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Wanting some advice on astrophotography please!


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Hello Everyone,

My name is Michael, I was recommended to this website as I am a photographer looking for some tips. **I initially put this in the photography section, yet was was told that I would get more feedback in this spot.

I am new to astrophotography, and am really looking forward to putting the effort into getting some great images.

I am looking to buy a telescope and the neccessary attachements to use with my nikon d3 dslr, budget is around a grand, would appreciate any of your feedback!!

Update:

Have looked around a few forums and most say I should start with a mount. Most suggestions point to the HEQ5 Syntrek and the Celestron CG-5 GT GOTO, would appreciate anyones views on which is a better performer and investment?

Also what particular scope is best in relation to getting results with a dslr? Is a reflector better than a refractor? Have been recommended two: the Skywatcher Evostar 80ED DS-Pro OTA and the Skywatcher Explorer 200P OTA

Sorry if thats quite an exhausting post, would really appreciate your help!

Many Thanks,

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Welcome to SGL ;).

WRT to astrophotography (imaging), your mount is probably the most important part here. What the mount has to do is track your intended object very accurately as it crosses the sky. You can do with either with help (autoguiding) or leave the mount to it's own devices (unguided). Either way, it must be accurate and sturdy. The HEQ5 is a better made and sturdier mount than the CG5 but a general rule of thumb for imaging is halve the rated payload of the mount which in the HEQ5's case is about 7kilos (ish). That might sound plenty but when you have a scope and camera that might seem a little light especially if you want to autoguide then you could be looking at doubling the weight on the mount.

Imaging with a 8" reflector (like the 200P) on a HEQ5 would be IMO, a bit of a challenge as you'd be pushing the weight limit. The ED80 would probably be a better option but imaging is nothing like conventional photography, I always advise that you learn how the kit works before you attach a camera otherwise you could spend a whole lot of money, get frustrated with your apparent lack of progress and all that kit gets stuck in the shed never to see the light of day again.

Skywatcher have introduced a range of slightly modified reflectors that are better suited for imaging (reflectors normally have focus issues with cameras) but are also just as good for observing as their current range. Why not look at the 6" model (see here: Reflectors - Skywatcher Explorer 150P DS OTA ) with a HEQ5, get used to how it all works by observing and when you feel confortable, buy the coma corrector (which you will need with your big chip DSLR) attach your camera and see how you go.

HTH

Tony..

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Thanks so much for the swift post Tony,

Some great advice, will look into it, hope you don't mind, I have some additional follow on questions:

I think I will probably go for the HEQ5, yet there are 3 models, HEQ5, HEQ5 Syntrek and HEQ5 PRO GOTO any idea which is the most suitable?

Do you use any particular software for post production, or is photoshop cs3 (the standard in my line of work) sufficiant? Also do you tend to shoot RAW or is Jpeg doable?

I have heard of a a pocket skychart application called Starmap Pro for the Iphone, does anyone use it at all? I saw a feature that even controls the mount from the Iphone, do you think that has any actual weight to it on location, or is it just a gimic?

I live in London, yet my family lives near the New Forest, is that a preferable location to get good viewing conditions?? What makes a good location?

And finally, does anyone have any sample images taken using this level of equipment mentioned? Just to give an idea of the level of detail that can be recorded?

Again another long post, but your feedback is greatly appreciated!

Many Thanks,

Edited by mbowlesphotography
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No worries ;).

I think I will probably go for the HEQ5, yet there are 3 models, HEQ5, HEQ5 Syntrek and HEQ5 PRO GOTO any idea which is the most suitable?

It depends on how you want to go about things. The standard HEQ5 has no GOTO and uses standard drives. It's fine for observing and will track objects but has no facility for autoguiding or GOTO unless you buy the upgrade kit. The PRO GOTO model has the upgraded stepper motors along with GOTO, the autoguide port and the full synscan handset. The Syntrek is the halfway model, it has the better stepper motors and (I think) the guideport but does not have the synscan handset which you can buy seperately. However, you can use your PC to run the mount by using a system called EQMOD instead of the handset, so it can prove cost effective. Some people swear by it, I personally can't see the benefits so it's horses for courses really.

Do you use any particular software for post production, or is photoshop cs3 (the standard in my line of work) sufficiant? Also do you tend to shoot RAW or is Jpeg doable?

I use photoshop CS2 myself with a couple of plugins (noel's actions, gradient xterminator and noise ninja) but there are alternatives. I don't use a DSLR but I understand that most people shoot in RAW mode so as not to lose any quality.

I have heard of a a pocket skychart application called Starmap Pro for the Iphone, does anyone use it at all? I saw a feature that even controls the mount from the Iphone, do you think that has any actual weight to it on location, or is it just a gimic?

I don't use it personally but some people do, hopefully someone will be able to comment on that ;).

I live in London, yet my family lives near the New Forest, is that a preferable location to get good viewing conditions?? What makes a good location?

You live in London, ah. Without not knowing where you live, I'd be pretty certain that you suffer from light pollution! You can buy light pollution filters which do help but obviously, the darker sky the better! I'm guessing the New Forest would be much better.

