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Essential kit to get started


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Morning everyone. Just about getting the feeling back in my toes after a chilly night observing 🥶 I'm currently saving the pennies for an AZ-EQ5-GT (will be used with a 150PDS, coma corrector also on wishlist) for stepping up to DSO imaging and was wondering if there are any other essential bits of kit I should be saving for as well to get me going?

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While guiding is not strictly essential to get going it makes little sense to image unguided for long due to the limitations, so do try to leave budget for guiding gear as well. I am not that familiar with the AZ-EQ5 but i would imagine it doesn't do unguided all that well since really nothing does at this kind of pricepoint. You might get away with using short subs unguided but ideally you would be guiding as soon as possible. Guiding gear can be as cheap as the cost of the guide camera and an adapter for your existing finderscope (if you have one), or a guidecam + guidescope + guide computer = probably looking at least a 500 pound investment at this point. Less if you have a laptop you could use as the scopeside computer. Again, not necessary to take images but you will probably find that 30s exposures are the best you can do and even then many of them are unusable.

Also, leave some budget for the trinkets one doesn't normally account for: adapters for your corrector and camera, power supply gear, cables of all kinds, trips to the hardware store for tools and some random bits you may need, processing software (not always necessary, free ones are pretty good) etc. It all accounts for a lot of money in the end. I poured all of my initial budget when getting into astrophotography into a mount and a telescope, and then once i figured out i would need many extra trinkets and bits to get the thing going properly i had no money to get them, so the gear sort of trickled in paycheck to paycheck. Also made many bad purchases "to save money" because of this and in the end did not in fact save money 🤣.

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Thanks. I picked up a 2nd hand EOS1000D and have had a couple of sessions imaging the moon via my laptop. I'll have a look at guide cams for sure. Imaging is 2nd to visual so no great hurry to get all the gear at once. My first set of EPs didn't last long before I started upgrading so I don't want to rush it 😄 I downloaded sharpcap but it doesn't recognize my camera so I've been using EOS Utility. Can you recommend any other free software that would do the job or will that suffice? I've also downloaded registax and gimp but haven't had the need for them yet. 

 

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38 minutes ago, Stuu said:

Thanks. I picked up a 2nd hand EOS1000D and have had a couple of sessions imaging the moon via my laptop. I'll have a look at guide cams for sure. Imaging is 2nd to visual so no great hurry to get all the gear at once. My first set of EPs didn't last long before I started upgrading so I don't want to rush it 😄 I downloaded sharpcap but it doesn't recognize my camera so I've been using EOS Utility. Can you recommend any other free software that would do the job or will that suffice? I've also downloaded registax and gimp but haven't had the need for them yet. 

 

APT will recognise your 1000D

https://www.astrophotography.app/downloads.php

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6 hours ago, Stuu said:

Can you recommend any other free software that would do the job or will that suffice?

NINA is another option. My personal choice but APT is also good.

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The refrain from the community is always "mount, mount mount". That makes a bigger difference for both learning and doing deep-sky than any other purchase, hands down. Once you have settled on that, I would first concentrate on fitting out your setup for smooth imaging without tons of manual intervention. You needn't be aiming for a completely automated rig but the name of the game is reducing or eliminating obstacles, especially as a beginner. If you struggle with e.g. polar alignment that will reduce your available imaging time (and increase your frustration). Likewise focusing. Likewise slewing to your target.

So once you have a mount and your optics together, I would next focus on computer support. It's not necessary to image with a DSLR but it sure helps, eh? There are some good integrated packages, everybody has their own favorite but NINA (for Windows users) and KStars/Ekos come up a lot. I would look for a package that has all of:

  • Focusing aid, whether just HFR or quantifying the output when you're using a Bahtinov mask
  • Plate solving, to precisely determine exactly where the scope is pointed
  • Polar alignment assistant; there are some that do a great job even when the Pole is not visible
  • Plate-solving-assisted GOTO
  • Sequencing of lights and flats
  • Guiding

It used to be that you had to juggle and coerce software packages to talk to each other but that's much less true today.  I'm a big fan of StellarMate OS and the Raspberry Pi 4 as a scope-side computer, since that's easy to set up and does all those things right out of the box. If you buy a Pi, case, and StellarMate OS, you're out less than $150. Just my two cents there, everybody has their own favorite package.

