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What are some good cheap options for a telescope mount for astrophotography?


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I really want to get into astrophotography, but seems like by what I've been told, I need a tracking mount, so far all I have seen are going for 1k+, and that is not cheap, I thought they were maybe like 300? But that is expensive, are there any options below 300 Eur for starting out? I don't need a go-to or something like that, just the cheapest decent option.

My telescope is Heritage 130p with stock mount.

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The trade offs for not getting a go-to mount will be your time. Time to learn how to make up for the things you don’t have. Time to learn how to do AP without the necessities, and time to find your way around the difficulties.

A Skywatcher AZ-GTi mount is a go-to Alt-Az, but the firmware update allows for it to be converted into an EQ. You’ll need to pick up a few extra accessories for that switch but it’s possible at your price point. Now that mount isn’t meant or advertised to be used for AP so you get what you get.

That’s the only mount I have experience with, maybe someone else can chime in to help out too.

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In a nutshell the answer is no.  Astrophotography is a  horrendously expensive  money pit that keeps on taking. But don't get too disheartened.

You can take very good widefield Milky way shots with just a standard tripod, a relatively cheap lens (a 50mm so called 'nifty fifty' can be had second hand for around £50) and a second hand DSLR can also be found for not much money. Using the rule of 500 you can work out how long you can expose for before star trailing occurs https://astrobackyard.com/the-500-rule/

If your set on buying a tracking mount the cheapest, most basic models are around £280 (The Star Adventurer for example), that's for the mount head only without the tripod (another £80) Normally i'd say go second hand but at the moment Astronomy gear is selling like hot cakes, even shops have waiting times of up to 90 days on a lot of items. Also, these cheaper mounts only have a very low weight capacity, the one above is only 3kg which would mean camera only.

If its deep space your interested in then you'll have to really up the budget. Its not just the mount & scope. You then have to factor in a field flattener for a refractor, comma corrector for a reflector, the camera your using, how your going to control the software for your imaging runs (laptop or dedicated control unit such as the Asiair etc) Then, how will you power it all, if from home you can just run an extension outside but if travelling you'll need a portable power source.
There are ways of modifying certain non tracking mounts so they can track, either using after market motors or modifying it yourself, however I personally wouldnt recommend it, AP has a very steep learning curve & adding to it with kit that isnt really suitable will be hard work (I've tried it with not much luck)
I tried it a few years ago with kit not really suited & gave up in the end. Now though I've finally decided that I want to give it a go again but this time to do it properly. I've been saving money & buying parts bit by bit since last Oct & now finally have a half decent set up but its cost me over 4K & theres still other things i'd like to get further down the road. 
Sorry if this comes across as negative but i'm been realistic. If you really want to give it a go I would start small with Milky Way shots & take it from there rather than buy sub standard gear & be put off before you get started. I also recommend reading this before you do anything as it'll explain things far better than I ever could. https://www.firstlightoptics.com/books/making-every-photon-count-steve-richards.html 

I'm assuming your scope is the flextube dobsonian, you won't be able to fit that onto an EQ mount so the Star Adventurer etc wouldn't be of use, there's something called a barn door tracker which are usually home made but I don't really know anything about that.

Good Luck

Steve

 

 

Edited by nephilim
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I would keep an eye on astrobuysell (when you’re in the UK!).  You can find cheap gotos for £300,- used.  
Meade lx75 is a cheap option £200,- its not the best but it works i quess, or a Skywatcher eq5 3/400,-   
 

with a bit patience and short reactiontime, you’ll succeed. 

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I bought my first mount (a HEQ5 Pro) used, for 550 EUR a year ago.

It's considered the minimum for long exposure astrophotography, and quite practical for planetary imaging (I loaded it with a C9.25 SCT, 2x Barlow and an ASI462 planetary camera).

In general, astrophotography is not a cheap hobby. And the recent price increases by Skywatcher stung quite a bit.

For wide angle astrophotography, a Star Adventurer is adequate with a camera lens and exposures up to half a minute or so with a relatively long lens.

Remember, the mount will set the limits on the rest of your system. Avoid loading a small mount/tripod with a heavy scope/camera combination.

N.F.

