Building a Deep Sky Astrophotography Kit

I am sometimes asked for my opinion on the best path to take in terms of creating a deep sky astrophotography system for the very first time. A common option for many night sky lovers is to get started on with a DSLR surveillance camera and telescope, and I can realize why. Building an astrophotography set up that revolves around a user-friendly, entry-level DSLR can reap some impressive results.

Modern-day hobbyist/beginner DSLR cameras such as the Canon EOS Rebel T7we or Nikon D3400 provide the least-steep learning curve in terms of deep sky imaging in an exceedingly complex and sometimes overwhelming hobby. Even when you decide to upgrade to a dedicated astronomy camcorder or CCD later on, you’ll never regret investing in a DSLR as they have loads of potential for a myriad of photography.

Like a lot of you, I began getting into astrophotography by firmly taking long direct exposure images of the night time sky using my own DSLR camera and lens on a simple tripod. This progressed into capturing multiple hour-long images of deep-sky objects like the Orion Nebula through a refractor telescope. A camera and (the proper) small telescope is with the capacity of capturing some extraordinary deep sky objects in our night sky.

It didn’t all come together in one evening or even twelve months. If your desire for astrophotography is as relentless as mine, deep sky imaging is a part of your life forever. I’d advise that you map out a very clear vision of your individual goals, and patiently work at it. If you ask me, the most worthwhile part of the hobby possesses been the steady progress I’ve made on the way.

With that out of the way, here’s some honest advice from somebody who is in it for the long term.

Putting the Pieces Together

In this post, I’ll offer you my advice how to best build yourself a deep sky astrophotography kit that benefits you with the images you crave. This beginner-level kit will not only make amazing photos of galaxies and nebulae, but deliver an interest rate of accomplishment, and offer a rewarding experience.

That is your chance to learn from my years of mistakes and jump directly into equipment that works. There are a good amount of opinions on how to start this, and I prefer to state the fact that I can help you on what spent some time working for me.

Early on, it usually is confusing to analyse exactly what you’ll have to efficiently photograph a deep sky object. My target in this article is to make things as very clear as possible and give a number of different configurations to truly get you began. The equipment you choose happen to be interchangeable with these setups, but I am hoping that you think it is helpful to see a good example combination.

Below is an exemplary case of an extremely lightweight and proficient equipment set up that I’ve used personally to fully capture deep sky targets such as the Andromeda Galaxy.

  • William Optics Zenithstar 61 Doublet APO
  • iOptron SkyGuider Pro Mount
  • Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR Camera

The setup pictured above will desire a few extras, including a tripod to mount the SkyGuider Pro. For additional information about the Zenithstar 61, check out my Z61 Assessment Video.

Each setup will demand different adapters and installation hardware, so speak to your favourite telescope dealer and have them what you’ll want in that regard. For instance, to hook up the William Optics Z61 to a Canon DSLR, you’ll want the Flat61 and a T-Ring adapter.

Mounting hardware and expansion tubes are even more examples of the specifics you’ll have to confirm before you get everything ready to go. Remember, these will be the key pieces only, every setup could have its own group of necessary accessories to access the finish line.

This is an image of the Center Nebula that was extracted from my backyard using the setup in the above list. The camera was a modified Canon EOS Rebel T3i, with a Sky tech CLS-CCD light pollution filtration system installed.

Utilizing a Refractor Telescope with a Digital SLR Camera

In the event that you already own and revel in a DSLR camera for daytime photography, it’s likely that you’ll like to utilize it for deep sky imaging as well. The following principles connect with those shooting with an APS-C sized sensor just like the ones within a Canon Rebel series camera. A full frame surveillance camera sensor will shoot possibly wider but may expose issues nearby the edges of your photo frame as well.

My personal flavour in deep sky imaging leans heavily towards wild-field targets. That is why, I tend to recommend telescope with a wide field of view (Generally only 700mm). This assists with factors such as auto guiding accuracy and concentrate, as small actions are less critical at this magnification.

For example, the Meade 70mm Quadruplet Astrograph includes a focal length of 360mm. As of this magnification, an entry-level DSLR camera at primary focus can capture large nebulae such as the Soul Nebula. A DSLR attaches the Meade APO applying the threaded concentrate tube and the Meade 48mm-42mm adapter for your t-ring.

Many refractor telescopes could have a dedicated discipline flattener/reducer and adapter to properly expose the image sensor of your camera. A field-flattener evens out the field of viewpoint, while a reducer (such as for example 0.8X) will certainly reduce the focal duration and f-ratio of your telescope by that benefit.

A typical T-Ring adapter screws into the camera body just like a camera lens, and can then be fastened to the telescope. (Prime concentration astrophotography).]

Choosing a Telescope

I just experienced a spike in my deep sky astrophotography progress after purchasing my first ‘triplet’ apochromatic refractor. A lightweight and small APO is certainly arguably the perfect choice for a starter. The doublet and triplet zoom lens designs of the telescopes often make use of high-end optics such as for example FPL-53 cup to provide the best possible colour correction without a hint of chromatic aberration.

