After using the HEQ5 Pro for a couple of years, I began to realize that my entry-level mount wasn't capable of helping with the direction that I was going. It served it's purpose quite well.
The next step up in the Sky Watcher brand is the 6 series, and although this model is about 5 years old, they are known to be solid work horses. The improvement in performance has been amazing, with guiding and pointing accuracy noticeably better than the 5 series. I have some plans for this beast...
This apochromatic lens from William Optics has a very large field of view compared to my other telescopes. This will allow me to (finally!) capture some of the targets that previously eluded me as they just would not fit in the frame of my camera. This, combined with a ZWO EAF and my trusty Canon T3i should open up a vast part of the sky that I wasn't able to capture before.
Focal Length: 250mm
Focal Ratio: f/4.9
Aperture: 51mm (2 inches)
An air-spaced, apochromatic triplet refractor. This optical tube assembly (OTA) is usually my first choice for imaging as it's ready to go pretty much right out of the case. Constructed of carbon fiber for it's light weight, and also to minimize the effects of changes in temperature throughout a night of imaging.
Focal Length: 714mm
Focal Ratio: f/7
Aperture: 102mm (4 inches)
This is what makes the magic happen. With proper alignment, this motorized, go-to mount will locate and track targets in the night sky. While currently using with a sturdy tripod, the mount will eventually be permanently mounted on a steel pier (see equipment) in the observatory. The pier will be mounted atop a cement footing, 12" wide and 4 feet deep in the ground, providing a rock-solid platform for imaging.
Update: After upgrading to this mounts bigger brother, the NEQ6 Pro, I now use this mo
Constructed (again) using a carbon fiber tube, and a Maksutov-Newtonian (Mak-Newt) design. This scope is very versatile, whether imaging or observing the sky. My first imaging OTA, this will most likely be used more for visual use in the future, as it generally needs to be collimated regularly for imaging...extra work that I don't really want to do every time I connect my camera.
Focal Ratio: f/4.8
Aperture: 152mm (5.98 inches)
My first 'real' telescope...purchased used in 2001 for $300 Canadian. Not used for astrophotography, but worthy of a mention as it's used often while imaging.
After quickly realizing the limits of my flimsy Sears refractor, this was a major step up. I still use this and it's sister regularly for observing. See my DIY section for refurb of this scope and a barn-find of it's sister, with no base, cover or focuser.
I've owned this scope for over 20 years and still use it regularly for observing...
I've graduated to a much better astro cam. This purpose-built CMOS based camera can cool down to an incredible -40 degrees below ambient temperature...making long exposures virtually noiseless. There's many more advantages to this design that I'll cover later.
Various filters are required to capture images with a mono camera to represent the colours of the night sky. Using red, blue, green and narrow-band filters, subtle details can be detected, whereas colour cameras generally aren't as sensitive as imaging with a mono sensor
This little gizmo takes care of 12VDC power distribution to the mono camera and cooler, motorized focuser and more. I use one in the observatory and another with my portable rig, my trusty HEQ5 Pro
It also controls the dew heaters and provides power to the DSLR camera (when used), eliminating a dew heater controller and separate power supply for the DSLR.
Small and light enough to be mounted almost anywhere.
This was a few steps up from my Xsi in terms of quality of sensor. Aside from more megapixels, this newer design shows surprisingly lower noise than the Xsi. Although the older Xsi that I had was astro-modded (internal IR filter removed) this camera makes up for it with it's reduced noise and increased sensitivity. I use one of my T3i's for video, one for attaching to my scope and another being astro-modded. A great bang for the buck with these older but great Canon DSLR's.
I purchased this modified camera (internal infrared filter removed) used at a great price to get started in astrophotography. It isn't perfect, but we all have to start somewhere.
Framing/ centering, focusing and imaging is controlled using a program called BackyardEOS. Soon I will be switching to a much more powerful and versatile program, Astrophotography Tool (APT), which will allow me to control my mount, camera, focuser and filter wheel..all from one program.
Update: I have moved on from this camera, and upgraded to an un-modified Canon T3i DSLR. The sensor generally runs cooler and should provide better quality images with long exposures and a lot less noise...we see...
A very sensitive guide camera, especially being mono (black and white) thus avoiding the colour filtering
I've been through a few different guiding systems and this cam, combined with my little 50mm Starwave guide scope have been a great combination, getting some impressive numbers on my guiding graph unseen prior to this combination
A great little scope that my guide cam will be looking through...yet another frontier to conquer...
Turns out the manufacturer of this guide scope is also the manufacturer of my recently acquired OSC camera, an Altair GPCAM2.
Just about to start 'guiding' during my long exposures. Currently, I can do up to 90 second exposures before the dreaded star-trails begin to appear. Once I get the guide cam figured out, I should be able to do exposures of much longer duration...depending on what the camera can take
Update: I've paired this camera with Orion's Magnificent Mini Guiding System for my portable imaging setup
APT, or AstroPhotography Tool, is the latest tool in my software toolbox, and it is the main program for controlling my imaging process. This program controls my mount, the camera (including cooling and warming), syncs with my guiding system, controls focus and can even find objects via platesolving. More magic for the control freak in me
An amazing piece of software developed in Canada, by an astro-photographer, with the astro-photographer in mind.
