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Scope Advice - First scope


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Hi,

I'm narrowing down my options for my first scope and would welcome any advice / suggestions:

Whilst this will be my first scope, I'm happy to go for a decent one to start off. This isn't a new 'hobby' for me, but until now working away from home (& overseas) has meant a scope wasn't really an option. Binoculars have been my limit.

First it's best to outline what I want it to do and a few limitation.

Budget: up to £1000 (max).

Locations: Mobile. Any scope MUST be mobile, so weight, size & setup are important factors.

At home light pollution can be an issue (not terminally), a potentially bigger issue is the restricted of the sky from the garden from tall trees & buildings (can't fell the trees & neighbours unlikely to knock house down!).

The good news is there are some good locations a short drive from home, with easy access by car (Not planning any night time cross country hiking! ), good sky views and very little light .

Use: I'm looking for mixed planetary & DSO use. I fully appreciate that there will be compromises - One scope isn't going to be perfect for everything - So looking for a good all rounder.

Astro imaging will play quite an important part, so a good, stable mount and tracking would be useful. Initially I'll be using a Canon 400D.

So far I've been looking at Skywatcher & Celestron 6" & 8" scopes within my budget.

So here come the questions:

Q1. What would be the best choice between something like a 6" cassegrain or an 8" reflector like the (Celestron C8-N GT )

A 6" cassegrain on a good GoTo mount would use up just about all my budget (Celestron C6 SGT XLT).

An 8" reflector on a good GoTo mount would be cheaper (Celestron C8 NGT), but heavier. It would leave me more £££ for other EP's and filters etc.

I've only used these Celestron scopes as an example, because I could compare weight. C6 SGT = 52lb C8 NGT = 67lb Both on the CG EQ mount (I'm guessing much of weight is in this)

Celestron Advanced Series Telescopes

I've also looked at Skywatcher reflectors like the Explorer 150 & 200 ranges, but can't find any details of weight for the EQ3 or EQ5 mounts. If the EQ3 is stable enough for imaging this may be a better option as far as weight goes.

Q2. Am I being unrealistic here with the weight of these scopes? The majority of mobile locations close to home should mean I can set up quite close to my Jeep, so I'm guessing handling isn't going to me too much of an issue!

At present, I'm inclined to go for the 8" reflector (or even a 6" reflector), using the extra cash for things like a power tank, EP's, filters etc.

I will have more questions on this ....... but would like to get a view on these two first.

Very Many Thanks!

Al

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If the scope is on an Alt/Az mount it is only suitable for short duration shots, no use for DSO imaging.

If you get an SCT then the focal length is too long.

Mountwise you need a decent equitorial mount, minimum being an HEQ5 (£745), better is an EQ6 (£815). The EQ3 is too small and unstable.

So that is most of the money gone on just a mount.

Seriously, for astrophotography the following is the equipment:

EQ5 745.

Triplet scope - say 1500 minimum.

Guide camera - 300

Guide scope - 500.

Add in another £500 for accessories, scope rings, tandem mounts, adaptors, cables, laptop.

So £3600 as starters, and yes I do mean starters.

£10,000 in this area is quite normal, substantially more is not uncommon.

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Ok, just my input - mirroring things that have been said previously.

Sub £1K mounts will have issues with focal lengths over ~1000mm for decent exposure times (ie what are needed for DSO). Alt-Az are a no go for AP.

If you are 100% serious about AP I would say you can get away with less cost than ~3600 initially, however you'd need to accept the limitations as you progressed:

1. Go widefield DSLR+lenses (if you have DSLR). Run with a HEQ5 or better still NEQ6 mount - overkill initially. No scope... use mount to guide short subs.

2. Add fast main scope (newt or refractor). You will need to focus on good optics. Plus the required bits for flattening field etc. Use the mount for short subs.

3. Add guide scope and guide camera to improve accuracy and increase sub times.

It is possible to use an HEQ5 with a newt and DSLR if you accept you will not be doing long subs - again limitations. The impact will hit image quality (detail) and lower the number of targets (faint targets require more time to extract details).

Also - you will need software to take the DSLR output, stack it and process it. Usually DLSRers connect their DSLR to a laptop and use it to control the DLSR (and mount).

