Advice to the newest of newbies from the newest of newbies
Advice for the newest of newbies from the newest of newbies.
I'm new to Astrophotography but I'm an old guy so I'm writing some advice that's more life advice than technical advice. I like the fact that this hobby is so complex. There's a lot to learn. Also, I think Astronomy and Astrophotography are a lot like the movie Sixth Sense. In the movie - SPOILER ALERT- there are ghosts everywhere but only a few people can see them. The night sky is just like that. It's filled with all these wonders, some of them huge in the sky, that only we few can see. So some advice/rules for those who want to start seeing the wonders of the night sky.
Rule 1 Have fun.
2 Don't get overawed by all the different choices when you are deciding on equipment. Do your research but don't get freaked out that you might get the "wrong" thing and remember, if you ask three people on a forum or youtube about something you'll get five different opinions.
3 Watch your budget. Especially in the beginning. Don't beggar yourself for a hobby that you think you "might " be interested in. Astrophotography is an expensive hobby (a bottomless money pit) and can get REAL expensive but you can start out without spending a fortune. You can (and everybody does) upgrade. Personally I wouldn't spend several thousand dollars on my first mount if I wasn't really sure I wanted to commit to this hobby.
4 Take everyone's advice (especially mine) with a grain of salt. There are a lot of variables that dictate what equipment you get. Here are some examples;
a. Your financial situation: I'm a school teacher (Science) and have to do this on a school teacher's salary.
b. What you want to do/photograph: I decided that I mainly wanted to photograph Deep Space Objects and I already had a scope for observation (see d.)
c. Where you live: I live in New Jersey which has a lot of light pollution (my viewing location is Class 5 Bortle for those keeping score). More importantly I live in an apartment. I have to load my gear into my car and drive to a nearby state park where I have a good view of the sky and they don't mind if astronomers are there late at night. Which means that the size, weight, ease of setup and overall portability of my gear is critical to me.
d. What equipment you already have: I had a Celestron 130 SLT which is fine for observation but I could not connect my Canon digital SLR to it and achieve focus. Since I already had the SLR. I wanted a scope that would handle that kind of camera. I considered a SCT for awhile (Edge HD 8") but when I looked into it I found that I'd have to jump through hoops to get my camera to achieve focus with a flattener, off axis guider, etc. After more research (including reading questions/answers on this forum) I ended up getting an Explore Scientific ED 80, an AVX mount and an Orion Magnificent Mini Autoguider package (which I haven't used yet - learning one thing at a time). I also bought a cheap red dot finder that makes it easy to align the scope without having to contort my back to see through an actual finder scope (did I mention I'm old?) an inexpensive light pollution filter and odds and ends like a bahtinov mask for focusing.
I'm not recommending ANY of these things for anyone else. I'm just noting that for me and my specific budget/situation they are great. Your mileage my vary. You'll find that a lot of people on forums don't like Canon SLRs, the ES ED 80 and REALLY don't like the AVX and you should hear out their reasons, but for ME they have all been just fine and allowed me to get started within my budget. Will I upgrade at some point? Probably - (bottomless money pit). But right now I'm getting nice results and I'm learning a lot. I was jumping up and down for joy at 3:00 am when I saw my first picture of M42 - Orion on my camera's screen. (See rule 1) If I did not already have the SLR and a scope for observation my choices might have been very different. I might have made different choices if I was going to be mainly setting up in my backyard and could leave my rig set up in a garage and just roll it out on a dolly. Your particular situation will dictate some choices
5. Do your research: The forums and youtube are a great resource (with the caveat mentioned in number two), there are a lot of articles online and your local Astronomy club will be full of very friendly and very knowledgeable people. Then think about what you really want/can afford. Take the time to be thorough and be sure it's what YOU want.
6. When you've done your research and gotten advice; pull the trigger and don't look back. After you've bought your setup don't get into equipment envy. No matter what you've got, someone somewhere has a bigger, stronger, faster, blah, blah, blah. Remember, no amateur can match the Hubble.
7. All of the above also applies to software. There are some programs that pretty much everyone uses like DSS and PHD 2 but even for these there are alternatives that you might prefer. Many programs are free or have a free trial you can check out. Do the research, (youtube has great tutorials on photo processing), try them out but don't get overwhelmed or stressed. If you don't like one program you can try another one.
8. I'm also an artist and I think processing is a lot like doing a painting. It's all about your own taste and judgment. Two quotes I remember about painting: "Every painter needs a large man to stand behind him with a mallet to make him stop" Lots of paintings can be ruined by over painting. The same can be said for photos and over processing. "Paintings are never completed, they are abandoned" When it's time to walk away, walk away. A lot of artists give the same answer when asked which of their paintings is their favorite. the answer is "the next one".
9. Remember Rule 1. Always remember Rule 1.
More free (worth every dollar you paid for it!) advice:
I wrote and posted the part above some time ago. I thought I'd re-post it with some additional advice I've come up with:
If you are using a wide field refractor scope like me one bit of advice I have, especially for older, back-pain prone individuals like myself, is to get a red dot finder instead of an actual small telescope finder scope. I mentioned above that I had one. The reason I recommend one is that with an actual finder "scope" you need to get your eye to the eyepiece of the finder scope. This can involve a bit of squatting, twisting, etc. with an az-alt mount. With an equatorial mount the eyepiece can be in extremely awkward positions making seeing through the scope a real challenge. However, with a red dot scope you do not need to have your eye right at the scope. Just in-line with it. As long as you can see the laser dot you can see where the scope is pointing. This makes the initial set up of the scope (two star alignment and all star polar alignment in my case) a lot easier on the back and neck.
I've been using a round bubble level to help my level my Mount. I've found that it works very well. Here's the link to it on Amazon:
When I started out I did not have a laptop on which I could install programs. I only had the laptop they give the teachers at my school and we can't install anything. As a result, I was using an intervalometer to control my DSLR. This works ok up to a point, but getting a laptop that I could use for astrophotogarphy was a real game changer. I bought a refurbished Dell on Amazon for around $160. On the laptop I installed:
This allows me to focus and do my polar alignment while looking at a laptop screen instead of having to contort myself or use a mirror to see the LCD display on the camera.
APT allows for easier and more complex imaging programming than you can do with an intervolometer.
ATP allows me to "dither" (re-aim the scope just a tiny bit between images to reduce noise)
Because APT saves the images onto the laptop hard-drive I'm not limited to the camera's SD card for storage.
APT will also allow me to control the one shot color CMOS camera I've ordered (if I ever get it):
ZWO ASI294 MC Pro
As a side note: The reason I ordered a color CMOS camera rather than a b/w is because with all I have to go through to set up and image (see above) I just don't want to spend the time imaging with four different filters. As I mentioned above, every person's situation (and what they have patience with) is different and the perfect piece of equipment for one person can be the worst choice for someone else.
This is pretty much the goto software most folks use for guiding. This allows me to take much longer exposures.
APT communicates with PHD2 to do the dithering
Guiding seems rather complex when you first start researching it but it is pretty easy to get fairly good guiding and really extend your exposure time. I'm still working on getting spot on guiding with my AVX mount.
Once I'm under the illusion that I know what I'm doing with these two I'll try doing stuff like plate solving.
I bought a second power tank to power the laptop. The new tank is a Celestron Power Tank 17 and can probably power the laptop and mount by itself but right now I'm using the smaller power tank for the mount and the larger one for the laptop and eventually the cooler on the CMOS camera.