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Returning to the hobby and would appreciate guidance...


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Hi all,

About 10 years ago I was using SkyWatcher's EQ5 mount and a 200P newtonian to take 1 min unguided images with my father's Nikon D80. After a long break from the hobby (university) I'm now reunited with my 200P and have been enjoying visual astronomy and even some imaging sessions of Jupiter using my ancient Philips Toucam (anyone remember those??).

I've just upgraded my mount to an EQ6-R Pro to better handle the weight of my telescope for long exposure imaging (unguided for the time being) and having been out of the game for a long time I'd really appreciate some equipment advice for restarting astronomy in 2021-2022:

1) are DSLRs still used by amateurs or are dedicated astro cameras now mainstream? Is there a "most popular" astro camera for DSO imaging that you could recommend for someone like me with circa £500 budget.

2) is my 200P 8" newtonian ancient history now and would I be better off with a newer model like a Quattro or even a refractor? 

3) my mount has an auto-guide port. I seem to remember auto-guiders being hated by many in the past - has this changed?

Thanks in advance,

Peter

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Hello Peter, good that you're back into it.

Not too familiar with your equipment, some of what you're asking may have been around for years prior to myself starting the hobby, others can comment but my feedback:

1. DSLRs are still widely used, many now use modded ones whereby the IR filter is removed for better IR sensitivity. There are also mirrorless cameras which will slowly supersede dslr until something new comes along. For more serious APs astro cameras are more widely used as they become more affordable, brands like zwo, qhy, altair, atik etc and paired with a computer or now a portable computer like a raspberry pi or asiair makes the hobby even easier. For your budget you haven't stated if you prefer one shot colour (OSC) or monochrome camera.

2. Your telescope may still be very capable as it is, I know skywatcher produced the PDS range of Newtonian specifically for AP. Refractors are good but quality glass and aperture costs £ compared to newtonians. Fast RASAs are also the dream for many.

3. Autoguiding is the norm now for long exposure photography via guidecamera and computer connection.

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Mount is a good one.

Auto-guiding is now main stream and very few people don't guide.

Most people also use some sort of computer to control the mount while imaging. This can be laptop, small single board computer like Raspberry PI or even ready made solution like ASIAir that you access/control via phone or tablet.

DSLRs are still pretty much in the game because they are affordable, but dedicated / cooled astronomy cameras are now widely adopted. Adoption of CMOS sensors brought prices of dedicated cameras down considerably. Most people astro mod their DSLR at some point (which includes removing stock UV/IR cut filter and replacing it with one suitable for astrophotography).

With £500 budget - I'd still consider getting DSLR type camera - or rather camera with exchangeable lens - either DSLR or Mirrorless. Later is more modern and lighter - which can be beneficial for astro imaging.

Auto guider setup need not be expensive. You can convert 8x50 finder to guide scope and use that Philips Toucam  or any other web camera as guide cam to get you going. If you own laptop - that reduces costs further as you don't need to invest into that. Only thing you further need is suitable cable to connect laptop and mount.

Take a look at EQMod software. That is software / drivers - to control SkyWatcher mounts via computer. They have section on making suitable cable yourself (further reducing costs as ready made cables are x2-x3 more expensive than DIY solution - which is pretty simple if you know how to crimp cables).

If you get second hand things - I think you'll be able to fit it all into your budget. Second hand DSLR, second hand laptop, and all the bits needed for simple guiding setup - like modified web cam and modified finder.

 

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1. yes DSLRs are still used but it's better if they are astro modified. Look for used astro cameras like the ZWO range which are well used.

2. Lots of people still use newtonians but it's not the best for DSOs - you might want to consider a short focal length refractor like an ED80 which will be easier to guide.

3. Everyone doing long exposure imaging are using guiding. It's pretty straightforward with PHD.

I see others beat me to it.

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1 hour ago, Peter Reader said:

I've just upgraded my mount to an EQ6-R Pro to better handle the weight of my telescope for long exposure imaging (unguided for the time being) and having been out of the game for a long time I'd really appreciate some equipment advice for restarting astronomy in 2021-2022:

1) are DSLRs still used by amateurs or are dedicated astro cameras now mainstream? Is there a "most popular" astro camera for DSO imaging that you could recommend for someone like me with circa £500 budget.