It's software like this that puts the capabilties in more amateurs' hands, simplifying the rather complex process
Another free program, but this one has some oomph..
This program links with EQMOD and ASCOM to communicate with and control my mount, enabling me to find objects and control the mount and telescope to find and track objects with a simple interface. It's literally as simple as clicking and locking on an object, with a little help from platesolving
A free program that stacks multiple images for astrophotography and other types of photography.
A licensed program designed for editing astrophotography images. There a few other noteable ones out there, but so far this one has served me well.
The art of astrophotography is not just taking the shots. The time spent pre- and post-processing is sometimes equal to or greater than time spent with the scope.
A free program, very similar and almost as powerful as Photoshop...
It's a vast program, as is PS...but I use it as a final touch-up for colour and fine details
The old trooper. Turned a normal everyday laptop into an AP powerhouse. This laptop has been with me from the beginning, and started acting strange just before Christmas. I then realized that if this thing dies, I would have an extremely difficult time imaging without it. Although I went and got a refurbed Dell laptop with Windows 10, something told me to look into salvaging this one. Turns out, you can STILL upgrade to W10 if you have a licensed copy of Windows 7 or 8...apparently Windows never did cancel that option when 7 & 8 were released....shhhhhhh...
Buying slightly used off-lease computers is usually a wise choice, especially with a good warranty.
I went with this as initially my main machine, but it so happens that my 2+ year old IBM , with a few upgrades, is still a better performer than this almost 1 year old machine. This will serve as a backup/ standby unit, and most likely a remote control station for when I move up to remote imaging from the garage or sitting beside the fire in the cold winter months...dreams
Although observing has taken a back seat since I began shooting the night sky, once in a while, weather permitting, I still enjoy stepping up to the eyepiece and viewing the incredible beauty of the skies
Having a good variety of eyepieces allows much more flexibility for viewing. Various factors determine which eyepiece will work best for the object being viewed. This depends on seeing conditions, maximum capabilities of the telescope, size and brightness of the object, among other factors. Soon after acquiring the new mount and scope, I purchased a couple of 2" eyepieces, and the views through these are a vast improvement over all of my 1.25" eyepieces.
My first real telescope, bought gently used around 2001. As this type of mount doesn't 'track' objects through the sky, it isn't suitable for long-exposure astrophotography. However, the ease of setting up and using this telescope for observing makes it a keeper.
Update: I've upgraded the focuser of this classic with a motorized JMI unit, and used the original focuser on the recent barn find Dob
There are many free astronomy apps available for Android, and I've tried many. This free app allows you to find things in the sky easily. You tell it what you're looking for, hit search and arrows on the screen direct you which direction to move while seeing real-time names and images of the part of the sky that you're searching for until the arrows disappear and a circle pops up with your target in the center.
Simple and brilliant.
A smattering of various DIY projects that I have taken on. Some items are from someone else's DIY projects (ie: the steel pier) where noted.
An ongoing project...
the goal was a 20 deg. F drop from ambient temperature.
The Canon Xsi was not intended to do multiple, long exposures as the sensor heats up and translates that into random 'noise' that is visible in the image. Cooling the camera sensor while it's gradually heating up is the goal here...
the game is afoot...
After that nasty Sears refractor from the late '60's, I graduated to this Sky Mentor 8" Dobsonian telescope. Going from a shaky, 3 inch telescope to a solid, large 'light bucket' was pretty much the difference between light and day.
Please visit my photos page to see more pics of this project
I purchased this focuser and USB controller used, thinking I could just order a bracket and off I go. Didn't work out that way...it's intended for a MOONLITE focuser, which I don't have (the factory one is really good) so it sat in a box for months. Then I thought of a way to design and build my own. Not as easy as it looks...clearance around the drivewheel was tricky.
This work of art will mount my tracking mount (German Equatorial Mount, aka GEM) permanently to the steel pier in the observatory. No more lugging out the tripod, mount, OTA, laptop, cables and everything else, and doing a polar alignment every time I want to image the skies
Pilfered a 12VDC gear motor from a dead security camera, fabbed up a bracket, built a control box, and voila! Motorized focuser!
Next challenge is controlling this puppy with USB, which would allow me to control this focuser remotely
Note: Whether observing through the eyepiece or imaging, not having to touch the scope to focus is so much easier and accurate, as the slightest vibrations make this process difficult
I bought this used from a fellow astro-imager (thanks Mahan!) who couldn't use it. It will replace my tripod, supporting my GEM and providing a rock-solid base (critical for long-exposure photography) and save the nightly set-up and tear-down.
This heavy puppy will reside on a concrete pier to be installed this spring,