CHOOSING EQUIPMENT FOR ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY

For the beginner in deep sky and solar system astrophotography, it is not easy to navigate when it comes to choosing the right equipment for this task. There is currently an impressive range of dedicated astronomical imaging equipment. To help you make a choice, here are some tips for selecting your astrophotography equipment that will serve you right from the start and that will allow you to grow in your future passion for several years without having to continually reinvest in the purchase. more efficient equipment.

To get started, I recommend that you join an astronomy club in your area. These clubs often have an observation site where there is little light pollution. Also, they often offer their members free loan of observation equipment as well as advice and assistance to get started. This will allow you to learn how to correctly handle the equipment dedicated to astronomical observation and at the same time to familiarize yourself with the discovery of the constellations which change according to the seasons. With this acquired knowledge, it will be much easier to tackle deep sky and planetary astrophotography.

Two fields exist in astrophotography: photography of the solar system (planets, Moon and Sun) and deep sky imagery (nebulae, galaxies and star clusters). These two categories partly require different equipment. To better choose the specific equipment for these, see the section Astronomical calculations of this website.

For the imaging of the Sun, it is necessary to choose specific and very specialized equipment to photograph it. The equipment proposed below will not take this into account.

Regarding the mount, it is mandatory that it be motorized in order to compensate for the rotation of the Earth. For deep skies, which require long exposure times, it is important that the mount is accurate enough to adequately track deep sky objects in autoguiding, without producing elongated stars for example. It is strongly suggested to use an equatorial type mount which will allow tracking without field rotation. Also, before making your choice, make sure that the mount can support all the equipment dedicated to astrophotography. The manufacturers indicate the maximum weight that the frame can support. For astrophotography, this weight should be adjusted to 75% of the maximum weight. The reason is that tracking accuracy in astrophotography is more demanding than visual observation. It is therefore not necessary to go to the limit of the power of the engines. The chosen mount can be used for planetary imaging without problems, as the tracking quality is much less important than deep sky astrophotography. This will avoid buying two mounts.

Here is a list of non-exhaustive equipment suggestions for the purchase of equipment dedicated to astrophotography:

Equatorial mounts

Here is a list of very good quality mounts with sufficient carrying capacity for astrophotography. All prices are in Canadian dollars (CAD).

MSky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro frame

  • Price: $ 2200
  • Load capacity: 20 kg (astrophotography 15 kg)
  • Periodic error estimate in autoguiding: 5 ″ of arc (+/- 2,5 ″ of arc) and less - Rating: Very good

Note: You can buy very good mounts inexpensively with this company. But, the load capacity will be insufficient to support the weight of all the astrophotography equipment below.

Celestron CGEM II

Ioptron CEM70

  • Price: $ 3350 (without tripod)
  • Load capacity: 31,8 kg (astrophotography 24 kg)
  • Periodic error without autoguiding: 7 ″ of arc (+/- 3,5 ″ of arc) according to manufacturer's evaluation
    • In autoguiding the periodic error will be lower - Rating: Very good

Software Bisque Paramount MYT

Software Bisque Paramount MyT Robotic Mount
  • Price: $ 7900 (without tripod)
  • Load capacity: 23 kg in astrophotography
  • Periodic error in autoguiding: Less than 2 ″ of arc (+/- 1,25 ″ of arc) when atmospheric turbulence is low - Rating: Excellent

Glasses

Will be used to photograph deep sky objects requiring a large field of view (emission and reflection nebulae).

Explore Scientific ED80 Essential Series Triplet APO

Orion ED80T CF Triplet Apochromatic Refractor Telescope

  • Price: $ 1300
  • Add a coma corrector: $ 180
  • Weight: 2,5 kg
  • Diameter: 80mm
  • Focal length: 480 mm
  • Focal: f / 6

The tube is made of carbon fiber with no sensitivity to temperature changes. This will avoid re-focusing during the imaging session.

Telescopes

Will be used to photograph deep sky objects (galaxies, planetary nebulae and star clusters) as well as the solar system (planets, Moon).

Celestron EdgeHD 800 OTA

  • Type: Schmidt-Cassegrain (the primary mirror can be blocked, which is a big advantage)
  • Price: $ 1900
  • Weight: 6,4 kg
  • For the deep sky, it is necessary to add a focal reducer of 0,7x for the EdgeHD 800:
    • Price: $ 490
  • For the imaging of the planets, an apochromatic 2x Barlow must be added:
    • Price: from $ 150 to $ 400
  • Diameter: 203,2 mm (8 inches)
  • Focal length: 2032 mm
  • Focal length with the focal length reducer 0,7x: 1422 mm
  • Focal: f / 10
  • Focal with the focal reducer 0,7x: f / 7

This telescope is more efficient than the Sky-Watcher below for the photography of planets, because its collimation is more stable and faster to achieve. It can be done just before the planet imaging session (photographing planets requires very good collimation).

