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Starting Astrophotography - gear advice

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Morning folks,

I've been taking photos for years and have a love of all things astro.  It's only recently however that both have sparked an urge to join them together and do something spectacular.

My current set up is as follows

SW Star adventurer on my Giotto tripod

Pentax K-5 DSLR

135mm f3.5 Prime lens

I have a couple of telescopes too but have difficulty taking photos using them.

SW 200P "dobby"

Old Celestron 130 goto something or other

SW 4" Refractor (not sure of model as it's my fiances)

My question is this.

Should I invest in the SW 80ED + HEQ5 mount and get it over with? is it inevitable I will end up with that solution, can I put the 80ED on the Star Adventurer as it is rated to move 5kg, my camera + lens is about 1kg?

My last image is attached, I'm just getting in to processing them, currently sticking to what I know in Lightroom but have a trial of PixInsight


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Epic purple haloes! I wonder if that emphasizes how far out the cluster stars go? Are the purple stars in the right of the shot still part of the Pleiades?

Just bite the bullet if you're sure you want to do AP....

Start with the mount. Does it have to be portable? The SA you already have is a good portable mount but it won't take much of a payload. A ZS61 plus flattener plus SLR will be your lot and it will only correct in one axis. The ED80 is a bit too heavy in my opinion for a SA; the 5kg is a bit optimistic for long subs. Having said that, if your photo is using the 4" achro on the SA, then the mount is doing pretty well.

If it can be permanent (moved 50 feet?) then an HEQ5 or bigger is really the only way to go for a serious setup . (other makes are available in this weight class..) You do see good shots taken on EQ3 and similar but I suspect the success rate would be low enough to be very frustrating. Many would recommend an EQ6 or one of its recent updates if your scope is much bigger than an ED80.

The ED80 or similar is something of a rite of passage for doing widefield AP...everybody has one at some time or other. Recommended.

You've got a Pentax SLR; I'm afraid Canon is by far the best supported in the astro universe! It might be worth your while looking for an old 1000D, 1100D body if you intend controlling the camera from a PC with APT or similar. Again, Canon are the most documented for increasing the H-alpha sensitivity.

Of course how much you spend is very personal. Many would say it's not worth spending too much because the weather in UK will ensure the kit gets little use. I take the opposite view; exactly because there are relatively few opportunities to use it , you need simple kit that "just works" first time without fuss. This tends not to be the cheapest option. The natural tendency (for me anyway) is to do it on the cheap by buying all the bits secondhand ad-hoc. You then find out they are all fine individually but won't work together, Some examples:

  • You can't reach focus with your particular scope, field flattener, filter wheel, camera...
  • Camera driver issues and operating systems

There is something to be said for writing down a list of everything you will need and checking it's all mutually compatible before you buy. I'd be a lot better off if I'd taken my own advice on this one!

Learn by rote the setup procedure! I tend to not use kit for weeks on end and when I do get round to it again, I often forget some silly thing that can hold me up for a long time which gets sorted just as the clouds roll in! 

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I saw a video on YouTube about the star adventurer and they claimed you can use an 80ed on it. But I'd imagine you'd need very good polar alignment and balance.

If your serious about astrophotography then a HEQ5 and 80ed come highly recommended. Also the book "making Every Photon Count" comes highly recommended too for beginners and is somewhat known as the beginners Bible. 

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I have no idea about the cluster stars! Still quite new to this!

Portable ideally as we have a camper van and take the telescope and camera gear with us.  Speaking of which the image I posted was taken just with the camera, no telescope, on the SA (cropped the image to the interesting parts)

I like the look of the ZS61 on the SA together with a Canon camera.  Its at a reasonable price too, which is rare in astronomy!

together with kit my processing needs work as I learn how to do it I guess that will improve.

Just to check a ZS61 will work on a SA, looking at a review of the ZS61 it was used on a similar thing to the SA with similar specs

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A ZS61 will work just fine unguided on a well-set-up SA for subs of 2-3 minutes at its native focal length of 360mm which is ok for portable use. Many excellent shots have already been produced with exactly this rig, but you will be losing some subs for often unexplained reasons without guiding.

The ZS61 is definitely flavour of the month at the moment. It's a doublet but has the benefit of FPL53 glass which many of its competitors in the price range don't offer. You will need the flattener. It's reasonably quick at f/5.9 as well.

You can also run the camera stand-alone without a PC which is a big step towards reliability on site. Make sure you get one with LiveView for focusing. No software and minimal cables is good for reliability. Just stock up on batteries...

But...if you want to add a guidescope (and you probably will..guiding is just wonderful when it works properly) then the weight goes up, and it will only correct in RA on the SA mount. How much of an issue is portability? The HEQ5 option is a much more capable mount, with goto facility and correction in both RA and Dec available, plus a much larger payload capability, plus the belt drive option. And it will still fit in the back of a small car even if you can't carry it a long way...It also allows a greater choice of scope/ guidescope combo by virtue of the payload capability, and you get a proper vixen style dovetail fitting. .broken down I would have thought it should be ok stowed away in the cubbyholes of a camper van. Someone on this site must have done this before..They crop up fairly often on ABS; £500 should get you something decent if you wait a few weeks. There are self-contained guiding setups that work without a PC but I think most people go down the PC route with PHD1/2.

And once you've got a PC in the system, you might as well use it to control your camera as well as the mount....The problem is at this point there is an awful lot to learn

I've seen the old blue style of ED80 go for as little as £200 on ABS (mine for example..) but you might need to add the cost of a reducer/ flattener as the native scope is a bit slow at f/7.5 (but by no means unuseable..)

These projects rapidly snowball in terms of ambition! Sadly the buying-in price for even widefield AP tends to be around £1k for a decent s/h rig. But I would seriously recommend getting the most appropriate mount to suit your medium to long term ambitions with AP even if some of the facilities are not used straight away. If you can't immediately afford the scope to match you can still practice getting the mount working perfectly with your achro, and that's a big step forward..


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My van set up is pretty flexible so could move stuff in and out as needed.

I also have a Fuji XM-1 camera, nothing fancy but lightweight, mirrorless and full manual controls....just having moved house 4 times in 12 months I have yet to find its charger!

Some research is needed, I think you can use the pentax with a PC but not sure about the Fuji

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On ‎10‎/‎26‎/‎2017 at 05:28, waroffice said:

That's one cheesy video but very informative. Will finish it later at home

Thank you!  I'll take that as a compliment.  :)  I am actually taking the suggestion and switching to a hot shoe mounted red dot finder.  I have one on my dobsonian, will repurpose it.  Hope the video helped.  Cheers, Jason

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So I went to an observatory, The Rosse Observatory in Pontefract, met a group of nice folk who showed me polar alignment.  Although I was not perfect ( I now know I need to work on this after looking at my images ) I produced this image

20 x 20 second subs, ISO 1600 F3.5 135mm on a Pentax K-5 all mounted on my star adventurer

Took me a good 3 hours to get a decent image, I had some other subs pointing at Andromeda galaxy but they didn't come out as well


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