Refractors are lightweight, portable nor require a great equatorial mount with a hefty payload to use. Compared, A Newtonian reflector will offer you much more aperture at less price, but will also be much more demanding regarding maintenance and operation.

Basic level equatorial mounts such as the Celestron Advanced VX can effortlessly hold the telescope and every one of the photography extras found in this spectrum. You cannot beat the portability and ease of usage of this design.

This is a look at my first ‘successful’ imaging rig. This little 80mm refractor captured various iconic targets from the Eagle Nebula to the North America Nebula. As you can plainly see, the imaging equipment (including the auto guiding combo) is certainly small and lightweight. This allows for better tracking and sets less pressure on the mount.

Here are a few excellent choices to consider whenever choosing an imaging refractor.

William Optics Zenithstar 61

Diameter: 61mm
Focal Length: 360mm
Focal Ratio: f/5.9
Weight: 3.2 lbs
Glass: FPL-53
Discipline Flattener/Reducer: William Optics Smooth61

This little apochromatic doublet may be the smallest telescope I’ve ever used for astrophotography, and that’s great news if you own a little tracking mount. The William Optics Z61 weighs just over 3 pounds and isn’t a problem for lightweight equatorial mounts like the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.

At F/5.9, the Z61 will an admirable job of collecting light from your own deep-sky target. You will probably gather some extraordinary exposures in the 1-2 minute selection on the brighter deep-sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy.

Keep in mind that the Flat61 Field Flattener might be required to produce photos with sharp stars to the border of the frame, especially when by using a full-frame DSLR. To add an autoguiding scope, you’ll need to purchase some additional accessories including tube rings and a dovetail plate.

Meade 70mm Quadruplet Astrograph

Diameter: 70mm
Focal Length: 350mm
Focal Ratio: f/5
Glass: FPL-53
Field Flattener/Reducer: NOT NECESSARY

The stocky Meade 70mm Astrograph is compact and solid. Modest equatorial mounts with humble payload capacity ratings including the Orion Sirius EQ-G or Celestron Advanced VX will have no issue with a telescope of the size.

With a focal length of 350mm, the ‘mighty’ Meade APO specializes in wide-field imaging of much larger deep sky objects including the THE UNITED STATES Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and the California Nebula as seen below. When you’re shooting this huge, guiding accuracy is a lot more forgiving. That is one of many reasons I recommend a tiny APO refractor to astrophotography beginners.

Added benefits associated with this telescope are the insufficient field flattener needed, padded carry-case, and an integral bracket for a finder or guide scope. You fork out a little extra up front, but this telescope was all set from the box. Continue reading for more info on added and auto guider to your telescope.

Orion ED80T Triplet APO

Diameter: 80mm
Focal Length: 480mm
Focal Ratio: f/6
Weight: 5.5 lbs
Glass: FPL-53
Recommended Field Flattener/Reducer: Orion FF for short refractors

The Orion ED80T CF shares the same focal duration, size, and weight of the Explore Scientific ED80, yet uses the respectable FPL-53 glass in the target lens. This telescope is normally a favourite choice for those seeking to invest in top quality optics in a small package.

This lightweight carbon fibre refractor is highly lightweight and may capture crisp, wide field views of a number of the larger targets including the images Heart Nebula by Chuck Ayoub.

What am I using now? I personally appreciate my Explore Scientific ED102 apochromatic refractor (Carbon Fibers) quite definitely. This telescope is small and portable, yet presents a bit more focal duration and aperture compared to the telescopes mentioned above.

Recommended Astrophotography Mounts

iOptron SkyGuider Pro

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is a portable EQ mount which offers a trusted solution for astrophotography on the go. The SkyGuider Pro produces shooting long publicity starscapes without star-trailing likely.

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro can be used on a photography tripod and is less obtrusive when compared to a traditional, large equatorial mount. In a sea of competing portable sky tracker mounts, the iOptron SkyGuider Pro stands out as the front-runner in this category.

Mount Specs:

Payload: 11 lbs
Mount Weight: 3.2 lbs
Power Necessity: Internal Rechargeable Battery
Built-in Polar Scope: Yes
Auto-guider Port: Yes

The iOptron SkyGuider pro is easy to operate, and I could get right up and running my first particular date. The SGP is a good option if you want to shoot wide-position nightscapes using a DSLR surveillance camera and lens. A lightweight choice like this is ideal for travelling to a dark sky blog.

The image below shows the view of the Milky Way from Cherry Springs State Park through the Annual Star Party. A Canon Rebel Xsi with a 17-40mm F/4 Zoom lens was attached to the SkyGuider Pro for this stacked shot.

The SkyGuider can be used with a tiny telescope like the William Optics Zenithstar 61 pictured below. For this, you’ll attach the included counterweight to the mount to equilibrium the strain. With a payload capability of 11 pounds, this mount acquired no issues at all having the light-weight Z61 telescope with the camera attached.

I had a lengthy trial period with the SkyGuider Pro above the summer and was sad to provide it again. This mount bridged the gap between a full-on equatorial mount including the EQ-5 the following and a tiny star tracker. The exact tracking and robust structure of the SGP happen to be what impressed me most.