This will let you build up a standard workflow, there are so many little steps that it really helps to have a routine (a checklist isn't a bad idea either!). Part of that should be calibration frames, right from the get-go. You might not need dark frames with the Canon but you absolutely should compile a master bias frame and shoot flats (or shoot dark flats and flats, it's a horse apiece for a DSLR really).

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Oh, and of course processing. While plenty of people (including me) have gotten great results with free software, I'm a real partisan for spending the money on Astro Pixel Processor when you're a beginner. It does not have as many knobs and buttons as PixInsight, which is still the class of the astro-processing world, but its great advantage is that it will do proper processing and give good to excellent results just with a few button clicks on the default settings. It also has a standout gradient/light-pollution elimination tool, which I use for Every. Single. Image.

Just about everything that APP can do, other software can do too, especially if you're willing to spend the time with it. But APP's advantage is that it has all the tools that most of us need, and its workflow is simple enough that a beginner needn't struggle and thrash about. I have long, long since earned back my investment in the package, even if I only value my time at a few quid an hour.

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9 minutes ago, rickwayne said:

The refrain from the community is always "mount, mount mount". That makes a bigger difference for both learning and doing deep-sky than any other purchase, hands down. Once you have settled on that, I would first concentrate on fitting out your setup for smooth imaging without tons of manual intervention. You needn't be aiming for a completely automated rig but the name of the game is reducing or eliminating obstacles, especially as a beginner. If you struggle with e.g. polar alignment that will reduce your available imaging time (and increase your frustration). Likewise focusing. Likewise slewing to your target.

So once you have a mount and your optics together, I would next focus on computer support. It's not necessary to image with a DSLR but it sure helps, eh? There are some good integrated packages, everybody has their own favorite but NINA (for Windows users) and KStars/Ekos come up a lot. I would look for a package that has all of:

  • Focusing aid, whether just HFR or quantifying the output when you're using a Bahtinov mask
  • Plate solving, to precisely determine exactly where the scope is pointed
  • Polar alignment assistant; there are some that do a great job even when the Pole is not visible
  • Plate-solving-assisted GOTO
  • Sequencing of lights and flats
  • Guiding

It used to be that you had to juggle and coerce software packages to talk to each other but that's much less true today.  I'm a big fan of StellarMate OS and the Raspberry Pi 4 as a scope-side computer, since that's easy to set up and does all those things right out of the box. If you buy a Pi, case, and StellarMate OS, you're out less than $150. Just my two cents there, everybody has their own favorite package.

This will let you build up a standard workflow, there are so many little steps that it really helps to have a routine (a checklist isn't a bad idea either!). Part of that should be calibration frames, right from the get-go. You might not need dark frames with the Canon but you absolutely should compile a master bias frame and shoot flats (or shoot dark flats and flats, it's a horse apiece for a DSLR really).

Lots to unpack there, a lot of which I have no idea what it means 😄 But the more info I have, the more I can start researching and getting to grips with. I'm starting to think I'll need to move to a nice high mountain top to get enough clear sky time to get to grips with it all. Any recommendations on good books to guide me through getting started?

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Steve Richards' Making Every Photon Count is often heartily recommended on this forum. Myself, I am a huge fan of Charles Bracken's The Deep-Sky Imaging Primer, which I consider to be one of the best technical books I've ever read. He does just a superb job leading the reader through the very basics on up through the implications for tool choice and technique. He also includes chapters on processing, which is an oft-neglected part of the game when people are starting out. Many assume that what rolls off their telescope and camera is an almost-ready-to-view picture, but there is a LOT more to it than that. He includes a lot of good info on processing using either PixInsight or Photoshop; even if you're not using one of those programs, the general shape of what you have to do still applies. (And he's written a primer too for my favorite, Astro Pixel Processor.)

Heck, it even includes a good list of targets to start with, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

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