There are several good suggestions from others above. Here are my thoughts.

To get you back quickly into the hobby with minimal spend.....,

Stage 1: I would start off by using the Nikon D80 (if you still have it). Using software to control your mount and camera is the quickest way to get imaging in my opinion. There are a few free choices there: NINA (if windows) or Kstars/Ekos (if RPi/Linux). Start learning image post processing. I recommend SIRIL (free). So in effect your initial outlay will be mainly for cables.

If your laptop is too old, consider using RPi. (just remember its Linux based)

Once you get back into the stride, you can invest in appropriate camera, guide scope etc.

Stage 2: get guidescope, possibly use Toucam as camera and a better main camera (cooled).

Good luck.

Edited by AstroMuni
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Thanks for the replies.

1 hour ago, vlaiv said:

Mount is a good one.

Auto-guiding is now main stream and very few people don't guide.

Most people also use some sort of computer to control the mount while imaging. This can be laptop, small single board computer like Raspberry PI or even ready made solution like ASIAir that you access/control via phone or tablet.

DSLRs are still pretty much in the game because they are affordable, but dedicated / cooled astronomy cameras are now widely adopted. Adoption of CMOS sensors brought prices of dedicated cameras down considerably. Most people astro mod their DSLR at some point (which includes removing stock UV/IR cut filter and replacing it with one suitable for astrophotography).

With £500 budget - I'd still consider getting DSLR type camera - or rather camera with exchangeable lens - either DSLR or Mirrorless. Later is more modern and lighter - which can be beneficial for astro imaging.

Auto guider setup need not be expensive. You can convert 8x50 finder to guide scope and use that Philips Toucam  or any other web camera as guide cam to get you going. If you own laptop - that reduces costs further as you don't need to invest into that. Only thing you further need is suitable cable to connect laptop and mount.

Take a look at EQMod software. That is software / drivers - to control SkyWatcher mounts via computer. They have section on making suitable cable yourself (further reducing costs as ready made cables are x2-x3 more expensive than DIY solution - which is pretty simple if you know how to crimp cables).

If you get second hand things - I think you'll be able to fit it all into your budget. Second hand DSLR, second hand laptop, and all the bits needed for simple guiding setup - like modified web cam and modified finder.

 

I have a 9 x 50 guidescope and my Toucam has the adaptor to replace a 1.25" eyepiece. Can you point me at a suitable adaptor to connect the two? I found this but it's for T threads https://www.firstlightoptics.com/adapters/astro-essentials-sky-watcher-9x50-finder-to-t-adapter.html

12 minutes ago, AstroMuni said:

There are several good suggestions from others above. Here are my thoughts.

To get you back quickly into the hobby with minimal spend.....,

Stage 1: I would start off by using the Nikon D80 (if you still have it). Using software to control your mount and camera is the quickest way to get imaging in my opinion. There are a few free choices there: NINA (if windows) or Kstars/Ekos (if RPi/Linux). Start learning image post processing. I recommend SIRIL (free). So in effect your initial outlay will be mainly for cables.

If your laptop is too old, consider using RPi. (just remember its Linux based)

Once you get back into the stride, you can invest in appropriate camera, guide scope etc.

Stage 2: get guidescope, possibly use Toucam as camera and a better main camera (cooled).

Good luck.

Nikon D80 is no longer available to use so I need to get myself a camera - any specific models you could recommend? 

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11 minutes ago, Peter Reader said:

Nikon D80 is no longer available to use so I need to get myself a camera - any specific models you could recommend? 

I am no expert on DSLRs as I started off small by purchasing an ASI224mc (see my signature) 🙂 But I am sure others here can advise on DSLRs.

I am guessing this means you have laptop?

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If you plan to use a DSLR camera with the 200P you might have problems to reach focus. The Sky-Watcher P telescopes stock focuser is designed for visual, so probably you will not have enough inward focus distance. The PDS series are the ones meant for AP. You can upgrade the scope with a new focuser but it would be another bite to your budget. If you take the DSLR path I strongly recommend you to borrow a camera from a friend and try it before any other purchase.