And finally, does anyone have any sample images taken using this level of equipment mentioned? Just to give an idea of the level of detail that can be recorded?

Have a look in the imaging boards on the forum here, most people tend to post the technical daata along with the kit list when they put a new image up. I know that Canon's are the weapon of choice for most but I would imagine similar results would be achievable with your Nikon.

Tony..

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IMHO if you can afford it go for the HEQ5pro (Goto) with a Skywatcher ED80pro refractor... the mount can handle "upgrades" and the ED80 is a very good, simple starting point both for visual and for imaging. Think of it as a 600mm f7.5 telelens. You'll need a 2" to T thread adaptor for the telescope and a T2 to Nikon adaptor for the camera.

Ken

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MB

Welcome to SGL

I'd accord with most of what Ken and Tony have already said. The mount is probably the most important thing and buying a substantial, heavy duty mount at this stage will avoid problems in the longer term. If you decide to stay with imaging, you'll probably have a dual scope arrangment, one for imaging and one for 'guiding'. That starts to become a heavy payload. Of the two mounts you've identified, I'd recommend the HEQ5 - either the Synscan if you don't want it to be connected to a laptop or a Syntrek if you don't mind controlling it from one. You'll probably be using a laptop anyway to control the camera and store the images so there's not much advantage with the Synscan.

One thing you might consider (here we go spending your money!) is consider its big brother, the EQ6. It's more expensive, heavier but has a much bigger payload capacity ~20kg

Imaging has many similarities with photography (the scope is just a fixed focal length, fixed aperture telephoto) but with two fundamental difference. Firstly, the objects move (well, actually the earth is moving) and thus need to be tracked, hence the need for a good, accurate, reliable mount. Secondly, many of the objects are very dim and exposures can be measured in hours! The technique is not to have say a single 60min exposure but rather take a series of 'subs', say 2-3 mins or longer on a good mount, which can be combined through various software to create the final image. I use CS3 for my processing but this is mainly for the final processing stage after the subs have been combined. You will need some other software for controlling the camera and the initial processing of the subs. There's plenty of choice out there.

By advice would be to have a good read of the imaging section of this forum (and maybe Cloudy Nights, a US based forum which I think has a DSLR section) before you reach a decision. You'll soon learn what mounts, scopes, software others use for their imaging and some of the pitfalls we've all encountered! But at this stage, you're definitely on the right track

HTH

Steve

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It's pretty much all been covered, personally, given the budget, the HEQ5 Syntrek for the better drives and guiding ability, and the ED80. A great start, and setup properly, can get you achieving 2 or 3 minute exposures. You can easily add a second scope and guidecamera without issue, and that'll allow for (with my similar setup) exposure times limited only by the skyglow. To get goto etc, you'll be needing a laptop but it's not so bad.. there's plenty of targets that are easy enough to find without goto that'll keep you busy for some time.

You take a series of shorter exposures, and combine them (using something like DeepSkyStacker, it's free) to increase the SNR of the image, then pull the data out in futher processing. Any image editor can do this, just some do it more easily than others.

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You may prefer one of these for your Nikon over the T-ring adaptor: Adaptors - Max DSLR Camera Adaptor as it gives direct connection to the 2" tube.

If you go for a ED80, you will also need a 2" extension tube to achieve focus with it. One of these: Adaptors - Two-inch Focus Extension tubes

If you have a decent set of lenses, you could just get a mount and start using your current lenses to take widefield photography for a start. You could then figure out which way to go.

Personally, if you have a couple of decent long focal length lenses, I'd go EQ6 now and then worry about a 'scope later...

Edited by arad85
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Since you're using a DSLR, look into the publications by Jerry Lodrigus. He's forgotten more about DSLR imaging than most know.

As stated several times, the mount is the lynchpin here. I've seen some terrific images taken with the diminutive Orion ED80, but the scope was on a good mount. My advice would be to get the goto version. Your first images will more than likely be brighter objects that can be seen with an eyepiece. However, there will come a day that you'll want to image a really dim object that may not be visible. But if you have a goto mount and your pointing model is good, you can send the mount there and be quite confident that the object will be there.

David

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The difference between the scopes lies mainly the focal ratio, one giving a focal length of 600mm and the other 500mm. The latter is 'faster' and it has a 2 speed focus for fine control. I don't know about the slower scope. They are very, very good, though calling a doublet lens an astrograph is a bit dodgy. But never mind, they are good and incredibe value.

Some of the best UK images come from the New Forest. (Greg Parker/Noel Carboni.)

I have 2 EQ6 mounts here and like them. However, in a portable setup for use with an ED80 I would still think about the smaller version. The EQ6 is hernia country for some of us!

A good preprocessing software is AstroArt. It is not too expensive and does many things. The autoguiding funtion is sound, you can stack images and get them ready for photoshop.

Think about focus. Forget looking at the image of a star to see how small you can get it. That simply doesn't work well enough. A cheap Bahtinov mask placed over the objective is the thing to go for, or a software like AstroArt which measures the size of the star on the chip at half its maximum intensity. (FWHM) Full Width Half Max.

There's a lot to learn! But is it ever great fun to do...

Very best,

Olly

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