The problem is that for AP the priority is the mount (load capacity and accuracy) then everything builds on it. For visual you can get away with a wobbly mount, AP you can't.

Edited by NickK
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I'm relatively new to astronomy but most of what has been said reflects my own experience.

First scope was C130M scope wasn't bad but tripod legs made of stainless jelly. CG-3 mount just about OK. So IMO not even good enough for visual. I've now upgraded to a CG-5 with surveyor's tripod and it's rock solid.

Next SW200P, because of experience with 1st scope would have liked EQ6 but because of weight went for HEQ5 Pro GOTO, it's still heavy but manageable. It's OK but not as steady as the C130 on CG-5. When taking webcam photos of the moon I have to wait a few seconds to let the computer display settle then sit as motionless as possible until the AVI capture has finished. I was very pleased with the result from 300 frames at about 4-5fps. I've not tried anything longer.

Unfortunately as others have already said, people tend to look at the scope first and the tripod and mount as a mere detail. As did I not knowing any better with Scope No.1

Most manufacturers seem to sell there “kits” with the tripod maxed out. This gives the wrong impression and as soon as you start adding extra bits it's overloaded. Also as mentioned before the longer the tube the greater the potential for vibration and oscillation.

Datman

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Many thanks for the input so far.

On the subject of the mount:

All the Celestron scopes I used as examples come on their CE5 mount - A heavy duty EQ mount, they say suitable for up to an 11" SCT. So I'm assuming it should be pretty steady & not maxed out with a 6" or 8".

The mount gets reviewed here Celestron CG-5 equatorial Go-To mount | Sky at Night Magazine

On the budget:

I know there are going to be limits with what I can do within my budget -- but that's what I've got and my options are start within this budget and eventually upgrade .... or do nothing!

The C8-NGT is £799 here ...

Celestron Advanced C8 NGT Telescope (or the 6" version is £699 on the same mount).

Obviously I'd shop around for best price and there are Skywatcher equivalents, but is this spec of scope a good starting point?

It's below budget, seems to have an acceptable mount, should be OK for visual and at least let me get started on imaging .... but at 67lb is it too heavy to be realistically mobile, or are there better options within my budget ?

Thanks again ...

Al

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Dont overlook secondhand, you can up the performance that £1k will get you hugely. You just need an eye for a deal and a bit of patience.

Serious AP and portability are mutually exclusive, there will be compromises.

The C6 SGC would be easier to live with, the C8 NGT is big and bulky.

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It is hard to know where to start here. You really need to remove from your thinking every syllable that comes from manufacturer's claims and casual magazine reviews. The idea of taking a long exposure deep sky image through a C11 on a small Celestron mount is roughly equivalent to thinking of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix in a Fiat Panda. (The Fiat Panda has rack and pinion steering for precise control of all bends, it's turbocharged engine gives excellent torque out of hairpins, it's low fuel consumption means it can go full race distance without a stop...) Not a lie in sight (I love my Fiat Panda!) but I ain't going to be starting at Monaco...

For imaging, HEQ5 minimum mount, no f ratio above F7, no focal length beyond a metre. This does seriously limit the visual side, I know.

Sorry if I sound grouchy but years ago I was stung myself and still these blurbs persist despite consumer protection legislation...

Olly

ollypenrice's Photos

Edited by ollypenrice
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Hi Al,

brantuk and Olly make a lot of sense here.

For astro-photography you'll find the book Making Every Photon Count (by SGL's very own steppenwolf & now onto it's 2nd Edition) helpful in getting started. Easy to read, it's full of advice aimed at the imaging novice, including choosing the right equipment, tips 'n' tricks and lots of other vital stuff.

The imaging section, too, is full of experienced, talented folk who, I'm sure, will be more than happy to share advice and guidance with you.

Check all these out before you take the plunge.

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Astro imaging will play quite an important part, so a good, stable mount and tracking would be useful.

Al

Not useful, but essential. And because of that most of your budget would have to go on the mount, leaving little for the optics.

I'd be inclined to to go for a more 'balanced' package, based on an EQ5, accepting that it's less than ideal for heavy-duty astrophotography. And the 6" SCT wouldn't be an immediate first choice either. You're more likely to get better photographic results with an ED refractor. Have a look at 80, 90 and 100mm refractors, and perhaps budget for a focal reducer to get a faster photographic speed (= shorter exposures = more data captured in a session). And the refractors offer a more attractive image quality for visual use too.