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34 minutes ago, barbulo said:

If you plan to use a DSLR camera with the 200P you might have problems to reach focus. The Sky-Watcher P telescopes stock focuser is designed for visual, so probably you will not have enough inward focus distance. 

I used to have a 200P , I used it with DSLR , to enable enough infocus the barrel on my one unscrewed into 2 parts.

Remove the eyepiece holder from the outer part and screw it into just the first section. (I used a 2 in eyepiece adapter on my DSLR)

 

It was not obvious that the focuser barrel had the split as the join only leaves a very thin line.

That said there seem to be many versions of the 200P maybe older models only have the one piece barrel.

 

My 200P also included the T mount you could screw in as an alternative to the eyepiece holder , but it means you lose the ability to rotate the camera for framing.

 

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Something not mentioned already would be platesolving, i dont think that was a thing 10 years ago (not mainstream anyway).

With a guiding setup and a computer of some sort you can platesolve and auto center targets with many different software. Basically click a button and have perfect go-tos to anywhere in the sky. Never have to do star alignment again. Polar alignment can also be done with platesolving, polaris visible or not.

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I've never been persuaded by DSLRs as the 'obligatory' entry route into imaging. CMOS astro cameras are way cheaper than were CCDs and, alternatively, older CCDs are now cheaper on the used market. Personally, I don't think the case for starting with a DSLR has ever been weaker. This will make mine a minority opinion but it remains my opinion!

I'm also of the opinion that the less you do via software, the less likely you are to have problems. Things like plate solving are fine when they work but, for heaven's sake, do you really need software to point at your target? I'd consider introducing it when you're up and running but the priority is to get nicely guided, nicely focused subs in the can first. Don't become a computer-maniac!

:Dlly

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24 minutes ago, ollypenrice said:

I've never been persuaded by DSLRs as the 'obligatory' entry route into imaging. CMOS astro cameras are way cheaper than were CCDs and, alternatively, older CCDs are now cheaper on the used market. Personally, I don't think the case for starting with a DSLR has ever been weaker. This will make mine a minority opinion but it remains my opinion!

I'm also of the opinion that the less you do via software, the less likely you are to have problems. Things like plate solving are fine when they work but, for heaven's sake, do you really need software to point at your target? I'd consider introducing it when you're up and running but the priority is to get nicely guided, nicely focused subs in the can first. Don't become a computer-maniac!

:Dlly

I really fail to see how platesolving can be anything but a massive time and headache saver. If guiding is already setup, clicking auto center in NINA is just a single button away. Actually 0 buttons if the sequence has auto centering on. Now of course you need to download the star database and point NINA to it but not really difficult and only done once.

Think of the time saved not doing: star alignment, framing, centering, all manually and every time you set up the gear. Star alignment with an eyepiece: not that difficult, star alignment with just cameras: nightmare. 

I do understand the dislike for software but platesolving is one of these things that "just work" when setup.

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7 minutes ago, ONIKKINEN said:

I really fail to see how platesolving can be anything but a massive time and headache saver. If guiding is already setup, clicking auto center in NINA is just a single button away. Actually 0 buttons if the sequence has auto centering on. Now of course you need to download the star database and point NINA to it but not really difficult and only done once.

Think of the time saved not doing: star alignment, framing, centering, all manually and every time you set up the gear. Star alignment with an eyepiece: not that difficult, star alignment with just cameras: nightmare. 

I do understand the dislike for software but platesolving is one of these things that "just work" when setup.

I recently responded to another thread in which the OP had used plate solving to make a mosaic and couldn't see why his two plate solved panels were rejected by the stitching software. When I applied them over my own image I got this: 

2142713972_LOOPERROR.thumb.jpg.b424b6a4eaaa52d7879ef72606101fde.jpg

Although it was a young thread another member had experienced something similar. I have two reactions to this. 1) Plate solving clearly didn't just work for these members. 2) More importantly, an imager actually looking at their captures would see that the two panels were not going to overlap. If software encourages us to 'disengage brain' then this cannot be a good thing.