Sky-Watcher Quattro 200P Imaging Newtonian 8″

  • Type: Newtonian
  • Price: $ 900
  • Weight: 9,5 kg
  • For the deep sky, the Sky-Watcher Quattro coma corrector must be added:
    • Price: $ 410
  • For the imaging of the planets, a 3x or 4x apochromatic Barlow must be added:
    • Price: from $ 150 to $ 400
  • Diameter: 203 mm (8 inches)
  • Focal length: 800 mm
  • Focal: f / 4

One can also choose telescopes with a larger diameter, but the price and the weight increase a lot and they are not really essential for the beginner and even the experienced amateur in astrophotography.

Deep sky imagers

Here I recommend monochrome cameras only. All cameras can be cooled to constant temperatures, significantly reducing background noise and facilitating black (Darks) production. These monochrome cameras are also ideal for narrowband imaging in light pollution skies.

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro Mono 

The alt attribute of this image is empty, its file name is asi2600mm.jpg.

    • Matrix or sensor: CMOS
    • Price including filter wheel and LRGB filters: $ 3729
    • Weight: 0,7kg / XNUMX lbs
    • This camera can also be used for imaging planets.
    • See technical specifications and a benchmarking in the following link: https://ciel-astro-ccd.com/wp/cmos_ou_ccd/
    • Overall rating: 7,9 / 10

    ZWO ASI1600MM Pro Mono

    1600MM Pro7

    • Matrix or sensor: CMOS
    • Price including filter wheel and LRGB filters: $ 2109
    • Weight: 0,41 kg
    • This camera can also be used for imaging planets.
    • See technical specifications and a benchmarking in the following link: https://ciel-astro-ccd.com/wp/cmos_ou_ccd/
    • Overall rating: 6,5 / 10

    Atik 383L + Mono

    • Matrix or sensor: CCD
    • Price including filter wheel and LRGB filters: $ 3197
    • Weight: 0,7 kg
    • See technical specifications and a benchmarking in the following link: https://ciel-astro-ccd.com/wp/cmos_ou_ccd/
    • Overall rating: 6,6 / 10

    Planetary and autoguiding cameras

    ASI462MC body

    There is a very wide variety of cameras for imaging planets. They can also be used for autoguiding the mount. Prices range from $200 to $1000. I recommend the cameras ASI from the firm ZWO.

    Other accessories for deep sky and planetary imaging

    It will be necessary to envisage the purchase of other accessories for the imagery of the deep sky and the planets. For example: narrow band filters (Ha, OIII, SII), dovetail, optical splitter for autoguiding, focusing equipment such as Bahtinov mask, Robofocus… Provide an additional investment of around $ 1000 at $ 3000 for this equipment. Allow an additional weight of about 2 kg.

    Here is an example of mounting all the equipment on a single mount that allows imaging in all situations (large field of view, deep sky and planetary):

    Sdfg

    Click on picture to enlarge. The equipment is that of the author. See the detailed description by clicking on this lien.

    According to the advice for astrophotography equipment above, the budget involved is an investment of $ 8500 to $ 20000. The maximum load in astrophotography varies from 11 to 15 kg depending on the equipment selected. We can also go to the user to reduce costs.

    It is also possible to proceed gradually, for example to equip oneself for planetary imagery, then for the deep sky (galaxies, star clusters, planetary nebulae) and lastly for deep sky imagery in large field of view ( emission nebulae and reflections). This will allow the investment to be spread over three years, for example.

    You can also specialize in a single area, for example photography of deep sky objects with a large field of view (emission and reflection nebulae). This will allow you to buy a frame with a lower load capacity, and therefore less expensive, as well as one of the two glasses suggested above. The total cost will be much less. It will be possible to equip yourself for a budget of approximately $ 4000.

    Conclusion

    The equipment you are going to choose is the basis of the quality of the images. Then, you will have to familiarize yourself with the techniques of acquisition and processing of astronomical images. For more information, consult the sections of the site dealing with the subject (see the header menu above). We will see that we are far from the simple family photo! So, although we have invested in high performance equipment, if we fail in processing the images, the photos will be poor, lacking in detail and in low light. So, take the time to read and understand the acquisition and image processing techniques offered on this site in order to apply them properly. We can thus affirm, for the acquisition and the processing of images, that the devil is in the details !

    With the equipment suggested above and compatible with my personal equipment, see examples of images that I have personally produced for the deep sky by clicking on this lien. These images were produced in my personal observatory in Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, in a site of extreme light pollution (white zone).

    Finally, considering that the proposed equipment requires a significant minimum investment, you can try the experiment with rental equipment, controlled remotely, in sites without light pollution. For more information, see the following sections of the site:

    This last strategy will test your interest and your ability to produce very beautiful astronomical images at a lower cost, which can even compete with professional observatories!

    Note:

    The prices mentioned are as of April 2021 and are in Canadian dollars (CAD). For other currencies, use the daily exchange rate to get an estimate of the costs for your country's currency.

    Richard Beauregard

    Sky Astro - CCD

    Revised 2022/01/16