As I mentioned in the first post of this series, I started out with a 6″ Dobsonian from Orion Telescopes, a Canon A75 point and shoot camera, and a Canon EOS 350D DSLR camera. I eventually “splurged” and got a Scoptronix eyepiece projector.
I would end up losing everything but my eyepiece case and my solar filter when I had my fire in 2009. So, flash forward to 2020 and here is my current equipment:
Celestron AstroMaster 114
– An extreme beginner scope with an equatorial mount. If I am honest, I don’t really use this but I may begin to use it simply for medium exposure piggy-back photography
Orion 6″ Dobsonian (Intelliscope)
– A good beginner Dobsonian mounted Newtonian telescope. I have used this, or a very similar model for years for lunar and some planetary photography. The one linked is the classic version, which is what I started with 12-13 years ago. I currently have the Intelliscope version which isn’t currently available. I only used the “tracking” once or twice, and it worked as intended, but I typically just find what I want manually.
Skyling 10″ Dobsonian
– Let’s in around 175% more light then the 6″. This size is probably the largest most people would want to go, both for weight and price. Again, it is a Dobsonian, so no tracking (unless you build or buy a EQ platform) but the views are really good.
Nikon d610 – DSLR
With this camera I can effectively do afocal photography through my telescope (with the proper adapters and lens) as well as long exposure.
Afocal is hard with this camera simply because the view angle is always wide. However, with it’s 2000mm zoom and its aperture (at 2000mm) of around f6.1 to f8.0 this camera, on a tripod, is like a telescope in it’s self. Great for shots of the moon and planets, you can also do some long exposure shots but you are limited by your zoom rates, etc. The camera will save in RAW format, which is helpful for processing.
Smartphones: Samsung Galaxy S9 & Google Pixel 4
Amazingly, you can get some really, REALLY good shots by simply taking your cellphone and putting the camera up to your eyepiece and taking a picture. Really effective for lunar and solar (with a filter) photography through an eyepiece.
First and foremost with astronomy and astrophotography, accessories can be the key to success. Everything from your eyepieces to adapters to tripods, a little bit can go a long way.
For my adapters, I almost exclusively buy from TelescopeAdapters.com. The have everything you will need for eyepiece projection and afocal photography. Some items can be a little more expensive then you think, so feel free to search the internet for a better deal. These guys have given me wonderful customer service and have been able to help me and answer all of my questions along the way.
For eyepieces, I suggest starting with “economy” type – standard plossl style eyepieces which will run you from $25.00 – $60.00 a piece. For afocal in my setup currently (mainly using the 6″ Dob) I use my 25mm and 32mm plossl eyepieces from Orion Telescopes. For eyepiece projection, I am currently using a very basic projection tube adapter, but I am planning to upgrade to, and recommend the VariMax. You may run into a situation where you cannot find an adapter to couple your camera to your eyepiece, or you simply may suffer from too much vibration depending on your setup or camera. To mitigate this, simply put your camera on a tripod then line the lens up to the eyepiece. A little tedious, but you will like the results once you can get it right! Once you get going, and get a feel for what your telescope and camera can do, upgrading your eyepieces is probably one of the biggest things you can do. Some good initial upgrades for eyepieces would be something like the Orion 14.5mm Edge-On Planetary or the Orion EF Widefield eyepieces. Again, keep in mind if you go from a “standard” style plossl eyepiece and upgrade to something that has a wide field of view, or a different size or design, you will need to change what adapters you use if you are coupling your camera and eyepieces for afocal photography. If you are using your camera on a tripod, or your cellphone by hand, it should not matter. With eyepiece projection, make sure the system you are using is large enough to accept the eyepiece you plan on purchasing to use.
I could talk about software here, but I’m not. Mainly because there are a lot of options for astrophotography on the market, some free, some cheap and some expensive, plus the run of the mill graphics programs like Adobe or Corel. Depending on what you are wanting to do and how you want to do it, you may can go with something like Adobe Photoshop versus getting a program that is made specifically for astrophotography. However, if your goal is to take long exposures, stack, etc, then I would suggest getting a program specifically made for that purpose. You may still use a program like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro for final touch-ups, so keep that in mind. Which brings me to books which will help way more then I ever could: Digital SLR Astrophotography (Practical Amateur Astronomy) by Michael Covington is a very good resource on Astrophotography with a DSLR. It covers everything from setup, to picture taking to post-processing – covers software as well. The Astrophotography Manual by Chris Woodhouse is next on my own personal list to buy.
Here is a link to my current equipment and wish list – this list will be continually updated.