I've participated in a 35 panel mosaic in which no plate solving was used at all. Therefore it never went wrong. 👹:D

Olly

 

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5 hours ago, Peter Reader said:

I have a 9 x 50 guidescope and my Toucam has the adaptor to replace a 1.25" eyepiece. Can you point me at a suitable adaptor to connect the two? I found this but it's for T threads https://www.firstlightoptics.com/adapters/astro-essentials-sky-watcher-9x50-finder-to-t-adapter.html

If you don't have T2 adapter for your Toucam, then you'll need something like this:

https://www.firstlightoptics.com/adapters/baader-125-t2-eyepiece-holder.html

That will allow you to connect 1.25" nose piece to T2" connection provided by that Astro Essentials 9x50 adapter to T2 thread.

If you have access to 3D printer - you can DIY both adapters as one unit for less money.

Some have pointed out that you might have issues when reaching focus with DSLR camera - and I think that is probably true on stock 200p.

Mirrorless need less back focus so do your research on getting second hand mirrorless camera  - Cannon M100/M200 seem like nice APS-C choices.

1 hour ago, ollypenrice said:

I've never been persuaded by DSLRs as the 'obligatory' entry route into imaging. CMOS astro cameras are way cheaper than were CCDs and, alternatively, older CCDs are now cheaper on the used market. Personally, I don't think the case for starting with a DSLR has ever been weaker. This will make mine a minority opinion but it remains my opinion!

Not really obligatory - but I'd say common sense at certain budgets.

Say you have £500 to spend on camera.

You can go for ASI183MC - without cooling, and while you get good QE - you also get amp glow that is best calibrated out by set point temperature camera. You also get 1" sensor.

Even if you go second hand - best you can have is 294mc without cooling at that budget.

On the other hand - you can easily get APS-C sized sensor for same money. Lesser QE will be offset by sensor size and matching it with larger aperture. You won't have issues with amp glow.

Sure, for some budgets - going cooled dedicated camera simply makes more sense - but these tend to be closer to £1000 then to £500 - so for "entry" level - mirrorless / DSLR still seem like best solution - or at least good enough solution.

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1 hour ago, ollypenrice said:

I recently responded to another thread in which the OP had used plate solving to make a mosaic and couldn't see why his two plate solved panels were rejected by the stitching software. When I applied them over my own image I got this: 

2142713972_LOOPERROR.thumb.jpg.b424b6a4eaaa52d7879ef72606101fde.jpg

Although it was a young thread another member had experienced something similar. I have two reactions to this. 1) Plate solving clearly didn't just work for these members. 2) More importantly, an imager actually looking at their captures would see that the two panels were not going to overlap. If software encourages us to 'disengage brain' then this cannot be a good thing.

I've participated in a 35 panel mosaic in which no plate solving was used at all. Therefore it never went wrong. 👹:D

Olly

 

That i agree on fully, never blind trust that a setting works because "it should".

In the case of your example either the tolerance was too sloppy, overlap was too little and/or rotation was ignored. The last part is definitely true, and also a mistake i have done myself. Preventable mistakes if one pays attention.

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11 hours ago, ONIKKINEN said:

That i agree on fully, never blind trust that a setting works because "it should".

In the case of your example either the tolerance was too sloppy, overlap was too little and/or rotation was ignored. The last part is definitely true, and also a mistake i have done myself. Preventable mistakes if one pays attention.

Now there you have it: someone starting out has, in my view, enough to think about without setting themselves up for further preventable mistakes. Keep it simple. 

By the way, the first email I opened this morning was from an owner with kit in our robotic shed. It contained the phrase, 'I failed to get plate solving to work!'  :D (True, not a joke.)

Olly

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6 hours ago, ollypenrice said:

Now there you have it: someone starting out has, in my view, enough to think about without setting themselves up for further preventable mistakes. Keep it simple. 

 

I agree, at least on the basics:

I'd encorage anyone to least learn some of the constellations before heading out into cold to bury their face into a computer screen...

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