 

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A Star Adventurer mount with camera and lens would be a good way to start. You can use a basic second hand prime lens with advantage provided you can source an adapter to use it with your camera. You don't need autofocus compatibility.

Olly

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7 hours ago, Lotinsh said:

I really want to get into astrophotography, but seems like by what I've been told, I need a tracking mount, so far all I have seen are going for 1k+, and that is not cheap, I thought they were maybe like 300? But Jesus Christ is that expensive, are there any options below 300 Eur for starting out? I don't need a go-to or something like that, just the cheapest decent option.

My telescope is Heritage 130p with stock mount.

What camera were you considering to use with the Heritage 130? You sure as hell won't mount a DSLR on there.

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Why not a ST-80, EQ3 / EQ3-2 and Canon DSLR (all used)? Buying used means you can sell it at what you paid for it and you can see if you like AP without losing money. You are also learning as you go along. 

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1 hour ago, ollypenrice said:

A Star Adventurer mount with camera and lens would be a good way to start

Within your budget this is good advice. See how you get on with a few lenses and take it from there.

 

6 hours ago, nephilim said:

In a nutshell the answer is no.  Astrophotography is a  horrendously expensive  money pit that keeps on taking.

If you go beyond a simple star tracker this is too true. However, if you are willing to buy second hand and are patient and careful with your purchases you can keep the costs down - but it will still be costly.

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It's difficult to add much to Nephilim's excellent answer but I would stress it's not just a cash investment here. It takes a lot of time and frustration learning all the software to process the images and to guide the mount; It's worthwhile getting kit that will produce good quality subs in the first place just to keep you motivated. 

Th Star Adventurer/ DSLR route is a good place to start and will always be useful for holidays/ portable operation. Above all it's simple. If you get the bug, you will outgrow it fairly quickly and the next step up is where the spending really starts...

Edited by rl
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Can't really add much more to it than that the biggest investment in this isn't money, it's time.  I got in to it with a Star Adventurer (2i model) which is a very nice little drive system, especially if explored in depth as there are some tricks it's got that aren't really documented, as well as a sturdy tripod and an optic around the 200 - 300mm length.  Thing is, though, for every hour I spend imaging with it, I probably spend three or four doing something that isn't directly imaging (waving my fist at clouds, tuning, staring at the whole ensemble sucking air over my teeth wondering where to route cables, building bits, trawling around here and learning things) and still it's taken me a good few months with it to get everything down enough to make an image that I'm actually satisfied with but still a bit nervous to put up here to let experience over it.

It really isn't a quick hobby, and there's not really a route to instant gratification with it, but if you like the slow burn, the learning and little victories when things come together it's a hell of a lot of fun.

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Without a decent equatorial mount you will be disappointed with your results.   Unfortunately there is no cheap option apart from the Star Adventurer mentioned earlier, but that won't take anything except a very small telescope or a camera and lens.

I would say second hand is your best option.  When I first started I used a Celectron CG5 GT, I haven't seen any 2nd hand ones for sale for some time, but you might get one of those within your budget.   

Carole 

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Nephilim nailed it in their reply .

Briefly, in astro  photo terms, you can have cheap or you can have good.

I'm a photographer (now amateur, but was employed in the business for a decade) and I wondered about using the expensive cameras and lenses and tripods I already own to do a little astro photography back at the start of the covid lockdown last year, something to take pictures of from the back garden. I had an inherited celestron astromaster eq114 , and did my research to see what I would need to make it work to give me acceptably good  pictures.

The answer was ... give it away, and spend a lot of money on something that works. I couldn't afford a kit which would live up to what I wanted. So,  I redirected my attention to visual observing, bought a heritage 150, and have loved what the simple 'scope  has shown me, to the point where I've added other 'scopes to my kit.  Your heritage 130 has the same focus set-up, which is just not adequate for photography, I've played around having been tempted into taking a few Moon photos and the focus is too coarse, plus to achieve focus with a DSLR body you have to not quite fully extend the 'scope, which is a pain to get just right.

