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cjdawson

Getting started or restarted

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Hi everyone.

 

I've been a member of SGL for a few years now, and have been a telescope owner for 18 years.  In that time, I've progressed from Alt-Az visual to EQ Astrophotography.  I think it's fair for say that most of that 18 years has been more off than on, although I've always had the interest and have been enjoying the learning curve.

The first 15 years, I felt like I was on my own more or less trying to learn how to take good photos.   Over the years, I made many mistakes, went down blind ally's and struggled with all manor of things.  I think it's finally safe for me to say that I've now conquered the setup problems and have a setup that is good and reliable.

 

The journey so far has been very interesting, frustrating and enjoyable.  It has taught me a lot about the challanges involved in "taking high accuracy long exposure photos of a moving target in damp conditions over several hours without access to mains power"

When I started out there was no access to books like "Making every photon count" as they had not been written.

One thing that I am greatful of is that when I purchased my first telescope back in 2001, I talked it over with the owner of SCS Astro, with a view to buying a Meade ETX 125.   However, he talked me into getting the Meade LX-90 instead.   (Perviously, my only experience had been with a Tasco 114 Newtonian, which was a rebadged Celestron scope)    Since then,  consider myself very lucky to have a reliable scope which whilst is master of none, it a great jack of all trades.  I can do both planetary and deep sky photography with it as well as visual observing should I desire.

Learning about guiding was a good experience and I settled with my scope of buying a SkyWatcher ST-80 which quickly got a good reputation as a guide scope.  Autoguiding has been a continous source of frustration for me over the years.

Having tried several ways of guiding, I've changed my equipment and philosophy several times.  Started off with a Web cam being controlled by K3CCDTools3 and a serial relay box to send ST-4 commands to my scope.    This worked but wasn't very reliable.   I had lots of problems with the laptop, couldn't get it to run from a 12v battery, which meant that the laptop would run out of power at the most annoying times.   Also, I had great problems finding guide stars!   (turns out the camera was not sensetive enough and I wasn't able to use long enough exposures)

As I was using a Canon 30D to image with at this point, I decided to get rid of the laptop completely and try a completely self contained method.  Instead of computer controlling the scope, I bought a SkyWatcher SynGuider II, and attached that to my ST-80.  It worked great first time out (I was guiding on Vega) and thought my problems were behind me.  Having a SkyFi meant that I could connect SkySafari Pro to my scope and control it wirelessly.  This was great stuff.....    until, I tried to do some astro photography on something other than the Ring Nebula.  Again, I found I had massive problems finding a guide star.  Then combine that with the silly little screen on the SynGuider, I got very frustrated and decided after a lot of wasted time to change again.

After getting very very annoyed with the SynGuider, I decided to blow the bank and get a StarLight Express SuperStar to use as a guide camera.  I knew that my old laptop was not powerful enough, so I went and bought a cheapish HP Pavillion I5 laptop with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.  This laptop I decided is only going to be for astronomy, and specifically for telescope control.   It's not for post processing, emails etc.  It just controls telescopes and cameras.

For fun I decided to do a star test when I first got it, put it on the ST-80 and pointed up to a blank bit of sky.   At this point, no tracking, no alignment just point and shoot.  I took a one second exposure ran it through astrometry.net and it platesolved my PHD2 screenshot!   Showing up Mag 8 stars!!!!!!!!!     This changed everything.

2017, I forgot to pack one of my cameras for the SGL Star Party, and FLO were had a stall so I blew my bank again and purchased a filter wheel, LRGB Filter set (for the ASI1600) and a ZWO ASI290MM.  I had a few attempts with this camera, but didn't really get a huge amount of progress (mainly work) but also because I was finding that most targets were too big for my camera.    Didn't fancy spending 6 months imaging something that my DSLR could do in one session.  Besides the camera wasn't cooled.  That said, I might use it for another go at the Ring Nebula or other tiny objects.

Fast forward to 2019 and I just purchased a ZWO ASI1600MM Pro (Cooled) and a few days later got first light on with it.

 

My session was very very different to any that I had previously had.   Firstly, the polar alignment process was much more straight forward thanks for SharpCap's Polar Align feature.   Took a little time to learn the process, it worked a treat and I wasn't setup and able to guide in no time at all.

Using SGPro for imaging again simplified something that has been a challange in the past.    Finding the object in the night sky especially with light pollution could be a task unto itself.  Plate solving made things so much easier.   Getting focus was much easier too using the frame and focus wizard, I'd always had trouble when using my DSLR even with a bhatinov mask.

The only issue I had with the session was when my target went behind a tree.  So I switched to another target and carried on :)

Since that session, I have found that my camera settings could have been better and I've found that there's two methods of capture that I want to try out.

The important thing now is that I'm finally at the point where the challange isn't so much as taking a photo, it's now about getting a good photo from the camera.

 

For me this has been an 18 year journey, and it's still going on.   I'm enjoying it more than ever and will be looking forward to my next opportunity.

 

For those just starting out on this journey, looking to get into observing in, whether visual or photographic.  It can be a long and winding road.  Don't worry there are loads of us on this forum and have been down all the paths before.  There's plenty of knowledge and lots of people willing to share.   We've got experience and are happy to share the benefits of our past mistakes or poor decisions to help you get to the good stuff faster.

 

As for the future, for me it's now going to be concentrating my efforts on image capture and processing so there's still a long way to go and lots to learn.

 

I wanted to offer up this personal story as inspiration for those just setting out.  Don't worry about making a mistake, learn from it.    To those members of the forum and other places, thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and helping me to see where I've been going horribly wrong, I know I didn't make it easy.  The knowledge that I've gained should be really helpful for others in the future.

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An interesting journey document in a nice easy manner, thank you for sharing.

As you say in your final paragraph.....
Don't worry about making a mistake, learn from it.
I fully agree, you don't learn much by getting things right, it might be more fun but you will not learn.

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Actually, I don't think it'll be as much fun if you get things right first time, you won't appreciate the challange or get the enjoyment when it all comes together.

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