree with the points above about expectations and recognising that it's a learning curve. I like to do some mild evangelising about the merits of camera lenses on a cheap tracking mount as a more forgiving route into imaging.

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Waldemar, some good points you make, but as a new starter myself, I know astrophotography is the route I want to take as I enjoy photography. I think it not about just jumoping in the deep end with the hobby, but it's about making an informed choice as to the best and most cost effective route to achieving your goal.

As I've looked and read threads ( and since ordered 'every photon counts') I have decided to send pretty much my entire starting budget on a nice tripod. Do some wide angle photography with that and progress with buying more equipment as I go.

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You are on the right track I think, Deadmeat30. That is what I was trying to point out: Think it over carefully, read and make wise decisions. 

I see quite some questions from people who want to start with AP but did not explore anything yet, do not understand what they are up to and will give up after a couple of tries because it is far more complicated then they ever expected. Of course this does not go for everybody... people like yourself who choose the path of gradualism and think things over carefully after reading about it, spare themselves a lot of disappointment. And that is what I am aiming at. A lot depends on your background, too. Many different technical disciplines are involved in AP. without any insight or experience things look a lot easier then they are. And then suddenly they will be confronted with so many different aspects and problems that confusion will be inevitable. Giving up will often be the next step, with the financial consequences of a disinvestment... 

Of course I do not know how deep their pockets are or how technical they are. I was just trying to make beginners aware, that AP is far more complicated than how it initially looks.

It is like driving a formel 1 racing car without ever been behind the wheel of a normal car... 

Astronomy should be about fun and awe, not about frustration and disappointment!

Waldemar

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When I got my first telescope there was no forum to address - in fact there was no internet full stop. My aim was always to take pictures of the sky. I had the enthusiasm - enjoyed the moon and some planets but that was pretty much it. Then I moved to Australia, saw the southern sky and said wow, I need to get another telescope but in the end it turned out to be similar. 20 odd years ago technology was just not user-friendly enough to learn astrophotography. Years later, I got my first DSLR, the Nikon D50 and tried widefield at a perfect dark sky. Nikon at the time had an algorithm to remove hot pixels - together with all the stars!  :mad: 

A year and a half ago I got the Pentax which is pretty good in low light conditions and after a couple of experiments I got the milky way! I had come to the goal of my astronomy journey spanning four decades. And then it took off on a whole new level (see my signature).

My point is, if you are interested in astrophotography then go for it. Fussy patches in the FOV could never excite me in the way the result of a couple of nights of pictures and processing does. When I saw my first nebula in a picture taken with a 300mm kit lens I was over the moon. I never expected to rival pictures you can see at this forum - I still don't. But I'm getting closer.

Clear skies

HJ

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I just came to realise that I could spend money on a setup within my budget. But the tripod would become redundant pretty fast. So would be a waste of money. Seeing as my scopes may change over the time, it's unlikely (if I buy a decent one) that mount would need to change.

How I just need to be patient and away my access to the classified area for some 2nd hand goodies.

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I took a more middle of the road path...

Went out and bought a "cheap" 114 Tasco Newtonian from Argos.  Took it back after realised how bad the build quality was and got a refund, but not before seeing Jupitar, Saturn and M42.   At that point I was hooked already.

After that I did some research and was going to get a Meade ETX-125.  The plan was for me to start with Observing, then progress on to AP.  SCS Astro recommended that I went for the LX-90 instead, which was £800 more, but it was a much better base platform for AP - if I added some extras (and I could do that later)   So, I bought the scope in Alt-Az mode and started observing with it.  Had great fun and loved it.   Then I bought a Wedge and so on until the scope has built into little monster that it is today.  Whilst observing isn't my passion, AP is, it's been a long path.  It's been hard to learn and I'm still trying to get everything just so.  I know that I'm very very close with my current setup.   Whilst I've changed alot on my scope - added guidescope, tried two different autoguiding methods (one with webcam & K3CCDTools, the other with a skywatcher SynGuider), added Dew heaters, Flip mirrors, three camera's (slr, EOS 30D and EOS 70D) the kit that I've been using has been a progression and I feel that I'm just about getting to the point that I'll be making good images with my 2000mm focal length.

Actually, Having had a constant focal length I think has helped me grow into the imaging as I could see what's wrong with each image and correct for that on the next run.

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