If you already own a reasonably decent laptop (for processing the photos) , a DSLR , a lens and a tripod, then a simple star tracker (plus an intervalometer if one's not built in to your camera) for around £250 will allow you to try your hand with some pictures, but if you don't already have the photo kit, or the laptop , the cost will obviously be much higher. Second hand kit will reduce costs, but good equipment holds its value well, so you would still be looking at something around £500 , probably more. And that is using a camera lens, not a telescope ...

If you already own a DSLR and lenses and a good tripod, there are sites with information about using them without a tracking mount , here's  an interesting one I found and bookmarked : https://project-nightflight.net/DSLR_astrophotography_untracked.pdf

and a really long (nearly 2 hour) explanation vid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuMZG-SyDCU

same guy  again, star tracker vs none, he walks you through the method and the processing , just 90 minutes this time 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYucAuUrdTs  There is plenty of similar information around, aimed at photographers who want to take astro photos rather than people coming at it from an astronomy point of view, so f you have the gear have a search on photo sites and see what comes up.

If you don't have a DSLR, but a 'phone with a decent camera , or even a compact  camera , you may be able to  take simple , untracked pictures of the Moon through your eyepieces in your existing 'scope. I've not tied this, but there's plenty of information available , look for  'eyepiece projection photography'

So, don't give up  entirely on the idea, but be aware that doing more than dabbling in astro photo costs plenty, with some investments in time and skill acquisition, as well as money !

Heather

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1 hour ago, Tiny Clanger said:

Nephilim nailed it in their reply .

Briefly, in astro  photo terms, you can have cheap or you can have good.

I'm a photographer (now amateur, but was employed in the business for a decade) and I wondered about using the expensive cameras and lenses and tripods I already own to do a little astro photography back at the start of the covid lockdown last year, something to take pictures of from the back garden. I had an inherited celestron astromaster eq114 , and did my research to see what I would need to make it work to give me acceptably good  pictures.

The answer was ... give it away, and spend a lot of money on something that works. I couldn't afford a kit which would live up to what I wanted. So,  I redirected my attention to visual observing, bought a heritage 150, and have loved what the simple 'scope  has shown me, to the point where I've added other 'scopes to my kit.  Your heritage 130 has the same focus set-up, which is just not adequate for photography, I've played around having been tempted into taking a few Moon photos and the focus is too coarse, plus to achieve focus with a DSLR body you have to not quite fully extend the 'scope, which is a pain to get just right.

If you already own a reasonably decent laptop (for processing the photos) , a DSLR , a lens and a tripod, then a simple star tracker (plus an intervalometer if one's not built in to your camera) for around £250 will allow you to try your hand with some pictures, but if you don't already have the photo kit, or the laptop , the cost will obviously be much higher. Second hand kit will reduce costs, but good equipment holds its value well, so you would still be looking at something around £500 , probably more. And that is using a camera lens, not a telescope ...

If you already own a DSLR and lenses and a good tripod, there are sites with information about using them without a tracking mount , here's  an interesting one I found and bookmarked : https://project-nightflight.net/DSLR_astrophotography_untracked.pdf

and a really long (nearly 2 hour) explanation vid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuMZG-SyDCU

same guy  again, star tracker vs none, he walks you through the method and the processing , just 90 minutes this time 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYucAuUrdTs  There is plenty of similar information around, aimed at photographers who want to take astro photos rather than people coming at it from an astronomy point of view, so f you have the gear have a search on photo sites and see what comes up.

If you don't have a DSLR, but a 'phone with a decent camera , or even a compact  camera , you may be able to  take simple , untracked pictures of the Moon through your eyepieces in your existing 'scope. I've not tied this, but there's plenty of information available , look for  'eyepiece projection photography'

So, don't give up  entirely on the idea, but be aware that doing more than dabbling in astro photo costs plenty, with some investments in time and skill acquisition, as well as money !

Heather

Good advice there Heather.
I ended up wasting a lot of time & money trying to get into AP with the wrong type of equipment (I didn't listen to all the 'buy cheap, buy twice' advice from people on here who definitely knew a lot more about it than I) & it put me off trying again for around 6/7yrs. I think there should be a pinned post on here along the lines of 'What it really takes & costs to begin a journey into AP' 😬 It would maybe save some people a lot of disappointment & money.