Orion Sirius EQ-G

The Orion Sirius EQ-G is a twin to my Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro equatorial mount. This ‘EQ-5’ series GEM ‘s been around for a long time and has confirmed itself to be a fantastic decision for deep sky astrophotography.

This is a significant deep-sky imaging investment that’s more than with the capacity of meeting the high needs of years of outdoor use. The Orion Sirius EQ-G will perform very best when used in combination with an apochromatic refractor with an auto-guiding combo.

Among the many benefits of this mount will be the ASCOM compatibility (Control via Computer), built-in polar axis scope and GoTo side controller with over 42K objects in the database. This is equatorial mount is definitely a popular choice for beginners to astrophotography, and for good reason.

For types of the amazing deep-sky imaging potential of the Orion Sirius EQ-G, take a look at the amazing images by Andrew Klinger on Flickr.

Payload: 30 lbs
Power Necessity: 12-Volt DC
Built-in Polar Scope: Yes
Auto-guider Port: Yes

  • Meade 70mm Quadruplet Astrograph
  • Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Mount
  • Altair Hypercam 183C (Variation 2)

Recommended Cameras

Canon EOS Rebel T7i

It will come as no real surprise that the first camera I would recommend for deep-sky astrophotography is the newest Canon Rebel Series DLSR. There are plenty of amazing examples of deep sky imaging using a Nikon or Sony surveillance camera body, but I could only suggest what’s worked exceptionally well for me personally.

The Canon EOS Rebel T7i may be the current version of the T3i I currently shoot with. These cams can be altered for astrophotography by removing the stock IR chop filter to allow the red colours within many deep sky things to attain the sensor. My camera was altered by Astro Mod Canada, however the process can even be performed yourself in case you are feeling brave.

The camera can be linked to a telescope by by using a T-Ring Adapter. This is what’s referred to as ‘prime concentration’ astrophotography, and the telescope will be used as a camera zoom lens at its fixed focal length. A field flattener/reducer may be suggested for your telescope, which will both create an even field in your images and/or minimizes the focal ratio of your telescope.

The Canon EOS Rebel Series DSLR’s are believed ‘prop-sensor’ cameras, with a smaller sensor when compared to a full-frame camera. In the event that you do decide on a full-frame DSLR, I would suggest the Canon EOS 6D. Alan Dyer presented some interesting results when you compare the original 6D vs the 6D Mark II model.

Altair Hypercam 183C

The Altair Hypercam can be an affordable alternative for those seeking to reap a number of the advantages of CCD camera, with the convenience of a DSLR. The 183C is a one-shot-colour surveillance camera, with an interior cooling admirer. The sensor comes ‘pre-modified’ in comparison to a inventory DSLR sensor, which means that each of the reddish coloured emission nebulae (hydrogen) will never be filtered out by the camcorder.

I just reviewed this astronomy camcorder extensively over the summertime of 2017 and was extremely impressed with my benefits. Adding 2-inches narrowband filters before the colour CMOS sensor became an eye-opening experience despite conventional methods. You will see the outcomes of a total narrowband imaging project using the 183C.

Although this camera lacks TEC (Thermoelectric cooling), I did so notice a major improvement regarding noise in comparison to my DSLR camera. The amp-glow reduction and highly sensitive back-area illuminated 20MP sensor of this OSC camera isn’t to be overlooked. Have a look at my impression of the photos I required from the backyard for a concept of what to expect.

The 183C should be controlled through the use of software on your PC such as Astro Photography Tool. Below, you’ll have the ability to choose a Gain setting, exposure length plus much more. If you are familiar with using automating your imaging periods with a DSLR (BackyardEOS), this process will feel quite familiar and relaxed to you.

Auto-guiding Packages

Auto-guiding is a necessary step if you need to expand you imaging capabilities. Having the option to shoot long exposures (three minutes or even more) is something that can have a major impact on your success. A small auto-guiding combo includes helpful information scope and a camcorder that doesn’t put too much extra weight to your current payload.

Altair Starwave 60mm Guide Scope Package

The package displayed above is what I currently use, and you may have seen it in several my videos. The Starwave 60mm Guide Scope bundle has convenient equipment mounting options and keeps the entire fat of your astrophotography rig down.

The Altair GPCAM2 AR130 connects to PHD2 guiding easily and does an outstanding job of auto-guiding. This is one of my initial upgrades when teaming up with Ontario Telescope and Add-ons, and the one which made my life easier. The GPCAM2 is so sensitive, I often place nebulae in my 2-second information exposures in PHD!

The bottom line

There are simply so many options to choose from when it comes to creating a deep sky imaging rig. I am hoping that by exhibiting you what I’ve had personal achievements with, you will have a better understanding of the picture as a whole. Of course, the storyline does not end below. Mounting hardware, filter systems, and software certainly are a few extra decisions you’ll need to make.

This post already went considerably longer than I had planned, so that they can answer some of the most typical questions I receive on my Facebook page and on Instagram. Whichever setup you decide on, I expectation that you retain your primary desire to capture the night time sky losing brightly, each stage of the way.

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