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Here are my thoughts FWTW:

A decent 6-8" reflector on an Alt/Az mount. Possibly one equipped with 'go-to' or 'crank-to' if budget permits.

A quality 8" Newt will show one surpassingly better all-round views than any refractor one could reasonably afford. Before all you refractorholics start jumping on me, I currently have a TOA 130 and in addition to about 10 other refractors, have owned an AP 130, a Tak FS 152 a TMB 130 and an AP 155 and know whereof I speak! :)

OOUK does excellent premium 8" optics, tho' I've heard grumbles about their mrchanics. GSO (Revelation, TS, Astrotech, Altair etc,), Skywatcher and Celestron all do respectable Newts as well but pushing more cash into better optics WILL pay dividends in observing.

I'd stear clear of SCTs only because they are a little fiddly to start off with and have quite narrow fields of view - necessitating expensive WA eyepieces for all but tight-field viewing. Also I've found both Meade and Celestron 'scopes to have pretty variable quality control.

An Alt/Az mount has great advantages for visual applications: They are easy to set up, no worries about battery packs, no magnetic offsetting etc etc. They are much lighter than dob bases and tend not to be made of chip-board.

Good ones that will handle an 8" Newt include:

Skywatcher Sky Tee and Sky T2

AT Voyager

Discmount 4

WO EzyTouch (AOK)

and a few others.

If you want a go-to right out of the gate (a little more cash) then:

Celestron Nexstar mount for 6 & 8" tubes.

Ioptron Minitower

Skywatcher AZ4

If I'd paid attention 10 years ago to the advice i've just given, I'd have saved myself about $30,000!:(

Edited by LMC
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All,

Thanks again for the input, but it seems I may have confused some people over my scope requirments - particularly on the imaging side of things (badly worded questions by me).

When I said astro imaging will be quite important .... what I mean is I will be taking my first steps into it imaging.

I'm not looking for a 'serious' dedicated AP setup. I already have a Canon DSLR that I'd like to attach and I'll no doubt invest in a webcam & some stacking software.

Equally, I also want to get some good views of the solar system, just using my scope and my fully functional MkI human eyeballs - I already have 2 of these installed, so would like to use them :)

As I said in my first post, I'm looking for a decent all-rounder.

Please remember this is a first scope, what I want to do is get a scope that will last me at few years whilst I get some experience under my belt (this is clearly important) and also see where my astronomy preferences lie. Then I'll be better placed to get a scope more suited to a specific area in a few years.

What I'd like to be doing ....... But I won't be expecting to be 'top of the range' for any of them!

Lunar & Planetary viewing & some imaging.

Solar viewing & imaging (with solar filter!)

Viewing & imaging (if possible) of some of the easier galaxies & nebulae.

At present I'm favouring something like the Skywatcher Explorer 150 or 200 (PDS) series or the Celestron C6 or C8 NGT. The mounts on these seem to be OK (EQ5 & CG5 computerised) - maybe not the best ... but adequate for a first scope within my budget! The Skywatcher PDS has the Crayford focuser but the Celestron mount seems a little sturdier (2" rather than 175" tube legs)

The (new) 6" variants seem to be around the £700 mark and this would leave some cash left over for a couple of additional EP's etc. The 8" versions are about £800 with the same mounts as the 6".

I'm not sure the increased magnification of the 8" would be too critical (given average seeing conditions), but would the increased light gathering capacity be beneficial for the sort of use I'm looking at, for detail etc.

On the subject of mobility/portability. Most of the dark sky locations that I'd be visiting are within a 15 min drive and nearly all accessible by car, so whilst keeping the weight of these scopes in mind .... I wont be carring them too far over fields etc.

I have a budget and at this stage will need to stick to it, if there is something I can't do on that budget .... then for now I won't be doing it. I would welcome opinions on the best options within that budget.

Sorry if I confused things with the 'imaging' issue ......

Thanks for everything so far - some very useful comments.

ollypenrice = Your pics are stunning! I am not expecting to do anything similar!

Cheers

Al

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