As I mentioned, its taken me approx 9 months of scrimping & saving to afford the kit I have now but every step off the way its been in the back of my mind to sell the new gear & buy a good visual set up with some good ep's for that instant astronomy fix. Even though I now have what I would call a fairly decent set up i'm fully aware of the frustrations that will be heading my way, the weather, technical issues, learning processing (Thats the other 50% of the hobby) further spending (theres always going to be 'something else' i'll need 😂), the inevitable days at work where i've had little or no sleep the night before, I'm way past been able to successfully pull off all nighters 😴

I have to stay positive though as each step will be a step forward (and probably three backwards) & as many mention, AP is very, very addictive & when you get even the smallest thing right its also very very rewarding 🙂.

Steve
 

Edited by nephilim
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6 minutes ago, nephilim said:


I ended up wasting a lot of time & money trying to get into AP with the wrong type of equipment (I didn't listen to all the 'buy cheap, buy twice' advice from people on here who definitely knew a lot more about it than I) & it put me off trying again for around 6/7yrs. I think there should be a pinned post on here along the lines of 'What it really takes & costs to begin a journey into AP' 😬 It would maybe save some people a lot of disappointment & money.

Even though I now have what I would call a fairly decent set up i'm fully aware of the frustrations that will be heading my way, the weather, technical issues, learning processing (Thats the other 50% of the hobby) further spending (theres always going to be 'something else' i'll need 😂), the inevitable days at work where i've had little or no sleep the night before (I'm way past been able to successfully pull off all nighters 😴

I have to stay positive though as each step will be a step forward (and probably three backwards) & as many mention, AP is very, very addictive & when you get even the smallest thing right its also very very rewarding 🙂.

Steve
 

This is word for word my own experience...

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1 hour ago, rl said:

This is word for word my own experience...

I think it is many peoples. I started with visual, then became a member on here & saw some of the photos people were posting & thought 'why not' (I wish at the time i'd known that there were many reasons 'why not' 😂). But I had to make do with what I had (a SW 200p, EQ5 & an old Canon camera) I'd seen another members photos using the same kit with the after market motors but they obviously had much more skill & patience than I did. I had small successes with planetary but not much else. I realised i'd need to invest much more time & money to be able to get to any standard i'd be happy with but at the time had neither.
Luckily this time around i'm a little better off & have slightly more time. Even with the right kit I know this will still be a very steep learning curve but i'm pretty determined to give it my best shot 🙂

Edited by nephilim
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+1 for the Star Adventurer or iOptron SkyGuider pro 

It was amazing when they released the Star Adventurer mount! it broke new ground for affordability when it comes to astrophotography mounts that work well!

 Honestly with such an expensive hobby as Astrophotography we're lucky to have mounts like the Star Adventurer and iOptron Skyguider pro, and in my opinion these are perfect for anyone starting out in DSO imaging. Just add a DLSR and a lens or very small ED refractor and away you go!   

There were star trackers before these of course but I think things really took off when the SA was released from my perspective. 

 

 

 

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26 minutes ago, Chris said:

+1 for the Star Adventurer or iOptron SkyGuider pro 

Here,here :)....the SGP got me going and I'm still enjoying it now :thumbsup:

 

Mark

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9 hours ago, Peter_D said:

Why not a ST-80, EQ3 / EQ3-2 and Canon DSLR (all used)? Buying used means you can sell it at what you paid for it and you can see if you like AP without losing money. You are also learning as you go along. 

My honest opinion by way of answer; Because the ST80 is about as bad as it gets for imaging. It has a bendy focuser which introduces tilt and has terrible colour correction. A basic camera lens of far shorter focal length will, in reality, out resolve it in terms of real detail and offer a wider field of view at the same time.

Olly

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for all the responses, apologies for being so late, I was asleep, but this vas very helpful. For now I guess I'm going to stick to my current way, taking short exposure shots and stacking lots of images, but knowing how expensive it is, there is zero way for me to get pretty much most of the thigs you've recommended me. Also as recommended I'm going to try milky way pics, with my camera and stock 50mm lens and a standard tripod, these thigs I do have.

As for my camera, I have a dslr Nikon 3300D, sorry for not mentioning that. 

I have taken pictures of the moon, they turned out good enough in my opinion, but anything beyond that so far I've been unsuccessful.

I hope maybe with time when I get out of school and can finally have a job maybe I will be able to afford the stand and stuff.

I'm willing to put a lot of effort into this hobby, I love everything that's got to do with space and photography, so the time needed to figure things out isn't a problem. I'm thinking of becoming (maybe) and astrophysicist, but I'll see.

Thanks for all your responses, wasn't expecting so much info! Hopefully I've answered everything too that was asked.

I also have a pc, not a laptop though, just noticed that someone asked.

Edited by Lotinsh
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The problem is that the question is open ended, and needs quantifying.

At one end of the scale you can have a basic tripod with a mount and a stock chap bridge camera with fixed lens.  At the other end you can have a super precise mount, huge but fast scope and a dedicated CCD camera with filters that cost about the same as a luxury car, or more.  They are both capable of producing astro images.

If you want to obtain images of faint galaxies, nebula etc, or large format high contrast and detailed images of the planets, then you have to throw money at the subject.  From personal experience the minimum mount would be an HEQ5.  It offers a decent level of precision, load carrying capacity and of paired with a DSLR camera body provides the entry level bench mark.  It still needs a lot of time in order to get decent results, and you will be limited by the camera.  Throw another couple of grand for a better camera and the time factor can be reduced.  But often, upgrading one aspect of the setup, an upset the balance between the rest, and you might then see limitations of the mount etc.  A friend of mine who started off with a DSLR and an HEQ5 and got into this seriously, with images now regularly featured  on covers of Astronomy Now, has a camera that cost more second hand than I paid for my Volvo V70 when it was purchased when the care was just a few years old.  It sits attached to a £2000 Ritchey Chretien scope, that sits on an EQ8 mount.... probably not much change out of £10K when you factor in the guide scope and camera.   I'm sure if you could go larger with paramount mounts and more sensitive cameras... 

The point of my post is that it depends on what your expectations are.  If you want to see hubble like images of faint nebular than it won't be possible with a 150p on an EQ3 mount.  But if you want a nice image of the Orion Nebula, then a basic Dslr camera attached to a 150P will give very impressive results.

A lot of people used a £200 tracking mount and a 50 - 200mm telephoto lens on a basic DSLR camera and under nice dark skies get decent wide field constellation images, nice luna images and even decent images of the larger and brighter DSO targets line Andromeda and Orion Nebula... All for a budget of around £500 - £600 or less if purchased second hand...

There is also an aspect that hasn't been mentioned... post processing.  Most scopes and camera combinations can gather a lot of data, but you need software to stack that data and process it.  A lot of the software isn't cheap (you may have some if you are into photography), and those that get the good results are somewhat classed as wizards as it takes some skills.

One thing I would say is that you need to start are the end result and work back.  A lot of us have purchased what we though was OK, but then found out that it wasn't suitable and then had to sell and upgrade, losing a lot of money in the process against getting the equipment we should had opted in the first place.

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8 hours ago, Lotinsh said:

Thanks for all the responses, apologies for being so late, I was asleep, but this vas very helpful. For now I guess I'm going to stick to my current way, taking short exposure shots and stacking lots of images, but knowing how expensive it is, there is zero way for me to get pretty much most of the thigs you've recommended me. Also as recommended I'm going to try milky way pics, with my camera and stock 50mm lens and a standard tripod, these thigs I do have.

As for my camera, I have a dslr Nikon 3300D, sorry for not mentioning that. 

I have taken pictures of the moon, they turned out good enough in my opinion, but anything beyond that so far I've been unsuccessful.

I hope maybe with time when I get out of school and can finally have a job maybe I will be able to afford the stand and stuff.

I'm willing to put a lot of effort into this hobby, I love everything that's got to do with space and photography, so the time needed to figure things out isn't a problem. I'm thinking of becoming (maybe) and astrophysicist, but I'll see.

Thanks for all your responses, wasn't expecting so much info! Hopefully I've answered everything too that was asked.

I also have a pc, not a laptop though, just noticed that someone asked.

@Lotinsh Thats a good positive reply, I'm glad you haven't been put off with our answers.
You say your still at school, you've plenty of time ahead of you to do loads of research plus compared to when I was at school astronomy gear is a lot more available (When I was at school even the most basic telescope was well out of our reach to buy as were binoculars, I had to make do with just looking up 😂 but it made me very familiar with the night sky) & all the information you need is at the push of a button.
As you already have a tripod, camera & 50mm lens thats a great start for Milky way shots as I mentioned in my earlier answer. You also say you have a PC, that means you'll be able to stack your short exposures and process them. Heres a good link on the subject of stacking & why you do it https://nightskypix.com/astrophotography-stacking-software/ 

For stacking your Milky way shots you can use this free software  http://deepskystacker.free.fr/english/index.html or use this one for stacking planetary (or Lunar) shots which is also free https://www.autostakkert.com/. For processing your final images this software (linked below) is very capable, its not as comprehensive as say Photoshop or Pixinsight but those are expensive, GIMP is free & will give you great results when your starting out  https://www.gimp.org/   There are a lot of tutorials on YouTube on how to use this.

Also have a look at these videos below. Its a full tutorial on how to take a photo of M31 (Andromeda) with just a tripod, camera & lens. It also shows how to stack & process the finished image using the free software I have given you links to above (DeepSkyStacker and in the second video using GIMP) This is Part 1  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXcRKoxTPVg&t=0s  This is Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5b9PVwSB6Q&list=WL&index=31&t=6s  Trying this out will definitely be very good practise plus you already have everything you need to do it 🙂

Keep on asking questions on here, you can never ask enough & you'll always get very good advice. I joined over 8yrs ago & many of the things i've learned, I've learned from here.

I wish you the best of luck
Steve

 

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You've gotten some pretty good advice here. Good astro gear has to be made to incredibly precise tolerances -- the critical focus zone for my little refractor is less than 100 microns thick, and I have to track to better than a second of arc (i.e., less than a millionth of a circle). And the market is tiny compared to  other activities, so economies of scale are hard to achieve.

A lot of beginners think you need a telescope first thing to do astrophotography, when that's really the last thing. Until you have solid equipment and know how to use it, magnification is your foe, not your friend. An old telephoto prime picked up cheaply on the used market will do you quite well, a 50 is even easier, and a wider lens easier still. You don't need autofocus, you don't need auto-aperture, and you don't need a long focal length.

Google "barn door tracker" if you're reasonably handy  -- you can build one pretty cheaply and they can work for exposures in the tens of seconds for shorter focal lengths. You can learn the game of focusing, polar alignment if applicable, and most especially processing, whose complexity and difficulty many folks with photography experience completely underestimate.

Note that for an APS-C sensor, it's more like a rule of 300  than a rule of 500, but it depends on your tolerance for star trails. And really that's the lesson for the whole thing: Learn what your equipment is capable of, and work within those limitations.

This was shot two weeks ago with a very sophisticated mount: A plastic crate that I balanced the camera on. It's a nine-year-old DLSR. 20-second exposures, and a wide-angle lens, obviate trailing.

This was shot the same night, it looks like a telescopic view but it's actually a 50mm lens on another DSLR (in fact you can make out a piece of the second image's field of view in the first image if you know where to look). $2500 equatorial mount with autoguiding let me do a variety of exposures from 15 seconds to 10 minutes. But I might have gotten a very similar result with lots of short exposures with a much less sophisticated mount, and/or a higher ISO.

There are a lot of great deep-sky targets large and bright enough to image without the spendy gear. And working with them will teach you a ton about the science and techniques.

Welcome!

 

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Thanks a lot for advice! This has been very helpful, at the moment once I finally get dark nights (I live in north side so at the moment I don't have any night) I'll try to take a photo of milky way, @rickwayne The photo's you showed look amazing! I hope I some day can take a photo like that. As for now, Jupiter and Saturn are visible, so I might try to take aa pic of that, as I won't need anything more than I have, I'm soon going to my dad's house, he lives in the country side, so there might be darker. As far as I remember he might have a go-to mount with a telescope he has, maybe it's  good enough and I can take a pic of something hopefully. It's not a solution though as the telescope isn't his and I'm not sure if the mount is capable of that. Anyways, thanks for advice, I love this site, why is everyone here so friendly?

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